How to help sustain our Blue Planet

By Simon Moore & Simon Hoyte

In the wake of Blue Planet II you might be wondering what you can do to have a positive impact on our oceans. How can you help sustain those jumping fish taking birds out of the sky, stop the oceans from rising or the corals from bleaching, and ensure turtles don’t go extinct on our watch?

Leatherback turtle on the beach

If you haven’t been watching (where’ve you been?), David Attenborough has just showcased the incredible life inhabiting our oceans in seven glorious episodes, but under the surface of each story humans are causing damage to the great blue.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the scale of the problems we face with our oceans (and in nature more generally), after all, they’re massive and individual actions feel like just a drop in the ocean. And there’s always plenty more fish in the sea, right? Well, no, not at the rate we’re going.

But there is plenty of reason to have hope – people all across the world are fighting to protect the natural world. And every single person can make an enormous difference, as long as each of us ensures we are part of the solution and not part of the problem.

Here are five easy things you can do to make a positive difference to help sustain our Blue Planet:

  1. Use less plastic! Refuse plastic as much as possible, and avoid plastic straws, microbeads, disposable plastic bottles and plastic-wrapped vegetables
  2. Know your seafood! Ensure your food is sourced sustainably through Marine Stewardship Council certification, and buy food locally where you can see exactly how it’s produced
  3. Fight climate change! One of the easiest ways to do this is to eat less meat and animal products, but also walk more, use public transport, fly less, improve your household energy efficiency and switch to a renewable energy supplier
  4. Support good conservation charities! Join and donate to campaigns by organisations such as SeaShepherd, Greenpeace and Fauna & Flora International, who devote their lives to defending the seas and the wider natural world
  5. Vote and get active! Vote for people who share your concern for the environment, tell your MP what you care about, join communities of likeminded individuals and try to promote conservation issues however and wherever you can

This article also appears on Simon Hoyte’s blog Hunt and Gather

A video version of this article appears on Matthew Shribman’s Science in the Bath

Photo by JuliasTravels

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Wildscreen Festival 2016

Every two years experts from the wildlife and nature documentary industry come together in Bristol for Wildscreen Festival – a chance to share ideas, collaborate, and view each other’s work. I was invited along for BlueSci Magazine and reported on the festival, which you can check out on the BlueSci website. In particular I evaluate the two different broad aims apparent in wildlife films: pure entertainment vs. environmental activism.

Featuring:

Hope you enjoy the read:

http://www.srcf.ucam.org/bluesci/2016/10/wildscreen-festival-2016/

Why do we need the EU (or UN)?

I am absolutely not an expert on European politics, or UN politics, but I do have a very good idea why we need large institutions and collectives, that bring countries and people together for common good. You can probably already guess what that is – we need them to facilitate cooperation instead of conflict.

We’re a social species that relies heavily on both relatives and strangers from within our group to survive, reproduce and thrive – it takes a village to raise a child. Where would any one couple be without the vast support network that the rest of society provides? Think midwives, farmers, teachers, doctors.

It is human nature to separate things, including social groups, into in-groups and out-groups. We rely on others around us, and form strong bonds with people inside our social groups whom we cooperate with, protect and sometimes even fight alongside. This comes in stark contrast with groups outside of our network – out-groups – whom we find ourselves strongly disliking, avoiding, fearing, competing with, sometimes fighting, but maybe occasionally trading with. This phenomenon is called xenophobia – fear of that which is foreign or strange – and it is shared to some degree by every one of our species.

What’s this got to do with the European Union? Well the easiest way to overcome xenophobia, and facilitate cooperation between rival groups, or countries, is to bring them together and make them feel part of a bigger whole. If we can agree upon a common identity, common goals, common values and common rights, eventually people will start feeling like they’re part of something bigger, and that ‘others’ are allies, not enemies.

Today, humans face problems that have no respect for country borders. These problems span the climate, the oceans, the river systems and the land, and they affect every single country on this planet. For too long, we have been competing and battling amongst ourselves, and polluting the environment that we depend on so utterly and completely. It’s high time we recognized that we are all in this together, and that we must all help one another if we are to survive the upcoming trials the climate and the planet will throw at us.

Only by seeing each and every other individual on this planet as one of our own – as a member of our group – do we stand a chance of cooperating on the enormous scale required. This requires understanding, compassion, empathy, and a strong sense of what binds us together as human beings.

I don’t claim to know everything about the European Union, or the United Nations, and like every man-made institution they have their significant flaws. But we’ve created global problems that require global solutions. These can only be tackled by the 7 billion of us working together as one body, with one shared vision. I feel that we desperately need to utilize organizations like the EU and UN if we are to have any success in combating the global issues we have brought upon ourselves. We must work collectively. We must unite. We must Remain.

EU Newspaper Clipping
Cambridge News 20th June 2016

Racing Extinction

Last week I had the privilege to attend a Discovery Channel film screening at the London Zoo (thanks John Cousins). The main event: Racing Extinction, a documentary about the illegal trade in endangered wildlife, and the mass extinction that humans are driving at this very moment. Wondering if it matters if species are going extinct? Read this.

OPS-shark-fins

The director’s last documentary, The Cove, won an Oscar and opened people’s eyes to the slaughter of dolphins that goes on in Japan. This new piece is similarly harrowing – investigative journalism with a very important message. It’s a must-see if you’re at all concerned about the fate of life on this planet.

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You can see Racing Extinction on Wednesday 2nd December at 9pm, your local time, on the Discovery Channel.

 

Conservation At The PATT Foundation

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I recently interned at a charity based in Bangkok, Thailand, called the Plant A Tree Today (PATT) Foundation. They plant trees in order to combat climate change, as well as educate students on the environment through awesome trips in the forest. My experience was fantastic and I learnt a lot about conservation that you can’t be taught in a lecture theatre:

• Love for the environment is not something that can be forced on to people, you have to show them and let them be inspired by nature.

• Planting one tree might not save the world, but getting a child to plant that tree can inspire them to do great things and make a huge difference.

• It’s not easy to raise money for a very good cause, no matter how hard you try and how much you glitz it up.

• If you want to make a serious, positive environmental change you need big, reliable funding.

  I thoroughly enjoyed working for the PATT Foundation and appreciate the insights that first-hand experience provides. Not to mention all those beaming smiles and laughing kids, inspiring me as much as I them, with their love and care for the environment.

My PATT bio:

Check out my interview with PATT’s top individual supporter Matthias Gelber (pictured below), also known as The Green Man for his dedication to tackling the climate crisis:

http://www.pattfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Matthias-Gelber-Interview.pdf

The Hopeless Hopeless

Last night I met someone who frustrated me a lot. He seemed to be an educated man but when I mentioned saving water his response was essentially “There’s no point as it won’t change anything, it won’t go to poor people who actually need it.” His stance likely represents a large chunk of society, a group of people who believe that trying to do anything about very large, global problems such as climate change and water and food shortages is useless, as what can one person possibly hope to achieve?

These hopeless people are not denying that the problems exist, they are fully aware of them. And this makes me very angry at their incredibly pessimistic outlooks. I’m all for being skeptical – there are no doubt many ways we can attempt to solve a problem that will not work. But taking a look at a big problem and then declaring it hopeless is simply pathetic.

Back to climate change. There is a consensus, an overwhelming tsunami of evidence that backs the fact that humans have caused and are causing dramatic climate change, most notably in the past few hundred years. It’s clear that this is mainly down to the burning of fossil fuels, destruction of forests and agriculture (especially meat production), to fuel and feed our 7.3 billion-strong population. Just as there were small steps and changes in lifestyle that got us to this point, we can now take small steps to reduce our impact through what we consume and what we waste.

It’s pretty simple: we produce and consume more water, meat, plastic and energy than ever before. And we waste huge amounts of these resources, which we simply cannot afford to do. Our planet will not allow it. Certainly not for 7 billion people.

But the situation is far from hopeless! Even the most basic adjustments that reduce the excess food, water and energy that are currently wasted can have a tremendous positive impact on our environment. The only problem is that there are too many hopeless individuals out there who are too pessimistic and selfish to take some responsibility and join the rest of us in doing something good.

Finally, back to the man who sparked my anger. He’s probably right that saving water in a rich country is not going to magically provide a poorer country with much-needed water. But the world doesn’t care for our country borders – we all share one planet! Reducing water consumption in one country takes a little strain off that precious resource and ensures there is enough to go round for everyone. And minimizing emissions of greenhouse gases is literally felt across the globe.

 

Our situation is not hopeless unless we think it is. Be positive and make little changes to reduce waste. It’s an easy first step.

Thanks,

The Environment

Why Are Environmentalists A Rare Breed?

There was a time when every man, woman and child was at heart an environmentalist. Their lives directly depended on rivers for water, land for food, animals and the sea for meat, forests for fuel and building material, and so on. Our ancestors were not perfect; many overexploited resources as we do today, sometimes resulting in the collapse of entire societies, e.g. Easter Island. This is a clear example of failing to estimate the long-term effects of consuming natural resources – typical of our species on a global scale in modern times. But hunters and gatherers had and still have a closeness to the environment that meant they understood just how greatly they depended on it, unlike the majority of the world today.

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We simply couldn’t exist without a healthy environment, so shouldn’t we all be environmentalists? These kids have the right idea – plant some trees!

 

The industrialisation of agriculture has led to a fundamental disconnect between the production of essential goods like food, water and fuel, and the consumption of them. The average person no longer appreciates or even acknowledges the role of the environment in their life, since a small fraction of society produces the sustenance for everyone else. Most of us are ignorant to the intricacies of generating consumable calories from the soil, as the supermarket is our first contact with food. And we’re similarly oblivious to the chain of events leading to electrical outputs that power most of our activities. So it is no wonder that environmentalists are rare; the average person has little respect, understanding and appreciation for the natural world, which, quite literally, provides every requirement for our lives.

To put it as plainly as possible, energy comes from the sun and is harnessed by plants and microorganisms in the sea. We rely on plants to convert the sun’s energy into a form that we can eat, or we eat animals that have converted and concentrated it into more usable calories. To power our technologies and industry we burn fossilised stores of organic matter; dead trees that were buried and put under immense pressure over millions of years, turning them into coal, gas and oil. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to see the link between turning our washing machines on, driving our cars, buying meat and vegetables from a shop or heating up/cooling down our homes, and the negative environmental effects of these actions. Hence why it is so difficult for people to change their behaviour in order to lessen their impact, as they don’t clearly see or understand the relationship between what they consume and the environment.

We’ve become scarily distanced from the environment by living in our concrete urban areas and gathering dinner from shelves; food that’s biotic origins are often hard to determine. This means that great effort must be made to encourage environmentalist attitudes in current and future generations, since our present lifestyles and eating habits fail to promote a green conscience.

If we want to move forward into a greener world we need to start by teaching our kids about where food really comes from, and about the importance of complex ecosystems and forests in maintaining a healthy, liveable climate. One of the best ways to do this is to simply get them outside and enjoying what nature has to offer. The great outdoors is where our species has been educating its children for millions of years, before we started mass-destruction of the planet’s wilderness, so perhaps we’d do well to try to recreate this method of learning. There’s also good evidence that quality of life and happiness improves with increased connection to our wild, ancestral homes.

Why should we be environmentalists?
We’re threatening our planet and our only home by driving climate change, deforestation and mass species extinctions. These are all tough, pressing problems that we are responsible for and which require immediate and effective action. We’re poorly equipped to combat these problems because most of us lack the attitudes of an environmentalist – we don’t value the very thing we depend on to survive. Only by actively encouraging these attitudes do we stand a chance of saving our planet.

 

Inspiration for this post came from ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma – A Natural History of Four Meals’ by Michael Pollen, which investigates the true costs of industrial-scale agriculture on society. I highly recommend it.