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.

2015/02/img_5210-0.jpg
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.

Guest Blogging For SciLogs.com

My Article

I’m at it again! Here’s a new guest blog post for SciLogs.com titled ‘Insights of Evolutionary Psychology: Humans Are Not Special’.

“appreciating our position in the grand scale of evolutionary history is key to inspiring people to preserve our planet and the other species we share it with”

Hope you enjoy.

http://www.scilogs.com/guest_blog/insights-of-evolutionary-psychology-humans-are-not-special/

Guest Post For Nature’s ‘Eyes On Environment’ Blog

Eyes on EnvironmentJust had my first guest blog post published on one of Nature’s Scitable blogs called ‘Eyes on Environment’.

Unique and Alone on the EDGE of Existence
How to maximise biodiversity when resources are limited: calculating priority species in conservation.

Have a read!

http://www.nature.com/scitable/blog/eyes-on-environment/unique_and_alone_on_the?isForceDesktop=Y

Mass Extinction Event, BEWARE!

Most people probably don’t realise it but we are currently in the 6th mass extinction event that our planet has ever known! The last one, the K-T (Cretaceous-Tertiary) extinction 65 million years ago, wiped out the dinosaurs and 75% of the species alive at the time – another saw as many as 95% of species disappear. The KT extinction was probably triggered by a large asteriod hitting the earth and causing major changes to the global climate, which could have lasted thousands of years. This one has been called the Holocene or Anthropocene extinction and is being clearly caused by HUMAN ACTIVITY. When we think of it in geological terms it becomes frighteningly obvious that we are making very rapid and unnatural changes to the biodiversity on this planet. Most extinction events lasted for thousands of years yet the current one has been noticeable in just the last 50! This does not bode well for the future; this is our warning! It is our responsibility to recognise and react to this devastating situation and start making serious conservation progress, before we see mass ecosystem collapse. It’s not just a moral obligation but a matter of the survival and well-being of our own species as inhabitants of this planet. So spread the word and stop hoping that someone else will sort out the world’s problems.

Extinction Symbol

This symbol represents the current mass extinction, click it, draw it, spread it around and help raise awareness.

Social Media: the Key to Promoting Greener Living?

We can unite and act as one through the immense power of the internet and we have the tools to be completely transparent in our actions. Social media needs to be utilised for sharing useful information to people in a grand movement to change the small things in people’s lives that can make the big difference. Too many people are still influenced by traditional news outlets that are heavily influenced by politicians, and fail to give unbiased accounts of key issues.

Public opinion on genetically modified organisms is just one example. From where I’m sitting they are a crucial addition to our solutions for global food shortages with very little risk, huge nutritional benefits and greater crops yields. All crops are genetically modified from their ancestral wild types, the only difference is that we can now make specific desirable changes without having to perform years of trial and error selective breeding. GMO’s are no different to other crops or livestock, they are simply derived from a more efficient selection method. Yet the UK and EU still ban them, despite years of evidence proving their worth! Clearly there are far too many barriers in the way of making any sort of meaningful changes in political systems worldwide; if a consensus has been reached in the scientific community there should not be hurdles and endless bullshit standing in the way of change. Similarly for climate change, the damage we have done (and continue to do) requires us to act quickly else catastrophic extreme weather is only going to become a more regular occurrence. Yet as a global community we are infuriatingly sluggish and flakey when it comes to committing to ambitious, essential carbon emission targets.

Humans are one of the most social animals on this planet and have possibly the most complicated language system ever seen. This facilitated our huge cooperative childcare as well as food gathering, hunting and sharing. We must use this ability to communicate on enormous scales, now enhanced by the internet, to connect and act as one in order to live sustainably on planet Earth. If we don’t make some radical changes in the very near future then we will simply drive ourselves extinct, along with the majority of all life on Earth.