14 November 2019
A Sustainable Paradise
14 November 2019
In the age of Greta Thunberg, we have seen sustainability become a buzz word used by individuals and businesses alike. But what does it really mean?
Now more than ever we are seeing the impact human civilisation is having on our planet. Global warming. Climate change. Increased pollution on land, in our oceans, and in the air we breathe. The number of issues we are facing are continuously increasing.
When we look at our planet as a whole, we can see the interconnectedness of every ecosystem, and every life form. We can also see now how our impacts on the planet are affecting all areas of the Earth. Without a healthy planet, humans and animals on earth will no longer be able to survive.
It is possible for us to reverse the damage we have caused to the planet and return it to a state where we can sustain a healthy environment. But in order to do this we must make changes to the way we live and we must do it soon.
By implementing sustainable practises and adopting new technologies that do not rely on damaging energy sources such as coal burning, we can reduce and reverse the damage caused and create a sustainable planet that can survive.
What’s the damage?
Global Warming and Climate Change
We have been seeing the damage humans have caused to our planet for years, but nothing substantial has been done to rectify or reverse the damage. Global warming describes the gradual increase of the Earth’s temperature and is one of the biggest issues when it comes to the health of our planet.
Since the industrialisation of human civilisation, we have been polluting the atmosphere with harmful emissions. As populations have increased, and the demand for energy goes up, the amount of pollution being pumped into the atmosphere has also increased. These emissions (namely carbon dioxide (CO²)) have caused our planet to increase in temperature.
Since the beginning of the industrial age, the average temperature of our planet has increased by 1°C. It might not seem like a lot, but the consequences of this small change have already been extremely harmful to the health of the planet, and if nothing is changed, the temperature of the Earth could be three of four degrees hotter by then end of the century, which will lead to catastrophic results.
As a result of global warming we are beginning to see a change in our climate. The increased temperature of the planet is causing extreme weather events. We are seeing rising sea levels as a result of melting ice in the Arctic. Warmer sea temperatures are leading to the corals that are responsible for producing a large amount of oxygen, dying.
Ultimately, the ecosystems that support life on our planet can not adapt fast enough to keep up with the climate changes and are collapsing as a result.
In 1907 humankind invented plastic. By 1950’s plastic has become a popular material and quickly become a vital aspect of many of the modern conveniences we enjoy today. It is lightweight and durable. So durable, in fact, that it takes 1000 years to break down. Meaning every single piece of plastic ever made still exists today.
And today we are seeing the results of that, with approximately 8 million pieces of plastic making its way into our oceans every single day.
We have not yet mastered a way in which we can effectively prevent plastics from polluting our waterways and oceans. The sheer amount of plastic being discarded is a challenge in itself. It has been estimated that 60-90% of waste found in our oceans is plastic.
The plastic epidemic is having some serious effects on our ecosystems and killing animals and marine life. No corner of the planet has is safe. Plastic is now being found in the depths of the Arctic and in the furthest reaches of the Earth.
In fact, microplastics have even been found inside humans. It is estimated that humans will consume 5 grams of plastic each week, which equivalates to the same amount of plastic as a standard credit card.
If nothing is done to stop the epidemic, by 2030 there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish.
As the demand for energy increases, the amount of pollution being pumped into our atmosphere is increasing.
The majority of our energy is produced by coal-burning energy plants. The pollution created from these plants does not only have adverse effects on the health of humans, animals and plant life, but it is harming our planet as a whole.
As of 2019, there are 6.7 thousand coal-fired units across the globe, with another 1.3 thousand in the pipeline. The process of burning coal to create electricity produces a huge amount of air pollution. In fact, the contribution of coal energy plants accounts for 38% of the total energy-related CO² emissions and it is these emissions that are contributing to global warming.
Carbon dioxide is only one of the many chemicals that coal energy plants are polluting our air with. Emissions such as carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, particulate matter, mercury, lead, cadmium, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, and arsenic are all released into the air through the process of coal energy production; each with their own adverse effects on human health and the health of our planet.
Some of these emissions are capable of contaminating large areas of water, deeming the marine life within them unsafe to eat. Others are causing health issues in humans and suffocating animal life. Coal energy pollution alone is responsible for over 800,000 premature deaths globally every year.
It’s all connected
Our world is interconnected. It works as one, and every part of the planet needs to be cared for in order for our ecosystem to continue living.
We can already see the effects of global warming on our coral reefs. They are becoming bleached due to the microscopic algae that live and feed on the corals dying. They are dying due to the increased ocean temperatures. No corals, means no food or shelter for many species of marine life. We can see here how ecosystems work together to benefit many forms of life. But this example is only a small piece of our wider ecosystem that allows our world to survive.
Microscopic creatures called Diatoms are an essential ingredient in much of the world’s oxygen. These little creatures live in the depths of our oceans and feed of bacteria released by giant Arctic icebergs as they come crashing down, and dust from the Amazon that is transported through the winds. But as the temperature rises, these systems are disrupted, causing diatoms to die.
Even erupting volcanoes play a part in our survival. The ash and lava expelled from a volcanic eruption is carried through the winds across our deserts and into our farms and forests, providing essential nutrients for our agriculture.
It is these seemingly small and insignificant connections that make up the workings of our planet and there are millions of similar connections that all work together to ensure the earth’s survival.
However, issues such as global warming, climate change and pollution are disrupting these systems, and each time one of these connecting events is disrupted, it presents a threat to the survival of our planet and the survival of the human race.
What can we do?
There are a number of things we can change in our society to help reduce the impact we are having on our planet and to try and restore the earth to its once healthy self. We are not so far gone yet that the damage we have caused is irreversible but every day we are nearing the inevitable deadline that we can not come back from. We need to make the changes now and start thinking more sustainably in order to keep our planet healthy.
The 4 R’s
The four R’s are a good framework to begin on the path of a plastic-free lifestyle and conscious consumerism.
Whenever you can, opt-out of receiving single-use plastic items such as straws, plastic cutlery, or plastic bags. Tell your friends and family about plastic pollution and ask them not to give you plastic gifts, or gift you items made from alternate materials that are sustainable. It might be hard to refuse a thoughtful sentiment, but it is an important step in educating others about the plastic crisis and changing the way you think about plastic items.
There are many items that we use once and throw away, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Where you can, try to get as many uses out of an item as possible. This could mean upcycling some old furniture, reusing glass jars, or reviving some old clothing. Try to choose recyclable and sustainable materials where you can. These include glass, wood, ceramic, or bamboo.
Cut down your plastic footprint by reducing the amount of plastic goods you purchase. Try to cut down on products that come in excessive plastic packaging, or are made of a high percentage of plastic. If it will leave behind a lot of plastic trash, opt for an alternate material or try to avoid it.
Sometimes we aren’t able to refuse, reduce, or reuse our plastic. In this case, we need to be paying attention to the types of plastics we are purchasing and trying to opt for those that can be recycled. Consider the life cycle of the product (including its manufacturing, distribution channels, and disposal) and pay attention to the impact it will have on the planet. Recycle where you can, and make conscious informed decisions when consuming.
Educate yourself and others
There is a lot of noise around sustainability and the issues the planet is facing. It is important that we educate ourselves on the issues, why they are occurring, and the best possible solutions for rectifying them. By doing so we can actively move towards real, positive change.
Get involved in community events and projects that are working towards a better future for our planet. It could be planting trees at a local park, joining a community garden, participating in a beach clean up, or learning how to compost your green waste. Every small action makes a difference. We don’t need everyone to be doing everything perfectly, we just need lots of people making small changes to make a difference.
Learn about how recycling works. Learn about which plastics can be recycled and what to do with those that can’t be. Research your local area to view their recycling policies and processes to make sure your efforts are not going to waste.
Advocating for the cause is just as important as participating yourself. The more people who understand the issues we are facing and how they can help, the more power there is behind creating a more sustainable future. Create conversations around sustainability and what you are doing to change and, most importantly, why.
It’s all about knowledge. The more we know, the better we can act.
Adopt new technologies and natural energy resources
Moving towards new, innovating, and sustainable technologies is a pivotal point towards a sustainable society. For so long our world has been structured around old technologies reliant on coal energy and plastics, but the focus of the world is changing and we need to change with it.
By embracing new technologies, alternative solutions to every day, and changes in our lifestyles we can fully adopt sustainable lifestyle, working towards a healthier planet for future generations.
Move to renewable energy companies, or look at using energy efficient products to reduce the demand of coal-fired energy and in turn, reducing the pollution being dumped into our air every day.
To sum it up
As a result of human civilisation, our planet is in trouble. We are starting to see the negative effects our industrialisation is having on the planet.
Because our planet works as one giant ecosystem, it is important we look after every aspect of our world. We need to come up with ways in which we can help the planet in a positive way to restore the damage we have done, before the damage is irreversible.
Education around the topic and active changes are essential to moving towards a more sustainable planet. By implementing small changes in our everyday lives and adopting new sustainable technologies, whilst encouraging others to do the same, is the first step in making a difference.
If we do this, a sustainable paradise awaits us.