This Earth is a great leveller. When you strip everything away, and all that’s left is you, standing, with your own two feet on this beautiful planet, you realise – I am a human being like every other. My rights to live and breathe are no greater than anyone else’s. It doesn’t matter how much money I have in my bank account, where I was born, my skin colour or my ability, my right to be here is the same as the rest of humankind. But with the way the world works, it really doesn’t look that way. Everything has a price tag, and the Earth is picking up the tab.
Dear friend reading this: climate change (or climate crisis) is happening. It is not coming ‘in the future’. We are living in it and will continue to do so for the remainder of our lives. A few key facts:
– In the northern hemisphere, 1983-2012 was the warmest 30-year period on record of the last 1400 years.
– Human activity has increased the world’s average global temperature by around one degree Celsius. A 1.5 degree increase is highly likely in the next 10-30 years, which will have serious knock-on effects around the planet, including further tipping points (such as the melting of the Arctic permafrost containing huge carbon stores) which will accelerate the rate of temperature increase. We have 12 years to drastically act to reduce emissions.
– Sea levels have risen by 0.19m in the last 100 years and will continue to rise over the next 80 years, displacing millions.
– Despite limited adjustments to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, emissions are still increasing.
– In the UK, we throw away roughly around 25% of our purchased food. That’s 6.7 million tonnes of food annually, which doesn’t include that which is thrown away in cafés, restaurants and canteens. This is directly causing food scarcity in poorer parts of the world – a billion undernourished people could be fed on a fraction of what the world’s rich throw away.
– We are cutting down more than 1.2 million hectares of the Amazon rainforest every year for agricultural land for the world’s food market.
– We have wiped out 60% of the total animal population on the planet in the last 50 years. 4 years ago, it was 52%. The viability of our world’s ecosystems is in serious jeopardy.
– 97% of all scientific literature points to human activity as the primary cause of climate change.
It is also observed that developed countries (i.e. the Global North), responsible for the majority of emissions to date, are not generally those who feel the worst of its effects. Rather, the world’s poorest countries are suffering, through flooding and drought, rising sea levels, and disease from water pollution. Bangladesh is on the front line of climate crisis – two thirds of the country is less than five metres below sea level. By 2050, one in every seven people in Bangladesh will be displaced by climate change, and up to 18 million people may have to move because of sea level rise alone.
Personally, as a Christian, who is called to ‘remember the poor’ (Galatians 2:10), when I think that my actions, my choices, are having these impacts in upon others around the world, let alone on this beautiful planet itself, I am galled to the core. Surely, we cannot continue as we are now. We are called to be stewards over this planet, but never exploiters at others’ expense. As a matter of human and environmental justice, we must change.
The good news – people around the world are waking up to the urgent need for change. Many have seen the Blue Planet programmes, which have caused a remarkable shift particularly around the issue of single use plastics and their impact on our oceans. It is an important first step on the journey – but it really is only the first step. We must continue to make further, and bigger, sustainable steps over the next 11 years.
Let me get to what I believe is the crux of the matter: the materialistic, consumerist nature of our societies today. Our rate of expansion of development, our demand for cheap clothing, our love of travel, our dependency on cars, our ‘retail therapies’, our single-use plastics and our food wastage – all speak to the state that we are in. When did it become acceptable to treat our world this way? How can we demand all that we want from it and assume that it can perpetually continue? Honestly, we cannot continue living and consuming as we do. It is quite simply gluttonous, and we have created a status quo that has cushioned us from that reality. Major change is needed, that goes way beyond our reusable cups and plastic free fruit and veg.
‘Last time I checked, there was no UN Human Right to Convenience’. I heard those words from Professor John Barry of Queen’s University at a recent panel discussion regarding single-use plastics – and they haven’t left me since. Because there is a profound truth hidden there – that we will choose convenience in the moment over what is best for the future. Our societies and governments haven’t acted on climate change – because it hasn’t been tangible in the ‘now’, until now. Inaction is not a privilege we can afford anymore.
While I don’t want to say these things to overwhelm, but in love, I do want them to alarm. Because we have been sleeping for too long. It is time to wake up.
So, what can we really do?
– Get educated – it is not enough to be fed watered-down information by the news. Read unbiased newspaper articles, follow climate experts online – find good reliable information on the sources of the products you buy and keep up-to-date on climate crisis – this is a great motivator.
– Petition – sign every list, campaign to your local council representative, vote for change – we need change at every level. Now is the time to speak up.
– Reduce waste in all areas (this includes recycling!) by consuming less – reduce food waste as much as possible, buy second hand or borrow. If you must buy, look for ethical, sustainable, carbon neutral sources. This takes a while, but once you get started, you will begin to see it everywhere in the home.
– Leave the car at home. Walk, cycle, take the bus or train, or at the very least, share a lift. It tackles emissions, air pollution, health issues and obesity in one fell swoop. It is one of the most productive (and difficult!) changes you can personally make. Consider what you would need to do to leave the car out of your commute.
– Consider your air travel – your entire annual carbon footprint is mostly spent in one return long-haul journey. If you are a frequent flyer, consider offsetting your travel at a reliable source.
– Reduce meat consumption – even by halving the meat portion of your meals is a good place to start if you can’t do it completely. We eat far more meat now than even our parents a few decades ago.
Change always has and will be a difficult and challenging task. But it is possible. Make no mistake, it will be uncomfortable, but it is truly a matter of life and death. We must act now.
Dr. Laura McFarland is a lecturer for environmental planning at QUB, and has both an educational and faith based passion for Gods creation and the people living in it.
You Can follow Laura on instagram here.