This document was written by Joe Thomas and sent to me for inclusion in this website. Joe has a first class degree in Biosciences.
In the time that it has taken you to read this sentence, you have fallen through an eternal expanse of stars at approximately 460 metres a second. Clinging to a green and blue ball of rock awash in this endless sea, one could easily be forgiven for feeling very small and insignificant next to the enormity of existence. But despite the seemingly unyielding permanence of it all, our place within the cosmic scheme has never been under greater threat.
In our ever ambitious bid to become the masters of the world around us, our dependence on plundering the riches of the planet has in fact done the opposite and made us slaves to its bounty, addicts who are incapable of sating our desire for resources that once consumed are never coming back. Whilst political bodies across the world have all too slowly come to realise this and come to various agreements to reverse the damage wreaked on the environment, the wheels of industry all too often have no such conscience.
Take the rainforests of Asia and South America for instance. Applying industrial scale methods, companies around the world have turned their attention to Earth's largest expanses of greenery. Loggers, farmers, land developers- too many of each fail to see that the rainforests themselves are of more value in their natural state than as land to be built on. Each year on average, approximately 46-58 thousand square miles of forest is consumed. Not only does this compromise the habitat of the local wildlife, but gone is another source of valuable natural extracts. These help to make up the medicines that we take for granted every day, from cough medicine to aspirin. You might be able to afford the priciest champagne through cutting down the rainforest, but how worth it will it be when there's no more hangover cures the next day?
Indeed, such short-sighted thinking has already had a devastating effect on the human population close by. Time and again, the large scale removal of vegetation has left local residents at the mercy of torrential rains that once would have been soaked up by the roots that have now been uprooted. The resulting mudslides have struck all around the major proponents of deforestation, an unavoidable side effect inflicted usually on those who have nothing to with it.
As a result, more and more commercial enterprises have made the sensible decision to work with nature rather than against it. Instead of hacking the jungle down to build hotels or theme parks, environmentally aware tourist companies are offering programmes that work in harmony with the surroundings. Who wants to visit a farm when compared to an untamed wilderness anyway?
Things you can do to reduce your impact:
- Plant a tree, if everyone capable planted a tree, that would be billions of trees introduced back into the world
- Go paperless, with the digital world and inventions it's easy. Although it may not appeal to some, the "wash don't wipe method" is a good way to keep paperless. (..and it's cleaner)
- Buy recycled goods, and recycle yourself
- Eat a plant based diet
- Look for the FSC certificate on wood products
Furthermore, with the destruction of some of the world's most delicate habitats, innumerable animal species are under threat. Whilst some may dismiss such an effect as 'survival of the fittest' or as a necessary sacrifice on the altar of progress, there is a far more practical benefit to biodiversity.
Like it or not, humans as advanced as we are still constituting part of a wider system of interlocking species. Each one of us has our part to play and to compromise just a single member of this system has a knock on consequence for the rest. As humans continue to converge on habitats meant for others, it is inevitable that some form of conflict will break out as we are simply not equipped by nature to thrive in such an area.
Forest are also the habitat of many species of wildlife and plants and these are being lost along with the trees. It is estimated that we are losing around 50,000 species of animals, plants and microorganisms every year due to deforestation and this will have a hugely detrimental effect on the delicate balance of the ecosystem.
However, it's not just in forests that species are losing their habitats. Marshland, wetlands and meadows are all disappearing as we expand our urban areas. In recent years there has been much concern over the dwindling bee population and their survival has a direct implication for us as they pollinate our crops and ensure our food supply.
The obvious way to tackle this issue, would obviously be just to leave alone those regions which have a precariously balanced biome. Yet that is not to say that we should build a big wall around them and cease all contact, when opportunities exist to prosper and enjoy ourselves alongside the existing inhabitants of the area. Anyway, if you're trying to build a house and keep waking up to a pack of ravenous tigers circling you, it might be better to try somewhere else. Just a thought.
Speaking of untamed, the world's great oceans seemingly stretch on forever to horizons always out of reach, encouraging adventure to further riches. Whilst the pirates of days gone by may have faded to a Halloween costume, the more sinister question should rather be that of the corporate suit.
Below the surface, the lack of life is a grim microcosm of what the future may hold in store on a larger scale. Perhaps nowhere illustrates this point better than in the Gulf of Mexico, which although now 6 years later still suffers from the catastrophic damage wrought by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Aside from a surprisingly good film, the resultant explosion and leak of oil into the surrounding waters not only led to the deaths of 11 workers and thousands of local animals, but devastated local economies. Across Mexico, South America, the Caribbean and the American states on the southern seaboard, polluted waters ruined the livelihoods of fishermen, tourist establishments that rely on the pristine seas and virtually every other business that is similarly dependent.
In regards to this concern, the average person can hardly be held responsible for the flaws in the extraction process of crude oil. However, what we can do is make sure that such accidents become less likely to occur as less oil is needed due to a switch to renewable power sources.
As useful as oil is, it is becoming increasingly unnecessary to use for small-scale applications. All over the world, great leaps are being made to harness the natural energy all around us, wind, solar and tidal being but a few of the most prominent. Even within your home, you can install some kind of initiative that isn't dependent on oil and even save yourself money in the long run through lower energy bills.
It's not only oil spills, as due to the amount of chemicals from agriculture and industry which are being washed into the sea, our oceans now have a large number of dead zones. These dead zones are areas where the low level of oxygen in the water means that marine life can no longer be supported there. This isn't helped by further gross overfishing that is bringing fish populations down to levels that sometimes can't be replenished.
However, oil extraction is not the biggest threat to the health of the planet's marine biology. Whilst undeniably more spectacular and devastating when it happens, fortunately industrial accidents at sea are relatively rare. What is an unescapable threat every hour though, is the amount of plastic that ends up tossed in the sea. Just from bottled water alone, 176 billion bottles each year. find their way to the depths, with 10 percent of these never degrading.
Naturally, larger sea life such as wales ends up swallowing this debris and even smaller animals mistake bits of plastic for food, condemning to a hideous death via choking. Aside from the humanitarian implications of such an act necessitating us to do better, humans are not removed from this danger. As those plastics which do degrade come apart in the water, they release a number of dangerous chemicals, which eventually find their way into our drinking water and has been linked to a multitude of ill-health symptoms. As animals consume these plastics and we in turn consume them, we are taking such hazards into ourselves.
To illustrate this point perhaps better than any text or statistics, the Pacific Garbage Patch drifts as a mockery of man's impact on the waters that sustain us. Unknown in its actual dimensions, the Patch is thought to be gargantuan in size to the extent that is twice the size of the United States as a landmass! Affecting more than 250 species, the obvious fix to this issue is recycling, recycling and more recycling. Simply put, not throwing stuff away means no need to buy more and in turn less resources are used to produce replacement items. This included not buying bottled water or taking plastic bags, where you use the same one. At any point you can reduce plastic waste, making efforts to really does help. On top of that you save money so quite literally everyone's a winner. If you want to go an extra mile to help combat this giant problem, you can sign up as a volunteer for a marine conservation programme.
Here is a summary of ten things you can do to help:
- Stop buying bottled water
- Bring your own bags shopping
- Refillable containers for hand soap, washing up liquid
- Tupperware for food
- Do not buy coffee cups, bring your own travel coffee mug, or in a café keep it ceramic
- Go for bulk buying
- Use silverware
- Seek items that are not plastic
- Avoid plastic bags. Get into the habit of saying "no thank you, I do not need a bag"
- Get into the mindset. You are doing a great thing
Indeed, this culture of discarding what we have due too mere convenience has found its way into nearly everything we do. Even with perishable goods with a short lifespan such as food is no exemption, with developed countries on average throwing away 30-40% of all food purchased. As well as being a waste of money, this has cultivated a situation in which 30% of the world's farmland is essentially wasted. We have already touched on earlier how the expansion of farming is a leading cause of deforestation, so the fact that it wasn't even of use to anyone just makes a bad situation worse.
Thankfully, this is an issue which can easily be dealt with by the average person with minimal effort. Instead of buying regular brand food, consider going for a long-life alternative. It tastes the same and saves you having to yet another tedious shopping trip, so you really have everything to gain. Right this minute, such a way of thinking is being exported around the world by institutions with a global reach, whilst at a smaller level, teams of volunteers are at work providing local communities with their own solutions to make the most of resources we here take for granted. With a change of mindset, not only will we be richer, but the healthier environment we create will be worth more than any currency.
Perhaps the most notorious candidate on this list, the hidden cost of vehicular travel is responsible for roughly 13%of carbon dioxide that is fuelling global warming. As can be seen in this staggering infographic, the number of cars and lorries ploughing the world's roads is enormous, to the point that I can't even type out the numbers as they shift before my eyes. That's not even to mention the emissions from sea and air travel, as due to being the lifeblood of our trade, cutting back on the number of these vehicles is a difficult proposition.
Resultantly, this is an issue that is arguably the most difficult to fix on this list. Whilst millions do reduce their carbon footprint via public transport, for many more that simply isn't a plausible possibility. I myself would have no hope in hell of making it to work in time without my car and with none of my colleagues living near enough to car pool, my options are strictly limited.
So we arrive in a situation where just waving a wand and removing our vehicles is an unrealistic fantasy. Instead, we have to make do with what we have, but optimise this for a healthier environment. Lorries for instance don't necessarily need to be gas guzzlers, when there is a range of measures transport firms can take at a minimal cost. Doing so not only reduces emissions, but increases fuel efficiency which in turn requires less spending on petrol.
The same principle applies to the average motorist as well. Whilst efficiency often has an initial short-term cost, over the course of a car's lifespan, the owner will recoup their outlay and then some, due to requiring fewer trips to the pump. Many guides can easily be found to point you in the right direction if you're not a 'motorhead', with eco-friendly being the new black out on the roads.
You may have heard about food miles. This is the distance your food has travelled before it reaches your plate. What can you do to help this? Buy local produce. It helps the local community and keeps your carbon footprint down.Quick summary of things you can do to help:
Overall, it's this concept of making the most of what we have that should be the chief objective for our society in the immediate future. Whilst it may be a pipedream to expect 100% sustainable energy and industry overnight, this can be achieved through continued diligence and co-operation. Extensive research has been going on for years looking for that one big breakthrough to transform the world, but environmentalism is not the sole responsibility of a handful of scientists.
Rather than view this challenge as a burden, I would propose the opposite. Countering the threats to our environment highlights the incredible worth of quite literally every single person, regardless of background. All are equal before a drought and a great flood does not discriminate what gets swept away. Our green and blue rock has the potential to be our paradise or our prison, but the solutions are there to make things as we want it to be. We can have the resources and products we want in an inexhaustible amount, if we take steps now to make it happen. If a few sacrifices today are all that's needed for me to have a top of the range car and phone tomorrow, that sounds like a worthy trade to me. Wouldn't you agree
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