Is the environment doomed?
There are wildly varying degrees of concern, relaxation or outright hysteria regarding the state of the wider environment, our planet, our climate and pollution.
Regardless of your position on the issue there can be few who didn’t see images of the latest hurricanes to hit the US and China without at least some concern at the relative severity of the storm and the subsequent destruction that was unleashed.
Pictures that have hit all of our screens recently show piles of plastic and rubbish floating in the sea with a growing number of marine animals entering the endangered species list. Animals in the jungle and in tropical climates are increasingly seeing their habitats destroyed, and even in the UK there have been warnings recently that indigenous species such as foxes, badgers and hedgehogs are now in danger as a result of environmental damage.
Are things really as bad as they seem? After all, there have been scientists recently who predict that we’ve already pushed our luck too far and we’re on our way towards a hot house earth, which is an irreversible state of warming that would see the oceans shrink and temperatures reach boiling point. In a BBC article, Prof Johan Rockström, from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, said "What we are saying is that when we reach 2 degrees of warming, we may be at a point where we hand over the control mechanism to Planet Earth herself,"
"We are the ones in control right now, but once we go past 2 degrees, we see that the Earth system tips over from being a friend to a foe. We totally hand over our fate to an Earth system that starts rolling out of equilibrium."
By and large, it appears that the majority (a reducing majority) still believe that the human race are in control of our own destiny when it comes to climate change, and that a concerted effort from the world’s governments is still able to reverse this slide into collapse.
Despite the impact of Donald Trump and the US pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, there is plenty that can still to be done. For example, Sky News reports that researchers from Newcastle University say most types of plastic sink in seawater, with even plastic that floats eventually becoming heavy from the growth of algae. Of more than 393 million tons of plastic in the oceans, just 246,000 tons is on the surface. The rest is suspended in the water, lying on the bottom, or buried in the seabed.
The UK, admirably, has been at the forefront of the battle to reduce plastic waste and has called for a third of the world’s oceans to become protected environments, as well as recycling a record number of plastic bottles last year.
Simon Lewis, a research scientist in the field of global warming and climate change, wrote in The Guardian recently about the possibility for humanity to reduce or stop the damage it’s doing to its own environment. He wrote that, for example, carbon emissions have started to flat line over the last decade, after years and years of rises, whilst we work towards zero emissions.
He also notes that the earth has, so far, only increased global temperatures by 1 degree from preindustrial levels, although we are trying to avoid increases of 2 or 3 degrees Celsius in the near future.
He also writes that the consequences of climate change are, as yet, not particularly clear for the future. We know what we expect, but the truth is that we just don’t know how our planet will respond.
The positive is this; whilst the previous generations have ignored the issue and even made it worse, it certainly appears that we have reached the tipping point where a generation of millennials and their children have finally woken up to the dangers of global warming and it has slowly been increasing in priority in polls across the world. Where once the environment wouldn’t even make the top 20 priorities for voters, it now regularly appears within the top 5.
The Green Party in the UK for example, got over one million votes in the 2015 general election despite once being considered a fringe, single issue party. This is a party with radical ideas about renewable energy, the environment and housing.
At this moment in time it feels like things are in the balance, on the one hand you have the US president pretending that climate change science is even up for debate, whilst in the other you have a generation of young voters who are increasingly aware that they’re fighting for their future, and doing a very good job of it.
Activists, somewhat like the animals they strive to save, have been awoken. A snail can sleep for three years, but once awake can make incredible progress, if not a little slowly. Is the environment doomed? Not just yet.