It’s easy to think that environmental problems are simply too big and scary for individuals to make any real difference. Over the last 12 months there have been so many headlines making the news on seemingly separate environmental issues. And always couched in ways that make it seem almost impossible for us as individuals to know how to react in ways that make a real positive difference, rather than simply feel depressed and powerless.
Just in the first few months of 2019 we have had strident press headlines ranging from ‘insect Armageddon’, warning of declines in insect life
across the planet, the speeding up of ice-melts
at both planetary poles and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warning that the biodiversity that underpins farming and agriculture is disappearing across the globe
. Even our weather has been making headlines! The hottest days ever recorded in the UK in February have widely been linked to a speeding up of climate change. So many seemingly separate issues that it feels impossible to know where to start.
But of course all these environmental issues making the headlines are fundamentally linked. And the link is us! The solution to climate change and biodiversity loss is not about changing the planet it’s about changing ourselves.
It would be reassuring to think that all these reports making headlines when taken together would be a tipping point: a tipping point where world leaders come together to start treating the state of our global environment with the seriousness and resource they have previously, and still continue, to put into globalisation and keeping the world economy ‘working’.
There is an opportunity coming to bring about real change – an opportunity that is rare and precious
The banner of one of the young protesting recently at their ‘school strike’ against climate change read, ‘there is no planet B’, a fact that it’s only too easy to think that our politicians haven’t yet grasped. Given the low priority that environmental issues tend to receive in their manifestos and the low levels of funding provided to enable ecosystems which are damaged to be restored, it’s very hard to believe that the scale and urgency of these issues is understood. Perhaps our politicians think that biodiversity conservation is a matter for charities and the special interests of naturalists and birdwatchers. Or perhaps, even worse, they do understand the seriousness of these issues but chose not to rock the boat of conformity to the mantra that a growing economy, whatever its true cost, comes before all other issues.
There is an opportunity coming to bring about real change – an opportunity that is rare and precious. Next year, in 2020, world leaders will come together to talk about the environment and the future of biodiversity at a global level. This meeting will take place in China, when a new global biodiversity framework, perhaps in the form of a world convention, ‘Living in Harmony with Nature’, may be signed. Doubtless fine words will be spoken. But if this is truly to become a tipping point when these linked environmental issues begin to be addressed with the urgency and scale of response needed, then it will only be because across the world people have joined together to demand this.
We need conservation, environmental and wildlife organisations to come together internationally and speak with one voice to demand that the main, and well understood, drivers of biodiversity loss – habitat loss, climate change, pollution, over-exploitation and invasive non-native species – are tackled with the same urgency and scale of resource that the recent banking crisis was tackled. And yes, even this is too weak, the urgency of course is much greater than any banking crisis. And the input of resource should be on a different and much larger scale.
Conservation organisations can play their part by building alliances with organisations and individuals working in the fields of health, wellbeing, sustainability and international development to demonstrate that getting a meaningful global biodiversity convention is also crucial to achieving wider health and sustainability goals.
But even more that this it will need individuals who love this planet, and the diversity and beauty of life that it supports, to demonstrate overwhelming support to our politicians for real actions to be taken that address these global issues. As individuals we can show this support in really practical ways – in the choices we make when we purchase things, in the actions we take in our own communities to work towards a healthier environment and in the conversations we have about the need for action with our friends and neighbours.
Only by making common cause with a much wider coalition of interests will we win arguments against vested economic interests that will fight any opportunity for real change. We have just over a year to demand that our leaders don’t just speak fine words in China but instead commit to real actions backed up by significant resources. If that is to happen both organisations and individuals will need to use the next 12 months well. World leaders and our politicians will take action, but only if we join together and demonstrate that the changes necessary to solve these global issues have widespread public support. Solutions to all these environmental issues are possible. Don’t let the headlines make you think otherwise. Addressing these issues is fundamental to creating a better, healthier and happier future for our children. And solutions begin by people and communities coming together creating local solutions but at the same time demanding global action from our leaders in 2020.
David North is Head of People and Wildlife at NWT