This week the UK government declared that we are in a climate emergency.
Following the broadcast of BBC’s sobering ‘Climate change: the facts’ and increasing pressure from activist groups such as Extinction Rebellion, the topic of our planet’s future is now once again firmly back on the agenda (how it was allowed to fall off the agenda, we can only wonder).
Back in 2013 the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded in it’s Fifth Assessment Report that categorically “climate change is real and human activities are the main cause”.
So frustratingly, this isn’t new information.
I remember when I was first introduced to the damage we were doing all over the world. It was back in my Year 8 geography class, I sat there trying to understand exactly why we were destroying the rainforest, bleaching coral reefs, guzzling fossil fuels and pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at an alarming rate. That was 15 years ago, and what’s happened since? It’s got a thousand times worse.
Schoolchildren protest over climate change. Photo credit BBC News
And now, it seems as if we’ve reached a tipping point. A point where if we don’t act now, we are heading well and truly down the creek. So, what should we do? Bury our heads in the sand? Plan our escape to Mars?
According to National Geographic, “Addressing climate change will require many solutions—there's no magic bullet. Yet nearly all of these solutions exist today”.
Working together could be a good start. I mention this only because the amount of people I’ve seen blaming one another is scary. From the criticism against those passionate people who have gathered together in protest because they made a carbon footprint in order to get there, to the fairly drastic yells of ‘stop having kids!’. Yes, the planet is pretty crowded but we’ve had the paradox of both a hunger crisis and obesity crisis - isn’t it our inability to share nicely which is the problem?
Waterloo Bridge on Good Friday
Our lifestyle choices do count for a lot, and the price of convenience has much to answer for. Last year I reflected on myself properly as a consumer. What was I most guilty of? Is there anything I can change? What would I be willing to give up?
Switching to cruelty free, eco-friendly toiletries was easy (apart from not yet finding a decent deodorant – anyone close to me, for this I apologise). And finding out what atrocious ingredients some ‘beauty’ products were made up of… well if that’s beauty – then I don’t want it!
Then there was the nightmare of the weekly shop. Last time I checked in my local supermarket (rhyming with Borrisons) it was significantly cheaper to buy six tomatoes sitting in a plastic tray, wrapped in a plastic jacket (presumably in case there was a freak torrential downpour in aisle one of Market Street) than it was to buy loose ones. I then spent a good 20 minutes comparing jars of peanut butter to find that there wasn’t one, even an expensive upmarket brand which didn’t use non-recyclable plastic packaging and/or palm oil. And don’t even mention those oh-so-handy for lunchbox cereal bars! I left the supermarket that day with an empty basket, frustrated and hungry.
My ecoshopping journey has since led me to meet my local greengrocers, butchers and fishmongers (something I’m ashamed to say took two years two long) as well as making new efforts to visit the fortnightly farmers market down the road.
A good haul from the greengrocers of Beccles
It goes without saying of course that the places we shop need to make significant, large-scale changes to enable us to become more ethical consumers. But equally, we need to take responsibility for our actions, no matter how small (as the other place rhyming with Mesco says – every little helps, right?).
A warmer planet will without question have significant effects on wildlife globally, leaving conservation groups with tough decisions to make.
On the same day the crisis was officially announced, I was sat in a conference room with my colleagues at the RSPB’s Eastern England regional gathering. We considered our choices for the future. What’s more urgent… to invest in people, or to invest in saving species? To promote conservation through formal education or through community engagement?
The room was split and the answer was clear; all of the above. We won’t have a planet rich in nature without continuing to invest in our diverse reserves and creating precious habitat. But there simply won’t be any wildlife left to protect without a society intrinsically connected to nature, and inspired to protect it for themselves.
Getting closer to nature at Loch Garten. Photo by Helen Pugh (rspb-images.com)
Away from our Minsmere bubble there are millions of people unaware of the delicate balance of nature, the benefits of biodiversity and the ecosystem services we so greatly rely on.
I know lots of people who live and breathe conservation, as well as plenty of others who haven’t given it a second thought. It’s our responsibility now to make those people think again. How? Give up buying vegetables wrapped in raincoats, write to your local MP, join an activist group, talk about it at the dinner table, do whatever you can but most importantly keep the conversation alive.
We’re privileged in this country to have the freedom of choice, and the freedom of speech – I say let’s use this, and use it loudly.
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