Time to stop damaging behaviours of the most environmentally destructive creature on earth

  • Paul Donovan

Paul Donovan

Paul Donovan

There is one animal in the world that wantonly destroys its own life support system, casts its waste around and poisons its own young?
This animal also has the intelligence capacity to know what it is doing, yet continues in a state of self-denial to live in such a destructive way?

The animal in question is the human being. So much of the ongoing destruction of the planet is due to humankind, which has developed an arrogant attitude toward the natural world in which it dwells. No longer a partnership or stewardship but simply an approach of attritional destruction.

The present economic model, based on consumer based consumption is premised on burning up the natural resources all around us. Ideas like preservation, recycling and reusing are largely alien.

There has been much science warning about the devastation being caused by humans but so many retreat further behind their front doors, happier to remain in denial, continuing to drive, fly, eat meat and thereby destroy the planet on which we live.

The challenge that humankind faces today is getting people out of the physical and virtual silos, where so many choose reside and reconnecting with neighbours and the wider community. Only then is there a chance of saving the planet.

There are three areas where the human behaviour has brought particular destruction - climate, biodiversity and pollution.

The recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that there are 12 years to effectively save the world.
The scientists called for climate warming to be kept to 1.5 degrees or less, the previous target set at the UN Paris agreement was 2 degrees.

Now the scientists claim that 50% less of the world population will be subject to water stress with the 1.5 degree warming, than the previous target.

If not halted climate change will bring droughts, floods more wars and mass migrations to name but a few consequences.

The revised targets from the IPCC aim to see carbon emissions cut by 45% by 2030, going down to zero by 2050. The previous target under the two degree warning was zero by 2075.

The recommendations of the IPCC is to move massively to renewable sources of energy, leaving fossil fuels in the ground. Transport systems also have to be hugely changed to zero emission technology.

The report is very much aimed at governments, stressing that political will is needed if this transformation is to be achieved. It can be but these measures need to be taken in the next 12 years.

A second major area of devastation being caused by human behavious is pollution.

A recent report from the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health found that 50,000 die each in the UK due to pollution. A previous study by Kings College, London, found that 9,500 die each year in the capital alone.

Some 8.39% of deaths in UK are pollution related.

The tragic case of 9 yr old Ella Kissi Debrah, who died in 2013 from an asthma attack, that has been linked to illegal levels of pollution, shows the human face of what is happening.

One of the most confounding elements about human behaviour is why when parents know what pollution is doing to their children, they continue to drive to schools.

Some 30 or 40 years ago the mass of kids walked to school, why did that change? Partly because we decided to ship kids all over the place, so that rather than go to schools in their own catchment areas, they went miles away - involving multiple journeys. This was all done in the name of choice.

However, there are also no doubt plenty of parents who live short distances from the schools, who still see a need to drive round to the schools. It is unbelievable.

Action need to be taken on pollution, with far more pedestrianisation. Diesel engines, which cause much pollution, should be being taken off the roads.

There needs to be a move toward walking, cycling and non-polluting public transport.

In London, Mayor Sadiq Khan has set a target of 80% of journeys via these means by 2031.

More widely, there needs to be a legally binding clean air act passed.

The third area of human related planetary devastation is biodiversity. Humanity is burning the library of life.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature's red list shows the existence of 25% of mammals, 41% of amphibians and 13% of birds under threat.

Just take the bird population, which have seen 80% of starlings, 60% of skylarks and 55% of yellowhammers disappear in the past 40 years.

What is often not understood is how crucial the biodiversity is to the life of the planet. If one thing disappears it has huge knock on effects in terms of the network of life. Indeed, it is this failure to recognise this co-existence and co-dependence that has led to the human being behaving in such an irrational destructive way.

Take bees, which pollinate plants. A mural on a wall in London summarises the relationship nicely. It has bees heading off into the background, declaring if we go, we're taking you with us.

In some ways the loss of biodiversity is the most damaging contribution of human beings to planetary destruction.

Climate change is reversible, with the political will and requisite action. Once biodiversity has gone, it is not coming back.

Among the ways to contribute to halting the loss of biodiversity is to stop using things like palm oil, soy, meat, leather and timber, all of which require land clearance. We can also contribute by growing hedgerows, planting seeds, and creating eco-friendly habitats. Non-destructive farming methods also need to be encouraged - the pesticides used in farming over the past 50 years have contributed hugely to the destruction of biodiversity.

The situation is dire but not beyond saving.

The plastics revolution shows the way. The public revolt resulting, when it became clear the damage being done across the world, has seen people moving to stop using plastic altogether, not simply recycling it.

It marks a significant move away from the consumption model mentioned earlier, a move toward not creating the waste in the first place, rather than thinking all will be well if I just act a little bit more responsibly with the waste product, once used.

There obviously needs to be the political will to address this crisis. The moves to renewable energy and away from fossil fuels and the changes in transportation modes need to be politically driven, so pressure needs to be exerted by the citizens on their representatives.

Though, overall, there needs to be a return to a simpler way of living, a backward step in some respects. This would see less driving, less flying, use wholly of renewable energy, insulating homes and workplaces, not building homes that are not zero carbon emissions and eating less meat.

Key to this all happening has to be a tap into community spirit. There is such a thing as society, it has to be galvanised, getting people out of those front doors, acting in community together. A move away from our present individualistic, atomised world, toward a more communal, collective way of doing things.

In Wanstead, east London, where I live and have just been elected as a Labour councillor, we are endeavouring to address some of these challenges by creating an environmental charter.

This will focus on addressing climate change, bio-diversity and pollution.

We will be looking at cleaner journeys, encouraging more vegetation, using less plastics and creating less waste and having greener homes.

The charter's creators will look for support from Redbridge Council, schools, local businesses, civil society and individuals. All need to join in with the idea.

The idea is at a formative stage at the moment but the initial public meeting, saw great support expressed for taking the idea forward.

The council have indicated that they could look to roll out similar initiatives across the borough, if successful in Wanstead. And who knows beyond that.

The charter is one way to help create that simpler more environmentally friendly way of life. It should tap into that latent community spirit, bringing collective action. It is though only one way of doing things but it is a start.

See: paulfdonovan.blogspot.com

Tags: Environment, Paul Donovan, Viewpoint

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