As we pack away the Christmas tree and eat the last tray of mince pies, another new year begins and we reflect on what has been a tumultuous year for the natural world.
In 2018, the natural world featured heavily in our news items, but much more catastrophically than before. We have been exposed fully the extent of plastic pollution as it reaches previously untouched islands and ocean trenches. We have lost the last male Northern White Rhino, an unfortunate mascot for the hard-hitting reality that we have decimated 60% of wildlife populations in Just 40 years (WWF). Perhaps most dramatically it has unravelled that our planet may only sustain us for 12 more years.
What continues to fuel these crises? Us. Humans. The most intelligent life form on planet earth is destroying its only home.
Environmentalists everywhere (myself included) shake our heads in despair as to how we have reached this state, how we have knowingly walked into an unmitigated crisis.
That is exactly the crux of the issue; for a large proportion of people, they have not done it knowingly.
Since my previous articles, I have gone from student to teacher and this change in position has generated a change in perspective. I see each day how it is possible to have reached this critical point. We are creatures of habit; we fear the unknown and we are absorbed in an online world rather than a physical one. My students are enraptured with social media, by their own admission their phones are at the centre of their daily function. Their routine and their knowledge is directed and in many ways controlled by the online platforms that they use.
I do not wish to share dismay at the use of technology or the proliferation of social media sites. Internet access has been pivotal in spreading conservation messages and quickly sharing news about daily events. However, it allows the user to see only what they wish to.
Human beings have built success upon money, social status and ownership of goods all of which become immaterial if the constructs within which we live are gone. We do not fear climate change or environmental costs because as humans we do not grasp the large-scale impacts upon us. We fear illnesses, we fear financial crisis, and we fear loss of food or water. Environmental change on a large scale could cause any or all of those impacts and more. Yet we continue to favour short-term gratification over the promise of long-term satisfaction.
This owes to the ways in which we receive information. We are conditioned that human suffering comes from direct effects on a person only and the idea that harming the environment also harms us is a poorly grasped concept. If we are to save planet earth and its’ creatures there needs to be a shift in attitude toward a kinder, less selfish and less westernised society. Whilst we in the west create unmeasurable damage to the planet every day with simple choices, others struggle to find shelter or food.
We are taught from a young age that houses should be kept clean and that dirt belongs outside. A simple statement borne out of health preservation and hygiene that sends a harmful environmental message; that things outside of our homes are secondary. It is a place to dump rubbish, to release sewage, to keep animals unfit for domestic purposes. We unintentionally send the message that our great outdoors is lesser than the pristine carpets of our halls. We have been led into conserving our own day-to-day existence but little else outside it.
In recent years, environmental messages have increasingly been making it to the forefront of news outlets. Momentum is growing for environmental causes; plastic straws are being removed or replaced, reusable coffee cups are becoming an accepted norm, fundraisers for animal charities are spreading, but is it enough? The changes observed are positive but what remains out of reach for the masses is that significant environmental change can only be borne out of sacrifices from us. Losses to the lifestyle to which we have become accustomed must happen.
I unfortunately hold no suggestions to a fix all solution but I do feel that we need to be made more aware of how our choices cause impact. How one piece of plastic becomes part of a large-scale environmental problem? We should be educating our adults and our children about how we CAN affect change. We should be getting reacquainted with nature and each other, emphasising that our choices do matter and most importantly, that we only have one home.