Creature comforts vs the planet

I’ve talked a lot about environmentalist issues here in the Go. One of my first Message to the Editor columns was about a report that explained how we only have a decade or so to halt climate change, last week I wrote a front page story about the plastic pollution at Nahoon Beach, and this week again there’s the recent story about Yellowwoods Forest down at Morgan’s Bay.

There’s a reason why I think environmentalism is such an important topic – our planet is the most important resource we have and protecting it should be our highest priority. And it’s good to see that there are people and organisations such as Yellowwoods that are trying to do their part to help the Earth.

Unfortunately, such measures don’t mean much if the majority of society continues to go on as if it’s business as usual.

Radical changes needed to keep warming within a “survivable” level (one that will still leave sub-Saharan Africa warming at twice the global average), would have to be made – not just on a personal level but on a larger structural level as well.

The most pressing goal right now is the elimination of fossil fuels. The report I mentioned earlier said we need to completely eliminate carbon emissions within the next 10 years. This means every vehicle, every home, every factory, every power plant in the world has to be run 100% on clean renewable sources.

Theoretically, such a massive change is possible. It would take incredible political will, more than any other cause in history perhaps, but it can be done. In theory.

However, there’s a reason you don’t see many politicians clamouring to shut down every coal plant and replace it with solar panels. The fact of the matter is our entire global economy is built upon fossil fuel and has been since the first Industrial Revolution. It powers our homes, runs our factories, and allows our vehicles to travel. Not to mention all the people who are directly employed in the coal plants and mines.

The economic consequences of switching to 100% renewals are possibly cataclysmic with entire industries going extinct almost overnight. In our country alone, that’s thousands of people thrown out of work and left destitute.

What politician is going to go out in public and say that they are deliberately going to force vast swathes of the population into unemployment? They’d be lucky if they made it back to their car in one piece, nevermind re-elected.

Even though it would mean saving our planet, that’s not going to mean much to the families who can no longer afford to feed their children.

And let’s not forget that our lifestyles will have to drastically shrink if we wish to become more sustainable.

We live in a consumerist economy that survives on the constant consumption of products. Ever wonder why items that used to last years now barely last months? It’s because companies need you to keep buying new versions of their product over and over again in order to make a profit.

Such practices are incredibly destructive for the environment and have significantly contributed to both the rising emission rates, as well as the increasing piles of litter that fill our landfills and oceans. Even if by some miracle we completely eliminate carbon emissions, we’d still need to find an alternative to rampant consumerist capitalism to make it sustainable.

Finally, we all need to do so much more on a personal level. and this is where things get tricky. After all, humans (and I include myself here) have a nasty habit of putting comfort above all other concerns even when that comfort is ultimately destructive.

As a society, we will have to get used to the idea of giving up many creature- comforts. For some that’s going to be harder to visualise than a country run entirely off solar power.

We like to imagine that we can fix the world while still maintaining our current standard of living but sadly, this will not be the case. If we survive, our new way of life will have to be on a considerably smaller-scale than it is right now.

The next few years are going to be vital. Our choices now will determine whether or not the Earth itself remains safe to live on. It will be hard and at some times may even seem impossible. We are facing the biggest existential threat our species has ever known but history has shown that if we as a society pull together, we can do anything.

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