Climate-change and global-warming are among the main themes for this blog, and that is one subject certain to encourage the pessimism in a person. On the face of it, if you accept the scientific evidence for global warming and the rate at which climate-change is happening, it can seem hopeless to attempt do anything about it. Individual actions are just so small on the scale of the problem we all face, and actions of nations on the other side of the world can make everything you do seem irrelevant. Coral reefs are sufferring, the Arctic ice is disappearing fast, extreme weather events are on the increase, and major governments are waiting for someone else to take the first step. The world’s climate has already been changed by mankind, and further change is inevitable, no matter what we do next. Why bother to try to recycle, to save petrol or polar bears, or do anything at all when faced with such a challenge?
Despite this, I personally am optimistic about the future. It’s true that we face a challenge of immense proportions, but individual actions really can make a difference. We talk about “saving the planet”, but the planet is not in peril. It is us, our children, and the plants and animals we share this planet with which need saving. Solving the problem of climate-change means nothing if it is not about saving those lives, those species. The problems of climate-change and conservation of wildlife are closely related. Action is needed by governments, yes, but also by individuals. Governments won’t be able to solve this problem if we don’t want them to. Every level of society needs to be involved, from the UN down to you and me. We don’t need someone else to go first before we act, we can all start now and do something in our own corner. The more people act, the sooner they act, the more difference it makes.
Here are some of the things that happened last year that give me cause to be optimistic.
In Britain, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds ran a campaign in 2008 asking people to do something in their gardens to help birds and the insects they depend upon. Some 25,000 homes responded, with all sorts of contributions. Even something as simple as choosing the right plants for your balcony can make a difference to your local birds by encouraging the right sorts of insects at difficult times.
In September last year, the European Parliament published the results of a survey of 30,000 people around europe to find out their attitudes to climate-change. It seems that 3 people out of every 5 have already taken some personal measure to reduce their carbon footprint. So the majority of europeans have already done something on their own, without waiting for their governments!
Interestingly, 1 person in 10 said that they did not know what they could do to reduce their carbon footprint. Simply talking to people and spreading information is therefore an important thing to do.
Another survey, this time by the BBC, asked 22,000 people worldwide what they know and think about the problems of climate-change. 9 out of every 10 people asked think something should be done, with 2 out of every 3 saying that drastic action is needed in the near future. Even the majority of the Chinese people (7 out of every 10) think that serious action is needed soon. The same picture emerged in almost all the nations included in the survey. Clearly, people accept the need to act when they are well informed.
On a different scale, the European Parliament recently introduced tougher controls on pesticides, such as banning arial spraying, protecting water-resources with buffer-zones, requiring the use of safer alternatives where they are available, and reducing pesticide use in parks, playgrounds, and other public areas.
Perhaps the most optimistic event of 2008 in this respect has to come from the United States. President-elect Obama has chosen real scientists to take key posts in his administration, including a Nobel laureate. Maybe now more governments will stop looking at each other and start looking at themselves.
None of these things is going to “save the planet” on their own, but each of them together may mean that there will be more of the planet left tomorrow, and the day after. Simply knowing that people do care to act once they know the truth is, to me, very encouraging. It’s a beautiful world, and it always will be. Just how beautiful is up to us.
I wish you a happy and peaceful new year.