One of the greatest threats we will face on a global scale over the next 30 to 50 years is climate change and overpopulation. By the time we realise this on a scale that is large enough to enact any significant changes, it will be too late. The global reaction will, unfortunately, be one of security and survival rather than prevention and change.
This is a gloomy prediction but based on our human nature and over dependence on consumption, on top of our scepticism of the issue. We will have blindly walked over the edge before we realise what was right in front of humanity, screaming at us for years.
Like most people, I skimmed over climate change and overpopulation as issues that were not on my doorstep. I had childminders to deal with and e-mail that required responding to. These are issues, I thought, for people living in Antarctic regions and surely the next generation would be more equipped to resolve these matters. I knew better, of course, but we can be easily undiscerning to the obvious if we so wish.
I listened to an interview recently with Irish environmental campaigner and journalist John Gibbons. The realisation of the urgency and seriousness of this message made me aware that this was not my children’s problem but mine. His message was this:
For the last 200,000 years or so that we have existed, it took until the mid-1800s for us to reach our first 1 billion humans. We are now at 7.7 billion. We are adding around 80 million a year to that figure, and we will reach our next billion within 12 years. It will probably level out somewhere between 9 and 10 billion. Considering a safe population to sustain the earth’s resources is between the 1 and 2 billion marks, we are already way past all sustainable levels.
He gives an example that if you were to take the weight of all the mammals in the world. Humans, their pets and livestock would account for 97% of this mammal weight. All other wild mammals accounting for only 3% and this figure is reducing. Humans have essentially pushed the vast majority of mammals on earth to the brink.
Climate war is a major issue right now and will be an ongoing cause for future conflicts. An example given was of the Syrian war. What preceded the conflict was one of the worst droughts in hundreds of years driving millions of people off the lands and into the cities leading to the chaotic scenes we are all too familiar with. This will continue, now and over the next 30 to 50 years. We will see migration, flooding, drought and famine disasters that will bring about an age of climate conflicts.
One solution mentioned and most critical is to radically change the way we eat. We kill and eat nearly 50 billion animals every year to feed over 7 billion of us. These animals, in turn, need to be fed, perhaps housed, transported and produced. They also require vast amounts of land to feed them and an enormous quantity of fresh water, mostly non-renewable that will eventually run out.
Another critical solution, he mentions, is our lifestyle. We have a vast consumerism and need for goods that we do not necessarily require. This is the job of powerful corporations, continually selling us these products and so create a massive merry-go-round of consumption desire. We ‘click’ and buy products, use them and become bored then desire something new. All this takes its toll on our resources. He tells us that 26 of the richest billionaires in the world have access to as many resources as the 3.8 billion poorest people on earth. Staggering.
He asks us to challenge the cultural fabric of society, which is the market place. We must limit ourselves or nature will do it for us. The natural world can only take so much. And do not think that you are not part of nature just because you might inhabit a big city. All cities and towns are a wholly owned subset of the natural world. We have to stop the greed and over-consumption. The people we look up to, the wealthy, successful and celebrities have lives of overuse and excess. That admiration will fade as resources dwindle. We also have over 80 million unplanned pregnancies every year. If we could use education, information and family-planning, it would go a long way in significantly reducing population growth and poverty levels. There is a civic and world responsibility that we must say yes to.
There can be no doubt that we are heading into mid-century trouble. When we see examples of extreme weather like flooding, which is more prominent now in places than ever. It is big news coverage at the time but when the water recedes, so too does the coverage. We are entering a time when those water levels do not recede and a place you once knew well will be abandoned. A huge political change is needed or our future will not be about making the right changes in time. It will be about our survival, our security, our staying alive, staying safe.
Do not think that these problems are happening in another part of the world. You might think the sea levels are rising somewhere up around Greenland. You might think the Coral Reef is diminishing in some parts of the southern hemisphere. You might think food growth is at a standstill in parts of Africa but not on the shop shelves near me. However coastal erosion and temperature changes are probably already happening where you live, and it is not going away.
If that was not enough to scare you, you can be sure that disease and infection will be causes for concern too. In ‘The Uninhabitable Earth:A Story of the Future’ by David Wallace-Wells, he gives an example of the saiga antelope in Asia, which lost almost two-thirds of its global population within days in May 2015. A previously thought harmless bacterium in the animal was the cause. It suddenly proliferated into its bloodstream and organs, with lethal results. The best explanation is the unprecedented temperature levels and humidity the animals endured over those days, the highest ever recorded in the area. If it can happen to other mammals, it can certainly happen to us.
For those of you, who think this is all too far fetched and akin to something you might watch in a doomsday movie like ‘The day after tomorrow’ for example. Futuristic movies are generally not written about things and events that will never happen. They are sometimes written about things and events that have not happened yet or use technology that has not been invented yet. You might be familiar with the original Star Trek series from the early ’70s. It might have struck you how futuristic it was to have a door that opened by itself or devices that talked to you when you engaged them(think Siri & Alexa) or indeed a small handheld machine in which you could talk to anyone on the planet(there are now nearly 5 billion mobile users in the world).
Climate-change experts are sometimes dismissed as alarmists. This is exactly what they need to be, alarmists of the highest degree. Climate deniers are akin to what ‘smoking causes cancer’ deniers used to be. It may even be too late for the radical changes that are needed, but it is better than doing nothing at all.