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Humans: a threat or a treat to our planet?

Mary Thomas, Associate Editor, ATB, Jan 2019, Edmonton

Earth is home to millions of species. Just one dominates it. Us. Our cleverness, our inventiveness and our activities have modified almost every part of our planet. Indeed, our cleverness, our inventiveness and our activities are now the drivers of every global problem we face. And every one of these problems is accelerating as we continue to grow towards a global population of 10 billion. The situation we’re in right now is an emergency – an unprecedented planetary emergency.

We currently have no known means of being able to feed 10 billion of us at our current rate of consumption and with our current agricultural system. Indeed, simply to feed ourselves in the next 40 years, we will need to produce more food than the entire agricultural output of the past 10,000 years combined. Yet food productivity is set to decline very sharply, over the coming decades due to: climate change; soil degradation and desertification. By the end of this century, large parts of the planet will not have any usable water.

We are going to have to triple – at least – energy production by the end of this century to meet expected demand. To meet that demand, we will need to build: 1,800 of the world’s largest dams, or 23,000 nuclear power stations, 14m wind turbines, 36bn solar panels, or just keep going with predominantly oil, coal and gas – and build the 36,000 new power stations. Are governments and the world’s major oil, coal and gas companies – some of the most influential corporations on Earth – really going to decide to leave the money in the ground, as demand for energy increases relentlessly? I doubt it.

Every which way you look at it, a planet of 10 billion looks like a nightmare. What, then, are our options?

The only solution is to change our behaviour, radically and globally, on every level. We urgently need to consume less. A lot less. Radically less. And we need to conserve more. A lot more. To accomplish such a radical change in behaviour would also need radical government action. But as far as this kind of change is concerned, politicians are currently part of the problem, because the decisions that need to be taken to implement significant behaviour change inevitably make politicians very unpopular – as they are all too aware.

Thankfully, businesses are beginning the trend away from planned obsolescence. The high-end outdoors clothing company Patagonia, for example, issues a guarantee that it will repair any of its products for free over their lifetime, and employs a team of seamstresses to do just that. It actually ran an advertising campaign asking consumers to buy less of the stuff they don’t need, to curb waste and environmental damage.

As mines become depleted, it could force the market to change its ways. We’re moving towards a resource-limited economy, which means manufacturers are going to have to move their business model towards remanufacturing and repairs. Perhaps, then, planned obsolescence will begin to reach its own expiration date.

As individuals we must take ownership of how we reduce, reuse and recycle to curb overconsumption that will only take us quicker to the end of our planet’s life and ours. Just simple everyday actions like taking a reusable cup to Tim Hortons and using reusable straws maybe just 1 step and every step will change group behavior. Looking forward to hearing from you at mary@asiantribune.ca.

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