A friend posted a link to a Washington Post article a while ago that described how more than 15,000 scientists from 184 countries have signed a second notice to Humanity. The article can be read here. The original paper, which is mere 2 pages of writing, can be accessed here.
This blog post will be a summary of the published paper and my own responses to it and will be using some difficult words. If you are children from my class reading this and find it challenging, you can come back to it when you are slightly older. But if you remember some of my 15 minute after lunch lessons on these issues, you might be able to follow through.
Since the first notice was published in 1992, with the exception of ozone layer depletion, most of the other areas of concern such as fresh water availability, marine life depletion, ocean dead zones, deforestation, bio-diversity destruction, climate change and human population growth have all continued to get worse.
It lists 4 especially troubling trend.
- The potentially catastrophic climate change due to rising Green House Gases from burning fossil fuels.
- Agricultural production, particularly from meat farming.
- Mass extinction, the sixth in 540 million years, this time caused by human actions.
The impact of animal agriculture was not something I knew in detail but I recently watched a documentary called Cowspiracy, now available on Netflix (but parental guidance is advised for some butchering scenes). Some of the figures shown in the film are astonishing.
- As you can see from the pictogram above, meat and dairy production produces far more green house gasses than the exhausts of all cars, trucks, trains, boats and planes combined, consuming vast amounts of fresh water resources and degrading eco-systems.
- 10,000 years ago, free living animals made up 99% of the biomass and human beings took up only 1%. Today, we humans and the animals we own as property make up 98% of the biomass on Earth. And wild free living animals make up only 2%.
- Our current population is 7 billion, but we raise 70 billion farm animals.
- World wide, 50% of the grain and legumes that we grow are fed to animals while 1 billion people are malnourished or starving.
So the scientist’s choice to include animal farming in the top 4 concerns is very much justified. On top of that, when you consider the fact that 95% of all our food, either directly (like vegetables, wheat and rice), or indirectly (like grains and legumes consumed through meat) are all grown on soil, it’s frightening to know that if current rates of degradation continues, we will not have any topsoil to grow food on in 60 years. More on topsoil can be read here.
It seems increasingly clear to me that there are several reasons why we humans seem unable to change the ‘foreseeable’ course towards self-destruction. First thing that comes to my mind is our current diminished capacity as a species to imagine past our life span. If we can follow the Native American’s 7th generation principle, of considering the impact on our descendants 7 generations into the future, and act with their interest in mind, our everyday actions will be very different indeed. I say current diminished capacity, since it’s clear from the Native American culture that it is a skill and a mindset that can be learned and passed down, which can be ingrained in our social psyche with enough emphasis.
Second is the lack of viable alternatives. We have some advances in sustainable alternatives, in energy sources, technology, organic produce etc. But nothing (in the collective consciousness at least) that resembles a truly sustainable model of living that is;
a) within the means and resources of nature, which could potentially continue harmoniously for 10,000 years or more,
b) affordable and accessible to all social classes,
c) adaptable and able to replicate in various bio-regions, climates and terrains in a large scale.
I will expand more on these ideas in later blog posts.
Third is our continued attachment to the exponential growth model of economy. But again, I’ll write a separate post about this as it’s a big subject.
13 Steps Suggested by Scientists
The paper then lists 13 examples of steps humanity can take to steer our world towards a sustainable future. Where possible, I’ve edited and simplified it to accommodate for younger readers.
(a) prioritising the set up of connected well-funded and well-managed reserves for a big chunk of the world’s land, ocean, freshwater, and bird habitats;
(b) maintaining nature’s ecosystem by stopping the conversion of forests, grasslands, and other native habitats;
(c) restoring native plant communities at large scales, particularly forest landscapes;
(d) rewilding regions with native species, especially predators, to restore ecological processes and dynamics;
(e) developing and adopting policy to stop the extinction of animals, the poaching crisis, and the trade of threatened species;
(f) reducing food waste through education and better infrastructure;
(g) promoting dietary shifts towards mostly plant-based foods;
(h) further reducing birth rates by ensuring that women and men have access to education and voluntary family-planning services;
(i) increasing outdoor nature education for children, as well as the overall engagement of society in the appreciation of nature;
(j) making sure money is used to encourage positive environmental change;
(k) creating and promoting new green technologies and massively adopting renewable energy sources while phasing out fossil fuels;
(l) revising our economy to reduce wealth inequality and ensure that the systems take into account the real costs on our environment; and
(m) estimating a sustainable human population size for the long term while rallying nations and leaders to support that vital goal
From the list above, I would suspect that there will be an increased demand in sectors of biology, conservation, ecology, forestry, education, social and ecological enterprises and engineering in the near future. If you are interested in making a positive difference to the world, these areas of study might be a good starting point.
The main excitement for me though, came from the fact that ‘increasing outdoor nature education for children to develop appreciation of nature’ is in the list of recommendations. I feel like my decisions up until now have been affirmed by all those scientists… So to finish this rather heavy blog post, I’d like to share this video of David Attenborough speaking with Barak Obama.