As major firms have recently started to rally staff to take 'personal climate actions', how can we empower everyone to act on climate change and recognise the ecological crisis we are in?
This is a question we should consider this World Rainforest Day on June 22nd. It’s easy to become oblivious to escalating news about deforestation and climate change, but science is warning us: we must address these issues now.
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Whilst awareness-raising days remind us of the environmental challenges we face from habitat loss to species decline, a single day goes by very quickly. Herein lies the problem - people have become so entrenched in unsustainable behaviour such as leaving lights on and throwing away plastic that the ecological crisis is only highlighted through a series of single days to reflect on the state of the environment and how each of us individually impacts it.
Forests are crucial to the survival of every living being
But remember— we live on earth with finite resources and a fragile network of complex ecosystems that are under immense pressure right now.
This World Rainforest Day it's more critical than ever to understand why forests are crucial to the survival of every living being on Earth This is because forests clean the air, absorb greenhouse gas emissions, and stabilise the climate—both globally, regionally and locally. Forests also provide habitat for 80 percent of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity and livelihoods for some 1.6 billion people.
The current climate crisis, however, has accelerated the likelihood of forest fires spinning quickly out of control while rising temperatures and extreme heat are drying out ecosystems to the point of extreme vulnerability.
On other days of the year, perhaps we are not as conscious of how we deplete our planet’s resources. This year must be different as we seek to build back greener and stronger. Let’s use World Rainforest Day to set aside old, unsustainable habits and replace them with new ones that allow us to reduce our personal environmental impact and carbon footprint.
We can’t afford a New Year’s Eve-style World Rainforest Day, where we change our habits for a day or two before forgetting our recently made commitments. We can enact real and lasting change in how we live our lives everyday.......if we have the will and knowhow.
There are some changes we can make that are neither life-altering nor complex. In fact, small shifts in our habits can go a long way, helping us be more sustainable and more responsible citizens of the world. Food waste is a good example of something that most of us can quickly reduce.
Much of the food we cultivate ends up being thrown away. In the UK, households are responsible for 6.6 Million Tonnes of food waste on average each year. In fact, wasted food accounts for about 8% of global emissions. That’s because when we don’t use food, we not only throw the food away, but we’ve also wasted water, fertilizers, seeds and energy. What’s more, rotting food that’s been thrown out will produce methane, further increasing the levels of unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions.
Deforestation must stop
In poorer countries, food tends to be wasted in the first phases of production: the main causes are crops and meat spoiling during storage and before they can be sold. In richer countries, food wastage is much more linked with consumer behaviour. We often reject food products that don’t look perfect, and we regularly buy more than we need. This must stop.
Contributing to food waste on a regular basis is just one of the many ways in which we are currently living our lives in an unsustainable manner. However, we can also see that with small changes, we can drastically alter our impact. Take, for instance, ground-breaking initiatives, such as Project Drawdown, that can inspire us to think about which areas of our day-to-day lives from reducing our food waste to lowering our emissions.
Being aware of how our food is produced and gets to us can also help us to ensure that it is sourced sustainably and fairly. Certification schemes, for example, can help guide shoppers on how to identify products which are sustainably sourced.
In addition to taking decisive action to change our individual habits, we can also work together to pressure governments to think and act more sustainably. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions to halt temperature rises will require vast amounts of finance and government support. By being more politically aware about what's at stake with a deteriorating environment, we can all help to prioritise the green agenda. Voting for parties with credible environmental solutions, signing petitions and attending marches are all simple actions to take.
It is easy to feel powerless, but our voices can be heard alongside business, industry, and government if there is a consensus on what needs to be done. If we all speak up, it is impossible for those in power to ignore our concerns and demands for action. All the signs indicate that increased people pressure is working. For example, a recent landmark ruling by a Dutch court in May 2021 has forced oil company Shell to cut its carbon emissions 45% by 2030. This demonstrates that communities, citizen and shareholder action can bring about historic changes that can benefit the whole of society through collaboration and mass engagement.
The last year has also shown that emissions can be reduced if we change our lifestyles. The Covid-19 pandemic meant that in 2020 global emissions were down by 7%. Despite this, carbon emissions are expected to rebound by 5% in 2021, before continuing to grow past 2019 levels.
We should use this World Rainforest Day—and every day—to be, and to demand, the change we need to see in the world around us.