The scale of human influence on the planet is startling, if not downright terrifying. We’ve produced enough concrete to cover the Earth with a 2 millimetre layer, enough plastic to cling-film the Earth, we annually produce almost 5 billion livestock. Human activities move more rock and sediment than all natural processes combined. Our impact on the world is an inescapable truth.
Members of Parliament in Britain have just approved a motion to declare an environmental and climate emergency, following similar calls to action from other governments in recent weeks. Hopefully a domino effect will ensue as countries realize the huge threat posed to our world and thus our society; more and more countries will realize the severity of the situation we find ourselves in and follow suit, with growing pressure being put on leading polluters by their own citizens and other nations. However, whilst such declarations are huge steps of progression the mere acknowledging that there is a problem does not, in itself, solve it. We now enter the crucial period of what are governments going to do about it. This action comes after sustained pressure exerted by the actions of climate activist group Extinction Rebellion, forcing a shutdown of London transport with weeks of protest. Highlighting how effective collective action is when applying pressure to economic interests, it seems this is the language they understand. The calling of a climate emergency was the key aim of the protests, aiming to make politicians acknowledge the scale of the problem we face. The United Kingdom, as a leading industrialized and developed nation, is responsible for a large proportion of environmental degradation. It is therefore vital to recognize the damage that has been inflicted on the environment, and the damage that is still being done. By beginning to work to undo this harm, the UK has the potential to become an exemplary nation in recognizing what needs to be done.
Environmental policy is never the headline policy of any mainstream party’s manifesto. Environmental issues have never been given centre stage in public debate. This is largely due to the ugly realization of what must be done and that we must all make sacrifices to achieve sustainability for future generations. And these sacrifices for future generations is something many people are too near-sighted to want to see through. It is a flawed aspect of our political system in which the constant threat to stay in power requires policy of short term benefits, governments are not interested in painstaking, expensive policy ideas to solve the greatest issues facing our society. It is for that reason effective political environmental reform is so often inefficient and insufficient to the necessary scale to effect real change. However important, this declaration of a climate emergency is not legally binding. The British government is under no obligation to enact any change but it is simply a promise, an acknowledgement that they should be doing something. The declaration was announced after Extinction Rebellion’s sustained passive protests in some of London’s busiest areas disrupted transport links and effectively halting the normal flow of the city. It could therefore be argued that this promise comes as an appeasement to the protesters, with the aim of getting them off their back as they allow the protesters to feel as in they have won, whereas in fact we are likely to see little action taken by this government. It was opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn who demanded the government called the climate emergency in parliament. Targets set time and time again by international bodies and those set by countries themselves are often not adhered to or do not provide targets on timescales which are necessary to prevent a climate catastrophe, with countries such as the USA and China pulling out of their Kyoto Protocol agreements. Environmental monitoring is also an issue in the debate with reporting often not standardized and does not take into account holistic damages, thereby not showing the full scale of their damage to the environment.
In order to circumvent the destruction of our environment, large scale changes are needed. Fundamentally, changes to the economy will be the greatest with the need to switch to sources of green energy to power our economy, from the immediately-profitable coal and North Sea oil industries to high tech green solutions, investing greatly in these technologies. Secondly, consumer behaviour is vital as ultimately consumers drive markets and it is when the majority call for change that the corporations will listen. The necessary changes to our society which must be enacted revolve around changes in the economy and consumer behaviour. We have seen some success on this front with great headway in the banning of single-use plastic products, with countries such as Russia now planning on implementing such measures. Crucially, we need to change conceptions of constant growth as being the ultimate goal creating a society which is a cancer upon the planet, mindlessly growing and consuming no matter the cost. Therefore, a change in how our society functions is paramount in achieving sustainability. We need to think outside the capitalist system, where the constant endeavour for profits from corporations puts all else out of view. The lack of responsibility for their actions regarding environmental degradation needs to change if this climatic catastrophe is to be averted. Patterns of consumption are the greatest threat, the constant acquisition of raw materials to produce more and more is intrinsically unsustainable. It is the responsibility of companies to recognize this and to end this false ideology that you must constantly upgrade to minutely superior forms or you will be left behind in the past. This fear to not be left behind assures there is nowhere to go in the future. It is clear the scale of these issues cannot be bandaged with the plasters of old politics, increasing taxes to polluters, it does not work. It is cheaper for corporations to pollute and pay measly fines than it is to adopt expensive mitigation technologies. Without lasting change, no lasting result can occur.