“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference and you have to decide what kind of a difference you want to make.”
I woke up to the mesmerizing view of the orange-red sunrays illuminating the snowy-white cliffs and the lush green valley in tints of yellow. The chirp of birds became my wake-up alarm. The chilly breeze flowing through my hair, fondling my skin revoked the memories of the pampering pats of my mom. Sipping my morning cup of coffee, I lost myself in the tranquillity of the moment. And suddenly an irritatingly loud scream woke me up from my sound sleep. It was none other than my lovely mom. As I walked towards the noise, I saw her crying over a dead plant…..
Climate change, as we knew it, was a threat to the future, but now, it has become our ugly reality! The earth is about 4.5 billion years old and is predicted to stay here for another 4.5 billion years. But, are we killing her with the very own add-ons that we invented to enhance our comfort and convenience? Did we conveniently forget the difference between well-being and comfort?
Technology is reimagining human lives for sure but, the data collected using the same technologies suggests that it is actually devastating our only home! From the smoke emitting factories to burning non-renewable resources to automobile emissions – all that we built for our benefit is destroying the very basis of our existence. The question we need to ask ourselves is not if we have enough time to repair the damage but, are we ready to give it our best shot.
What have we done?
A recent report by the United Nations states that confining global warming below 1.5ºC is near to impossible. Don’t worry, there is still hope, we can limit it at 1.5ºC, but, rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes are required in all aspects of the society. But how will the change affect the diverse species walking on this planet? A simple question with a multitude of impacts!
How it was back then
When I was a kid, my granny used to tell me stories of her childhood. From playing in the fields after the harvest to hide and seek in the coconut groves to making their way to school through the lush green fields to the rejuvenating chilly breeze and the freshness of the air – I could see the sparkle in her eyes while telling me those stories. My childhood was not much different except for the advancement in the technology domain aiding our convenience requirements.
Years have passed and I’m now an adult, independent and self-reliant. There was not much change if we look into it day-by-day. Yet the difference is prominent. The green fields I used to play in are transformed into housing plots. Tonnes of plastic and other wastes now flow through the crystal clear waters of the river I used to swim in. The coconut groves where we had fun are now just barren lands.
Cars were a symbol of luxury back in those days, but now, you can find at least one in every porch. If cycles used to be the laymen’s vehicle, now it is the motorcycle. And just like that, we added a mechanical part in every aspect of our life and society. It’s so true when people say time flies, yeah it does. And from the mechanical realm, the advancement in technology has now brought us to the electronic era complimented by internet technology.
The present future
The electronic era offered us convenience and comfort as never seen before. The problem of connectivity is no longer an issue. The world is at your fingertips. But is it really? The comfort that we take pride in and the convenience we enjoy came at a cost. A cost that we were all blind towards. Something that was a threat for the future, but, the future has become the present now!
Though we boast about the technological advancements we’ve made so far, we haven’t yet understood the magical universe for what it really is. We claim, we can predict the changes in the weather conditions, but we can’t alter or at the least lessen its effects. The destruction it unleashes cannot be defended. From the North to the South Pole, the frequency of the catastrophic weather events started to rise. Killing millions and demolishing everything in its path, nature continued to spread her rage upon the most intelligent species on the planet.
The problem is getting worse day-by-day. Mercury is hitting higher and higher margins. Seasons are becoming meaningless. Innumerable species are on the verge of extinction and another tonne of them already are gone. The forests are disappearing at alarming rates and its inhabitants are left homeless. The marine ecosystem is now a blend of nature’s beautiful creations along with plastic wastes, shipwrecks and other human-made garbage.
And after facing the consequences of all the unsustainable acts and wrongdoings, we still continue to trail the same path. But not for long can we go that way. The time is ticking, the countdown has started. If we don’t take care of mother nature today, tomorrow will just be a dream. The most intelligent species on the planet is destroying the very essence of their survival, how ironic!
The loosing lands
Today, we are witnessing a mass extinction of species. It is normal that around 1 to 5 species goes extinct annually, but now, we are losing them at 1,000 or 10,000 times the normal rate, with multiple extinctions happening daily. Even our closest animal relatives, Primates, are under extraordinary threat. About 60% of the world’s 504 primate species are under the threat of extinction, along with 75% of them facing severe population reduction.
Our big cats like the tiger, lion, cheetah and leopard are tremendously threatened with extinction. And a few of them might disappear in the next decade. In Africa, over 20,000 elephants are poached every year and thanks to that, we just have about 500,000 of them alive now.
The rise in global warming, unprecedented global destruction and the rapid reduction in plant and animal wildlife population are the outcomes of human activities such as deforestation, trafficking and poaching, unsustainable agriculture, pollution, pesticides, emission of greenhouse gasses, burning fossil fuels, and automobile emissions to name a few.
The marine life
Not just terrestrial animals, our outrageous actions have affected the marine ecosystem as well. It is reported that around 20% of the marine habitat has been degraded by unsustainable fishing, overexploitation, waste disposal, chemical deposition from factories and other heinous human activities.
Since the late 90s, 75% of all toothed whale species, and 65% of baleen whale species, and 65% of pinniped species have been affected through bycatch in fishing operations, globally. Sharks, the apex predators, who have been on earth for about 400 million years, are even facing extinction. Humans are now the greatest threat to the survival of all shark species.
Between 2000 and 2010, an average of 100 million sharks was killed each year. 90% of the Pacific reef sharks have declined; 75% of the shark species in the Northwest Atlantic have been lost, and the Oceanic Whitetip has declined by 99%.
Global warming and birds
There are around 11,000 diverse species of birds on earth. And about 40% of them are under extreme population reduction. Between 1950 and 2015, seabird population dropped by about 70%. Thanks to the strenuous efforts, we were able to bring back 25 bird species from the verge of extinction in this century.
Click here for a great video on the effect of climate change on bird species.
Human activities, including plastic and oil pollution, food shortages from overfishing, and climate change are the main reasons behind such a drastic decline. Agriculture has the biggest negative impact of all human activities on birds, threatening 74% of the 1,469 species at risk of extinction.
What does 1.5ºC mean in a warming world?
The earth has warmed 1ºC since the 19th century. And from the UN report, it is clear that we are heading up towards the 1.5ºC – 2ºC mark and the report cites its consequences. To a normal person, it’s just a difference of 0.5ºC but the impacts are far worse at 2ºC than at 1.5ºC. In simplified terms, the difference means a world with coral reefs and Arctic summer sea ice against one without them.
Around 37% of the world population will be affected by extreme heat as compared to 14% if we can limit global warming to 1.5ºC. More than 411 million people will suffer the consequences of extreme drought. The figure will be under 350 million if global warming is restricted at 1.5ºC.
As for the plant and insect population, the difference varies from an 18% decline to 42% decline – 6% of insects, 8% of plants, and 4% of vertebrates against 18% of insects, 16% of plants, and 8% of vertebrates, more than double!
What will we miss?
Our mother Earth is the only known planet where life can thrive. The mesmerising valleys, mighty ice-capped peaks, lush green forests, misty hills, pristine beaches, majestic oceans, sparkling rivers – our home is full of beautiful sceneries for us to explore and enjoy.
Our prodigal habits have damaged nature to such an extent that we are facing one of the extreme extinction events in history. And the funny part is that only this one is man-made. Even with all the intelligence, we claim to hold, not just that we couldn’t nurture our basis of existence we have nearly destroyed it.
A reviving swim in the crystal clear waters of a flowing river will soon become a fantasy. The serene getaway to the snow-capped wilderness of a hill station is on the verge of becoming a thing of the past. Lush green jungles housing mighty wildlife and majestic trees will be replaced with barren lands and dead animal remains.
A dive into the marine habitat, and enjoying the plush ecosystem will soon become a dream. It is predicted that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than there are fish.
In a nutshell, we will miss the freshness of the air, the smell of the rain hitting the soil, the chilly breeze fondling our hair, the majestic peaks hiding the sun, the lush green forests and its inhabitants, the verdant valley and the beautiful flowers, summer, winter, spring and monsoon, the snow, the rivers and the glaciers, the quaint oceans and the aquatic ecosystem – we will lose all the wonders of nature.
Taking the first step
Though it is clear that small efforts can never save the world and its inhabitants, it’s an optimistic start. Each individual change can bring about a significant difference in society as a whole. Like Neil Armstrong said when he landed on Moon, “A small step for a man, a giant leap for mankind.” The situations may be different but in this scenario, each small step can make the biggest impacts.
Here are a few things you can do to save our earth:
- Join a local park, river or beach clean-up.
- Use environmentally-friendly, non-toxic cleaning products.
- Replace inefficient incandescent light bulbs with efficient CFLs or LEDs.
- Carpool, ride your bike, use public transportation or drive an electric or hybrid car.
- Change your car’s air filter regularly.
- Teleconference instead of travelling.
- Use cloth towels instead of paper ones.
- Read documents online instead of printing them.
- Set your office printer to print two-sided.
- Use reusable bottles for water, and reusable mugs for coffee.
- Bring reusable bags when you shop.
- Take a shorter shower and use a water-saving shower head.
- Fix leaky faucets and shower-heads.
- Turn off and unplug electronics you’re not using.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator to save energy.
- Install solar panels on your roof.
Facts and Figures
Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are at an all-time high – 411 part per million.
Polar ice sheets are melting at a rate of 413 Gigatonnes per year and the rate will keep on increasing.
Over the last 100 years, the average sea level has risen by 178 mm.
By 2050 there will be more plastic in ocean than there are fish.
Between 200 and 2000 species go extinct every year.
Around 8,800 diverse plant species are on the verge of extinction.
The way forward
The United Nations has put together a report that cites the current state of climate change and the effects of global warming in the future. The report also outlines the steps we need to take in order to avoid extinction. If the current trend continues, it is inevitable that extinction will become our most endured legacy.
The way towards limiting global warming at 1.5ºC is not an easy one. We will need to change every aspect of society. Strenuous, rapid and far-reaching efforts need to be made to make our home liveable for all species, including us.
From moving to renewable sources of energy to reducing emissions to carbon dioxide suckers to carpooling – the biggest and tiniest problems need to be attended simultaneously. Every individual need to do his part so that the society as a whole move towards a much greener path.
Environmental protection has gained attention since the 1960s. On April 22, 1970, US Senator Gaylord Nelson hosted the first-ever Earth Day to demonstrate support towards environmental protection. Though this teach-in took place only in the US, Denis Hayes took it international in 1990. Around 141 nations took part in this. It is said that the Senator was inspired to create Earth Day after watching an 800 square-mile oil slick in the Santa Barbara Channel. The explosion that happened on January 28, 1969, was so intense that around 3 million gallons of oil spewed into the ocean and killed a large number of sea birds, dolphins, seals and sea lions.
Each Earth Day has its own theme and this year’s is ‘Protect our Species’. It was chosen in order to raise awareness against the accelerated extinctions and its consequences. The significant decline in the animal, as well as plant population, is directly liked to our unsustainable acts. All living things have a value of their own and contribute an unavoidable part in the complex web of life. Since all living things are connected, a decline in the population of one species will affect other species as well.
Just like the proverb, “little drops of water make the mighty ocean”, every single contribution can add up to make a greater impact. Lets spread awareness against the gruesome acts that we do. Our children should not make the same mistakes we did. Let’s join hands to gift a greener and richly diverse home to our future generations.
“Neverdoubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change theworld; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”