‘Why change my behaviour? What I do doesn’t make any difference anyway.’
Unfortunately, many people still think like this. However, in the situation we are in today, we can’t afford to maintain this belief any longer. The question we have to ask ourselves is this: do we really want to bury our heads in the sand for a few more years and continue to enjoy the plunder of our consumer-heavy, fossil-dependent lifestyles, resigning our future generations to the fate of dangerous climate change and serious social, environmental and economic consequences, or do we want to pull ourselves together now and make the transformation a reality? Just as only we humans had the ability to get the planet into this mess, only we have the capacity to solve the problem.
So what is needed to be done? The most important point to start a transformation towards sustainability is the reduction of CO2 emissions in our energy sector, the land use and the urbanization. World population is growing alarmingly fast, and already now, half of all people live in cities. Particularly in the developing and newly industrializing regions the urbanization increases rapidly. Furthermore, with their development the entire economy is facing a new incremental kick, which also means a huge rise of the transport system. It is essential that those countries are given the required tools – know-how as well as financial support – to head for a low-carbon development instead of falling into fossil energy carrier dependency paths.
Moreover, already now around one billion people are mal- and undernourished. In the face of a growing world population, water shortage and increasing climate impacts, land-use policies must develop strategies to secure the future food supply. Land-use must be given a higher priority on international agendas. Deforestation must be stopped, ecological agriculture subsidized and climate-friendly eating habits promoted.
Without a change, the energy demand of the whole world could more than double by 2050. Governments and public authorities must understand that the decarbonisation of energy systems is economically and technically feasible and it can also disclose now political and social opportunities. Required financial resources can be mastered and technological solutions and know-how is available.
And imagine: What would a zoo look like in 100 years? Certainly, you would find a lot more species behind the fences than today. Rare, extraordinary species from a time when human beings still could have made changes to fight climate change. From our time. Animals are the silent witnesses of climate change. They try to adapt to the rising temperature. Many life-forms move north or into deeper waters to survive. But there is a significant risk that species will become totally extinct due to climate change effects. To give just a few examples, the polar bear, who is dependent on sea ice, could disappear in the wild unless the pace of global warming slows. Sea turtles lay their eggs on beaches in Brazil, many of which are threatened by rising sea levels due to melting polar caps. Since warming waters contain less plankton for whales to eat, the availability of food due to climate fluctuations is also becoming an increasing cause of mortality. Bamboo, the panda’s nourishment, is also part of a sensitive ecosystem that could be affected by the changes caused by global warming.
Species-specific conservation actions need to be taken similar to the flora preserving Svalbard Global Seed Vault. This huge seedbank on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen about 1,300 kilometres from the North Pole preserves biodiversity for future generations. A giant security backup in three gigantic halls in the middle of ice – a natural fridge. But what if the natural fridge is melting? How do we build a modern Noah’s ark? Future generations won’t share the planet with the same species that are highly endangered nowadays if we don’t take action against climate change.
We can’t hide from the reality anymore – it’s staring us straight in the face. We are all responsible for the welfare of our planet and we all have to act now. The WBGU fittingly calls it a ‘global social contract’ which we must either bind ourselves to or face the destruction of the ecosystem as we know it. States need to become more proactive, implementing more stringent environmental protection measures, improving education and knowledge about environmental issues and encouraging participation among the public to make the transition to a sustainable society a reality. It is time for people to realise that everyone’s actions count. For example, in Germany the average person buys 28 Kilograms of clothes every year and eats 60 Kilograms of meat. In America this number is double per head, see link.
If you times this number by the population of these countries, suddenly you see that this is a hell of a lot of consumption. In developing countries, people consume a fraction of what we in the West consume. However, as these countries develop, they will demand more and more of the resources that we are currently dominating. Seems fair, but unfortunately the planet just can’t handle that. These countries need to develop sustainably from the start, and the West has to be prepared to provide financial help and guidance to ensure that this happens.
We are all in this together and we must work together to guarantee a bright future for those who come after us.
It is, literally, now or never.
Authors: Eva Staudhammer, Nicola Wilson, Dominika Dudzik, Francesco Brusa