At times like this it’s less difficult to believe that humans still share around 60% of their DNA with a banana.
On a good day, witnessing some peoples’ behaviours and observing their apparent priorities, often unbelievably short-termist, can lead to despair for others. But never more so than in recent weeks, which have offered a stark reminder of how stupid (forgive the use of such a blunt instrument), selfish and short-sighted the human race can sometimes be.
In a world ravaged by the deadliest pandemic in over a century, are we so hell-bent on rediscovering normality and so fixated upon the economy that we will miss this golden opportunity, perhaps our last, to change?
At the time of writing, COVID-19 has very sadly taken the lives of close to half a million people worldwide. The crisis has affected our daily lives on a scale not seen since two world wars. On a personal level, as a family, we have adopted a very cautious approach and we have shown this devastating virus the ‘respect’ it deserves. For three months we have done very little but work remotely full-time, home school and look after two young boys and enjoy nature – be it in the garden or on regular countryside walks.
Yet, there is an event greater, too often forgotten a threat lurking in parallel, climate change.
In 2016, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that 12.6 million people are dying annually of ‘avoidable deaths’ resulting from environmental risks, linked to factors including non-communicable diseases, climate change, pollution and the use of synthetic chemicals. That means, that since the likes of the SARS epidemic in 2002, more than 200 million lives may have been lost, equivalent to the entire population of Brazil.
In 2020, there is an incredible 7.6 billion of us sharing the Earth, a four-fold increase in just a century, and the futures of every single person on this planet are threatened by the consequences of our accelerating destruction of the natural world. And have we barely begun to register this challenge, let alone to tackle it? Sadly not. Have we deployed the world’s greatest scientific minds or near bankrupted countries in response? No.
Despite the fact that we have all been locked away indoors, doing very little for many months. Travelling less, consuming less and so on, emission levels have only returned to a point last seen in 2006. It demonstrates the scale and the urgency of the challenge that lies ahead.
And it is not just our own species that is threatened. Today, over one million plant and animal species are threatened with extinction and ecologists continue to warn that we are in the midst of the so-called sixth great extinction. Some argue that between 10,000 and 100,000 species are becoming extinct each year – up to 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate. Experts have placed mankind’s impact upon life on our planet on a par with other major disasters in the last 600 million years, during which over 90% of life on our planet disappeared.
Habitat loss also continues to play a major role in the problem. There were once six trillion trees helping our planet to breathe easily, a figure that has halved since the emergence of mankind. They are still being felled at a rate ten times higher than any possible level of regrowth. Tropical forests contain at least half the Earth’s species, yet around 20% of the Amazon rainforest has disappeared in just 50 years.
So, what about the impact on our climate? Well, worldwide the ten warmest years on record have all occurred since 1998. There’s more Carbon Dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere now than at any time in human history. The ice sheets, vital in helping to maintain balance and sea levels, are melting three times faster than in 2003. Nearly three quarters of the extreme weather events in the last two decades, including increasingly powerful storms and devastating flooding, heat waves and drought, have been influenced by humans. And even here in the UK, it is predicted that we could run short of drinking water by 2050. I could go on.
Facts like the above are sobering, or should be, for all of us. It is also unfathomable that in the 21st Century we are still trying to eliminate other stains on the human race, like racism. I would champion the fact that we need to far better educate ourselves and our children on where we came from, how and why, and how connected we all once were with one another and with nature. Because at the same time as evolving, we have gone backwards in so many ways.
It is time we stepped up, once and for all. Because, as Dame Jane Goodall has warned: “Humanity will be finished” if we do not change our ways.
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