State of the Planet – reap what we sow

20 Jul

We’re currently in the throws of updating our environmental diploma course, within which the first topic explores the state of the global environment and the complex inter-relationship between environmental, social, economic, political and demographic drivers and pressures.

Referring to source material from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) it’s clear the health of our environment remains under seemingly relentless pressure. For example, releases of greenhouse gases continue to rise and our marine and coastal environment is at significant risk.

For those interested in a few facts, just to illustrate the point, the globally averaged mixing ratios of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (NO2) reportedly reached new heights in 2009. These values are greater than those in pre-industrial times (before 1750) by 38%, 158% and 19% respectively. And with regard to the oceans and the marine environment, as much as 80% of the pollution load in coastal waters and the deep oceans originate from land-based activities.

The latter statistic, linking with another diploma subject area – environmental monitoring – serves to demonstrate the complexity of environmental systems and the nature of pollution. While legislation aims to control and indeed prevent harm to the environment, the persistent, synergistic and cumulative effect of our releases illustrates the insidious nature of pollution and the substances we use, and ultimately release into the environment. Regulatory control therefore is not necessarily going to work on its own.

In the environmental news this week Brittany has been struck by tonnes of toxic algae washing up on the beaches. This has caused the death of local livestock, not to mention significantly harmed the tourist industry. Such events are increasingly common where nutrient loading and high organic discharges lead to algal blooms. And in June this year a report by the International Programme of the State of the Ocean (IPSO) highlighted the plight of the oceans, indicating that ocean life is “at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history”. The combined effects of pollution, over-fishing and climate change are acting together in ways not previously recognised, and the consequences are already affecting humanity.

I highlight these because at the same time the most recent talks on climate change, held in Bonn, failed (again) to agree on emission limits, the future of Kyoto and finance. While some technical solutions were agreed, the ongoing stumbling point is agreeing on future target reductions and apparent lack of progress in achieving existing targets. The UK’s former chief scientist Sir David King also added to the debate recently suggesting that Kyoto should be abandoned and instead each country should set itself a carbon quota based on population size.

It’s clear that to achieve the required modes of sustainable consumption and production for a healthy planet we need a fundamental change in our collective behaviour and attitude to the environment. This of course is a huge undertaking however if we fail to agree and act now, as Galatians 6:7 advises, the future looks rather bleak. Or to put another way… because there is no Planet B.


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