By Sarah-Leah Pimentel
It is always with some relief that we welcome the official arrival of spring each year on 1 September. Although there may still be some cold weather in the forecast, there is a feeling that the worst of the wintry season has passed. The warmer weather summons budding flowers, spring showers, and return of the birds to our skies.
The arrival of spring is a joyous celebration of the cyclical renewal of life on earth. Or at least it should be.
Instead, extreme weather phenomena have caused brutal fires in the northern hemisphere during their summer this year, while in South Africa we have seen the devastating effect of the floods in Kwazulu-Natal. In the Horn of Africa, 20 million people are facing famine conditions after four years of failed rains in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan, according to the World Food Programme.
What is most devastating is that many of these disasters could have been avoided. Our uncontrolled pillaging of the earth and her resources, and our destruction of delicate symbiotic environments have precipitated the climate crises we now face.
For at least the last 20 years, the United Nations and climate activists have warned us that our window for reversing the devastating effects of climate change is becoming smaller and smaller. Although many nations have pledged to cut carbon emissions, these promises are no closer to becoming a reality.
The war between Ukraine and Russia has exacerbated international dependence on fossil fuels and Europe fears the prospects of a cold winter as Russia seeks to control natural gas supplies. African countries, on the other hand, argue that the terms of the Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement to cut carbon emissions seek to punish developing nations. They have historically been among the lowest polluters, but just as they are looking to grow their economies, they are being pressured to reducing their reliance on coal and oil. Many nations that have also recently found oil deposits face the prospects of not being able to commercialize them as calls for renewable energy solutions grow.
In industrially advanced countries, the need for energy has grown like never before. Blockchain technology, cryptocurrency mining, information storage, and other data-heavy activities consume enormous quantities of electricity. Our fast-paced lifestyles demand the production of disposable goods – from cheap fashion to takeaway meals – that pollute the environment. Our insatiable need for increasingly sophisticated technology drives the international trade of rare earth minerals which are mined in inhumane conditions in places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Our planet cannot continue to sustain our consumption. If we continue as we have, we can expect more severe climatic conditions, the destruction of the natural environment, and increasingly inhospitable conditions to sustain human life. The scarcity of resources will fuel local and global conflicts. Wealthy nations will seek to preserve their way of life, poorer nations will become increasingly desperate in their efforts to survive on meagre resources.
It is very easy to fall into despair.
But this despair focuses only on our human frailty and tendency toward self-destruction. We can affect small degrees of change daily that will give the natural environment a chance to renew itself. Small efforts, like reducing our use of single use plastics, pressuring supermarkets to provide more sustainable packaging, using more energy-efficient appliances, and growing our own food – even if it’s just a few herbs on the kitchen window sill – make a difference.
We do this because we are hopeful that there is still time for us to collectively reverse the damage that we have wrought upon our planet. But, time is running out so we need to act, now.