Your say / climate change

‘The longer we have taken to act on environmental problems, the more difficult it has become to tackle them’

By glenn vowles, Wednesday Sep 23, 2020

Do we seriously think human beings can survive without other species? Diverse species keep a climate balance vital to our water supplies; produce fertile soil vital to our food production; drive all natural cycles vital to life support systems.

The world we are a part of and dependent on is being laid bare, stripped and unprotected by us. It is self-harm and ultimately self-destruction if we fail to change. It’s not that there is nature and there is humanity: there is only nature. It’s not ecological and social systems but one socio-ecological system.

Biodiversity is literally the stuff of life and yet its large scale loss routinely does not get the media coverage that climate change does.

As a sustainability advocate and activist for nearly 40 years, including three times as a general election candidate in Bristol, I find the lack of prioritisation of the ecological emergency and climate crisis – and the lack of action – frequently very frustrating and increasingly upsetting and depressing.

In Bristol in the 1990s, we had the Green Charter plan, then Local Agenda 21 plan, then the EU Green Capital and now the One City approach.

But the city still has an eco footprint three times the sustainable level. The BBC’s Extinction: The Facts programme recently illustrated accelerated species extinction – 100 times the natural rate – caused by humans.

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Read more: ‘As a Bristol wildlife filmmaker, I’m delighted Extinction: The Facts has finally been made’
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Biodiversity is the source of our resources and the basis of our lives. It should be valued for reasons of: ethics; aesthetics; ecology; education; recreation; economics; and the resilience that comes from diversity in systems. I want biodiversity conserved because it exists, because I like it – and because we all depend on it. Forms of life are beautiful and diversity itself is beautiful.It is morally right to protect species.

The complex web of interactions in nature is harmed if we don’t conserve species and we need the interactions. Nature is the source of the resources and services we use to build our economy and so biodiversity is vital to meet our needs, trade, do business and make a profit.

The variety of life is of very important educational value and is a source of inspiration, leisure and recreation. It is very important for both our physical, social and mental health and wellbeing . A diminishing gene pool is damaging, dangerous and impoverishing.

Climate change and ecological decline are hugely serious and urgent issues. Successive governments, local and national, over several decades, have given commitment after commitment but the action is poor.

Bristol City Council declared a climate emergency in 2018. Photo: Phil Riley

We are not short of evidence to substantiate the scale and urgency of the problems – or what the solutions can be.  The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report authoritatively laid the evidence out in detail – one million of the Earth’s estimated eight million species are threatened with extinction.

The UN Convention on Biological Diversity report details progress made against 20 global biodiversity targets agreed in 2010 (with a 2020 deadline to achieve them). None of the targets will be fully met.

Much needs to be done to stop biodiversity loss, to say the least. This year’s global Living Planet Index showed that on average monitored populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish declined by 68 per cent between 1970 and 2016.

We destroy the habitats of other species by chopping and burning. We need to protect and conserve habitats and do best practice rewilding to increase species and habitats. We hunt and kill other species purely for “sport”.

Many climate protests in Bristol have called for urgent change. Photo: Peter Brooks

We need to ban unethical practices. We mass produce and mass consume, plundering resources, taking them far faster than they are naturally replaced. We need instead to base our society on security, stability and sustainability for all.

We build towns, cities, roads and farmland over wild spaces. We need to protect, conserve and increase green spaces. We globally mass trade in species, both those protected by law and those unprotected.

We need to ban unethical practices, to toughen and enforce the law and tackle the root causes of illegal trading. We replace hugely varied forests with monoculture. We need to implement sustainable farming and forestry.

We grow grain on vast, former forest land, not mostly to feed people but to feed cattle, chickens…mass produced for human consumption. We need to stop the logging/cattle/soya cycle, reduce the meat in our diets, especially the beef, eat the grain directly and adopt vegetable rich diets.

We expose ourselves to many new infections, like HIV and Covid-19, by encroaching ever more on the wild. We need to stop encroachment and protect, conserve and enhance the wild eg through best practice rewilding, reducing the intensity of human resource use and expansion too.

We pollute the environment, contaminating species and habitats, cutting species populations. We need to tackle all types of pollution at its roots, adopt and enforce high environmental standards and measure our socio-economic success in terms of health and wellbeing.

Thousands of people marched with Greta Thunberg through Bristol in February, calling for change. Photo: Phil Riley

We dump giga tonnes of carbon into the air when we drive, fly, eat beef, mass manufacture, build with concrete, power homes…changing our climate to produce more serious and frequent floods, wildfires, storms…which kill us and other species. We need to tackle the climate crisis at its roots and fairly and justly transition to a society we can sustain.

In my first general election address 33 years ago – 1987, Bristol South – I wrote: “Since 1950 world population has doubled, food production tripled, and fuel use quadrupled. Pressures on the Earth’s resources have passed natural thresholds, and ours is the generation that will determine whether Earth will be habitable in the future. Yet others still promote economic expansion whilst claiming to protect the environment… Our health and true wealth would be better in a sustainable, conserver society.'”

My message is essentially the same now, though the problems have worsened because we have consistently failed to act on the scale and with the speed required, locally, nationally and globally.

Since the 1980s/90s we have set up more organisations have studied and quantified problems more, published more reports and papers, held more conferences and negotiations, signed more treaties – but inaction has meant that the climate crisis and ecological emergency have happened faster since we did these things than it did before!

The longer we have taken to act on problems, the more difficult it has become to tackle them.

Glenn Vowles

Glenn Vowles is environmental ethics and politics blogger at Sustainable Cities, Sustainable World, an environmental management and science tutor at the Open University and three times parliamentary candidate in Bristol.

Main photo: Ellie Pipe

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