On Friday 11th May 2018, I spent my Friday night at the Royal Geographical Society in London. I was attending the “How Can We Save The Planet By 2030?” Earthwatch Institute Europe debate. It was a fantastically interesting evening and it was so empowering to see the space packed out with people who want to know how to create a more sustainable future. Big shout out to everyone who was there on the night and all those who were live-streaming and engaging over social media. It was amazing to see how many people cared!

A Bit Of Background

The Royal Geographical Society is a charity, learned society and professional body. Every year their work to advance and support geographers reaches millions. The society was started in 1830 to promote the work of geographical science. In it’s many years of existence it has remained faithful to it’s aim to advance geographical science but currently also works with publishing, supporting field research and expeditions, lectures and conferences, as well as historical collections. Today The Royal Geographical Society has 16,000 members and prides itself on being the largest and most active scholarly geographical society.

The Earthwatch Institute is a charity which works hard to “empower people to save the natural world through direct action and policy influence on critical environmental issues.” They not only work with the public, they also focus on educating and inspiring new generations of environmentalists and scientists and also connecting with businesses and communities to overcome the environmental challenges that they face. They run a programme called “citizen science” which aims to show that anyone can get involved with science by gathering data and insights that will be vital in informing future policy and action.

“Creating Knowledge. Inspiring Action.”

#EWdebate @Earthwatch_eur

I’m going to be honest, I had never been to an event like this before. I was a little unsure what to expect. I arrived at the venue and walked into the lecture hall and was astounded at this sold-out event! As I sat and waited for the debate to begin I looked around me to see who this event had attracted. The range of people was unbelievable and it was so reassuring to see that having a hunger for answers to the world’s problems is not reserved for a specific demographic. There were students, bloggers, singles, couples of all ages, large groups of friends or colleagues – so many people from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, and even one 5-month old baby!! Not only was the room packed with over 700 people all eager for knowledge and ideas but there was also people live-streaming and following on social media. To any companies that claim that their consumers don’t care about their impact on the planet, I feel like this should be a rather rude awakening.

Steve Gray, the Chief Executive of Earthwatch Europe, opened the debate by outlining the work of Earthwatch Europe and explaining why it is so vital to empower people to save the natural world. He then went on to introduce the experts that we were going to hear speak throughout the evening. George Monbiot was meant to be in attendance but he is currently recovering from cancer treatment so was unable to make it. I only mention him as I have recently read one of his books; How did we get into this mess?– which I would recommend if you are looking for some thought-provoking reading.

The debate was centred around which of 4 urgent issues is the best to tackle first tosave the planet by 2030. The 4 topics were:

Fresh Water

Climate Change

Wildlife and Habitats

Oceans

The experts that we met on the evening were:

Lucian J Hudson – Chair of the debate

Tony Juniper (WWF) – arguing for the importance of tackling fresh water issues

Dorothée D’tterde (Earthwatch Institute) – arguing for the importance of tackling climate change

Simon King OBE (Wildlife Filmmaker) – arguing for the importance of protecting wildlife and habitats

Natalie Fee (City To Sea) – arguing for the importance of healthy oceans

As you would expect from experts in their field, the opening statements were immensely powerful and engaging. What is the best way to make real steps towards solving the planets problems and creating a sustainable future?

Fresh Water

Tony Juniper began with his justification why maintaining our fresh water supplies is the best way to secure a brighter future for the planet. Fresh Water is the lifeblood of the planet. It is the foundation on which we built life and civilisation. Fresh Water as a resource consists in all 3 states as ice, vapour and liquid water. These are vital for planetary cooling, supporting life and the vital benefits of the water cycle which effects weather, rainforests and river flow. Fresh Water is a great catalyst for change because it will force politicians to act. When Fresh Water is threatened, a vital human need is threatened, this will drive politicians to take extreme measures to save us from drought. By saving our Fresh Water supply we can also make huge impacts with the other issues that were discussed at the debate.

Climate Change

Dorothée D’tterde was second to the podium and she delivered her opinion on why the issue that we should focus most urgently on is climate change. Did you know that 2015, 2016 and 2017 were the hottest years on record? Extreme weather conditions are becoming ever more frequent in the news as our climate becomes increasingly unstable and unpredictable. Climate Change is an issue that has grabbed many headlines in recent years and I would go as far to say that you would struggle to find anyone who wasn’t aware of this ongoing issue facing the planet. When we deal with issues surrounding Climate Change we are also dealing with health, poverty, industry, displacement, fresh water, oceans and wildlife & habitats. It is a catch-all issue in a sense. It affects us all and we all affect it.

Thousands of experts have said that extreme weather conditions are one of the biggest risks that humanity is facing (second only to warfare) and as our climate changes they are becoming ever more frequent and ever more extreme.

The climate crisis is here now; we need a new industrial revolution. We need to change our behaviour and fast.

There is no planet B.

Wildlife & Habitat

Simon King was articulate and passionate as ever when arguing the case for looking out for wildlife and habitats as our first step towards a better world. The bottom line is that the planet can look after itself. It has done for millions of years. The troubles it is facing now are our doing. That’s a fact. It’s been proven by science. It can look after itself but we need to stop destroying it.

The health of our global ecosystem can be evaluated by the wildlife and vegetation that inhabits it. If our ecosystems remain balanced and thriving, then it is proof that the Earth is healthy and sustainable. As soon as the ecosystems are thrown off balance, we know we are in trouble and the truth is that extinction is happening all around us. Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhino, died earlier this year, making the species functionally extinct.

The amazing life that inhabits our planet has been pushed to the margins because of human activity and now we are all paying the price. However, these creatures that we have treated so poorly could also offer salvation and hope for a better world. Animals are effective ambassadors to convince us to make a change. Who can look in the eyes of a primate, a panda or a big cat without wanting to help save them?

We need to create a climate for change. 

Oceans

Finally, Natalie Fee took to the stage to argue the case of oceans. Being such a popular topic right now, she delivered a persuasive case for riding the media wave to saving the planet. We all know that plastic pollution is a huge problem for our oceans. We use plastic in almost every aspect of our daily lives and, as it takes so long to breakdown, it is swamping the oceans and damaging wildlife. Plastic pollution is a great cause to get behind, and to get the attention of those with political power. Plastic is very literally a colourful calling card for the issues of modern day life. It’s impossible to ignore. It’s proving to be a popular issue in the media and public pressure following BBC’s Blue Planet has already begun to create substantial changes to our behaviours and those of companies in the UK.

Saving the oceans and pushing for an end to plastic pollution is a great way to save the planet because the change that we can make is tangible. We can see when supermarkets reduce their packaging, we can see increased recycling points being created and we can see the changes being made at a governmental level. It shows that we can all be campaigners together and through making change we can inspire a new wave and new generation of environmentalists.

The Vote

The audience was then asked to vote as to which of the 4 issues was the most important, based on the information that had been presented to us. Climate Change took the top spot with Fresh Water, Wildlife & Habitats and Oceans following closely behind.

It was evident from very early in the evening that if we have any chance of making change then we must recognise the link between these four areas of focus. Whichever one we focus on will inevitably help the others, the question is, which is the area that will gain us the most about of change in the short space of time we have left to save the planet.

Which agenda is the easiest to drive forward?

To make any real, significant change in this modern age we must engage politicians. Whatever your views on the government – or politicians in general – they are the key to getting initiatives off the ground and gain mass involvement to change the behaviours that are ruining the planet. To get the public engaged in change, we need to highlight the areas that will directly affect them. They may not like what they see on the news happening all over the world but unless it’s happening here on their doorstep, sadly, most people will believe it’s not their problem. By highlighting issues such as the very real danger of water shortage or the inevitable increase in food prices, we are bringing the fight to where they will see it. Media is also a significant tool at our disposal. The media has the power to change people’s opinion, capture the imagination of thousands of people and affect change. Take, for example, David Attenborough’s plea on BBC’s Blue Planet to reduce our plastic consumption to help save the oceans and the species that call it home. His message reached a huge number of households across the UK and the backlash was immense. We are now seeing supermarkets take steps towards cutting their plastic usage, a bottle return scheme and a complete ban on single use plastics. The voice of the people is a powerful one. When we rally together, consumer power is capable of what was previously thought to be impossible.

I want you to keep this in mind when we think about Climate Change. This is a very real issue which is happening to us now. Yet, many close their minds off to what they can do to help combat it because they believe it’s too big or too scary an issue. It’s true that it is a huge dragon to slay, but if the human race as a species backed down from a challenge – do you think we would have achieved everything we have to date?

The pyramids?

Democracy?

Skyscrapers?

Space travel?

We are not without our flaws but we an intelligent enough species to be able to comprehend concepts that are much bigger than us. We dream of the impossible and then we make it possible. We are amazing, we have been foolish and careless, but we are amazing. If we pull together then nothing is too big for us to face, not even Climate Change.

The Trump effect.

I have many, many things that I could say about Trump but I will try and stick to the point. Trump does not believe in the science that proves climate change. He has backed out of the Paris Agreement. He believes in the future of fossil fuels. He has a total disregard for the life of the creatures that live alongside us and has no interest in a future that is sustainable. In times like these, it’s easy to lose hope. What is important to remember is that we shouldn’t detach ourselves from nature, our survival is as much at stake as any other species. We need to be the change that we want to see and strive for a better future despite who is in charge. Everything is a chain reaction, so if you make change then you are creating a catalyst and an environment for more change. The fact is that big business and the economy, long term, will benefit from a healthy Earth and sustainable living. The economy is driven by people so it’s up to us to get the ball rolling. Know the power you have and use it.

Use your power to engage with investors and innovators who might be able to tackle the problems that modern life faces. If we think of issues such as climate change as an opportunity rather than an impossible issue, we stand a chance of being able to tackle it. Yes, we must adapt, we have passed the point where change is avoidable. This doesn’t mean that we should accept the consequences that lie ahead of us, we have the power to change the future for ourselves. It’s our responsibility to undo the damage that we have done.

The real challenge that we face (dismissing Trump to being nothing more than a passing nightmare) is not big business but is how to engage smaller businesses or low income businesses that might not currently have the ability to change? How do we support them? Poverty is an ongoing and important issue in all environmental and conservation concerns.  When you barely get by or barely make enough to feed your family – how can you afford to care about the environment? The issue is a complex one but the answer starts with governments. We need consistent governments who are willing to tackle this issue, have a zero-tolerance policy on corruption and who can become trusted by those who are most in need.

What can we do at home?

By reading this article and visiting my blog, I am assuming that you are a like-minded person to me. The more I learn about what is happening in the world the less I can just sit back and watch it happen. I believe that we can all do our bit to help make positive change; recycle, limit our car use, make more vegan choices – these all things that I would recommend.

The experts at the debate are far more educated than me on this subject, although I am learning (!), and their advice is this:

  • Motivate companies to make change.
  • Take steps in everyday life to limit your plastic pollution, palm oil usage etc.
  • Research the companies that you are using and boycott those who are not changing with the times or do not meet your moral standards. Use your consumer power.You can determine demand for products that are sustainable and help conscious companies to flourish.
  • Educate girls and women to understand more about population growth, and the alternative choices they could consider for their lives. Educate low income countries in birth control.
  • Reduce food waste.
  • Shift the lens of focus to something tangible rather than just focusing on big business and governmental change. What can you do to impact your community? Educate others. People will follow others behaviour if it is seen as fashionable.

Live like you know there is a problem on Earth. 

  • Vote. Vote. Vote. Vote for environmental issues, show that those are the things that we care about. Encourage your peers to vote too, especially if you are under 30. People have power.
  • Sign petitions, lobby for change.
  • Choose to work for sustainable companies who take responsibility for change. If the best minds and best workers are choosing these companies, others will follow suit.
  • Be intelligent. Read, watch, educate yourself.
  • Try to endorse living within a circular economy – find gold in the garbage.
  • Get out into nature, embrace what you love about the world.

Despite the overwhelming evidence, some people remain unconvinced that the world is changing. One audience member noted that the only thing that made him really consider the rate of the change happening around him was when someone asked him when was the last time you had to clean insects off your windscreen after a journey? Insects have rapidly declined in recent years due to the use of insecticides and habitat loss. This is a tangible piece of evidence that everyone with a car can see. We have a massive gap in the food chain and it is showing how our ecosystems are becoming more unstable than ever. 

There will always be those who do not believe in change and unfortunately, we will all suffer for their ignorance. There will be those who believe that it is not their problem because the effects will happen outside of their lifetime.  The question we all need to ask ourselves is what will our legacy be? How have you lived whilst you have been on this planet? How has your life impacted the world? You will not be remembered for the material belongings that you own; you will be remembered for what you stood for – or for what you didn’t. If it won’t impact you then think about how it will impact your grandchildren or your children. Will your family in generations to come look back and think that you were a badass who stood up and did something, or that you were happy to bury your head in the sand and let others deal with the consequences?

Be an ambassador for a better world. 

To all those that were there on Friday night, and all those who engaged online and to you for reading this now, you rock! You can be the change that you wish to see. Educate yourselves, educate those around you. Especially the young. Tell children stories of the natural world, grab their attention by making science fun and engaging. Make it fashionable to be conscious.

If you put a ladybird in the hand of a child they will be interested, the will be fascinated, animals are wonderful ambassadors for the plight of the natural world. 

At the end of the debate we were asked to again to vote for which of the 4 issues was the most vital to pursue. This time Wildlife & Habitat took the top spot with Climate Change a close second and Fresh Water and Oceans a joint third. It was clear to us all in the room that to affect change we need something that will engage everyone. This is what makes the work of charities such as Earthwatch Europe so pivotal to the continuing work of environmentalists everywhere – by bringing us all together at the Royal Geographical Society made us feel united and for the evening, and hopefully beyond, made us believe that a sustainable future is possible.

Change is here and we must move with the times to ensure that the world as we know it is here for generations to come. Know your power and use it. Fresh water, climate change, wildlife & habitats and oceans are all key factors in saving the planet by 2030. But the only way we are really going to achieve it is together.

Peace out, SWBC x

Written by Rebecca Hansell 14th May 2018

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