Byline: Maryn Blignaut
Most of us go about our lives without thinking too much about the environment. I mean, why would we worry about Earth? It has been around for thousands of years and it will be for thousands more, right?
It is difficult to predict the future and although many people have tried it, no one can know exactly what will happen in a hundred or a thousand years. However, that doesn’t mean that warnings about global warming, the destruction of Earth’s biodiversity, and other environmental issues should be ignored.
Professor Karen J Esler has been invited to comment on some of the environmental issues. Esler is the former Head of the Department of Conservation Ecology and Entomology at Stellenbosch University (2015-2020) and a member of the DST-NRF Center of Excellence for Invasion Biology since its inception in 2004.
There are too many environmental problems
While climate change is one of the major environmental issues facing humanity over the next decade, it is not the only one.
âI think the biggest environmental problem today is that I can’t necessarily identify just one problem – there are so many. We are losing biodiversity (genetic diversity, species, habitats and ecosystems) at a dramatic rate, which means we are eroding essential services in nature, âsaid Esler. These include clean air, clean water, nature experiences that influence our well-being, various healthy soils, crops, microbiomes, and diets that contribute to our health.
She added that the insatiable appetite for fossil fuels and land triggers catastrophic climate change and increases the risk of infectious diseases – which means it’s not just Earth that suffers, but our health as well.
Global warming due to CO2 emissions
According to the UN, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have increased by almost 50% since 1990, accelerating global warming. As a result, climate change causes weather events such as heat, drought, insect outbreaks and flooding. Forest fires have been more frequent and severe over the past two years in countries around the world.
These problems threaten the survival of millions of people, plants and animals. In some parts of the country, farmers are asking for help keeping their livestock alive due to droughts, while in other areas an unusually wet summer has resulted in flooding of cultivated fields, resulting in poorer harvests. than the previous year.
Deforestation has led the Amazon to lose more than 17% of its forests in the past 50 years
Another problem that leads to the loss of biodiversity is deforestation. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), forests make up over 31% of the planet and account for 80% of the world’s terrestrial species, such as elephants and rhinos.
However, the world’s forests are threatened by deforestation and forest degradation. In 2019, the tropics lost nearly 30 tree football pitches per minute, and WWF reported that more than 17% of the Amazon’s forests have been lost in the past five decades.
Oceans: Climate change, waste and impact on marine life
The ocean has an important role to play in the preservation of the planet. It represents more than 71% of the surface of our planet and 95% of all the space available for life. The ocean has an important role to play in regulating the global climate.
They absorb CO2 and heat, which helps regulate the weather. According to the US National Ocean Service, the oceans produce more than 50% of the world’s oxygen and absorb 50 times more carbon dioxide than the atmosphere. WWF reported that it is estimated that over 83% of the global carbon cycle circulates in the oceans and that 90% of the world’s greenhouse gases have also been trapped in marine waters over the past two centuries. This could lead to more severe weather conditions, as the oceans help determine precipitation, droughts and flooding.
High amounts of CO2 uptake and warming oceans threaten coral reefs. Many species depend on these reefs for food and protection, and they play an important role in ocean ecosystems. Scientists say if current rates of temperature increase continue, coral reefs could disappear by 2050.
Global warming is not the only one having an impact on the ocean. Overfishing, illegal fishing, pollution and habitat degradation have all caused suffering to the oceans.
One of the main problems to be solved in order to preserve the oceans and marine life is pollution. Millions of tons of plastic and other waste pollute the oceans. According to a report by environmentalist Ellen MacArthur presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January 2016, by 2050 there could be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
âIn a business-as-usual scenario, the ocean is expected to contain one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish by 2025, and by 2050, more plastics than fish (by weight),â the report said.
MacArthur’s report was based on a 2015 study on plastics by the US environmental group Ocean Conservancy. While MacArthur’s analysis cannot be guaranteed to be correct, it does show the gravity of the situation.
How the Covid-19 pandemic reset itself on the environment … temporarily
The Covid-19 pandemic has devastated economies and claimed the lives of millions of people. However, it has also shown that we are able to ârestoreâ the Earth. When the World Health Organization first declared Covid-19 a pandemic, it temporarily brought the world to a standstill – there were fewer cars on the roads, boats in the water, and planes in the sky.
As a result, air quality has improved in many cities and there has been a reduction in water pollution in different parts of the world. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research reported in May last year that satellites have shown a decrease in air pollution in South Africa during the hard closures. While it is unrealistic to expect the same steps to be taken to stop climate change, the Covid-19 lockdown has proven that with the right adjustments we can help restore the environment.
It is our responsibility to protect what is left of our planet
Esler stressed how important it is for society to step in and protect what is left of our biodiversity.
She said, âWicked problems are interesting in that the solutions are closely related to their complexity, and solving them requires increased attention. This means looking beyond the direct drivers of change (land or sea use change, overexploitation, invasive species, climate change) to include indirect factors such as the values ââthat guide our decisions, our governance, our systems. social and economic, etc.
Esler said transformative change is needed and attention should never stray from this cause. According to Esler, the United Nations has declared 2021-2030 as the “Decade of Ecosystem Restoration”, posing a global challenge to reverse the “trend of degradation by stepping up restoration actions”.
âFor example, planting a few types of trees on a large scale to sequester carbon may actually pose risks to biodiversity and cause more serious problems such as increased risk of catastrophic fires and hydrological changes. The emphasis on complexity and diversity through ecological restoration could offer better opportunities. “
Time for a change is now
It has never been more crucial to start finding ways to tackle climate change and other environmental issues. Many countries have already started to take steps to implement âgreenâ solutions.
Pakistan hosted World Environment Day this year and the country’s Prime Minister Imran Khan spoke about climate change at a virtual event. Khan urged rich countries to step up the fight against climate change by reducing their carbon emissions and helping poor countries.
âIt’s a chance for the world to correct its course. We now have the next decade for ecosystem restoration, âsaid Khan.
Esler reiterated how important it is for society to start taking these environmental issues seriously before it’s too late.
She said: âIf nothing is done to stem the tide of degradation and halt the loss of biodiversity, I think we can only expect further negative returns to our own health and well-being, leading to to a world stripped of glorious diversity and one full of inequalities and unjust outcomes. It is not the future that I wish to imagine.
This story, first published by brief.co.za, was shared as part of World News Day 2021, a global campaign to highlight the essential role of factual journalism in delivering news and reliable information in the service of humanity. # Journalism matters. WORLD INFORMATION DAY 2021