We’re overdue an extinction level event so we need to leave the Earth someday, but in the following decade there are much more pressing concerns.
Today is World Earth Day. Although every day should be a celebration of the planet which gives us life, this is the day we’ve set aside to talk about it. Earth is our home. It has always been our home. Perhaps in the future it won’t be, but for now it’s all we have. And our home is in crisis.
Like in every story, there’s always some kind of complication. Throughout the history of our home, there have been extinction level events. What this means is an event which wipes out a significant portion of the life on Earth. The most famous example being the extinction of the dinosaurs.
Chances are there is going to be another; that is if we aren’t responsible for causing it ourselves via climate change. Even a NASA scientist has made a claim that one is due, although given they occur every 50 to 60 million years, “due” has a rather loose definition in this case.
As such it’s important that we leave this planet in the long term. But it isn’t an immediate problem. Last year we were given 12 years to avert the climate crisis, which means we now have 11 years left. While hope is still alive if we take the recent school strikes or other climate strikes into account, the change we need is still a long way off.
A waste of resources
In a world where we have so little time to change so much, space travel is a luxury we can’t afford; well, that is unless you’re rich enough to support SpaceX’s venture to Mars through their space tourism around the moon. However NASA are also working on plans to send humans to Mars in the next 20 years.
Personally I’m not against space travel. Or advancing our civilisation. In fact, I think it’s one of the most exciting areas of science and technology. But 11 years is no time at all; especially if you use what I’ve achieved in the last decade as a reference point.
By allowing these technological advancements to be a part of the conversation, we remove attention from the real, immediate problem. It gives more strength to the argument that the climate crisis will be solved by some technical innovation, when evidence shows we already have the technology for a 100% renewable system.
House on fire
In an attempt to be as glass-half-full as possible, I believe that we can still change. It starts with you. As a consumer there are a few big changes you can make to drastically reduce your impact on the environment. The two biggest are consuming less animal products and using fewer fossil fuels*.
Nonetheless the responsibility doesn’t solely belong to the consumer. Our long term survival needs system change. Sadly I’m not a political scientist, so I don’t have much to suggest here – at least for now.
Winter isn’t coming
From today until we sort the problem, the climate crisis needs to be at the centre of discussion. Not only between scientists, but politicians and civilians too. We need to pause and accept the reality of the situation. The problem is much bigger than the personal glory of making it to Mars for the first time. It’s much more important than protecting the economic interests of a few people. Our very existence is in danger.
In our world winter isn’t coming. But ecosystem collapse. Climate refugees. Extreme weather. All of that is coming and more. It’s time to take care of our planet. And it’s not too late to start. All said and done it boils down to one question: if we can’t come together to protect not only us but the other sentient life on this Earth, do we deserve to survive and spread throughout the universe?
*A study by Joseph Poore of the University of Oxford found that if everyone were to convert to a plant based diet, we could reduce agriculture land use by 76%; agricultural greenhouse gas emissions by 49%; ocean acidification by 50%; eutrophication – nitrogen based pollution – by 50%; and scarcity-weighted freshwater withdrawals by 19% (in comparison to the year 2010 as a reference point). The reduction in land use would also allow more trees to be planted, which act as a significant carbon sink, reducing CO2 levels in the atmosphere.
Otherwise reducing your consumption of fossil fuels can reduce carbon emissions; this includes less flying, driving, heating but also the consumption of plastics and oil based materials.
Jack McGovan is a recent graduate in chemistry with a specialisation in ‘Energy and Sustainable Chemistry’ from the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. Following a job as a student journalist covering the energy transition, he has moved to Berlin where he is following his passion for working towards creating a fairer and more sustainable world. Seeing a gap in the way in which the world of science was communicated, he founded Delta-S. By writing source based content, he hopes to communicate his findings to a wider audience.