The Elephant in the Room

Are we sleep walking our way into deep waters?

‘If you believe in infinite growth on a finite planet then you are either mad or an economist’

David Attenborough

I was walking past the PRSC (People’s Republic of Stokes Croft) shop on Jamaica Street recently when I saw some pottery with these words on in the window.  They struck me with great force, partly because I am an admirer of DA’s immense energy and lifetime commitment to the cause of showing us the wonders of this amazing planet and also because of October’s devastating Intergovernmental Report on Climate Change (IPPC).

This latest report gave the strongest warning yet that without immediate global and systemic change in our lifestyles and the political will to reduce carbon and other emissions, the earth’s temperature will almost certainly rise above 1.5ºC beyond that of the pre- industrial period in the next 12 years.  And quite possibly reach 2–4ºC by the end of the century, with catastrophic results, not only for us as a human race, but for all the other wildlife and the systems that support us: air, soil, forests, rivers, seas etc.

Only two newspapers reported these dramatic findings on their front pages – the rest buried the news in small column inches inside. Apparently, an illicit kiss between two contestants in Strictly was far more widely reported and discussed than the existential threat to the human race posed by climate change.  A week or so later and the biggest news story of our age has drifted off the media agenda.

I have been unbelievably fortunate in my life to have lived and worked in several countries and seen first-hand many of the wonders of this world. Amongst them memories of seeing dozens of giraffes floating across the East African plains, great herds of elephants of all ages, guarded by majestic tuskers, rhinos wandering freely through the bush, rainforests teeming with life and coral reefs filled with a kaleidoscope of variety of magical colours and beauty.  Some of the myriad species and habitats that make this earth such an intricately wonderful place.

What will our children and grandchildren see in 2050 except in zoos or on film? There are 80,000 giraffes left in the whole of Africa, down 40% in the last 15 years, 352,000 elephants, down 30% over the past 2 decades, and rhinos are now critically endangered and mainly under armed guard in reserves. Trees are being cut down and rainforests cleared for palm oil and soya plantations, and the coral reefs are bleaching as oceans warm and they may well disappear completely within 30 years if the earth’s temperature goes above the 1.5ºC limit.

The thought of this loss of our precious diversity keeps me awake at night. But, although the picture is gloomy, the situation is not yet irreversible. Yes, governments must take drastic action. For example, the UK alone will be required to reduce carbon emissions by 45% by 2030.  But we too can take responsibility for our individual life styles and these are just some of the things we can do to make a difference:

  • Eat less meat
  • Fly less
  • Change to an all green/sustainable/carbon free energy provider eg Octopus
  • Put solar panels on (where feasible)
  • Reduce, reuse and recycle — cut down on what you buy and throw away
  • Support environmental activist groups
  • Use LED lightbulbs and turn the thermostat down by 1ºC
  • Create a green sanctuary for wildlife in any garden space
  • Remember that people working together in communities can make a difference

Here in Bristol there is an excellent website called One Home positive solutions run by Angela Terry.  It is about the challenge of climate change and what we can do – full of tips and informative helpful links on a great range of issues – pointers to the options for positive change we can make for sustainable living. ‘We only have ONE home and the choices we make every day make a world of difference’ AT.

This is just one example of the heartening range of individuals and groups round the world who are working to make a difference and develop new ways of doing things.

Living Planet report

This very recent WWF report highlights our catastrophic loss of biodiversity – the UK alone has lost so much of its wildlife we now rank 189thfor biodiversity out of 218 nations.

This massive planetary decline (60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles wiped out since 1970) is largely driven by our ever-expanding demand for food, water and energy.  This growing consumption will mean the end of wildlife as we have known it and constitutes ‘an emergency that threatens civilisation.’  We are destroying the web of life upon which human society ultimately depends for clean air, water, fertile soil and everything else: our life support system.

The Living Planet report states:

‘we are sleepwalking towards the edge of a cliff. Only by addressing both ecosystems and climate do we stand a chance of safeguarding a stable planet for humanity’s future on Earth.’

The fundamental issue of consumption by a fast-growing human population means we can no longer ignore the impact of unsustainable production models and wasteful lifestyles… which is again where our individual and collective decisions all count.

I know Friends are already very concerned and involved with these issues through our Testimonies to Sustainability and Simplicity.  However, these recent two reports do highlight the urgency to renew and expand our commitment.

A clarion call has been issued by the IPPC and Living Planet reports and ignorance and indifference are no longer an option.

If not now, then when? If not us, then who?

Be the difference!

System change not climate change!

Claire Herford

PS since writing this article a new movement has come into being – Extinction Rebellion. The first mass direct actions in London were attended by many Quakers, including some from Redland Meeting. More information on this is on their website ExtinctionRebellion.org.uk and a branch has been established in Bristol, based in Easton.