“It’s the end of the world as we know it,
It’s the end of the world as we know it,
It’s the end of the world as we know it,
and I feel fine (time I had some time alone)”
~ It’s The End Of The World As We Know It, by R.E.M.
It sure has felt that way for the last few months, hasn’t it? We’ve had plenty of time to “have some time alone” and our routines have been turned upside down, though if I hear the phrase “New Normal” one more time, I think I might scream.
It’s been bad here in the U.S.A., but can you imagine how much worse it has been in so many of the other places on the planet? Can you empathize with those people who are already living day-to-day trying to scrape up enough food or water to survive and then to have to deal with this pandemic on TOP of that?
In many ways, it seems that COVID-19 has been like a giant RESET button by Mother Nature. The real question is: can we, as humans, learn any lessons about how to treat the planet better because of it? Perhaps, more importantly, WILL we take this golden opportunity to at least and at last become more sustainable?
Merriam-Webster defines “Sustainable” as:
1 : capable of being sustained
2a : of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged. See sustainable techniques, sustainable agriculture
b : of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods, sustainable society
Did you know that there are three “pillars” of Sustainability? They are:
- Environmental (Planet) ——————–\
- Economic (Profit) —————————- SUSTAINABILITY
- Social (People) ——————————–/
In trying to develop goals towards true sustainability, all three of these pillars must be considered and brought together. Here’s a good video that describes how these definitions fit and work together to create a sustainable future.
In 2015, a group of 193 countries at The United Nations came up with 17 SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). These “17 Goals to Transform Our World” were first implemented in 2016, with the hopes of meeting all or most of these aims by the year 2030. “The seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are our shared vision of humanity and a social contract between the world’s leaders and the people,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted unanimously by 193 Heads of State and other top leaders at a summit at UN Headquarters in New York in September. “They are a to-do list for people and planet, and a blueprint for success,” he added of the 17 goals and 169 targets to wipe out poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change over the next 15 years.”
So, we’re 4 years into the initiative. How are we doing? Overall, not that great, but where there is room for improvement, there is also the hope and willpower to make it happen. Some countries are making better efforts than others, and some are actually on track to meet their nation’s goals even before 2030. If you want to see the good, the bad and the ugly about how well (or not) we’re doing, this Ted Talk from last year shows specific numbers.
We’re a good species when it comes to adapting, but there are some things we won’t be able to adapt to quickly enough, like rising global temperatures (on land and in the oceans) caused by climate change.
PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America) recently published an article that suggests “…depending on scenarios of population growth and warming, over the coming 50 y, 1 to 3 billion people are projected to be left outside the climate conditions that have served humanity well over the past 6,000 y. Absent climate mitigation or migration, a substantial part of humanity will be exposed to mean annual temperatures warmer than nearly anywhere today.”
By 2070, they predict that (bolding mine) “…in the absence of migration, one third of the global population is projected to experience a MAT (Mean Annual Temperature) >29 °C currently found in only 0.8% of the Earth’s land surface, mostly concentrated in the Sahara. As the potentially most affected regions are among the poorest in the world, where adaptive capacity is low, enhancing human development in those areas should be a priority alongside climate mitigation.”
Rolling Stone did a wonderful article about the coming heat waves due to climate change, asking the important question, Can We Survive Extreme Heat?. “As temperatures soar in the coming years, the real question is not whether super-heated cities are sustainable. With enough money and engineering skill, you can sustain life on Mars. The issue is, sustainable for whom?”
Humans still aren’t trying hard enough to live sustainably. According to Overshootday.org, we currently consume global resources at a rate where (bolding mine) “…we’d need 1.75 planets to support our demand on Earth’s ecosystem. The calculations include resources such as the amount of water, land, fish and forests we use as well as how much CO2 we’re pumping into the atmosphere – basically a measure of our ecological footprint. Our carbon footprint specifically is now 60 percent of our total global ecological footprint – with a massive 33 days of our budget overshoot used up due to CO2 emissions alone.” You can learn more about that and see some interesting graphs and pictures about that here.
For us here in America, the COVID pandemic has meant temporary shortages on things like toilet paper (Here’s a fun history of how we came to have this “necessity”), which requires millions of felled trees per year to create. We’ve also witnessed a break down in the supply chain for foods like dairy, vegetables, and meats. Why? Because we’re not farming sustainably and rely heavily on large, corporate farming aggregates (whose number one concern is not feeding the world, or even the USA, but making as much profit as they possibly can – using the Economic ‘pillar’ to excess and at the expense of the other two pillars) and partly because we are a country who not only resists giving up eating meat, but who leads the world in meat consumption. ~ Source
Despite everything I’ve posted here, it’s not ALL Gloom and Doom. As societies become more conscious and responsible about their own roles in sustainability, and consumers demand that companies and corporations become sustainable, there is hope that we can still come out the other side of this with a “win” for the Earth and its inhabitants. At the very least, maybe now you’re seriously thinking about what you can do as an individual to help save us all, now and in the future.
IF it helps us make meaningful, lasting change, then maybe…the end of the world “as we know it” can turn out to be a good thing, after all.