Thirteen ways to save the environment

Green future: Scientists say these steps will stop “widespread misery and biodiversity loss.”

How can humans save the environment? A report has warned that “time is running out” to fix Earth’s climate crisis, and states that action from governments and citizens is “urgently” needed.

  • What is going on?

    In a landmark report this week more than 15,000 scientists from 184 countries issued a “warning to humanity.” They claim that environmental destruction is “jeopardising” the future of the world. The study is a “second notice”, coming after 1,500 scientists gave the same warning in 1992. According to the new report, humanity has since “failed to make sufficient progress” in solving environment issues — in fact most have gotten “far worse”.

  • What are the problems?

    There are four big issues. The first is “potentially catastrophic climate change”, caused by greenhouse gasses. A separate study released this week found that global carbon dioxide emissions have risen by 2% this year — despite international pledges to reduce them.

    Intense agricultural methods are another big problem. Pollution from raising crops, livestock and other resources accounts for 24% of global emissions — more than all cars, planes and trains combined

    Clearing land for farming also drives the third main problem: deforestation. Up to 58 thousand square miles of forest are lost every year, the same as 48 football pitches per minute. And between 1990 and 2015 global forest coverage decreased by an area the size of South Africa.

    Rising temperatures, intense farming and deforestation all contribute to the fourth issue: mass wildlife extinction. Scientists have calculated that up to 50% of all wild animals have been killed in the last 40 years. And humans are to blame.

  • And that isn’t everything?

    No. We also have problems with water. The amount of fresh water is drying up, with availability now less than half that of the 1960s. And the number of ocean dead zones has increased, with marine life suffocated by industrial chemicals dumped into the sea.

    On top of all this, the world’s human population keeps increasing. The report describes population growth as the “primary driver” of environmental harm. There are two billion more people on the planet than in 1992 — a 35% increase. And the United Nations predicts that the world’s population will reach 11.2 billion by 2100.

  • So what can we do about it?

    The report highlights 13 steps that could tackle these issues (see graphic). Some can be achieved by individuals. For example, adults could make conscious decisions to have fewer children. And most people could eat less meat, waste less food and encourage wild spaces — even if it is just a patch of long grass in the garden.

    Other steps will need intervention from governments. This includes creating nature reserves, cracking down on poachers and making society fairer.

    There is a role for businesses too. Big corporations could invest in renewable energy instead of fossil fuels, while entrepreneurs could compete to create the green technology of the future.

  • But what else can I do to help?

    The report encourages everyone to make these issues political. It declares that “citizens must insist that their governments take immediate action.” And argues that with a “groundswell of organised grassroots efforts,” it is possible to force politicians to “do the right thing.”

  • Will that really make a difference?

    Maybe. When scientists issued their first warning in 1992, emissions had created a massive hole in the Earth’s ozone layer. This was increasing cancer rates and damaging plant and marine life. However, thanks to a ban on certain chemicals the hole has shrunk by more than 1.5 million square miles, and is predicted to by fully healed by 2050. As the report states, this proves that big environmental problems can be solved when societies “act decisively.”

You Decide

  1. Should every family only be allowed to have one child?

Activities

  1. Design an eye-catching poster which encourages people to do more to help the environment. You could include memorable slogans, thought-provoking images, and environmental facts and stats.

Word Watch

Report
Published by the Alliance of World Scientists.
Study
Research led by the University of East Anglia, published in Nature Climate Change. See The Times article in Become An Expert for more information.
Pledges
According to the Paris climate agreement in 2015, China pledged to cut emissions by 60-65% by 2030 from 2005 levels. The USA pledged to reduce emissions by 26-28% by 2025 but have since withdrawn from the agreement.
Combined
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, based on 2010 emissions.
Minute
According to the World Wildlife Fund.
Scientists
According to research lead by the World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society of London.
Ozone
The main cause of ozone depletion came from man-made chemicals known as CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons). These were routinely found in aerosols, refrigerators and solvents until they were banned.
Predicted
According to Professor Susan Solomon from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.