There is no time left.
Justyna Golat, Queen Mary University
Environmental activists used to be depicted in the media as air-headed hippies, ‘tree huggers’ and often mocked or belittled in conversations about the future of our planet. Thankfully, this attitude seems to be slowly fading away with numerous corporations, political figures, celebrities and influencers advocating for sustainability and environmental protection.
The so-called ‘eco trend’ has been taking over for several years now, countless social initiatives both in Poland and abroad such as “Wigilia bez plastiku", Earth strikes and giveboxes in Polish city of Poznań have gathered many willing participants. While an emerging outright ban on plastic straws, lids, cups and bags in numerous cafes, restaurants and supermarkets proves that being more eco-conscious is truly becoming the definitive trend of the decade. The movement is quickly gaining popularity, new markets were essentially created for metal straws, bamboo toothbrushes and package-less cosmetics. The increase in interest and sales speak for itself - in 2018 Etsy searches for metal straws peaked to over 205%.
Be it the result of ‘greenwashing’, jumping on the eco-trend just to be relevant or capitalising on a fresh niche, the ‘green’ message is getting more embedded in our consciousness. An ever-increasing number of people started to notice the need for adjusting their behaviour to save the planet. But why is that? One reason for such a dramatic change is that the environmental threat is getting more and more real with each passing year. Suddenly, the predictions that Earth is deteriorating dramatically shifted from 150 years to a staggering 50 (as an optimistic prognostic).
The estimates are without a doubt alarming, as much as one third of the plastic around the world remains in the environment. If no definite action will be taken, plastic will outweigh fish in the oceans by 2050. The impact on the world has already started and it is terrifying. We tend to focus on the melting ice glaciers, often miles away from habitable areas. However, the changing environment is not only happening ‘somewhere far, far away’ but it is much closer to home. As an example, climate changes will lead to desertification in some regions of Poland and floods in the others, both resulting in inability to grow crops or farm. This all ties in with climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe predictions that ‘global weirding’ has already begun meaning uncommon weather patterns happening all around the globe e.g more frequent floods in one region and rivers drying up completely in others. According to many climate change experts, rising sea levels will result in mass migration from places that will no longer be habitable. This poses a lot of future challenges that will necessitate implementation of solutions dealing with migration previously unseen on such a massive scale.
The world’s overconsumption
People started to listen and take notice because of the looming threat but what is the source of the problem in the first place? The causes of the devastating state of our planet are too numerous to list, people have exploited the Earth and its natural resources carelessly, which has led to the degradation and erosion of natural habitats, pollution and climate change among others. However, there are two particular causes that we can all limit within our own scope. Namely, overconsumption and what follows - waste disposal.
With the ‘eco’ trend, circular economy and minimalism on one side, the other side of the coin represents consumerism and overconsumption, which is still in full force. We started to buy stuff without a single thought (save for the broke students), we no longer care about the quality of the item, its ingredients and whether it came from a reliable, sustainable source we want more and more. Buying without a second thought has taken its toll. This overconsumption in all aspects of life not only drains the earth’s natural resources but creates an entire new problem of dealing with the massive amount of waste. We tend to think of trash as our responsibility from our house to the bin.
The problem is that most of us do not think about what happens to the waste once it is disposed from our homes. Contrary to what we would like to believe, after the trash ends in the bin it does not magically disappear. It will persist on the face of the Earth, in some cases for longer than our lifetimes, harming the natural environment of many species and even may end up in the ocean and go back to us in the fish that we eat. We are so used to comfort that in many parts of the world recycling is still an alien concept. Our mindless consumption is frightening, according to the Waste & Resource Action Programme, UK households spend £15 billion each year on food which is aimlessly wasted without being eaten.
As we consume more and more comfort and convenience became a priority. Once it became relatively cheap and easy to travel by plane, order takeaways, buy thousands of unnecessary pieces of clothing on sale, some ‘trendy’ food which looked interesting but will end up in the bin or something ‘cute’ to decorate the house, which is neither necessary nor of good quality, by all these actions we are all transforming the world on a scale unseen before. We started to be so used to living in comfort that most of us do not think about where all the waste goes or how much we are throwing away. Even though, we would all want the waste to just magically disappear, it does not. And what is even more frightening is that the waste comes back to us in the water we drink and the fish we eat.
There is no way to sugar coat it, changing our lifestyles requires an effort that most of us stopped being used to. Change cannot happen overnight but each of us can follow a few and undertake more eco- friendly steps to help the general effort. Here are some ideas for immediate use:
1. Ditch anything plastic! No more plastic bags (I guess the 10p charge in the supermarkets have already made the point), it is time to invest in your own cotton shopping bag, reusable coffee cup, reusable straw (if you cannot part with drinking that way), bamboo toothbrush and if you have to buy something in plastic make sure that you really need it and will not throw it away after a week.
2. Think twice before you buy. Clothes, food, house decor. Maybe you can thrift it? Swap with friends, donate or try to sell it. After all some of us have more things that we have space for.
3. Embrace the ‘staycation’! Limit plane travel. If it is possible go by train. Explore the more ‘accessible’ local area before deciding on flying miles away without a clear purpose other than ‘I need to get away.’
There are many more steps and tips on staying more kind to our planet. Luckily due to the increasing eco-awareness you can find various blogs, YouTube channels, books and even documentaries devoted to this area of interest. Currently, the predictions look bleak but there is hope in the young generation, with 80% of teenagers recognising the need to save the planet and children as young as 7 and 9 years old petitioning for the removal of plastic toys from fast food chains. After all Happy Meal won’t be so happy on the sad planet.