Published on 08/05/19
There seems to be an unrelenting stream of grim messages about our environment with each day bringing another warning about the damage we are inflicting on our planet. The latest report from the UN on biodiversity and ecosystem services warns us that nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history and over 1,000,000 species are at threat of extinction with grave impacts on people around the world now likely.
Then a 16-year-old climate activist started a school strike for climate outside the Swedish parliament. Action on climate change was brought to our attention in a way that more overtly socio-political movements like Extinction Rebellion had not yet achieved. Greta Thunberg has encouraged over 100,000 school children to protest about climate change and has spoken at rallies in Stockholm, Helsinki, Brussels and London including the 2018 United Nations climate change global conference. Her talks (see TED talk here) have gone viral.
David Attenborough’s 2018 Blue Planet documentary about plastic pollution in our oceans brought the issue into our homes by showing the damage to marine life by our casual, prolific use of plastics. The programme led to a quiet revolution and a collective conscience brought about an immediate rejection of plastic drinking straws, disposable cups, bottles and other household items, with consumers demanding recyclable or reusable options. Large retail brands are, at last, working to meet this demand and in school we have reduced reliance on single use plastics, particularly water bottles.
Public awareness and concern about climate is at an all-time high. A YouGov poll for The Times last week indicated that 24% of British people now see the environment as one of the big three issues facing the country, and in the 18-24 age group this rises to 43%. Young people want to see action and to help change the world. Saving the planet will be costly and painful but surely we have to try? And surely we must help our children to try?
Last week a report was published by the UK independent committee on climate change. This group was asked by the government to report on progress against Britain’s legal obligations under the Climate Change Act 2008 (to reduce emissions by 80% on the levels set in 1990, by 2050). They recommended that the target be amended to net-zero by 2050. This means that even steeper emission reductions are required and that carbon in the atmosphere will have to be stored. The committee chief executive warned that ‘It is not credible to set this target unless there is a very significant change in the policies needed to deliver it.’
The committee recommendations are no surprise in many ways; almost three billion trees must be planted by 2050 and peoples’ habits will have to change drastically to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A fifth of farmland must be turned into forest, peatland or used for biomass crops and 200,000 miles of hedgerow will need to be planted. Domestic gas boilers must be replaced with green alternatives and low carbon electricity suppliers need to quadruple. On a personal level, we must eat less beef, lamb and dairy produce to reduce the impact on the environment, fly less, especially long haul, and replace our cars with electric versions or give them up all together.
These changes are likely to be supported strongly, or even demanded, by the 18-24 age group and younger, so what does the future look like for them?
Electric cars are expected to be cheaper than petrol or diesel by 2030 so our current Year 3 and Year 4 pupils are unlikely to own a petrol or diesel car. Their homes will not be heated with gas powered boilers as 85% of homes are now, but with low carbon alternatives including hydrogen. Large scale carbon capture and store technology (CCT) will be evident in hubs around the UK to clean up industry and store the output from burning sustainable biomass. More nuclear power stations will not be needed since current gas fired ones must be fitted with CCT. Fashion, especially unsustainable fast fashion, will gain pariah status and the only brands to be seen in will become those with sustainable credentials; these brands are here already but not yet mainstream. Young people will demand their schools and employers aspire to these ideals and that fashion, buildings and transport improve their eco credentials in response.
Greta Thunberg tries to live a low-carbon life. Therefore, she is vegan, and she doesn't fly. She has been named as one of the world’s most influential teens by TIME magazine. We have been warned.
Mrs Jane Jenkins