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Facing environmental extinction

A United Nations report has been released, summarising available research about the environment, and warning that we face a dire future.


Steve Latham


It follows a British Government report, which made the first governmental admission that we face a “crisis”.

Climate change and species extinction are two closely-linked developments which threaten, not only human life as we know it, but also the future of all life on our planet.

It’s intriguing to ask, whether these are responses to recent protests. The latest was the Extinction Rebellion demonstration which paralysed central London for a whole week.

This came after the children’s school strikes, pioneered internationally by the sixteen-year old Swedish Greta Thunberg.

Perhaps this represents a chain reaction, as the deadline for disaster speeds nearer. Will we achieve any meaningful environmental targets, before 2050, by when climate change will be irreversible?

My daughter and her partner have become vegetarians, and are considering veganism, as a personal response to the impact of livestock farming on the environment.

But this is all nothing new. I remember, as a student, back in the 1970s (yes, ancient history), being challenged by environmental research.

Even then, we knew, if we looked, that we, as a species, were having detrimental effects on our own bio-habitat.

We knew plastic bags were dangerous pollutants, and so I always shopped with a huge rucksack, into which I tipped all my purchases at the market.

We knew that producing food through livestock used more in feed materials, than if we ate the grains, pulses, and vegetables directly ourselves.

So I tried vegetarianism – admittedly, I succumbed occasionally to the occasional chocolate bar, or tin of baked beans – after all, I was a student! But I don’t want to appear self-righteous. Because it didn’t last. I hadn’t done this as an isolated individual. I was supported by similar conscientised students in this university milieu.

And that was the problem. Dealing, at a personal level, with these enormous planetary challenges, requires us to be part of supportive networks. Otherwise the pressures of conformity are too much.

It was OK for a while. Even when I returned home, whenever I could choose my diet, I remained vegetarian, although my parents regarded me as a hippy.

But entering the wider world, at that time, sounded the death-knell for my ethical commitment. It was possible to find shops catering for veggies, but they were rare.

In addition, strangely, the political commitment I had to young people in the inner city, led me away from rigorous food choices.

Teenagers, at that time (in the 80s), weren’t noted for their right-on environmentalism. As a youth worker in London, I had to organise their weekly meetings and residentials.

Quickly, the sausages, and hamburgers, emerged as their favourites. And I began to go along with this, so as not to appear too outlandish.

This is the problem facing us. We know the dangers, but will we, individuals or governments, do anything about it? For that, we need supportive networks, legislative action, and social change.

(Photos: Pixabay)

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