Not your mama's climate threat
I’m so proud of Carolina. She is one of the best family doctors in Brazil, an amazing mother, an accomplished writer (published more than once). Not only that, but she is also one of my best friends who have been able to keep teaching me things consistently through more than 20 years of friendship (and that says a lot about her patience – LOL).
So… yes, this post is another collab. I like to work on collaborations because there are few tools in self-development as transformative as listening to another person’s point of view. So if we are together in this journey of becoming a better person, let us drift away a bit of our mind reflections to read this amazing review on climate change.
Written by: Carolina Lopes de Lima Reigada
Translated by: Fernanda dAvila Melo Sarmento
The world is ending. Hollywood has talked about it. Music has spoken about it. Our teenager friends have talked about it in truth-or-dare games whenever a romantic spark should be revealed: “If the world were to end, who would you…?”
Aaaaaaaaanyway… I know the subject has been there for a while, but now it seems the world is really ending. To be more accurate, the human race is ending.
Yep. The human race is on count down. Not the world.
This utilitarian, self-centered view of human beings has led us to this whole problem in the first place. And capitalism. Yes, capitalism is also a considerable part of the problem. So to summarize: we have a narcissistic problem in a capitalist world.
I’ve heard about the threat to the “environment” from a young age. In school, I had homework about the 92′ United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit or “Rio-92”). That was the second world conference on the subject. THE SECOND ONE. And it happened twenty years after the first. Clearly, this is not a topic that people want to discuss. We manage to talk about soccer every 4 years.
Is it me or anyone else also finds illogical to think that an agenda that impacts the survival of all human beings do not attract attention? If not more, at least as much as any sport. I mean… ALL human beings – be they men, women, white, black, right-wing or left, cis, trans, homo, or heterosexual.
Let’s be real. It doesn’t have an appeal because talking about preserving the environment means talking about:
appreciation of the local market,
land degradation with agribusiness and monocultures,
technological and pharmacological pollution.
You get the drill. Talking about it is speaking against the lucrative activity of the most influential people in the world.
It is to say that the accumulation of money – at least as manifested in inconsequential capitalism – is dangerous to health.
It’s been a few years since I left my school. I’ve already graduated from college. And a specialization. And a master’s degree. And I had a child. I’ve been busy as a bee all those years, and I still hear about the environmental tragedy.
Read my words properly because I’ve chosen them carefully.
Nobody takes it as a “threat” anymore because there’s been so much damage that is not reversible as it was in your mama’s time.
Back to my comment that all of this is dangerous to your health: it is pretty obvious, don’t you think? We try yo keep things apart, but the reality is that we depend on the environment. We are part of it. We are nature.
The topic got so hot that Lancet launched the “Lancet Planetary Health“, to highlight scientific research that addresses the issue, using the words of the newspaper itself:
“investigate and provide solutions to the political, economic, social, and environmental determinants of healthy human civilizations and the natural systems on which they depend.”
It is kind of ironic. We travel to the moon, we have artificial intelligence, and YET we still depend on our limited natural resources.
There are too many of us depending on it, considering its finite nature. We are more than 7 billion people. I don’t know if you noticed, but there are nine zeros in 7,000,000,000. Meaning that if you counted each of the numbers to get to 7 billion, it would take more than 30 years just to count. And people are not on this earth to be counted but to live and be provided with all means for that.
Since 2000, 2.3 million km2 of native forests have been destroyed. One-third of the unfrozen or desert land has been transformed into plantation or pasture. About 90% of monitored fisheries are operating at or above the limit. To have energy or control of water resources, we condemn 60% of the world’s rivers. With all this, humanity is more efficient than meteors in extinction: we increased the extinction rate by more than 100 times, according to fossil records.
And it gets worse: according to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005), 60% of ecosystems examined, from air quality to water purification, are being degraded or used unsustainably. The conclusion is that the survival of future generations can no longer be guaranteed.
This not a question of if there will be no iPhone or a John John’s jeans. Que question is if we will air to breathe and water to drink – without getting sick. Or that without they getting sick (future generations).
And who are those future generations? Who cares about our grand-grand-grand-grand-grand-grandchildren anyway… right?
No-no-no-no. We are talking bout our children and grandchildren. Yes. Next-generation.
We are doing such a fantastic job of destroying the planet that we already have marked our geological age (as dinosaurs marked theirs). We live the “Anthropocene”, and the plastic layer in the ocean will be our geological record.
Check this out: in 1969 (50 years ago), Wendell Berry wrote:
“We have lived our lives by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption, what is good for the world will be good for us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and learn what is good for it.”
And there wasn’t much action since 1969. The consequence is that by 2050, more than 40% of the world is expected to be living under stressed water reservoirs. By 2012, 748 million people depended on unreliable and unsafe sources of water.
And what do we use water for?
About 70% of the water we use is for agricultural irrigation. Water reservoirs in the 3 largest grain-producing countries are shrinking due to unsustainable use for agriculture: China, India, USA. Also, climate change may cause a loss of 600-2900×10¹² kcal in food production by limiting the supply of water for irrigation.
There is an inequality in water distribution in the world. But we must keep in mind that water-rich and water-poor nations depend on the same finite resources. There is a virtual water exchange when exporting/importing orange, jeans, or cars. However, water shortages will lead to a decline in water-rich countries’ exports, leaving water-poor countries without enough to support their population as early as 2030.
Two thousand and f*cking thirty.
It’s not just about turning off the tap when you brush your tooth, peeing in the bath (thanks for the tip, Gisele!) or thrift when doing the dishes. A jeans cost 11 thousand liters of water. A cotton shirt, 2,700 liters. One orange, 50 liters. A 10-minute bath, 100 liters. Conscious consumption is recalibrating those jeans rather than buying a new one because it’s attractive in the window, you know? Prefer the orange from the local producer to the orange that has spent water and polluted to be transported from California (or buy the orange from California if you live in California).
Reducing consumption is critical for real changes to happen. In southern Ethiopia, per capita, daily water consumption is 9 liters. In the US, it is 375 liters. In Brazil, 132 liters.
So what do you do every day, or most days, so that your child can drink clean water when he or she is your age? Or that children from less privileged places than yours might also reach their age?
I could go on and on about impacts on air, soil, oceans, biodiversity. And that’s without being a biologist or Greenpeace activist. But I decided to focus on the water because…. well, it seemed more urgent and more prominent. You can find references in the end if you are interested in digging deeper.
Back to our track: What are the most associated factors with the increased environmental impact caused by humans?
The highest correlations are with: the increase in absolute wealth, population size, and low governance – the latter can also be translated as a lack of political will (probably because it affects absolute wealth, first on the list).
Watching the world these days gets me very pessimistic. Trump doesn’t believe in global warming. In my country (Brazil), the president deforests the Amazon, given pressure from the agribusiness bench. Environmental protection is increasingly becoming neglected worldwide.
So can we do something? Many people are doing many things. You can adopt a more sustainable lifestyle. Change your transportation. Studies have shown that cycling to work is more cardioprotective than driving or walking, and even more beneficial to cardiovascular health than declaring that you do regular physical activity.
Meatless Monday (an initiative where one day of the week is chosen not to eat meat – only one day a week!) has excellent beneficial potential, as 41% of the calories in world agricultural production are fed to animals or biofuel. Animal products cause much higher greenhouse gas emissions per gram of protein than vegetables. Besides, better quality food has beneficial health repercussions, as a large number of premature deaths are associated with inadequate consumption of vegetables, fruits, and oilseeds.
And since we are talking about human health, improving planetary health brings us only advantage. Studies have linked an increase in peridomicile urban greenery with a decrease in all-cause mortality – while increased urban pollution increases the risk of COPD and other respiratory diseases.
Ecological tragedies increase the risk of conflict and migration – and the associated political and economic consequences. In addition to the direct loss of life and property, for every person killed by a natural disaster, another 1,000 can be affected physically, mentally, financially. And climatic or aquatic disasters caused 1.94 million deaths between 1970-2012.
Climate change also increases conflict: for each standard deviation of temperature increase or rainfall, the likelihood of conflict increases by 14%. The recent example was Syria’s long-lasting drought (2007-10).
Both conflict and natural disasters drive people out of their homes and force them to look elsewhere to survive. There is even a term for the psychological disorder resulting from forced migration, solastalgia.
But I would say that a word does not sum up the outrage and complete insecurity and helplessness of those who lost their homes, their families, their homes, due to an earthquake, a tidal wave, or the utterly negligent breach of a dam – or TWO breaches. Has anyone heard of Mariana or Brumadinho? Both of them are the fault of large and wealthy companies, which have not suffered retaliation by the Brazilian government, apparently an associate in the crime.
Coincidence or not, the year after the environmental disaster, nearby Brazilian cities had their first cases of infection and death from urban yellow fever – until then, we had only cases associated with wild and rural exposure.
See how low governance hinders environmental protection?
This text does not have a happy ending. I don’t know if we will, after all. But environmental sustainability can by no means be seen as a fashionable, sectarian, or less critical subject. You need to change your actions NOW. Recycle, reduce, reuse. Bus, subway, bicycle. Save water and paper. Study. Reproduce this information. Be aware while we still have the resources to do so.
People usually say that individual actions will make no difference if the big companies don’t change. That might be true, but in a word with so many limited resources, knowledge, will power, and community strength are still unlimitedly available. And that’s our best shot on taking the system down.
Horton, R; Lo, S. Planetary health: a new science for exceptional action. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/ S0140-6736(15)61038-8 .
Goldberg, TL; Patz, JA. The need for a global health ethic. The Lancet. 2015, Nov. V 387. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/ S0140-6736(15)60757-7.
Demaio, AR; Rockstrom, J. Human and planetary health: towards a commom language. The Lancet. 2015, Nov. V. 386. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/ S0140-6736(15)61044-3.
Clark, H. Governance for planetary health and sustainable development. The Lancet. 2015, v. 386. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/ S0140-6736(15)61205-3.
Sarah Whitmee, Andy Haines, Chris Beyrer, Frederick Boltz, Anthony G Capon, Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, Alex Ezeh, Howard Frumkin, Peng Gong, Peter Head, Richard Horton, Georgina M Mace, Robert Marten, Samuel S Myers, Sania Nishtar, Steven A Osofsky, Subhrendu K Pattanayak, Montira J Pongsiri, Cristina Romanelli, Agnes Soucat, Jeanette Vega, Derek Yach. Safeguarding human health in the Anthropocene epoch: report of The Rockefeller Foundation–Lancet Commission on planetary health.The Lancet, Vol. 386, No. 10007.
The Lancet Countdown: tracking progress on health and climate change. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(16)32124-9/fulltext
The Lancet Planetary Health: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanplh/home
Environmental correlates of chronic obstructive pulmonar disease in 96.779 participants from the UK Biobank: a cross-sectional, observational study. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanplh/article/PIIS2542-5196(19)30214-1/fulltext
Effects of greenspace morphology on mortality at the neighbourhood level: a cross-sectional ecological study. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanplh/article/PIIS2542-5196(19)30217-7/fulltext