Hope, not optimism – Life on our Planet

An insight into David Attenborough’s ‘Life on Our Planet’ and the green initiatives that are combating climate change

Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

Three weeks ago, Sir David Attenborough released a documentary called ‘A Life On Our Planet’, his self-described ‘’witness statement’’ to climate change. Attenborough was 93 years old when the documentary was filmed and so within the film he depicts what could happen to the planet over the next 93 years if humans continue to exploit the Earth. Attenborough states that we are on the brink of making irreversible changes to our planet that will cause mass extinction. These changes will include the Amazon rainforest degrading into a savanna; the Arctic losing all ice during summer; and the occurrence of global food crises due to soil overuse. 

Attenborough’s solutions are particularly interesting because he doesn’t give vague instructions such as ‘reduce emissions’, or ‘use sustainable alternatives’. Rather, he suggests that the solution has been ‘staring us in the face all along’ and that to restore the Earth’s balance, we must restore its biodiversity. Attenborough reaches out to governments, charities and corporations, imploring them to bring countries out of poverty, provide universal healthcare and improve girls’ education in order to stabilise the growing human population. Attenborough also gives individuals around the world detailed methods to reduce their own emissions and adopt a sustainable lifestyle.  

It would be naïvely optimistic to say that climate change will be tackled. That being said, there is a need for positive news about the environment to give us hope for the future. As Matthew Gallagher, editor of ‘The Oxford Handbook of Hope’, says ‘optimism is a general expectation that good things are going to happen…hope, meanwhile, has positive expectations about the future but is driven by our capacity to identify goals and set strategies to achieve them.’ With this in mind, here are the initiatives that have been taking place in light of the awareness drawn to the climate crisis by Sir David Attenborough, Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion amongst others. 

Firstly, the technologies we need for a carbon-zero future already exist. According to the World Wildlife Fund, low cost solar and wind power systems are profitable and are expanding. The organisation declared that if the technology’s current trajectory is sustained, we will be able to ‘halve emissions from electricity generation by 2030’ and grow electric vehicle usage to comprise ‘90% of the market share by 2030’.  

The effects of single use plastic are being tackled too. A Business Insider report tells us that Boyan Slat, a 25 year old entrepreneur, has invented a device which is successfully removing rubbish from the ‘Great Pacific garbage patch’. Additionally, the United Kingdom has witnessed positive effects as a result of the five pence plastic bag charge that was introduced in 2015. The Great British Beach Clean found that the amount of plastic bags on British beaches was down by 37% just a year after the introduction of the policy.  

There have also been improvements in relation to pollution and carbon production. Amazingly, America has more trees now than it did a decade ago. Thanks to conservation and sustainable lumbering practices, a study by the Food and Agricultural Organisation revealed that ‘forest sizes stabilised in 1920 and have been increasing ever since’. In China, cities and rural areas have ‘cut concentrations of fine particulates in the air by 32 percent on average’, just four years on from Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s declaration of war against pollution. 

Despite the positive changes being made, big companies need to invest in renewable and sustainable alternatives, governments and international organisations need to tackle poverty and finally, we need to start living sustainably; from eating more plant based foods to reducing our consumption of goods – without demand, fast fashion companies will be forced to become more sustainable. As Sir Attenborough revealed, there is still much to do and while there is hope for the future, it is our responsibility to turn that hope into positive change. 

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