There is no Planet B. It’s time to ‘go green’. Climate change is real. We’ve heard it all before – our actions are harming the environment and we need to act fast. But can one person really make a difference?
Islands made of rubbish, children walking to school wearing face masks, stories of animals that once roamed free – is this our future? It’s certainly the direction we’re heading in as the amount of rubbish we produce increases, the quality of our air decreases and human action continues to push species to the brink of extinction.
For some of us, it seems like such a far-fetched global issue that will never become a reality in our lifetime. But changes are happening now, our environment is suffering and it affects us all.
“There’s no denying that nature matters to every one of us,” says Arabella Willing, senior project officer at Emirates Nature – WWF. “It provides all the things we need to live, from the air we breathe to the water we drink. It provides the foundations for our economic prosperity, and it also plays a crucial role in trying to keep climate change in check. Quite simply, we need nature to survive and thrive.”
While many of us may be aware of the importance of nature, we’re all guilty to some extent of being complacent, and environmentalists around the world are constantly calling for us to each play our part in protecting the world around us.
“The most serious threat to the environment right now, and the solution, is our attitude,” Arabella stresses. “Many of the environmental problems we are facing are due to a complacent attitude that resources are so vast or so resilient that our individual actions don’t mean much – but that’s not the case. Nature has been telling us repeatedly: Human activity is pushing the planet’s natural systems that support life on earth to the edge. In just over 40 years, the world has witnessed a 60 percent decline in wildlife across land, sea and freshwater – this has happened in less than a generation.”
This human activity is also causing our planet to heat up, and despite some world leaders who don’t believe in global warming, this is our reality: “The biggest challenge facing the environment, in my opinion, is man-made climate change,” says Sharad Agarwal, founder of online environmental platform go-green.ae. “Global warming is real – small temperature changes are causing crops to die, thereby decreasing the amount of food available, higher temperatures are causing the polar ice-caps to melt and raging wildfires in certain areas are a major threat to human life.
“Climate change is exacerbating more risks than ever before in terms of water crises, food shortages, constrained economic growth, weaker societal cohesion and increased security risks.”
When you begin to think about the number of environmental issues – from increased carbon emissions and melting ice caps to plastic pollution and food scarcity – it can be overwhelming. But what experts agree we need to focus on is that every individual is able to make a difference and have a positive impact.
Some initiatives are taking place on a wide scale – such as the annual National Environment Day on 4th February and the UAE National Climate Change Plan – and others on a smaller scale, such as school environment campaigns and local beach clean-ups. But ultimately, it’s down to individuals to take more responsibility and make changes to our daily habits rather than simply taking part in one-off events and campaigns.
“People need to understand that natural resources are finite,” Sharad warns. “We cannot take them for granted anymore. Each citizen has to contribute in their own way in conserving resources, because money cannot buy fresh air.
“In the UAE we have a desert terrain,” he continues, “so water shortage is a distinct eventuality. We need to use all resources cautiously and conserve energy and water to ensure survival in the long run. ‘Going green’ is not an option, it is imperative to include eco-discipline in our daily lives. Our survival depends on the actions we take today to preserve the environment. We need to educate the younger generation on the benefits of ‘going green’. Just as we prepare our children for the future, we also have to prepare the future for our children.
Sharad continues, “Using solar energy and investing in renewable energy is the right way forward. Green is not a colour, it is a state of mind. If each of us switches off the lights when not needed, and reduces water and energy consumption, then cumulatively we can help make a big difference in preserving the planet. Each one of us together can make a difference globally.”
Arabella agrees: “The UAE has a harsh climate, so to live comfortably we have to make use of technology such as air conditioning and desalination – and these have a particularly high environmental trade-off. Hence, small decisions about how much water you use, for example, mean more here than in a country that has high rainfall.
“Trying to gauge your environmental impact can be complicated and confusing – carbon dioxide is invisible, climate change is only obvious when you look at long-term trends, rubbish gets taken away and you don’t see where it goes,” she continues. “We have many other things to worry about such as our health and finances. To turn things around we need to be willing to make compromises now to protect our experience in the future, but understandably, urgent and immediate needs often feel more important.
“Individuals have a huge impact and daily decisions add up. If when out camping you break off a branch or drive over a shrub, that’s decades of growth lost in an instant. If your family drinks bottled water, that’s thousands and thousands of plastic bottles over the year. Not only that, but what you do influences those around you. If you bring your own bag to the supermarket, other people in the queue will see, and maybe that will remind them to do the same next time.”
Reducing your waste and limiting your carbon footprint is easier than you think. Sharad and Arabella give their top tips for making the world a greener place…
• Conserve water and energy: For years, we’ve been told to turn off the lights when we leave a room but that’s just the start. Take the next step by switching to energy-efficient lightbulbs and appliances, turning off your computer and other appliances at night, washing laundry in cold water instead of hot and increasing the temperature on your AC by a couple of degrees.
• Say no to plastic: Move beyond the concept of recycling plastic and instead make a commitment to refuse it in the first place. Ask for drinks without a plastic straw and instead take a reusable one with you. Swap the traditional plastic grocery bags for cotton or jute ones. And rather than drinking from small plastic bottles, or filling up a plastic cup from the office water station, use a reusable water bottle instead.
• Eat smart: Part of the world is facing serious food shortages while, on the other hand, food waste is drastically increasing. Avoid wastage by planning out your weekly meals and buying only what you need.
• Consume less meat and animal products: Arabella says: “Most people are not aware of the fact that animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation. Start with just a few meals and build up.”
• Buy local: Support local businesses while reducing the environmental impact of imported goods by shopping locally. This can be applied not only to your groceries but also clothing, children’s toys and more.
• Recycle and live simple: Consumerism has taught us to buy, buy, buy, whether that’s a new school bag, the latest fashion trend or the new iPhone. Instead, consider what you have and what you really need, and find ways to upcycle or donate unwanted items.
• Connect with nature: “Boost your sense of wonder and renew your desire to care for the natural world,” Arabella says. The UAE is home to beautiful natural spaces, so why not go explore somewhere like Al Wathba Wetland Reserve?
At just 11 years old, Sainath Manikandan is making waves among children his age, and even adults, encouraging people to refuse, reduce, reuse and recycle. An ambassador for the Drop It Youth campaign, the young environmentalist is on a mission to raise awareness about plastic pollution while encouraging individuals and organisations to drastically reduce their carbon footprint by making small changes to their daily habits. Not content with this, Sainath also started his own campaign, PEPC, where he collects recyclable material in his school and wider community. Here, Sainath tells us about why youth need to take more responsibility for the future…
When I visited my hometown in India, I was shocked to see heaps of plastic and waste littered all over the place. I started to wonder if this is the status of one city, then if we take into account all the countries in the world, what would be the amount of plastic waste?
Plastic pollution is an important global issue. I want to change the world’s attitude towards plastic within a generation because if the same trend continues by 2050 there will be more plastic in the seas and oceans than marine species, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.
At the Drop It Youth campaign launch, I saw the movie A Plastic Ocean. That was an eye opener to the problem of plastic pollution and how marine species ingest plastic and then, in turn, we ingest them.
I became interested in sustainability activities when I read various articles about
the importance of preserving and protecting our earth’s resources.
Most people are aware of the three Rs – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – but you have added a fourth one…
The principle of reducing waste, reusing and recycling resources and products is often called the ‘3Rs’ – but now it is high time we start to ‘refuse’ so that we can reduce the amount of waste generated and filling up landfills.
Refuse disposable plastic whenever and wherever possible. Choose items that are not packaged in plastic, and carry your own jute or cotton bags, steel or glass containers and utensils. Say no to plastic straws, plastic food packaging, plastic shopping bags, plastic spoons, plastic cups and so on.
What role do you think that you and other youth have in protecting the environment?
Youth today need to take one step at a time to save and heal our planet. Raising environmental awareness is crucial not only for the present generation but for
our future. I believe that together we can create a wave of change.
When I started Drop It Youth and my PEPC campaign to collect paper, e-waste, plastic and cans, my school friends, Muhammed Rahyan, Alexio Sinu Chettiath and Yusuf Ahmed, were very interested to join in by giving presentations and pep talks with me. We campaign in our school during our free periods and inform others about the importance of taking care of our natural resources and the steps that we can take to preserve them.
My friends now understand the importance of taking care of our natural resources and would like to be part of these campaigns, which indicate that there is a positive impact on them. They realise their responsibility and would like to take action.
WORDS Rachael Perrett