Flooding in Japan, unprecedented monsoons in India, a nearly 30% increase in rainfall throughout the Americas and 40% across Europe. Africa is seeing deadly droughts across Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya. Australia, Greece, Sweden, Portugal and the American Northwest’s horizons glowed red with wildfires because of heatwaves and drier seasons. The Philippines and Fiji were battered by some of the worst cyclones in history and the Maldives and the Marshall Islands are gradually drowning by sea level rise.
This was our reality in 2018.
The reason is simple: burning fossil fuels creates climate changing emissions. Climate change exacerbates extreme weather events. Yet, we continue to burn fossil fuels like never before.
Our forests are disappearing at a rate of roughly 27 football (soccer) fields a minute. In real and frightening numbers, that’s 18.7 million acres to create more farms to feed more livestock and plant more palm oil. Cutting down trees not only deprives us of a natural way to absorb carbon dioxide, it decimates local communities who rely on the forest for survival.
Coastal populations are being pillaged by industrial fishing fleets, hell-bent on catching anything that moves in the sea. 127 million tonnes of fish — not to mention bycatch, like dolphins, sharks and sea-turtles — was taken out of our oceans in 2016 alone.
The science is crystal clear, we have 12 years to turn things around.
We need to ask ourselves, as a species and as part of a global and interconnected planetary ecosystem; what is our role in all of this? Suicide by consumption, or stewards of a healthy and prosperous future for all species?
If it’s the latter, we will need to accept three grim but simple truths:
- Short-term profiteers and selfish power structures have bullied the Earth for too long, and now she’s pushing back.
- Many global leaders — people who could quickly make changes away from unsustainable policies — are either unwitting, unconcerned or wilfully ignorant of the growing planetary crisis.
- Powerful people that block solutions — like renewable energy, ocean and forest protection and sustainable agriculture — are guilty of mass murder. Plain and simple.
But this year has revealed three positive truths — reasons for hope — which vastly outweigh these grim realities…
- We already have tools to fix the planet, and we’re using them.
Renewable energy can and will solve our global addiction to fossil fuels. And the renewable energy evolution is happening in surprising places, like China, the US and India. Everyday people in these countries, tired of sacrificing their health and their futures to coal-powered governments, are pushing their leaders to make a fair and just transition towards cheap and readily available renewable energy.
Electronic industry leaders have been feeling the same pressure and are responding with plans to take the CO2 out of the products they make. The internal combustion engine remains a challenge that we must continue to stand up to, but a revisioning of the social fabric of our cities that is nothing short of a revolution has seen more electric vehicles on our roads than ever before. In many places, taking public transportation has become a matter of pride.
- We are getting better at protecting what matters.
This year we almost secured an Antarctic sanctuary. ‘Almost’ doesn’t mean failure, because with that came many victories; like the krill industry being a step more sustainable, more protected marine areas than ever before, and an unstoppable people-powered movement demanding ocean sanctuaries, a call that can’t be ignored.
Industries are hearing you. One of the world’s largest producers of canned tuna is taking a hard look at their practices. There’s good news for the fragile biodiversity of Indonesia’s forests, as well, because Wilmar, a massive palm oil producer, has a plan to clean up its supply chain. The pressure is working.
- We’ve had enough and we’re taking matters into our own hands.
This isn’t just about the backlash against self-interested decision-makers that has given rise to movements across the planet, like the Extinction Rebellion, Rise of Climate, Strike4Climate and BreakFree. It’s about unlikely heroes taking a stand and shaking up the world. Young people like 15 year-old Greta Thunberg, who blasted leaders at the UN Climate Change conference in Poland this month for not doing enough. Or Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, who, along with 20 other youth activists, are suing the US government for not taking the threat of climate change seriously enough.
Legal courts across the globe are increasingly becoming the stage where ordinary citizens are taking on the powers above them. The government of the Netherlands was forced to cut carbon emissions when civil society took them to court. We are now seeing a similar case being brought against the French government, while Fillipino Joanna Susteno is going after the distant and faceless fossil fuel companies who helped create typhoon Haiyan. A similar case is being echoed in Argentina. The climate justice movement is growing and is unstoppable.
We’re also standing up to the planned obsolescence in the things we buy. The Make Smthng movement is gathering pace with an eye towards empowering makers and repairers to change the story of “overconsumption” to “buy less and waste less”. This is how we can all rediscover our creativity and community. This is how we made “single use” the word of the year.
These reasons for hope are all underpinned by one simple notion: We as a species are connected by two things: our common humanity and our shared planet. The people that will take us into a green and peaceful future are those that understand the two are inseparably linked.
When faced with the harsh reality that time is running out, hope is what gives us the strength to speak our truths — both grim and positive — to the power structures that seek to separate humanity from the Earth we live on.
Now is the time to join the millions of truth-sayers who understands the science and the urgency. Together, in 2019, we will turn our hopes into reality. Join us.
Arin de Hoog is a writer and Content Editor at Greenpeace International