Acting for the Planet

Louis Mazurkiewicz.

With the issue of climate change becoming more and more alarming, Louis Mazurkiewicz warns that if no concrete actions are rapidly undertaken this could be a make or break time for the future of our children and grandchildren.

2016 is on course for being the hottest year on Earth since measurements were taken[1], with this century alone providing 10 of these hottest years[2]. In addition, we are faced with alarming situations such as polar ice sheets shrinking with alarming speed[3] and the number of extreme events increasing heavily around the world[4]. Habitats, species and our close environment are being ravaged and decimated due to the actions of Man on this earth. The beautiful scenes that we witness in documentaries, such as on David Attenborough’s Planet Earth II, may one day only become history archives. Considering all this, it seems that we are arriving to a critical point where we can no longer turn a blind eye on making environment protection a priority.

Each year, £3 billions of pounds directly funded by the government are invested by the research councils in the UK[5]. These research councils cover a wide spectrum of different academic disciplines from medicine to physics, economics and arts and humanities. However, is there enough incentive from the government and universities to promote environmental research?

The issue of climate change and insuring a healthy planet for our children and grandchildren is one of the major challenges of our generation and should be given more emphasis in university teaching and research. It is disquieting to see that, due to the lack of concern and general knowledge about this issue, currently less than 4 per cent of grants made by charitable trusts in the UK are directed towards environmental and conservation work[6]. This is an alarmingly low figure given the impact of environmental problems on nature, health and economic prosperity.

It seems that more should be done at university level to alert students about this problem and make them want to be part of the solution. In my personal student experience, I have yet to be given the possibility to study in further detail the possible applications of the physics that I had learned with the issue of climate change. Added to that, more access to the issue of climate change be given to the general public. It is apparent that, although most of us living in developed countries are aware of the fact that our food and energy consumptions are endangering the planet, we are not reminded enough that this issue needs to be acted upon now before it is too late. Instead of this, we are experiencing times when politicians prefer talking how a certain religion or country is better than another and recent voting, such as the Brexit referendum and the US elections, favour divisions between people.

A consensus must be found, at national and international level, between governments, businesses and universities in order to tackle the issues regarding climate change whilst ensuring economic growth and societal well-being for today and tomorrow. We can think of this by making an analogy with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The environment would be the top level priority as us humans would essentially not all survive in an unhealthy planet. Human rights, peace and economic prosperity would then successively construct the initial sublevels of the pyramid.

Visionary policies must be implemented where green minded economic growth is prioritised over immediate economic gain. This can be done by boosting the funding in environmental research and accentuating partnerships between universities, NGOs and green inclined businesses. Increasing taxes on energy companies and nature endangering industries, which completely disregard their environmental impact on the planet, should also be reinforced. The income provided by this could then be invested in favour of research and information. Furthermore, advantages should be given to universities, businesses and users who would implement green-minded policies. This would ultimately lead to a paradigm shift where immediate money would no longer be the ultimate priority but the environment would be instead.

Many will argue that finding solutions at an international level for this major issue sounds utopic. Most developed countries face tough economic times which disables them to focus on environmentally friendly policies because of growing social inequalities, lack of concern of a majority of the population and rise of climate scepticism. Similarly, rapidly developing countries face the vigorous task of giving access to energy to their whole population without being able to afford a considerable investment in green energy. As an example, 30 per cent of the Indian population do not have access to energy and need to resort to primary methods in order to have heat and lighting[7]. Subsequently how could developed countries impose restrictions on cheap energy for developing countries when they have taken advantage of it for over a century?

However, as citizens of the world, we need to rise up nationally in order to make a difference on the international stage. We need to build on the dynamic of the COP21 or risk losing the frail agreements that have been agreed upon. The future leaders and academicians of our generation need to step up to increase visionary collaborations between developed and developing countries. This can be done by increasing the relationships and partnerships between foreign universities and students. Ultimately, the more we share our knowledge and work hand in hand, the more we have a chance of making a difference. The future of our planet, children and grandchildren hangs in the balance.

 

[1] World Meteorological Organisation: “Global Climate Breaks New Records, January to June 2016”.

[2] Nasa Global Climate Change – Evidence: “State of the Climate in 2008”, T.C. Peterson et.al.

[3] Nasa Global Climate Change – Evidence: “NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment”.

[4] “Increase of Extreme Events in a Warming World”, S. Rahmstorf & D. Comou.

[5] Research Councils UK.

[6] Environmental Funders Network.

[7]“Before the Flood”, National Geographic.

Acting for the Planet

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