The future of our planet is indisputably in our hands. What we do now will affect the environment for generations. The pace at which we have been expanding has been picking up for more than a century now, and it has become unsustainable.
Populations expanding, cities growing, and the systematic destruction of environments and water, air, and land pollution are irreversibly changing our planet’s fate, driving climate change and, as a result, the sixth mass extinction of wildlife.
Ultimately, prioritising growth at all costs is menacing our way of life, which we fight so hard to maintain. Clean air and water are becoming scarce, natural landscapes and biodiversity are fading, and natural resources will fall short of meeting human needs.
It has been said that “participating in the world as it is does not disqualify you from trying to improve it”. People often ask me what that means. For me, it’s clear that we need to act now, using the means we have today, to impact our future. We have to innovate our way of life.
Covid, and the subsequent lockdown, have taught us that we can live with less. Less commuting, fewer urban luxuries, etc. This new way of life has resulted in temporary improvements in air quality, lower greenhouse gas emissions and lower levels of noise pollution. I’m not pointing to minimalism, but rather, sustainability.
We are approaching an age in which adopting sustainable practices is no longer difficult, expensive, or socially disruptive in any way. People generally understand the opportunities brought by adopting environmentally friendly practices, but policymakers need to act to provide social and economic trade-offs to encourage this change further.
Citizens should have to pay less to adopt carbon-free sustainable practices, using government grants as a reward system for doing so. These populations will also then be rewarded with the increased longevity of the natural planet they so longingly dream of (yes, it is limited to their dreams, because most of it is already strongly impacted by human operations, and it either is or will soon be, out of reach). Awareness of these facts is growing in Western cultures. However, it is still far from common knowledge and even further from being a priority for people in developing, or low-income, countries.
The solution lies in promoting a green economy, digital transformation, and equality.
Unsustainable practices must pay for the degradation caused to our environment and planet as a whole. Raising the prices of natural resources, thus making pollution more costly, are key to solving economic, social and environmental concerns. Carbon taxes and auctioned permits could raise 250 billion dollars per year for governments by 2021, and removing subsidies for fossil fuel production and use would reduce emissions and free up funds to improve education and healthcare while accelerating the adoption of clean, renewable energy and sustainable consumer habits.
Comprehensive reform has to be undertaken, facing the problem as a whole, and integrating every person, country, and business in a large-scale global effort to revert the current path. Policies have to be enforced, and developing, or low-income, countries have to be supported so that they may enact change. Green taxation programmes must be accelerated. Ecotax, Environmental pricing reform, Environmental tariffs, Free public transport, Net metering, Pigovian tax and Sustainable tourism are examples of modern policies that must evolve into global, inclusive practices.
Public investment must be enforced to promote the easy adoption of new, transformative everyday best practices that will support a planet-friendly way of life. We need to:
• Use less freshwater and treat used water before returning it to nature;
• Reset the way food is produced and consumed, promoting biosequestration, decentralising production, and changing food habits;
• Stop ocean degradation;
• Rethink packaging, adopting new materials and conservation techniques;
• Promote energy-efficient manufacturing;
• Bring the carbon footprint of supply chains down to zero;
• Reduce the need for commuting and business trips.
• Ensure 100% clean, renewable energy;
• Eliminate poverty and ensure equality;
• Control population growth and leverage migration policies;
• Evolve from a competitive to a co-creative society.
Mostly, we need to consolidate change through education, making children and young people the builders of this new future. Our generation is one of disruption. We are responsible for acknowledging the current situation and facing the challenge of promoting reform by engaging the entire human population and developing and implementing new practices, policies, and technology.
However, our most valuable task is to change young people’s mindsets through education, moving from a consumerist society to one guided by planetary goals. The process must start by reviewing teaching methods, educational tools and aims, the roles of educators, and the participation of families in developing young minds. While our generation brings disruption, it will be future generations that accomplish change and ultimately consolidate the future our planet (and we) depend on.
And these are just some of the actions we need to undertake. According to The World Bank, the world’s population is predicted to reach 9 billion people by 2050, and they will all need food, water, and energy. Our current growth patterns are highly inefficient and stand in the way of truly sustainable development. The way forward is inclusive green growth that is clean in its treatment of the environment, efficient in its use of natural resources, resilient, and meets the needs of all people.
A master plan has to be designed and implemented. People like Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Joe Biden, António Guterres, Ursula von der Leyen, Al Gore, Matt Damon, Woody Harrelson, and many others advocate and lead organisations, promoting a new agenda and pushing for change. Still, every one of us can do more. Rethink your consumer habits, adopt sustainable practices, use clean, renewable energy, adopt a give-first attitude, advocate for change, help your family, friends, and neighbours understand the impact they’re having and switch to eco-friendly habits.
Take part in the change our Planet Earth so desperately needs. Dream of the future by acting today!