In a recent study lead by Kirk Smith, a researcher at UC Berkeley, it was concluded that most cities on Earth will be too hot to host the Summer Olympics as early as 2085. Smith and his team conducted their research with climate models that took into account both current world emissions and growing emission trends. The study found that, due to climate change, the majority of cities on Earth will be so hot that athletes would be in imminent danger of heat stroke, dehydration, and heat exhaustion during competition.
And that future is less than 70 years away.
“This is a human designed disaster,” explains Evan Marks, Founder & Executive Director of The Ecology Center, in Southern California. “And the worst case scenario ends in human extinction.”
Whether or not you believe in climate change (it’s worth noting that July was the warmest month in recorded history), it’s undeniable that we need to make a fundamental shift in the way we live.
“If we can’t decide that living on this planet in a positive way is the healthiest and best for future generations, then our living conditions will get more and more extreme,” continues Marks. “We’ve all seen, in the last 10 years, rapid catastrophes happening at an extreme scale. It doesn’t take science to see that.”
While Smith’s study predicts an extreme increase in temperature over the course of the next few decades, Marks makes the assertion that this trend could actually see the end of humans on Earth. It’s obvious that our environment is reaching a critical tipping point, and it raises the essential question: What can we do?
What can we do?
“There are so many very important issues,” says Johan Lunabba, Director of Sustainability, for the Neste Corporation. “But…the most important global sustainability issues over the next five years continues to be combatting climate change, supporting circular economy, and improving resource efficiency, i.e., by doing more from less.”
“We seem to pride ourselves on efficiency in business — that somehow we are using best practices across many industries and types of business,” explainsJeff Vandermeer, a science fiction author who has spent untold hourscontemplating man’s relationship with nature. “But in fact, we are almost always using inefficient, sloppy, irrational practices that squander resources and make no association between quality of life and the integrity of natural environments.”
“To re-engineer ourselves as a species, we need to stop assigning value to practices that have a net effect of being not at all profitable,” continues Vandermeer. “Including practices that raise cancer rates, pollute water, and add to the distribution of plastic and other waste across the planet. In other words, some people would have to somehow be shown that 75 percent to 80 percent of what we do is actively…against our own self interests, as well as the planet.”
This is exactly where the fundamental change needs to happen, or as Vandermeer puts it, where we need to “re-engineer ourselves as a species.”
“Houses are very poorly designed, for example, often without considering our relationship to nature or our neighbors,” Evan Marks continues. “So, what if we redesign our houses with a different design criteria, and we actually go back to designing houses that were made 100 years ago — with materials that were true to their geographical location, [and] that were made out of raw materials. We used to grow food, and that food shaded our houses when it was hot in the summer.”
In other words, many of our biggest environmental issues are essentially first world problems. We are so used to our current standards of living that we often fail to see how much work goes into creating them. Perhaps if we started designing our homes (and lives) to work alongside nature rather than against it, we would see the critical increase in efficiency that we need to extend the life of humans on our planet.
“That’s the type of conversation that we’re talking about,” explains Marks. “It doesn’t mean living without technology, it means living with the Earth. We have to redesign how we live on this planet. We have to redesign everything around us. Redesign our houses, our schools, and our workplaces.”
Where do we start?
While a big change is needed in the way humans live on the Earth, it doesn’t have to begin on a global level. In fact, there are many life choices that we can all make, on a personal level, to positively affect the environment. We can have a cascading effect on this planet — and on future generations — by making more informed, more deliberate choices.
“People should understand that they can personally have a positive impact on global issues, such as combatting climate change,” encourages Lunabba. “Every one of us can make smarter choices, for example, by taking small steps and making small changes in our daily consumption habits. This does not necessarily mean a big change in our daily lives. We should not wait for ‘future all-encompassing solutions,’ but start with what is available now!”
By starting with small decisions, such as what and where we eat, we can move toward larger changes. As Vandermeer pointed out, many business practices are extremely harmful to the environment, but if our money stopped funding those business practices then those business practices wouldn’t exist.
“Food is the most powerful way to effect change, because we use it every day and multiple times every day. So, can you support local farmers at a farmer’s market? Can you go eat at restaurants that have consciousness involved in their sourcing and their waste management and their community ideals? Those are the types of things that are currently very delicious and very sexy, so I don’t think it’s really a stretch for anyone.”
“We all can select more sustainably produced products and services,” adds Lunabba. “Such as low-carbon or bio-based products produced by companies with good track records in sustainability, including significant efforts regarding developing and managing sustainable and transparent supply chains. If [the] idea of selling our cars in order to start walking and biking instead feels too drastic, one could try public transport that uses renewable fuel, or invest in a new car that consumes less fuel and emits less.”
But you don’t even have to buy a fuel efficient car to start. Remember, changing the way humans affect the Earth involves a fundamental change in how we live our lives. When possible, we can always start choosing less, rather than more. Or better yet, efficiency over inefficiency.
“Buy a couple things, not one hundred things,” suggests Marks. “We all have this addiction to buying so much from other countries that’s disposable within minutes of use. If we can minimize the void that that type of behavior creates, then we are moving one step in the right direction.”
And maybe that’s all it takes: a step in the right direction. Remember, the study conducted by Smith only charts current emission patterns. It means that, if the pattern changes, so does the outcome. If we’re all willing to start with small, incremental changes, then eventually we can work our way up to large-scale fundamental changes.
“You should have thoughtfulness around everything you do,” says Marks. “That means something different to everyone. These ideas are very complex, but if you think about it, then you’ll hopefully make better and better decisions every time.”
Check out new, seemingly impossible feats of recycling on the third season ofHuman Resources on Pivot Fridays at 7:30e/p.