Om Sam Maa Sinchantu Murutah Sam Poosha Sam Brihaspatih –
May the five elements of Air, Water, Fire, Earth and Sky make my body healthy and strong.
Line from a Hindu Mantra.
We rely on the Earth for our own wellbeing, inner peace and life. In the last few months, you may have noticed that there has been devastating damage and loss to human life, property and the Earth by natural disasters exasperated by climate change. If you did not notice this in the news or social media – you must have been on another planet! I have started with this mantra as we said it at a prayer meeting which was a serene and gentle reminder that we are vulnerable mortals. Just as nature can have a detrimental effect of loss and damage on us – we too must try to show some respect to the Earth. It is not too much for us in return to respect it and take small positive steps to sustain it for future generations and life as we know it. I will discuss some small environmental thoughts and ideas that have been bothering me.
It seems that the environmental issues have come to a head recently with this year’s natural disasters. Sadly, we all know that this is not the end of this type of devastation and all around the Earth… we will continue to have floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, avalanches, Tsunamis, droughts, etc. I will discuss briefly these big local and global issues, and acknowledge that it should not just be on the agenda…but remain a standing item on our consciousness. I have little power to do much on a grand scale but in terms of raising awareness and acknowledgement of these issues, it is the least I can do.
First to note down, is the issue of plastics pollution. Plastics and tin cans are frequently dumped in my neighbourhood by street-drinkers and passersby. Littering really aggravates me. I frequently get dirty fingertips from picking up discarded bottles, cans, plastic cups and other litter on my merry walks around town. I normally have to put them in the closest recycling bins that I can find. Plastic take away cups are also dumped near King’s Cross St Pancras as there are not many bins possibly due to security reasons. I generally have to resist myself from picking up discarded cups left near the station’s Taxi rank.
One solution to plastics pollution is the simple ethos of the three 3Rs – Reduce, Recycle and Reuse. It is better for us to practice these three Rs whether it is on a personal, commercial or larger countrywide infrastructure level. In my initial research, I soon realized that this is not just a local level but also a global issue. As a global community, there are already some discussions and work in progress to solve this in a collaborative and forward thinking way. We still have a long way to go on this issue.
Larger white goods and household trash (no fluffy word) are also frequently dumped in my neighbourhood. Like-minded passionate environmental digital champions such as @Littergram and @CleanupWalthamForest frequently report ‘fly-tipping’ in neighbourhoods to local authorities. This is a local problem but there are also global questions. I recently looked at a BBC documentary ‘Inside Story: A Week in a Toxic Waste Dump’ by Reggie Yates which mentioned the direct impact of our developed world consumption for white and electronic goods, which eventually leads to Third World toxic graveyards that affect lesser developed countries. So to be clear…this is not an isolated issue. There are reactive and circular factors that affect us and our world when it comes to consumption of goods. I visited my nearest recycling waste plant London Energy about five years ago, and it was an eye-opener on recycling, the circular economy and waste management on a large-scale urban city. We still have issues with dumping, litter and flytipping regardless of local authority run initiatives. Education and public information awareness may be the answer to solve these pollution problems, but it also requires behaviour change by citizens (culprits may be a better word).
Somewhere along the way on this Earth, plastics make their way from urban and rural environments to our seas and oceans. In ‘Plastics waste inputs from land into the Ocean’ Science Magazine 13 February 2015, reports that ‘80% of marine debris originates from land with 275million metric tons (MT) of plastics waste was generated in 1992 coastal countries in 2010, with 4.8 to 12.7 million MT entering the ocean’. This horrendous amount of pollution is predicted to increase in future.
In recent weeks, plastics pollution has also been highlighted by Sir David Attenborough, naturalist and broadcaster, in Blue Planet. I was so pleased to see this conversation ramped up a few octaves and is still ongoing. Sir Attenborough said that “everyone one of us’ has a responsibility to reduce plastics ending up in the ocean. It is one world. And it is in our care for the first time in the history of humanity for the first time in 500 million years, one species has the future in the palm of its hands. I just hope (humanity) realizes that this is the case.”
Another exemplary organization I found in my research is The Ellen McArthur Foundation, which has been raising awareness on the ocean plastics issue and the circular economy. In ‘Speaker: Recycling alone won’t solve ocean pollution’ Plastic News 25 September 2017, this foundation explains “plastic bottles caps and closures can easily become separated from their bottles and are particularly dangerous for seabirds, who see them floating and mistake them for food…..an estimate 90% of seabirds have plastics in their guts”. Seabirds are not the only species affected by plastics pollution – fishes and marine life may also ingest small plastic debris. Apparently, Asian countries have the highest levels of plastics pollution. This may also end up in our own ecosystem and human food chain!
A paradigm shift is essential – and there is a warning that “our waste will continue to grow with the increased population and increased per capita consumption associated with economic growth, especially in urban areas and developing African countries”. Some behavioural change is required, and slowly this can change with education, positive attitudes and action. There has already been progress, for example, with the Plastic Bag ban or tariff introduced in some countries, so change can happen.
Five years ago at the London Energy tour, the Public Relations Manager told us that she felt that there was too much packaging in UK supermarkets. I always remember this too. However, again with small steps, positive change can happen – behaviour and commercial initiatives can change pollution for the better. For example, The Ellen MacArthur Foundation launched ‘The New Plastics Economy Innovation Prize’ for rethinking of the design and materials of plastic packaging – with categories in rethinking grocery shopping, redesigning, sachets and reinventing coffee-on-the-go. At their awards ceremony at the ‘Our Oceans’ conference, the commissioner reportedly said “bringing your fish home in a plastic bag one year and bring the plastic bag home in the fish the next is the reality. The rethink design awards show how innovation can inspire redesign, reduction of waste and re-utilization”.
This is only one aspect of the Earth’s vulnerable environment that has captured my attention in recent months. Climate change has also come to the front of my attention due to Earthquakes in Mexico and India, and hurricanes in the USA and in my beloved Caribbean. I tend to keep an eye on the storms in the Caribbean, but the hurricanes this year has been devastating in American and the Caribbean. The relentless and catastrophic damage to Texas, Barbuda, Puerto Rico and other countries in the region as witnessed on social media in real time was very sad and worrying to see.
In the insurance industry magazine Reactions 2nd October 2017 ‘Grappling with Irma Climate Change Link’, a Research Fellow at the University College London said that “warmer Atlantic sea surface temperatures mean more active hurricane seasons and stronger storms”. After the damage to property, lives, homes and the land caused by Hurricane Harvey, Lloyd’s of London issued a statement calling for greater industry awareness over changing weather patterns. The statement said: “We know that climate is changing and with it traditional weather patterns. The costs of natural disasters are on the rise, with direct losses in the past decade estimated at $1.4 Trn US Dollars globally”. There is no doubt about the financial and human cost.
All this damage is harder for smaller Caribbean Islands – there is a call for more disaster planning, a “wake up call”, a marshal plan as penned by billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson, whose own island was affect with by the hurricane this year. It is best explained on Caribbean Intelligence’s site as “a fresh approach to coping with all Mother Nature has to throw at the archipelago of territories prone to geo-faults and Cross-Atlantic high winds”. No time for wasting, there must be a coordinated approach to helping these beautiful islands in the Caribbean…and also the US states affected by these mighty hurricanes now and in the future.
As I reflect, I have experienced a terrifying Earthquake in Italy in 2009 and a hurricane as a child in Trinidad in the early 1970s. The earth’s environment and sustainability is a big topic for just me to battle, and perhaps for you alone too. Optimistically, it is the little actions we should aim to take as often as we can to change course. Otherwise there will be dire consequences that inaction would lead to, should we ignore it. There will be even worst results for the environment and humans…if we do nothing. The United Nations is actively working to solve some of these issues and see their #BeatPollution hashtag on social media.
However small we may do to reduce, recycle and reuse with care for our world, it would eventually have a big impact on our lives, wellbeing and future generations for a better livable environment. We currently have a responsibility of leaving the Earth in a better state than when we arrived on it. This is the universal language that we must try to speak, understand and live by. Earth is the very thing that sustains us. Therefore, it should stay on our agenda.