Appliance of Science: How do we achieve a sustainable future?

Climate change, biodiversity, and sustainability are all words that appear in daily news reports, and with good reason. We have all been informed, from various sources, that our current way of life, on a global scale, is unsustainable and the time-lines presented to us for action are quite alarming, write Dr Naomi Lavelle

Can we meet the needs of both people and nature to create a sustainable life for us all? We can, with the caution that the changes required must be made quickly and must include global collaboration on a large scale.

From the ground up

If we want to preserve the Earth as we know it, we need to start by addressing issues from the ground up. One obvious example of an issue that needs immediate action is deforestation.

A haven of biodiversity

Forests cover more than one third of the Earth’s land area and are the most biologically diverse ecosystem on land, providing a home to more than eighty percent of Earth’s land animals and plants. They also provide safety, protection, and a livelihood for humans and make a huge contribution to the global economy, yet, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) we lose 18.7m acres of forests per year, roughly equal to an area the size of 27 football pitches being destroyed every minute.

The carbon cycle

These forests are actively involved in the carbon cycle, converting carbon dioxide to oxygen through the process of photosynthesis as well as trapping carbon in their biomass.

One study estimates that tropical trees alone can provide 23% of the climate mitigation needed by 2030, as set out in 2015 under the Paris agreement.

Air filtration and health benefits

They also filter the air we breathe, reducing our exposure to harmful airborne particles and toxins that can put a pressure on our immune system, triggering allergies in a growing percentage of the global population. Recent studies in the UK have made a direct connection between improved air quality in urban areas with lots of trees and a reduction in asthma related illnesses.

Addressing soil and water issues

As well as all this, trees help maintain balanced soil levels, prevent soil erosion, and help keep water in the local ecosystems.

So removing immense areas of these forests cannot be considered a sustainable action. There are sustainable options though; the mass deforestation needs to be halted and sustainable forestry methods need to be implemented on a global scale.

This will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve human health, reduce the current pressures on water and soil quality, and make a significant impact in halting the rapid and alarming decline already observed in biodiversity.

A win-win situation for both human development and a healthy natural ecosystem.

We need to change now

These changes, however, need to start now and need to be implemented globally and on all levels; they need to be part of every political, economic, environmental, social and civil decision we make.

In the words of David Attenborough: “We need to move beyond guilt or blame, and get on with the practical tasks at hand.”

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