We must all change our ways to sustain the planet

We must all do our part to ensure our children inherit a sustainable enviornment, writes Belgium based European Environmental Bureau executive, Khaled Diab

Belgium based European Environmental Bureau executive, Khaled Diab, with his wife Katleen and Iskander, their son
Belgium based European Environmental Bureau executive, Khaled Diab, with his wife Katleen and Iskander, their son

I grew up in large cities in Egypt and the UK. I was a city boy. I live in Belgium with my partner and ten-year-old son. As we live in the city, a car is not essential, so we don’t have one.

Mostly, we travel on foot or by bike. Starting the day by cycling to the train station to go to work is invigorating, even if the morning’s dark, with wintry, gale-force winds.

The three of us go shopping together on foot. We don’t shop in hypermarkets. We shop local as much as possible, to support small bakeries, delis, and organic shops.

I’ve spoken about the environment at my son’s school. While there, I found a high level of consciousness as to what needs to be done. After the talk, some felt more hopeful, while others felt not enough action was being taken and change wouldn’t happen on time.

They asked: What use is the European Green Deal, if China and America are not on board? I explained that every bit counts; incremental action makes a difference. Even if the whole planet is not on board, we still have to do what we can to be trailblazers, who shine the path for others to follow.

The rising trend towards nationalism is bad, at a time when we most need global action.

For Europe to lose Britain, at this critical juncture, is bad news. Going forward, Britain’s environmental standards may become considerably lower than Europe’s. Free of EU standards, the UK could embark on a race to the bottom, so as to seal new deals with trade partners in China and America.

The environment is not a separate issue that floats in its own space. It’s intimately and inextricably linked to society and the economy. While being confronted with a plethora of environmental issues, it’s wrong to look at the challenges solely through the lens of climate change, global warming, and emissions.

We’re facing the collapse of biodiversity and mass extinction. We’re also facing pollution on an enormous scale. It’s destroying agricultural land, oceans, rivers, and forests. It’s poisoning the air we breathe.

We need to take a holistic view of all the interrelated issues, so we can come up with holistic solutions. Biofuels are a classic example.

When they were being sold to us as an idea, they were sold by their advocates as something that would reduce emissions.

That hasn’t really happened. There has also been an aggravating impact, with land used to grow food for people being converted to grow fuel for vehicles. The industry caused an explosion in monoculture, which led to the razing of virgin rainforests.

Tree-planting can be a great thing. It’s a common response to deforestation. But in and of itself, it’s not enough. How the newly planted trees will fit into the wider picture must be considered; whether or not they will survive. Often, trees planted as part of such an exercise die within a year. When monocultures of trees are planted, we’re not helping solve the problem, as biodiversity’s not being restored.

Virgin forests are home to very delicate ecosystems that have evolved since time immemorial. These virgin forests are far better than anything we can produce. As a last resort, reforestation is a good idea. But a far better solution would be to stop chopping down forests and save what we have left.

Renewable energy is part of the solution. But it can potentially cause additional problems, if applied or implemented in the wrong way. Some consider electric vehicles to be the solution to the environmental climate impact of transportation. But they can only be one node of that solution, as we don’t have the resources to electrify the entire global fleet of vehicles.

A modelling project in which the EEB is involved shows there isn’t enough of certain types of metals and minerals to produce batteries to power all of these vehicles. Yet, while we do need to transition to electric, we also need to find new public transport solutions and improve the ones we have.

We must all change our ways to sustain the planet

If demand for electric vehicles rises along with demand for renewable electricity, the conflicts we’re now having over oil could, in the future, become conflicts over minerals. Private vehicles should be used far less than they are.

We must think of the ramifications of our decisions and try to find a balance that protects, rather than harms, the environment; one that also protects human well-being.

Emissions can be reduced in unequal ways, by putting the burden of reduction on the poor and the middle class and letting the rich off the hook. That’s not just. The burden of transitioning to a more sustainable system should not be borne by the most vulnerable.

As humanity is living so far beyond the planet’s means, it’s probably going to take us generations to bring our impact into planetary balance.

Transition will always be to a more sustainable, rather than a sustainable, system, as there will always be room for improvement. We never know the full ramifications of change until we’ve actually lived them.

We can create a sustainable planet. We can, as a species, live sustainably on this planet. But that’s going to require a lot of ambition, rethinking of priorities, honest debate, and a lot of focusing on human and planetary welfare.

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