Sunday, February 07, 2021

Life Lately: A life on our planet

Unblocking gutters that had been clogged for years as part of the Sanitation Corps. Picture taken by a friend during my National Youth Service in Lagos.

When I was 13, I tried to invent a process for recycling plastic. There was a stream in our area that I had crossed on my way to school since I was about 4, and I had seen the stream go from clear water with lovely little fishes and tadpoles to filthy water packed full of plastic waste. Being slightly nerdy, I started scouring the library for relevant material and attempting to melt and reform plastic at home. I did not succeed and I ultimately gave up after a month or so to do more ‘fun’ things – like text Westlife lyrics to girls at school.

I have since learnt this was playing out across the world, and in fact had started decades before I observed it. I have also learnt the problem transcended the amount of waste we were creating and how we were discarding it. It extended to hunting animals to extinction on land and in the sea, cutting down swathes of forest, and burning huge volumes of fossil fuels. The earth had become ours, run by humankind for humankind, with little left for the rest of the living world.

I have just finished A Life on Our Planet, a brilliant book by David Attenborough. I had seen the Netflix documentary, but it was picked by my book club at work so I bought a copy and read through it over the past week. In this brilliant book, Sir Attenborough describes how the world has changed in his lifetime (he’s 94) and lays out a vision for rewilding the world and restoring its biodiversity.

The age of the earth is mind-boggling. I can hardly fathom what it means for something to have happened 5,000 years ago, let alone comprehend what it means for the earth to be 4.5 billion years old. A lot has happened in those billions of years. At times, really early on, there was no oxygen at all. At other times, the planet was almost entirely covered in ice. At yet other times, the whole place was warm as a desert. There have been several mass extinctions. This all points to one fact: our actions don’t threaten the planet; they threaten our continued place on it.

The silver lining to this story is that we have shown we can act when we get together. In 1949, alarmed by the impending extinction of the magnificent gray whale, people got together and protected them from commercial hunting. Their numbers have since rebounded. In the 1980s, alarmed by the hole that had appeared in the ozone layer, people got together and agreed to regulate the use of CFCs. The ozone layer has since recovered significantly and is forecasted to be back to normal over the coming decades. There are many other instances where we have worked together to rebalance our relationship with the planet and the broader living world.

So what can we as individuals do? We can reconsider our relationship with stuff in general: how much we consume, what we throw out, and whether there are opportunities to reuse things in creative ways. We can also put our wallets to work in service of sustainability, choosing sustainable products where possible and donating money to support rewilding efforts. (In the UK, you can donate to World Land Trust. In Africa, you can donate to Ripple Africa). We can reconsider our relationship with our cars, driving more efficiently and walking or cycling when possible. The list goes on and on. There are many small tweaks we can make to live in better harmony with nature. 

Generations to come will thank us for it.

Cheers to the new week.

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