In terms of resources, we are living in luxury, using the Earth’s resources as if we inhabit one and a half planets. In other words, we are consuming 50% more natural resources than our planet can sustainably produce. We are accustomed to a comfortable western lifestyle but if those in the developing world had the same lifestyle (which they are currently striving towards) we would need at least three planets to sustain ourselves. Clearly this is not possible. Moreover, we are multiplying fast. Just over 2000 years ago there were only 200 million people on the Earth, now there are 7 billion and that figure is rising. Add another few billion people that also want to live on our three-planet Earth and it will be a tight squeeze. So are there any solutions to our predicament?
A whole host of low carbon technologies including solar panels, wind turbines and biofuels are already in use and new, exciting technologies such as carbon capture and storage, nuclear fusion and energy from waste are being developed. However, while these technological improvements are necessary, they are not the complete solution. Low carbon technologies are limited by social, economic and resource issues. For example, wind energy is a technology which faces all of these barriers including a possible shortage of rare earth materials such as neodymium required for high-performance generator magnets.
In addition, there is no doubt that we are becoming more efficient at producing food, energy and goods, but efficiency does not necessarily mean sustainability. In fact, increasing efficiency can inadvertently lead to increased consumption through what is known as the rebound effect. A prime example of this is increased fuel efficiency of cars which can actually lead to greater mileage due to the reduction in cost, thereby negating the intended carbon savings.
Since new technologies and improved efficiencies are not the complete answer, it is clear that we need to take personal action, but can turning off a few light switches really make a difference? Our everyday actions account for around 40% of the UKs carbon footprint, therefore, we have enormous control over our personal climate impact, and with that control comes responsibility. Personal change can be fast, easy and fun (unlike erecting a new power plant) and it is often free or can save us money.
Right now we are pushing the planet to its limit but it is within our power to make a difference. Your country, and indeed the world, needs you like never before!
If the famous three recycle, reuse and reduce don’t set your imaginative running wild then check out the following links for some more ideas that will guarantee you and the planet happiness.
Have a look at the University’s green pages at http://www.leedsuniversityunion.org.uk/greenguide/whatcanido/
Look for inspiration at The DOnation (http://www.thedonation.org.uk), a website dedicated to sponsoring your friends’ challenges with green actions rather than cash.
Join a society like People and planet, or volunteer at the Green Action Coop.