The time is NOW!

 

Climate change is in the news as I write this piece, with  tragic fatalities caused by the wildfires in California. The latest IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report confirms what we see in the news: the impacts of climate change are already happening, with “high risk levels for spread of disease in Africa; property loss and mortality due to wildfires in North America; and decreased food production and food quality in South America” http://ipcc.ch/ .

Other dire and weighty predictions bombard us, such as: “More plastic than fish in the sea by 2050” [https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/publications/the-new-plastics-economy-rethinking-the-future-of-plastics . Just today, a visitor to Nelson Environment Centre said: “You do your bit but it seems overwhelming at times, everything you buy is wrapped in plastic. I was heartbroken to see Richard Attenborough’s programme showing a mother albatross regurgitating her food to feed her chick. What do you think she regurgitated?” Sadly we know the answer, plastic in the ocean is an enormous problem, and a scarily recent one. Like the albatross, we too are under threat from eating plastic and other pollutants, as plastic microbeads from cosmetics and microfibers from synthetic clothing enter our food chain at the basic level of the plankton.

Never has the health of the planet been in such crisis. Climate Change; Fossil Fuels; Plastic in the Oceans; Social Inequity; Poverty; the Housing Crisis; the Bee Crisis; the Growing Mountain of Waste; Polluted Rivers, Seas and Soils; Loss of Forest; Mass Species Extinction: the list goes on. Never before has the call to action been so urgent but, ironically, prominent world leaders seem to be focussing on war mongering and causing more damage, rather than working together globally to mitigate our deadliest threats.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the scale of the world’s problems and powerless to make any meaningful change. But I know that if I sit back and do nothing I rapidly become depressed; whereas if I personally engage in action to create a healthier world, I immediately feel hopeful for the future. There is so much we can do as individuals, as communities and as a country. Beginning with one small, simple action may lead us to take another step and if we can encourage others to join us, soon the new behaviour will become the norm. Twelve years ago I began teaching children about recycling, then about re-using, then reducing, and then avoiding waste. Now ‘zero-waste’ is a concept understood by most local schoolchildren. Working with children to design an exciting future with zero waste, clean energy, and healthy food, is very empowering.

AND I am so relieved that, finally, here in NZ, we have a government that actually recognises and looks at the big global issues—we’ve been facing them for really quite some time now. Hopefully this new government may actually be able to address some of them, but it’s a big job and we need to get behind them! I’m hoping the government has the same things on their to-do list as I have.

A good start to addressing climate change is supporting the transition from Fossil Fuels to clean Renewable Energy (solar energy is a no-brainer in Nelson!), electric vehicles and e-bikes. Dirty dairying also needs a rethink: more than half of NZ’s emissions are caused by this industry and it’s also causing havoc with our rivers.

We need a serious re-think about how we use and dispose of our resources, at home, in our local communities, nationally and globally. We need to move away from our current model of a Linear Economy, whereby we extract resources, make stuff out of them and then throw them away, to a Circular Economy, whereby resources are kept in circulation through long-lasting design, maintenance, repair, reuse, re-manufacturing, and recycling. New Zealand needs mandatory product stewardship schemes, whereby manufacturers are responsible for their products at end-of-life, starting with the products that cause the most harm in landfills, i.e. tyres and electronics; the new government already has tyres on its priority list in the coalition agreement —YAY!

For the sake of our grandchildren and those who will come after us, we as individuals need to change priorities: the heady days of rampant excessive consumerism in order to impress others with our success, wealth, and celebrity style are over. It’s important to believe that we all can do something; even small actions make a difference, like SAYING NO TO PLASTIC BAGS! As a shopper, we have enormous power to create change: “The future of the planet is in your shopping bag” is a powerful statement. If we all stop buying goods that are harmful to our health and environment, e.g. junk food, items wrapped in non-recyclable packaging, toxic cleaning and cosmetic products, clothing that has exploited foreign workers, etc., the companies will stop making them, and focus on creating healthier, more sustainable products.

Thankfully, a lot of changes are already happening: environmental education is happening in schools; China is forging ahead with environmental initiatives; certain banks are divesting from fossil fuels; solar technology is getting cleverer and cheaper; electric and solar vehicles are becoming the norm; Countdown and New World supermarkets are banning plastic bags; locally, Boomerang bags are flooding supermarkets with free cloth bags, neighbourhood communities are growing and rescuing food for those in need, and a whole lot more.

So I urge you to get inspired and get involved, take one small step for the Planet: make your voice heard, sign petitions for what you believe in, get a worm farm or a bike, reinvent a garment, grab a boomerang bag and please, please, THINK about the Planet when you are out shopping!

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Sarah Langi is an opccasional contributor to Kiwiboomers. She has worked for Nelson Environment Centre for more than a decade now, delivering programmes in renewable energy, waste education, gardening and streamcare to schools and early childhood centres in Tasman and Nelson. Prior to that she worked as a technical editor for the Secretariat of the Pacific Community in New Caledonia, and as a fisheries scientist in Tonga, where she raised her two children. Her early career was spent as a primary school teacher for 12 years, in NZ and overseas. She has a BSC in Zoology from Victoria University and a BA Hons in Classics from University College London.