A Bigger Issue Than Plastic

For many months, I have pondered the topic of mans part in the earth’s destruction. My journey into a low waste lifestyle has opened my eyes to all manner of issues facing humankind and an uncertain future
Plenty of people imagine we can carry on as we are, as long as we substitute one material for another. Last month, a request presented to two large coffee chains to replace their plastic coffee cups with cups made from corn starch was retweeted 60,000 times. The problem is these well-meaning people, stirred with a passion for change, failed to look at where the cornstarch would come from, how much land is required for the crop and which food production it would displace as there is only a finite amount of arable land. Moreover, maize has the dubious reputation of causing soil erosion and require copious amounts of pesticides and fertilisers for a good crop


We all want better technology and no one is prepared to go ‘ back to the dark ages’. I see that technological advancement has improved our lives exponentially over my lifetime, but to protect our future, we have to make better choices that care for the planet and not just for our own selfish fulfillment.

Harmful waste is produced by technology itself and then there are the continual remains of obsolete technology going to landfill. Every day, we see heartbreaking images of the damage our rubbish and unwanted ‘stuff’ is causing wildlife on land, sea and in the air globally.

Advances in farming technology have led to cheaper and more diverse food choices, but the drive to improve productivity has caused irreparable damage to the balance of nature. In isolation, one issue would be frightening enough, but everything is symbiotically linked and therein lies the rub.


Global Warming

The term global warming didn’t appear until 1975. Back in the day, people who discussed global warming were treated with a certain amount of derision but we are finally waking up to the fact that the evidence is undeniable. Hundreds of species become extinct every day because we are destroying habitats all around the globe with a well-known example being the massive and rapid destruction of the rainforests.

Repeated large-scale coral bleaching events are the new normal thanks to rapidly rising ocean temperatures. Nasa and the European Space Agency have conducted a long-term study of ice melt. Ice losses from Antarctica have tripled since 2012, increasing global sea levels by 0.12 inch (3 millimeters) According to the study, ice losses from Antarctica are causing sea levels to rise faster today than at any time in the past 25 years.

Nasa also studied the increase in global temperatures and found that 17 of the 18 warmest years in the 136-year record all have occurred since 2001, with the exception of 1998. The year 2016 ranks as the warmest on record

Last month, the WWF published a major report stating that humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles since 1970. Furthermore, the report also indicated that animal populations will continue to decline and reach 67% by 2020.


Effects of Factory Farming

Society is finally waking up to the fact that a meat-based diet has a massive impact on water and land use, as well as causing greenhouse gas emissions, but few know the biggest issue of all, comes from the crop-based feed the animals eat. According to the World Bank, animal agriculture is culpable for nearly 91 percent of Amazon destruction.

Raising animals for food, including land for grazing and growing feed crops, now uses more than one-third of the earth’s landmass. Animals at factory farms produce 7 million pounds of excrement every minute. This waste often pollutes waterways and nearby ecosystems, killing wildlife. Animal agriculture also produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all the cars, planes, and other forms of transportation combined, exacerbating the dramatic effects of climate change. Our land is becoming sterile due to overfarming. One of the main drivers for me to be vegan was the ecological devastation that our over-consumption of animal protein is causing.



The current population of 7.5 billion is increasing yearly by an estimated 83 million births, It is projected that by 2050, global population is expected to reach 9.8 billion and according to the World Economic Forum, a mix of less available arable land due to urbanisation and climate change will lead  our food supplies will be under far greater stress.



This month, came the news of Jair Bolsonaro winning the election in Brazil. This right-wing president-elect represents a massive blow to the safety of the Amazon and the health of the planet. Part of his election pledge was to put profit over any concerns for the environment, bearing in mind that he will directly affect the Amazon and the Cerrado Savanna. The Cerrado is already one of the most threatened and overexploited regions in Brazil, laid waste by soy production for cattle feed and cattle ranching. Bolsonaros’ key election pledge was to put his presidency behind Brazil’s huge agricultural corporations and has promised to weaken the enforcement of environmental laws while criminalising any activism. So with new highways and dams promised in the Amazon basin, the future looks bleak.

The ‘Trumps and the Bolsonaro’s’ of the world do not understand the true situation or simply don’t care about it. I am not sure which is worse. Our ecosystem is so fragile and worldwide governments are only paying lip service to the impending decline of the planet.

In the UK, the fossil fuel companies are still heavily subsidized, there has been a reduction in government incentives to install solar panels now that the uptake is higher and fracking applications are increasing.

The Hothouse Earth paper warns of the danger of flipping the planet into a new, irreversible climatic state and concluded that small linear changes are not enough to stabilise the earth’s system. Widespread, rapid and fundamental transformations will likely be required to reduce the risk of crossing the threshold into the tipping point of no going back.


The question is how do we live?

We live in a world of consumerism, one of a continual push for continual growth which requires us to spend more money to buy more stuff. To undo the damage, we must have a radical change in everybody lives and although I am part of a different mindset, the individual actions of a small minority won’t make enough of a difference.  I love the zero waste lifestyle and am proud to be part of a conscious growing movement but to make a significant change, everyone must take responsibility and change their mindset.

The low waste movement is the start of change, but we are mistaken if we think that a better form of consumerism will save us. It requires collectively fighting corporate power, changing political outcomes and challenging the growth-based, world-consuming system we call capitalism.  As a society, if we do not change our lifestyles, the future will be entirely different, putting at risk our planet and the future of the next generation.


My partner Steve sums it up beautifully. He described our current short-sightedness like a football net. The net develops a small tear, but the net is still OK so people carry on using it. It is only when the tear becomes a large hole and the structure has diminished to the point that it collapses do we notice that it’s not functional and needs replacing, but in the case of the environment, this may just be too late. How come the most intellectual creature to ever walk Earth is destroying its only home?


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