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Last updated: 04 June 2019

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What is World Environment Day?

 

World Environment Day is a global event established by the United Nations, which takes place every year on June the 5th. First celebrated 1974, The UN introduced World Environment Day as an opportunity to raise awareness towards environmental issues, in line with their sustainable development goals. Today, World Environment Day is widely celebrated across over 100 countries – encouraging governments, industries, communities, and individuals to join together in creating positive environmental change.

 

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The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Source: UN

 

At SLO active, protecting our environment and creating a sustainable future is at the very centre of our mission, which is why this World Environment Day we’re taking the opportunity to raise awareness around some of the key climate issues our world is facing, and the action we all need to take to help overcome these problems.

The Issues

Air Quality

First, let’s start with the theme for this year’s world environment day, “Beat Air Pollution”. Over the past 50 years, air quality around the world has been getting gradually worse, and recent reports have revealed that the quality of the air we breathe is now reaching toxic levels in many parts of the world. Latest figures from the UN have stated 92 per cent of people worldwide do not breathe clean air. This is having detrimental impacts on human health, with WHO estimating there are around 7 million premature deaths a year as a result of poor air quality. So what are the biggest causes of air pollution and how can we stop it?

 

One of the main contributors to poor air quality is the fossil fuel industry, which is responsible for 80% of all energy production worldwide. According to UN statistics, only 82 out of 193 countries have incentives promoting investment in renewable energy production, cleaner production, energy efficiency and pollution control.

 

We also rely heavily on fossil fuel for transport, which accounts for almost one-quarter of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. Open waste burning is another large contributor to air pollution, releasing harmful dioxins, furans, methane, and black carbon. Globally, it’s estimated that around 40 percent of waste is openly burned, and is practised in 166 out of 193 countries.

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Based on global emissions from 2010.

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Based on global emissions from 2010.

Not only are these practices releasing chemicals that are highly dangerous for human health, but they are also releasing greenhouse gases which are a huge contributing factor to global heating. Which leads into the next challenge our planet is facing, the climate crisis.

Facts & Figures on the Environment

1%

Of China’s citizens breath air that is considered safe by the EU

1.7

Number of planet Earths we need to provide resources and absorb our waste

891,200,000

Tonnes of waste dumped in our oceans this year

Climate Crisis

Yes, that’s right, we’re currently facing a climate crisis as a result of the rapid climate change our planet has experienced over the last century. In the early 1900s, climate change was nothing more than a faraway concept which scientists warned would affect future generations if the temperature of the planet was to increase.

However, the release of greenhouse gases including methane from agricultural farming, and co2 emissions from burning fossil fuels and other unsustainable practices has led to a dramatic temperature rise over the past 30 years, and we are now witnessing devastating environmental impacts as a result.

 

In the Western USA, the number of wildfires has increased in every state over the past 12 years, compared to the annual average from 1980 to 2000. Meanwhile, in the Atlantic region, hurricanes are growing ever more frequent and more destructive due to sea level rise. In the North East, flooding is wiping out whole communities, while other parts of the world are suffering from extreme heat waves and droughts.

 

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Over the past 12 years, every state in the Western U.S. has experienced an increase in wildfires

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Each ecosystem is predicted to have an increase in annual burn area

“We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it”

Barack Obama, Former U.S. President

Many scientists and organisations are now referring to climate change, as a ‘climate crisis’, and in a recent article the Guardian announced that they too, would be changing the language they use, recommending ‘climate crisis’ instead of ‘climate change’ and ‘global heating’ instead of ‘global warming’. According to Editor-in-chief, Katharine Viner, this is to ensure they are being “scientifically precise”, while also “communicating clearly with readers on this very important issue.”

 

While governments may be slow to react to this climate crisis, around the world, individuals are already doing a fantastic job campaigning to raise awareness of the issue, and pressure governments into taking action. Greta Thunberg is a perfect example of one voice which has encouraged millions of individuals to take action against climate change. In August 2018 Greta, aged 16, started striking from school in protest for immediate action to be taken by the Swedish government to combat climate change. Initially, Greta was protesting alone, however, once word spread of her actions, school students across the globe started to take part in the strikes and by December 2018, more than 20,000 students had held strikes in at least 270 cities.

There have also been a number of protests led by Extinction Rebellion, the movement which aims to bring about a radical change in order to prevent further devastation from climate change. Their mass protest in April saw certain parts of London come to a complete standstill after they took to the streets for over a week, demanding the government to declare a global emergency. This demand was met successfully by the UK government, however, the group are continuing to campaign for further action, demanding the government to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.

 

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Extinction Rebellion protesters brought London to a standstill for two weeks in April. Source: ITV

 

The decline of the Earth’s climate

800,000,000
People are vulnerable to Climate Change impacts such as floods and droughts
26-82 Cm
expected sea level rise in the next century
21,500,000
people have been forcibly displaced because of Climate Change since 2008
2/3
of the Great Barrier Reef has been damaged because of Climate Change
1,000,000
species face extinction
24,126.1
million tonnes of CO2 from human activities released each year

 Plastic Pollution

 

And now the issue closest to the heart of SLO active, plastic pollution. While it may be more difficult to see the effects of air pollution and global warming at present, the destructive effects of plastic pollution are all too painful and clear to see.

 

Plastic waste has been found floating in all corners of our oceans and has even been discovered on the ocean floor of one of the deepest places in the ocean – the Pacific Mariana Trench. The American explorer, Victor Vescovo descended nearly 11km in a submersible, breaking the world record for the deepest ever sub-dive. However, amidst his search for sea creatures, he reported finding a plastic bag and plastic sweet wrappers at the very bottom of the ocean floor, revealing the true extent to which plastic pollution has infiltrated our oceans.

A report released by the Worldwatch Institute estimates around 10-20 million tons of plastic ends up in our oceans every year, and WWF has warned that without a global response, there could be more plastic in the sea than fish by 2050. The astronomical levels of plastic piling into our oceans are causing grave impacts for thousands of marine species; sea turtles are ingesting floating plastic bags, mistaking them for jellyfish, while seabirds and mammals are facing a similar problem, consuming small plastic particles as part of their diet instead of their natural food. These creatures are sadly unable to digest the plastic, which is leading to deadly consequences.

 

But it’s not just the direct consumption of plastic that is causing problems for marine life. When plastic particles are digested, toxic chemicals are released and are absorbed into the body tissue, and transmitted into the water. These chemicals are then ingested by filter feeding organism and are passed onto feeding predators. Over time, the toxins from these plastic particles accumulate in the body at a faster rate than the body can dispel them. This process is known as bioaccumulation, and animals at the top of the food chain, including sharks, killer whales, and polar bears are the most affected.

 

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The Plastics Breakdown: Infographic (via OneWorldOneOcean)

 

 

Recent studies have found that a build-up of these toxins can reduce fertility rates, and lower the animals’ immune systems, making them more vulnerable to disease and infection. This poses a serious threat to the future of many of species, including the humpback dolphin.

 

Commonly found along the South African coast close to the shore, the humpback dolphins feed on fish from rivers and reefs. Much of the fish contain a large number of toxins, which accumulates in the dolphins’ blubber. The female dolphins use their fat resource to create milk for their calves, and the toxins are then passed on to the calves which are poisoning them. Due to the effects of bioaccumulation, they are now classified as an endangered species.

 

But plastic breaks down eventually right? Wrong. There are many claims around how long it takes for plastic to break down, a popular example is; it takes 450 years for a plastic bottle to break down completely.

 

via GIPHY

However, in our guide to debunking plastic pollution myths, global non-profit organisation Plastic Oceans highlight that such claims are not backed by evidence, due to the fact that plastic was only invented 150 years ago.

What Can You Do?

 

The critical issues we are facing; plastic pollution, a climate crisis, a loss of wildlife, are problems we can no longer ignore, and we must act now before the damage becomes irreversible. It’s hard to visualise how your actions can make a difference, when you are just one individual out of 7.5 billion, however, Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion activists have proved the voices and actions of individuals can make a difference. However, it all starts with a new way of thinking.

 

Here are a few steps you can take to help preserve our environment and protect our planet for future generations:

1. Reduce your use of disposable plastics

Avoid plastic straws, bring your own shopping bags, carry a reusable water bottle and avoid buying items with unnecessary packaging wherever possible.

 

2. Conserve energy

Walk or cycle instead of using your car, turn lights off, unplug your appliances when you’re not using them and take shorter showers.

 

3. Shop at your local grocery store

Your food will have travelled fewer miles, and will, therefore, have a much lower carbon footprint – and it will taste fresher too!

 

4. Eat less meat

Avoiding meat and dairy is considered one of the biggest ways you can reduce your carbon footprint. Without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75%.

 

5. Volunteer at a local event

Beach cleans, charity fundraisers, earth day events, – check online for events happening near you that require volunteers and get involved.

 

6. Watch what you buy

Think about your purchasing choices and opt for eco-friendly products or items which are designed to last. Make sure your money is contributing to positive change.

 

7. Use your voice

Speak up and get your voice heard! Request action from your MP, challenge the practices of the brands you buy from, speak to your family and friends and encourage them to join in creating positive change.

 

8. Change your mindset

Each and every one of us has a responsibility to protect our land and our oceans, and we must act now before it’s too late. While one person’s change may seem small, together we can make a difference – so start believing that your actions matter.

Find out more about World Environment Day 2019

 

How can you take action?

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References

 

Activesustainability.com. (n.d.). The effects of air pollution on human health | Sustainability for all.

BBC News. (2019). Deepest-ever sub dive finds plastic waste.

Carrington, D. (2019). Why the Guardian is changing the language it uses about the environment.

En.wikipedia.org. (2019). Worldwide energy supply

Extinction Rebellion. (n.d.). Home – Extinction Rebellion.

Greeningtheblue.org. (2019). World Environment Day: 5 June 2019 | Greening the Blue

Hewitt, R. (2019). No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference review – Greta Thunberg’s vision.

Ocean Conservancy. (2018). The Plastic Predator – Ocean Conservancy.

Plastic Oceans UK. (n.d.). Home – Plastic Oceans UK.

Sailors for the Sea. (2010). Bioaccumulation.

SLO active. (2019). Debunking the Myths of Plastic Pollution • SLO active.

The Independent. (2018). Plastic chemicals changing marine animals’ behaviour and leaving them vulnerable to attack, study suggests.

UN Environment. (2019). China to host World Environment Day 2019 on air pollution.

Un.org. (2019). World Environment Day5 June.

Union of Concerned Scientists. (n.d.). Global Warming Impacts.

Union of Concerned Scientists. (n.d.). Infographic: Western Wildfires and Climate Change.

Vaughan, A. (2018). UK renewable energy capacity surpasses fossil fuels for first time.

Who.int. (2014). WHO | 7 million premature deaths annually linked to air pollution.

World Environment Day. (2019). World Environment Day.

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