Scientists have known about climate change for years, and the public has generally accepted it as truth since Al Gore released The Inconvenient Truth in 2006. However, recently, researchers have realized that the outlook for Earth’s future is so grim, even scientists are having trouble comprehending it. (1)
Earth’s Future Is Far Worse Than We Realize
I’m going to be frank: Humans have not been good for the planet in any real way. We are largely responsible for the rapid loss of our home’s biodiversity (plant, animal, and insect), and with it, the planet’s ability to support its complex life systems. In short, the Earth’s future is in such peril that even the scientists studying it can hardly grasp the truth. (1)
Recently published research that reviews over 150 studies from around the world outlined just how bad Earth’s future is looking. All of the planet’s problems are tied to human population growth and consumption, which is still worsening by the day. (1)
The damage that humans continue to do to the planet will be felt for centuries. The fate of the planet and all of its species – including the human race – is under serious threat. (1)
The Current State of the Planet
Despite the evidence, many people don’t believe that humans are as big a problem as scientists are saying. Here is just some of the damage the human race has caused so far (1):
- Over the last 500 years, 1300 species (that we know of) have gone extinct.
- In the last 50 years, the population sizes of animals have decreased by more than two-thirds.
- One million plant and animal species are currently under threat of extinction.
- Insects are disappearing around the globe.
- Since the cultural revolution 11,000 years ago, vegetation biomass (the amount of vegetation on the planet) has decreased by half.
- Humans have altered nearly two-thirds of the Earth’s surface.
- We have lost 85% of the global wetlands in the last 300 years.
- Humans have compromised more than 60% of the world’s oceans.
- Live coral reefs have been halved in less than 200 years.
- We lost seagrass at a rate of 10% per decade in the last 100 years.
- Kelp forests have declined by 40%.
- There are fewer than 30% of the world’s large predatory fish than 100 years ago.
This is just what has been done to the planet thus far. What will happen in Earth’s future will be much worse if we continue on this destructive path. (1)
The Rapidly Expanding Population: A Problem for Earth’s Future
One of the biggest contributing factors to the problem has been and continues to be the rapid expansion of the human race. We doubled in size since the 1970s: Our current global population sits at about 7.8 billion. We may reach 10 billion within the next 30 years. (1)
More people means more problems, as our planet struggles to support how we’ve set up our societies. Problems include (1):
- Soil degradation
- Food insecurity
- More biodiversity loss
- Increased plastic pollution
- Housing shortages
These problems can lead to more global pandemics, cause conflicts between people, groups, and nations, and ultimately lead to war and terrorism. As you can see, this is not just an environmental problem – it will affect every aspect of life as we know it to be. (1)
The more people on the planet, the more consumption there is, including energy. The planet has largely relied on fossil fuels and non-renewable, environmentally damaging energy sources. (1) While some like to point fingers at other countries, the Western world is not off the hook: Australia, Canada, and the United States are among the highest-consuming countries. (1)
Each of these three nations uses several units of fossil fuels to produce one energy unit of food. If this doesn’t change, we will be in big(ger) trouble. (1)
In this century, the planet has already warmed up by more than 1°C, and scientists expect this to surpass 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052. By 2100, this could double. (1)
While one or two degrees doesn’t sound like much, remember that even these “seemingly” small changes can wreak havoc on microorganisms within ecosystems around the world. This causes a chain reaction that affects every living creature on the planet. (1)
The Earth’s Future Needs Our Governments to Step Up
For decades governments have focused on economic prosperity only – and often not that of the average citizens. They have focused on short-term decisions that often concentrate the wealth for a few individuals. To improve Earth’s future, they must switch their focus to long-term decisions that benefit all of humanity, the planet, and its inhabitants. (1)
According to the study’s authors, a few changes that governments need to make now are (1):
- Shifting their goals away from continuous economic growth
- Use carbon price to force companies and businesses that damage the environment to pay for their transgressions
- Eliminate fossil fuels as quickly as possible
- Prevent companies from monopolizing a market
- Limit corporate influence on policymaking
- Tighter restrictions on corporate lobbying of political representatives
- Educating and empowering all women
- Giving all women equal education and access to birth control and family planning
Lastly, all people – governments, organizations, businesses, scientists, and individuals – must acknowledge the true size and complexity of the threat to Earth’s future and act accordingly. (1)
What You Can Do To Protect Earth’s Future
As an average citizen, messages like this one can be demoralizing and even demotivating. With such a huge issue to fix, it can be hard to know what to do, where to start, or if we as an individual can make any difference at all.
While yes, you may not be a policymaker, scientist, or CEO of a major corporation, there are things you can do each day to contribute to a better future for our planet.
1. Get involved, vote, and lobby for change
Citizens hold a lot of power when we band together and demand change. Write petitions and letters, or even call your representatives on the phone. Vote – and not just in large, federal elections. Become a member of political parties and vote for who will actually represent the party. You can do this all the way down to the local level.
Get involved with organizations that are asking for change, lend your voice. One voice won’t be heard, but millions can’t be ignored.
2. Limit energy consumption and use renewable energy whenever possible
While you may not have much control over how the city you live in is powered (again, see point #1), you do have control over how much you use in your home. Turn off lights when you’re not using them and use appliances at low-energy times. If you can combine things like loads of laundry or using multiple racks in the oven at once, so the appliance is on for less time, do it!
Consider hanging your clothes to dry instead of using the dryer, and don’t wash things unnecessarily.
If you can, update your appliances to energy-saving versions, and use energy friendly lightbulbs whenever possible. Replace your furnace with a heat pump, unplug electronics when not in use, and do laundry using cold water.
When you really start to think about it, you can do plenty of little things to consume less energy each day.
3. Waste less food
Waste of any kind is bad, including food waste. A lot of water and energy goes into producing food, so when you waste it, you are wasting so much more than just a few bad bananas. If you are able, consider composting organic waste like peels, cores, and stems.
4. Stop eating factory-farmed meat
Eat less meat, and when you eat it, make sure it is from a sustainable source. Considering implementing one or two vegetarian days per week to help you decrease your consumption altogether.
5. Volunteer for Earth’s Future
There are thousands of environmental organizations you can lend your time to. That being said, even if you simply turn your daily walk into a garbage pick-up around your neighborhood, local trail, or beach, you’ll be helping out in a big way.
6. Cut down on plastic
Think about it – it seems as though everything is in plastic! You can massively decrease your plastic consumption if you:
- Use reusable grocery bags.
- Limit the amount of pre-packaged foods you buy
- Use reusable produce bags and stop buying produce that’s kept in plastic (for example: Buy a bunch of spinach instead of those plastic containers)
- Look for products that use recycled and sustainable materials instead of plastic.
- Use refillable water bottles and coffee cups instead of take-away
There are hundreds of ways you can reduce your reliance on plastic, so don’t limit yourself to just a few.
7. Drive Less
Carpool, combine trips, walk, bike, and take public transport whenever possible. The fewer people on the road, the less pollution is getting pumped into the atmosphere. If you can, purchase a hybrid or electric vehicle, and be sure to have your vehicle emission tested regularly.
Fly as little as possible, and when you do, make sure you offset your emissions.
Eath’s Future: The Bottom Line
You, alone, can’t save the planet, but if we all work together to make lasting change, Earth’s future will look a lot brighter.
Do your best, educate yourself, your friends, and family, and get a conversation going around the urgency of climate change. The time to act is now – we can’t wait any longer.
Keep Reading: NASA: Asteroid Could Still Hit Earth in 2068
- “Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future.” Frontiersin. Corey J. A. Bradshaw, et al. January 13, 2021.