Text and photos: Carlos E. Gómez
Join the Blue Green
When astronaut Buzz Aldrin stepped onto the moon behind Neil Armstrong on July 20, 1969, he described Earth as “a brilliant jewel shining in the sky; a jewel of deep blue and olive green.” However, today the planet bears signs of the strain of climate change, a phenomenon that affects every country and every person on every continent. Climate change creates effects that include problems with our skin, rising sea levels, increasing pollution, and the degradation of the soil and the oceans. The environmental disasters caused by climate change have also increased the number of migrants from 173 million to 244 million in fifteen years.
This reality has compelled leaders, businessmen, civil society, and people of the world to come together in 2015 to establish the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a commitment to transforming our world before the year 2030. These goals were coordinated by the United Nations and approved in the UN general assembly by all the member countries. Among these 17 goals, four major environmental goals stand out: responsible production and consumption, climate action, underwater life, and terrestrial ecosystems.
Why consume and produce sustainably with respect for the environment?
Statistics indicate that the world’s population is increasing by the day, leading to increased consumption. If we do not act to change our production and consumption habits, we will cause irreversible damage to the planet. How many things do we buy because they are on sale or in fashion, without thinking about their environmental impact? For example, according to data from the United Nations, each year 1.3 billion tons of foods (worth a trillion dollars) are thrown away by consumers and wholesalers, or left to deteriorate in warehouses due to poor collection, storage, and transportation practices. We also produce more than fifty million metric tons of electronic waste each year and throw more than eight million tons of plastic waste into the ocean.
What can I do as a consumer to improve the environment?
Download the SDGs in Action app, which proposes initiatives and provides tips for shopping responsibly and opting for sustainable, non-polluting, and environment-friendly products whenever possible. Second, reduce, reuse, and recycle. As a producer, the idea is to create net profits by reducing environmental impacts and pollution and promoting more recycling, better competitiveness and a better quality of life for consumers and workers.
What are the goals for 2030?
Reduce, reuse, and recycle. Reduce food waste by half and significantly reduce the consumption of fossil fuels and petroleum products. For example, since 2012, France has been generating more than 90% of its electricity from sources with zero carbon emissions; in addition to nuclear energy, it uses hydroelectric power, wind power, and other green alternatives.
Why take urgent measures to combat climate change?
Because climate change negatively affects not only the global economy, but also the lives of people and communities in all the countries of the world. According to António Guterres, Secretary-General of the UN, “Climate change represents the most decisive challenge of the age in which we live, but we have important allies to fight it: science and technology. We have to continue with climate action, despite the skeptics.”
The greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity have increased. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) showed that the global average temperature increased by about 1.4 °F (.85 °C) between 1880 and 2012. Scientists warn that the production of cereals is reduced by 5% for each degree that the temperature increases; in fact, due to the warmer climate, from 1981 to 2002 forty million tons of corn, wheat, and other crops were lost.
The oceans have also gotten warmer. Marine ice and snow have decreased, with an irreparable loss of 1.07 million square kilometers per decade. Between 1901 and 2010, the sea level rose 19 centimeters and it is estimated that, by 2065, it will rise 24 to 30 centimeters more, leading to the flooding of coastal cities and other natural disasters. Global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) have increased by 50% since 1990, and from 2000 to 2010 they increased more than in the three previous decades.
What are the commitments for 2030?
Each government has committed to incorporating climate change mitigation into their national and local development policies and strategies. One of the priorities is to reduce CO2 emissions. In addition, the developed countries that make up the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change plan to invest 100 billion dollars annually until 2020 to address situations related to climate change and make the Green Climate Fund fully operational. It is essential that we improve education, awareness, and the ability to respond to this phenomenon that affects every person and every community in the world.
Why conserve oceans, seas, and marine resources?
Because the oceans provide resources such as food, medicine, and biofuel. The marine environment is home to an amazing variety of creatures, ranging from unicellular organisms to the blue whale (the largest animal in the world). It is also the habitat of coral reefs, one of the ecosystems with the greatest genetic diversity in the world. Coastal ecosystems act as barriers to reduce the damages caused by storms and tides. The coasts are the setting for recreational and tourist activities, as well, and they also help to improve people’s health. These waters have always been vital for trade and transportation worldwide. This is why management of this resource is essential for the future sustainability of life.
Today, overfishing and marine pollution are endangering the life of the oceans. Twenty percent of coral reefs have been destroyed, an additional 24% are in imminent danger of disappearing due to human pressures, and 26% are in danger of disappearing in the longer term. Today’s higher levels of ocean acidity can cause a weakening of the skeletons and shells of many marine species, according to scientific studies. The proportion of marine fish that remain at biologically sustainable levels has declined drastically worldwide due to overfishing. Poor marine management causes an economic impact of more than 200 billion dollars per year, according to estimates from the United Nations Environment Program. If mitigation measures are not adopted, climate change will increase the cost of the damages to the oceans by another 322 billion dollars annually by 2050. To make matters worse, it is estimated that more than eight million tons of plastic waste are dumped into the ocean each year, and even more worrying is that this amount is increasing.
What can we do?
To begin with, we should eliminate as much as possible the use of plastic, organize and participate in beach cleanup activities, select certified sustainable marine products, and demand that governments establish well-managed systems for protected areas to conserve biological diversity.
What are the commitments?
By 2020, marine ecosystems should be managed and protected sustainably to restore the health of the oceans. Fishing should be effectively regulated and excessive, illegal, destructive, and unregulated fishing should be stopped. We should implement scientifically-based management plans to restore fish as soon as possible and at least 10% of coastal and marine areas should be conserved and protected. Subsidies and financial support that contribute to any type of irregular fishing should be prohibited. By 2025, it is urgent that all types of marine pollution are significantly reduced, and the effects of ocean acidification should be minimized and addressed through greater scientific cooperation.
Why protect the life of terrestrial ecosystems?
Because only 30% of the planet’s surface is made up of land with diverse ecosystems and these are the places that we humans live. This is where we find the water we drink, the food we eat, and the air we breathe. That is why managing forests sustainably, combating desertification, and halting land degradation and the loss of biodiversity is vital for human existence and well-being.
Data from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) indicate that more than 13 million hectares of forest disappear each year and land degradation causes the desertification of 3.6 billion hectares each year, affecting the lives and economies of millions of communities fighting against poverty. The effects of desertification directly impact 250 million people, while several billion live in areas of risk, spread over more than a hundred countries.
Eight percent of known animal species have become extinct and 22% are in danger of extinction. In the last hundred years, more than 120 species of animals have disappeared, including the Persian tiger, the blue pike, and the Madeiran large white butterfly (declared extinct in 1970). Other lost species include the Javan tiger and the Madagascan Dwarf Hippopotamus (1976), the Zanzibar leopard (1996), the black rhinoceros (1997), the Javan rhinoceros 2011), the Pinta giant tortoise (2012), and the Formosan clouded leopard (2013). Today, 4,898 species of animals are at critical risk of extinction.
What can we do?
Reduce, reuse, and recycle. Limit the use of plastic bags, eat locally produced food and only what we need, and reduce energy consumption through inverter systems. Be respectful of protected fauna and flora, do not buy or consume wild animals, and plant trees and native vegetation.
We can work together to make our planet pollution-free. According to Ligia Noronha, director of the UN Environment’s Economy Division, the good news “is that science is on our side. Today it is clear that, thanks to new technologies, the green economy is the economy of the future. The business of ecology is the best business and, at the same time, it serves to generate profits and do good.” That is why we should think and act green.