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Our Global Suicide

by Scarlett Aylen 2 years ago in activism

Cutting plastic out is not the answer.

Extinction rebellion protest on London Bridge

What is the most important thing you have created? Your children. Who do hundreds of charities work so hard on in the UK to help? Our children. What do we donate millions of pounds to around the globe? Children. What has our government done to help the young people who don’t want to attend a higher education institution? They have made alternatives: apprentices, traineeships… there are always other options. I question, why are we not thinking about climate change the same way we prioritise our children? It is the only option we have; our children are the future.

Recently, big talk has been in the headlines about mental health. What if we thought about mental health in the same way we thought about physical health, if we gave it the same priorities? The good news is, this has now been recognised. Suicide. A point of no return. What has been done, is done, and the damage lives on. Think of our planet, and us as one person. What is the point in everything we are doing to help Earth when we are driving it to a horrific, and irreversible state—global suicide. Who does suicide impact? Everybody. Who does global climate crisis impact? Everyone. Our children specifically. It takes a generation to change something, something for our children to have a prosperous future. Only this time, we do not have a generation of time. We need to think differently.

If we sit and think about what has happened recently in regard to preventing our global suicide, things have happened. There was a conference in Paris where many countries agreed to tackle the growing climate crisis, school children are now walking out of class every Friday, and mass protests are occurring around the globe. All this for climate change. For our children. I love activism. I believe more people should participate. However, I also understand that everybody has a life to get on with. People to see, places to be, and money to make. So, if we take a step back from the protesting and activism that some, but not all, can do, what do we have left to work with? Simple. We have the rest of us. The people we interact with on a day-to-day basis. Our family, our friends, or even those strangers on the street.

As for our family: My mother was sat next to me, watching the news on the climate protest. An intelligent and well-educated woman. She listened to what the television was telling her, then rightfully responded, “They told us we would run out of oil when I was in school, and look what has happened. We still have oil.” A point based on a historical education. I admit, we cannot argue with it. How do we know that what we are being taught is an imminent occurrence? I would liken it to a volcanic eruption. You look at the history of eruptions, and use it to predict future eruptions. However, at what point in the future do you know the volcano will erupt? You don’t, that is the problem with nature. Yellowstone supervolcano is overdue for an eruption. Just like global warming is due to lead to irreversible climatic events where our beautiful planet might just be annihilated. The difference is the cause. The specific climate change that is causing us a problem is manipulated by us, humans. Does this mean that we should sit and watch it get worse, now that we have the scientific knowledge, and technology to stop it? No. We did that with oil, and now it has put us in a difficult situation. We don’t want to give up, or even use our money to make large scale changes to society. Like everyone, we have other things to focus on. Let alone, why should we give up things we like, when nobody else is doing it? Trailblazers are the only answer. We are one of the leading, most powerful nations on the globe. Who’s to say we shouldn’t lead this global shift, and save our planet. Some things require sacrifices. Nothing bad is going to happen, yet we are so against doing anything to help it. I understand, our nation, as with many, have political issues on our hands that need dealing with. Brexit for example, is taking up our government's time. When we voted, we knew leaving the European Union would take up our precious time and money. We can hardly complain about what we asked for being done. We don’t have time for everything. It is not an excuse though. We are a country, 64 million strong. Everyone can do their part, government-led or not! We are also not the only country in the world that could be trailblazing this race to prevent our global suicide.

There is an extremely fine line between what we can personally do to help, and what we can do that won’t help, and it is all down to our education. Take plastic for example. Anti-plastic campaigning has risen on the agenda. It is outstanding that social change has led so many people to alter their shopping habits. I have seen it personally within a single year: Family and friends, they suddenly do not want to buy any food wrapped in plastic; the people I know that previously showed minimal interest in being eco-friendly. However, has anybody ever mentioned to our civil society that some plastic packaging can actually be better for the environment than what our anti-plastic campaigning is suggesting? I doubt it.

According to the UN, one third of food produced globally is either lost or wasted. In a world where people, children, are dying of starvation, this is certainly not acceptable. But what has world hunger got to do with plastic packaging? You go to the shop, and pick up a nice piece of plastic, vacuum-sealed steak. This steak not only tastes great, because the packaging has kept it lovely and tender for you, but it has also lasted longer in your fridge back home. You put it in your fridge back home, but soon forget about it after a hectic few days at work. Luckily, the steak is still fresh in your fridge, ready for you to enjoy, thanks to the plastic packaging preventing food waste in an incredibly complicated supply chain, the use of precious worldly resources has been worthwhile, and supplying the supermarkets with edible produce has been achieved. Alternatively, you go for your weekly food shop, and pick up the same steak, but this time from the Deli counter where it is not vacuum sealed. As with the last steak, you put it in your fridge back home, but soon forget about it after a hectic few days at work. Now it has to be thrown out!

Looking at the two options we have, what is worse? Plastic packaged, edible food that has survived a tormenting supply chain, or no plastic packaging and food waste? What is bad about food waste though?

I want to make some fact clear to you: For every tonne of carbon dioxide created by plastic packaging, two to three tonnes of carbon dioxide are created by that same food waste. Considering one third of food in the world is wasted, between two and three times the carbon emissions are released! Have you ever thought of it this way? Do you think electric cars are more important than food waste? Well, if we stopped wasting food, the carbon dioxide impact is equivalent to taking one in five cars off the road. One day’s packaging production is the same as driving your car 1.25 miles. Not only this, but if you still think anti-plastic food packaging is the way to prevent climate change, take a look at the statistics for developing countries where inadequate, or lack of, packaging causes up to 50 percent of food to waste away before even reaching consumers! We hear in the news that we need to stop buying plastic, but did they tell you those carbon facts?

While most people are fretting about plastic and the turtles, we must remember that the bigger problem is the carbon emissions released in production and use, driving us to our own global suicide.

We must not forget that it "kills the turtles." I would never say that is a good thing! We are striving to prevent the worsening climate crisis, which would lead to mass extinction of animals, not just humans. We don’t want emissions, and we certainly do not want turtles to die. What we really ought to be doing is thinking more logically, educating ourselves in a more responsible way.

There is plastic that we do need, and plastic that we don’t need. Neither option is perfect, it still creates emissions, or some sort of anger in society. But is the improvement of potentially over 200 percent lower emissions better than nothing? As for the turtles, I have seen firsthand the ridiculous amount of plastic in the oceans. I stood on a beach in Fiji, only to be disgusted at the amount of plastic rubbish along the coastline. The pacific garbage patch is real, and half the problem is littering, not plastic production. I was taught that littering is bad in primary school. Maybe I was reminded a little in personal development class at 12. Then what? Nothing. We need to be reminded about the smaller things we learn when we are younger. I know it takes a generation to change something, but education has instant impacts.

We need to do more, educate more. In the years where teenagers learn from others. It is like smoking, teenagers are enticed to try it out. They copy others, who copy also. A teenager will think, what is this one bottle going to do, it will hardly wipe out our planet. In fact, it is going to do a lot! Plastic does not seem to decompose in water. In fact, a student at Plymouth university just hauled plastic shopping bags out of the sea after six years and proceeded to successfully carry items around in them. However, in the sunlight, plastic photo-degrades, and releases emissions that have been identified as a climate relevant trace gas—another contributor to our global suicide.

Our plastic waste might be going in the bin in our homes in England, but where does it go after that? We throw that bottle into the bin. So much has been said about recycling, yet only 35-40 percent of bottles are recycled! Alongside this, the properties of plastic are only so strong, they can only be recycled a finite number of times before the fibres are too short to recycle anymore! Then where does it go? You can probably guess. Hundreds of millions of pounds of plastic are knowingly pushed off ships in the ocean every day. We have minimal room for our waste on our island nation, where else could it go? The real problem that needs to be dealt with here is waste disposal, and waste prevention infrastructure, an entirely new ball game to deal with the end game.

We don’t need to get rid of all plastics as it has been suggested. Plastic packaging is wonderful thing. It keeps things sterile where we need them—hospitals. Without plastic packaging, we would potentially still be dying from unhygienic conditions. So how did we get here in the first place? It is probably best to say that when we developed plastic, and its miraculous uses, we got a little too excited and used plastic for everything! Now is not the time to destroy the good things we have done with plastic, or send it to hell. Now is the time to make some changes, and be more careful about where we need plastic, and where we do not, along with where it goes if we do need it. A bag of grapes with holes in it? That is not going to keep the grapes fresh! However, that vacuum sealed steak is going to help reduce food waste, thus greenhouse emissions. Let’s think more optimistically about "changing" the way we do things. Banning something just creates problems, but if we look more deeply at it, there is more to what lies on the outside of the campaigning we hear about. That being said, plastic bags are an appalling excuse, and I cannot think of any excusable reason why all supermarkets have not made a dramatic change when there are so many viable alternatives for the "single-use plastic bag."

We have a big problem. We thrive in some respects, but fail in others. Our reaction to situations are the heart of everything. We need to establish the fine line with other aspects of life—like the story of the steak—think about the things we look at negatively. We must appreciate the value of food that is still fresh when it arrives on our plates, just as banning petrol and diesel cars is not the direct answer to the emission crisis. Examine the downsides, the upsides, and most importantly, the alternatives. There is always an alternative path to take. Take everything you do personally, tell people about it, discuss it. And you might just make a difference, even if our government can’t.


Scarlett Aylen

I adore the ability we have to write and the magic when the ink slips out of the pen onto paper. Stories of travels, experiences, inspiration and courage are what I find leaving my mind.

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