Are we investing in the right things or failing to see the bigger picture in pursuit of short-term goals?
Addressing COP26, Sir David Attenborough, one of the world’s great authorities on nature, asked a dramatic question to the whole world: Is this how our story is due to end? During his speech, he told the tale of how the smartest species became doomed because we as humans missed the bigger picture in pursuit of short-term goals. When we are working against each other, we are like a force that can destabilise our planet – so why can’t we work together to save it? The whole of humankind must come together to avoid the looming catastrophe caused by anthropogenic climate change – or else there is no future for us.
It is evident from the past three decades that none of the climate commitments made by the leaders of the modern world have been fulfilled. On the contrary, the situation has worsened as the commitments have been mostly replaced by the basic principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and very little accountability.
The Concentration of Carbon Dioxide in the Atmosphere
The concentration of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere stands at 412 parts per million (ppm)
, rising constantly. It must be of concern to us all that this represents a whopping 47%
increase in CO2 concentration since the beginning of the Industrial Age, when this figure stood at 280 ppm
, and an 11% increase since 2000, at which point the concentration of carbon stood at 370 ppm.
Causes of Rising Carbon Dioxide Levels
The main reasons behind this change are rising global temperatures and a growing human population, both of which are very hard to control for many reasons. We are all collectively releasing carbon into the atmosphere. Although it is worth noting that the problem of rising carbon dioxide levels has both natural and human causes, it is mainly human causes that have upset the natural balance that existed for thousands of years before our influence. Let us take a brief look at some of the main sources for the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere:
1. Human Development: This factor behind rising carbon emissions is evident from the way our political leaders lead our societies to evolve and develop. In the vast majority of cases, their actions and inactions negatively affect the natural greenhouse on Earth.
2. Burning of Fuels:
of all human-produced carbon dioxide emissions come from the burning of fossil fuels like coal, natural gas, and oil. The burning of these fuels has also increased the concentration of atmospheric CO2 since the production process combines carbon with oxygen in the air to make CO2.
3. Approach to Industry: We are continually exploiting our essential natural resources, following the pattern of preceding generations. The key difference between past generations and the present one is that in the past they had little choice and – generally speaking – much less awareness of the speed and the severity of the impact. We, on the other hand, are knowingly and willingly disregarding the fact that our essential natural resources will come to an end someday.
Stability Is Breaking
It is crucial that we acknowledge that the stability of our environmental well-being is breaking. We must be aware that the more likely outcome of this will come at a great consequence to us all. And unless things change, the consequences are likely to arrive unannounced. Much like COVID-19, we might just find ourselves in a sudden gloom of an unsolvable environmental problem to which we will likely have to adjust rather than be able to resolve. We will glance at each other in surprise, asking, ‘Isn’t it crazy how we can look back only a year ago and realise how much everything has changed?’
We have seen this recently. We might see this again.
‘So, either we stop right here, or be ready for the outcome; the choice is ours.’ But this would be a populist statement. Because realistically, this change cannot just happen. We cannot stop at once, and it is not strictly true to say that the choice is ours either. The world as a whole, with complex cultures, different levels of societal developments, rules and regulations, in which every single one of us has learnt to operate over many years, cannot be rewired overnight. Today, it is good that there is enough push around the world to bring the problem to the surface, discuss it, and maybe even name and shame. Even the smallest things are helpful when towards a goal.
It is true to say that the actions of the United States will in part determine the fate of the international response to climate change in the immediate future since it is, after all, the world’s largest per-capita emitter of greenhouse gases. But is this enough? Of course not. Because the most draconian measures, even if implemented overnight, will set only a very mild trajectory for improvement. On the opposite, given the size and the complexity of global industries, if these measures are suddenly abandoned, any improvement can be destroyed at a snap of the fingers of the next global leader or superpower. We have seen this happen before. It is always easier to destroy than to build. In part, the reason lies in to whom we are delegating the responsibility of ‘problem solving’. Groucho Marx once said, ‘Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies.’
So does this mean that even if the world manages to move steadily towards new and positive environmental measures, we will forever live in fear of the reverse?
The Way Forward – Accountability and a New Sustainable Industrialisation
Whilst the problem of climate change has many complexities, each requiring individual solutions, the need of the hour is the next industrial revolution: a brave new world, inspired by the new generation of problem-solvers and powered by sustainable systems and solutions, that can help in a big way to take care of both our nature and our needs. Each industry might have its own unicorns in this area, but collectively, these unicorns can reshape the mechanics impacting the environment. Developing technologies is only part of the answer, but it can play a very substantial role. Let us consider FoodTech.
Technology is maturing faster now than ever before, and FoodTech is capitalising on this extensively. Today, we already have highly efficient, environmentally friendly techniques such as lab-grown meat (cultured meat), vertical farming, and circular agriculture. AI technology is helping the farmers to survey their crops and detect any plant diseases at an early stage – such is the power of AI-driven diagnostics. And this is only the beginning – the benefits of AI in FoodTech extend even further. For example:
In food science, AI can help us perform in-depth market analysis while automating recipe building and predictive yields on raw materials.
For manufacturing, it can reduce the downtime risks associated with asset health and predictive maintenance, which will eventually help us create a more connected enterprise with the Internet of Things (IoT).
In distribution and supply chain management, we can use predictive analytics for cost savings and waste minimisation along with visual pattern recognition and accurate, agile forecasting.
Moreover, AI can greatly enhance the customer experience by monitoring and learning from insights on customer traffic and engagement. It can also help facilitate the use of self-service point-of-sale systems. These practices bring a lot of benefits to the table. For example:
They keep the environmental impact to a minimum.
They offer affordable clean energy and healthy air.
We can have enough food to sustain us all without even worrying about harming nature in the process.
If we are realistic about it, we have to accept that some things can’t change for a very long time even if we want them to, but most things can change if we act upon them. We need to understand that nature is our key ally in building a better world, and, sadly, the general public’s most effective motivator shouldn’t be hope but fear.
The recent pandemic has put much fear in societies around the world. This fear will certainly be used by various parties high and low for their personal agendas. But it can also help us to realise how suddenly and dramatically the overall global order can instil more desire and discipline to make serious and substantial environmental commitments at the level of every household. We must be focused on fulfilling the necessary long-term goals of our species, and this starts with a change – from you, within you, and around you.
Don’t underestimate how very small but committed parts of society can change the world for the better; in fact, this is the only thing that ever has.