The future of the planet isn’t often a positive topic of discussion, and it’s admittedly easy to see the negatives. As fluctuating temperatures, unseasonable weather and natural disasters such as hurricanes and forest fires grow more common, it seems our current course is taking us toward even greater environmental disaster.
In truth, there’s still time to change the future’s trajectory, and politicians and entrepreneurs have made incredible progress in the renewable energy sector and other areas of restoration and conservation. 2018 was a pivotal year for the planet, and we’ll recap some important environmental news everyone should know about.
Compromised Ecosystems & Alternative Materials
The non-biodegradable properties of plastic make it an enormous threat to marine life. Many animals are unable to differentiate the material from their food, and an estimated 90 percent of seagulls have shards of plastic in their gut. In consideration of the unsettling fact that nine million tons of plastic enter oceans every year, the number of affected seabirds will only continue to grow, representing an enormous disruption in the ecosystem with severe consequences.
There’s hope for the future as a greater number of people adopt eco-friendly alternatives to plastic. Society’s growing awareness of the issue has led to an increase in the popularity of bamboo straws and compostable utensils made from cornstarch, simple solutions which divert massive amounts of waste from the ocean. Many cities, states and countries are beginning to restrict plastic bags, and Prime Minister Theresa May has outlined a plan to ban plastic straws.
The Global Food Supply and New Strains of Crops
Rising temperatures linked to climate change could hurt crop yields on a global scale. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a study claiming that for every degree (Celsius) the Earth warms, corn yields would decrease by an average of 7.4 percent. Wheat yields would drop by an average of 6 percent, soybean yields by 3.1 percent and rice yields by 3.2 percent — all disconcerting to think about.
As temperatures rise, however, scientists continue to develop new strains of crops to deal with climate extremes. They’re preparing for a future where intense changes in temperatures and weather conditions cause short-term droughts and other issues that compromise agriculture. That said, everyone can do their part, and those who make a vegetarian diet part of their New Year’s resolutions are helping to decrease greenhouse gases and extend the global food supply.
Climate Refugees and Renewable Energy Initiatives
Researchers estimate two billion people will have to flee their homes by the year 2100 due to rising sea levels. The problem will reach the U.S. in susceptible states such as Florida. Around the world, flooded coastlines will force refugees to search for safety on higher ground. Charles Geisler, the lead author of the study, predicts other conflicts such as the issues policymakers will inevitably face when they have to address migration for displaced families.
While the study is troubling, countries across the globe have organized renewable energy initiatives with the potential to change the future. In places such as Tunisia, Wales and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, politicians and entrepreneurs have planned ambitious projects and programs to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. Through solar, wind, geothermal and tidal technology, they intend to make a massive transition toward clean energy.
Climate-Related Illnesses and Wind Farms
Heat stress related to global warming, the spread of infectious diseases, extreme weather events and malnutrition are going to increase, according to the World Health Organization in a 2017 report. They estimate that death rates as a result of climate change will exceed a quarter of a million each year by 2050, a grim portent of what’s to come if policymakers don’t act to implement eco-friendly programs. Fortunately, some countries have taken note.
China’s air quality is notoriously poor, and the pollution is often harmful to the health of those who live there. As the world’s leading contributor of carbon emissions, this seems inevitable. Despite its reputation, China has developed the Gansu Wind Farm Project, a series of large-scale wind farms which will help the country move away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy, averting some of the short- and long-term consequences associated with dependence on fossil fuels.
A Better Balance With the Planet Is Possible
More than that, a better balance with the planet is plausible. Eco-friendly solutions such as alternative materials and renewable energy initiatives are promising, and as scientists develop new strains of crops, it’s clear we’re capable of adapting to the challenges that lie ahead. These challenges are inevitable.
Despite excessive waste, rising temperatures and sea levels, a compromised food supply and climate-related illnesses, not all the environmental news this year was negative. As countries acknowledge the threat of global warming and act with a greater awareness of their impact, the world is changing positively.