The year 2017 was one when environmental issues continued to generate world headlines be they major catastrophes or environmental policy changes such as the US withdrawal from the Paris climate accord. While it’s easy to focus on what went wrong, Nick Ames takes a look at the good achieved over the last year
FROM THE ETHICALIST –
As the Middle East’s first independent ethical lifestyle publication, The Ethicalist provides intelligent and inspiring information to help readers make more conscious choices in their day-to-day lives. The Dubai based, digital-first magazine provides weekly updated content covering everything from social good to sustainable style in the form of zeitgeist features, exclusive interviews, real-life reports, news snippets and long reads.
2017 was a stormy year by all accounts. Flash floods, forest fires, hurricanes, droughts, pollution, endangered species, displaced persons, ice-cap loss, forest degradation – even a cricket test match halted because of toxic air. But amidst the forebodings there has also been some positive news, not least the launch of The Ethicalist to highlight these issues. So to end 2017 on a high note we have taken a look at some of the cheering aspects of the last 12 months.
Generating clean energy is now on the agenda globally and strides such as the world’s largest solar mega farm development in Dubai, a solar plant on top of a former Chinese coal mine and the regeneration of the deactivated Chernobyl nuclear site to provide power from the sun particularly noteworthy.
Global pollution-free energy investment this year is set to exceed 2016’s figure of $287.5bn with the cost of solar powered batteries coming down fast.
This has led in turn to an increase in emphasis on electric powered vehicles, illustrated by Elon Musk’s Tesla opening a showroom in Dubai followed by the Roads and Transport Authority adding 50 electric vehicles to their taxi fleet.
Tesla is also pioneering the use batteries to tackle local energy problems around the world, notably in hurricane devastated Puerto Rico, where the firm installed solar-powered batteries to service a hospital.
The plight of a dying polar bear, shown on video attempting to scavenge for food, was one of the major eco-stories of the year and it focused attention on the threat posed by both human activity and global warming to the natural world.
But there was also good news. New species were also identified in 2017, as The Ethicalist was quick to report
Among them was a new great ape from Indonesia. The Tapanuli orangutan has frizzier, more cinnamon-coloured fur than the previously recognised Sumatran orangutans. While news of their discovery brought hope, they were quickly identified as the world’s most endangered great ape.
Then there was the Vanzolini bald-faced saki monkey, thought to be extinct but spotted for the first time in 80 years in the jungles of Amazonia.
In the mountains of central Asia, the snow leopard has been moved from endangered to vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Natures Red List, which designated species at risk.
In Nepal, the last two known dancing bears were rescued from the southeast of the country and moved into a sanctuary, bringing an end to the cruel tradition – which sees bears forced to perform in front of spectators – across the country. Dancing bears are now believed to only still be present in Pakistan with activists working hard to eliminate the practice in its entirety.
From England came good news for elephants, as its government has now outlawed trading in ivory obtained before 1947. While Britain had a ban on the trade in raw ivory tusks, it had become the world’s leading exporter of legal ivory carvings and antiques in recent years.
While in the US President Trump was forced to announce the administration’s reversal of a ban on the importation of hunting trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia, until further review. The u-turn followed global outcry from animal rights groups and conservatives after the administration decided to reverse an Obama-era rule barring such imports.
Social media also played its part. Instagram stepped in to protect animals from being subjected to cruelty via a campaign to discourage the increasingly common practice of tourists taking selfies posing with animals.
The move followed a report which revealed the activity encourages severe exploitation of wildlife, with species seized from their natural habitat, caged and abused.
Public outcry against the use of plastic continued to get louder in 2017 as new statistics about the state of plastic pollution hit headlines.
The UN passed a binding treaty aiming to put an end to the scourge of ocean plastics, although it is not legally binding, and the European Union is exploring solutions to plastic pollution in rivers.
Countries around the world started to introduce plastic bag bans. Kenya acknowledged that carrier bags pose a serious threat to the planet’s health and banned their use with force. Offenders face fines of up to $38,000.
Individuals grabbed the headlines too. Two brothers single handedly took on the plight of Indonesia’s Citarum River – one of the world’s most polluted – by rowing up the waterway on boats made from recycled plastic bottles. Their journey gained so much attention globally that the Indonesian government was forced to take action, announcing a two year plan to clean up the river.
The Fashion industry also took a hit. One garbage truck’s worth of textiles is thrown away every minute, stated a new report by luxury brand Stella McCartney and the non-profit Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which called on the clothing industry to cut waste and move towards more circular economy solutions.
While, in good news for animal welfare campaigners, luxury fashion houses including Gucci and Michael Kors announced they would no longer use real fur in their collections from 2018.
Another study that made headlines around the world was the discovery of plastic microfibres in tap water around the world, sparking alarm and concern. Scientists are still working to trace the source of contamination, but ‘fibres shed by the everyday wear and tear of clothes and carpets’ have been pointed to as one ‘obvious source’.
Deforestation also hit the headlines in 2017 with increased calls for protection of vulnerable habitats.
Now, in Ghana and Ivory Coast, governments are drawing up plans to halt the proposed clearance of forest areas for cocoa plantations after campaigners from Mighty Earth exposed links between illegal deforestation and the chocolate industry.
In Brazil, President Michel Temer has now backtracked on plans to open up large areas of the Amazon rainforest to mining companies after protests by indigenous groups, conservationists, climate activists, and anthropologists.
More regionally, former cricket star turned politician Imran Khan is turning a province of Pakistan green again by planting a billion trees in a bid to restore forests wiped out by years of felling and floods.
The Billion Tree Tsunami reforestation project was launched along the Gambila River in Pakistan’s north-west Khyber Pakhtunkhaw province where swathes of forest were destroyed when the river’s banks burst.
International conservation organisationWWF highlighted the world’s least environmentally-friendly products when it launched a Singapore and Malaysia-focused Palm Oil Buyers Scorecard.
Out of 47 companies identified, 70 per cent did not disclose information related to their palm oil sourcing practices.
Within nine hours of the report’s publication, 13 of the firms with poor disclosure practices received a massive 7,700 emails about the topic, in what the NGO called an unmissable signal that consumers care about sustainable palm oil.
One of the biggest challenges for those who wish to change public behaviour is to lead with optimism. Too often we continually try to scare people or preach doom. Even the strong scientific work of key organizations and the public documents from organizations like the Club of Rome or international NGOs is too often negative and seen to predict doomday or similar.
But success stories do act to counter this, and to really stimulate action, good examples are needed to inspire others to try to make a difference.