Written by Mike Robinson, RSGS Chief Executive

2018 was a year of plastics, with unprecedented public concern expressed after Blue Planet II made this longstanding issue a household one. Action sprung up everywhere. By the end of 2018, however, building on this realisation, we witnessed an even more fundamental swing. It began with the UN IPCC report on climate change stating we had 12 years to bring about real change or face unprecedented consequences – it sparked a significant mood change in the discussions around climate change and biodiversity.  Today, there is more urgency, anger and panic in the debate than ever before. And as a result, the news throughout spring 2019 has been full of climate change and the biodiversity crisis.

Since the start of 2019 and Sir David Attenborough’s highly-publicised speech at Davos there have been a series of well-documented calls-to-action. Perhaps most notably, there have been the many speeches by Swedish school girl Greta Thunberg, who inspired the global school strikes for the climate. Around 3,000 children turned up at the Scottish parliament in March (and 100,000 globally) to protest inaction by politicians and grown-ups. In April, there was also a series of direct actions across the country by Extinction Rebellion, grown impatient and scared by these forecasts. And then two major reports hit the headlines.

Greta Thunberg addressing the EU Parliament (c) European Parliament

The first was a report on biodiversity loss by the Intergovernmental Panel for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, which shocked people the world over by identifying that 1 in 4 species was at risk of extinction. The other was the release of the UKCCC report, the UK Government’s chief scientific advisory body on climate change, stating what is necessary and possible for greenhouse gas emissions reductions. The report was bold but clear, and as a direct consequence of this and this evident wider concern, the First Minister declared a climate emergency. The Cabinet Secretary immediately proposed an amendment to the legislation currently going through the Scottish Parliament to adopt a net zero greenhouse gas emissions target by 2045, as laid out in the UKCCC report, and other departments of Government were suddenly forced to review some of their previous plans. Cuts to Air passenger Duty (or Air Departure Tax) were shelved, the SNP support for Heathrow was withdrawn, and discussions have moved onto what else needs to be reviewed.

I have read many posts about people’s fear and anxiety (even grief) about these forecasts and observations. I understand it entirely. However, having worked in these fields for most of the last 25 years, I am not surprised by any of these reports. I am of course massively concerned, but I cannot afford the luxury of grief. We don’t have time for that. I also don’t want to live in permanent and hopeless anxiety. That’s no way to live. Instead, I have forced myself to focus on solutions to these crises. What can we all do to adopt or drive change? I view these reports, however terrifying, as reinforcements of the imperiled state of our planet and reasons to pedal harder.

On the positive side, what has actually happened recently, from my perspective, is that more people are suddenly aware of these issues, which have been pretty critical for at least three decades. Plastics pollution isn’t new.  Nor is biodiversity loss.  Nor is climate change. The reaction to these reports feels like we are finally waking up collectively to our impact on the wider world, and I hope, to our absolute reliance on it. Maybe now we might be able to generate the momentum to actually bring about the necessary changes. To give enough political and public support to wildlife and climate friendly measures to overcome stasis and vested interests.

It sounds absurd perhaps, but at least the fact we now acknowledge that we are causing climate change and biodiversity loss means it is in our power to stop them. The critical thing is to understand what the solutions are. And to understand how we can each play a role because every one of us has a role to play.