Why there is still hope for our planet

Why there is still hope for our planet

This year, the world’s population will exceed 8 billion people. Nature is facing enormous challenges, mainly because humans are consuming more than the planet can support.

At the same time, while we should be working together across borders to solve these challenges, humans still argue over politics, religion, trade and territories, as we have for millennia.

Is there hope? And if so, why ?


Is there really any hope for our planet?

“Yes, I think there is hope despite many global challenges,” says Professor Jianguo Liu, Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainable Development at Michigan State University in the United States.

Liu is the winner of the Gunnerus Prize in Sustainability Science for 2021. He will be holding his lecture at NTNU’s main building today at 9am.

The Gunnerus Sustainability Award is an international research award with compensation of NOK 1 million. It is awarded jointly every two years by the Royal Norwegian Society of Science and Letters (DKNVS) and NTNU.

The prize recognizes outstanding scientific work in the field of global sustainable development and aims to promote research and strengthen the scientific basis for sustainability.

Increased awareness of challenges

“There are a number of reasons for hope,” says Professor Liu. “First, there is a growing global awareness of the challenges, especially among many young people. Of course, awareness alone is not enough, but it is an important first step.

Professor Liu won the award for his outstanding work on social impacts and environmental footprint. It takes a holistic approach to complex challenges where people interact with the environment.

Crises increase awareness

“Second, there are more actions and initiatives to address the challenges,” Liu said.

For example, at the global level, the United Nations established the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. At national and local levels, there are also many actions and initiatives around the world.

“Also, ironically, people tend to react to crises instead of making proactive efforts to prevent crises. Hopefully, as new crises emerge, people will take more effective action,” he says.

The population of giant pandas, a global wildlife icon, has recovered.

The population of giant pandas, a global wildlife icon, has recovered.

Already positive results

“Third, some actions have led to positive results,” Liu said.

For example, populations of giant pandas, a global wildlife icon, have recovered.

“Its habitat has been transformed from long-term losses to incremental increases. It has been removed from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) endangered species list, or more specifically, its status has been changed from threatened to vulnerable,” he says.

Forests in many parts of the world have increased. Protected areas have also increased.

“These and other positive results are a source of inspiration and hope for further actions which may in turn lead to more positive results in the future,” Liu said.

How can we help?

So maybe there is hope after all. But what can each of us do to help? And what can governments and organizations do?

“On an individual level, each of us can do a lot. For example, we can initiate and deploy efforts to address various challenges. Many of us can vote for pro-environmental government officials and influence policy. We can live more environmentally friendly lifestyles,” Liu says.

It may seem like a strange example, but one action is for people to avoid divorce. Divorces cause environmental damage by increasing the number of households and reducing the efficiency of resource use per capita. So we should fight together if possible.

“What we buy and invest can also shape the production of goods and environmental outcomes,” Liu says.

What others can do

Governments at different levels can do many important things – developing, implementing and enforcing environmental laws and policies.

“They can also provide more incentives for environmental actions and punish bad environmental behavior,” Liu said.

NGOs can lobby for environmental policies, monitor the effectiveness with which government policies are implemented, and promote environmental education.

News media and social media play an important role in disseminating environmental information to the general public.

Research is essential

“Researchers are key to generating new knowledge and helping to find solutions to global challenges. For example, interdisciplinary research has uncovered a hidden ‘telecoupling’,” explains the professor.

Telecoupling is where environmental and socio-economic interactions are linked, even if they are far apart. This means that something happening in one place can affect people and the environment in other distant places.

“For example, in Norway and some other countries like China, the consumption of soybeans and meat produced in Brazil can damage the rainforests of Brazil. With globalization and global environmental changes such as climate change, telecoupling has become more common and more influential,” says Liu. “Together, people and organizations around the world must take coordinated and collective action to address telecoupling and other global challenges.”

So humans are causing the problems, but they might also be able to solve them.

#hope #planet

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