Join Professor Pete Smith from the Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences at the University of Aberdeen, and Kim Bryan, media officer at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth, Wales to find out what they, and most environmentally aware people are thinking the world over.
Do you consider the environment important?
Pr Pete Smith: Absolutely! It is absolutely critical for us going forward. And you’ve mentioned the idea that we are talking about war, and I would say that war and the environment aren’t entirely disconnected. If the projections of future climate change come to pass, which I believe they will, we could have significant food shortages, we could have significant water shortages, many areas that are currently habitable will no longer be habitable and we could see mass migration, and we could see pressure on many resources which could cause resource wars. So, instead of fighting over land and oil, as we, probably, do now, we could in the future be fighting over productive land for food production and water resources.
Kim Bryan: I think the environment is absolutely the background of everything we deal with. It is the backbone by which human beings can actually inhabit the plant, and animals as well. I agree 100% with what’s just been said that we are facing …and I think to some extent some of the things are already happening. We are already facing resource wars. There are already areas facing water shortages. There are already food security issues as the result. So, many of these things aren’t going to happen in the future, they are happening here and now.
What is the biggest environmental threat?
Pr Pete Smith: I think that climate change is the one that underpins all. The C level rise, atmospheric change, loss of biodiversity – all of these things are driven by a changing climate. So, I would say the headline message has to be to tackle climate change. That’s the one that we really need to tackle. There are local air quality issues from fires and various other things. The one that will critically affect our survival on the planet and the way in which we can live as a society from 2015 onwards is climate change. That’s the one where the window of opportunity is rapidly closing. And we must get a global deal in Paris next year. It really is getting that critical, that we must have that committee target, so that all the nations that have signed up to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change have quantified emission reduction targets. That’s the only way that we are going to make progress.
Kim, do you also see climate change to be the underlying common denominator?
Kim Bryan: I do, but I also see another way of looking at this. All of those issues that you’ve mentioned are interlinked. You can’t isolate one from the other. And we have to think of them as a whole, and address those issues together. And be it using the words climate change or air pollution, environmental degradation – you can’t solve one thing without tackling the other, because they are all part of the same system. So, we have to deal with them all at the same time. Isolating them as individual things to tackle isn’t going to be a useful approach.
Should there be a change in approaches to the economy?
Kim Bryan: It is interesting that you’ve touched on the ecosystem services, because one of the things to this is that our progress encourages this idea of payment for ecosystem services, the introduction of a new carbon trading market. And when we look at the way that capitalism or neo-liberal capitalism particularly tries to adapt to climate change, we see that we are always looking at trying to create new growth industries. And my question is – can we maintain the level of growth that we’ve enjoyed for the last 50 years, at the same time of managing environmental and climate crisis. And, perhaps, the answer is “no”, but we need to look at creating steady-state economies, we need to look at creating stability within our economies and move away from the fluctuation and these peaks and troughs that we have, because those are the things that create the unpredictability within the market. And we are not looking after our resources, we are not putting the correct value on the things that we have.
But, at the same time, it needs to be attractive. I mean, this transition period, we can only get to the end of it if people can make money.
Kim Bryan: People need to make money, that’s absolutely clear. And I'm not suggesting that people don’t make money. What I'm saying is that we move away from the fossil fuel-based economy, which is essentially what we've got with this absolute mega-profit, and move to renewable-based economy. We are not going to see anything like the growth that we see now, but we have to accept the degrowthing of the economy if we are going to make this transition. It is simply not sustainable to carry on generating the trillions of dollars that is produced annually by the global oil companies, for example.