Integrating sustainability changes across the spectrum is necessary
Yesterday, environmental and sustainability topics were only taken seriously by specialists and “tree huggers”. Their warnings were not taken seriously, and society’s mood was “Don’t think twice it’s alright”. Now, the times they are A-changing.
We are seeing a substantial surge in environmental awareness in Ireland and in the world in general with several levels of awareness (not mentioning the so-called “climate sceptics”). It is driven by the observations, that are being made by experts, of the effects of climate change on our planet. Glaciers are melting, sea level is rising, and plastic waste has become so ubiquitous that particles are found from the Arctic to the bottom of Marianne’s trench, in the most remote areas of the planet. This world today is a mess.
Sustainability Improvements Needed
Despite this increasing environmental awareness, Ireland is far from top ranking in the transition towards a sustainable society. We have the highest consumption of plastic per capita per year in Europe (61 kilogrammes, the EU average is at 31 kilogrammes). According to DCCAE, each Irish household produces between 400kgs and 1 ton of food waste per year, and meat still plays a major role in our food intake. Dublin airport traffic has increased by 7% in Q1 2019 whereas we know now that planes consume a substantial amount of kerosene. We all want change, but we do not want changes.
Citizens are now more inclined to do efforts to help the planet. Recycling or reusing their coffee cups; or reusing plastic bags when going shopping are good examples of individual actions that are sources of satisfaction. However, that is simply not good enough.
French consultant Jean-Marc Jancovici said: “It is not with little accomplishments that we will avoid big problems.” Indeed, small actions made every day are trivial if they do not integrate into a wider personal strategy. It is great that people recycle their coffee cups, but change needs to happen at a far more deeper level in consumer’s behaviours.
Facing the cold facts is absolutely critical. We need to transition from emitting 10 tonnes of CO2/person/year to 2 tonnes if we want global warming to remain under 2°C. To give you an order of magnitude, building a new 90m2 house emits about 35 tonnes of CO2; a transatlantic return flight emits 2 tonnes of CO2… We are under pressure.
We need deep behavioural change. But it will not be sufficient. Between 10 and 25% of emissions come from individuals (depending on how committed they are in their everyday life). Between 75 and 90% of them are socio-technological factors according to a recent study by Carbone 4. (i.e. factors that are derived from our current way of living, emissions from primary, secondary and tertiary sectors, emissions from logistics…). The system is the limiting factor to its own survival.
That means that individual actions will not be enough. A major shift is needed in the decarbonisation of our companies and supply chains, our means of transportation… The state will play a critical role in this change by incentivising companies and early adopters to lead the way. We need to react to climate change as a society, improve collaboration, inspire change among our companies, make everybody realise how urgent it is.
We can be heroes, but not just for one night. Our planet will be fine, as it has shown resilience over the last ice ages. What is at stake here, is our civilisation, and it is screaming for help. Systemic change is necessary, to drive away from this highway to hell on which we are currently on.
What can I do?
Reduce your environmental impact at home: less plane travel, refrain from buying items you do not need, buy secondhand if needed, source local and seasonal food products.
Make small investments. Buy a small car instead of a heavy one, change your oil boiler for an electric one, carpool to work.
Bring the change with you at every step of your life. It is not only at home we should be aware of this environmental catastrophe we are causing. Carry out work projects that will be beneficial for the planet. Talk to your member of parliament, spread awareness, learn to be better.
You may say I’m a dreamer, but a change has got to come.
by Romain Couture, Circular Economy Researcher at IMR
For more information or to discuss potential sustainability projects please get in touch.