The five Horse(wo)men of the Apocalypse

By 6 July 2017 May 2nd, 2018 Opinion

I recently read Good Omens by Niel Gaiman and Terry Pratchett that features the Four Horse(wo)men (or Bikers) of the Apocalypse: Death, War, Famine and Pollution (having replaced Pestilence at some point in history). These are certainly riding strong today, but I would add a fifth one, Climate Change. They are all linked, feeding off each other’s success and working in a twisted harmony. Almost every corner of the world is affected by war bringing with it the worst humanitarian crises of our time. Slavery is present in practically every industry – from clothing, fisheries to technology and of course profiting off people fleeing war and economic suffering. The latter is of course perpetuated by the gross economic inequality that we are continuing to see in the world today. All these are devastating both to the people affected, but also to the environment. Some of the most influential nations in the world have climate change deniers in the highest offices and far right movements propagating hate are gaining strength. Governments are doing the bare minimum to battle all these problems and it seems that more than ever money and greed are the true rulers of the world.

You could say: “Ok, but all of this has been going on for centuries. What’s changed? Why do we suddenly need to care?”. But things have changed. Most importantly, since the industrial revolution we (as a society) have became better at exploiting natural resources from minerals to food sources. The world population is growing rapidly and we cannot continue exploting nature at the rate we currently are and at the same time expect it to continue providing for us, without making big changes to our lifestyles. It’s practically impossible to disentangle the exact causes and effects of climate change, war, famine, human migration (and likely more), because they are a continuous self-perpetuating loop. What is certain though, is that the time for saying ‘this is not my problem’ is gone. We cannot turn a blind eye and pretend we don’t know what is happening in the world. Because the internet with all the collective power of social media brings us to the center of events. However, I think that because we are so overloaded with information it is very easy to get desensitised and overwhelmed by all of it. It is sometimes difficult to know how to help. Or even where to start caring. We are all directly or indirectly affected by all of the above issues and we have a duty to act in any (even small) way we can.

As an environmental scientist, I tend to focus on issues that touch the environment. The human population is rapidly growing and we have become accustomed to getting anything we want at a click of a computer button. In Europe, we can get food shipped in from the other side of the world and we feel cheatted if there is a product suddenly unavailable on the shelves. Our clothes and technology are manufactered and our food is grown or caught across the globe. This is perfectly fine in terms of supporting other economies, but it does have an impact on the environment as well as removes our responsibility (or limits it) to insisting on humanitarian and environmental standards to be kept. All human activity has an impact, there is no magical material that is perfect and we certainly cannot continue to live the way we are, if we want to keep this planet habitable. Even the mantra “Reuse, reduce, recycle”, needs rethinking or at least a better and wider application. But certainly it should be “REDUCE, Reuse and if the other two fail Recycle”. If we want real change, though, then pressure must come both from top-down (e.g. governments, environmental agencies) and also from down-up (us – the consumers).

Some websites that I have started to follow recently. They offer a way to get actively involved or simply stay informed.

  • MOAS: “a Malta-based registered foundation dedicated to mitigating the loss of life at sea. We provide professional search and rescue assistance to refugees and migrants in distress at sea.”
  • Undark: “a non-profit, editorially independent digital magazine exploring the intersection of science and society.”
  • The Conversation: “a collaboration between editors and academics to provide informed news analysis and commentary that’s free to read and republish.”
  • 5gyres: “empowers action against the global health crisis of plastic pollution through science, art, education, and adventure.”
  • Sea around us: “assessing the impact of fisheries on marine ecosystems.”
  • and so many more! Feel free to add any interesting links in the comment section 🙂

This is easier said than done, because the reality is that a vast majority of people cannot afford to think about how their habits are impacting the environment. We’ve all heard the statistic about the enourmous wealth gap between the top 1% and the rest of the world. Can we really expect a family who is struggling to survive from day to day to think about how much waste they are producing and where it ends up? If their food has a low carbon footprint, or if their clothing is fairtrade? How can we demand that they choose the more expensive option that will help the global environment and people on the other side of the world? None of this will have an effect that this struggling family will be able to see, but will push them even further to the brink. This is why changes must also come from the market – environmentally friendly options must become affordable. Only then can we start changing people’s habits on a large scale, in order to have a real effect.

I will be the first to admit that I’ve come to this quite late and I don’t lead a perfect ‘zero-waste, sustainable clothing, no plastic, low carbon footprint, etc’ lifestyle. However, I would like to move closer to something that has a smaller impact on the environment and also human exploitation. It’s not easy or something you can achieve overnight, and I believe many choices for a more ‘eco-friendly living’ can only be made by people who have the means to support it. But we can all make small adjustments in our daily routines that could make (even a small) difference.

This sounds all doom and gloom, and of course most of us won’t see much visible evidence of the destructive force that is humanity. But we still have a responsibility to make changes where they can be made. Unfortunately though, these small changes in our behaviour as a consumerism-based society are the most difficult ones. I’m not hoping to offer any instant solution, but I do believe that every contribution to the conversation that might reach someone and get them thinking will help. Therefore, I want to explore a series of themes that I’ve been thinking about lately in the following blog posts.

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