With a rapidly increasing population, the natural resources of this planet are being used at an accelerating rate. If consumption can be slowed, it is less likely that the outcome will be harsh. Although our future is largely in the hands of politicians, much can be achieved by changing our individual life-styles, acting by example, ‘thinking globally and acting locally’. There are many ways in which this might be achieved, and the following list gives examples. While most of these will lead to the conservation of our natural resources, others will also contribute to the improvement of the local environment.
At present only about 8% of our rubbish is recycled, though the government would like to raise this to 20% by the year 2010. For those who use the North Somerset Council ‘box scheme’, recycling is easy. The Council collects paper, aluminium, glass and clothing every two weeks. Newspaper, magazines, office stationery, glass bottles and drinks cans are ideal. At present there is no facility for collecting plastics in this area. Many garages will accept old engine oil and car batteries. Other recyclable items include spectacles and working computers (which can be donated to third world countries), printer cartridges and rechargeable batteries. Garden refuse can be easily converted into compost in the garden, though the Council will collect large quantities. Organic matter should not be placed in dustbins as it may be buried in landfill sites where it is converted to methane – a powerful greenhouse gas.
Much of the power used to maintain our high standard of living is derived from the carbon in fossil fuels. This source originates from life forms that existed for many millions of years on the earth a very long time ago, locking up the energy from the sun. We are now consuming this energy at a rate that means it is likely to be fully depleted within the next 50 years. Moreover the carbon dioxide derived from these fuels is now giving concern since it is causing the temperature of the earth to increase due to the so-called ‘green house effect’. Reduction in our reliance on oil, gas and coal is now essential for the long-term survival of our civilization, as we know it. Our profligate use of energy resources can be reduced by consideration of the way we travel or heat our houses, – in fact by giving careful thought to all processes that consume energy. Ultimately the use of renewable energy resources – wind and tidal power, biomass generators and solar cells – in association with power saving by using energy-efficient household equipment and by insulation, could reduce our dependency on a carbon-based economy.
See the website for the Centre for Sustainable Energy
We are losing countryside to car parks, roads, houses and airports at an ever-increasing rate. These developments can result in the loss of habitat for our wildlife, and now many of our animals and plants are under threat. These include the Water Vole, Otter, Great Crested Newt, Dormouse, Horseshoe Bats and Barn Owls, animals that were quite common only a few years ago. When these have been lost it will not be possible to recreate them – we should remember the lesson of the Dodo. Probably 20% of the carbon dioxide increase in the atmosphere is due to the loss of forest cover.
Another way in which we are losing wildlife is by pollution, with the large variety of chemicals that we expect to use in our everyday lives. Many pesticides have been applied needlessly, most notoriously causing the decline of our birds of prey in the last century. The chemicals and radioactive isotopes that we are producing now find their ways even into the wildlife of the Polar Regions, into our deep-sea fish, as well as our own rivers, harming the balance of nature in many of these environments, and with unknown effects on human health.
The need to feed the many millions of people in the world is now made more difficult by the expansion of the arid zones and by the more frequent meteorological disasters, some of which are attributable to global warming. Many people in the world are living on the verge of starvation, though the western countries have avoided this so far. However, our food is now largely imported from vulnerable countries, and the many ‘food miles’ imposes an additional energy premium. Even our fishing industry is clearly not sustainable, as seen by the depletion of Cod stocks in the North Sea.
Reduction in the use of fertilizers and pesticides should reduce energy use, and a reduced dependency on animals as a source of food also conserves energy resources.