The environment has become ever more entangled in a web of recommendations, rules and responsibilities that bring every touch of an ‘on’ button into shame and ask us to take great lengths and make great sacrifices in order to protect the environment from the dark, planet-destroying underbelly of human advancement. Our back doors are dominated by an array of recycling bins, energy saving light bulbs fill every lampshade, the washing machine is set to 40oC, a bag for life is always at hand, free-range, organic eggs and line-caught tuna fill our cupboards and yet, despite our efforts, we are all conscious of the feebleness of our contribution to the colossal solutions needed to solve the colossal environmental issues. As was once said by comedian Sean Lock, sometimes these personal efforts can feel like we have ‘turned up at an earthquake with a dustpan and brush.’ I do not mean, in any way, to undermine the importance and necessity of these personal efforts: they are crucial and collectively make a significant difference. However, I wish to explore how we can take these efforts further, follow in the footsteps of the great figures in environmentalism, make a profound contribution to resolving environmental issues and perhaps, even, save the world.
Having graced our screens for over sixty years, David Attenborough is a major figure in the environmentalist movement. Although he has received criticism for his lack of focus on the threats facing the environment in his well-celebrated documentaries, we cannot fail to acknowledge his support for various environmental causes and, more importantly, his dedication to the communication of the wonders of the natural world to homes across the world. With his commitment, love and understanding of our planet, millions of people over six decades have been captivated by his commentary, carrying them from their sofas to the far reaches of the globe and, inevitably, spreading love and amazement for the planet we are lucky enough to call home. Communication is vital to the environmental cause. Behind every measure taken to reduce human detriment to the natural order of the world, lies a belief that nature is worth conserving and David Attenborough has played a vital role in spreading that belief. Whatever form of media we may choose, there is ample opportunity for written and spoken word to inspire and motivate and this is at the forefront of encouraging mitigation against human-induced damage.
While his name may not be familiar to most, Wallace Smith Broecker has made a huge mark on the way we think and act on environmental issues. While the idea of humans modifying the climate was already beginning to circulate in academic research, it was Broecker who first used the term ‘global warming’ in 1975, paving the way for a wealth of research into the relationships between anthropogenic activity and the multiple components of the Earth system. Making a substantial contribution to the environment is well within reason should we wish to pursue research in our various subject areas. An understanding of the biological, chemical and physical processes that underlie our environment and how this can be translated into management practices is the cornerstone of all environmental management and, with countless areas of knowledge still poorly developed, there is much potential for research to uncover vital tools and answers to our environmental dilemmas.
Among the numerous changes that have marked Margaret Thatcher as one of the most prominent political figures in British history is, surprisingly, her contribution to our national engagement with the mounting evidence that climate change is a serious and real threat. Having gained a chemistry degree at Oxford, Margaret Thatcher was able to greater understand the evidence for unprecedented global climate change, leading her to become the first world leader to voice the reality of climate change. Although some have cast doubt on her motivations for this advocacy (did the drive for nuclear power influence her views?) and she later expressed scepticism on the issue, the fact remains that state involvement in environmental issues is essential for real progress to be made, especially when economic decisions made by the government can have major repercussions on the environment, and she took the first step. If we are to find a balance between the social and economic needs of the nation (and indeed the globe) and the environment, it is essential that Parliament has its share of passionate and dedicated politicians who can argue the case for increased protection of the planet.
There is no recipe for saving the world and yet, wherever your talents lie, perhaps in communication or academia or politics, there are paths that can allow for the metaphoric dustpan to be cast away and for real difference to be made. If we are to build a future for our children that we can be proud of, we need people who can think big and fight hard. We need people who can follow in the footsteps of the likes of David Attenborough, Wallace Smith Broecker and Margaret Thatcher and go on to save our planet.