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The Future We Want


This is the fifth and final post I wrote in my capacity as UNEP’s blogger for World Environment Day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Since I’m writing this post on a computer and you’re reading it on one, it might be prudent to begin by relaying that yesterday, at UNEP’s launch of its Global Environment Outlook 5, I learned that e-waste is the world’s fastest-growing waste stream in the world, with an estimated 20-50 million tonnes of electronic equipment discarded yearly.

E-waste facts at the launch of the fifth Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-5)

Fatoumata Keita-Ouane, a scientist with UNEP, brought this to my attention, and she also pointed out that these wasted electronics are full of reusable resources. So in the spirit of GEO5’s sober analysis and belief in our ability to make the transition into sustainability, let’s you and I make sure the components of our computers go to good use once we’re finished with them. Here’s a how-to for recycling electronics.

Presentation at the launch of the fifth Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-5)

The GEO5 launch was the final World Environment Day event I attended, and at it, UNEP’s representatives did not mince words. As Executive Director Achim Steiner told those in attendance, “The role of the United Nations Environment Programme is to speak truth to power.”

Carlos Nobre, the Brazilian Secretary of Research and Development Programs and Politics, informed us that humanity has already surpassed some crucial environmental tipping points, and we’re on the verge of crossing several more.

The Amazon rainforest, for instance, is likely to disappear if global warming reaches 4°C, or if deforestation reaches 40% of its total area. Other tipping points include declining biodiversity in multiple regions, rising ocean acidification, Earth’s rapidly melting ice sheets, and melting permafrost resulting in large quantities of methane being released—a dangerous feedback loop of greenhouse gas.

“The future we want will not wait forever,” Nobre said. “The world has been in an idle state, and I hope Rio+20 will move us past it.”

Achim Steiner speaking at the GEO-5 launch.

There’s no question: the outlook is grim. But it’s not hopeless. There’s still time for us to turn things around, and achieve our vision of health, happiness, and equity for all.

UNEP is rightly educating governments, companies, and people about the direct correlation between environmentally-friendly practices and economic prosperity—namely, the green economy.

We all need to do something. Discuss these issues with your friends and family. Post about them on social media. Sign petitions in support of green causes, and post them to social media too. Write to your government officials about our environmental challenges, and also write to businesses and inform them that as a potential customer, you care about sustainability and make your buying decisions accordingly. Think of one habit you could change to reduce your environmental impact, then work at it until you do.

One thing at a time. It’s easy to allow one’s self to become overwhelmed by the dangers we face. Don’t.

It’s easy to get lost in the tide of conflicting information that accompanies the digital age. Don’t.

Just choose a single thing you can do—big or small—and do it. After that, choose another.

I left Rio feeling more informed and more empowered. I sincerely hope these blogs posts have conveyed my experiences clearly enough that you feel the same.

Leaving Rio.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Andrea permalink
    06/29/2012 9:43 AM

    Yes! Choose one thing, do it, and then choose another. It’s so simple, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming, and it’s effective. Love it.

    Can I just say, on the topic of e-waste, that it appalls me that we let manufacturers get away with designing products that can’t easily be repaired and upgraded? That we, as customers, are basically encouraged and applauded for throwing out our cell phones after one year of use to get the next best thing? That none of the components inside of small gadgets can be swapped out when a newer version is released? We could avoid so much waste by designing products differently.

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