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An Ecosystem of Solutions

03/24/2013

UNEP asked me to write an article on this year’s World Environment Day theme, Think.Eat.Save. I’m crossposting it from their website.

I’ll be frank: my years researching and blogging about environmental issues have left me with serious concerns for humanity’s future.

Our problems are numerous and grave. For example, at our current rate of greenhouse gas emissions, we are set to destroy the stable climate that allowed civilization to arise. As well, global oil production is fast approaching a peak—many remaining reserves are harder to access, and more carbon-dense. And environmental degradation threatens to destroy 25% of the world’s food production by 2050.

That’s all pretty bad news, and my first time hearing it made me eager for some good news. Here, I did find encouragement. I learned that possible solutions far outnumber the problems, and even better, many of the solutions address several problems at once. For instance, reducing fossil fuel use and pursuing clean alternatives won’t just help with the energy crisis—it will also mitigate global warming, which in turn will preserve our ability to produce enough food.

It’s one thing to read about remedies, but it’s quite another to encounter a network of resourceful, determined people working together to realize them. When you experience that, you start to believe we can overcome the mounting crises that face us in the 21st century.

At least, that’s what happened to me when I traveled to Rio de Janeiro last year, to cover World Environment Day for UNEP and Treehugger.com after winning the Rio+20 Big Blog Off. This amazing opportunity brought me into contact with such environmental heroes as Maasai warrior Samson Parashina, who won a Champions of the Earth award for his leadership in conserving the wildlife and cultural heritage of the Tsavo-Amboseli ecosystem in Kenya.

I also had several opportunities to speak with UNEP’s Executive Director, Achim Steiner. On one occasion, he told me that UNEP doesn’t select host countries for World Environment Day based on whether they’ve achieved “environmental nirvana”—the presence of lively debate is much more important. Another day, I heard him say UNEP’s role is “to speak truth to power.”

When I began to reflect on the theme for World Environment Day 2013, Think.Eat.Save, I realized the food crisis calls for the same approach. World leaders have a lot on their plates, and environmental issues are often pushed aside. It’s vital that during World Environment Day—and indeed, during our day-to-day lives—we work to promote informed debate on environmental issues, and also to speak truth to power.

Our food problems are considerable. According to a recent report, one-third to one-half of the four billion metric tons of food produced yearly goes to waste. Meanwhile, 20,000 children under the age of 5 die from hunger every day.

But again, possible solutions are diverse, and their benefits extend even beyond the food crisis.

For example, we can bolster our communities’ food security by growing our own food, as well as buying locally. Security isn’t the only benefit here, however—numerous studies show that getting food locally emits fewer greenhouse gases than importing it does, and also improves air quality.

World Environment Day provides a high-profile forum to discuss such solutions, and to develop interconnecting frameworks for their implementation.

For humanity to continue flourishing, we have to work together.

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