Under threat: an introduction to The Student’s sustainability series

The lifestyle section are starting a series to explore the issue of sustainability and how small changes can result in us leading more sustainable lives. Each article will cover a different area of everyday life and what changes can be made to limit your individual impact on the environment. We aim to make these changes as simple as they can be and at least the same cost or cheaper than the normal alternative.

The lifestyle section’s series on sustainability is kicking off with an explanation of of the recent report released at the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This report was released at the 48th session of the IPCC panel in South Korea on the 10 October, which showed that our need for sustainability is more pressing than ever.

Previously, research has demonstrated that the point at which human life would be in serious danger from climate change was two degrees of warming above pre-industrial levels. The most recent IPCC report has shown that a serious danger to human life would occur at 1.5 degrees, and not two. We are currently at one degree hotter than pre-industrial temperatures. This means that just a mere half-degree more and there is an extreme threat to human life: famine, floods, forest fires – and this is just the beginning. What’s more, the report predicts that we only have 12 years, at the current rate of warming, until we reach this 1.5-degree threshold.

This prediction of doom is most definitely not novel. We seem to have an obsession with constantly predicting our own destruction: Nostradamus, the end of a Mayan Calendar in 2012, and the millenium, are just a few examples of the millions of apocalyptic predictions. This time, however, is unequivocally different.

This doomsday prediction is of science, and not of prophecy. And we should not, and cannot, ignore it this time.

Drastic action needs to be taken. The report not only details that we will have to reach zero C02 emissions pretty quickly, but we will also have to make efforts to soak up the carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere.

While this does seem extremely depressing, it is not an impossible feat to achieve. Many may be tempted to hear this news and simply ignore it. After all, this kind of drastic, all-encompassing lifestyle change is the kind that is most effectively brought about by governmental policies.

What can the individual really do – especially with climate-change deniers holding high positions of international power? It’s very easy to hear this news and feel powerless to enact the change we desperately need.

Almost every aspect of life as we know it will have to change in some way. In our current society, everything has its environmental price tag. Not only does this mean policies need to be changed, but it also means an attitude change for the majority of the population.

There are a few implications of this. The changes needed are extremely daunting, for one. Second, it will take effort. But most importantly: individual actions matter. If everything we do has an environmental cost, then individual lifestyle change is extremely effective at limiting climate change.

One of the main issues, as ever, is knowledge. We must inform ourselves about renewable energy providers, how to cut down on our use of plastic and increase our use of ethical and sustainable household products.

The information regarding the changes seems overwhelming at first: a nebulous system of almost infinite alternatives to the way you can live your life. However, using a few simple principles you can start to drastically reduce your environmental impact. Reduce your consumption; dispose of waste thoughtfully; re-use what you can.

Not everyone can be vegan, and not everyone has the time or the energy to go zero-waste. However, if everyone does as much as they realistically can and puts effort and thought into limiting their environmental impact, we may just be able to do what is needed to stop the catastrophic effects of climate change outlined in this report.

Illustration: Rebecca Anderson

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