Planet Earth from space

Planet’s health must be priority to assure future prosperity, research says

Pandemic shows what happens when global environmental system becomes more vulnerable.
28 May 2020 , Katie Coyne

Post-pandemic, we must radically re-design and re-think the way we live and have a conversation about what it means to live a “good life”.

This is according to Diana Ivanova from Leeds University, one of the authors of a report published in the journal Environmental Research Letters that outlines ways people can reduce their impact on climate change.

Ivonava spoke to EHN Extra about the work that has pulled together a list of the most effective ways people can reduce consumption to prevent climate change.

Going car-less, or opting for an electric car, using renewable energy, and using public transport are some of the options listed. However, Ivanova and the other authors of the report argued that this alone does not go far enough and that governments and decision makers must make the planet’s health the priority.

Climate change, Ivanova said, makes the planet more vulnerable. “As we see climate change happen there will be an increase in pandemics and this is quite well studied,” she said.

She added: “It's just it's making the whole system much more vulnerable. And the thing that the pandemic now is maybe showing – in a bit less abstract terms – is what that would be like.”

Ivanova referred to the research from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which says that to avoid catastrophic climate change losses, we need to limit a rise in temperatures to 1.5C through reducing emissions by around 40% in the next decade, and reach net zero by the end of the century.

She added: “I hope that this would really be a wake-up call and not just with its short term effects, but actually which can have a more lasting effect in the way that we structure our society. Because a lot of these changes need to happen structurally and infrastructurally and politically.

“It’s not just about individual people making small life changes. It's really about completely rethinking and redesigning the way that we live. And that's probably why I've referred to it as radical because radical comes from [the Latin for] 'root'.

“So it's really about changing the root – the core of our life, because the status quo is just not desirable anymore. It just comes with too large losses. And then once we bring in those planetary limits, we should also start a discussion about what do we actually mean by a good life?”

Commentary on the report has also picked out the fact that veganism is not one of the top ways on the list to reduce carbon footprint. But Ivanova was keen to point out that being vegan still has positive impact: “That shouldn't be interpreted as ‘it's not important’ because beyond carbon there are so many so many environmental impacts to be considered that we really need to make decisions with a bit broader consideration.”

She added: “Food is very related to land, to deforestation, to water and to eutrophication and all of these very, very important impacts.”

Ivanova said that the study focuses on climate change but there are many other environmental impacts taking place, and there is “quite good knowledge” about these issues – water, land, biodiversity - and the planetary boundaries. But within a single viewpoint or study there are limitations. The work has to be made sense of and be communicated accessibly.

The important thing for governments was to take a holistic approach: “When you're implementing a policy, have a broader perspective and not just base everything on a single study that is very one dimensional.”

The switch from petrol to diesel, for example, was proposed as a means to help mitigate climate change but is terrible for air quality. Ivanova added: “When we discuss the shift from something to something else, that usually comes with a trade-off.

“When you talk about reduction of certain activities, then there's less of a trade off. So you know, that's why I keep coming back to, having these democratic processes to establish what is a good life. And then from that, there will be a lot of activities that just seem excessive and not needed.”

She added: “We're talking about losing so much in so many domains that there's a very, very urgent need to really adapt to a more sustainable life on this planet in accordance to it, because it is a finite planet. And it is about recognising these limits and uncovering what is a good life within those planetary limits.”

Luminous cubes

CIEH Leadership Programme

Take your career to the next level with the CIEH Leadership Programme.

Find out more