Metaphorically, the sun is a symbol for hope, a brighter tomorrow, a vision for the future; but literally, it is also an all-encompassing symbol of life on our planet and the sustainability of our species. If you watched David Attenborough's (famous natural historian's) documentary on Netflix - A life on our Planet - you would have been met with some of the startling changes the world has undergone over just eight decades. In that time span, we have moved from a global population of 2.3 billion to 7.8 billion; the carbon in the atmosphere has risen from 280 parts per million to 415 parts per million; and the remaining wilderness of our planet has fallen from 66% to 35%. Mankind has, in effect, been the fastest growing species, having eliminated all our significant predators and using nature to our own ends, almost considering ourselves apart from it rather than a part of it. In short, we may have become our own worst enemy, depleting the earth of its resources and reducing the very biodiversity that keeps us alive, regulating temperatures and keeping toxins in our atmosphere in check. Why should we care about all of this? Because our continued bad practices will leave the world a worse place for our children and their children to live in. As a soon-to-be-mother, this is of concern to me.
Attenborough mentions a number of solutions to this trend, and it's interesting to see some of this work already underway in certain places. He talks about raising the standard of living of populations without increasing their negative impact on the planet. The key to this is sustainable solutions and the catchword is 'cleantech'. Change can sometimes come from the unlikeliest of places and it is heartwarming for me, personally, to see that my continent of Africa, with all of its supposed 'lack' is, in a lot of ways, spearheading this new global movement in sustainability - this green revolution, as it were. Of the 1.4 billion people without access to electricity, 600 million of these reside in Africa. This is where 'challenge' meets 'opportunity' as African entrepreneurs and firms are now leapfrogging into the future by not necessarily relying on national grids and traditional carbon-emitting sources of energy, but by providing off-grid solar technology solutions, for example. Africa is now in the lead as the preferred destination for off-grid solar investment, largely facilitated by pay-as-you-go (PAYG) models driven by the advent of mobile technology, as well as investment in other sources of renewable energy; and this makes perfect sense owing the the continent's abundance of solar, hydro, wind and other forms of power.
I was, again, pleasantly surprised at the mention of an emphasis in female education as part of the solution to our current predicament. I remember a television campaign in my early childhood in Ghana actively urging the population to 'send the girl child to school.' It still amazes me how much the reluctance to educate the female is still rife in large parts of Africa and the rest of the world. I do see Attenborough's rationale though, and the link between female education and empowerment and climate action and change. When societies in general have a higher purpose, when there are a greater number of opportunities and possibilities of what one can do with their life, it creates more productive members of the same society, steering the population away from mere procreation and towards more creative and useful endeavours. A study was done in Japan that showed how a rise in the standard of living reduced the average household size over time and basically stabilized its population growth. This is, basically, what we need to see in the world as a whole. A more stable population growth and size would help to stem runaway-food demand and, hopefully, manage our need to destroy more and more wild forests to create scores of monolithic farmlands or de-stabilize large marine ecosystems through overfishing practices.
Granted this all sounds like so much to take in, one can hardly quite know where to start to individually support the vision for a brighter and more sustainable future. Once again, there are little things we can do. This might be a hard one, but....eating a more plant-based diet will help to curb the demand for large meats which usually entails the decimation of large mammals that are fading more and more into obscurity ultimately eliminating the vital role they also play in our environment. Also, as the price for solar energy continues to fall, we might want to think forwards to investing in that technology for meeting our dream house goals. The next one is one I am ashamed to say I have faltered on - recycling. I regressed from being quite diligent in an environment, during my college years in the US, which fostered the practice by providing differentiated receptacles for plastics, paper and other kinds of waste, to now not really thinking twice about throwing my half-eaten cake into the same singular bin as my empty disposable water bottle. We all need this reminder, however, and if you're like me and have stumbled, there's still time to turn things around. We just need to remember the 3 Rs - reduce, reuse, recycle! Little acts like this, ultimately, will help us create the world we really want to see and make us remember that we should not only be 'takers', but 'givers' in this circle of life.