It’s a new year and a new decade at that. The beginning of the 2020s puts us at a crucial spot in trying to address some of our planet’s biggest environmental issues.
The decisions that we make over the next decade will have an impact on our planet. This impact will long outlast us. We’re highlighting a few big areas of concern that will define what the sustainability of the planet looks like in 2020. These are areas that could have severe consequences or big rewards depending on how we respond.
We must reduce the amount of carbon we emit.
This is not a new idea. For years researchers have laid out the importance of cutting down the amount of CO2 we release into the atmosphere. The excess levels we currently have trap heat and create a warming effect and climate change.
There is new data, however, that spells out the importance of 2020 as a key moment in our quest to lower our carbon outputs.
In 2018, the IPCC released a study that determined 2030 would be the point at which climate change would be irreversible. The sustained effects of climate instability on the earth will have eliminated too many species and altered too many ecosystems to realistically expect a return to the way things were.
So why is 2020 so important on that timeline?
According to the IPCC, we need to keep the Earth’s temperature from rising over 1.5C by 2030 to avoid famines, floods, and mass extinctions. Reducing our carbon outputs is the main thing in our control that can help us accomplish this.
In our recent history, we continue to emit more and more carbon each year. To be on a trajectory that puts us on track to stay under 1.5C in ten years, that trend must be reversed in 2020.
We need to reduce activities that generate large amounts of carbon. We can also invest in activities that store carbon in trees and soil. This also includes partnerships that enable poorer and more rural communities to participate as well.
We must switch to cleaner sources of energy.
Last year, researchers in Finland revealed a highly detailed roadmap for fighting climate change. The plan outlined a strategy to keep the earth’s temperature rise from exceeding 1.5 C.
The key recommendation (combined with detailed ideas of how to follow it) was a serious commitment to hydro, wind, solar, and bio-energy to go fully sustainable.
One encouraging finding was that this shift is more than possible. It would ultimately be more cost-effective at a global level.
In fact, this shift may already be happening.
Data from over 50 locations in the United States last year showed that job growth in renewable energy surpassed job growth in fossil fuel industries. What we’ve seen from our partners internationally can also be true domestically; sustainability creates new opportunities for people.
The cost of renewable energy lessens as these industries grow. As it becomes more accessible, costs decrease and demand increases.
We must take increased efforts to protect the Earth’s three most vital rainforests.
Okay, we need to protect all of the Earth’s rainforests. But three in particular have been calling for extra attention.
The Amazon Rainforest, the Congo Rainforest, and the Indonesia Rainforest stand out. These three are significant for size and incredible biodiversity. They’ve been frequently considered to be the lungs of the planet.
At the same time, these forests have faced heavy deforestation. Each of these rainforests faces different threats.
Indonesia’s rainforest has been threatened primarily by palm oil extraction. The Congo’s has suffered from cobalt mining, a lack of enforceable protection measures, and poverty that drives deforestation.
The Amazon’s big threat became apparent last year when large swaths of it were consumed by raging wildfires. That incident was worsened by deforestation to make room for the cattle industry.
Efforts to preserve these rainforests come in many forms. Reforestation is crucial. So is land management. And conservation. People must be socially and economically empowered to take part in protecting their common forest areas. And all of this requires partnerships with the indigenous communities of the forests.
We must stop extinction.
Each different form of life is a testament to the creativity of God. They remind us of the interconnectedness of life and our responsibility. In the Creation story, God names Adam but leaves him the responsibility of naming the rest of the Earth’s creatures. In Hebrew traditions, naming someone meant recognizing their value and worth as a unique creation.
Ecosystems thrive off biodiversity. Every part has a purpose.
When species go extinct, it throws off the balance of the planet as we’ve known it.
Part of stopping extinction involves habitat protection. There is a strong connection between the diminishing populations of various species of birds, insects, and animals and areas that have faced massive deforestation.
For many species, 2020 will be a defining year in their survival. Hopefully, successful efforts to restore panda and Bengal tiger populations will remind us that it is possible.
We must avoid record setting heatwaves.
Last year, the summer in Europe was so hot that there were numerous records for scorching temperatures. Paris set its all time high temperature, recording a day at 108.6° F. Cambridge, England also saw a 100.5° F day. This was only the second time triple digit temperatures were reached in England.
The Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany also set record levels of heat. These record setting moments killed an estimate of over 850 people- many of whom were elderly, sick, or otherwise vulnerable.
It wasn’t just Europe that experienced unprecedented heat. The entire Northern Hemisphere’s summer of 2019 was its hottest ever, according to NOAA. July 2019 was the hottest month on the planet ever. Africa, only a year prior, recorded its hottest temperature ever in Algeria.
These global trends require global level action. Bringing down carbon emissions is key to reducing atmospheric temperatures across continents. There are local actions that can help cope, however. Planting trees in neighborhoods helps bring down temperatures. Urgently planting trees near where people live, particularly poor or vulnerable populations, has high life-saving potential.
2020 will inevitably be an important year in determining our planet’s future. However, there are things that we can do immediately to help. Tree planting can help with almost every goal on this list. To plant some trees that help protect people and our planet, just follow this link.