For a child I am yet to know,
Our beautiful, unique and inspiring world is at risk. Climate change poses a threat to all of us, causing ice sheets to melt, sea levels and temperatures to rise and meteorological natural disasters to become more frequent and extreme. Rising concentrations of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, are warming our atmosphere and making the air we breathe unsafe. Our diverse and invaluable habitats are threatened by deforestation, mining, agriculture and palm oil plantations, placing many of the species which we value so dearly, such as the orangutan and the ocelot, at risk of extinction.
The need to act has never been more pressing, and yet those in power seem ever more distracted by other issues. Tackling terrorism, extremism and increasingly divisive, nationalistic politics have been at the forefront of the agenda, overshadowing the climate change which is not only ongoing but rapidly accelerating.
And yet it is these troubling times which bring people together. We are fighting for a shared cause, inspired by our strong and unwavering dedication to preserve the beauty and wonder of our natural world for our children, our grandchildren and their children, and for countless generations to come.
2016 was the year that I visited the Amazon Rainforest. It was an incredible experience, almost too wondrous to put into words. I had never travelled outside of Europe before, and so to enter this tropical paradise of unfamiliar yet fascinating sights and sounds painted colours on the canvas of my understanding of the world which opened my eyes to the precious yet fragile nature of our ecosystems, and the people who are entirely dependent upon them. It made me realise just how great an injustice it would be for you to never see and experience what had so profoundly changed my outlook; to hear the ceaseless call of the howler monkey echoing through the canopy, and hear the patter of rainfall as it dripped from leaf to leaf, a living xylophone played by nature’s bounteous hand.
Even before but, most particularly since, I have devoted myself to taking positive steps towards mitigating climate change. It is easy to feel paralysed by the sheer extent of the threats we face and yet, as the writer Charles W. Chesnutt reminds us, ‘we sometimes underestimate the influence of little things’. By reusing and recycling, walking or using public transport, signing petitions, donating and participating in campaigns, we can all take small steps today which can contribute towards significant changes tomorrow.
Already, at my time of writing, we are making significant progress by cleaning up our energy supplies. Renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, are beginning to take the steam out of fossil fuels, with Scotland and Germany managing, for the first time, to power an entire nation using renewable energies alone for 24 hour periods; this, in our time, is a phenomenal achievement. Moreover, more and more institutions and, in particular, universities are divesting from fossil fuels; over a quarter of universities in the UK have now pledged to no longer invest in these dirty forms of energy, and I am proud that my own University of St Andrews is among them.
Further afield, progress is being made to conserve endangered species and to restore their habitats, and we are already seeing the positive results. In 2016, the rapid decline in the tiger population was reversed, thanks to tireless efforts to protect these beautiful animals. Schemes providing economic incentives for those in developing countries to plant trees as opposed to slaying them are also underway and evolving to become more efficient; I have seen first-hand that when local people are engaged with the benefits that their natural resources can bring to them (not just economically, but also aesthetically as well), they are so deeply inspired and motivated to join global efforts to achieve sustainability.
I do not have the power of hindsight with which you are blessed, and so I do not know what the future may hold for us. What can be sure of is that, as long as I live, I will continue to strive for the changes which we so desperately need in our world at this time; to reverse the negative trends to which we bear witness, and overcome the barriers which stand in the way of achieving sustainability. Our voices may be small, but I believe that when we stand together and raise them, they are so much more powerful than those who seek to oppose and suppress them.
As I continue to take those little steps into the next year, and the years after that, in the hope that they will cumulatively form into a defiant march towards environmental justice, I hold the thought of you in my heart. I not only hope that one day you too will crunch excitedly through the golden leaves of the woods on a crisp autumnal morning, and catch the snowflakes as they fall softly onto your outstretched palms. I will make sure that you do.