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What do we need to achieve a sustainable lifestyle in the future?

Dear COP26 Leaders, we need strong International laws, national and local natural environment rescue plans and more importantly, funding to help us to adapt and be more resilient with Nature Based Solutions.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has been criticised for missed opportunities in providing leadership and setting an example in regulating and adapting to our changing climate this his Autumn Budget.   Sir David Attenborough is pleading with governments to listen to the science and act now, because we are not progressing fast enough and there is little sense of urgency from our politicians.  Covid-19 showed us how governments around the World could collaborate in a state of emergency.  The pandemic is not over, but we are also in widespread climate change crisis and biodiversity crisis.  I am not such a great age as Sir David, but in my life time and during 28year academic career I can confidently say we have learned a lot about the damaging human activities that have degraded our natural environment.  Many of us know what needs to be done; we need our governments to lead the way forward, stop exporting our waste and pollution, stop importing immense amounts of short lifespan products and consuming produce that have a have a significant carbon foot print and environmental impact. 

People who grow, buy, sell or manufacture cheap unsustainable imports are supporting practices where workers are living in poverty in often unbearable living and working conditions. We need to lobby businesses to help employers create healthier, cleaner products, with higher wages and working conditions within a clean environment.  Yes, those imports will cost more but we will need relearn to value where the quality of our purchases and what they are made from.    Climate change is going to have the biggest impact on these poorer countries. Countries that we depend on for cheaper food and textiles will be devastated by floods, storms and drought with little infrastructure to protect lives and livelihoods.   We have all witnessed how, over the past few years, flooding events seem to be more extreme, wildfires too have destroyed whole communities, habitats and wildlife populations.  Much of this destruction is caused by significant changes to land use and loss of natural vegetation cover because of our unsustainable consumer demand.  Our habitats and water catchments are not in a fit state to withstand catastrophic events.   We need to use Nature based solutions now.

This Autumn semester, with a group of final year students, we are learning about the 6th Extinction. The last five extinction events were way back in geological time.  Our period of time is called the Anthropocene, starting 8,000 years ago where first human impact was detected.  In the past 500 years, the rate of extinction increased and by the 1970s, birds, mammals, insects, amphibians, reptiles and the other taxonomic groups found in our oceans and soils have been lost all around the World.  Extinction rates headed towards full steam with the introduction of intensive farming methods to meet growing consumer demands from sprawling cities.  Today, 67% of surviving wildlife populations are experiencing significant drop in numbers (on average almost 50%).  Wild bees are now an iconic group of insects (indicators) that are now commonly accepted as being vitally important for us as a human society.  Our visiting Professor Jeff Ollerton is a significant voice on the international stage spreading the message the importance of conserving wild bees.  As many as 87.5% of plants cannot produce seeds, berries, fruits or nuts without a pollinator (Ollerton et al. 2010).  However, pollination is just one of many ecological interactions (or Ecosystem Service) that occur in multi-networks of organisms within ecosystems.  When connections within networks get broken a whole network can collapse.  Ecological collapse is real danger to our food security and our natural environment and climate change will push hard on that accelerator of species extinctions.

What can we do about it?  We can lobby our politicians for more Wildlife protection. Only 14% of the World surface is protectedWe can afford to protect larger and connected areas of coastline, freshwater and terrestrial land because that protection is going to pay us back in a healthier environment, jobs, sustainable produce and resilience to the impact of climate change.    Governments need to be tougher on those damaging the environment. Our government urgently needs to provide strong leadership to help more businesses to lead the way.  Together we need to have a plan to fix, or, restore those broken biodiversity networks at home and abroad.  We need to halt the loss of species and repair habitats, so that those species that have survived us so far, can build their numbers back up again.  The University was awarded The Hedgehog Society Silver Award in 2021 and we are working towards earning the Gold.  With small actions we are all contributing to the welfare of this newly designated red data species.  University of Northampton is also in the process of producing a Biodiversity Plan for Net Gain to demonstrate how we can continue to improve habitats and increase populations of species found on the Waterside Campus and our other University sites.

There are many great initiatives happening, such as the Lottery Fund that is helping local communities act to reverse damage to our natural environment and adapt to climate change.   Street trees provide us services such capture carbon, cooling shade, interception of rainwater to slow run off and making our streets a healthier place to be.    Planting Trees, is a popular idea and seems a relatively easy step to make but it can be quite complex with multiple stakeholders involved. University of Northampton is supporting local Save our Street Trees Community Action group in partnership with Far Cotton and Delapre Community Council looking for ways to find small patches of land for community gardens and more street trees.  

Individually, you can help by joining a community group, start wild bee friendly garden or volunteer for a wildlife organisation.  Every step forward counts but remember, we need to do it now!

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