‘Protecting the environment is a futile pursuit.’ How far do you agree?

Author: Ying
School: Raffles Institution
Year Written: 2020
Grade: A

In the 2018 world economic forum, environmental activist Greta Thunberg instantly shot to fame after having famously made the comment that “the world is on fire”. Indeed, discouraging statistics obtained by scientists showing the rapidly deteriorating state of our world, coupled with the lack of necessary government policies have led many to despondently conclude that saving the environment is a futile pursuit. However, I stand by the view that given increasing awareness of the issue by empowered individuals like Greta Thunberg as well as the increasing potential of green technology, environmental protection can be a fruitful and not a futile one.

Detractors who argue that environmental conservation is a futile pursuit put forth the argument that it is simply too late to reverse climate change. With carbon dioxide levels reaching an unprecedented 393ppm, which is a far cry from the recommended safety threshold of 350ppm by scientists in the UN, scientists have likened it to a hurtling freight train that would end in tragedy even if stopped immediately. Indeed, even if humans were to cease all emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, ominous phenomena such as global warming rising sea temperatures and the melting of ice caps would still continue. Such critics will no doubt agree with John Keynes famous remark, “The long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run, we are all dead.” Many contend that the adoption of a conservationist approach, where individuals use natural resources to the fullest extent, is the better option. Since climate change is inevitable, this leads many to despondently conclude that saving the environment is a futile pursuit.

However, such critics have overlooked the vast potential of technology to not only reduce, but also reverse the damage already inflicted on our planet, rendering environmental conservation a fruitful pursuit. Much technological and scientific progress has been made, and many technical solutions have been devised to combat climate change. Such technology can help reduce to emissions as well as its impact on the environment. For example, carbon captures technology, which reduces carbon dioxide emissions by capturing it and storing it underground. New materials have also been invented to be used in buildings and aircrafts, reducing the amount of carbon dioxide generated. Not only can technology reduce environmental damage, it can also reverse environmental damage through means like solar geoengineering, which releases particles into the atmosphere that reflects sunlight, cooling the planet. While many of these ideas are in its incipient stages, they certainly provide hope for us that climate change can be solved. Technology has already done a lot to solve it, through inventions like electric cars, solar panels and nuclear energy. Such technology has opened doors of infinite possibilities, and it is myopic to say that it is too late to stop climate change and that it is a futile attempt.

Detractors have also overlooked the potential of empowered individuals to bring environmental issues to the fore and pressure governments to act. Whether in a democracy or autocracy, public sentiment is key, as leaders need it to maintain legitimacy and keep power. If the people demand environmental conservation, the threat of the ballot box means they must deliver — or risk getting voted out of power. The trend of youths becoming increasingly aware and vocal about the issue only means governments is even more pressured to act. For example, youth activist Greta Thunberg, who skipped school every Friday to raise awareness about environmental conservation, became an icon for thousands of youth in Europe who started doing the same. More importantly, this led to “Greta Thunberg effect” where more environmentally conscious political parties saw huge gains in the recent 2019 Europe parliament elections. Clearly, environmental conservation need not be a futile pursuit, given the vast power wielded by each and every individual to incite political change.

Given increasing global consensus on the urgency of the issue and increasing number of global measures to combat climate change, environmental conservation is definitely not a futile pursuit. The defining characteristic of climate change is the sheer scale of the issue – everyone contributes to it and everyone is affected by it. Such a large-scale issue thus requires any climate action undertaken to be on a global scale for it to be effective. Any climate action undertaken by Singapore, for example, would be useless if India, US and china continue belching out greenhouse gases. In light of this, it is encouraging that there are plans and actions undertaken on a global level to combat climate change. The 2015 Paris climate agreement gathered almost 200 countries to agree to keep temperature rise “well below” 2 degrees from pre-industrial times. Countries even set specific targets to be accomplished by 2020 in order to tackle the issue of climate change. This was followed by the COP24 conference in Copenhagen in 2018 where countries met up to set specific targets and action plans to fulfil the targets set in the Paris climate agreement. Given that tangible results have already seen such as China placing a cap on coal consumption, it would be foolhardy to conclude that environmental conservation is a futile pursuit. Though some may be sceptical about eventual success of such an agreement, it is certainly a step in the right direction. Not only does such an agreement bind countries to honour their targets, it also takes other crucial steps such as having richer countries provide financial and technological aid to poorer countries for them to industrialise in a clean and green way. Such multilateral policies that unite nations towards the common cause of environmental conservation are key to addressing the issue of climate change effectively. Given the increasing presence of such policies it is definitely possible for environmental conservation to be a fruitful pursuit instead of a futile one.

It is ultimately up to humankind not to lie supine in the face of the environmental doom that awaits our planet. Whether or not environmental conservation is a futile pursuit depends very much on the people. Given the increasing call for climate action, environmental protection may very well be a fruitful pursuit as people work together and pressure politicians to tackle this issue. Conversely, if we do not take action now, and douse the flames that are consuming our home, this house will continue to burn until we perish along with it.