Hope – Is It Too Late?

How Late Is Too Late?

Year after year, reports show that we need to act now to mitigate climate change and biodiversity loss, or it will be too late. Year after year, we don’t meet the goals we had set for ourselves. So how late is too late?

That depends on your definition. It’s too late to prevent irreversible damage to many ecosystems, but it isn’t too late to prevent most of them from collapsing. It’s too late to prevent further global warming, but it isn’t too late to curb it to the +2°C goal. That’s both a blessing and a curse.

The good side of the deal is that we haven’t dug ourselves a deep enough hole that we can’t get out of. That means there’s still time to save ecosystems and millions of species. The bad side is that we humans tend to procrastinate. It’s probably what we do best. For our environment that means we won’t take action until we feel threatened. And we won’t feel threatened until millions of human lives are in immediate danger, at which point it will already be too late to save billions.

The issue with global warming, climate change, and biodiversity loss is that they act in a similar way to how the Covid-19 pandemic spreads, all be it at a much slower pace. Infections may be occurring at any given moment, but it’s only weeks later that we find out the true impact of an outbreak. Similarly, the damage dealt to the environment now will have serious repercussions on the future state of the planet.

So there is hope left, because it will never be too late for mankind. At least a small community will survive no matter what we do, that’s almost certain. We just need to decide whether to act now to save as much as we possibly can of the natural world and the human population – or if we want to keep procrastinating in the hope that a miraculous innovation will save us. The latter sounds easier, but it’s important to understand that every day we don’t act, the death toll adds up. And we’ll die in the same order we always have in history when faced with crises: the poor first and the rich last.

It’s worth noting that this is the opposite order of responsibility for the current environmental crisis, since the highest-impact individuals are usually the wealthiest.

Can We Do It?

If the Covid-19 pandemic has shown anything, it’s that governments are willing to sacrifice their economies for the welfare of their population – even if some of that population may not agree. In times of crisis, countries seem to be able to mobilize incredible amounts of money in a relatively short amount of time [the pandemic has also helped some of us realize how much we rely on nature to maintain good health, and that staying inside all day isn’t the kind of future we want to force on future generations].

That’s extremely encouraging for the climate and biodiversity crises. We’d even expect green solutions to receive much more support than Covid-19 relief programs, since environmental action doesn’t require countries to sacrifice their economies entirely. It certainly means budgets will have to be restructured, but shaping a sustainable future isn’t a charitable act – it’s an investment.

On top of the various economic incentives of integrating eco-friendly solutions, there are plenty of other reasons to develop more sustainable societies – like increasing food and water security, providing stable blue-collar employment, and improving urban air quality. Increased sharing of our resources will also help lower-income individuals improve their quality of life without impacting the higher-income earners too much. At the international scale, sharing could help reduce conflicts over essential resources and decrease the number of environmental refugees that will otherwise flood borders in the next few decades.

So yes, we can do it. But if we don’t hit the brakes now, we’ll crash even harder.