Last week the US and China said they would ratify the Paris Agreement, which commits the two massive nations to making efforts to slow down climate change. It’s an important document and not insignificant that these two have signed up – they are, after all, two of the world’s biggest polluters.
The Paris agreement obligates states to curb emissions that contribute to climate change. It takes effect once at least 55 nations accounting for at least 55 percent of global emissions ratify it.
This is important, not just because of the future for our children, but for now as there are clear signs of rising temperatures – July’s hit record levels this year.
There are obvious things that can be done to help save our planet – not least lowering our consumption of fossil fuels, using more green, renewable energy sources such as solar, like the massive plants being created in the UAE.
The world’s governments have to commit to some serious life changes if this planet of ours is to have any chance of remaining hospitable for future generations.Peter Harrison
And Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman this year announced that the kingdom’s economy will ultimately move away from being driven by oil. These are important steps in the right direction.
The world’s governments have to commit to some serious life changes if this planet of ours is to have any chance of remaining hospitable for future generations. But we all bear a responsibility to help slow down its self-destruction.
One thing, we need to look at how we are draining the world’s resources by simply buying the newest and latest, without considering the impact this has on the planet.
The Middle East spends more money in shops on the latest gadgets than any other part of the world – we have an obsession with all things new. There’s a view that a person’s status should be reflected by the possessions they hold – a manager should not be seen to be driving a car that is less impressive than that of their staff.
If our children, and later their children, have any chance of having a planet that is safe for them, then we need to change how we think. When I walk into supermarkets I see boxes of televisions stacked high, with eager customers waiting to pick up the latest bargain, as the shops look to clear the shelves in time for the newest models.
But ask yourself this: where are you putting the TV you bought two years ago? What is going to happen to all the resources that have been used to build it and the hundreds of others that will also find themselves being slung or left to gather dust in the cupboard under the stairs, simply because it doesn’t look modern enough?
Recently I was involved in a crash on a Dubai road. The details are irrelevant, suffice to say that the back end of my car was badly damaged by the impact of the SUV that ran into me. Amid the kind concerns over my wellbeing, I also received several messages from friends asking me if I was now going to replace my 10-year-old car. They’ve asked many times before.
Why throw away what works?
And my response then was the same as it has always been - when the thing costs more to fix than it’s worth. I’m not being tight with my money, I just fail to see why a perfectly good car should wind up on the scrap heap, all those reusable parts left to rot – which is ultimately what would happen with a vehicle as old as old as mine – irrespective of the fact that it works, is fuel efficient and still fairly kind with the exhaust fumes it produces.
Last week I interviewed Dr Jonathan Pershing, the special envoy for climate change in the US.
I suggested to him that maybe governments around the world should be looking at ways of reusing resources, rather than disposing of them. It’s not a new concept and certainly not one that I invented.
It’s a notion that rather than throwing things away - think mobile phones, TVs, computers, and of course cars - they are broken down in to the various components and parts are reused.
Pershing told me that there were now efforts by companies in some countries to not just consider the process from raw materials to end product, but also post-consumer, recycling and reuse.
It’s a process that takes the parts that still work and reuse them, the recyclables are recycled and precious metals are removed and resold.
Such a business model is profitable, creates jobs as we remanufacture and ultimately helps the environment. In China it’s a philosophy that’s called a circular economy.
Pershing explained: “You don’t think of things in some time banded way, you think of everything, to where you produce it to the impact on the environment. To the long term return on the economy - the consequences at the end of life.”
And it is these consequences we need to all consider – we have been greedy in our drive to always want the newest, without considering the damage it does, not just to our wallets, but also the planet as we throw perfectly good things away. There is a limit to the availability of raw materials.
Does it really matter that the television you watch is not the thinnest? Or the smartphone you use isn’t the very latest model?
We are told we drive consumer society by making choices - if we always buy the latest without considering what damage that does to the planet, then what will future generations think of our choices as they struggle to cope with far less hospitable conditions in the weather, sea levels and temperatures that we created through our inaction?
Peter Harrison is a British photojournalist whose career spans three decades, working for print, digital and broadcast media in the UK and the UAE. He's covered a broad spectrum of subjects, from health issues and farming in England, to the refugee crisis in Lebanon and the war in Afghanistan. He is a senior editor with Al Arabiya English.