“Are We Doomed” received a lot of questions about what individual actions could help the environment, and at the beginning of this project, I reported on how purchasing carbon offsets and going to zero waste could help the planet.
But after talking to experts and historians I learned that the hyper-focus on the environmental impact of a single individual is a PR tactic used by fossil fuel companies. Meaningful change is going to have to focus on systematic changes, which will surely make day-to-day life different, but a hyper fixation on reusable water bottles and plastic straws won’t save the planet.
Which brings us to the titular question: are we doomed?
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Kimeona Kane808 Cleanups
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The fate of some things, like many endangered species in Hawaii, is already set in stone due to past climate change and environmental degradation, said Robert Cowie, an endangered species expert and research professor at the University of Hawaii.
“There have been five mass extinctions in the history of the Earth and this is the sixth that we’re going through right now,” he said. “And it’s different from the others because it’s caused by humans.”
Snails are Cowie’s specialty, and an estimated 70% of Hawaii’s rare and unique snail species have already gone extinct.
An extensive United Nations report found that wildlife populations have declined 68% since 1970, and those ecological impacts negatively impact food security, clean water and human health.
Human-caused greenhouse gas emissions have already warmed the planet by about 1 degree Celsius since the industrial revolution. Since the 1970s climate scientists have been warning about the disastrous impacts of 2 degrees of warming.
“We do know that there are a number of processes that will be significantly stronger and more catastrophic,” said Jessica Hellman, a climate scientist and ecologist with the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment.
International policy has stressed the importance of keeping global temperatures below 2 degrees of warming, not only for the environmental impacts but because the technology exists to stay below 2 degrees of warming.
“The 2 degrees is also an important target because it’s still feasible if we wanted,” Hellman said. “It’s really a very interesting combination of science and policy and politics.”
Since it’s still possible to avoid the disastrous effects of 3 degrees of warming, humanity isn’t apocalyptically doomed. But we are doomed to change, since the status quo isn’t sustainable.
But Kimeona Kane thinks Hawaii residents are up to the challenge.
Kane is the outreach director for 808 Cleanups, a volunteer group that leads beach cleanups and environmental restoration projects across the islands.
So although Kane sees the negative impacts humans have on the environment every day, he also has a front-row seat to how much time and energy people in Hawaii will dedicate to righting past wrongs.
“So are we doomed? In my personal opinion, no, we’re not doomed,” he said. “Are we doomed if we keep ignoring where we’re headed? You know, we might be answering that question for ourselves very soon. So good luck, get involved, get educated and then be a part of that solution.”
“Are We Doomed? And Other Burning Environmental Questions” is funded in part by grants from the Environmental Funders Group of the Hawaii Community Foundation and the Frost Family Foundation.
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