Sometimes numbers tell a story more effectively than words or images. The number that stands out to me after the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), in Glasgow, 2021, is two.
At 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures, we lose 99% of our coral reefs.
It’s easy to turn that number into a picture – but it isn’t a pretty one. Imagine every vibrant, multi-faceted, complex, and multi-dimensional coral reef in the entire world being bled white. Gone forever.
There will be no more anemones waving, no more electric-coloured fish darting into crevices and no more eels waiting to be ambush. There will be nothing to hunt. There will be nothing left to eat. That’s what lifeless means. Not just for oceans, but all of us.
We had the opportunity in Glasgow to put an end date to coal use globally, and we didn’t do it. It would have sent a strong message that change is coming to the markets if we had.
Leaders who should’ve made binding commitments just rolled the dice. We have lost another year, and we ignore it as if there was no tomorrow.
What’s another year?
Let’s take another number: 200. That’s the number of species going extinct every day at the current rate. Two hundred per day!
You can do the math yourself and calculate how many species will disappear in a year. The world is facing an environmental catastrophe, and we are in paralysis.
Catastrophic changes are difficult for the human mind. Day follows night, and the moon waxes & wanes. These are things that have always been. This predictability is what allows us to plan for the future and grow crops.
Climate stability was the key to everything we have done as humans over the past 10,000 years. Temperature has never risen by more than 1.5 degrees during this time.°C.
However, not everyone is inaction frozen. My most memorable moment at COP26 was outside the conference halls. I marched with more than 100,000 others through the streets of Glasgow, in the pouring rain. Young people, old people, mothers with kids, Scots in Kilts playing bagpipes, and leaders from indigenous nations who had traveled a long way to be there were all present.
One banner stood out for my attention. It was a clever rephrasing of the Serenity Prayer: “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”
I refuse to accept that coral reefs will disappear all over the globe.
What will I feel at the close of 2021 as the year draws to a close and time is running out?
I keep coming back to a single phrase: “Start at your feet.” Those wise words are not mine; they are from my friend, environmental activist Afroz Shah.
Afroz started a movement after he started clearing out the mountains of trash at his Mumbai beach. Although it was a daunting task, Afroz decided to start from where he was by doing regular weekend cleans. He continues to work 347 weekends later. His consistency and dedication over more than six years didn’t just bring back sandy beaches – they started a sea change.
Afroz took extreme ownership of a problem he could have shrugged off as someone else’s responsibility. He took a stand. He inspired a whole community. His actions were infectious.
As the end of year approaches, I urge you to reflect on your actions and their consequences, and take extreme ownership – not only in what you already do, but in what more you can do. This will help us all make a real contribution to the solution of the climate crisis.
If we don’t, the crisis will not just be the defining issue of our generation but of future generations.
Start from where you are. Make a difference wherever you can. Connect with nature. We protect what we love. So cherish it; heal it. It’s not too late to do this.
It may feel small, but when we work together, we can create a great sea change. DM/OBP
Lewis Pugh, an ocean advocate and pioneer swimmer, is Lewis Pugh. Pugh often swims in fragile ecosystems to raise awareness of their plight. Pugh was the first person ever to swim long distances in every ocean in the world. He was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2010. In 2013, the UN Environment Programme made him the Patron of the Oceans.