Earth Day marks an annual day of reflection on the state of the only home humanity has ever known. Sylvan Lutz, IF researcher, highlights the importance that the stability of the Earth’s climate and ecosystems have to current and future generations. Join IF in working to protect the planet for future generations, not just once a year, but every day.
On 22 April, gatherings will take place across the UK and around the world in support of environmental protection and to celebrate the only home humanity has ever known. Yet 53 years after the first Earth Day little progress has been made in safeguarding our home for its future tenants.
Recent IF research has highlighted that the government continues to pass on the bill for cleaning old oil and gas infrastructure on to future generations and is failing to take simple actions – like encouraging domestic rail travel – to reduce the costs of climate change and ecological degradation on our children and the generations that follow.
This Earth Day we call on the government to support the Ecology Bill so that future generations can enjoy the same benefits of a relatively stable climate system that we have during our lifetimes.
The long-term perspective
Over the past 10,000 years humanity has existed in a period of unusual climate stability known as the Holocene. Generation after generation experienced less than 1°C fluctuations in global average surface temperature. Through this predictability of seasonal weather patterns, the Earth’s previous tenants flourished into the complex and diverse civilisations we see today.
This is no longer the case: we have already passed 1.2°C warming above pre-industrial levels and are rapidly advancing to 1.5°C and beyond of warming.
Current generations are in the unique position of both knowing the damage we are causing to the Earth’s climate and having the ability to make changes to our emissions patterns before it is too late. We must shift our thinking to consider the very long-term impacts of our actions on the home of future generations.
The unique climate conditions of the last 10,000 years reinforce the need for intergenerational policymaking. Human well-being and the health of the Earth are fundamentally interconnected. By only considering our own short-term needs current government policy is undermining the conditions of a stable environment, economy and society for generations to come. IF research highlights that policymakers must better consider the impact that our decisions today will have in creating the home that the Earth’s future tenants will live in.
North Sea oil
IF’s report Rigged shows that the government’s policies favouring the oil and gas industry in the North Sea are short-sighted and ignore the long-term environmental and economic costs of new development. The UK’s oil and gas industry continues to receive billions of pounds in subsidies, tax breaks, and regulatory relief despite contributing significantly to carbon emissions.
By allowing companies to not pay upfront for the full cost of decommissioning their infrastructure the UK is passing a bill of £3,000 to each child. In addition to the costs of climate change, future generations are being left with the cleanup of the thousands of wells, pipelines and other toxic infrastructure crisscrossing the country.
Trains over planes
In addition to the government’s blatant disregard for the costs it is passing on to future generations, it is also failing to pick the low-hanging fruit that could reduce current emissions and therefore future climate damages. IF’s Trains over Planes report shows that we should follow France’s lead and ban domestic flights where an alternative rail journey of 4.5 hours or less exists. This would significantly reduce the 2.7Mt of CO2 released by domestic aviation in 2019. The report also highlighted that by transferring the significant government subsidies received by airlines to the rail companies, rail travel can be highly cost-competitive with air travel, while being seven times less emitting.
Despite this, the government continues to move in the wrong direction. This year it cut the only direct tax paid by the aviation sector (the Air Passenger Duty) by 50%.
IF’s research highlights that there remains significant work to be done to protect the environment for the Earth’s future tenants.
This Earth Day, IF, along with the Zero Hour Alliance is calling on the government to move the Ecology Bill past the third reading in the House of Lords and pass it into law. The UK Ecology Bill starts to recognise the fundamental interdependence between human society and the natural world. Without a healthy and functioning ecosystem, our own survival is at risk. The bill seeks to establish a framework with interim and long-term targets for protecting and restoring the natural systems that support our existence.
The UK Ecology Bill also acknowledges the need for long-term thinking and planning. The bill would require the government to consider the long-term implications of its actions and the interests of future generations. By increasing the participation of citizens in the environmental policy-making process the UK Ecology Bill is about building a more sustainable and just society that works for everyone.
By recognising our responsibility to future generations and taking action to protect the planet, we can create a better home for ourselves and the next set of tenants to live here on Earth.
Protecting our home every day
As we mark Earth Day 2023, it is clear that we have a long way to go to address the urgent environmental challenges facing our planet. This year’s event comes on the back of a global agreement to protect 30% of the earth’s surface by 2030, yet greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, and biodiversity loss continues to accelerate.
It is time that we use our resources to build a better home for all generations, instead of for fossil fuel infrastructure and air travel. This Earth Day, and every day, join IF in calling for the passing of the Ecology Bill and help build a better world for all generations.
Help us to be able to do more
Now that you’ve reached the end of the article, we want to thank you for being interested in IF’s work standing up for younger and future generations. We’re really proud of what we’ve achieved so far. And with your help we can do much more, so please consider helping to make IF more sustainable. You can do so by following this link: Donate.