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Time for politicians to get real about the anthropocene

Time for politicians to get real about the anthropocene

Hurricane Maria wreaks havoc in Puerto Rico.

We are currently living through an era of global environmental collapse. Resources are being consumed at around 1.5 times the Earth’s ability to regenerate them. The continued reliance on carbon to power our economies means that we are highly unlikely to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, increasing the chance of severe climate disruption. Meanwhile, the global food system has destroyed a third of all arable land and, at current rates, global top soil degradation means that there may only be 60 global harvests left. Ours is the age of the sixth mass extinction – the last being the dinosaurs – with nearly two-thirds of all vertebral life having died since the 1970s.

In all, human activity has pushed environmental systems into ‘unsafe’ operating spaces, threatening the conditions upon which life can occur and societies flourish. This has led scientist to suggest we live in a new age, the ‘Anthropocence’, in which humans are the decisive, destructive influence on the natural world. We have irrevocably changed our planet, ultimately threatening its ability to support life as we know it. This is the context in which MPs voted to approve Heathrow’s third runway. It seems that the short lived cycles of electoral politics means that politicians chase short-term goals, rather than tackling problems such as climate change which require long-term, global thinking. The test of a capable politician in 2018 is whether they take a stand against cavalier resource extraction.

Most obviously, a third runway places our climate change obligations under severe threat. Every nation on earth has an obligation to avert planetary crisis by reducing carbon emissions, a responsibility enshrined in the Paris Agreement.

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