Homes burnt to the ground. Widespread disease. Mothers left without a safe place to birth their children. Deadly chemicals. Heatwaves. Devastation. Innocent lives lost.
Do I have your attention yet?
If I told you I was talking about our earth’s oceans, rainforests and the Arctic, would you still care? Ecosystems like these have survived and thrived for millions of years; yet, in our small existence as humans, we've successfully managed to run them into the ground. The very things that give us the air we breathe and the food on our plates. Protection from the elements and protection from ourselves. Without them we are nothing. I've seen first-hand the direct results of human behaviour on our environment, and it terrifies me for the future.
I’m currently working in Belize in a small town called Caye Caulker as part of a marine conservation group, and over these last three months I've developed a huge attachment to the island and all of its wildlife. As we drive our boat past the mangroves each morning, I think of the all the babies sheltered by their roots; the gasses retained in their branches; and the land surrounding them that's held together by their immense supporting structures.
Returning to base last night, I saw smoke rising from the treetops and my heart sank. Yet another development site on the north island. Large expanses of mangroves incinerated and seagrass meadows ripped up by dredges - all to make room for more condos, marinas and tourist attractions.
But it doesn't stop there. When you take a deep breath and look below the surface the conditions are just as bad. Picture the feeling you got the first time you snorkeled around a coral reef. The vibrant colours, the abundance of fish and the thriving corals, stretching as far as the eye could see. Now picture a barren landscape with no colour, no life and no coral. That is the reality today.
I’m lucky enough to work in a place where most of our reef is still healthy (unlike many others), but I still catch glimpses of disease and decay that remind me it's only a matter of time. The water temperatures are rising, the acidity levels are increasing, and humans are constantly releasing huge amounts of chemicals and waste products into the oceans. Our ecosystems work together in a symbiotic relationship - if one is affected, they are all affected. I see the destruction in front of me eyes and I think when will it be enough? When there are no fish in our oceans? When there is simply nothing more to take?
Day after day we pump a staggering amount of CO2 into our atmosphere whilst simultaneously killing the plants that absorb this carbon dioxide and keep us safe. We use and consume products containing reef-harming chemicals, and ingredients grown through the mass clearing of land once teeming with life. We continue to support companies and figures whose only priority is financial gain no matter what destruction is left in their wake.
And why? Because we are a world fueled by excess, greed and ignorance. The human race as a whole need to understand that this planet is not a given right. The eco systems are not ours to eradicate and the lives and habitats of the worlds species are not ours to take away.
Through all this gloom I find hope in the people around me. People who dedicate their lives to fight for change. As individuals, we often think our actions have no real impact, but these actions when carried out by many make huge differences.
Recently, I've seen a huge change, especially in the younger generation. More people speaking up and discussing environmental issues, making conscious efforts to change their habits for benefit of the planet. I guess in some ways it's become a trend on social media to be environmentally aware, posting pictures using hashtags like #savetheturtles and #saynotoplastic. But it's what we do behind the screen, in our daily lives, that matters the most. We need to start caring more, even if it's not what's most convenient for us at that moment in time. Then we need to continue to care, as well as educate others, spread awareness and push our governments and people in power to make changes on a bigger scale. Together we are powerful. So open your eyes, inform yourself, raise your voices and take a stand. Before it's too late...
Because what is a world without reefs? A world without trees? Or a world without ice?