Take on Nature: Time for a sea change in how we treat the planet and natural environment

According to Greenpeace around 12.7 million tonnes of plastic are dumped into the world’s seas and oceans every year

WINDY days bring churning seas – picturesque and an aural symphony as the waves crash on to a sandy shore.

However, turbulent waters can also be unforgiving judges on us as they will often throw back evidence of our mistreatment of our environment. Among the fishing crates, ropes and battered lobster creels, car tyres, domestic and industrial waste are hurled from the depths to embed themselves on a sandy beach.

According to Greenpeace around 12.7 million tonnes of plastic are dumped into the world's seas and oceans every year – everything from plastic bottles and bags to microbeads.

Environmental campaigners say: “Our oceans are slowly turning into a plastic soup and the effects on ocean life are chilling. Big pieces of plastic are choking and entangling turtles and seabirds and tiny pieces are clogging the stomachs of creatures who mistake it for food, from tiny zooplankton to whales.

“Plastic is now entering every level of the ocean food chain and even ending up in the seafood on our plates.”

It is stark and visually verifiable evidence of humanity's impact on the wider environment, something which is tangible and quantifiable and not as easy to pretend isn't happening.

All too often we hear voices dismissing environmental concerns and pretend they are issues that don't really impact on us.

Climate change gets a lot of airtime, but it is clear that some very influential people on our planet prefer to pretend it isn't an issue or else ignore it in the interest of short-term and flawed economics.

Not that long ago, in terms of geological time, just over 13,000 years ago, Ireland was buried under several kilometers of ice and snow. At other times in its history it has been a desert.

However, the latest rise in global temperatures began at the same time as the Industrial Revolution and over the past 200 years or so have been rising steadily. Accordinng to Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies the average global temperature on Earth has increased by about 0.8° Celsius since 1880. Two-thirds of the warming has occurred since 1975, at a rate of roughly 0.15-0.20°C per decade.

The report continues: “Global temperature mainly depends on how much energy the planet receives from the Sun and how much it radiates back into space – quantities that change very little.

“The amount of energy radiated by the Earth depends significantly on the chemical composition of the atmosphere, particularly the amount of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

“A one-degree global change is significant because it takes a vast amount of heat to warm all the oceans, atmosphere, and land by that much. In the past, a one to two-degree drop was all it took to plunge the Earth into the Little Ice Age.”

Given that Nasa is a US government-funded agency it can hardly be accused of pandering to the agenda of wooly-jumper-wearing herbivores with bad haircuts.

It has been suggested that the recent superstorms in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean have been the result of higher surface temperatures on our oceans and seas. Hurricanes are not new but the ferocity of Irma and Harvey has made them among the worst on record.

Last month's floods in Donegal and parts of Derry were not on the same scale, but no less devastating for those whose homes and livelihoods were destroyed or damaged. Again the amount of rainfall in just a few hours was among the highest ever seen in Ireland.

When pollution in our seas and oceans is destroying our food chain and global temperature rises are impacting on our weather patterns, it is clearly time for a sea change in how we treat the planet and address our impact on the environmental conditions that allowed us to evolve and thrive in the first place.

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