Growing up we are constantly reminded by our parents to eat our fruits and vegetables, drink water, and go to bed early. These habits are soon forgotten. Many individuals throughout the world lead extremely unhealthy lifestyles, consuming excessive amounts of sugary foods, alcoholic and fizzy drinks, and developing bad habits including a lack of exercise and smoking. Many of these people end up having serious health problems, including diseases, heart attacks, and other complications. For lucky individuals this is just a scare, and one which shocks them into changing their habits. My great grandfather did exactly that.
My great grandfather, Joao Infante, who I never got the chance to meet, was an ice-cream salesman. He was an incredibly kind and positive person, and his title of ‘salesman’ was used loosely. If a child were short of money or had no money at all, he would make sure that they still got an ice-cream. Because of this, he was loved throughout his community. Joao enjoyed 1920 Aguardente which is a strong alcoholic drink. The name Aguadente translates to “firewater” in English. At the age of 59, he was told by his doctor that he had cirrhosis of the liver. The doctor said he had only a few months to live, and so there would be no point for him to stop drinking.
Devastated by the news, Joao went to see a specialist. My great aunt Delores Infante tells me of that interaction. She sat with Joao and the specialist told him that every drink he had was equivalent to him putting another nail in his coffin. Stunned by the statement, Joao decided that from that day he would never drink alcohol again and that he would lead a healthy lifestyle. To pass his craving he would put a few drops of 1920 on his hands and just smell it. He went on to live another 11 years. In the end, Joao did not pass away from liver problems as his liver had recovered.
Humans are not only responsible for their own personal wellbeing and health. We are also increasingly influencing the earth’s climate and biosphere by burning fossil fuels, cutting down rainforests, draining wetlands and polluting oceans and rivers. Scientists have continually warned against these poor habits that promote climate change and biodiversity loss, which may hinder a sustainable future for life on the planet. We can relate that to a doctor telling their patient: ‘You ARE going to have a heart attack’. We would assume that, naturally, the individual would make some serious changes to their lifestyle to avoid this.
So, why is it that scientists are warning us constantly about the imminent demise of ecosystems, yet we see little collective change? Perhaps we do not believe our scientists as much as we do our doctors. Are we the patient that has been warned and continues to live with bad habits? Or do we need the global equivalent of a heart attack to change our behaviour?
The COVID-19 pandemic has been referred to the earth’s heart attack moment/scare. Ironically, a study suggests that global warming may have indirectly contributed to the coronavirus itself. More people working from home due to the pandemic may mean less air pollution, but this is projected not to make a significant long-term improvement. Climate scientists state that the global pandemic has actually placed less importance on climate change mitigation and more importance on the public health crisis and economic losses.
The climate crisis is not just about global warming, in recent weeks large areas across Europe and North America have had record-setting snowstorms. The US state of Texas experienced record low temperatures, the states water and power supply were not ready for the freezing conditions leaving communities without power and water for days. Reports of at least 58 people had died in storm areas due to hypothermia, house fires, car accidents on snow-covered roads or poisoned by carbon monoxide emitted by vehicles or generators in closed spaces.
Such devastating disasters call for global change. It is up to each and every individual to come together to live a more sustainable and less impactful life. As Michael Jackson’s famous song says: ‘I’m starting with the man/woman in the mirror’. It is too easy to look to others, look to government or big organisations for positive change, it starts with you. You might be saying: ‘climate change will not affect me, why should I care?’ Maybe not right now, maybe not in five years, but your children will definitely experience climate change in its full force, and they will not be happy about it.