Modern man has had such a dramatic impact on our environment, accelerating since the 1950s, that we have brought an end to the climatically stable Holocene period which lasted 12,000 years,i and created a new human-influenced Anthropocene epoch.
In the 250 years since the industrial revolution, human activity has pumped half a trillion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. At current rates, it will take only 40 more years to burn the next half trillion. Scientists warn that we must hold below the one trillion tonne threshold if we are to keep global warming beneath two degrees.ii
So what can we do? Well, nature offers us an abundance of solutions to global warming. Yet not enough individuals, governments, businesses or organisations have realised or embraced this fertile and rich opportunity.
Mankind’s dominance over the environment has caused the planet to become totally out of kilter with itself. It feels fitting that we look to nature’s own solutions to return the earth to a more balanced and natural state.
A crippling ailment that we seem too busy to treat
Awareness of the scale of our Climate Change predicament has grown in recent decades. The Paris Climate Agreement of 2015, known more formally as COP 21, miraculously brought together 197 nations to unite behind a shared goal of keeping global warming below 2 degrees, or better still 1.5 degrees.
More recently in 2018, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made global headlines, warning that we have just 12 years left to keep within the 1.5 degree goal. The world really is standing on a burning platform of global warming.
Still action on climate change remains sloth-like. Why are we prepared to put up with this when we know that global warming is the greatest challenge facing our modern lives?
Perhaps the answer lies in our own self-interest? 80% of our global carbon dioxide emissions come from burning fossil fuels for energy, industry and transport.iii The lead causes of global warming sit at the very heart of our modern lifestyles. Fighting climate change requires effort, adjustment and compromise, on all our parts. But we’re all mega busy, caught on the hamster wheel of life. Right?
How nice would it be if there was a step-change solution available to help reduce greenhouse gases which was easily accessible and had a whole load of other benefits too…
The forgotten solution: plant power
One of the most accessible and simple solutions to reducing greenhouse gases sits right outside our front doors: Nature. Plants could account for an incredible 25% of UK emission cuts required to hit the goal of zero carbon emissions by 2050.iv Talk about the power of plants!
Restoring habitats such as grasslands and bogs and planting new forests can help mitigate global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting and increasing carbon stores. The UK has the lowest rate of forest cover in Europe at just 13%, compared to France’s 37%, Germany’s 32% and Sweden’s stronghold of 67%.v The UK must take action to strengthen its natural defences against climate change.
The Doomsday Book of 1067 documents England as having 15% forest and woodland coverage. Yet by the end of World War 1, this had dipped to just 5%. Concerted efforts since the 1940s have doubled English forest to 10% coverage.vi We need to go even further.
Planting on just 2% of the UK’s land would absorb the emissions of every vehicle in the UK and would have the same impact as three-quarters of the UK switching to a vegan diet.vii This scale of action necessitates central government leadership. A Seventh Generation Survey in 2018 found that an impressive 1 in 2 Brits are prepared to pay more tax to help support plants in combatting climate change. We must make government see that nature is no-longer the forgotten solution to climate change.
What we are doing
Since 1988, Seventh Generation has been fuelled by the power of plants. We have worked tirelessly to ensure our products maximise plant power and minimise environmental impact.
Now we want to ensure plants are at the heart of a climate change revolution. We want plants to play a key role in propelling action on global warming from sloth-like to racing cheetah. Our planet deserves nothing less. We must support nature in becoming her own greatest healer.
In 2018 we launched the Yes Plants Can Campaign, calling on the UK government to unleash the power of plants in the fight against climate change.
With the launch of the 25 year Green Future Environment Plan in January 2018, the UK Government committed to create and restore 500,000 hectares of specie rich habitat by 2043. Already they have fallen behind. The Yes Plants Can Campaign calls on government to set out a clear and targeted roadmap supported by strong investment so that no more time is lost in unleashing nature’s fight against global warming.
We won’t stop there. Plants have even more potential than the government’s plan will realise. Increasing UK forest coverage to 18% is wholly realistic and Seventh Generation’s longer-term ambition. This would deliver 25% of the required cuts in emissions to hit zero carbon emissions by 2050.
We will continue to fund critical agroforestry through our self-imposed carbon tax. Since 2015 we have been using the Seventh Generation carbon tax to help offset 100% of the carbon emissions we create through employee commuting, keeping our offices open and through manufacturing and product distribution.
What you can do
Here are a few thought starters for how you could help plants be the natural solution to climate change:
Check out Nature4Climate – a coalition of organisations, businesses and governments bound together to drive action on natural climate solutions. Follow their campaign for the #ForgottenSolution on social media.
By 2015, almost a third of British front gardens had no green in them at all – a 300% increase in just 10 years.viii What opportunities do you have to, as the Royal Horticultural Society has termed it, ‘Green Grey Britain’? Given 90% of the UK now live in urban areas, this could make a real difference.ix Adding more plants into your life is good for physical and mental well-being, as well as helping fight global warming.
Commit to going peat-free in your garden and spreading the word. Despite a government commitment to phase out peat use in gardens by 2020, peat extraction for gardening in the UK continues to grow. This is devastating our peatland and has serious implications for climate change. A loss of only 5% of UK peatland carbon would be equal to the UK’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. So buy peat-free compost and potted plants and talk to your local retailers about more peat-free choices*.
We couldn’t miss the opportunity to remind you to sign the Yes Plants Can petition at, calling on the government to meet its commitment to create or restore 500,000 hectares of plant cover for the next generation.
Fight to save our Greenbelts. A satellite survey by a research team from the University of Leicester found that in just 6 years (2006-2012) a green space twice the size of Liverpool has been converted into artificial surfaces, mostly housing. This trend has been traced back to at least 1990. The trend is not expected to abate with continued housing pressures.xi
If you have concerns for your local Greenbelt, why not talk to your MP to find out what more can be done?
Protect your neighbourhood trees., who have planted over 800,000 trees in the UK so far, is a good place to start.
xii Each year London’s trees remove 2.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, dust and other gaseous toxins from the air. Would you go as far as the 50 tree campaigners who, in 2016, bravely blockaded tree-felling operators to prevent them beginning a programme to remove 6,000 Sheffield trees?
Share and inspire others with a love of all things plant. The more plants the better as far as we are concerned, whether that’s in fields, bogs, gardens, forests, parks, gardens or in the home. Help spread plant power. #plantlife #loveplants #plantsofinstagram #plantlover #instaplant #havethisthingwithplants #urbangarden #plantsmakemehappy
As well as promoting plants as a natural solution to climate change, don’t forget the other tools you have at your disposal to help fight global warming, like reducing road mileage, switching to renewable energy, making fossil-free lifestyle choices, reducing energy consumption and eating less red meat.
Nature must be our first defence for the next Seven Generations
Climate change remains the greatest challenge of our era. We really would be daft not to utilise nature’s own solutions to fight it. We have a huge challenge ahead of us to reach zero carbon emissions by 2050 and keep global warming within 1.5 degrees, but with mother nature on our side everything’s possible.
[i] University of California Museum of Paleontology (no date) The Holocene Epoch. Available at: http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/quaternary/holocene.php (Accessed: 29 November 2018)
[ii] David Adam / The Guardian (2009) Climate countdown: Half a trillion tonnes of carbon left to burn. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2009/apr/29/fossil-fuels-trillion-tonnes-burned (Accessed: 29 November 2018)
[iii] Mark Maslin (2018) White paper: Yes Plants Can - The Power of Plants to Deal with Climate Change. (Accessed: 3 December 2018)
[iv] Mark Maslin (2018) White paper: Yes Plants Can - The Power of Plants to Deal with Climate Change. (Accessed: 3 December 2018)
[v] Mark Maslin (2018) White paper: Yes Plants Can - The Power of Plants to Deal with Climate Change. (Accessed: 3 December 2018)
[vi] Mark Maslin (2018) White paper: Yes Plants Can - The Power of Plants to Deal with Climate Change. (Accessed: 3 December 2018)
[vii] Mark Maslin (2018) White paper: Yes Plants Can - The Power of Plants to Deal with Climate Change. (Accessed: 3 December 2018)
[viii] Royal Horticultural Society (2015) Why we all need Greening Grey Britain. Available at: https://www.rhs.org.uk/communities/pdf/Greener-Streets/greening-grey-britain-report.pdf (Accessed: 29 November 2018)
[ix] The Guardian (2016) Percentage of global population living in cities, by continent. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2009/aug/18/percentage-population-living-cities (Accessed: 3 December 2018)
[x] Planlife (no date) Why we need to keep peat in the ground – and out of our gardens. Available at: https://www.plantlife.org.uk/uk/our-work/campaigning-change/why-we-need-to-keep-peat-in-the-ground-and-out-of-our-gardens (Accessed: 17 December 2018)
[xi] Karl Mathiesen / The Guardian (2015) How and where did UK lose city-sized area of green space in just six years? Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jul/02/how-where-did-uk-lose-green-space-bigger-than-a-city-six-years (Accessed: 3 December 2018)
[xii] Trees For Cities (2018) Breathing Life Into Your Neighbourhood. Available at: https://www.treesforcities.org/ (Accessed: 3 December 2018)