The world’s coral reefs are dying. Increasing ocean temperatures and rising pollution levels are causing mass bleaching events, where stressed corals eject the symbiotic algae that keeps them alive. Scientists have been monitoring coral reef health for years, and the prognosis is not looking good.
In order to solve a problem, we need to understand it. One of the biggest challenges we face in tackling issues like reef health is the sheer amount of data we need to gather to work out what state they’re in.
Until now this has been a slow process. It relies on scientists surveying vast areas of reef, noting what coral species are present and how much area they cover. Doing all of this by hand takes a really long time.
Here’s where it gets fun: we now have technology that can do the boring work for us.
Here’s where it gets less fun: in order for this technology to work, it first must learn how to do its job.
Here’s where it gets fun again: NASA have specialised fluid lensing cameras. These are able to photograph the ocean floor by removing the distortion caused by rippling water above. Since 2019 they’ve been used to map large areas of shallow water reef in Puerto Rico. These images now need to be analysed.
NASA’s supercomputer, Pleiades, is learning to recognise corals so the mapping process can be automatic. In order for Pleiades to learn how to accurately identify corals, NASA have released a new game called NeMO-Net. In the game, users travel the oceans aboard a research vessel called the Nautilus, locating and identifying corals. The sea floor in the game comes from images captured by fluid lensing cameras, and users will be identifying real, living corals.
The game is currently available on iOS devices via the App Store, and there’s a beta version for Windows devices here. NASA have also said they’re working on a release for Android.
We’re in a climate emergency. The Earth is dangerously close to its tipping point in terms of being able to come back from the damage humans are causing to our ecosystems. The devastating bushfires in Australia are merely a taste of what countries may face in the coming decades if we don’t take steps to lessen the damage we are causing to the planet.
The climate emergency is a borderless issue – its effects will not be limited to the countries that don’t take it seriously. Global efforts are necessary to combat this global problem, and change needs to happen at every level. Countries need to be working together, governments need to be putting policies in place for their own countries, businesses need to commit to sustainability, and individuals need to make changes to their lifestyle to lessen their impact on the planet.
We’re starting at the bottom, with a campaign to get as many people as possible trying low-impact living in 2020.
What is low-impact living?
A low-impact lifestyle, or low-impact living, is pretty much what it says on the tin. You try to reduce the impact your lifestyle has on the environment. It’s fundamentally “reduce, reuse, recycle”.
Reduce what you take from the environment and the waste you produce.
Reuse as much as possible
Recycle what you can’t use any more.
Nobody lives a completely impact-free life, and nobody should expect perfection. But your lifestyle choices may have more of an impact on the environment than you realise. You can check your personal environmental footprint here.
Why do I personally need to try low-impact living?
We’re doing OK at the moment. We’ve hit both our previous budgets and we’re likely to beat our target in this one. But we’re not going to hit the fourth target if we don’t make some major changes. The government has not put enough firm policies in place to reduce carbon emissions. Many of these policies involve changing the way individuals live their lives to reduce their impact on the environment. Everybody needs to get involved if we’re to have any hope of meeting our emissions targets.
We’re going to take a massive hit to our way of life if we don’t take more action now. The wildfires we’ve seen in recent years are just a fraction of what we can expect. More weather events like extended droughts will reduce the availability of food. Rising sea levels will flood low-lying coastal areas, forcing communities to surge inland. Sure, in the short term areas like the UK may see higher yields of food crops – but we don’t have the capacity to feed the parts of the world that would have been producing food had we not fried the Earth. And that period of productivity won’t last forever.
But you know all this. The question is: are you prepared to do something about it?
So how do I go low-impact?
It doesn’t have to be much to start with. Cut down on your plastic use, eat those leftovers instead of heading out for a meal, walk or take public transport rather than drive if you can. Nobody lives a truly impact-free lifestyle and it’s better to make small changes where you can than not doing anything at all.
Recycling products at the end of their life cycle rather than throwing them away.
Extending the lives of those products to reduce the amount of energy needed to process them.
Most of the things that we can do to achieve low-impact living are easy enough, and come with the added bonus of saving you money in the long term. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Buy your produce loose and take a reusable shopping bag with you. Less packaging means less plastic to throw away. You can also choose exactly how much of something to buy if you can get it loose.
Switch to bar soap over liquid soap. Bar soaps use far less packaging and waste far less product per use than liquid soaps. They aren’t always as convenient, but they last longer and smell just as good!
Ditch the single-use bathroom products. Makeup wipes and cotton pads for skincare products are things you might use every day. You can get reusable cloths and use your hands to apply your skincare and you’ll cut down on waste in a big way. If you’re prepared to take the extra step, reusable menstrual products are widely available and easy to use.
Buy your electronics secondhand. Got your eye on a new phone? Check sites like eBay and Gumtree to see if there’s one on there – all too often people buy one new, don’t like it and sell it on at a hefty discount. It’s true you won’t get to pay it off monthly, but you’ll pay less than full price and your contract will be cheaper if it’s SIM-only. Plus, you’ll save one perfectly usable device from ending up in landfill and avoid the extra packaging you’d be dealing with buying it new.
Own a reusable cup – and use it. Single-use plastics and paper are everywhere. And while paper cups actually have a lower carbon footprint than ceramic mugs or reusable cups on a per-use basis, they still create waste that goes into landfill or takes energy to recycle. You need to use a reusable plastic or metal cup 20 times before it becomes more environmentally friendly than a paper cup – but we’d guess students will have reached that number of coffees by about Wednesday of every week anyway.
Switch to an eco-friendly search engine like Ecosia. We’ve posted before about Ecosia, and we’re going to keep plugging them because of the reforestation work they do. The campaign Royal Holloway on Ecosia has more information in case you need persuading.
Take public transport where you can, or walk. Public transport is better than cars, Walking or cycling is better than public transport. Some places may not have the best infrastructure in place for getting around in not-a-car, but if it’s available to you, use it. Oh, and take the train for long-distance domestic travel instead of an internal flight. Please.
We’ll be posting regularly about how you can change your lifestyle to reduce your impact on the Earth, so keep an eye out. And let us know your favourite ways to go low-impact in the comments below, on Facebook, or Twitter!
Where: Boilerhouse Auditorium, Royal Holloway, University of London
The second of RHUL Climate Action’s seminars on the climate emergency, this one focuses on the practicalities of tackling climate change. From grassroots direct action to academic and institutional transformation – what is required to transition to a sustainable world? With speakers from Extinction Rebellion, the Planetary Health Alliance and the Citizens Climate Lobby.
Where: Boilerhouse Auditorium, Royal Holloway University of London
RHUL Climate Action are holding the first of their seminar sessions on the climate emergency. An introduction to the issue, it’s everything you need to know about the biggest threat of the 21st Century.
Reserve your seat here – tickets are free! You can also check out the event on Facebook and let them know you’re going.
The world has been devastated by the news of the recent Australian wildfires. The fires this year are much, much worse than in previous years and this is due to human-induced climate change.
Ecosia are using revenue from 100% of searches made on their engine today to go towards reforestation of an area in New South Wales. More details on the project can be found here. It takes less than a minute to switch to using Ecosia as a search engine, so if you’ve been considering switching today’s the day.
Remember, Royal Holloway students and staff should use this link to download Ecosia – this will count towards the Royal Holloway on Ecosia campaign and help keep track of how many trees Royal Holloway searches have helped to fund.