Carbon Tunnel Vision

Sometimes you come across a term that perfectly sums up several related ideas you’ve been thinking about. This happened to me the other day when I saw @Unpop_Science mention “Carbon Tunnel Vision” on Twitter.

Carbon Tunnel Vision refers to the fact that, when discussing the benefits of measures that can help mitigate the worsening environmental crisis, many people focus narrowly on carbon (or other greenhouse gas) emissions. Of course, greenhouse gas emissions are an important factor. But they’re only one of many.

When it comes to the environment, many people miss the forest for the trees. In reality, the environmental crisis can be broken down into a series of interrelated crises that feed off each other. Of course, rising average temperatures are a well-known part of it.

Another is the biodiversity crisis. For example, the average size of wildlife populations is thought to have declined by 70% since 1970. This decline is largely driven by us, humans, taking away the land and ecosystems that wildlife needs to survive and thrive. Mostly because we eat too much meat and other animal products, which is a grossly inefficient way of producing food.

A third crisis to highlight is pollution. By being careless with resources, Homo sapiens causes pollution. This can be in the form of plastic discarded into rivers and oceans, the use of fertilizers in agriculture, or the many small particles released when we drive our cars (in addition to CO2, of course).

It’s paramount to understand that these and many other crises enforce each other in a vicious cycle. For example, when we convert a biodiverse piece of land into an agricultural field, we not only decimate hundreds of wildlife species with one stroke, but also decrease that land’s ability to bind and store carbon from the atmosphere. This, in turn, leads to more carbon in the atmosphere and contributes to global warming. Rising average temperatures then negatively influences ecosystems, contributing to the extinction of whole species. Rinse and repeat.

We live in an interconnected world with many different animal and plant species. Let’s continue to strive to reduce our carbon emissions, but also remember that transitioning to a sustainable world is much, much more than that.