Consuming Common Dreams with Care!

By Joystu Dutta, IUCN CEM Young Professional.

On March 24, 1989, Supertanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska. 11 million gallons of crude oil spilt up to 1,500 miles of shoreline. 500,000 birds of around 90 different species, including 150 bald eagles, 4,500 sea otters, 14 killer whales, salmon, herring, clams, mussels, seaweed was killed. The incident left an immeasurable toll on tourism and fishing industry.

From 1994 to early 2008, the region of Campania in south-west Italy existed under a formal State of Emergency, declared due to the saturation of regional waste treatment facilities. There is growing evidence, including a World Health Organisation (WHO) study of the region, that the accumulation of waste, illegal and legal, urban and industrial, has contaminated soil, water, and the air with a range of toxic pollutants including dioxins. A high correlation between incidences of cancer, respiratory illnesses, and genetic malformations and the presence of industrial and toxic waste landfills was also found. The Government has been unable to resolve this crisis, adopting measures that have only increased public unrest, exacerbating the conflict.

The case studies above, though they are strikingly different, they have a common thread of how our environment is facing a grim crisis and sustainability a question. Uneven consumption rates of the ever-increasing population across the world are taking a lethal toll on our natural resources and environment; in general.

Poverty and environmental degradation are closely interrelated. While poverty results in certain kinds of environmental stress, the primary cause of the continued deterioration of the global environment is the unsustainable pattern of consumption and production, particularly in industrialised countries, which is a matter of grave concern, aggravating poverty and imbalances.

The Human Development Report (1998) highlighted how today’s consumption is undermining the environmental resource base. It is exacerbating inequalities. And the dynamics of the consumption-poverty-inequality-environment nexus are accelerating. If the trends continue without change—not redistributing from high-income to low-income consumers, not shifting from polluting to cleaner goods and production technologies, not promoting products that empower poor producers, not shifting priority from consumption for a conspicuous display to meeting essential needs—today’s problems of consumption and human development will worsen.

Take, for example, the United States. With around 5 per cent of the world’s population, the US consumes about 40% of the world’s resources and emits approximately 21% of the world’s carbon dioxide, a greenhouse-causing gas. The United States, however, is not over-populated, but the consumption-based lifestyle does have its effects.

That is not to say that there are no problems in developing countries! In India, for example, Delhi is an excellent example of a growing city. However, with this development come serious growing pains, such as pollution and unsustainable resource management.

The United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and some other nations, show a higher per capita energy consumption (UAE being higher than the U.S.). However, the same World Bank report also points out that these are net exporters of energy—that is, they produce oil that is exported—and hence consumes far less domestically than the US and other wealthy nations that mainly purchase that oil.

The United States consumes more than anyone else does, followed by Germany and Japan and the Russian Federation. For example, one American consumes as much energy as 41 Bangladeshis as empirical studies show, even though the American population is just over twice as large as that of Bangladesh.

There, quoting from the UN population data on where most growth is in population, they say that, “Six countries account for half of this annual growth: India for 21 per cent; China for 12 per cent; Pakistan for 5 per cent; Nigeria for 4 per cent; Bangladesh for 4 per cent, and Indonesia for 3 per cent”. The report also mentions, “The United States, Japan, and other high-income countries, with 15 per cent of the world’s population, consume half of the world’s commercial energy.”

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need but not every man’s greed.”

The increasing rates of natural hazards, global warming, fluctuations in temperature and erratic monsoon pattern, food insecurity, water wars pose a unique question before mankind. It is time for us to be more responsible, more sustainable to ensure a better tomorrow for our progenies. The entire blue planet is linked by a common thread where we share similar natural resources and equations of life and sustenance. An acre of forest loss in Amazon can pose a threat to the existence of Kiribati islands in Pacific. Loss of a flagship species from the Himalayas can harm the species distribution across the world, in general. An oil spill incident in the Mediterranean sea does have a long term effect on the migratory bird populations across the globe, an episode of Tsunami in Japan can rock the small island countries spread across our planet.

Plastics and Microplastics have been a matter of grave concern for all of us. Habitual consumption of microplastics would wreak havoc on our biological systems for years to come, and we don’t have any clean-up strategy in place. A total ban on plastics and allied products would also take years.

Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and National Mission for Clean Ganga (a part of Namami Gange Programme) are two significant steps taken up by the Indian Government to ensure mass cleanup movement on a pan India scale. These movements have motivated the public on the right track on safeguarding the immediate environment.

Thus we have a common but differentiated responsibility, as earmarked in the Kyoto Protocol. Instead of hobnobbing in chaotic climatic debates and conferences yielding no promising consequences; we must be logical and sensible enough in allowing environment and development go hand in hand, not one at the cost of the other. Only then can we give wings to the ignited dreams of seven billion dreamers across the world.

I will end up with the immortal quote of Mahatma Gandhi;

The earth, the air, the land and the water are not an inheritance from our forefathers but on loan from our children. So we have to handover to them at least as it was handed over to us.

Mr Joystu Dutta is currently posted as an Assistant Professor with Department of Environmental Science, Sant Gahira Guru University, Chhattisgarh, India.

Disclaimer: Views expressed here are his own and have nothing to do with the organisations he is affiliated.

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