Basic Changes Needed to Resolve Serious Environmental Problems Should Not Be Neglected

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There is increasing concern that the world is not on track to resolve climate change as well as about a dozen or so other serious, inter-related environmental problems that threaten to disrupt the life-nurturing conditions of our planet. Corrective actions should not be delayed much longer.

Most environmental problems arise in the process of creating certain goods and services. In order to reduce or resolve these problems, we can either reduce the goods and services being produced, or else we can change the way these are produced and distributed, or we can attempt both.

To take the former task first, it is obvious that a very large share of the goods and services that are produced do not have have any relation to the welfare of either human beings, or of other forms of life. These include highly harmful goods (such as all weapons and ammunition, many hazardous chemicals and gadgets, many kinds of intoxicants etc.) and highly wasteful goods (such as many high luxury products and buildings, excessively processed and packaged food, many kinds of animal-based foods etc.).

While the production of these goods and services was always undesirable, as long as environmental problems were not life-threatening, this was considered tolerable. But now that climate change and about a dozen environmental problems are at a stage where they threaten life-nurturing conditions of our planet, we should not delay any further the reduction of harmful and wasteful products. In this task we face the opposition, among others, of powerful business interests which needs to be overcome.

Possibilities of reduction of such harmful and wasteful products increase greatly with various people’s campaigns which must be an integral part of such efforts. People’s movements for protecting environment and health or for bringing peace can be very helpful in this. Educational institutions can contribute much to this, as also various community and spiritual organizations. Government policies including fiscal policies can play a very helpful role too.

At the same time, there are many goods and services which meet basic needs of poorer people which need to be increased. So this justice based concern should be added to environmental concerns. Hence on balance we must achieve such a significant reduction of harmful and wasteful products and services that even after accounting for the increase of some essential goods and services for the poorer sections, we still achieve a significant net reduction.

This is possible, and will be further helped by voluntary restraints on increase of population, facilitated by reduction of poverty, improvement of gender equality and better availability of education, health services and safe means of contraception, as well as public campaigns.

Apart from achieving a significant reduction of harmful and wasteful goods and services, the other possibility is of changing the methods of production, distribution and trade of most goods and services in such ways that the environmental burden is much reduced. The one method most discussed and accepted is that of replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy. While this is obviously very important, we also need to look at various other possibilities such as re-organizing the food and farming system in such a way that small farmers following ecologically protective methods become the base for this and most food is produced nearer to the place of consumption. Increasing emphasis on self-reliant rural communities can be another important component of this change.

Most of these changes are such that these will also advance the interests of justice, equality, sustainable livelihoods, peace, disarmament, biodiversity and animal welfare. In this framework, environment protection is not seen as a burden but as an arena of most creative and satisfying pursuits for human beings, well integrated with other highly desirable objectives.

This also calls for increasing cooperation among all human beings and among various countries, as well as for more and better planning. To give an example, as emphasized by this writer for several years, the world needs model-building to integrate the task/objective of reducing GHG emissions to the desirable extent with meeting the basic needs of all people of world. If such a task is attempted, it will bring out clearly how the challenge of checking climate change is very closely related also to equality, peace and disarmament.

However such a highly integrated and holistic approach to resolving environmental problems has been largely missing so far and it is very important to quickly move towards this, giving up reductionist and isolationist approaches, which cannot go very far on their own.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, Protecting Earth for Children, Earth without Borders and A Day in 2071.

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