Climate change mitigation and adaptation are two of the most important challenges before humanity. These as well as a number of other serious environmental problems taken together now threaten to disrupt the basic life-nurturing conditions of our planet.
What is the path forward to effectively check climate change in such a way that other related serious environmental problems are also checked? Before coming to this, let us first remove two serious misconceptions. Often this is represented as a very burdensome talk. This should instead be seen as a highly creative task which also gives an opportunity of correcting other serious distortions of our life-patterns, our society and economy. Secondly, it is wrong to monetize the entire issue. Some experts were recently quoted as saying that the world will lead investments of around 200 trillion dollars to check climate change. This kind of statements makes this an issue for those who have massive money, and alienates people from their own important role in the solutions, although in reality it is the role of the people, when properly mobilized, which is the most important part of the solution.
Having cleared these misconceptions, let us look at the way forward.
Firstly, we must try as much as possible to create a future without wars. Weapons of mass destruction should be eliminated entirely while all other weapons should be reduced by 90% or more. All those in military service will continue to retain their jobs and salaries but over 90% of them will be diverted to services dealing with ecological regeneration, disaster protection and rescue, afforestation etc., thereby making available massive human-power for tasks of ecological regeneration and disaster prevention. Wars and weapons and all the associated resource-use, activities and destruction account for massive ecological ruin and GHG emissions which can be reduced by over 90% very quickly.
Secondly, there should be increasing emphasis on rural settlements rather than urban ones, with high emphasis on green rural areas and rural communities which are increasingly self-reliant in meeting their needs within villages, with minimal outside inputs and with special emphasis on minimal fossil fuels. This should not be confused with imposing any austerity but should be instead seen in terms of encouragement of greater creativity for obtaining very satisfactory life-patterns, with more financial resources being made available for this and more respect being accorded to rural communities. The high creativity of their efforts will certainly include agro-ecology, renewable energy, soil and water conservation along with afforestation which tries to mimic local natural forests. Rural life, when based on strong community ties, is much more conducive for such efforts, and with more resources being devoted for this, the future worldwide trend should move back towards rural areas.
This, however, is not to understate the huge potential that also exists for greening our cities and changing urban infra-structure, housing, facilities and life-patterns in such ways that GHG emissions and other ecological harm would be considerably reduced while at the same time adaptation to climate change will improve too. Making big improvements and reducing emissions is possible by innovative changes in waste-management, transport, shifting towards renewable energy, greening para-urban areas in particular and protecting water-bodies. Big improvements in public transport as well as reducing need for daily long travel for employment can contribute much to reducing GHG emissions as well as to increasing convenience of people.
Fourthly, food and farming system has a lot of scope for reducing greenhouse emissions by adopting agro-ecology, which can reduce massive use of fossil fuels in terms of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and diesel. Agro ecology, soil and water conservation, mixed farming, integrating crops and trees, suitable crop rotations can all contribute to significant absorption of carbon dioxide, apart from increased and sustainable production of healthy food and other ecological benefits. Small farmer and farm family systems should be encouraged for such farming. Food miles should be reduced. Consumptions of alcohol, tobacco and all intoxicants and unhealthy food should be minimized, using campaigns that combine health and ecology based messages. Consumption of meat, dairy products, edible oil, additives, sugar and snacks in excessive and harmful ways should be avoided or reduced. Use of junk foods should be avoided. Local small-scale food processing should be reduced. Corporate interests should not be allowed a dominating role in food and farming systems.
There should be a lot of emphasis on afforestation, with the main emphasis on growing mixed species forests of indigenous trees and plants which seek to mimic local natural forests to the extent possible. This work should be taken up with the close involvement of villagers, with their sustainable livelihoods linked to this also.
Sixth, in science and technology there should be very high prioritization of reducing GHG emissions and fossil fuel use, energy conservation and various aspects of reducing environmental harm. Such inventions and innovations as are important for saving life on earth should be available free everywhere without the restriction and expense of patents and royalties, while scientists get rewarded from a special fund.
Seventh, economic should discourage fossil fuels, promote renewable energy, discourage luxurious and wasteful consumption using a system of subsidies and taxes in which climate change and environment get a lot of importance.
Planning at national and world level should prioritize production of goods and services which meet the basic needs of all while the production of weapons, harmful goods and services, high luxury goods and services should be discouraged in various ways such as heavy taxation and even bans in the case of some of the most harmful goods like dangerous weapons. The concept of the limited carbon space and resources being used first and foremost to meet the basic needs of all people should be emphasized.
Adaptation to climate change, protection from disasters and improving resilience of communities should receive much greater attention. There should be more emphasis on the protection of more vulnerable people and areas.
There should be much higher emphasis on improving social relationships, with the aim of improving solidarity among people, giving a greater sense of togetherness and cooperation for tasks of social importance. From family to community, social relationships should improve and be strengthened. While the basic unit of a small family should be emphasized (with encouragement provided to the small family norm), people with or without families can be encouraged (but never forced) to get together more frequently at community level for social tasks which improve welfare and sustainability for all.
There is need for significantly changing and improving the existing dominant value system which favors individualism, narrow careerism, monetary aspects, consumerism, instant gratification and shorter-term considerations. Instead values relating to the common good of all, environment protection and sustainability, social harmony and community life, helping weaker and more vulnerable people should be strengthened. The value system should be broadly based on a strong sense of justice, equality, peace, environment protection and concern for all forms of life. Such values can be strengthened at the level of educational institutions, family and community.
Taken together, these eleven ways will very substantially reduce GHG emissions and also help in huge absorption of carbon dioxide, but in addition these will also help to reduce many other environmental problems, apart from contributing significantly to creating a much happier and more creative world.
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.