Unequal and Unsustainable Life Patterns A Very Important Yet Neglected Cause of Environment Ruin and Climate Change

Wealth Inequality

Economic and social inequalities have historically been a very important aspect of injustice, but in addition these have also resulted in some other important distortions which are not so well recognized. At a certain level of utilization of resources, these resulted in the privileged people grabbing a big share to create a life of excess comfort, luxury and property for themselves which unfortunately became a source of attraction for others. Hence what was actually non-viable and wasteful in ecological terms became the desirable norm in unequal societies.

With the rapid spread of colonialism, the life-style of the colonial masters was widely emulated among the elite of their colonies. This created an artificial construct of what constitutes the desirable life pattern, something not based on real needs or rationality but instead on copying and emulation of what is achieved by injustice and what is wasteful.

Having got used to a life-pattern which is achievable only by a minority if it corners an excessive share of resources, the world’s elites have been bent on ensuring that they can always access this or an even more affluent life. They also create an attractive role-model of a life-pattern to which others aspire. This is accepted almost worldwide as the life-pattern to which all newly rich persons must aspire. Such thinking instigates those aspects of human behavior which are based on greed, selfishness and aggression. When such attitudes of many elites are added together these can lead to big resource grabs and even wars needed for this. Hence a life-pattern which was historically made possible by injustice and which is inherently wasteful and ecologically destructive, being based on a cornering of an unjustly high share of resources, has been accepted almost worldwide as the most desirable life-pattern by an overwhelming majority of people. Even those seeking change try to attract followers by promising a somewhat similar life-pattern to those who cannot yet access this, thereby neglecting the ecological constraint or the constraint of various planetary boundaries.

Most aspects of the environmental crisis are rooted in unjust, unequal, wasteful and non-sustainable life patterns of a significant number of people but this aspect is often not discussed while discussing solutions. Hence only half-solutions get discussed generally. Take for example the crisis of climate change. Scientists and activists are absolutely right in linking this closely to fossil fuels and in asking for a timely transition away from fossil fuels and ultimately a phase-out of fossil fuels. The problem arises when they do not go beyond this to ask for even more basic changes in highly distorted human life-patterns and the distorted value systems which support such life patterns. Without changing such life-patterns and value systems getting rid of fossil fuels will be very difficult and may involve hurriedly making certain changes which may be prove to be no less hazardous in their combined impact.

This is why this writer has persistently argued that climate change and nearly a dozen other serious environmental problems should not be seen in isolation. Instead we need holistic efforts in which all the leading environmental problems, which together constitute a very serious threat to life-nurturing conditions of our planet, should be resolved together within a framework of justice, equality, peace and democracy. This means that the most important issues like disarmament, getting rid of weapons of mass destruction, a future without wars, increasing equality, ensuring basic needs and dignity of all people are all considered together with a plan for resolving the most serious environmental problems. All these issues are closely related to each other and the path of wisdom which would enable us to resolve the most serious problems before it is too late lies in working out solutions in ways in which solution of one problem links with the solution of other problems too, instead of allowing these to conflict with each other. This would very necessarily involve challenging the existing life patterns and desirable life patterns and replacing these with alternatives which may involve less use of material goods yet may be able to increase human happiness, satisfaction and safety in more meaningful ways, apart from creating a safer world for other forms of life. This is the most relevant task which should not be delayed any further, it has already been delayed for too long.

The formidable intellectual resources of present-day world have unfortunately been employed in highly segregated ways, so that while we have a wealth of suggestions and plans for segregated solutions, we do not have well-integrated and holistic plans and programs for resolving all the most important problems together in various ways which are supportive of each other. This is the most important task which awaits human ingenuity and wisdom.

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

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