Time for Priority Shift
By Tapan Chatterjee
In a broader sense the concept of sustainability describes the use of a regenerative system, in a way that allows this system to keep its basic characteristics and naturally renew itself. Unfortunately, most of us are living beyond our means. In fact, most of the world lives beyond its means. It is high time to pay attention to our consumption and life style pattern and become conscious about sustainability. Some reckon that if we continue this way, we may need a new planet by 2030!
In the 70’s we were mostly concerned about forest decimation, waste generation and chemical contamination of our air, water and soil. Those seem like good old days now. The mind boggles at the magnitude of problems currently – breaking of polar ice-caps, acidification of the seas,rising sea levels, extreme weather patterns and accelerated species extinction, to name just a few.
Yet, as the quest for technological advances continue unabatedly, more complex problems will surely surface. Some of these are posing real threats – such as genetic engineering, fuel extraction from shale, tar-sands and fracking wells. Other technologies like nano-technology may seem benign now, but are potentially dangerous. Regrettably, it is our nature to deal with problems by sweeping them under the rug, where they will accumulate and fester.
In the recent new round of global climate negotiations, the UN’s Climate Chief raised “heightened sense of urgency” on the current projection of carbon-dioxide concentration, which is soon expected to shoot above 400 parts per million (ppm). Climate scientists have long warned that the level must be limited to 350 ppm (max) if we want to contain a predicted global temperature rise of 2°C viz. the tipping point, where many changes to the Earth’s system will be catastrophically irreversible.
It seems very doubtful, however, how the current UN process can reverse this situation, since the only substantial result achieved over past two decades is the “carbon off-setting and trading mechanisms” to help richer countries and dirty industries to meet their emission reduction requirements. Alas, the flop of carbon prices world-wide and the EU Emissions Trading system ( EU ETS), currently the biggest carbon trading scheme in the world are more than a strong indicator that market mechanism is not a genuine solution.
Today’s market -oriented economy views everything as objects to be commodified, privatised and traded for accumulation of wealth. Eventually this system gives privileges to the socio-economically advantaged at the expense of others. However, human life and nature cannot be priced and traded!
Unfortunately, the priority of almost all governments is economic expansion, inspite of the looming threats of climate change, which will end-up harming the poorest people the most. This is indeed a shame. Despite the doom and gloom, it is perhaps not too much to hope that before the next crisis hits we will have learned enough to realise that there is nothing more important for humankind than keeping the Earth as a place that is fit for all to live in.
Therefore, humanity needs fundamental shifts in the paradigm of development in order to re-design our way of life in accordance with the real capacity of the Earth. In this regard, to re-define our “well being” in harmony with Nature and fellow humans is the only path worth contemplating.
** The article is based on the introductory speech made by Tapan Chatterjee, Consultant, MIT Universal Solutions, Bangkok, during the panel discussion on “Creativity & Innovations in Business For a Greener Planet” at the Asian Tyre and Rubber Conference (ATRC 2013) organised by Polymers & Tyre Asia