TODAY -

Why environment control is so difficult

Dr Debapriya Mukherjee *



Last four decades we are hearing that many countries are concerned about the degradation of natural systems on which humanity relies and they promise to pursue sustainable development, protect biological diversity, prevent dangerous interference with climate system and conserve forest.

Most surprisingly the world has not become much more environmentally sustainable despite decades of international agreements, National policies, State laws and local plans. Now attempt has been made to answer the question- why environment solution is difficult.

Primarily environmental problems were scientific and technocratic in nature but now this problem has become practically problems of politics. The debate has become subsumed within broad philosophical and theological questions of ‘State versus market’ and ‘Science versus faith.’

Though human being is badly suffering due to degradation of natural system and its potential to bring serious negative consequences for all humanity is more well-known than ever before the debate about the future of its protection is now a divisive ‘hot-button’ campaign issue.

Being ‘green’ is equated to being ‘liberal,’ and ‘conservatives’ are expected to denounce ‘conservation’. Every major news magazine, television network, and newspaper has given pollution extensive coverage in recent months. Much of this coverage reminds my personal responsibility.

Every time I use my personal car instead of mass transport, the engine exhaust pollutes the atmosphere; the offshore oil wells and tankers that provide gasoline for the car pollute the water and beaches and destroy plant and animal life; the highways upon which I pass through, the car pollutes the scenery of our country and contributes to urban sprawl.

Every empty package I dispose of contributes to the problem; we are being engulfed in a sea of metal, glass, and plastic. My luxury life style such as use of air conditioner; big house, laundry washed dresses; consumption of public supply drinking water for bathing, flushing, gardening; staying in luxury hotel particularly in hill station and sea shore; travelling by flight and many more being maintained exploit the nature.

Our political leaders also focus this lifestyle as upliftment of the society without considering any adverse impact on environment and its serious consequences in the next 25 years. But I do not want to consider any threat in future for my style of living.

In this context it may be mentioned that I am always motivated to avoid threats. If I see any person who is suffering from Corona or any other contagious disease, I will take all precautions at any cost to protect myself. If I step into the street and see a bus bearing down on me, I jump back. If an unknown dog is growling outside my front door, I must stay inside.

Though we are motivated to avoid threats to our existence it is really very hard to act on climate change because it involves a combination of factors that make it hard for us to get motivated despite knowing the serious threat in future. We overvalue benefits in the short-term relative to benefits in the long term.

Our tendency is to overeat in the present, despite the problems of obesity and other diseases in the future. To manufacture the cheaper products, companies generally ignore to develop new processes to limit carbon emissions.

Governments also save money today by relying on methods for generating power that involve combustion rather than developing and improving sources of green energy, even those that are more cost-effective in the long run. So, ignoring climate change in the short term has benefits both to individuals and to organizations because many effects of climate change are distant from us.

People conceptualize things that are psychologically distant from them (in time, space, or social distance) more abstractly than things that are psychologically close.

Weather disasters that are probably a reflection of climate change (like wildfires or extreme storms), generally happen far away from the place where people like us are living. Thereby we simply treat it as an abstract concept that simply don’t motivate us to act as forcefully as specific ones do.

At present, actual situation is that humanity has overreached in its pursuit of affluence. We have altered more than 75% of the world’s ice-free land. Over half of the planet’s habitable surface is now used to produce food, with wildlands constituting less than 25% of Earth. In the last hundred years, 90% of large fish have been removed from the sea, with 63% of stocks overfished.

Greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions from industry, agriculture, and deforestation have increased significantly since 1970. Humanity’s ecological footprint has exceeded the Earth’s capacity and has risen to the point where 1.6 planets would be needed to provide resources sustainably. The biodiversity index has fallen by more than 50% as the population of other species continue to decline.

In addition to our personal responsibility, this can be attributed to political failures because Governments can’t or won’t implement effective policies. Large extractive industries, like mining, is the dominant player in an economy. This occurs in developed and developing countries, but the latter can face extra difficulties enforcing policies once they are put in place.

Now there is emergent need to initiate a serious discussion about values among the peers. The idea that options in the present are more valuable than options in the future is an evaluation. The word evaluation contains the word value in it - meaning it assumes a set of values.

If we choose to enrich our lives in the present at the cost of the quality of life of future generations, that is a choice of values that we rarely like to make explicitly. We have to be willing to look in the mirror and say that we are willing to live our lives selfishly, without regard to the lives of our children and grandchildren.

And if we are not willing to own that selfish value, then we have to make a change in our behaviour today.


* Dr Debapriya Mukherjee wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on April 25 2024.



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