Sustainable environment: To avert disasters

Things have come to such a pass that most of the world needs to make a drastic U-turn and change its culture and lifestyle. The road we have taken now offers no redemption

United Nations Environment Program launched this initiative in 1972 and the world has been celebrating it since 1973 with the themes varying every year.

I find this year’s theme both meaningful and frightening. There is talk of a race. When do you do that? Only when there is a crisis, you have to put in your best as fast as possible to avert a calamity.

There is no time for casual and leisurely mental gymnastics. Sincere and concerted efforts are called for all around the planet if the human race has to survive – happily. The consequences of wanton violation of nature and depletion of our resources are already affecting us.

Increasing agriculture to feed our growing numbers has led to accumulation of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Haven’t we seen how 1998 was the warmest year on record and 10 extremely warm years on record have occurred since then?

Eminent computational scientist Stepehen Emmott, who is a professor at Microsoft Research, Cambridge, and also visiting professor at University of Oxford and University College London, has in his book ‘Ten Billion’ painted a rather grim scenario as it is likely to unravel over the coming decades with human population rising and our resources falling prey to our greed and the monster of consumerism.

Rejecting his findings out of hand could be not just stupid but suicidal. There is a legion of scientists making similar proclamations.

Perhaps, Prof. Emmott’s assertions would make more sense to us if we bother to take notice of the fact that three major initiatives to correct nature’s imbalance for well over two decades have been colossal failures.

I am referring to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to stabilize greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification to stop land degrading and becoming desert and the Convention on Biological Diversity which has the lofty goal of reducing the rate of biodiversity loss.

So what is Emmott’s case? This is what he wrote in 2013: “There are now more than 7 billion of us on Earth. As our numbers continue to grow, we continue to increase our need for far more water, far more food, far more land, far more transport and far more energy.

As a result, we are accelerating the rate at which we’re changing our climate.” And then he goes on to predict that the planet will be the house of nine billion humans by year 2050 and, “at least”, 10 billion by the year 2100.

Use of increasing landmasses for agriculture, processing and transportation in all its forms, leave alone the highly polluting industries churning out wanted and unwanted goods for a consumerist society, has resulted in global warming and adverse climate change.

The world is currently rocked by war and strife over non-renewable source of energy that is hydro-carbons or what are better known as petro-products. Will the next Great War be fought over water? One can imagine living without petrol and diesel. But a life without water?

Are we aware how our lifestyle is leading to enormous loss of “hidden water”? You may not believe but it is true that the creation of your favorite burger involves the use of 3,000 liters of water.

Emmott chips in: “Something like 14 billion burgers were consumed in the United States in 2012. That’s around 42 trillion liters of water… It takes around 9,000 liters of water to produce a chicken.

The UK alone consumed around one billion chickens in 2012. It takes around 27,000 liters of water to produce one kilogram of chocolate. That’s roughly 2,700 liters of water per bar of chocolate.

But I have bad news about pyjamas because I’m afraid your cotton pyjamas take 9,000 liters of water to produce.

The professor continues: “And – irony of ironies – it takes something like four liters of water to produce a one-liter plastic bottle of water. Last year UK alone bought, drank and threw away nine billion plastic water bottles.

That is 36 billion liters of water …wasted to produce bottles – for water. And it takes around 72,000 liters of water to produce one of the (semi conductor) ‘chips’ that typically powers your laptop, Sat Nav, phone, iPad and your car.

There were over two billion such chips produced in 2012. That is at least 145 trillion liters of water… In short, we’re consuming water, like food, at a rate that is completely unsustainable.”

But why are humans throttling themselves? The State of the World 2010 report squarely blamed our lifestyles driven by consumerism and greed.

Acquiring things beyond needs, creating monstrous concrete and steel structures without a thought about their actual need, impact on nature and sustainability are just some of the acts which are taking us towards the collapse of human civilization.

Consumerism was a creature of the affluent West. Unfortunately, the developing world has embraced this monster with great ardor and passion with its eyes shut.

We have replaced green with greed. Following the rich West, developing countries are now turning into major polluters of the world environment and ecosystems.

Things have come to such a pass that most of the world needs to make a drastic U turn and change its culture and lifestyle.The road we have taken now offers no redemption.

Chaudhary is a poet and writer.