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The human society is confronted with an abundance of choices regarding the quality of life and the state of global environment. Each of these choices will help determine the state of the world the future generation will live in. (Kofi Annan-U.N. Secretary General) One possibility is that we will manoeuvre our way towards a path leading to environmental safety and sustainable development. But it might be quite possible that we embark on a less enlightened path, exhausting Earth's natural resources and drastically limiting the choice for our descendants.
In the last decade or so, we have seen the environment being jeopardized- from erratic weather patterns & changing climatic conditions, to air and water pollution that threaten human health, to deforestation and land degradation that are mocking the Earth's capability to sustain humanity.
But at the same time, being devastated by these changes, the society has attempted to marshal its resources to meet these challenges. Having undermined the effects of widespread depletion of resources, our initial efforts to counteract these effects were slow; there is a need to pick up pace as the problems and the need to negate them effectively, are becoming more and more evident. We have developed new tools and have come to an understanding that aligning all nations to work together is the only way to overcome the threats facing the planet.
Depending on how well we recognize and address the problems, over the next half-century, we could be:
A world where economic and social obligations are fulfilled by the constrained use of earth's resources and ecosystems-or a world weakened by environmental denigration, where a sorrow state of poverty & hunger affect almost a billion people..
A world that recognizes the value of water and manages it efficiently-or one that faces extensive water scarcity.
A world making the shift to renewable sources of energy-or one still dependent on fossil fuels, causing it to get extinguished soon.
A world in which preventable diseases have been eliminated to a large extent-or one in which an abundance of children continue to die annually because they lack access to hygienic drinking water and proper sanitation.
A world that follows responsible consumption and production patterns-or one still drowning steadily in a deluge of waste and hazardous materials.
A world where prosperous country markets are completely open to labour-intensive products from under-developed countries, and where global trade is making significant contributions against poverty-or a world where there is a division of society into the elite and downtrodden.
The decision is ours to make.
Some of the world's natural resources that are at a danger of getting exhausted and need particular attention:
Water: The global water crisis is a major cause for concern. In many parts of the world, freshwater resources are very scarce and are of poor quality. Coastal and ocean water, and vital resources such as fisheries are similarly stressed. About one-fifth of the world's population lacks access to safe drinking water, and about half the world lacks adequate sanitation. About 40% of the world's population lives in countries with moderate to high water stress. By 2025, this figure could rise to 50%. There is an increased risk of water-borne diseases in impoverished communities. ('The Challenge of Sustainability-'Kofi Annan'-http://184.108.40.206/outreach/outreach-publications/MainBook.pdf)
Land and Food resources: Over the next several decades, the developing world is expected to face mounting pressures on its land, water, and food production systems. The principal driving forces to be taken into consideration include population growth, with world numbers projected to rise to perhaps 7.5 billion by 2020; rise in disposable incomes, which will fuel rising food demand; and the continuing effort to help the more than 800 million people who currently do not get enough to eat to lead healthy and productive lives.( 'The Challenge of Sustainability-'Kofi Annan'-http://220.127.116.11/outreach/outreach-publications/MainBook.pdf)
Forest: Forests are repositories of the earth's natural heritage. They provide a range of goods and services-from protecting watersheds, to providing habitats for biodiversity, to storing carbon-that are intrinsically linked to humanity's long-term well-being. But as the widespread depletion of forest reserves continues at a rapid pace, all of its goods and services are threatened. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) currently estimates that about 15.2 million hectares of forest are lost every year in the tropics, largely as a result of rapid, planned, or large-scale conversion to other land uses, mainly agriculture.( 'The Challenge of Sustainability-'Kofi Annan'-http://18.104.22.168/outreach/outreach-publications/MainBook.pdf)
Energy: Energy is the lifeblood of the global economy. It provides the fuel for cars, trains, and planes, for basic industries, and for communications, electricity, light, and heating. It is vital for economic growth and development. It can improve the quality of people's lives and their productivity. It can extend the working day and provide additional time for activities such as education and health care. And in developing nations, modern forms of energy can liberate millions of women and children from the burden of gathering water and fuel-wood. But with the extensive use of non-renewable sources for energy production, there is a risk of paralysing the future generation with limited means of energy resources.
Thus, Sustainability to me would mean-''Maintaining a fine balance between the need for natural resources for survival and its efficient use by ensuring lack of excess".
'A sustainable society would be one that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs'. (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987: 'Business Ethics'-Andrew Crane, p21)
A sustainable world would ensure the efficient use of renewable resources (forests, soils, waters and fish) and find ways to replace them before they are exhausted. It would not consume non-renewable resources (fossil fuels, mineral ores, etc.) before renewable substitutes can be found for them. It would not release hazardous pollutants faster than the earth can naturally recycle them.
A decision to live sustainably would start with rigorous steps towards waste elimination. We would be thrilled to discover that this world can function with half the energy it consumes presently. We could also cut our budget for material into half by effective recycling, by enhancing the product life, and by cutting down on extravagant practices. Our present world seems to be inclined towards quantity rather than focusing on quality. This is not the law of science or irreversible destiny. But that is the way people are getting used to without regard for the future generation. It would require a big change to turn from quantity to quality, but the change should start with a realization of our needs, not are fancies.
All the time we realize the presence of many things around us-changing patterns, forest fires, the cry of poverty, the sight of desperate hunger on our television sets, a feel for improved technology at the cost of nature-aware of them, but not really conscious about them unless they reflect something unusual. We certainly cannot be conscious of all these things and remember them all, as our mind would be occupied with so much detail, so as to contain us from the ability to think. We would rather hop onto the dazzle of our cars, drive away in luxury and come back to the warmth of our homes without a care for anything else, unwilling to comprehend the implications of an extravagant lifestyle for the impoverished. We grasp a handful of sand from the limitless possibilities of awareness and regard that handful as our world, as it suits our convenience. (Robert M. Pirsig, 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance', Page 69) This mind-set needs to be changed and done away with. We need to realize and step out of our threshold; concerning ourselves with the enormous challenges being faced by the under-privileged, restrict our inclination towards extensive growth and instead focus on producing & consuming only what is required for survival.
If one takes a takes a ride to a busy industrial area in a large city, he will find it all laid out in front of him-Technology. Large glass walled skyscrapers, enormous construction sites with high barbed-wire fences, shut gates with signs showing-'NO TRESSPASSING', and far beyond, you see large abstract shapes of metal and brick whose function is not known, whose owners you will not come across. You are not fully aware as to how all that brick, metal, wires and buttons are going to benefit mankind, and so all you can fell is trapped, desolated, as though you didn't belong there. Who owns and understands the reason for their presence doesn't want you around. All these advancements in technology have somehow made you feel like a stranger. The very shape and appearance of it depicts a mysteriousness that implies-'Get out'. You understand that somewhere there is an explanation for all this and that it is useful for mankind in one way or the other, but that isn't what is visible. What you can see is the 'NO TRESPASSING' signs and nothing serving people, but instead people serving these shapes and structures. (Robert M. Pirsig, 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance', page 15)
The abundance of this technology has led Man to become dependent upon it and he feels helpless without its presence. It is necessary for him to establish what he requires and choose minimalistic ways to achieve it, in order that he promotes the cause of sustainability. More importantly, he needs to be aware of intensions of these numerous technological advancements and not merely fall prey to it by enjoying its comforts, while neglecting its enormous drawbacks on society in the future.
We don't require huge cars and sparkling apparel. What we need is self-respect, an identity for oneself, love of the society around us, challenges to overcome, and a purpose of living that means more than material accumulation. Well garnished advertisements influence us to have more than we need by advocating the benefits of exclusivity, status, demand.
We are still struggling to meet and overcome the world's environmental problems, but we are also gaining strength. And our new strengths have been underpinned by real accomplishments. The international community has built new structures of cooperation to meet many of the threats facing our environment. Some governments have extended the time horizons of their development plans to ensure that sustainability underpins future growth. A number of corporations have made eco-efficiency the foundation for their operations. Hard work has translated into laws and treaties, and more hard work has given those laws and treaties the substance and grit needed to make a difference.
Sustainability is now one of the challenges that require urgent attention. This challenge of sustainability can be addressed by ensuring:
Phasing out practices that lead to economic inefficiency and limiting excessive use of natural resources.
Business structures and policies that encourage foreign direct investment.
Release of financial resources for environmental improvement.
Conditions that encourage socially responsible investments in developing countries.
Removal of barriers to imports from developing countries in to the developed nations.
Commitment from all countries to International environmental agreements.
Sound and sustainable forest management.
Growing awareness of climate change.
Participation from every individual to understand the drastic effects of extravagant practices and a conscious effort to sacrifice certain privileges for a greater cause.
In the hope that active Sustainability practices will lead to a comfortable and satisfying environment for one and all, now and later.