Future Of The Environment And Human Well-Being
By Prahlad Singh Shekhawat
16 May, 2011
People speculate about life in outer space and about life after death, but the question to ask is, is their future of life on planet earth? Are we swiftly moving towards a situation where global environment will degenerate irreversibly? Individualist hedonism and consumerist lifestyle inspired by some extreme and sometimes superficial norms of “Western culture and modernity”, unbridled economic globalization and advertising hype now widely emulated around the world is leading to the rapid depletion and pollution of our planet .
At the same time the pursuit of aimless affluence causes the disease of ‘afluenza’ where a life of high stress ,instant gratifications, breakdown of community and family and lack of meaning produces depressive modern angst. The solution of the environmental crisis is deeply connected to a simpler but better quality life and happy relationships rather than on having more quantities of products Redefining development and progress in terms of harmonious relationship with nature as well as focusing on wellbeing, quality of life and meaningful happiness rather than on GDP and stock market index, is the key
This is precisely what the New Economic foundation in London is doing with its advocacy of the Happy Planet Index .This is also the message of the recent book “ Do Good Lives Have to Cost the Earth?”. The Happy Planet Index combines measures for sustainable use of natural resources with indicators for long and satisfied life. The foundation argues that to live happy and long lives one does not have to consume natural resources extravagantly but that one can find fulfillment through non economic factors like happiness quality relationships and community engagement.
Sustainable development is usually defined in terms of the rights and needs of the future generations to inherit a good environment and ample resources. This definition is vague and insufficient because it is difficult to measure the needs of the future generations and also because the disastrous consequences of the loot of natural resources is happening and will happen in our own lifetime. Therefore sustainability should essentially measure firstly the carrying capacity of the environment today, secondly it should measure the optimum ecological or carbon footprint of individuals and nations and finally sustainability should be evaluated in terms of equity and justice in the sharing of natural resources.
Mahatma Gandhi defined ‘brotherhood’ not simply as existing among humans but also in relations to other beings in nature like plants and animals. This solidarity between the human culture and the ecological culture of nature is also advocated by the philosophy of Deep Ecology proposed b the Norwegian Arne Naess who was influenced by Gandhiji acquires significance today in times of environmental degradation of our mother earth. The shallow ecology movement as Naes calls it, is the fight against pollution and resource depletion, the central objective of which is ‘the health and affluence of people in the developed countries’. The ‘deep ecology movement’, in contrast, endorses ‘biospheric egalitarianism’, the view that all living things are alike in having value, independent of their usefulness to human purposes.
The French philosopher Michel Serres has proposed the significant new concept of "Natural Contract" to be entered in the sphere of human-nature relationship, just as Rousseau had done for society in his ‘Social Contract’. Humankind ought to lay down its obligations, duties and rights vis-à-vis nature and the environment. In Serres's vision the environment needs to be seen as independent living being and agency deserving the same legal rights as human beings and societies.
Climate crisis is no more apocalyptic dogma but based on probability of hard scientific evidence and will lead to major problems in our own generation. In our own region the Himalayan glaciers particularly in Tibet which contain the second largest body of ice after Antarctica, are melting fast due to global warming, even if there can be differences about the exact measure of the melt . There are said to be about twenty lakes and dams in Nepal which are either nearing or above the danger mark. These thinning glaciers are a source of most of the major river systems in South and South East Asia including the Indus, Brahmaputra, Ganga and the Mekong. When they become a trickle it will be a disaster for agriculture and livelihoods
Contraction and Convergence approach has emerged as a more acceptable and viable global framework for reducing green house gas emissions to combat climate change. Conceived by the Global Commons Institute, the Contraction and Convergence strategy consists of reducing overall emissions of greenhouse gases to a safe level (Contraction). The global emissions are so reduced that every country brings emissions per capita to a level which is equal for all countries (Convergence).It is intended to form the basis of an international agreement which will reduce carbon emissions to avoid climate change. This formula can be used as a way for the world to stabilize carbon levels at any level. The supporters of Contraction and Convergence anticipate that future negotiations would focus solely on what that final level should be. A similar principle should be applied within nations to provide incentives to reduce inequities in consumption and pollution to bring it down to acceptable levels
The slogan for our times is no more think globally and act locally but think and act “glocally” (both globally and locally). It is no more simply Reduce, Renew and Recycle but more positively; create opportunities out of a crisis. The climate crisis, dependence on fossil fuels, and crisis of agriculture and food, also offer unique opportunities for redefining development as a life of lower consumption but higher well-being and happiness, and the opportunity for organic agriculture to feed the world and preserve the soil and the environment at the same time. It is an opportunity to reassess the meaning of all life and our purpose in living
Prahlad Shekhawat is Director, Alternative Development and Research Center,Jaipur.
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