Environment And People

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Why We Need an Alternative Paradigm for Checking Climate Change

While scientists and activists have done well to establish the urgency of checking climate change before it is too late, it is increasingly clear that the current paradigm of checking climate change is not working. Briefly, it has to be changed in ways which will link it very closely to checking militarism and inequalities while promoting peace and justice, preventing all wars, eliminating all WMDs (weapons of mass destruction) as well as eliminating all HBP (hypocrisy of big polluters). A basic reason of the urgency of checking climate change is that it will change climate and daily weather conditions in ways that will make our once bountiful and beautiful planet increasingly inhospitable and then inhabitable for humanity and most other forms of life. However what climate change can cause in a few years or decades can be caused by WMDs within a few days if there is actual use, intended or accidental, of less than one per cent of the current stock of nuclear weapons (not to mention the destructive potential of several other WMDs). This one well- established factor should be adequate ( there are several others) to convince all sincere climate activists that both tasks—checking GHG emissions as well as eliminating WMDs—should be pursued together as the biggest challenge facing humanity. Military activities and equipment constitute the biggest single source of GHG emissions which is almost entirely avoidable in a peaceful world, and eliminating which will cause no decline in human welfare; it will only increase human welfare. Hence a future without wars and with the minimum military activity should be an integral part of climate activism. This should come with a guarantee that no military personnel will lose jobs or income; they will merely shift, with retraining, to such tasks as disaster prevention and rescue, ecological rehabilitation etc. It is only in conditions of peace and stability, and much increased international cooperation and understanding based on this, that the world will be able to resolve the most critical environmental problems including climate change. Checking climate change involves several restraints. However this should not lead to any deprivation of those people and communities who are already at subsistence levels or in deeper poverty and in no way responsible for climate change. Hence the efforts to check climate change should be accompanied by efforts to ensure that basic needs of all people are met, arriving at a balance of social justice and environment protection. Once we attempt this task, we realize that within a limited environmental space ensuring needs for all also involves reduction of harmful goods (weapons, alcohol, tobacco, toxic industrial chemicals in daily use etc.) as well as extreme luxury goods. Making justice an integral part of climate agenda also helps to secure more enthusiastic involvement of the working classes in this task, and they are the ones who can contribute the most. Improving international justice and equality is also most helpful, but the increased funds which flow to the poorer countries should reach the genuinely needy, instead of being grabbed by ever-too- willing elites. The climate agenda is unfortunately in the process of being co-opted and misused by some of the biggest polluters, who would like to go on expanding their highly polluting businesses by just giving it a cunning climate twist—providing some spin to justify these in terms of climate change. This tendency of big business may be called HFG (hypocrisy and falsehood gas) emissions. Increase of HFG emissions will only contribute to continuing increase of GHG emissions, no real reduction. Several changes are needed due to multiple welfare reasons, but these will also help to reduce GHG emissions in significant ways. Such areas of change should be identified carefully for special attention. Shifting to natural farming based on small farmers, producing more diverse food closer to consumption place in highly decentralized ways, is really needed for protecting food safety, human health, soil health and sustainable livelihoods. At the same time such a worldwide change will contribute very significantly to reducing GHG emissions on sustainable basis. Reducing consumption of alcohol, tobacco and all intoxicants is very important for improving human health and several other social gains as well, but this can contribute a lot to reducing GHG emissions as well. On the other hand trying to base the climate change agenda on rapidly increasing nuclear power, or rapidly building many more large dams on rivers, or by initiating potentially even more harmful geo-engineering, will only create more risks without facilitating the path to sustainable reduction of GHGs. Climate change is also a way of nature to warn humanity that its present development pattern and the thinking of greed and grab as well as injustices on which it is largely based is not sustainable and will only lead to destruction of humanity and other forms of life. In other words, we must change the prevailing development pattern and ideology on which it is based. However, the existing paradigm of climate change is one of largely preserving the status quo of the present day world, with some tinkering focused on mainly reducing fossil fuels. This is a very reductionist model which ignores very important linkages and cannot succeed in any comprehensive sense. The world’s responses are increasingly departmentalized and narrow. The scientist gives facts and figures, the politician makes vague commitments, others issue rhetoric, and then over to the next conference. However the basic task of real change by initiating and then carrying forward, rapidly and with great commitment, an integrated, far-reaching agenda combining environment protection, justice and peace has remained largely neglected. This is a challenge that waits to be taken up worldwide with great commitment. Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, Man over Machine, A Day in 2071, Protecting Earth for Children and Earth Without Borders.