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Short-cuts won’t work for environmental challenge

Some experts ask for giant geoengineering projects whose equality gigantic adverse effects are not even fully understood at present.

Bharat Dogra | New Delhi |

There is no doubt that climate change is a very serious environmental problem, an existential problem and a survival issue.

The seriousness of this problem as well as the long delay that has already occurred in responding adequately to it have led even well-meaning experts to demand the kind of solutions that are likely to lead to other kinds of serious environmental problems and hazards. Some experts ask for a heavier dependence on nuclear power and a big increase in nuclear power plants.

But we cannot ignore the serious environmental problems and hazards in the entire cycle from mining to waste disposal nor can we ignore the linkages of nuclear power generation to the possibility of making nuclear weapons. Other experts ask for a big increase in hydel power generation and construction of dams, despite the known multi-faceted adverse environmental and social impacts of dams, including methane emission from massive water storages and the decaying vegetation submerged in them.

Some experts ask for giant geoengineering projects whose equality gigantic adverse effects are not even fully understood at present. This is an area where we may daily end up creating more problems than we solve. Such dangerous solutions should be avoided. They are made because a holistic vision of the vast possibilities available of us has not been put forward effectively yet – possibilities which are safe and in tune with wider welfare needs.

This includes possibilities of a world without any future wars in which the need for weapons is reduced to a very substantial extent. This also includes possibilities of a world in which all wasteful production and consumption can be reduced substantially and a world in which more people voluntarily adopt a life of frugality and simplicity.

Climate change and reduction of GHG emissions are generally considered technological problems. It is often not considered how solution for climate change can be related to community ties and to the possibilities of people working together in harmony, to what children learn at school and what values they imbibe in family and community life.

But the fact is that social aspects are extremely important when we think of people’s actions for combating climate change and other important environmental problems, and this really is the more important issue. The necessary changes will not come merely by pleading for them – no matter how desperately – in isolation.

However it’ll be possible to bring much change if for about three to four years we work very patiently with dedication and good planning consistently in schools and colleges, with community organisations, with parents’ groups, with organisations of farmers and workers, on the most urgent survival issues and what needs to be done to bring change within a framework of peace, justice, environment protection, democracy and protection for all forms of life.

This work will ultimately make it possible to bring the kind of social mobilisation for effective change on the most basic and urgent issues. Is it possible to resolve climate change while continuing with the ‘business as usual’ economic development model? The answer is clearly no.

While the present system has involved massive ecological ruin, despite all the technological breakthroughs a very large number of people have been denied basic needs. Many available studies have failed to capture the extent to which more and more people are being denied basic sustenance due to accelerated ecological ruin.

If this is fully captured, most claims of ‘development’ and ‘poverty alleviation’ will be difficult to accept. This is something that I’ve realised from my visits to several remote villages in recent decades. Earlier people were just talking of ‘resource constraints’. Now we also have a ‘carbon space constraint’. So, the need for ensuring equal and just distribution is much more now. We need much better planning to ensure that while reducing GHG emissions in a big way, basic needs of all people are also met.

This is a challenge which needs creative work, but the reward of ensuring basic needs for all even as we fight climate change effectively will be a big one. This kind of detailed planning in a global context has not been attempted earlier which means that such pioneering efforts will be all the more creative and exciting.

Both at an intellectual level as well as in terms of the real needs of the planet and its people this really seems to be the most urgent and creative work at hand which can have very important spin-off gains. If such exercises show that critical environmental aims along with basic needs cannot be achieved without reducing weapons and wars in a very big way, then this will be a tremendous support for all efforts for world peace and disarmament. Unfortunately, such work is still not receiving the kind of priority and related support it clearly needs and one can only hope that things will change for better in the near future.

(The writer is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements and initiatives)