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Ritual to rejuvenation  

Can we go beyond the ritual to rejuvenation?

Another World Environment Day is set to pass with the ritual noises in the media and by a few organizations planting some more saplings. There is a Water Day, an Ocean Day, a Forestry Day… even an International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer! But the Ecological Debt Day and an Earth Overshoot Day take the cake! I wonder sometimes what you do on the World Conservation Day, the Biosphere Day or the International Day for Biological Diversity?! It is hard not to be cynical. How can celebration of one day [or some days] in a year make a change to the devastation that we continue to cause? Staggering plunder The wholesale plunder of our ecosystems is so staggering that this 2,500-year old ‘Christian civilization' will have to die in probably the next 200-400 years — just as the Indus, the Egyptian, the Mesopotamian, the Sumerian, or the Babylonian civilizations died. Always for that one reason of devastation of forests, damage to soils, and a blight of floods that destroyed ability to grow food. The conclusion is inescapable. There have been many gurus of the ecological world who have stated matter-of-factly and with resignation that by the end of the century we should only see about 20 per cent of the current population if the tipping point is reached for the planet not to support us anymore.
Remember, the planet will go on. It has many more eons of life of its own. It is we who utilize, consume, convert, burn or clear-fell nearly 40 per cent of our total natural resources every year, whose life and living is going to be jeopardized. Just one species — our own — out of about 8 million species [if we go by Hindu lore, or 5 million species if you go by scientific understanding of today] is directly and indirectly wreaking all the havoc. Our perception and understanding of the quality of life and what should be standard of living have been our nemesis. We can't accept a simple, austere life and yet live with dignity. So, we consume. Our population will peak perhaps at 8 billion by 2050.But do we have enough water, forests, land or minerals to support the hunger for products? If our standard of living across populations even doubles in the next 40 years, we will quadruple our impact on the world's natural resources — which is a physical impossibility. We have reached the diminishing point already. The bad news is that the pollution and carbon dioxide (CO {-2}) emission levels that we have let loose on the planet in the last 40 years is going to impact us only in the next 40 years, for the complex nature of ecosystems and change in the atmosphere takes that long to impact us. Forty years is just a flash in the geological scale of time, though it seems far away for most of us even as we read this.
The way to go::::::::::::Is there a message for any of us on another Environment Day that we celebrate? There isn't any actually. We can only salvage our conscience by doing a few things. Look around at the numbers of cars and buildings that have begun to use air-conditioning in just the last five years to realize that we are not getting to be conscious or penitent in what we are doing to heat up the atmosphere. We don't care what damage we do as long as it is not in our backyard. That's what we think. What does it take to realize that there is no single backyard or no single home? The entire world is our backyard and if we don't know how to protect it, we don't have a backyard.
The world's mean temperature has risen by about 0.26 degrees centigrade in the last 30 years. It is a slow rise, nearly imperceptible to the human mind, unless we are mapping across multiple micro-regions of the world in a gigantic exercise of coordination to validate that scary bit of information of the warming of our planet. But there is reason and there is hard fact to believe this bit of vital data. If you sit in an air-conditioned room and reduce or increase the temperature by just 1 deg. C, you will see what it means as impact. Imagine the effect when it happens around the world and on a scale that is so large that there is hardly anything you can do to control. So what do we do? We need to declare a war of sorts in a way that every government and every citizen, corporate or individual, will have to take this up on a footing that's never been imagined or conceived before. We can't wait for legislation, but legislation can't wait for governments either to bring about such changes in managing simple things in our—from water to energy to the way we manage our wastes. What can we do to stop this anarchy on use of oil or coal or gas?
Human civilizations ::::::::::Natural and human history accounts are full of examples in which animals or humans exceeded carrying capacity and went into steep declines, or even extinction. All human civilizations died because of their excessive consumption and their lack of respect for the environment. These were civilizations that were far wiser than we have been. The Babylonians had the death penalty for felling of trees as part of the Hammurabi code. The difference between animals and ourselves is that the resources used by animals in such times of convulsive change continue to remain grasses, trees, and shrubs and they eventually return. Nearly all the resources we are exploiting as humans will not. We are the only species that depend for our life-sustenance on more than the food we take from Earth. In fact, the food we take claims only 3 Kcal of energy, while our per capita energy use is at 100,000 Kcal in India. The figure for the average American citizen is at 230,000 calories. It takes very little to understand that maximizing yield cannot be achieved while you preserve the health of any habitat. The food of our industrial civilization is not just food: fuel, water, electricity, and cars, also serve as ‘foods’. What is really making it helpless is our political and commercial unwillingness to examine these limits to carrying capacity on a universal scale. It's even more unbelievable that there is absolute agreement on what it means at the local level and yet we have our political leaders and bureaucrats squabbling at climate change meetings on who will step back what as consumption when they know that there is before us, only the inevitable dance to death of this civilization.
………by……….Chandrashekar Hariharan…….WORLD ENVIRONMENT DAY - A Business Line feature..(The writer is CEO of the green buildings pioneer, Biodiversity Conservation India, Ltd (BCIL), Bangalore)

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