Big ideas for sustaining the Earth

Far-reaching change in the global economic system is called for  if we are to save our planet

By Prahlad Singh Shekhawat
Published: Monday 17 June 2019
Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images Photo: Getty Images

Here are some big and innovative ideas to sustain the Earth and make it flourish:

1. Taxing those who consume more

Environmental movements around the world call for preserving land, soil, water sources, commons and forests, where indigenous people should have the right to forest produce in a sustainable way.

Environment, particularly in the so-called 'developing countries', is normally sought to be related to the sustainance and livelihood of the poor. Ideally, the poor, nationally and globally, should have an equal access to natural resources and the rich should have to pay more for consuming and polluting more.

2. A legal framework for climate refugees

In coastal areas like the Sundarbans which exist both, in Bangladesh and India, land is being eaten away due to global warming, leaving many homeless. Such ecological and climate change refugees, who are expected  to grow exponentially, should have legal rights to be compensated and rehabilitated. Such issues need to be decided within the ambit of a legal framework.

3. Inclusive wealth

The World Bank Wealth Estimates measure a country’s total wealth as being composed of produced capital (infrastructure and urban land), natural capital (forests, cropland, fish stocks, minerals) and human resources (human capital, quality of institutions).

The United Nations University based in Tokyo is working to find  indicators for its Inclusive Wealth Report, which includes natural, manufactured and social capital.

The idea of inclusive wealth is supported by the United Nations Environment Programme, in order to provide a compréhensive analysis of the différent components of wealth by country, their links to economic development and well-being and in terms of policies that are based on social management of these assets.

4. An Ombudsman for future generations

Further, the ecological footprint of nation is assessed by calculating how much one nation has produced and consumed after deducting the cost of pollution found in elements like air and water which make up our biosphere.

The World Futures Council has emphasised the need for appointing an Ombudsman to guard the rights of the future generations to have a just share of the natural resources, to secure their right to inherit a good quality of environment and a healthy planet.

5. Happiness as a measure of progress

As suggested by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s New Measures of Progress, Sarkozy Commission’s recommendations, the Gross National Happiness movement resulting in the UN’s World Happiness Report, there is an urgent need to redefine development and human progress and use another set of measures to evaluate desirable change.

There is a growing recognition of the limits of the endless Gross Domestic Product growth model and to focus on integrating and mutually reinforcing the dimensions of environmental well-being, human well-being including happiness as well as social and economic well-being.

6. Human responsibility towards Nature

The French philosopher Michel Serres has proposed the idea of a 'Natural Contract' on the same lines as Rousseau’s Social Contract, so that human society needs to reconsider its relationship with the natural world wherein nature has certain rights and agency and humans have certain responsibilities towards the natural world.

Similarly, The Forum of Ethics and Responsibilities has appealed to the governments at Rio in Brazil to take the historic decision of starting up a process toward the creation of a Charter of Universal Responsibilities to complement the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

People worldwide are waiting, the Forum says, for governments to respond to the global crises by looking beyond national interests and creating a set of international principles which obliges them to own responsibility for far-reaching decisions and to become accountable for their action’s consequences.

In the Indian tradition, the idea of duties and moral obligations as evolved in the idea of 'Dharma' as also the idea of 'Sarvodaya' or the well-being of all leads to better appreciation of the rights of others has similarities with the similar idea developed by John Dewy, the philosopher in the Western tradition, who calls upon all to respect the right of others to be respected as citizens themselves.

Without the self-transformation leading to simpler but more enhancing lifestyles, the attitude towards finding solutions will be short term, technical and lacking in an alternative civilisational vision.

The New Economic Foundation, have proposed the Happy Planet Index winch combines measures for sustainable use of natural resources, with indicators for a long and happy life. They suggest that to live a happy and long life, one does not have to consume natural resources extravagantly. We can find fulfillment through quality relationships and consumption of goods may not necessarily lead to fulfilment.

The UN World Happiness Report suggests that with wise action, we can protect the Earth while raising the quality of our lives broadly around the world. We can do this by adopting lifestyles and technologies that improve happiness while reducing damage to the environment.

Co-author of the report Jeffrey Sachs proposes that 'Sustainable Development' is the term given to the combination of well-being, social inclusion and environmental sustainability. Sachs adds that the quest for happiness is intimately linked to the quest for sustainable development. Such a form of development or sustainable development implies intergenrational equity for all the citizens including the future generations, who need to be consulted.

The most urgent steps should focus on:

1. Setting up a global science panel to carry out significant international and interdisciplinary research efforts to tackle these issues comprehensively, as the UN Panel on Sustainibility has suggested.

2. Transfering funds from rich to poor countries to enable them to adopt green growth is a contentious issue which further tends to be jeopardised by the recent economic decline in rich nations. Such an issue is not likely to be resolved in a single conference.

3. Setting up a representative panel comprising of different nations which could provide an ongoing platform for negotiations in order to create effective consensus.

4. Setting up a representative and expert panel, possibly within the UN System to suggest a new and more democratic architecture of global governance and institutions to monitor, regulate and provider principles as well as guidelines for implementation of international treaties, conventions, global markets and corporations as well as equitable and sustainable goals of progress for our common planet and humanity.

One tends to agree with the UN Global Development Report which warns that 'tinkering around the margins' will not work anymore. Mere new technology, adhoc and half measures will not suffice and far-reaching change in the global economic system is called for.

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