THE Brazilian minister for environment, Rubens Ricupero, says that Western politicians, NGOs and the media betray the attitude that Third World countries look for what he calls the "lowest common denominator" in international negotiations. These dirty and inefficient cousins apparently force the rest of the world community to settle for the lowest standards and targets. This is an extremely unjust attitude. In fact, it is the West that has on several occasions insisted on watering down environmental norms.
It is indeed heartening to hear a representative of a developing nation speak out on these lines. Western nations often talk about evolving a global strategy directed at protecting and nurturing our global ecosystem. But they turn petulant when asked to make sacrifices to achieve this goal. Barely two months before the crucial Rio Summit in 1992, the then president of the United States, George Bush, was urged by the European Commission to take a pledge to cut down carbon dioxide emissions, found to be the major cause of global warming. Few can forget how obstinately he refused to budge. North America would not attend the meet, he warned. He argued that there was no concrete proof that carbon dioxide was harmful for the atmosphere. Of course, the real reason for his outburst was unmistakably clear: the US was just unwilling to bear the heavy financial burden that would result from the EC proposal.
Did the international community shout George Bush down and go ahead with its plans to save the earth? Not really. The Europeans too caved in. Instead of working with the developing world and isolating the recalcitrant US, the Europeans thought it better to join the US. Working on their own, they would have lost their competitiveness in the world markets.
Let's look at the question of consumption patterns: if Bangladeshis and Indians possessed as many cars and refrigerators as even one-third of the North Americans do, our planet would probably cease to exist. According to a study done in 1992, "The total carbon released since 1900 that is present in the atmosphere is about 260 tonnes per living US resident as compared to about 6 tonnes for an average Indian." And, even now, the West is not prepared to make any significant changes in its lifestyle to keep Mother Earth healthy. All that it is prepared to do is increase the efficiency of its technology. But if all of us continue to chase the same consumption patterns, can efficiency alone help?
So whose is the lowest common denominator?
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