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The Fate Of The Planet Is In Our Hands

Even though the damage done to the earth is more or less irreversible, sustained efforts to restore its ecology may avert Armageddon

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There are always two ways of  looking at anything, including the future of the earth. Pessimism sadly, presents the more realistic picture. The  “Tragedy of the Commons”, to quote American ecologist Garrett James Hardin, would lead to a future that is bleak for conservation, biodiversity elimination, and the crossing of planetary thresholds.

Destruction of the ecosystem has been rampant since the Industrial Revolution, which was the turning point in the narrative on climate change. In his 2009 article, ‘A Safe Space for Humanity’ Johann Rockstrom, Professor of Environmental Science at Stockholm University, enlisted nine planetary thresholds on which the resilience of our ecological system depends. Three of the nine planetary thresholds, namely climate change, biodiversity loss and nitrogen cycle, have already been crossed. We are headed toward the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ that Hardin describes in his eponymous essay, in which humanity’s unperturbed carelessness with production and consumption exhausts an already depleted Earth.

The coming decade-and-a-half will be critical for our planet. Even though the damage done is more or less irreversible, as evident in the crossing of the planetary thresholds, sustained efforts to rehabilitate the ecology could avert a catastrophe. Population rise, urbanisation, emissions, deforestation, consumption and other metrics of sustainability are perpetually rising and a two degree rise in global temperatures is inevitable over the next 15 years – even by an optimistic estimate.

Several species of life are turning extinct every day. Some cities are choking with air-pollution. The ocean is smothered with pollutants and the ice-caps are melting. Most of the earth’s population still reels in poverty, illiteracy and gender inequality. Eradication of poverty through unsustainable industrial development could increase environmental degradation.

A Ray of Hope
There are some silver linings to this cloud. The deadline for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is 2030 and the SDGs address almost all economic, social and environmental aspects of sustainability. As member nations of the United Nations strive toward the SDGs, heavy investments are likely to flow into appropriate measures. Investment in clean energy, use of clean energy and investment in clean-technology is at an all-time high.

Over the next 15 years, renewable energy targets will certainly be met to a large extent, given the current push towards sustainability by both the public and private sectors. “There will be close to 11 billion people on earth by the end of 21st Century, and the pressure on resources will be enormous. The next 10 to 15 years will be crucial to bring in a drastic change that will chart the path of sustainability for human survival at the end of the century. There will be ‘disruptive’ innovations in all fronts – the way we consume and use resources; the productivity we expect from each unit of water or energy or material.

Sustainability will not be a separate function in organisations, but every function will embrace sustainability. The ‘asset-based’ economy will give way to ‘user-based’ concepts, where every resource will be used optimally,” says Dipankar Ghosh, Partner, Sustainability and Climate Change at Thinkthrough Consulting.

The future of sustainability and climate change in India will be determined to a great extent by our pursuit of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) set at the Paris Agreement of 2015. The NDCs will be a focus area for the Union Ministry of Environment, in coordination with the other ministries.

Says Dr Hem Dholakia, “The next 10-15 years will see countries act on their climate pledges made in Paris. On the mitigation front, energy (e.g. investments in renewable energy, clean coal technologies, energy efficiency) and mobility transitions (e.g. electric vehicles and public transport) will drive the achievement of India’s Nationally Determined Contributions. We will also witness greater investments in adaptation at the sub-national level across infrastructure, agriculture and the health sector”.

In fact, the pursuit of the sustainability goals and those for mitigating climate change are critical to ensure a future for our planet. Policies will need to be finetuned, investments will have to be made and collaborations will be critical. Most crucial, though, will be our own commitment and attitude towards sustainability of the environment, for sustaining the environment is critical for sustaining humankind.

As Founder and CEO of Envecologic, Alok Raj Gupta says, “The magnitude of the problem of climate change is so big, and efforts made thus far so small that we may not be able to undo the damage. Humanity’s best chance lies in smart adaptation to climate change. The next 15 years will witness various policies and technologies improving our adaptability. Slowly but steadily, sustainability will become the world order, which means that no policy, no economic practice, no new initiatives will be devoid of the concept of   sustainability.”

Progress is critical, but surely, not at the cost of Mother Earth. As pioneering environmental scientist, Donella Meadows, likes to point out, the motto should not be “blind opposition to progress, but rather, opposition to blind progress”. The fate of the planet, is in our hands.

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