GAMBLING WITH SURVIVAL
We, the world’s people, want to survive, but more than that, we want a satisfactory life for all of us and for our descendants. To achieve that goal, we need a new kind of development and we must learn to live differently.
We depend on the resources of the earth to meet our basic and vital needs. If they are diminished or deteriorate, we risk our needs and those of our descendants. Because we have been failing to care for the earth and living unsustainably the risks have become dangerously high. We are today gambling with the survival of the civilization.
We need not lose. We can eliminate the risk by ensuring that the benefits of development are distributed equitably.
Our civilization is at risk because we are misusing natural resources and natural ecological systems. We are pressing the earth to the limits of its capacity. The unprecedented increase in the human numbers and activity has had major impacts on the environment. The capacity of the earth to support human and other life forms has significantly diminished. In less than200 years, the planet has lost six million square kilometers of forests, the sediment load from soil erosion has risen threefold in major river basin, and by eight times in smaller, more intensively used ones, and water withdrawals have grown from 100 to 3,600 cubic kilometers a year.
Atmospheric systems have been disturbed, threatening the climatic regime to which we and other forms of life have long been adapted. Since the mid-eighteenth century, human activities have more than doubled the methane in the atmosphere, increased the concentrations of carbon-dioxide by 27 per cent and significantly damaged the stratospheric ozone layer.
Most astonishing of all, the 5.5 billion people now on earth are already using 40 per cent of our most elemental resource—the energy from the sun, made available by green plants on land.
Despite this vast takeover of nature, hundreds of millions of people struggle in poverty, lacking a tolerable quality of life. One person in five cannot get enough food to support an active working life. A quarter of the world’s people are without safe drinking potable water. Every year millions of children die from malnutrition and preventable diseases. Such conditions are grossly unjust. They also threaten the peace and stability of many countries, and of the whole world, eventually.
Learning to live sustainable and caring for the earth is the need of the hour. For a start we will need to understand and accept the consequences of being part of the great community of life and to become more conscious of the effects of our decisions on other societies future generations and other species. We will need to perfect and promote an ethic for living sustainable.
Living sustainably must be the guiding principle for the entire world’s people, but it never will be when hundreds of millions live without the basic essentials of life. Today we need a new kind of development that rapidly improves the quality of life for the disadvantaged.
The earth has its limits. With the best technology imaginable the limits are not infinitely expandable. To live within these limits and see that those who now have can soon get more, two things are needed to be done: population growth rate of the world must be reduced, and the rich must stabilize, and in some cases, reduce their consumption of resources. Ways exist to do this, without reducing the real quality of life.
Sustainable living must be the new pattern of living at all levels— individuals, communities, nations and the world. To adopt a new pattern will require a significant change in the attitudes and practices of many people. We will need to ensure that education programmes reflect the importance of ethics of living sustainably and that information campaigns are mounted to disseminate it.
Local communities are the focus for much that needs to be done in making the change to living sustainable, but there is little that they can do it if they lack the power to act. Subject to vital interests of the larger community, they must be allowed to manage the resources on which they depend and to have an effective voice in the decisions that affect them.
Progress towards sustainability has been slow because of the belief that conservation and development are opposite. Legal, social, economic and technical measures, aimed at sustainability are to be integrated in planning and aimed at all levels, particularly in national governments.
The framework already exists for the cooperation; monitoring and management of resources, but programmes are poorly coordinated and rarely integrated. Anew alliance of all the countries, to affect the reforms
and improve the quality of life, should be the agenda to save the possible oblivion of the earth.