“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children”
An imaginary conversation between a couple : year 2030.
Wife : Honey, you have got a mail from the environmental agency. It is about our carbon footprints bill. Haven’t you paid yet?
Husband: Obviously not. I do not understand why these guys care about such silly things.
Wife: But, shouldn’t they? Shouldn’t we pay for the pollution we create? What about those who would bear its brunt in the future.
Husband: I pay taxes and that is enough. Anyway, we would live for another 30 years or so. How does it matter to me, whatever happens after that.
Even though imaginary and prospective, the conversation reflects the callous attitude of those living on the earth. The earth has existed for billions of years, and the span of human life is incomparable with its age. For centuries, it has been saved for us by our ancestors. Thus, central to the statement in question is ” Sustainable Development” , which is development taking into account the concerns of future generations.
The concept, though looks simple and straightforward, is a generational change in human thinking about their environment. First put forward officially by the Brundtland Commission in its report “Our Common Future”, in 1980s, it has shaped the international discourse on environment the most significantly. Its background was the persistent and alarming deterioration in the quality of the environment. Since then, several national and international summits have taken place, discussing the urgency of the situation. In pursuance of these, several measures, agreements and protocols were adopted like Kyoto protocol, Montreal protocol etc. Some of these were binding on parties and thus religiously adhered to, but the non-binding ones were paid merely lip-service. And, in fact, nations now are unwilling to renew any such commitments owing to several economic constraints. It seems that the new realization of sustainable development has faded.
The central problem to this is the perceived clash between economy and environment, which involves balancing the short-term material interests with the long-term goal of environmental sustainability. The inclination towards the former at the cost of environment usually results from short-sighted political considerations and unconsciousness of the interests of future generation. The former is understandable, and thus the latter comes into play knowingly.
Its implications are grave. The quality of water, air and land has continuously deteriorated. It is projected that unless the present situation changes, millions would be thirsty across the globe by 2025. The crop productivity and total production would decrease owing to land degradation, despite a rising population, leaving many hungry. Carbon dioxide levels have already breached the alarming level of 440 ppm (IPCC) and consequent increased global warming would melt polar ice caps and mountain glaciers, increasing the mean sea level. Thus, the frequency of both floods and drought, paradoxically, would increase and rising sea levels would submerge coastal areas and low-lying nations such as Maldives. Also, the incidence of tropical diseases would increase with rising temperature of earth. These implications are not exhaustive, but they do provide a picture of the future crisis, to be faced solely by the coming generations.
However, despite all scientific inputs and reasonable analysis, the international community has failed, to act collectively and reach a consensus. Recent summits like the Doha Climate Talks and COP-11 were all stuck on issues relating to commitment and finance. In fact, both are inter-related. Since, the international community indirectly represents its people. who are often unaware of the bigger picture, this impasse on issues of climate change is understandable. The situation will only worsen if corrective and preventive actions are not taken. People want to save for their children, but forget, that nothing can be achieved without collective consciousness and action concerning the future.
Of course, resource extraction from the earth can not be stopped, but with moderate and judicious use it can be made sustainable. A balance needs to be achieved between the short-term and long.term interests and the importance of conservation and concern for nature, in this, can not be understated. We have not received the earth from the ancestors to exploit it the way we want, rather, we are only the ephemeral guardians of this treasure-trove, whose future guardians are waiting. And, it would be wrong on our part to cheat them by finishing the treasure in the trove, leaving only the guardianship to them.