The need for environmental change is often acknowledged by society; however, an idle mindset and grand proclamations by national governments and international organizations are parts of a stagnant approach to addressing the health of our planet. As a society, we are focused on behaviours that put human well-being first and the environment second. By no means do I believe that human well-being is unimportant, but we must also learn to exercise sustainable living — in order to preserve the health of our planet for generations to come.
The efforts of major agreements, such as the Kyoto Protocol, which aimed to combat global warming, have been a waste of time and resources and, ultimately, failures in affecting change. Moreover, two of the top 10 emitters of greenhouse gasses globally, the United States and Canada, have declined to ratify the treaty and denounced the Protocol only six years after it was put into action. Additionally, in the time it took the Protocol to be put into action, energy-related emissions rose 24 percent. Put simply: talk is cheap and such conferences need to focus on efficient and effective change. For instance, in my opinion, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development fails to induce feelings of hope when it comes to environmental change.
The problem lies in the large-scale change desired by these international conferences and the lack of know-how when it comes to creating that change. The problems we face pertaining to rapid habitat change, climate change, overexploitation of resources, pollution, and exponential population growth are all large-scale, but need to be addressed at the local level first. Change must come from the bottom and build toward greater change. Absurd and vague goals of eradication of extreme poverty and ensuring environmental sustainability by 2015 (just to name a couple) as outlined by the UN Millennium Development Summit in 2000, are not useful without a concrete plan of attack.
In a 2010 presentation by the World Wildlife Fund’s vice-president Jason Clay, explained how his action-oriented behaviour has brought nearly 100 key international companies, which control 25 per cent of the 15 main commodities on the planet, to go sustainable and buy into the idea that “less is more.” The goal is to reduce the loss of biodiversity. These major companies have committed to transforming the global marketplace into a place where we can produce more by using less land and water, hence creating less pollution. For example, the chocolate company “Mars” is in the process of improving chocolate production. Mars is sequencing the genome of the cocoa plant and making the information available to the public so that others can help them make cocoa production more effective and sustainable. Mars believes that, if it can determine the characteristics for optimal production and the drought tolerance of the plants, it can produce 320 per cent as much cocoa on 40 per cent of the land. This exemplifies the mindset “less is more,” for a sustainable future.
One must stop and ask: Why is it that such initiatives are not better recognized when it comes to environmental change? Instead, inefficient and politically motivated conferences, such as the Kyoto Protocol and the upcoming UN conference, take precedence and are half as effective.
Change needs to come from a realization and understanding of the complexity of nature and, most importantly, from individuals who care enough to create positive change. We must embrace the fact that society’s overexploitation and neglect are leading to a reduction in genetic diversity and a loss of species.
The concept of “Earth Stewardship” is an action-oriented initiative that uses the idea of sustainability to shape societal and environmental pathways; it must be embedded in everyday lifestyles in order to affect change at the grassroots. Moreover, the use of technology and communication and sharing of scientific knowledge at the local level will benefit society and the environment greatly. We must learn to use the knowledge we are given to create change instead of just talking about it, like our political counterparts do. The onus is on society as a whole to take a step forward in changing the environment for the better, and that starts with addressing our personal consumption of resources and being aware of how personal actions affect the environment.
The next time you read or hear about a conference on environmental initiative, attempt to challenge the presented ideas by asking questions, taking concerns to local governments or finding ways to create change on a personal level. Take an interest in your future. We all have the knowledge and power to affect change and we need to do it now, before it is too late.
Abhinit Jawanda wants each of us to play our part in bringing positive environmental change to the world.