As world leaders discuss ways to control climate change at the United Nations in New York, it is important that the rest of us take stock of how far we are in protecting the environment or how far are we in destroying it. For the past decades, the campaign to protect the environment and save the earth has grown steadily. Scientists are telling us that our current over-exploitation of the earth’s resources is not healthy for today and is harmful to the future. But are we listening?
Scientists and environmentalists have presented material facts time and time again that our actions are quickly turning many animals into endangered species. It is a known fact that the planet’s forest cover is dwindling rapidly and our seas are equally fast running out of fish stocks. Scientists have also proven that the burning of fossil fuels like petrol is contributing to pollution and global warming.
The negative effects of climate change are too well known today that few dare to be skeptics. What makes the problem even more serious is that the exploitation of the earth’s resources is not benefiting the majority of the human race. It is a documented fact that eighty percent of the earth’s resources are being consumed by a mere twenty percent of the human race. Most of this twenty percent live in a relatively small wealthy part of the world. Satisfying the needs of these few people has ruined the environment of many a poor people, everywhere on earth. Local people have been forced off their lands to make way for hydroelectricity dams, oil exploration, precious metal mines and motorways. These so-called development projects would have proved worthy of their name, if they had improved the lives of the poor. However, the sad reality is that most of the time these projects benefit only the small rich class of these poor countries and their multinational corporate allies. The common people only get worse off as their ways of life get shattered. They can no longer fish or farm productively. Their environment has been damaged beyond salvation. This is the politics of development forced on most of the poorer parts of our world. It is development that is morally flawed, socially unjust and environmentally destructive.
Today, the rich world due to gas emissions from its thousands of factories and millions of cars, planes, and trains contributes more to climate change than the poorer world. Emerging economic powers such as China, India and Brazil are also contributing enough to world pollution. On the other hand we must not forget about the poverty driven destruction of the environment happening in the developing world. Apart from the destruction of the forest by the logging companies, the local people themselves forced by necessity are cutting down trees for firewood and charcoal. They have to, because they have no access to electricity. They have no microwaves, cookers or electric stoves. All they have is the firewood or charcoal from the environment. It’s good news that Norway has taken a practical step towards combating climate change in the developing world. It has just agreed to pay Liberia US$150 million in order for the country to completely stop cutting down its trees from now up to 2020.
If we do not help the poor get access to alternative energy, there is no way we can combat climate change. However, the issue is not that simple. Increased access to electricity could result to a more destructive way of life if we are not more conscious of the impact to the environment. Is it not true that most of the world’s poor live “in the sun”. That is, they live in parts of the world where sunlight is guaranteed almost daily. Africa, most of Asia, and South America are all sunny lands where the use of solar power is practical all year round. Solar energy according to scientists is renewable and clean. It is virtually nonpolluting. The world already has the technology to harness the sun and provide cheap and clean electricity to the billions of her citizens presently living without power. What the world does not have is the will to make this happen.
If we do not fix the discrepancy in access to energy between the poor and the rich, saving the earth would make little sense. The rich would continue to pollute the earth and the poor would continue to tear down the forest. Unless, there is a balance in access to clean energy in both the North and South, the two sides would not successfully team up to build a better world.
Of course, the energy issue is not the only problem aggravating climate change. Our food consumption patterns also play a big role in depleting the earth’s resourses. Whilst grains constitute the staple food of most of the world’s people, fifty percent of the world’s grains produced according reliable sources is used to feed animals and to make bio-fuels for the comfort and convenience of the rich world. This places severe pressure on our agriculture as animals need huge kilograms of grains to transform into few kilograms of meat. Again, never mind the merits of bio-fuels; they must not be a priority when millions of people, the world over are going hungry every year. The rich must change their consumption patterns from a wholesale taste for luxuries to a more modest consumption style. The rich consume a lot more than necessary of the earth’s resources.
This is not to say that the poor are innocent. It is the whole human race that has to learn to consume less. The rich are singled out because they have the means to consume more. Perhaps, the poor would have done the same, if they had the same means. So the solution is not a blame game, but a critical rethinking on the part of all of us.
It is clear to all of us that development in its modern form may never be reversed but it is equally clear that development that defaces the earth and sucks dry its resourses is unacceptable. So the challenge is for countries to learn to look beyond their individual interest and remember that climate change respects no political or geographical frontiers. Competition for resources is of no merit if the end result is a common loss for the whole of humankind and the planet. I hope the current UN debate would yield something practical. We have had enough talking forums and less practical results.
Abdoulie sey works at Gambia Radio and Television Services]]>