Ocean, earth, and air all facing environmental challenges: Opinion

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By Brajesh Singh, President Arthur D. Little, India

Did you switch off the power button before leaving your room today…? If not, you are part of a global problem which is leading to catastrophic results for human race.

Like many so-called good things, industrialization and development too have certain trade-offs. Unfortunately, these trade-offs are highly concerning and causing threats for existence and sustainability of species on this planet, including the human race.

We are witnessing a series of natural calamities that are caused by environmental imbalances we have created to satisfy our development needs and human greed. Increasing temperatures, shifting of weather cycle, shrinking crop yields, depleting water tables, extinction of several species of birds,insects and even plants. All these are indicators.

The planet is staring down at an almost apocalyptic situation. Industrial and technological development have been exploitative to say the least, due to which the planet is facing disastrous consequences.

Long before the advent of modern science and the global acceptance of Climate Change and Global Warming, we let the nature do its job as we believed that the planet has its own way of correcting itself – by breaking down pollutants and contaminants that were produced as a result of human activities.
However, industrial, developmental and consumption driven human activities had been plaguing the biosphere to an extent where it boiled over, and severely affected not just the natural environment, but also human lives in cities and metropolises. London’s great Fog, Water Scarcity in Capetown, Delhi’s SMOG, Tsunami in South Asian region, deaths and decrease in birth rates of wild animals are just the beginning of such devastation and if not addressed in time, it is going to be beyond repair. These environmental challenges are not limited to the surface and have far worse impact upon oceans and air.

Latest reports suggest that increase in atmospheric temperature have resulted increase in oceanic water temperature and coral reefs are in hot water. Ocean acidification due to pollutants and waste disposal have caused significant threats for aquatic species as well.

It is not that only metropolises are being affected due to inadequate Waste Disposal, declining Green Covers and rampant exploitation of Water; the harsh reality is that rural areas are equally worst affected. Changing climate and shift in weather cycles have severely impacted rural parts of world, and the situation is grimmer in India- the real India which feeds the cities and is the backbone of economic growth.

Environmental imbalance and Climate change have been seen as the by- products of the process of rapid expansion and industrialization, and thus, consequently, have been seen through the lens of the environment versus the industrialists. And while we can never dismiss this view (for obvious reasons), perhaps, it is also time to look at how the process of exploitative industrial development is leading to its own annihilation.

Like the ouroboros (an ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon eating its own tail) our irresponsible industrial practices are cutting down future short. Loss of biodiversity, Air and water pollution, excessive exploration of natural resources to address energy and other demands and deforestation have directly resulted in adverse effects not just plants and animals, but also humans.

Another important lens to look through is the socio-anthropological aspect of climate change. As with all other disasters, whether natural or human-made,the worst victims of climate change will be those at the bottom of the pyramid,including, but not limited to, women, the aged, specially abled, members of marginalized communities, minorities and children. Again, hunger, malnutrition, diseases, crimes, and the general loss opportunities are incidences that reach the aforementioned groups first.

While it has been established that the earth is inevitably racing towards an unhabitable future, it must also be established that all stakeholders must unite and synergise their efforts in order to tackle climate change, mitigate risks and importantly, start some vital damage control process.

The approach for the same should be top-to-bottom, and should start from those who accrue the most economic benefits from the biosphere.
Points to Ponder on this World Environment day’22
 Restrict and Restore approach:
This top-down approach towards sustainability can have an immediate effect by driving change at the system level through policy and operational directives. It is high time to Restrict deforestation, Use of
Potable water for Agricultural and industrial use, Waste Disposal in River/ Oceans, use of Harmful chemicals in agriculture to save water tables, To more for River Restoration, Tree plantation, Renewable Power and also reduce excessive consumptions of fossil fuels.

Countries need to bring in stringent laws to arrest carbon emissions and incentivize usage of renewable energy through concessions can go a long way in driving change towards environmental sustainability. California, the fifth largest economy in the world has done this by adopting the first-ever low carbon fuel rule that forces automakers to meet low emission standards by investing in EV’s and embracing renewable energy sources. We need more initiatives like Project Tiger, Save Soil, Save Forests and participation from Schools,
 Individual and Collective Responsibility of citizens and corporates
Perhaps the foremost change, thus, needs to come from the top – Corporations must take full responsibility and lead the way.
Firstly, it is vital to spread the message as far as possible, and to reach a wider audience. Most corporations have the amount of appeal and reach required to drive change and influence their followers. Many FMCG companies today are shifting away from plastic use and promoting recycling of their products to reduce environmental degradation. If corporates and individuals synergise their efforts to drivechange and hold each other accountable at every step then the maximum impact can be derived.
Awareness, Action, Adoption:
Individual actions can have a massive impact when adopted by large numbers of people. One cannot solely rely on policy change and corporate action to drive sustainability and environmental conservation
as these are bound by conflicting interests of the large number of stakeholders involved. To preserve time, it is important that the desired action course is taken at an individual level.
By educating the youth,implementing change at the grassroots level and advocating climate change mitigation at the national level adequate awareness and accountability measures can be facilitated for the preservation of the environment.
Ecological restoration is key and it should be done as of yesterday
Ecological restoration is defined as “the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged or destroyed”. Ecosystems are in a constant state of evolution. Hence, the objective of restoration is to assist an ecosystem to recover to its pre-degradation trajectory (or close to it). Afforestation, agro-forestry, pest management, eliminating plastic contamination, establishing parks for the preservation of species all contribute towards effective ecological restoration.
The combination of top-down and bottom-up approach towards sustainability must be utilized to eliminate large scale disturbances and ensure balance and effective ecological succession.
Lastly, individual roles in environment conservation are highly important. Citizen need to be conscious about what is not good for environment.
It’s time to Switch off the button…before leaving the room.

As an economics graduate and alumnus of XLRI Jamshedpur, Brajesh is a young leader, known for his multi-sectorial experiences. He spearheads practices pertaining to Government, Infrastructure, Utilities and Energy, Sustainability & Environment, Healthcare, Education, and Agri-tech.

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