Mainstream, VOL LIII, No 17, April 18, 2015
Unprecedented Challenges Strengthen Case For Equality and Environment Protection
Friday 17 April 2015, by
I - Introduction
The next two decades (2015-2035) present some unprecedented challenges for the human civilisation. There is clearly a very urgent need for restricting climate change to tolerable levels, checking environmental ruin in other critical areas as also for restraints on accumulation and possible use of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). In fact this agenda should have been accomplished in the past two decades (1995-2014) as the extreme urgency of these issues had become clear by the early nineties. This delay has proved to be extremely costly. Any further delay would be catastrophic.
In addition, of course, there are very significant issues of peace, justice and meeting the basic needs of all people. Progress in all these areas has been less then adequate, resulting in persistence of high levels of distress at various levels.
So on the one hand the agenda for justice, peace and meeting the needs of all must be strengthened, and on the other hand this also has to be linked on an urgent basis with the agenda of survival issues like climate change and WMDs which are of an unprecedented nature. These warrant very basic changes in human society. Earlier the required changes, despite being important, could be postponed for some time without permanent damage. Now we’ve a unique situation where if the necessary changes are delayed this may result in permanent damage to the life-sustaining capacity of our planet.
Hence with a sense of great urgency we need to prepare an agenda for effectively tackling survival issues in such ways that other significant issues of justice, peace and meeting the basic needs of all can be integrated with this agenda. This in essence is the alternative paradigm of development. The aim of this paper is to try to work out its outline to some extent. Before this, however, there is a review of where the existing path of development has brought us and why an alternative path is necessary to tackle the most urgent, life-threatening problems. This is attempted in Section-II. Subsequent sections deal with various efforts needed to meet the unprecedented challenges.
II - Inadequacy of Existing Path of Development
There is clear evidence that the existing path of development has not been able to reduce distress significantly while at the same time creating conditions in which distress can increase significantly in the near future.
More specifically we need to ask three questions:
1. To what extent are various aspects of human distress and their various causes being reduced (or increased)?
2. To what extent is the distress of all other forms of life being reduced or increased?
3. To what extent would existing trends and decisions contribute towards decreasing (or increasing) distress of human beings as well as all forms of life in future?
Let’s now examine the situation of the present-day world from the point of view of the above three indicators.
1. Broadly speaking, for the sake of statistical comparisions those persons can be said to be suffering from avoidable distress who suffer from one or more of the following conditions:
they are deprived of basic human needs;
they do not have satisfactory means of livelihood;
they suffer from depression or extreme stress;
they have suffered serious harm from disease, accident, disaster, crime, substance abuse, violence, civil strife or war during the last five years;
they have suffered breakdown or serious impairment of close relationships during the last five years.
Such largely avoidable distress can be distinguished from unavoidable distress like the distress caused by the death of parents in the old age.
Analysis of available data would indicate that over 50 per cent of the world’s people can be said to be distressed on account of one or more of the five factors (or related factors) identified above
This estimate is supported by data from diverse sources.
The Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) looks at overlapping deprivations in health, education and standard of living. This is supposed to present a more complete picture of poverty within a country. According to the Human Development Report 2013, “in the 104 countries covered by the MPI, about 1.56 billon people or more than 30 per cent of their population are estimated to live in multidimensional poverty“. (UNDP 2013)
The United Nations Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Global Sustainability (UNSHPGS) presented data on many aspects of distress in 2012. This report says: “Hunger has risen in recent years and food prices have increased. Small, import dependent countries especially in Africa, have been deeply affected by the food and economic crises. The number of undernourished people in developing countries increased by about 20 million between 2000 and 2008.” (UNSHPGS 2012)
At the end of 2008, only 57 per cent of the world’s people’s obtained their drinking water from a piped connection, while 884 million lacked access to clean water. Improved sanitation coverage was just above the 60 per cent mark in 2008, with over 2.6 billion people still without access. 2.7 billion people rely on traditional biomass use for their cooking needs. 67 million children of primary school age were out of school in 2009. Some 16 per cent of the world adults still lack basic literacy skills. Approximately 1.5 billion people are in vulnerable employment with little job security and few, if any, employment rights. (UNSHPGS 2012)
Hundreds of millions of farmers face serious livelihood problems.
According to the WHO, 50 to 70 per cent of the work force in developing countries may be exposed to heavier physical overload of work that can be harmful to health. (WHO 1996-97)
Even though more advanced cures are becoming available, the overall number of patients suffering from serious and painful diseases like tuberculosis, malaria, dengue, HIV, cancer and heart-disease are increasing in many parts of the world. The WHO estimates up to 169 million cases of occupational disease. (WHO 1996-97)
Diseases relating to pollution and hazards have risen very fast. The increasing costs of medicines and medicare deny available cures to many people. The WHO has warned: “Antibiotic resistance in hospitals worldwide threatens to leave medical and public health workers virtually helpless in the prevention of treatment of many infections.” Further, this organisation warns that in just two decades 30 new diseases have emerged to threaten the health of hundreds of million of people. (WHO 1996-97)
The World Health Report has stated: “In 1990 depression was estimated to rank fourth in terms of the burden of disease in developing countries. It is likely to be first by the year 2020.” This report gave world-level estimates of 400 million cases of anxiety mood disorders, 340 million cases of disorders. There may be as many as 45 million people with schizophrenia, the report said. In addition to the 800,000 reported suicides deaths in a year, many others are not reported due to cultural reasons. (WHO 1996-97) In many parts of world, substance abuse and addiction to various intoxicants have reached alarming levels.
Accidents, most of them preventable, have been causing increasingly massive distress. In most cases the main income earning members suffer, often in the prime of their life. Scattered data indicates that industrial/occupational, transport, domestic and other accidents may be causing over 2 million deaths and over 100 million serious injuries annually, in several cases leading to long-term disability.
According to the HDR, conflicts in the post-Cold War era have claimed more than five million casualties, 95 per cent of them civilians. (UNDP 2013) This figure appears to leave out indirect and longer-term impacts of conflicts, such as the large-scale deaths in Iraq by sanctions as well as the longer-terms effects of depleted uranium.
A Panos research paper stated on the basis of the annual crime data in various cities of the world that the chances of becoming victims of a crime over a five-year period range from 45 per cent to 75 per cent in urban areas of different parts of the world.
With divorce rates reaching or surpassing 40 to 50 per cent in many countries and crucial social relationships breaking down increasingly at other levels, the distress related to social disintegration and loneliness is massive and on the rise in most societies.
Despite some significant examples of improvements, overall social discrimination, denial and even violence based on religion, caste, gender, colour, ethnicity and regional identity continue to remain a significant cause of resentment and distress in the world. Studies in various parts of the world indicate that over 50 per cent of the women in the world suffer from sexual violence or other violence at some stage in their life.
The information summarised above on various important aspects of avoidable human distress supports the assertion made earlier in the paper that over 50 per cent of the people are in distress due to avoidable reasons at any point of time (human distress being defined in terms of the five factors mentioned above).
2. When we examine the second aspect of distress, that is, the distress of other forms of life (other than human beings) then the evidence of vary large scale and increasing distress is even clearer.
There is definitive evidence that many forms of life are today much worse off than at any other time. The rate at which entire species are dying out or becoming seriously endangered is more than ever before. The distress suffered by billions of animals and birds kept for meat, milk, eggs or other produce is more than ever before. The natural habitats of animals and birds have been destroyed and ravaged in recent times as never before. Countless unacceptable cruelties are daily inflicted on animals, birds and aquatic life. Various poisons and toxic substances have been spread over the living places of various forms of life as never before. Fish and all aquatic life have never been subjected to so much mass murder and cruelty as well as threats of survival as in recent times.
As many as 290 million hectares of forests were lost between 1990 and 2010, depriving billions of big and small animals and birds of their habitat, informs the UNSHPGS report. Further this reports says:
“Agricultural run-offts mean that levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in the oceans have trebled since pre-industrial times, leading to massive increases in coastal ‘dead zones’. The world’s oceans are also becoming more acidic as a result of absorbing 26 per cent of the carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere, effecting both marine food chains and coral reef resilience. If ocean acidification continues, disruptions of food chains and direct and indirect impacts on numerous species are considered likely with consequent risk to food security, affecting the marine-based diets of billion of people worldwide. Overfishing has led to 85 per cent of all fish stocks now being classified as overexploited, depleted, recovering or fully exploited, a situation substantially worse than two decades ago.”
Describing the use of destructive technology, the acclaimed report ‘Imperilled Planet’, published by the MIT, wrote: “Every evening as the sun goes down over the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean, thousands upon thousands of kilometres of almost invisible nylon netting are unfurled into the sea ... Besides their intended catches of squid and tuna, these almost indestructible walls of death, each up to 65 km long and 12m deep, trap hundreds of thousands of dolphins, seals, turtles, sharks, salmon and seabirds in an indiscriminate marine holocaust.”
Apart from overfishing, pollution too has contributed much to the alarming loss of bio-diversity in oceans and seas. According to estimates for a single oil spill disaster, the Exxon Valdoz in 1989, 350,000 sea birds and millions of marine creatures perished in this disaster. The damage was so serious as to afflict generations of some species from the toxic and carcinogenic components of pollutants.
When the price of wool fell in the international market millions of sheep were killed in Australia and mass graves were dug to bury them. Time magazine reported on January 14, 1991: “Across the rolling countryside, the normal peace of rural life is being shattered these days by volley of gunfire. Under the hot summer sun in the Southern Hemisphere, rifle shots echo over the rangelands as sheep farmers execute one of the largest animal holocausts in history. The scenes can be pitiful. Some farming families turn away in tears and drive off quickly after delivering their gentle charges to the slaughtering pens. There, next to mass-burial pits dug in grazing tracts or on the outskirts of rural towns, firing squads take over in a project designed to kill 20 million sheep during the next year. ... The death sentence was decreed as an emergency measure to curtail wool production and rescue a vital export industry.”
If 20 million sheep can be killed to serve the short-term economic interests of wool exporters, then this shows that the life and welfare of animals (or birds or fish) is just not valued in the existing system.
Harvard Professor Edward O. Wilson, one of the world’s leading experts on biodiversity summarised the current state of other forms of life in an article in Time magazine. Biologists generally agree, he wrote, that “on the land at least and on a worldwide basis, species are vanishing 100 times faster than before the arrival of Homo sapiens....The ongoing loss in biodiversity is the greatest since the end of the Mesozoic era 65 million years age. At that time, by current scientific consensus, the impact of one or more giant meteorites darkened the atmosphere, altered much of earth’s climate and extinguished the dinosaurs. Thus began the next stage of evolution, the Cenozoic era or age of Mammals. The extinction spasm we are now inflicting can be moderated if we choose. If not, the 21st century will see the closing of the Cenozoic era and the start of a new one characterized by biological impoverishment. It might appropriately be called the Eremozoic era, the age of loneliness.”
Thus due to a complex of reasons, we are in the middle of—to use the words of John Tuxill and Chris Bight writing in State of the World Report—“a mass extinction—a global evolutio-nary convulsion with few parallels in the entire history of life.” As this report adds, unlike the dinosaurs, we are not simply the contemporaries of a mass extinction, “we are the reason for it”.
3. The third question raised is about the future—where is the existing development path likely to take us and the next generation, whether distress is likely to be reduced or it’ll increase for human beings as well as other forms of life?
The available evidence strongly suggests that due to the accentuation of the environmental crisis, and most particularly climate change, the existing development path is likely to greatly aggravate distress in the future for human beings as well as for other forms of life. This is obvious from the fact that even after the seriousness of the threat of climate change was realised, greenhouse gas emissions have continued to increase.
As the UNSHPGS states, “In effect, the benefits reaped from our engineering of the planet have been achieved by running down natural capital assets. Of course there is a backlash effect. ... Nearly two-thirds of the services provided by nature to humans are found to be in decline worldwide.” (UNSHPGS : 2012)
More specifically in the context of climate change, this report says: “Despite the adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol, annual global carbon dioxide emissions from fuel combustion grew by about 38 per cent between 1990 and 2009, with the rate of growth faster after 2000 than in the 1990s.” This report pointed out that the global carbon dioxide level reached 389 parts per million in 2010 and unless there is very significant shift in policy, is likely to exceed 450 parts per million over the coming decades. In its Emissions Gap Report of year 2010, the United Nations Environment Programme concluded that the currently forecast 2020 emission levels were consistent with pathways that would lead to a likely temperature increase of between 2.5 to five degrees Celsius by the end of the 21st century.
Even a two degree Celsius change in temperature will cause very large-scale disruption in several life-sustaining activities apart from leading to the loss of vast low-lying areas (related to rise in sea-level) and worsening ‘natural’ disasters. But beyond two degree Celsius, the earth’s natural processes begin to break down and cause more warming. Scientists have warned that massive amounts of warming gases stored in the Siberian permafrost can melt and get released in the atmosphere. Humid rainforests can lose their humidly and begin to burn down, again releasing stored warming gases. Beyond such ‘tipping points’ the situation can get out of hand.
In 1992 as many as 1575 of the world’s most distinguished scientists, including more than half of all living scientists awarded the Nobel Prize, signed a statement titled “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity”. This statement issued a clear warning: “We, the undersigned, senior members of world’s scientific community, hereby warn all humanity of what lies ahead. A great change in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.”
This statement said “the environment is suffering critical stress” and added that “the irreversible loss of species, which by 2100 may reach one-third of all species now living, is especially serious”.
Emphasising the need for significant change, this statement went on to say: “If not checked, many of our current practices put at risk the future we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdom, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know.”
Edward Goldsmith and his co-authors warned in the widely discussed report ‘Imperilled Planet’ (MIT, USA): ”The danger is that we have gone beyond simply damaging ecosystems and we are now disrupting the very processes that keep the Earth a fit place for higher forms of life. For life as we know it to continue, the balance of gases in the atmosphere must remain within certain limits. ... Beyond a certain point, the system may ‘flip’ to an entirely new state which could be extremely uncomfor-table for life as we know it.”
The concept of a tipping point argues that global warming beyond two degree Celsius can result in irretrievable drift towards disasters and adverse weather conditions. Actually the effort should be to keep it below 1.5 degree Celsius. Awareness is increasing of the potential for passing “tipping points” beyond which environmental change accelerates, and can become self-perpetuating.
Apart from the accumulation of greenhouse gases and ozone depletion, there are also other fast-increasing threats in the form of dwindling essential supplies of water for several communities and the loss of habitat for several species which are bringing us closer to this crisis of survival, not to mention the accumu-lation of nuclear and other weapons which are capable of destroying humanity and most forms of life several times over.
The UNSHPGS has also highlighted the work of a group of scientists from the Stockholm Resilience Centre based on a framework of ‘planetary boundaries’. These scientists have said that once human activity has passed certain thresholds or tipping points, defined as planetary boundaries, there is a risk of “irreversible and abrupt environment change”. Nine such boundaries have been identified. These scientists have said that human activity appears to have already “transgressed the boundaries associated with climate change, rate of biodiversity loss and changes in the global nitrogen cycle”. Further, the world may soon be approaching the boundaries for interference with the global phosphorus cycle, global freshwater use, ocean acidification and global change in land use. There are strong inter-linkages among these boundaries, so that crossing one affects others. (UNSHPGS, 2012)
In the last decade of the 20th century the world had accumulated nuclear stockpiles which added up to a destructive potential nearly 700 times that of all the explosive power used in the three major wars of this century, enough to kill all human beings (as well as most other forms of life) many time over.
The present times are unique in this sense that there is a real possibility of life sustaining systems on earth being seriously harmed in irreversible ways and damaged beyond reco-very due to man-made causes which can still be checked to a considerable extent (even though time is running out fast). Already precious time has been lost. We can’t afford to lose any more time. It is the real threat of man-made irreversible change and permanent loss of life-sustaining systems as well as the challenge of resisting and overcoming this threat which makes present times unique.
III - The Task Ahead
The world’s population now is over seven billion and likely to increase to over eight billion in 2027 and around nine billion in 2040. The people living in least developing countries are projected, according to UN data, to rise from 832 million in 2010 to 1260 million in 2030, an increase of 51 per cent in two decades.
As survival issues are likely to be the most serious concern of the 21st century, it is of crucial importance that the world should completely reorganise its priorities so that environment protection, meeting the basic needs of all and peace become our topmost priorities, not just on paper but in reality.
The first step in this direction can be to prepare a common world level plan which links these three topmost priorities in a mutually consistent way—adequate reduction in GHG emissions, meeting the basic needs of all people in the world and disarmament. (Dogra, 2010)
Secondly, and linked to the first, there is a need to prepare a list of immediate, time-bound, ‘must-do’ actions which should be presented to the world’s leadership.
Thirdly, people’s movements for environment, peace, justice and equality must come together to create conducive conditions in which there is hope for saving our beautiful but vulnerable planet while also meeting the needs of all people.
Both factors which threaten the survival of humankind (and most other species) on our planet—ecological ruin and nuclear war—call for a somewhat similar change in the structures of power and dominance at the world level. Such a change will certainly also bring economic equality at the international level. So the movements for economic equality, the movements for ecological protection and the movements for peace have to work together to achieve the common aim of changing the international power structure which will help all three movements to achieve their aims of equality, environmental protection and peace. (Dogra, 1998)
It needs to be emphasised that ecological protection will require a change in value systems of most people, and that these same values will also serve the cause of increasing economic equality in our society. The same values, by taking us away from greed, endless accumu-lation and dominance, will equally well serve the cause of the peace movement.
Thus both at the level of changing the world power structure and creating favourable values at the grassroots, these three movements support each other.
The perpetuation of economic inequalities at the international level is a constant source of tensions which can any time lead to conflicts. Whenever a large number of people are deprived of basic needs, this can lead to violence. So reduction of economic inequalities and fulfilment of basic needs of all people will certainly lead to more conducive conditions for peace.
On the other hand establishment of peace will certainly lead to more favourable conditions for meeting the basic needs of all. The annual military expenditure of the world is estimated to be several times the additional annual expenses of meeting some of the most pressing needs of poorest countries. Hence a significant reduction in military expenditure can provide the resources needed to meet the basic needs of most people.
Environmental destruction can increasingly lead to or contribute to conflict situations. Ecological ruin destroys livelihoods and this in turn leads to conflict. Even more significantly it deprives people of the most basic of all needs water, leading to water-conflicts among regions or nations. A senior UN official has raised the possibility of major wars being fought in future over the distribution of water.
On the other hand war and conflict—as also the build up of arsenals of destructive weapons for war—lead to large scale environmental destruction.
Hence at a basic level the concerns of these three leading movements are in conformity with each other. The conformity extends further to the movement for gender equality. The movement for equality cannot be complete without incorporating the equal rights of women. As grassroot environmental movements have revealed time and again, rural women respond very well to the challenge of saving forests and water sources as their own lives are linked more closely with these and other natural resources. On the other hand, the protection of environment contributes greatly to the welfare of village women.
In modern war the proportion of civilian victims is increasing steadily, and women increasingly bear most of the burden. War refugees now have a very high percentage of women and children. In addition in most wars, thousands of women are subjected to the worst humiliation of rape and sexual violence. On the other hand the compassion and emotive appeal which women bring can contribute greatly to the success of the peace movement.
The compassion that is inherent in all these movements will certainly also help the animal rights movement. The environment movement and peace movement will obviously make the habitats of innumerable species safer. On the other hand, protection of many animals will improve the productivity of farms and improve the livelihood of farmers, fisherfolk and forest-produce gatherers. Vegetarian diet will not only protect animals but in addition will help to reduce hunger by making more productive use of scarce food. Reducing the use of dangerous pesticides will improve the quality of food while also protecting several species.
While emphasising the harmony of these various movements and components of relevant social change, we are of course aware that temporary, short-term conflicts can also appear, but as long as the basic objective of the genuine well-being of all is respected, these smaller conflicts can be resolved without disturbing the basic harmony.
As multiple crises of survival loom over us, it is truly a crucial time for all these movements to pool their energy and resources together to lay the foundations of a new secure and happy world.
IV - Linking Basic Needs of All with Reduction of GHGs
While the importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions adequately and with the greatest urgency is widely recognised, this extremely important issue has not yet become an issue of mass mobilisation particularly among weaker sections. The reason is obvious—people are too involved in their day to day problems. On the other hand, if any world level planning for reducing GHG emissions is linked to meeting the basic needs of all people, then this will be a plan in which all weaker sections will have a vital stake. Hence mass mobilisation on such a plan for meeting the GHG emission reduction targets while meeting the basic needs of all will be possible. This will also increase the opportunities for movements of justice and peace to work in close collaboration with the environmental movement.
Actually as soon as such a plan is prepared it becomes obvious that in terms of the constraints of carbon space and other related constraints, there is no place in such a plan for the most waseful production and consumption as well as for weapons. Hence disarmament and concerns of the peace movement are built into such a plan.
The very pressing need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions adequately is now widely recognised, but a plan to achieve this needs to be integrated with a plan to meet the basic needs of all.
This plan will have the following components:
1. All wasteful forms of consumption will be listed carefully and quantified. Those forms of wasteful consumption which involve particularly high GHG emissions will also be identified and quantified. A time-bound plan will be prepared to reduce all wasteful consumption as much as possible.
2. In particular an effort will be made to stop the production of all weapons to the maximum extent possible. In addition to the previously known reasons for disarmament, we now have the additional reason of trying to curb all wasteful/harmful manufacture due to the urgent need to reduce GHG emissions.
3. Possibilities of war and civil strife should be minimised, as apart from causing enormous distress to people modern wars and the preparation for such wars involve a lot of GHG emissions.
4. A plan to increase the production of food, other goods and services to meet the basic needs of all in the world should be prepared, together with the most environment friendly and least GHG emitting technologies that can be used for this purpose. This plan should be implemented in such a way as to ensure maximum local self-reliance in meeting basic needs, so that unnecessary transport is avoided and maximum local employment is generated.
5. The socio-economic changes that are nece-ssary to ensure that goods and services to meet all basic needs can actually be accessed by all should be identified and implemented.
6. Energy planning should focus on replacing fossil fuels with solar, wind and other renewables which avoid or minimise GHG emissions and are environment friendly.
7. All new technologies that are necessary for reducing GHG emissions and related objectives should be free from patents so that these can be used as widely as possible wherever needed. But technology transfer has its limits and local solutions for local problems should get the most encouragement while keeping the door open for any input from outside when needed.
8. As far as possible, no remaining natural forests should be cut (except overmature trees). Timber needs should be curtailed as much as possible. Forest-dwellers or people living near forests should get first rights over minor forest produce, while also accepting responsibility for protecting the forests. They should not be displaced but instead should be involved (with adequate incentives) in the protection of forests and wild life. New tree planting should encourage traditional mixed species similar to natural forests.
9. Very high priority should be given to reducing pollution and protecting habitats so that conditions for the healthy living of all life forms, whether on land or in water, can improve significantly.
10. Farming and village based life and livelihood patterns should get more help and priority compared to big industry and city based life and livelihood patterns. Small-farmer based farming using environment friendly methods to produce healthy food with kind care of farm-animals should get the top-most priority and help.
11. Top priority should be given to protecting fresh water sources and conserving water.
12. All hazardous products, technologies, substan-ces and chemicals should be carefully monitored and reduced (or phased out in some cases).
An important role of this plan will be to make it very clear that if the constraints relating to carbon space (keeping emission levels low enough to restrict global warming at most to two degree Celsius) and other related constraints are to be respected, then now there is no room for wasteful consumption and energy-use, for weapons production, wars, deforestation and increasing exploitation of fossil fuels. Once the constraints are clearly understood, then the case for strictly using the available resources and carbon space for meeting the basic needs of all becomes very compelling and strong.
V - Overall Agenda and Change
Some crucial suggestions of what needs to be done in the present-day unique, life threatening situation are outlined below.
All aspects of irreversible threats to life-sustaining systems should be identified carefully and the highest priority should be accorded worldwide for finding time-bound solutions for these. These threats include climate change, accumulation of most destructive weapons, the depletion of most critical life-giving resources, destructive technologies (such as GM crops) which can cause irreversible damage to life-systems and the new possibilities of very rapid spread of difficult-to-cure infectious diseases. Careful plans should be prepared, making use of the best available knowledge on these issues, to check these threats before it is too late. The mandate should be to prepare these plans in accordance with non-negotiable values of equality, justice, democracy and reduction of poverty and want. These plans should get the highest priority. International institutions and mechanism should be established to ensure worldwide reach of these plans in just and equitable ways.
Very high priority should be assigned worldwide to reducing poverty and want, meeting the basic needs of all people, reducing inequalities at all levels. Reduction of inequalities at all levels has always been important but now this importance has increased due to the additional necessity of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Also due to the scarcity of many essential life-giving resources including water. Due to increasing resource constraints and a limited ‘carbon space’, it is essential that the basic needs of all people should be prioritised. The luxuries of a few should not keep away the basic needs of many. This becomes a significant additional reason for ensuring more equality and justice.
Apart from increasing economic equality, there is clearly need for more significant steps for ending all discrimination and injustice based on religion, gender, caste, colour, ethinicity and related factors. More extensive steps for reducing and ending social inequalities are needed and these will contribute significantly to reducing distress. There is clearly the need for ending all injustice and discrimination against women (including the unborn female child) while increasing sensitivity to their special needs.
There is clearly the need for giving much greater attention to social relationships at all levels-family, neighbourhood, community, education-al place and workplace. In daily life these social relationships are often the most frequent determinant of distress and happiness. Also, the local is obviously related to the global. Any worldwide meaningful change must have the support based on genuine understanding at the level of the most basic human institutions such as family, village community, urban neighborhood, school and college.
Thus on the one hand a great deal of work needs to be done to improve all social relationships to make them mutually caring, compassionate, cooperative and based on notions of equality and justice. On the other hand there is a need also to integrate these efforts with a much improved and wider understanding of issues of global justice, peace, equality and environment protection so that support for such a global agenda is strengthened at the level of local communities, educational institutions and families.
Very high priority should be given to ending all wars and civil strife. While these have always been a cause of enormous distress, there is now an additional reason for minimising the possibilities of war and civil strife. Objectives such as checking climate change and all irreversible damage to life-sustaining systems are not at all compatible with war and civil strife. Worldwide acceptance must be created for a system for stopping the possibilities of war and civil strife at an early stage, using action which is based on justice, equality and non-discrimination.
All weapons of mass destruction, broadly defined as all highly destructive weapons, should be eliminated within a fixed time-span (with the exception of just a small arsenal with an international peace organisation, capable of meeting any threat from terrorist organisations acquiring such weapons).
High priority should be given to protection of environment and habitats of various forms of life at all levels. All important policies whether with respect to farming or forests, rivers or oceans, should give adequate importance to protecting all forms of life. Projects and technologies which endanger various forms of life, their habitats and survival conditions, should be avoided as far as possible.
Democracy based on equal voting rights of all citizens, adequate decentralisation to local levels, active participation of citizens, wider dissemi-nation of knowledge on all important issues to citizens, education emphasising all genuine important issues and concerns, transparency and integrity at all levels should be strengthened. At the international level systems of equality of all people and nations should be firmly established, ending the domination of a few. Undue interference of corporate and other powerful vested interests in democratic decision-making should be firmly checked.
Institutions for much broader international action are needed, using reform of existing institutions where possible and creation of new institutions where needed. There is an overall need for broadening the horizons of social action so that more and more citizens feel motivated as world citizens, overcoming narrower concerns, for creating a world based on justice, equality, protection of environment and all forms of life.
VI - Some Questions
Prioritising the above objectives inevitably raises some important questions arising partly from existing notions of ‘development’ and ‘growth’, which need to be sorted out. A frequently asked question is whether more economic growth is necessary and/or desirable.
The priorities outlined above need increased production of some goods and services (those related to meeting basic needs) and at the same time decrease in production of some goods and services (relating to production of various weapons and arms, production of luxuries which involve a huge wastages of scarce resources, production of several toxic products, production of various intoxicants and harmful substances etc.). In the case of weapons, decreasing production to less than five per cent of existing levels will be desirable and can even be possible. Whether overall economic growth takes place or not has to be a net result of this cut back in some products and increase in some goods and services, all this based on a justice based and realistic realisation of needs of people and existing resource constraints including carbon space.
Another question is whether the existing economic system based on corporates is proper for meeting new goals.
Clearly any domination of economic policies by huge multinational companies, including banks, is unacceptable. Corporate interests should stick to the assigned role of making available goods and services within the confines of polices decided in public interest by democratic governments. Their activities should be in conformity with, and never in violation of, public interest policies decided by democratic governments. They should respect laws and rules relating to environment, safety, labour, consumer interests and financial integrity.
Alongside private corporates, there is the need for a greater role of the public sector for meeting basic needs of people, as well as for production by co-operative sector and small self-help groups. Agriculture is best handled by family farms with space left for co-operatives. Production of small items of basic needs should be left more and more to small local producers (cooperatives, self-help groups, small entrepreneurs) using labour-intensive methods, generating more employment and showing more concern for local cultures.
Lastly, is it possible to check the threat of climate change in time and how expensive would it be?
Several aspects of checking greenhouse gas emissions are desirable for their own sake as these bring several benefits. Any efforts to cut back on wasteful, high luxury products and pursue frugal life-styles voluntarily are highly desirable for overall environment protection as well as reducing the burden of inequality and poverty, while these can also be guided in such a way as to bring huge cuts in GHG emissions. Similarly protection of natural forests and creation of new forests in such ways that these resemble natural forests is highly useful for protecting biodiversity and livelihoods relating to this, while at the same time helping to check climate change. The replacement of fossil fuel based centralised energy systems with decentralised energy systems based on a mix of various renewable energy systems across vast rural areas is highly beneficial for energy security and generating a range of new highly creative employments while at the same time contributing a lot to reduction of GHG emissions in a sustained way.
Hence with careful planning based on sound knowledge and research, it is possible to integrate many creative ways of checking climate change as highly beneficial components of an improved economy. This can also be an opportunity for involving people, including farmers, artisans and workers to contribute innovations which are more useful for local conditions.
1. Dogra, Bharat (1998), ‘Another Path Exists’ (New Delhi: Social Change Papers).
2. Dogra, Bharat (2010), ‘Earth History and the Next Century’ (New Delhi: Social Change Papers).
3. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (2013), Human Development Report (New Delhi: Academic Foundation).
4. United Nations Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Global Sustainability (UNSHPGS) (2012), Resilient People, Resilient Plant (New York: United Nations).
5. World Health Organisation (1996 and 1997), World Health Report.
Bharat Dogra is a free-lance journalist who has been involved with several social initiatives and movements.