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Are we focused on the right things?

Are we focused on the right things?

By Indranil Seth

So long as we are passive spectators to the ever growing concern over the protection of the environment, and hence the call for sustainable growth planet wide, we are destined to find ourselves increasingly engulfed by the problem at hand. Instead of losing focus, we can do a reality check and ask ourselves: “Are we focused on the right things?” The issue is metaphysical and rational, and when you dive into it, one finds an endless list of questions.

Are the signs of climate change enough to compel you to jump on the sustainability bandwagon? Do we need, or even have, quick fixes for the issues we face? Are we justified in our current approach toward the problem? Are we doing enough to arrest the damage and jump-start our development curve back on a sustainable trajectory? Is it true that past generations were blind to this ticking time bomb? Who is really to be blamed for today’s carbon footprint mess?

As the developing world surges ahead with economic development in the 21st century, we all agree that there is going to be significant growth in energy demands. Are we ready to fully embrace our environmental and sustainability commitments in this growing new world order? We cannot afford to have some nations achieve significant economic growth at the cost of the environment while other, not-so-fortunate nations seek to emulate them. Unless emerging energy requirements are met sensibly and fairly, environmental degradation will continue to happen. We could fail to save the planet even as the effort to do just that gains momentum.

As some companies vie against one another to increase the green of their profits, and in the process increase the black of their carbon footprint, we are witnessing a haste to save the planet’s resources. We must understand that alongside the commitments made by the multinational corporations to sustainably develop the planet, every individual and every nation – rich or poor, large or small – has an equal stake in the outcome. As time is an unavoidable factor in mankind’s race to overturn the odds against environmental responsibility, it is imperative that all nations – and every human being on the face of this planet – are invaluable pieces to the same puzzle.

Environmental responsibility and sustainability differ from economic growth and military power. The latter two can be, and historically have been, unequally distributed across the world. But we cannot afford the same luxury as it relates to the environment. Lately, the effects of climate change throughout the world have made us wonder if we are equally responsible for the environmental degradation brought about by the development and industrialization of some parts of the world in the past few centuries, particularly the 20th. If we look back at history we see the Industrial Revolution dawn and flourish, and the see-saw balance between development and environmental obligations unfold thereafter.

Did we not know back then about the environmental consequences of modernization and the need for sustainable growth as we do now? It seems that somewhere down the road we unknowingly crossed the line. An interesting fact is that sustainable growth is not a new invention. Rather, it has been with mankind since time immemorial. Various ancient civilizations around the world have managed to grow sustainably without harming the delicate balance of the planet. In fact, it may be argued that these civilizations were more educated about the harms of environmental degradation and the fruits of sustainable growth than we were.

So, why now the hue and cry over environmental consciousness and the need for sustainable growth? Also, have we again become eager to start a new kind of revolution, only this time wearing the environmental protection and sustainability mask? And do human relationships play an active role in attaining sustainable growth in societies? Absolutely! Economic development and the environmental piece are unsolvable without the human condition playing a key role.

The world today needs to meet the sustainable growth challenges by tackling not only the present environmental problems, but also societal, cultural, and economic issues. When any type of development occurs, an irreversible aberration of the natural balance takes place, but sustainable development minimizes such disturbances, at least to a certain extent. Therefore, the solution cannot be a piecemeal approach. We must have a deep understanding of the human race’s existence on this planet, and identify the lines that should not be crossed.

Indranil Seth, PE, LEED AP BD+C is an environmental and sustainability consultant with a mining engineering background. He can be reached at indranil_seth@yahoo.com.