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World Earth Day: Obligation to survive, restore nature and empower societies

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As planet Earth gets warmer, there will be an urgent need to develop solutions and technologies to remove harmful greenhouse gases and put it to different uses.

By Abhineety Goel, Ph.D.

Planet Earth – the majestic blue planet is home to millions of rich diverse species and to 7.8 billion people. To save the planet from extinction, not only there is a need to focus on the recovery of the environment but also liberating humans across the boundaries from growing vicious circle of everyday problems of resource stress. Only then human-environment interdependency can survive within the broader system.

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In the USA, publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962 brought attention to the harmful use of the pesticides (DDT) and its harmful effects on the birds, animals, land and humans. It sparked rise in environmental consciousness that was further intensified by environmental disasters such as Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969. Ultimately in 1970, for the first time, masses were mobilized together to celebrate Earth Day. It is a day to appreciate, learn and respect the Planet Earth in all its glory. Celebrating 51 years of Earth Day today, the focus this year is to restore nature.

Life on Planet Earth is racing towards a critical point– widespread species and habitat loss, climate change, natural disasters, land degradation and growing resource insecurity. Increasing stress on environmental resources has only been proliferated by the complex political, economic and social policies and decisions taken and implemented by the global societies. Often at the cost of the environment.

Through her classic work Silent Spring, Rachel Carson questioned just rightly, “all has been risked for what?” Planet Earth evolved over 2.4 billions of years to sustain life. With the increasing dooming threat of Climate Change and its ultimate societal impacts, both socio-economic and politics, humans have drastically changed the nature of the environment through control and modification by the means of heavy extraction of resources and technological and development advancements. Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic also comes to mind. Land ethic addresses moral obligation and right to continued existence of not only humans, a member of the biotic realm, but also its other elements including plants, animals and land.

In March 2021, Global Trends report was published by the US National Intelligence Council which is prepared and released once every four years. It prophesied a dire bleak future of this planet for the next 20 years. Earth is predicted to be characterised by rapidly aging population in developed economies while including others, South Asia will account for the lion’s share of the global population, increasingly urban, while placing a massive stress on its resources to inflate its economic growth potential at the same time.

By examining the results of the last decade, the report further predicted melting of the Arctic and an estimated range of 3 to 14 inches’ sea level rise by 2040; extreme widespread heatwaves especially along the tropics due to intensification of sea surface temperatures; escalation in intense weather related natural disasters, human-induced land degradation, water stress (both availability and accessibility) and biodiversity loss thus exacerbating food and water insecurity, threats to human health and increased migrations.

In 2019, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released, seemingly, “the most comprehensive report ever completed”, which stressed on the urgency of taming anthropogenic exploitation to save our ecosystem from collapsing. It noted that “three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66% of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions. More than a third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75% of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production.” Recent documentaries, including Seaspiracy, 2040, Anthropocene, A Plastic Ocean, Kiss the Ground visually and vividly portray such anthropogenic effects on the environment.

Moreover, innovative technology will continue to be invented and diffuse faster and faster to masses thus threatening the existence of human morals and ethics through increasing power imbalances created across the global societies. With growing insecurity and uncertainty in next 20 years, global societies will witness further inequality, corruption and conflicts.

However, everything’s not lost. Mitigation strategies for Climate Change are being developed. Even though fossil fuels will continue to be used extensively but more importantly, supply of renewable energy based on solar and wind will grow. With technological advances, research and innovations will shift to development of geoengineering solutions. As planet Earth gets warmer, there will be an urgent need to develop solutions and technologies to remove harmful greenhouse gases and put it to different uses.

One such brilliant innovation is by Indian Tejas Sidnal, who founded Carbon Craft Design in Mumbai in 2019. Developed by engineers and architects, his company manufactures carbon tiles, used as building materials, made with recycled carbon collected and processed from multiple sources including tyre pyrolysis factories. Another experiment based on solar geoengineering is advocated by the billionaire philanthropist Bill Gate and Harvard scientists. It proposes sending a large balloon into the stratosphere and releasing 2kgs of chalky dust to block sunlight, reduce heating and decelerate global warming. This experiment is set to take place in June 2021. Other than these innovative experiments, plentiful efforts of individuals worldwide and in India give humans hope. Hope to survive this dooming apocalypse.

However, such efforts alone might not make a difference. The health of the Planet Earth and the life that it supports, depends on a comprehensive yet complex system of interrelationships. Hydrosphere, atmosphere, lithosphere and biosphere – all interact together in a balance to sustain this liveable planet. Humans have a reciprocal relationship with the environment and its resources. Evidently in the past, when the environment thrived, the human societies have flourished too.

Global and national institutions are aggressively finding solutions, but the younger generations need to challenge and engage proactively in this crisis. This Earth day, restore nature by cultivating environment education, develop network of green spaces within urban cities, commit and take actions to conserve environment thus empowering marginalized societies that face daily resource stress, plant trees, conserve soil in degraded ecosystems, adapt sustainable and environment friendly consumer lifestyle, avoid non-degradable products such as plastics, conform to a renewable based lifestyle, research and develop innovative yet sustainable technology and projects to invest in local economies.

Inclusive, developed and healthy societies are a key to protecting the planet. Aside from addressing the sustainable development goals, there is a growing need to strengthen and create efficient governance of natural resources. Unless humans reduce radically their growing exploitative burden on natural resources – be it marine or terrestrial, only climate change actions will not resolve the environment crisis. Within an increasingly polarizing economic and politically conflicted world, rising poverty, wars and conflicts, health, and the refugee crisis present a bleak grim portrayal of less-developed societies. After all, biotic life including humans are obligated to survive a healthy, viable and sustainable planet for themselves and generations to come.

(The author is Assistant Professor – Environmental Studies, FLAME University. She is also Ph.D. in Geography from Texas A&M University, USA; Master’s and M.Phil from Delhi School of Economics. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)

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