FRI 6 - 12 - 2019
Date: Jun 4, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
Toward environmental sustainability
Hiba Huneini

Tuesday, June 5, the world will celebrate the 2018 U.N. World Environment Day, a landmark for encouraging awareness and action about the environment. Every year since 1974 the one-day campaign focuses its attention on a specific environmental threat, and, every year, a city is assigned to host the celebration.

This year’s theme is on addressing plastic pollution, and is hosted by New Delhi in India.

Oceans have been treated by humans as a plastic dumping ground, an attitude that is putting marine life at extreme risk.

Industrialization been so focused on increasing production that it did not give enough thinking to how to manage the waste it creates in a sustainable way. Capitalism has all but made us take planet earth for granted.

Consumption and production are central to a capitalist society. Such a focus has repercussions – socially, certainly, but also in terms of the environment.

In order for the current models of free market and economic competitiveness to not destroy the world we live in, socioeconomic theory, policy and practice needs to recognize these links.

Historically, several attempts to map the trajectory of human development have confirmed two very obvious facts.

First, we live in a world with finite resources and if we keep going with the same rate of consumption, these resources will end. Second, our world’s natural resources are interconnected with everything else. They are not immune from people’s behavior and everyday choices.

To better understand this dynamic, Donella Meadows, systems scientist at MIT, and her team, undertook research to look at the future of resource supply and population growth.

Commissioned by Club of Rome, an organization looking at different challenges facing humanity, the researchers carried out computer simulations measuring five variables: population, food production, industrialization, pollution, and consumption of nonrenewable natural resources.

Meadows’ research did not find listening ears among policymakers or business leaders, despite the wide promotion and advocacy that came after the research was published.

Perhaps that’s because the world has, sadly, decided to prefer to maintain the status quo rather than take action and risk change for the worse.

This comfort with maintaining the status quo has led us to several environmental catastrophes just in our lifetime alone. Our oceans, soils, atmosphere, water and wider ecological systems are in grave danger.

Despite the growing awareness about these threats – in part because of the World Environment Day – it has not been enough to achieve the required paradigm shift in global economic behavior, and, by consequence, nor a change in our environmental behavior.

Copenhagen, Rio de Janeiro, Kyoto, Johannesburg, and Paris – all these cities were hosts for major global summits and U.N. conferences to discuss the future of human behavior as regards the environment and our natural resources. Such gatherings revolved around a single question: How can we solve the global “tragedy of the commons” where finite resources are faced with infinite consumption needs?

It is in these conferences that the concepts of sustainability and environmental mindfulness were first introduced, at least to the extent of changing policy.

Some countries have started to realize that turning a blind eye to the environment can have negative economic consequences.

China and India, though some of the world’s worst polluters, are taking serious steps toward protecting the environment due to the economic impact on tourism, agriculture and even industry.

On the contrary, the U.S., under President Donald Trump’s administration, is moving into the opposite direction, especially after withdrawing from the Paris Accord.

Lebanon has its own challenges with the environment and its very clear impact on our economy, and society. In 2003, Beirut hosted the World Environment Day under the theme “Water – Two Billion People are Dying for It.”

The day sparked a global debate around the need for sound global policies governing how humans use our water resources.

Unfortunately, Beirut has gone from hosting a global environment day to facing disastrous environmental challenges today, like our ongoing solid waste saga.

Beirut must get back on the road to overcoming its current environmental challenges.

The question of the environment is a fundamental one for the survival of our human race.

The idea of sustainable human development is about preserving the next generations’ resources in the future. And the World Environment Day is an important event to spread awareness on that very issue. But more than just awareness, concrete actions need to be taken – now – to address our use of the environment if we are to be serious about the survival of the human race.

Hiba Huneini is the manager of the youth and civic engagement program at the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 02, 2018, on page 3.

The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Arab Network for the Study of Democracy
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