We have failed our children in the promise that the world will be better for them as it was for us in many ways. This planet, our home, is unlikely to be the safe haven for our future generations that we had pledged.
As we struggle to emerge from the grips of the global pandemic, we know that is not the first nor the last human-ecological disaster that we will face. Recurring droughts, cyclones and floods of increasing ferocity, sea waters that are eating-up fields and homes on the coastline and mountain rivers that no longer flow, are real and are here to stay. We know that this is because the planet is heating up. We also know that the root cause of this pandemic is the same that is causing our planet to warm up.
The root cause is an economic system that has been designed on the false notion of infinite resources to satisfy human greed and not to service human need. A system that thrives on consuming more and more to rev itself up. A system, where the methods of production are powered by easy access to fossil energy and the right to pollute can be bought while passing the cost to common people. While a few of us live beyond our means, many go to bed hungry, drink unsafe water, have no shelter over our heads and live impoverished lives. This is because we have designed an economy that perpetuates inequity and has treated nature with impunity.
The virus is a warning of many more and more ferocious global disasters. We should have known better when we consumed our forests and plundered the lands of our fellow sentient beings, that the earth system can no longer sustain this pilferage and loot.
In the warning that the virus gave, was also a glimmer of hope. In the few months of early lockdown, we got a glimpse of blue skies, clean air, mountain ranges seen from afar and river waters running clear. A hope that we are not destined to live unhealthy lives in polluted environments forever, and that our actions (and inactions) can bring the lands, the forests and the rivers back to life.
As cities shut down, millions of workers walked back to their villages. As industries closed, thousands of jobs were lost and as family incomes disappeared; penury raised its ugly head. We saw that the first to pay the cost of cleaning up and to suffer most disproportionately were the same people who have been paying the cost of our extravagance since generations. If greed, disrespect for nature and inequity are the first three pillars, then injustice is the fourth on which our current economic system is built.
For long we have given the economy the same primacy as human well-being and planetary health, forgetting that economy is the means to achieve these ends and not an end in itself. The pursuit of economic sustainability has morphed into the immortalisation of growth, measured in the quantum of financial transactions that currently masquerade as economic development.
Build back better, is the call for action today. This pandemic is telling us to build differently, to radically change how much and what we consume, and how and what we produce. And as we shift direction to a new path, to take everyone along.
In charting our new course, we have to be guided by a vision for the future where economy serves to ensure human well-being and planetary health and not to perpetuate itself. Such an economy would set limits of consumption for each one of us, rules for production that regenerate rather than exploit and principles for transaction based on equity. We will need to transition rather urgently. We do not have the time, just a dozen years or so, but we have to be mindful that the costs of transition are not borne by those already unjustly burdened. My five beacons for a just transition to a greener more inclusive economy for all are simple:
1. Measure what Matters: Be mindful of the impacts of your decisions on the lives of future generations and act with caution so as not to limit their opportunities for well-being.
2. Ensure Equity and Inclusion: Genuinely include the most vulnerable amongst us, the poorest, the differently abled, the single women, the elderly, the small farmers and the small businesses, enabling them to live a life of dignity and basic comfort.
3. Respect Nature: Act to promote the regeneration of our forests, water systems, river health and soils and do not take from nature what cannot be returned safely.
4. Close the Loop: Ensure that production-consumption cycles are closed loops, tending towards zero waste and zero emissions.
5. Build Human Capacities: Build the relevant skills and abilities for above, creating physical and mental capacities to serve nature and society.
Despite the despondency, I dare to imagine a world where success is measured not in dollars or rupees per capita but in a measure of wellbeing and prosperity for all, where the culture of frugal living, saving and sharing is given primacy, where scientific temper and empathy guide our actions helping raise our collective levels of consciousness; and where diversity of thought, language, music, literature, cuisine and the arts bring delight, peace, camaraderie and togetherness.
The views expressed in the article are those of the author’s and not necessarily those of Development Alternatives.
This blog first appeared as an editorial in Development Alternatives Newsletter November 2020