People, Planet and Sustainability

Scientists and individuals have always wondered how the earth would look like in times to come if its residents continue to rise in numbers. Can its eco-system continue to feed people forever and maintain the equilibrium? In 1972, the Club of Rome commissioned a modelling work to study the future of our planetas a result of a rapidly growing world population, industrialization, pollution, food production, and resource depletion. The findings of the same were presented in the famous book, titled Limits to Growth. Three main conclusions were reached by this study. The first predicted that in the next 100 years, the society would run out of non-renewable resources if there is no major change in physical, economic, or social relationships, which govern the world development. In the second conclusion of the study, piecemeal approaches to solving problems were considered insufficient.

Only drastic measures for environment protection proved to be suitable. Third and lastly, overshoot and collapse can be avoided only by an immediate limit on population and pollution, as well as a cessation of economic growth. In 2004, an updated edition was published, using the updated data gathered since the previous work. The message was loud and clear that the overshoot cannot be sustained without collapse; however, humanity can still reverse some of its damage to earth if it takes appropriate measures to reduce inefficiency and waste. The famous Academy Award winner documentary of 2006 'An Inconvenient Truth' directed by Davis Guggenhein and based on the US Vice President Al Gore's campaign to educate people about global warming ends by saying: "Each one of us is a cause of global warming, but each winner documentary of 2006 'An Inconvenient Truth' directed by Davis Guggenhein and based on the US Vice President Al Gore's campaign to educate people about global warming ends by saying: "Each one of us is a cause of global warming, but each one of us can make choices to change that with the things we buy, the electricity we use, the cars we drive; we can make choices to bring our individual carbon emissions to zero. The solutions are in our hands, we just have to have the determination to make it happen. We have everything that we need to reduce carbon emissions, everything but political will..."

One could disagree on assumptions, sources& quality of information and approach for arriving at such conclusions but not on the final message. Clearly, the balancing act for sustainable survival hinges on the choices and actions of the people. Now, if you were to ask a common man "what does sustainability or sustainable development mean to you?" most of them would struggle to give an answer. At first sign of any expected petrol price hike, I don't understand why we have to rush to filling stations and wait over there in long serpentine queues to get our tank filled up. How much money will one save in this onetime refilling until the next price revision? This behavior does not encourage conservation as it does not discourage people to drive less, consume less fuel and hence less vehicular emissions. But can we drive more economically or efficiently? No doubt such habits would give us far greater returns than saving some quick bucks on the eve of petrol price hike. This shows that our approach of conveying the meaning of sustainability is ill-defined. A common person needs to be given basic knowledge with examples from the natural and social sciences to understand the principles of sustainable development, and how they can contribute towards it through simple actions in their day-to-day life. It is important to communicate sustainability in a manner that makes sense to people in their context.

Our inability to generate common interest could prove to be a major stumbling block in moving towards sustainable pathways in future. Efforts are being made continuously to educate and raise awareness about the concept and principles of sustainability. Over the ages, the looks and behavior of homosapiens have changed beyond recognition. Unfortunately, in this era, people are reluctant to change their basic lifestyles, to which they have become used to. We need to use techniques that emphasizes on adapting the behavioral changes and not just on raising awareness. A majority of programmes focusing on awareness raising approaches are convenient for stakeholders, ranging from government to companies, to design and implement. However, these are not convenient to the people in understanding the real cause behind it, providing the knowledge and values that could trigger the desired change. Short-sighted interest of human race is not only contrary to the true meaning of SD but defeats the very purpose in achieving the desired long term sustainable goals. ICTs (Information and Communications Technologies) could play a vital role in promoting sustainable development in future; challenge, however, lies in the management and collaboration for its effective utilization.

Tags: environment awareness, raising awareness, education on sustainable development