— Shashwat DC
Every year, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) comes out with a theme to celebrate the World Environment Day (WED) on June 5th every year. The theme drawn from
an important problem plaguing the planet, sort of encapsulates the overall objective for the year, here are what the themes were for the past few years:
- 2014 Small Islands and Climate Change
- 2013 Think.Eat.Save.
- 2012 Green Economy: Does it include you?
- 2011 Forests-Nature At Your Service
- 2010 Many Species. One Planet. One Future
In addition to the themes, each year there is a host city that comes attached with the theme. It is central to the celebration of the World Environment Day. The choice of the host city ranges from Sylhet in Bangladesh to Stockholm in Sweden.
This year too UNEP is celebrating WED, and the theme is “Seven Billion Dreams; One Planet; Consume with Care”. The host city is Milan, Italy. The description as per UNEP goes something like this:
Many of the Earth’s ecosystems are nearing critical tipping points of depletion or irreversible change, pushed by high population growth and economic development. By 2050, if current consumption and production patterns remain the same and with a rising population expected to reach 9.6 billion, we will need three planets to sustain our ways of living and consumption.
While the idea of an over-arching theme is good and welcome. The words in their current form leave a lot to be desired. It is a no-brainer that rising population is creating a great burden on this planet, ripping it away of its resources. This is for the first time in human history, more humans are alive on this planet, than they ever have been alive in the past three millions of years. And yes, this is creating an immense resource burden on the planet, there is food that needs to be grown, forests cleared for living, petrol and coal dug for power and so on. It almost feels that we are looking down a precipice of downwards destruction because unless a catastrophe or a catacylsm, the population is only set to grow, touch 9 billion by 2050 and possibly 12 billion by the end of the 21st century.
Just like we celebrate WED on a fixed day every year (June 5th) to raise global awareness to take positive environmental action to protect nature and the planet Earth, there is another day that falls on a variable date. And yes, it is not something to celebrate or feel great. It is a day called as Earth Overshoot Day or Ecological Debt Day. It is meant to represent the approximate calendar date on which humanity’s resource consumption for the year exceeds Earth’s capacity to regenerate those resources that year. Ecological Debt Day is calculated by dividing the world biocapacity (the amount of natural resources generated by Earth that year), by the world Ecological Footprint (humanity’s consumption of Earth’s natural resources for that year), and multiplying by 365 (days in a year). When viewed through an economic perspective, Ecological Debt Day represents the day in which humanity enters deficit spending, scientifically termed “overshoot”. It is a rough estimate of time and resource trends, of measuring the gap between human demand for ecological resources and services, and how much Earth can provide, made by the Footprintnetwork organization.
Every year, the Overshoot Day has been falling back on the calendar, it has moved from December 19 in 1987 to August 19 in 2014. If the current trends hold, it will only fall back
more. Technically speaking from August 20, 2014 to December 31, 2014, the human race was actually impinging on resources from the future; it was like living on a credit card.
The issue of consumption is much relevant and pertinent. Yet before you jump off the chair and say bingo, there is a rider here; the problem of consumption is not necessarily linked to population. It has more to do with the disparity of consumption. You see, while all the stats and info club the humanity into one big basket, the case is not really so. The consumption of an average American is many times more than an average Indian. In fact, according to a report Overconsumption by SERI; people in rich countries consume up to 10 times more natural resources than those in the poorest countries. On average, an inhabitant of North America consumes around 90 kilograms (kg) of resources each day. In Europe, consumption is around 45 kg per day, while in Africa people consume only around 10 kg per day.
With almost 3 tonnes per capita per year, Europe is the continent with the highest net-imports of resources. Europe thus benefits from a major transfer of resources from poorer, low consuming countries to richer, high consuming countries. The current world trade system helps support substantial inequalities in the distribution of the use of natural resources. This raises important questions for global justice.
Globally, we are using 1.7 Earths’ worth of biocapacity every year. Some nations, however, use a lot less than this, and some use a lot more. Here is how many Earths we would need if everyone lived like a resident of the following countries.
- United States — 4.6 Earths
- Canada — 3.4 Earths
- United Kingdom — 2.6 Earths
- Japan — 2.4 Earths
- Germany — 2.0 Earths
- Russia — 1.8 Earths
- Mexico — 1.6 Earths
- Costa Rica — 1.1 Earths
- India — 0.4 Earths
And the differences not only lie in terms of under-developed countries and rich countries; the actual difference exists between a handful of rich gents who seem to own all and the rest of the world that is struggling to make ends meet.
Oxfam International has released a new report called, “Working for the Few,” that contains some startling statistics on what it calls the “growing tide of inequality.” These stats highlight how the income inequality is becoming pervasive and dreadful as time passes. Here are a few:
- Almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population.
- The wealth of the one percent richest people in the world amounts to $110 trillion. That’s 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population.
- The bottom half of the world’s population owns the same as the richest 85 people in the world.
- Seven out of ten people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the last 30 years.
- The richest one percent increased their share of income in 24 out of 26 countries for which we have data between 1980 and 2012.
- In the US, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer.
The consumption patterns in the globe are much different, a rich European buying a brand new Merc or a BMW is doing more harm to this planet than a 100 poor Indians trying to eke out a living. The honest and undeniable fact remains that, 85 richest individuals in the world owned the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the global population.
And this is why the theme for WED was a bit deluding and a little partisan. By talking about population in the same breath as consumption, there is a sort of an idea given that the sheer numbers are denuding the planet. This is certainly not the real picture. The “consume with care” needs to be taught and drilled to just a few hundred individuals who have largely inherited their fortunes or built them by providence.
Even the country and the city they chose seemed a bit off the mark, after all Italians are certainly not the best role-model when it comes to (over)consumption. If the entire world consumed like the Italians do, we would need close to 3 Earths to match the requirement.
And if that was not enough, UNEP has announced the theme for WED next year, a rather ambiguous one that reads, “Join the race to make world a better place”. And can you guess which is the host country? Saudi Arabia, the very place where gender discrimination is at the very highest, with the worst sort of human rights record, the nation that supplies petrol to the whole world, and not to mention the Sheikhs that have the most opulent living. Now, am seriously wondering, could it really go more stupid than that? Or do we have someone like Sepp Blatter working at UNEP now?