The number of human beings on the planet has grown dramatically in the past few decades. Today we are over seven billion people on Earth. Every day, our buzzing never-ending activities eat up a little more of the world’s remaining natural resources and release harmful emissions in the air. Two centuries ago, life was simpler. Back then, people did not drive cars; they did not use plastic bags; they did not need to charge phones; and even their wars did not destroy the environment as much as our current wars do, with our warheads and our fighter jets. Back then, the pace at which they could destroy the planet was slower.
In this regard, the following very telling message was tweeted this week: “The Earth is 4.6 billion years old. Let’s scale that to 46 years. We have been here for 4 hours. Our industrial revolution began 1 minute ago. In that time, we have destroyed more than 50% of the world’s forests. This isn’t sustainable”. Beyond the accuracy of the figures communicated in it, this message should prompt us to think. Its concept is that our race is like a person who has great wealth, but who is spending it at a pace which will soon leave him/her with no money.
On its website, the WWF gives a shocking example of what is happening to the world’s forests: “in the Amazon around 17% of the forest has been lost in the last 50 years, mostly due to forest conversion for cattle ranching. Deforestation in the region is particularly rampant near more populated areas, roads and rivers, but even more remote areas have been encroached upon when valuable mahogany, gold and oil are discovered”. Mahogany, gold, and oil, like cattle, are related to economic growth. They are all sold for profit. There are buyers for them, and governments are compelled to allow such trade because of their need for economic growth, the plague of our times.
Economic growth is today’s number one measure of a government’s success. The man who is hosting the COP21 conference himself, President François Hollande of France, has linked his decision to run again for president to his country’s unemployment rate at the time of the next presidential election. And he often speaks of economic growth as a main target for his government, in itself linked to a potential drop in the unemployment rate. Economic growth does not necessarily mean for a country that its poor will rise out of poverty or that life in it will be more worth living. It only means that the size of the economy will grow. Whether or not this will benefit the people is another story. An economy can grow while increasing inequalities and making life less enjoyable for people. But economic growth is tightly linked to the increase of economic activity, which is the main reason behind pollution. Yes, we can reach a level of cleaner energy to support our frantic economic activity. But this will not be enough, as economic activity also generates pollution which is not related to energy.
It is, thus, not surprising that the top polluters of the world include countries with very vibrant economies, such as the United States and China, but also emerging India. However, pollution and the destruction of our planet, in general, hurt countries the world-over. Far from China or the United States, in Africa, Lake Chad and the Niger River are drying out, with grave consequences for the environment and for populations that are vulnerable already. President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger told journalist Olivier Ravanello of French TV news network iTélé that the target of the COP21 from the African point of view was 1.5oC and not the official 2oC as a limit to global warming by the end of the century, because a limit of 2oC over the world translates into a temperature increase of 3oC to 4oC in Africa. Even in global warming, the poor suffer most. That is because they hold less leverage than the rich. This situation epitomizes Man’s selfishness and materialism.
The consumeristic growth oriented attitudes of countries around the world are only marginal factors in our problem, which we should refer to, comprehensively, as the destruction of our planet, rather than global warming. They are coupled by the gluttony of Man and his lack of vision. For instance, one of the main accelerators of the destruction of our planet is meat, since its production process leads to considerable pollution, let alone loss of green spaces as in the example given by the WWF. But fast food chains have to exist and make money; and millions of bellies around the world love to enjoy a burger. So, industrial farms kill sentient beings such as cows to meet that demand and make profits; no matter the cost, both environmental and ethical.
To put an end to the destruction of our planet, we need to understand the main character causing it, Man. Paradoxically Man is the one who has the power to make the decisions that would prolong the life of Mother Earth, if not save her. Irish poet, William Butler Yeats wrote: “He knows death to the bone / Man has created death”. And now, we are relying on Man to save our dying planet. World leaders gathering in Paris like to pose for pictures together and to make wonderful statements about their love for our planet and for humanity. Another great Irish poet, Oscar Wilde, enlightens us on the futility of such false hope in the goodness of man in such circumstances. He wrote: “Each man kills the thing he loves”.
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