The techno-economic model widely practiced is inadequate in mitigating the crisis and underscores the need to have a new paradigm. During past two centuries humankind has witnessed tremendous advancements in science and technology which have resulted in mind boggling affluence and staggering levels of consumption. We are now passing through an era of super industrialism producing far reaching changes in the life and thinking of the people. Despite this unprecedented material progress, societies and individuals are not happy. All nations whether rich or poor are undergoing serious stresses and strains. Several studies reveal that the graph of sex and drug crimes is rising; moral and ethical values are being rapidly eroded; civilizational conflicts have heightened; religious bigotry and terrorism have spread their tentacles globally; individuals and societies are also experiencing fragmentation and families are becoming more and more atomised; and individuals with split personalities feel uprooted. The situation is further confounded by the rapid environmental degradation, serious climatic changes and widening economic inequalities. All these in my opinion, have largely contributed to produce a web of world problematique.
To understand the problem of excessive consumption it is instructive and sobering to look at some global trends. First, the consumption disparities. Globally, 20 per cent of the world'srichest people account for 86 per cent of total private consumption expenditures, the poorest 20 per cent only 1.3 per cent. The richest fifth consume 45 per cent of all meat and fish, the poorest fifth 5 per cent; consume 58 per cent of total energy the poorest fifth less than 4 per cent; have 74 per cent of all telephone lines the poorest fifth 1.5 per cent; consume 84 per cent of all paper, the poorest fifth 1.1 per cent; own 87 per cent of the World'svehicle fleet the poorest fifth less than 1 per cent. Worse, the gap between the rich and the poor is growing. In 1970 the ratio was 30:1, today it is 74:1.
Secondly, what are the implications of this consumption imbalance which shows highly disturbing trends? Firstly, disproportionate consumption on the part of the rich contributes to reduce consumption on the part of the poor by causing a strain on overall resource availability and reduced affordability. Secondly, as the 1998 Human Development Report of the UNDP has dramatically brought out, the pollution and waste generated by excessive consumption far exceed the earth'ssink capacities to absorb and convert them. The fifth of the world'spopulation in the highest-income countries account for 53 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions, the poorest fifth for 3 per cent. The human consequences of the global warming from carbon dioxide can be devastating for poor countries, playing havoc with harvest, rise in sea levels, permanent flooding of large areas, increased frequency of storms and droughts, extinction of some species, spread of infectious disease and possibly sudden and savage flips in the world'sclimate. The IPCC reports 2001 and now 2007, as also various international conferences have warned the disastrous consequences of climate change looming large over the planet requiring serious and speedy action to save the planet. This phenomenon is symptomatic of the serious infirmities or even failure of the western model of development adopted by a large number of countries.
Thirdly, excessive consumption of the affluent on the one hand and the poverty-environment-population problem triad on the other is causing an unbearable strain on natural resources. The number of water scarce people is expected to soar from 550 million to 3 billion by the year 2025. Global water availability has dropped from 17,000 cubic meters per capita to 7000 today. A sixth of the world'sland area is now degraded as a result of overgrazing and poor farming practices. Forest area per 1000 inhabitants has fallen from 11.4 square kilometers to 7.3. Fish stocks are declining with about a quarter currently depleted or in danger of depletion and another 44 per cent being fished at their biological limit. Wild species are becoming extinct 50-100 times faster than they would naturally. The cost of this environmental damage is heaviest and the most severe on the poor.
The remarkable scientific advances that have contributed to food production globally have been achieved at some cost. Over the past 50 years there has been a loss of 25 per cent top-soil and 20 per cent less agricultural land. We have spent the capital rather than used the interest. In 1961, the amount of cultivated land supporting food production was 0.44 ha per person; today it is about 0.26 ha; based on population projections, by 2050 it will be in the vicinity of 0.15 ha per person. Irrigation has become increasingly important with about 16 per cent of arable land being irrigated and producing one-third the world crops, but it has produced problems of salination and soil degradation.
Let us now have a look at some of the findings of the scientists which were approved in the 10th session of the Working Group I of the IPCC, Paris in the beginning of 2007. It may be seen from the report that the consequences of human activities both industrial and agricultural have contributed towards the global climate changes. Some of the significant observations are as under:
?Global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750 and now far exceed pre-industrial values determined from ice cores spanning many thousand of years. The global increases in carbon dioxide concentration are due primarily to fossil fuel use and land-use change, while those of methane and nitrous oxide are primarily due to agriculture.?
?Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level.?
?Paleoclimate information supports the interpretation that the warmth of the last half century is unusual in at least the previous 1300 years. The last time the Polar Regions were significantly warmer than present for an extended period (about 125,000 years ago), reductions in polar ice volume led to 4 to 6 metres of sea level rise.?
?For the next two decades, a warming of about 0.2o C per decade is projected for a range of SRES emission scenarios with reference to Special Report on Emission scenario (SRES) 2000. Even if the concentrations of all greenhouse gases and aerosols had been kept constant at year 2000 levels, a further warming of about 0.1o C per decade would be expected.?
?Continued greenhouse gas emissions at or above current rates would cause further warming and induce many changes in the global climate system during the 21st century that would very likely be larger than those observed during the 20th century.?
The Human Resource Development Report 2006 discusses the global water problem. I quote from the report.
THE GLOBAL WATER CRISIS
??this Report shows, the sources of the problem vary by country, but several themes emerge. First, few countries treat water and sanitation as a political priority, as witnessed by limited budget allocations. Second, some of the world'spoorest people are paying some of the world'shighest prices for water, reflecting the limited coverage of water utilities in the slums and informal settlements where poor people live. Third, the international community has failed to prioritise water and sanitation in the partnerships for development that have coalesced around the Millennium Development Goals.
Water for livelihoods poses a different set of challenges. The world is not running out of water, but many millions of its most vulnerable people live in areas subject to mounting water stress. The symptoms of overuse are disturbingly clear: rivers are drying up, groundwater tables are falling and water-based ecosystems are being rapidly degraded. Put bluntly the world is running down one of its most precious natural resources and running up an unsustainable ecological debt that will be inherited by future generations.?
We all known that water is a fundamental human right. It is nature'sfree gift and is central for human existence, the Report further states,
?? The idea of water as a human right reflects these underlying concerns. As the UN Secretary-General has put it, ?Access to sate water is a fundamental human need and, therefore, a basic human right.? ? Human rights are not optional extras? They are binding obligations that reflect universal values and entail responsibilities on the part of governments??
(Excerpted from the speech at the first National Seminar organised by Arundhati Vashishtha Anusandhan Peeth. The writer is former Union Minister for Human Resources Development, Science & Technology and Ocean Development Government of India.)
(To be concluded)