IT was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct to the other way". This is how Charles Dickens in his The Tale of Two Cities expressed his feelings about the so-called development that came with the Industrial Revolution in England. Modern technological development has brought in its train colossal ecological problems and risks for the whole world. More than 2.3 billion people suffer from diseases caused from water pollution today. According to the World Commission on Water for the 21st century more than half of world's major rivers are so polluted that they pose a big threat not only to human health but also to the entire ecosystem. Only half of South Asia's 550 million people have access to safe drinking water. The death toll from air pollution is around 3.0 million per year. Today 35,000 children die due to malnutrition and preventable diseases. According to WHO estimate about 7,00,000 deaths could be prevented every year in the developing world if major atmospheric pollutants like carbon monoxide, suspended particulate matter and lead could be reduced. Organic food pollutants cause direct threats to our health since long.
We are continually made aware about the way we are inextricably linked with the natural world and must be on our feet to do everything possible to protect our basic self-interest in maintaining the integrity of creation. But natural world suffers from the misdirection of human authority and fertile imagination. Man has constantly been separating from nature in the name of civilization and development. Behind this environmental and ecological crisis lie the crisis of the erosion of our values. The Western understanding influenced by Aristotelian philosophy made into subdue and consume natural resources for the gratification of endless human needs and greed. Because of man's "rationality" he is superior to animal and plant lives. This has been interpreted to justify man to rule and exploit nature in such a way that he has every right to fulfil all his pleasures. Misuse of modern scientific and technological advancement has served as a means to further this. We consume resources faster than we produce from using the limited resources of nature. In order to satisfy our ever-growing needs we are forced to use our own know-how creating, in turn, imbalance in nature. Air, water, soil, sunshine, all are cursed!
The developing countries have now been linked up with the developed ones through globalization, which is no unmixed blessing for them. Because of its very nature of forcing them to enter into unfair competition with the technologically advanced nations this itself proves to be a delusion. There is a big dichotomy between our lifestyle and our theses on justice. Perhaps the greatest struggle for the poor nations now is to find out how to check the remaining markets for the products of the rich countries.
Today more development appears to mean more destruction of our ecosystem. The adverse seminal effect of this affects the poor societies more than the rich because they do not have the know-how to stall the same. The developed countries import cheap raw materials for their economic growth from the developing countries and export their industrial products to the developing countries at high prices. According to Brundtland Report 26 per cent of the world population who are living in the developed countries consume 85 per cent of the world's paper, 79 per cent of other metals, and 80 per cent of commercial energy. The rich countries do not only exploit the natural resources of the developing countries, but also destroy nature and the economic system. Unjust global economic order is also linked up with ecological problems such as deforestation, greenhouse effect, acid rain, desertification, etc. The modern western concept of development and prosperity revolves around economic growth. This gives more wealth to the rich through industrialization. As a result suffering of people from unequal distribution of wealth and income, oppression of human rights, dehumanization and displacement occurs.
Sustainable development has now been the newly emerged development concept. This speaks for a process of empowerment of the poor, and is a change to a just, participatory and sustainable society. It is good that the world is more and more becoming aware of the damage that is being done to the earth by man's insatiable desires. This ought to lead us to be intentional about an authentic reflection on how really we can have peaceful and sustainable prosperity for a maximum number of people supported by harmonious relationship between man and nature where all people are able to meet their basic needs of enough food, clean water, shelter, sanitation, clothing, and access to primary healthcare and education; where human activity is environmentally sound; and where common people own the process and the goal of development.
Due to reasons not far to seek there is a worldwide crisis of decline in productivity of both crop and pasture land because of a process of desertification. On average there is 3/4 of an acre of land per person. Like land water sustains all creation: human, animal, plant lives. Without air and water we can not live. But there is a real crisis with water. Most of the world's water is polluted; and this most abundant resource on earth has become a life-threatening problem because of pollution. Economic and political tensions aggravate with regard to the control of water resources. Air pollution, acid rains, desertification, thinning down of the ozone layer affecting not only humans but also the entire natural world are very ominous.
The world's growing population coupled with unsustainable production and consumption patterns puts increasing pressure on air, land, water, soil, energy and other basic resources. Humanity's misuse and abuse of earth's resources lie at the fear of extinction of huge number of species forever. It is estimated that since 1950 some 6,00,000 species (animal and plant) have disappeared and nearly 40,000 more currently are threatened to disappear. Pollution in the natural world in any form with global warming takes on an alarming scale. Today or tomorrow we may be seriously threatened with the risk of our own extinction if the scenario continues.
There is a highly positive assessment of all the resources nature has placed before man in every religion. Man is called to be the steward of God's creation. However, man has not been faithful enough in this. He has far messed up with life-sustaining neutral nature. The life-sustaining capacity of the basic elements of nature has been unduly compromised with his wanton desires. The supreme importance of the old clarion call: 'Live and let live' is intensified with the birth of every new baby. This will surely continue to be as the world's population increases at an alarming rate doubling itself every 40 years. The pressure of this is on the developing countries more than on others.
What future are we going to leave for our children, who are born with the stigma of pollution? Soulless non-economic forces appear to lie behind so much of our technological advancement, economic progress and consumerist business. 'Fair is foul and foul is fair' today. Let the use of the fertile imaginations of Man be matched by his spiritual values and ethos so that no human progress appears to be a delusion.
Source: The Daily Star, Dhaka, July 6, 2001