Happy World Environment Day 2013

Today is World Environment Day, a date established in 1970 to raise awareness of pressing ecological issues. Every year, the United Nations Environmental Protection agency chooses a theme to promote on this date; in 2013 the theme is food waste. One third of the food produced globally is wasted and, with it, we waste a great deal of energy and water as well, since agriculture uses up to 70 percent of the water humans consume.

I was one of the runners-up in the WED2013 blogging competition and below is my contribution. The article was originally published on UNEP’s WED 2013 page. I hope you enjoy it. Have a great day!

We count on science to meet the environmental challenges of our times and our uncertain future. Technology is already playing a key role in our transition to a low-carbon economy. This represents a U-turn on past scientific breakthroughs that enabled the coal-fueled Industrial Revolution, which marked the beginning of the anthropogenic global warming that now affects communities all over the world. There are amazing new clean technologies being developed in the field of energy, infrastructure, manufacturing, recycling and several other fields that can make a positive impact on a massive scale.

Technologies are borne out of ideas and these days sustainability is a key concept breathing life into them. Although we have not yet reached a global consensus on the issue, there is widespread awareness that we need to find ways to preserve the planet for future generations. But can the drive towards sustainability in response to concerns over self-preservation be enough to maintain life on Earth, both for humans and non-humans?

In order to make a transition from our current way of life, which values conspicuous consumption at the cost of environmental integrity, we need to bring ethics into the plan. It is wrong to destroy the environment because of its intrinsic value. In other words, the natural world has a value that is independent of our reliance on it. Although many of us are aware of it, we need a whole generation to start acting on it. We need to promote the idea that we are part of the world, not the world. Everything the environment contains has the right to be and we must respect that, like we respect another human being’s life.

This is not to deny the material dimension of life and the fact that our well-being relies on nature as its source. But if we stop looking at nature as mere resource, in amazement and gratitude, then we may succeed in transitioning from our current model of consumption to one that is viable – and ethical. We need to be in awe of nature, admire it, and commune with it. At some point, we declared war against the natural world. The time has come to make peace with it.

How do we do that? We need to talk about it. We must educate the younger generations. We implement changes in our lives. We demand action from politicians. We change our diets to plants. We want less. We need less. We can do with less. We can be happier. We must move away from the concept that happiness absolutely hinges on a type of material well-being that far exceeds our needs. In fact, there’s evidence that excessive consumption could actually be making us depressive due to several social and psychological factors, such as stress, status anxiety and fear. Consumption has become a kind of religion and we need to lose faith in it.

Our generation has the opportunity to make this choice. It will take determination and bravery to go against a system that is rigged in the opposite direction, seemingly stuck in the tyrannical concept of economic growth. We can’t keep growing forever, though, not in a linear, expansionist way because it’s physically impossible. We can grow in more interesting ways, with more creativity, ethics and appreciation for the planet we inhabit and share. Yes, we can have amazing new technologies and, at the same time, simple, enjoyable lives that respect all forms of life. That’s what we should mean by progress and growth from now onwards.

Article by Antonio Pasolini, a Brazilian writer and video art curator based in London, UK. He holds a BA in journalism and an MA in film and television.

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