Save the World, Change Your Lifestyle
Dr Shaikh Abdul Hamid
Losing everything to cyclone Aila- a victim of climate change. Photo: Star File
Humanity faces many intractable challenges: climate change, energy crisis, weapons of mass destruction, financial instability, malnutrition and hunger, sanitation and water, communicable diseases, education, governance and corruption, population migration. The list goes on. One of the most alarming challenges we face is that of climate change.
Climate change has taken place in the past from natural causes. The term climate change today refers to changes taking place over the last hundred years from man-made greenhouse gases. The rate of change has assumed disastrous proportions and threatens every single country. The cause of climate change is well known. The coal we burn and the oil and gas we use have led to alarming increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and an increase in greenhouse effect and enhanced warming. Average temperature has increased over the past hundred years. The ten hottest years on record are all in the last 13 years.
Scientists claim that if carbon emissions grow at present rates, by 2050 carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere is likely to be twice and global temperature about 7o C above what it was in pre-industrial period. They say even if global temperatures rise “by only 2o C it would mean 20-30 percent of species could face extinction” and cause “serious effects on our environment, food and water supplies, and health.” From 1997 to 2008, carbon dioxide emissions worldwide from burning fossil fuels have increased 31 percent. In that period temperatures are 0.4 of a degree warmer than in the previous 12 years. The effect of greenhouse gases is more alarming than earlier predicted. Ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica have lost trillions of tons of ice. In a dozen years the oceans of the world have risen by about one and a half inches. Hurricanes, droughts, and wildfires have become more severe worldwide. Species from polar bear and seals to frogs and butterflies are endangered, and so are pine forests in North America to mangrove forests in Bangladesh.
Unless we reduce carbon emissions, there is little hope for
future survival. Photo: Star File
So global warming is not just making the world a little warmer, it is raising sea level and aggravating natural disasters which will hit countries like Bangladesh the most. Most of Bangladesh – the seventh most populous country in the world – is less than 40 feet above sea level. For many months each year, more than 10 percent of the country is in water. In 1988 and 1998 more than half of the country was flooded. With sea level expected to rise up to 3 feet by the end of this century, an additional 10 to 20 percent of the land will be permanently lost displacing millions of people and destroying farmland and fresh water supply. This scenario will be replicated across the world in low lying countries watered by seas and oceans. The Executive Director of the UN Population Fund, Thoraya Ahmed Obaid said in December 2009 that global warming could be catastrophic for people in poor countries, particularly for women. She claimed, “We have reached a point where humanity is approaching the brink of disaster.”
The consumption pattern of the world is not sustainable on two counts: the effect it has on climate, and the limited supply of fossil fuels and raw materials. Nonrenewable fossil fuels – coal, oil, and natural gas account for 85 percent of the world's current energy use. At the current rate of production (which is estimated to increase) the world's fossil fuels will be running short or even totally depleted within the next two generations.
Carbon emission control measures – an important solution to global warming –have been enacted and 'greener living' is underway in various places and ways. However, we do not hear so much about the need to consume less and create less demand for consumer goods, and waste less, and discard less – and do with fewer wants. We are surrounded by too many things that we could do without – too much food, too much clothing, too many conveniences, and possibly too much entertainment. To produce the endless array of goods and services, factories and enterprises are geared full-throttle, are using up scarce resources, and in the process spewing out pollution and carbon. The situation should worsen as demand increases from increased population. Today's senseless excess consumptions and conveniences come at the expense of putting future generations on the verge of disaster.
It is important that we realize the gravity of the situation. It is important to control carbon emission, and go green, but it is equally important, if not more, to shun excess and wastage which are not just environmentally incorrect, but also morally incorrect. About a billion of the 6.7 billion people of the world go to bed hungry, 1.2 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water, and 2.6 billion do not have access to sanitation. The list of misery of the have-nots goes on as the shameless excesses and wastages of the haves continue unabated.
In this age of unbridled corruption, intellectual dishonesty, rampant wastage, senseless excess, and living way beyond means, I can give an example of a man who lived his life with honesty and austerity. My late father Engr. Abdul Hannan led and left for us a beacon light that can serve well in humanity's quest to arrest climate change. Last year on October 2 he breathed his last. He left a legacy of honesty and austerity. I think his life also epitomizes the fact that if one wants to lead an honest life one has to lead an austere life. It was easy for him to lead an honest life because he could lead a highly austere life, and could rein in his ambitions. Early in life he learnt the difference between needs and wants. He shunned wants and strove to meet basic necessities in an austere way so as to create least demand on scarce resources. He lived in a modest one-story house – the only one that he built 45 years back with a loan from erstwhile Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) and made no modification to it ever since. The frame of his bed is about 50 years old. It would be considered unsuitable by virtually any well-off person. His bed was austere. He would wear garments and undergarments that would be sewn if needed. He would not eat fish and meat at the same time. He would use inexpensive personal effects – the inexpensive ones in the market – and use them most sparingly. A few of his suitcases are few decades old – one sixty years old, and another fifty-five years old. Yet another one is so worn out that it should have been disposed off years back. But he was not in the least bit a penny pincher when it came to others. His austerity mostly revolved around himself. He would not dispose of an item as long as it served the purpose. He would say: “A wasteful person is a friend of Shaitan.” Throughout his life he was highly particular not to waste writing paper. He would write in small letters and use every bit of usable space of a page.
The intense urge to lead an honest life may have forced him to lead an austere life. But when his income increased a few times as a consultant after retirement as Division Chief of Planning Commission in 1983, his life style did not change a bit. Austere living was somehow ingrained in him. Lack of unbridled ambition was a great boon. When people become too ambitious, they are likely to adopt any means to realise their ambitions and use scarce resources in a senseless manner.
The world needs exemplary lives like this exceptional person to keep hammering on us that it is possible to lead a simple life centered on needs rather than unending wants, on fulfilling the necessities of life in a decent manner rather than pursuing unbridled excesses. Unless we learn to live with far less than we have become used to, I fear the world is on the verge of an irreversible disaster.
The author is professor of finance/economics and lives in Boston, USA. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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