For thousands of years, we the teeming billions of residents of this Earth have exploited it for our survival, for our own benefits, and to make money.
For many centuries, we have had little time to think about our environmental responsibilities in order to save the Earth, in order to preserve its resources for future generations.
The idea of efficiently utilizing our limited resources is very recent. It’s only been a few decades that we have come to understand that we have to care for the environment, that we have to be prudent about utilizing resources such as water, trees, fossil fuels, etc.
Despite this realization, we haven’t been able to resist ourselves from polluting our soil, water, and air. If it were only for food, things wouldn’t look that bad, but the advent of consumerism with the birth of billions of manufacturing companies have wreaked havoc on the environment.
However, everything may not be lost. Businesses around the world in recent years have woken up and started taking steps in the right direction. We all know about Nike’s initiatives to harvest plastic waste from our oceans and manufacture their products from those. This is a great example of turning back and fixing the damages that have been caused to our environment.
Another interesting piece of news that has made me very hopeful about our future is the fact that all the medals of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics are being made by acquiring metals from thrown-away mobile phone handsets.
There are many other such examples. The Swedish furniture-maker IKEA sources close to 50% of its wood from sustainable foresters and 100% of its cotton from the farms that meet the Better Cotton standards of reduced use of water, energy, and chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
The company has more than 700,000 solar panels to power its stores; they also have plans to start selling them to its customers.
The governments across the world are also waking up to this new reality in which the planet needs to be saved. Take Thailand, for example. The country has decided to become the first Asian country to introduce standardized packaging for tobacco.
In November this year, it approved a regulation that requires cigarettes in Thailand to be sold in packaging stripped of the fancy, colourful, and unique cigarette branding. Instead, the packs will now be in drab brown colour, free of any logos or images with 85% pictorial health warnings on both sides. Tobacco brand names can only be printed in a standardized font type, size, colour, and location.
This regulation is to be effective soon. They thought this move would reduce the attractiveness of tobacco products, eliminate tobacco packaging as a form of advertising, and increase the noticeability and effectiveness of pictorial health warnings.
Having said that, one cannot but think of the state of affairs in Bangladesh. Despite quite a lot of focus on the Sustainable Development Goals, things don’t look very bright here.
A World Bank report says that, in 2015, Bangladesh saw around 234,000 deaths due to environmental pollution and related health risks. Of them, 80,000 had died in urban areas.
The report said we are one of the worst affected countries in the world. Of all deaths — of which there were 843,000 — about 28% were caused by environmental pollution.
That’s a very scary picture.
Our Minister for Environment, Forest, and Climate Change Anisul Islam Mahmud had said 58% of air pollution is caused by illegal brick kilns, 10% by vehicles, 20% by construction activities, and the rest by various other factors, including industries.
Well, we know the factors that are taking us closer to destruction, but in our attempt to develop the country, we still seem to be oblivious to the impending dangers. How much chemical waste are we throwing into our rivers and canals? Apart from chemicals, what are the other wastes that our rivers and canals contain? What will happen when our rivers dry up? What will happen when our underground water is depleted?
If we look at our real estate sector, it is the story of a mad rush for rapid urbanization without even thinking of our short-term future, let alone the long-term one. What are our businesses that are using our natural resources doing for the environment?
Even if some are trying to do something, how much are they doing? And is it enough to sustain us? Have we realized that we need to turn around and find out new ways to develop, which can stop this impending destruction?
Allow me to remind you of a Native American philosophy for life. They had seven philosophies for life, of which the last one seems amazing to me.
They never considered the land they lived on as their own; they believed that they had borrowed the land from their progeny who would appear on Earth seven generations into the future. They always wanted to keep the land ready for those children who would be born centuries later.
What a sweet philosophy to follow, especially in this day and age.
First published in Dhaka Tribune of Bangladesh on 15 December 2018.