Dec 5, 2015

Climate change: No compromise over the western lifestyle. It has to be protected at any cost.



When Prime Minister Narendra Modi blamed the lifestyle in the rich countries for the climatic upheaval the world is witnessing I must acknowledge that he hit the bull’s eye. Knowing that the western lifestyle remains non-negotiable, it is considered impolite and also politically incorrect to question the affluent countries.

“The lifestyle of a few must not crowd out opportunities for the many still on the first steps of the development ladder,” Prime Minister wrote in an opinion piece in the Financial Times. This reminds me of what the respected environmentalist, the late Anil Agarwal, had once written: “If the Indian middle class were to consume the same levels of energy that an average American does, the world would have boiled some fifty years ago.” He was right. But you try to question the expensive lifestyle of the rich and you get an angry response. I too got a taste of questioning this lifestyle when some years back in an article I challenged beef consumption to be much more environmentally disastrous than cultivating paddy as many studies have pointed out to. The angry backlash I received was no less than the organized abusive troll one sometimes faces on social media.

It was only three years back, in 2012, the Worldwide Fund (WWF) in its report Living Planet, released every two years, and had warned: “We are using 50 per cent more resources than the earth can support. Today we are living as if we have 1 ½ planet.” Jim Leape, the then WWF director general had said. “If we continue like this, by 2050 we will need three planets.” This was a warning as loud and clear as it could be.

Capping emission standards to ensure that the world does not heat up beyond 2 degrees is certainly desirable but what is being clearly missed out, and perhaps deliberately, is to cut down drastically on consumption. Since the market economy growth model is based on boosting consumption, which then becomes the basis for measuring gross domestic product (GDP), it is the commodification of nature that has led to the crisis. As WWF report had pointed out, our pattern of consumption is highly unsustainable. And still no one is talking of reducing consumption. Dare to do so, and you are quickly branded as anti-development. 

The ecological footprint left behind by rich countries is about six time that of low-income countries. I was reading a report in The Guardian which says every new born child in United States adds 9,441 tonnes to each parent’s carbon footprint. Compare this to China and Bangladesh where the footprint is only 1,384 and 56 tonnes, respectively. But in the race to catch up with the western lifestyle, a sizeable section of the developing economies, including India, is on a hyper consumption mode. The aspirant middle class in India therefore is no less guilty unless it vows not to adopt the western lifestyle. It is so convenient to shift the blame instead to per capita emission figures, which in other words means hiding behind the smokescreen enacted in the name of poor.

In a report Extreme Carbon Inequality released on Wednesday, the British charity Oxfam has further quantified the carbon footprint. Accordingly, only 10 per cent of the world’s richest are responsible for nearly 50 per cent of lifestyle consumption emissions. At the same time the share of the poorest 50 per cent of the global population in adding on to such lifestyle emissions is only 10 per cent. While it dispels the myth that the emerging economies, as the rapidly growing developing countries are called, are primarily responsible for distorting the emission charts, the fact remains that it is the rich lifestyle that is hitting the planet the most. 

Since the lifestyle in the rich countries remains non-negotiable, it will once again be the responsibility of the developing countries to make the sacrifice. If you don’t change, you will suffer the disastrous consequences of climate change goes the common refrain. While the rich countries will feel absolved of their responsibility of making any reasonable and workable commitments, a $ 100 billion climate fund is being doled out as a carrot for the developing countries. All kinds of studies painting a grim future for developing countries are already available. Even the developing country academicians and negotiators are always quick to repeat these studies ad nauseam. But you rarely get to hear or read of studies that warn of rich countries becoming inhospitable to live. Just a 1 degree increase in temperature had left more than 10,000 dead in France in 2003. But still, the sacrifice has to be made only by developing countries. The lifestyle of the rich should not be disturbed.

This again means it is the developing countries that will have to adapt green technologies to reduce emissions and minimize greenhouse gas emissions while the rich country lifestyle remains intact. Nor is any serious thought emerging on radically overhauling the prevailing economic model that has in the first instance led to the global climate going topsy-turvy. The reason is obvious. #

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