One way to maximize your positive impact is to minimize your impact on the planet. Our impact on the system that sustains us will reach a planetary scale during the next 100 years and we will be forced to act accordingly. The natural environment has been dramatically altered as a result of the way humans have utilized natural resources (specifically land, fish, minerals, water and fossil fuels). Many scientists fear that human activity will soon push parts of the environment past points of no return. Although the challenges are significant the solutions do not necessarily have to involve zero additional environmental degradation. In many cases mitigating the damage to levels that allow human societies and natural ecosystems to cohabitate in a sustainable manner can likely be achieved.
The decisions that we will have to make over the next 100 years in order to reduce environmental degradation to more sustainable levels are so big that the decisions cannot not necessarily be based on science online. Economic, cultural and political factors will play significant roles in the decisions made by individuals, corporations and countries. As a result, there will be numerous significant decisions that will be made by certain people and groups of people that will be plain wrong. There is so much at stake that I hope that everybody will take the view that the greater good is more important than the individual and, regardless of their view, make the best, well reasoned and passionate arguments possible so that we can increase the likelihood making the right decisions.
There are numerous significant environmental challenges that must be addressed over the next 100 years as a result of inevitable population growth and economic development. For example, on a global scale this includes climate change, on a regional scale it includes acid rain and on a local scale it includes water pollution. These are examples of consequences of human activity, otherwise referred to as the human “footprint”. Clearly, the larger the human population the larger the total human footprint. Many leading demographers estimate that the global population will reach approximately 9,000,000,000 in the middle of this century (then stabilize) so the footprint will continue to grow significantly.
Climate change can be understood in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that are emitted by each person. Loss of habitat can be understood in terms of the amount of land each person requires in order to extract a sufficient amount of food and other related products or services. Air pollution can be understood in terms of the level of pollutants each person emits, therefore, population growth is a common factor that contributes to environmental degradation. The ecological footprint of the human can be a reference to the amount of land required to support one human and his or her activities. However, the concept of a footprint is often used in a more general sense that does not only refer to land but also use of water, contribution to pollution, etc.
There are various ways of calculating the footprint of one individual but they all inevitably lead to a conflict between economic development and environmental impact. Although demographers expect the human population to stabilize at approximately 9 billion in approximately 50 years the growth in gross domestic product (“GDP”) per capita is estimated to grow by a factor of 10 or more over the course of this century. Therefore, the human footprint will significantly increase in size due to the increase in the human population in addition to the fact that each human will be much wealthier and therefore require a larger portion of the natural environment to accommodate their wealthier life.
Although some people believe that the only solution involves restraining economic growth and thereby reducing the human footprint, there are many ways to minimize the human footprint without sacrificing quality of life (for example, methods for conserving water or electricity). It’s important to remember that the significant increase in GDP per capita will be mostly attributable to developing nations and will lead to a better quality of life for the people that live in these countries, therefore, this is a good thing. The question is, how can we facilitate this increase in the quality of life while minimizing the impact on the environment? It would appear that the answer must involve a combination of advances in technology and increased political, cultural and financial influence from a higher proportion of the global population that acknowledge the significance of environmental degradation and will act in a way that incentivizes all other people and organizations to adjust their actions in a way that reduces their impact on the environment.
The environment is obviously an enormous amalgamation of integrated systems within systems and everything is interrelated. Therefore, the quest for global solutions will require global thinking or, as we have described it in this chapter, systems thinking.
Bolivia gives rights to our planet
The Bolivian government is considering a bill that will grant rights to the earth. The “Law of the rights of mother Earth” was passed by Bolivia’s Plrinational legislative assembly in December 2010. The law defines mother Earth as “a collective subject of public interest” and declares both mother Earth and life sciences as titleholders of inherent rights. The law defines mother Earth as “… The dynamic living system formed by the indivisible community of all life systems and living beings whom are interrelated, interdependent and complementary, which share a common destiny’.
The law enumerates seven specific rights to which mother Earth and her constituent life systems, including human communities, are entitled:
– to life: maintenance of natural processes and the integrity of life systems
-to the diversity of life: the preservation of the differentiation and variety of the beings that comprise mother Earth, without being genetically altered, nor artificially modified in this structure in such a manner that threatens their existence, functioning and future potential.
- To water: It is the right of the preservation of the quality and composition of water to sustain life systems and their protection with regards to contamination, for renewal of the life of Mother Earth and all its components
- To clean air: It is the right of the preservation of the quality and composition of air to sustain life systems and their protection with regards to contamination, for renewal of the life of Mother Earth and all its components
- To equilibrium: It is the right to maintenance or restoration of the inter-relation, interdependence, ability to complement and functionality of the components of Mother Earth, in a balanced manner for the continuation of its cycles and the renewal of its vital processes
- To restoration: It is the right to the effective and opportune restoration of life systems affected by direct or indirect human activities
- To live free of contamination: It is the right for preservation of Mother Earth and any of its components with regards to toxic and radioactive waste generated by human activities
the objective behind the law is to improve the quality of life of Bolivians by creating a social economic framework for the country that is based on the assumption that life systems (including human communities and natural ecosystems) are so interdependent that harming one will mean harming the other. The law will inhibit exportation of natural resources.
The law gives nature the same status as human beings. Following the approval of the law, the rights provided to the Earth by the legislation would include life and regeneration, biodiversity, deliverance from genetic modification, clean air, pure water, balanced natural systems, reversal of the bad effects caused by human activity and freedom from pollution.
Earth will be defined as a community of interdependent, interrelated and complementary living systems as well as organisms. The indivisible community has a common destiny.
The legislation is designed to force the Bolivian government to pursue policies aimed at controlling industry and promoting sustainability. It causes the economy to function within the constraints of nature and encourages policies that will eventually result in food and energy sovereignty by using renewable energy technologies. The law also seeks to prevent or minimize climate change for the benefit of future generations. As a result of the fact that climate change cannot be significantly altered by the actions of people in Bolivia alone, the believing government has made a request for rich nations to help Bolivia adapt to the effects caused by climate change. The 2009 Oxfam report indicates that Bolivia is vulnerable to the effects of climate change as a result of increasing drought and flooding and melting glaciers. Beyond the Bolivian borders, the believing government must also advocate the rights of mother Earth and eliminate chemical, nuclear and biological weapons that may threaten it.
The proposed law also promotes living well by behaving in a way that avoids the degradation of nature and pursuing a collective happiness and complete fulfillment. The draft law was prepared by the Unity Pact – a coalition of five social movements in Bolivia to represent more than 3 million people and more than 30 indigenous groups. The law aims to protect their diverse cultures from the impact of industrialization.
The Law goes beyond the interaction between humans and nature. It also states that mother Earth not only feeds and takes care of all living things but also exists in harmony and balance with the cosmos.
The government will enforce the law through the establishment of a mother Earth Ministry.it is important to note that approximately 1/3 of Bolivia’s foreign currency earnings come from mining companies that export natural resources. Therefore the pursuit of this law is not something that has minimal consequences and therefore can easily be disregarded. The Bolivian government will have to address the significant challenge of balancing the impact of the law on its natural environment with the impact it has on its economy.
Next article in this series: “Did Nature Give You Free will?“