This guest post was written by Ximena Prugue, winner of the 2011 UNEP/TreeHugger World Environment Day blogging contest.
One of the most discussed topics this weekend at World Environment Day was working towards a green economy. If you ask four different people to define a green economy, chances are you'll get four different answers, or a few blank stares. In the simplest terms, a green economy is an economy that achieves its economic objectives, while sustaining and protecting its natural resources and environment. In even simpler terms, you can still go shopping, enjoy your regular activities, and even spoil yourself from time to time, without jeopardizing the health our ecosystem; the health on your wallet, on the other hand, is a completely different story.During a luncheon hosted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests of India (MoEF), Minister Jairam Ramesh laid down the law as for why it's important for the world to shift towards a green economy, especially in India:
- "It's a matter of livelihoods, it's not just a matter of lifestyles."The forest industry contributes approximately (cue Dr. Evil voice) $468 BILLION dollars each year to the global GDP. They are natural capital that almost 2 billion people directly depend on for cash during poor harvests and energy for cooking and heating. If we invest in sustainable forest management, we can create almost 10 million new jobs across the globe.
- "[Environmental issues are] increasingly becoming issues of Public Health."The number one killer of children under the age of five is not water-borne diseases, AIDS, or malnutrition--its pneumonia. Two-thirds of lung cancer victims are actually non-smokers. It doesn't take much math to see a pattern that there's clearly a problem with air pollution, both indoor and outdoor, and that it's essentially killing us. Rural villagers who suffer from energy poverty, or lack of access to electricity, heavily rely on fossils fuels for cooking and lighting and use kerosene lamps and biomass.What's so wrong about that? According to the World Bank, inhaling the emissions of a kerosene lamp in the unventilated huts of villagers is equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes in a single day, or 280 cigarettes a week. Need I say more?
The United States themselves has quite a record of environmental slip-ups that have lead to serious health problems. In a book by Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie Slow Death by Rubber Duck , it's alarming to learn that new chemicals introduced in the US have their own "innocent until proven guilty" rights. Several everyday household products, such as the iconic rubber duck, contained phthalates and other toxic chemicals that cause growth deformities, infertility, and several types of cancer. From the DuPont Teflon water contamination in Ohio to the current meat and poultry contamination is the US, marinating in toxic chemicals in our everyday environment has almost become nonchalant chitchat. It isn't until people are negatively affected, however, do laws get passed banning such chemicals, and only through the efforts of an army of angry moms and aggressive environmentalists.
- India is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change with multiple points of weakness, from rising water levels on the coast to the dependency of monsoons for crops, deforestation, and the Himalayan glaciers for water security.For the skeptics of climate change, whether you agree that increased carbon emissions are contributing to climate change is irrelevant as long as you agree that carbon emissions are in fact increasing at an almost exponential rate. If you remember the photosynthesis diagram from third grade, you'd be familiar with the idea that trees and plants convert carbon dioxide that animals exhale and convert it into oxygen, a fundamental source of life for us. Here's a basic equation for you:
Less trees = less carbon being converted into oxygen = we die. (Eventually)
It's pretty plain and simple. Deforestation alone contributes to 1.7 billion tonnes of carbon released annually.
- "In India, 80 to 100 million people will enter the work force over the next ten years. In order to sustain our increasing demographic, we need to create sustainable jobs."Here's another basic equation for you (I can't help my math affinity): If 80 to 100 million people will enter the work force over the next ten years, that means 8 to 10 million jobs need to be created every year. We need to create new jobs to keep up with population growth, a fact that the government simply cannot ignore. If we don't start to realize that we are hitting our limits in terms of fresh water, a protective ozone layer, and soon enough, our forests, we will be paying more and more over the years for the very last bit of it all until it's gone. If we have to make new jobs, why not make them green? People are employed, our resources are maintained, and everyone's happy! I'll take "No Brainers" for 800.
A green economy is not a new economy, but more of an economic makeover--Earth edition--with Ramesh as the host of its hypothetical reality show. It's profitable, possible, and sustainable. Who can compete with that?More on World Environment Day
Whither Ecological Limits? Jairam Ramesh, Economic Growth & Energy Expansion
World Environment Day 2011: First Impressions & Second Chances in India