The biggest crisis facing humanity today is in fact climate change – rising global temperatures, depleting forest cover, contamination of our lakes, rivers and oceans, and deteriorating air quality.
Strong scientific consensus points to human activities as the main cause of climate change. Globally, climate change is believed to claim more lives every year than all infectious diseases. A recent report from United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts some of the most severe social and economic damage from global warming to occur as soon as 2040. So, there is a need for an urgent, decisive, and collective action to reverse the damage caused and restore our earth for our future generations.
Every sector needs a transformational change, with aggressive goals and breakthrough innovations to navigate towards a sustainable path. Though there has been progress, a far greater collective and inclusive action is required at all levels – individual, business and government, with positive will, commitment, and enthusiasm.
An individual can be a responsible consumer and as a member of a community, can lead to collective action at a large scale. Several simple steps can be adopted to ensure responsible consumerism. Switching to efficient LED lighting, opting for energy efficient household equipment like refrigerator, air-conditioning, television, water heaters, etc., installing solar water heaters and using electricity judiciously are some measures that can reduce your electricity bills, thereby reducing demand at electrical grid.
Water saving techniques like low flow taps with aerators, low flow showers, fixing leaky taps and pipes, avoiding water wastage, dual flush and low flow water closets, rainwater harvesting, etc. are some of the water conservation measures that can reduce dependency on freshwater, a precious resource.
Reducing the waste generated by choosing sustainable and biodegradable alternatives to plastics, avoiding single-use plastics, minimizing waste generation in general, reducing food waste and segregation of waste (organic, dry waste, and biodegradable waste as a minimum) and recycling of materials are measures that can reduce waste ending up in landfills or polluting our water bodies. Creating awareness among family members, especially children will bring about a societal transformation towards a sustainable lifestyle. There are examples of several households today that are powered completed by solar energy and sustain on rainwater for most of the year.
Businesses can drive action towards sustainability on a larger scale and with a more aggressive approach when there is a commitment from leadership. The first step would be to clearly understand the impact of the business on the environment and publish the data. In addition to the measures at the individual level, businesses can use technology, implement automation, conduct periodic energy and water audits, waste stream audits, replacement of old equipment with energy efficient/water efficient equipment to reduce resource use, and review of consumption data. Goals and policies towards key environmental parameters will enable quick decision making and implementation of environmental initiatives. Larger the business, larger the responsibility towards the environment.
As an example, Infosys, a large global IT company, has been able to reduce the per capita energy consumption by 55% and per capita water consumption by 64% from FY2008 to FY2020. Infosys also sources about half of its electricity from renewables and has focused work towards minimizing waste to landfills by clear segregation and recycling. Infosys has, over the past 12 years, effectively delinked business growth from resource consumption.
Governments play a crucial role in enabling policy framework to encourage and facilitate adoption of clean technologies and various initiatives towards climate action. Favorable renewable energy policies would encourage faster adoption of renewables by businesses and thereby reduce emissions. Favorable policies will encourage adoption of electric vehicles (EVs).
Governments can set limits on certain air and water pollutants and draw a phasing out plan for pollutants such as specific refrigerants. A key role of the Government is also to create awareness among people by publishing local data about climate change and the action required, and through labeling of equipment/appliance/material on environmental parameters. Governments can bring in a higher level of accountability by deploying technology and checking water wastage/pilferage. Large scale wastewater treatment plants need to be constructed/maintained with high quality equipment and automation for accurate operations. Similarly, city scale waste treatment plants should be able to manage the generated waste effectively. Governments should have a clear vision of a sustainable and smart future development, involving different stakeholders and refine the climate action plan periodically.
The right to a clean environment is increasingly emerging as a basic human right. With the available technological advancements, coupled with connected global human intellect, there is an excellent opportunity and optimism to take decisive steps on climate action. What is necessary is a strong political will to make sure economics and environment go hand in hand. This will encourage every individual to adopt a sustainable lifestyle. Responsibility by every individual and transitioning to a sustainable development path expeditiously will not only restore the planet but also provide a cleaner and healthier future for all.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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