Saturday, July 07, 2007

Editorial: To Build the Defenses of the Environment in the Minds of Men

Today eight Live Earth concerts are to be held around the globe to raise awareness and stimulate action to combat the climate crisis. Hundreds of thousands will attend the concerts, many millions more will attend via the media, thousands of newspaper articles will cover the events. Let us hope that the seventh day of the seventh month of the seventh year of this century will be marked as the lucky day when public opinion demanded action!

Today, as is shown in the following map of intensity of environmental exploitation, mankind has converted almost all of the surface of the for human use. The world's population is expected to increase by some 40 percent by 2050, and per capita product to an average of about $20,000. Both the increase in population and the increase in economic productivity of the population will almost surely increase pressures on the global environment Unless we change our habits, the environmental impact will be devastating by the end of the century.

Global warming is clearly occurring. It has been estimated that the average temperature over the earth will increase by several degrees during this century. Of course many places will see a greater than average increase in average temperature, rainfall patterns will continue to change, sea level will continue to rise, adverse weather events in many places will be more frequent and/or more severe.

More and more marginal land will be converted to production, and as a result, more land is likely to be degraded. Desertification and deforestation will continue to expand. As a result of loss of habitat, perhaps as many as 90 percent of plant and animal species may be lost.

It is not only that every year we delay in moving toward sustainable development will be one more year until that felicitous state is achieved. Not only is the problem getting worse every year, the worsening rate increases and will continue to do so until we take serious action. Every year of delay will result in a later and worse bottoming out of environmental problems and a longer period of recuperation.

Many civilizations in the past have fallen as a result of asking too much of the environments in which they lived. For the first time in human history, mankind has the potential today to ask too much of the environment of the entire globe, to mark the entire earth with an ugly footprint. Unless the nations of the world act together to reduce the demands they are making on the environment, they condemn future generations to living in a degraded, polluted and denuded world.

UNESCO has an ambitious goal: to build the defenses of peace in the minds of men. I suggest that we add a second, equally ambitious goal to the organization: to build the defenses of the environment in the minds of men!

We instinctively feel that it is wrong to destroy and lay waste to the environment. I suggest that we need also a profound philosophical discussion of why sustainable development is the only ethical course for mankind. UNESCO is the only international organization that specifically includes philosophy and ethics in its charter, and thus its "Human Sciences" programs are needed to address the environmental crisis.

Many cultures worldwide have evolved to live in harmony with their environments, protecting them, sustaining a fruitful interaction for millennia. The globally dominant culture of the 20th century, however, too often identified the industrial smoke stake as its logo; was a culture that depleted resources, polluted land, water and air, and turned huge areas of the globe into wasteland. UNESCO is the only international organization that specifically focuses on Culture, and is therefore the only organization likely to help other cultures learn from those which still internalize sustainability. It is the only organization likely to lead toward a globally dominant cultural value of stewardship for the environment.

UNESCO's natural science programs are already centrally important in leading the global effort of the scientific community to understand the global environment, how it is deteriorating, and how it may be protected. It is the global natural science enterprise that brought to mankind's attention the global environmental problems that we face, and it is the natural sciences that will deepen our understanding of the problem and suggest better ways of managing and protecting that environment. Here too, UNESCO has a key role as catalyst and cheerleader.

UNESCO is the lead agency in the international system for the social sciences. The degradation of the global environment must be understood as an unintended consequence of the ways in which society is organized and functions. Mankind desperately needs insights from the social sciences as to how better to organize society to achieve a more sustainable development. UNESCO, by reorganizing and strengthening its social science programs might well provide leadership for a global social science effort towards understanding the social roots of the environmental crisis comparable to that of its natural science program's leadership in understanding the physical nature of environmental problems.

The most urgent aspect of the world's environmental crisis is that its urgency, magnitude and importance are not fully appreciated. The general public does not understand the environmental problem, nor does it fully internalize the importance of thinking in terms of 100 years; if it did so, there would be a global outcry for action. The political, commercial and economic leadership of the nations of the world need a far more detailed and complete understanding of the environmental crisis than does the general public, and it too is lacking.

UNESCO is the leading international organization for education and for communications and information. No intergovernmental agency is better placed to lead the process of educating and informing the public about the environmental crisis. Indeed, UNESCO is the United Nations agency most attuned to civil society and thus in an exceptional position to encourage non-governmental organizations to join in educating the world about the environmental crisis we face.

In short, every UNESCO program has a role to play in building the defenses of the environment and support for sustainable development in the minds of men. The environmental crisis is sufficiently important and urgent that this should become a priority for UNESCO.

If UNESCO's purpose is building the defense of peace in the minds of men, I suggest that it will not achieve that purpose unless it now builds the defenses of the environment in those same minds. The growing environmental crisis will not be good for peace. The worse it gets, the more conflict it will sew.

Please add your comments below.

If you agree strongly with this position, tell:
John Daly

1 comment:

John Daly said...

Emily Vargas-Baron wrote:

Thank you, John, for your very thoughtful note.

I often think we should alter the famous UNESCO saying to "to build the defenses of peace in the minds of children, men and women. Important initiatives are underway to begin teaching non-violent behaviours to very young children and their parents and caregivers. Thus, I would alter your recommendation a bit: to build the defenses of the environment in the minds of children, men and women.

Indeed, you might add UNESCO's important program for Education for
Sustainable Development. This program is still in its formative stages but I predict it will become increasingly important. Certainly it could be used to achieve some of the goals we all share regarding environmental preservation and improved life skills for protecting our environment.