To effectively combat environmental degradation and climate change, we need to listen to one another – as individuals, as states and as nations – to work together to overcome these global crises. Instead, we are seeing a selfish “me-first” sort of attitude at all levels
In Inner Mongolia, the grasslands are turning to sand. The deserts in this region of China are expanding – now ~28% of the land surface, up from 18% in 1994. It hasn't rained in 6 years. Sandstorms are increasingly common, increasing respiratory problems in the region, especially for children and the elderly. These problems are due to desertification, an old problem largely due to unsustainable development, including over-cropping, over-grazing, improper irrigation practices, and deforestation. It is largely preventable. Rather the government chooses to pursue profit, with year-round grazing and coal mining.
In Egypt, the government also chooses a destructive path for the future, attempting to “green the desert”. The government is encouraging people to move to the desert by pursuing a plan to reclaim 3.4 million acres of desert over the next 10 years. The plan involves massive irrigation from the Nile river. This is a disastrous and irresponsible plan, likely (in the long run) to cause more problems than it solves. The strain on resources will be enormous, and will create tensions between nations that share the Nile. These sorts of environmental tensions are dangerous, given the growing evidence of environmental links to the genocide in neighboring Darfur, Sudan.
A final example of short-sighted behaviour comes from Indonesia. There, the government is practicing “eco-extortion”, demanding payment of $5-$20 per hectare not to destroy its remaining forests. To me, this reeks of greed and pure profit motive. “Pay us or we'll damage the environment” -- a fit of childish pique. The developed nations of the world do have an obligation to assist still-developing nations in overcoming the perils inherent in our current future path. As a matter of fairness, these nations need to have their standards of living raised, but this sort of blackmail should be resisted.
While these examples are focused on the developing world, these nations are merely following the example the developed nations have set in the past. We are more guilty of these sins. Our behaviour must be changed if we expect others to follow. Leading-by-example is the best way to blaze the trail forward.
The current focus on short term profits is unhealthy, a hangover of the sort of 19th and 20th century thinking which brought about this mess in the first place. It is time for humanity to grow beyond this and redefine prosperity. A new economy is needed, with proper accounting for the “services” the environment provides. A move away from rampant consumerism and endless economic growth and acceptance that the word's resources are finite is crucial.