We Have Only One Earth; Making The Right Choices Today For Tomorrow.

Principle 1 of the Final Declaration of The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment,  states  ‘Man has  the  fundamental right to freedom, equality and  adequate  conditions  of  life  in  an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being, and he bears a solemn responsibility to protect and improve the environment for present and future generations’.[1] However, it has become quite apparent that the planet Earth is being degraded by human activities at a highly unsustainable rate.

Societal responses to this range from defeatism, intentional ignorance, and in some instances seeking other alternatives.  Technocrats like Elon Musk consider the colonization of the planet Mars. The plan is pretty simple; since population collapse is imminent and will eventually render planet Earth inhabitable[2], the solution would be to “terraform”[3] Mars to support human existence.  “Terraforming” has become a white elephant project; expensive, unrealistic and manifestly immoral. This leaves us with the reality that Earth is the only planet humans can safely inhabit, and the existence of future humans highly depends on the choices we make to protect our dear planet.

An essential course of action is the worldwide endorsement, encouragement and propagation of the Rights of Nature. This proposes a much needed albeit drastic rethink of humanity’s relationship with nature. It opines that human beings halt treating nature as objects or property, and change their perception of nature. “Rights of Nature” as defined by Boyd are; “the rights of non-human species, elements of the natural environment and…inanimate objects to a continued existence unthreatened by human activities”[4].

One of the earliest academic recognizers of this postulation was Christopher D. Stone and in his acclaimed publication, “Should Trees Have Standing-Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects”[5] he asserts that over the course of history, corporations, women, black people, and children have been granted legal rights; as such, it should not be a reach to expect that nature’s rights also be embraced. Perhaps the greatest benefit of this concept is borne from its enabling of the defense of the environment in court however, not only for the benefit of people, but for the sake of nature itself.

This is in close relation with the eco-centric and bio-centric environmental protection perspectives. Eco-centrism as a worldview recognizes the intrinsic value in ecosystems and the biological and physical elements that they comprise, as well as the ecological processes that connect them. It seeks the preservation of biodiversity, animal rights, and environmental protection[6]. Human needs, like the needs of other species, are to be viewed as secondary to those of the Earth as the sum of its ecosystems. Eco-centrism realizes and appends inherent value to the whole of nature. The bio-centric perspective is nature-based, as opposed to anthropocentrism, which centers on human value. Prioritizing individuals in nature, it includes humans without assigning primacy. Approaching any and each living being with awe and humility can help make life on Earth more meaningful.

It is essential that these ideals are adopted and implemented by authority figures at international, national and municipal levels, through sensitizations, regulations, adoption into decision making, educational seminars and development of coherent cross-sectorial policies.

Internationally, mass production and industrialization have become a thorn in the side of environmental protection, whilst bestowing economic prosperity upon a few; leading to the tragedy of commons. This occurs when individual users, who have open access to resources, act independently according to their own self-interest and, contrary to the common good of all users, cause depletion of the resource[7]. Industries are controlled by profit incentives which propel them to pollute the common environment. Mass production often also leads to product wastage and eventual contamination of water bodies and other environmental media.

An industry especially injurious is the fast fashion industry, currently responsible for more annual carbon emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined[8].  About 53 million tones of fiber are produced by the fashion industry every year, with 70 percent wasted[9]. In producing fibers such as cotton, pesticides are deployed which poison the soil and groundwater. As developing countries rapidly industrialize, it is important that they do not enact policies that mortgage environmental protection for economic development.

Innovation is often considered a net positive because it solves human problems but it is important that we innovate sustainably. Recent innovations in the virtual space, such as cryptocurrencies, NFTs and even the “metaverse” come at a great environmental cost.  Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, pollute the environment through their mining process on the block chain. A 2018 study found Bitcoin emissions alone could raise Earth’s temperature by two degrees[10] and Bitcoin mining already generates 38 million tons of CO2 per year[11], more than the carbon footprint of some small countries.

NFT purchases and sales are enabled by high energy usage, and consequent greenhouse gas emissions, associated with blockchain transactions[12]. The “metaverse” considered the future of internet connection and online interaction is being built on extremely energy-hungry technologies which emit greenhouse gases at apotheosis levels. There is need for a pivot into environmentally friendly technology, and to mitigate the already existing harmful effects of innovation on the environment.

The concept of climate change and environmental protection is one foreign to a vast number of Nigerians, with the majority of citizens having little to no knowledge and those who do boasting a largely apathetic notion. As such, I believe an essential course of action will be active and efficient sensitization of the populace. This can be achieved through collaborations with the Nigerian government and environmental related agencies, International bodies, Non-Governmental Organizations and interested parties to actively ensure people have the knowledge to adequately make decisions to protect the environment from ourselves.

According to Professor Gerd Winter[13], we are entering the fourth phase of mankind’s relationship with nature, one where humans must act decisively and develop effective legal frameworks to sufficiently manage the damage we have caused to our planet. It will require an interlude of thinking about new solutions. The way out of this situation can only be to build solidarity with the environment by mobilizing the law itself and it must therefore be inoculated with ecological considerations.

 

[1]General Assembly resolution 2581 (XXIV) of 15 December 1969 (United Nations Conference on the Human Environment).

[2]Adam Bensaid, ‘Elon Musk’s astonishing mission to colonise Mars: here’s how he’ll do it’ <https://www.trtworld.com/magazine/elon-musk-s-astonishing-mission-to-colonise-mars-here-s-how-he-ll-do-it-42246>Accessed May 13, 2022.

[3]Ibid

[4]Boyd, D.R. (2017) The Rights of Nature: A Legal Revolution that Could Save the World

[5]Stone, Christopher D., Garrett Hardin. (1974). Should trees have standing?: toward legal rights for natural objects.

[6] Robin Attfield, ed. (2003). Environmental ethics: an overview for the twenty-first century.

 

[7] Purvis, V. (1970). “Self-interest and the Common Good”.

[8]Princeton Edu, ’The Impact of Fast Fashion on the Environment’ Accessed May 13, 2022.

[9]CNBC TV, ‘Fast fashion is destroying the planet; here’s how’ <https://www.cnbctv18.com/environment/fast-fashion-is-destroying-the-planet-heres-how-11916332.htm>Accessed May 13, 2022.

[10]Nature Climate Change,<https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-018-0321-8.epdf?>Accessed May 13, 2022.

[11]Digiconomist, ‘Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index’ <https://digiconomist.net/bitcoin-energy-consumption> Accessed May 13, 2022.

[12]Calma, Justine (2021). “The climate controversy swirling around NFTs”The Verge. Retrieved May 13, 2022.

[13]Winter, Gerd. (1989). Perspectives for environmental law-entering the fourth phase. Journal of Environmental Law. 1. 10.1093/jel/1.1.38.