‘The only real hope is for a global citizens’ movement unlike anything ever seen on the face of the Earth’ — Erik Assadourian, Vital Signs
By Stephen Leahy
BROOKLIN, Canada, Sep 14 2007 (IPS)
Global trends indicate a looming environmental catastrophe, and engaging high school students around the world may be the only hope say experts.
Governments, the corporate sector and media continue to champion industrial and economic growth at the cost of escalating impacts on the environment, concludes the latest report from the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute, “Vital Signs 2007-2008″.
For a number of years, the “Vital Signs” report has tracked 44 trends that are shaping the future, and they document a record level of industrial growth, says Erik Assadourian, Vital Signs project director.
“‘Vital Signs’ also documents the escalating impacts of such growth on the environment,” Assadourian told IPS in an interview from Barcelona.
The scale of the environmental crisis, in which catastrophic climate change is just one of many, is undermining the ecosystems that support life on Earth.
“Climate change and other environmental problems are symptoms of the root problem, which is the obsession with consumerism,” he said.
Vital Signs reports that in 2005, more wood was removed from forests than in any previous year. Fossil fuel usage dumped 7.6 billion tonnes of carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Meat production hit a record 276 million tonnes (43 kilogrammes per person) in 2006. Rising meat consumption is driving rising soybean demand to feed cattle, which in turn is a driver of deforestation as tropical forests are turned into soy fields.
And on it goes: global seafood consumption breaks records, steel and aluminium production too. None of this is sustainable – another three or four or five planets would be needed to maintain these levels of production and consumption.
The consumption obsession is truly more of an addiction. Despite a whopping 45 billion dollars in weather-related damages globally, many governments are no longer interested in preventing climate change, but have started to invest billions of dollars to adapt to climate change, Assadourian said.
“Canada is spending 3 billion dollars to build eight new patrol boats to reinforce its claim over Arctic waterways. Denmark and Russia are starting to vie for control over the Lomonosov Ridge, where new sources of oil and natural gas could be accessed if the Arctic Circle becomes ice free,” he said.
The only real hope is for a global citizens’ movement unlike anything ever seen on the face of the Earth. Millions of ordinary people will have to mobilise to force governments and industry down the path of sustainability, he argued.
“There is an overall trend to downsize democracy” with governments at all levels becoming more elitist, resulting in poor public policies, said Steve Chase, director of the Environmental Advocacy Programme at Antioch University in New Hampshire.
“People don’t have to go along with this but they do have to become involved,” Chase told IPS.
Chase trains grassroots activists, including a two-year master’s degree programme at Antioch, and notes that students were a major force in previous large-scale civil rights and social justice movements.
“High school students are my hope. They could save the world – after all they will inherit this world,” Chase said.
Powerful social networking tools like Facebook could prove to be crucial in driving society away from consumerism, he said.
There are already many active youth coalitions around the U.S. and the world, including the Campus Climate Challenge, the Youth Climate Movement, and the global inline community It’s Getting Hot in Here, among dozens of others.
So can teenagers overcome the annual 600-plus billion-dollar advertising industry and persuasive popular culture that pushes consumption of more and more stuff?
“It’s pretty clear that our current way of life leaves most adults overstressed, unhealthy and miserable,” he said.
Hopefully students understand that miserable adults are product of the current consumerist lifestyle.
Solutions come in the form of thousands of simple changes, from using a clothes line instead of drier to mandating the use of composting toilets in new homes. Large-scale green energy will help, but it is not nearly enough, although shifting government subsidies for oil and coal to energy efficiency could make a significant difference.
Governments at all levels along with individuals need to attack this problem with energy and determination, Chase says. But little will change without a global citizens’ movement, sparked in large part by teenagers deeply worried about the world they will inherit.
“We have just a few years left to do something about this,” he said.
[This is a re-post of my article written two years ago but equally relevant today. Original article here: Can Networking Teenagers Save the World? — SL]