Long-term ecology versus short-term politics?

The following are speaking notes from an address made by Someshwar Singh, GCI Director of Communications, to a panel on Long-term Ecology Versus Short-Term politics. The event was organized by Media 21 on the opening day of the World Climate Conference 3 (31 Aug – 4 Sept) hosted by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in Geneva. Media 21 helps improve the reporting skills of journalists from around the world. 

Before I begin, I would just like to give you a brief introduction about myself. I started by career as an economic journalist in India. I worked with newspaper, magazine and then news agency and for television. And then I have reported internationally from Geneva. Now I am with the Green Cross International, which is based here in Geneva. Also worked for the World Wide Fund for Nature, not far from here, for over 7 years. 
In my presentation today, what I would like to do is present the systemic forces which kind of trap and confine and therefore constrain the short-term politics which in turn defines the way we live, especially the way our production, distribution and transport infrastructure is organised. Linked to this is our grand appetite to reach the heights of consumerism – which left to itself – is very difficult to draw limits on. Yet all around you see today a silent and unmistakeable change that has started – first, of course with the thinking but it is being followed up with actions as well albeit slowly and in a disjointed way. What we are waking up to is the realisation that perhaps we have crossed the limits in consistently not being in harmony with the long-term ecological processes. 
This long-term ecology refers basically to the essential life-supporting natural processes that sustain a bewildering variety of life forms on this planet. We humans are one of them. In trying to master our environment, we have come so far that we are now afraid we may all become its victims. So many living species have become extinct. The rate of extinction keeps going up – whether you look at the forests and tree species, the marine or freshwater aquatic life, or even the erstwhile kings of our jungles – tigers and lions –it is the same story. The human pressure is just relentless. We have polluted the waters, the soil and the sky – essentially every layer of our biosphere that supports life.
A Dying Planet?
The natural balance has been upset or threatened by human activities in almost every sphere. Our testing of the limits of ecological systems has led to all kinds of restrictions and quotas. There is amazing sophistication in our ability to deplete natural resources and wildlife. Not long ago, and in some places it still happens, fishing was simple means in ordinary boats. Now you have fast ocean trawlers guided by satellite to target particular fish catch. This is true for bluefin tuna, which is highly prized in markets such as Tokyo. Then airplanes move in to fly the catch to particular market destinations.
The clearest signal of imminent danger to our planet is reflected in our attempt to come up with a collective response the global warming caused by the excessive accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In all appearances, it is being treated like any other international negotiation – so we have countries still debating about the carbon emissions reducing targets or caps they are going to set. The familiar North-South divide is apparent. The industrialised countries would like developing countries also to embrace hard reduction targets; even through they have admittedly been least responsible up until now, of causing this worrisome global warming. There is discussion also about setting up a climate fund that can help certain countries cope with the adaptation and mitigation needs.
Nothing is guaranteed in terms of either this Fund or way to spread the right kind of renewable energy technologies that can help us move to a cleaner, and safer carbon-neutral future. In fact, there are so many loose ends in Science, research, technology, intellectual property rights, financing the promotion of renewable energy sources etc. 
The Wall of Short-Term politics 
In fact, we have hit the wall now running with our baggage of short-term politics, which has given importance to greed and to accumulation of wealth, put the individual self before societal concerns. Nations are competing against each other in almost every domain (including in the outer space) – seeking to establish a competitive edge. Even within nations, the gulf between living conditions of people is enormous. You are more likely to hear about the gruelling poverty in the developing world than the poor of America or Switzerland. Yet the fact is that even so-called rich and advanced industrialised have their troubling pockets of misery which is the direct result of a society that somehow neglects the fundamental concerns of large sections of its own people. 
The world is so divided between rich and poor regions. Even after independence from colonial rule, many countries have not been able to deliver on basic facilities to their people and under the current circumstances will probable not for the foreseeable future. And now, once again, we hear that the brunt of the catastrophic impacts of climate change, whether storms, excessive rains, mudslides or droughts – it is the poor of the world who would be the worst affected. Frankly, I do not think the poor of this world are spending sleepless nights over impending climate change disasters. Their lives are already sufficiently torn apart to have the luxury of thinking of tomorrow. But then why are we so bothered? 
If after decades of national and international development efforts, we are still in a situation where close to one thirds of the world population is living in conditions of poverty, a surge in food prices causes food riots across countries, and almost a billion people are malnourished when millions of farm animals and domestic pets are actually overfed everyday. 
Deciphering and Delivering Information 
One of the biggest challenges of the journalistic profession is to cut through the haze that accompanies the supply of information whether by scientists, institutions, government ministries. Seldom is reality portrayed truthfully. The trick then is in posing the right questions. But even after that, there is no guarantee of a desired response. But it is worth trying. 

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