The role of discourse in the question of sustainability
Climate change. A concept widely used by everyone in the world. Yet, at the same time, how we understand environmental changes depends on one’s own perception of the planet earth. When looking at indigenous knowledge, for instance, our relationship with the natural world seems to be profoundly connected with ‘Mother Earth’. Instead of studying the natural environment, which is a common practice in Western sciences, Indigenous people relate to their surroundings by becoming one with all beings. Their ecological knowledge is rooted in ancient philosophies with thoughts on the agency of the natural world. Broadly speaking, justice for the Earth can only be achieved with a balanced relationship between humans and other entities. How the Indigenous knowledge can determine the discourse on sustainability is evident in the case of New Zealand where the Whanganui River has been recognized by the Crown as a living and legal entity.
Yet, instead of combining different perceptions of the planet earth and bringing humanity together, the discourse on sustainability seems to be dominated by the Western understanding of sustainable development. This discourse tends to be highly ingrained in scientific solutions. Despite being a step in the right direction, technological innovations which mitigate or reduce the output of CO? are not sufficient in themselves to address the growing destruction and damage to the planet. With projects such as the popularisation of electric cars, one ought to ask how the mining of the raw materials for the final product actually affects the communities living near the resources. That is why one’s own perception of how we connect to nature needs to leave the confinements of what we believe to be the right way of doing things. It is time to listen to the silenced ways of understanding reality.
In her book “At home on an unruly planet: Finding refuge on a changed earth” writer Madeline Ostrander tries to give voice to those on the front lines of climate change. In the context of us disrupting our planetary home, we will be faced with more complexity as to what a safe refuge is going to mean to us. In the year 2019, 24.9 million people were displaced or forced to migrate because of the impact of climate change and the resulting natural disasters. To return to the concept of climate change, can we be certain that we have understood what it actually means to us? Are we taking the right measures to save our planet? Many would answer yes. Mainly because we continue to witness new initiatives such as banning plastic bags or constructing innovative solutions for the presumed ‘greener energy’.
Yet, perhaps we are forgetting about the bigger picture and the need to create justice in the discursive framework of what it means to experience climate change. Without a second thought, every step towards sustainability definitely counts. However, in our own bubble of how we perceive climate change, we should not forget about those who suffer seemingly more than the rest due to the destructive practices undertaken by a majority. The already affected communities shall not receive any relief from banning or using less plastic bags in developed nations. Which is why dialogue and combined knowledge are essential to create a new pathway in our relationship with our environment. The underwhelming response to the devastating floods in Pakistan this year has shown that maybe we have underestimated the interdependence of humans and nature. It also puts into question whether we have learned what climate change means to everyday life around the globe.
Recently, North to South provinces of Pakistan have been experiencing record numbers of rainfall, with regions such as Sindh that observed 464% of rain above average. Caused by climate change, the amount of rainfall was additionally higher due to Pakistan’s melting glaciers. This devastation has cost lives from the first day and it might lead to famine, poverty, and involuntary migration. It is time to act and change the system that is leading to an unprecedented crisis. More than 30 million people in Pakistan are affected by the monsoon flooding. To put this number into perspective, Sweden as a whole has a population of slightly more than 10 million. Yet, no immediate discussions on a climate crisis response were started.
The growing disconnect between individuals and their environment
It is problematic how our individual behavioural patterns that drive extreme weather events continue to be excluded from environmental discussions. The current obsession with consumption is a direct threat to the planetary boundaries. Also, it leads to inequalities that are eventually detrimental to individual well-being. Despite the destructive effects of consumption being evident and well-researched, the rhetoric of efficient consumption is being adopted in the economic discourse. Whereas the solution lies in lesser consumption. The question then remains, are we willing to give up social justice and environmental stability for the sake of living in an illusionary world of consumption?
Clothing production contributes 10% to the global carbon emissions with overproduction leading to 92 million tonnes of solid waste yearly. Equally, the meat, dairy, and fishery commerce substantially impact the environment globally, with the greenhouse gas emissions contributing more than half of the total food sector’s environmental impact. Our daily consumption choices matter and should be accounted for. Yet, we keep believing that we understand climate change. Perhaps, it is time to rethink how we imagine our relationship with the natural world and question whether or not we should see ourselves in relation to other living entities. Increased distance between the consumer and food producer, land-use change to boost food yields, and resource-intensive bio-industry lead to a decrease in forest land and soil organic carbon stocks.
The global supply chain, situated in the belief of commodifying nature, exemplifies what is indeed directly affecting the already visible environmental changes. Transnational corporations with interdependent long-distance movement of material goods has disconnected the production process from local needs for both communities and nature. Private material consumption is rather driven by the belief of goods being the foundation of higher living standards than in the idea of sufficiency and minimalist approach to living. As a consequence, a vicious cycle occurs where income defines an individual’s opportunities for quality goods that ‘represent’ status. Long working hours are becoming a norm to catch up with the purposefully changing trends.
Without a doubt, change is needed. It is yet to be seen, however, which discourse concerning planet earth shall guide the understanding of climate change.