Authors: Dr. Arshad M. Khan and Meena Miriam Yust
The latest news on rising sea levels can be described as another example of human folly. The Anthropocene has seen plant extinctions, animal extinctions, both at an unforeseen pace, and now there is not only worsened coastal flooding but a vast area of low-lying south-eastern United States eventually could be under water. Who says so? And with what level of confidence can we make such a prediction?
An assessment by 106 specialists, who study sea-levels and were selected on the basis of peer-reviewed published research, projects a meter rise by century’s end. Earlier, in September 2019, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a report estimating, with statistical confidence levels, a global mean sea level rise of 0.3 to 1.1 meters by 2100. Present sea levels are already about a foot higher than in the 1970s, and coastal communities are experiencing chronic flooding that is worsened by storm surges and extreme rainfall events — now more frequent due to climate change.
If global warming remains within 2 degrees Celsius, the experts estimate a sea level rise limited to an average 0.5 meters by 2100 and to between 0.54 — 2.15m by 2300. This is the scenario resulting from the Paris Agreement. However, Donald Trump representing a country that is one of the major contributors to climate warming has already withdrawn from the Paris accord.
The earth’s average surface temperature has risen by 1C since the preindustrial era but the trajectory uncontrolled is expected to lead to another 3.5C rise by 2100. This predicts a 0.63 — 1.32m sea-level rise by 2100. But by 2300, this scenario also means a possible 1.8m increase from melting Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets as noted by the experts with knowledge of this aspect of climate change. The resulting total rise by 2300 is then estimated at 1.67 – 5.61m. To those of us used to thinking in terms of the English system, the last figure amounts to 18ft. 5ins.
Consider that some 10 percent of the world’s population or about 770 million people live on land less than 5m above high tide levels. Consider also that the scenarios above are based on mean sea levels. It implies there are areas with lower seas — the lucky coastal areas — but also the unfortunates living beside higher seas in low-lying regions. Hence, the unfortunate southeast of the US.
If the figures quoted previously are not scary enough, it is worth noting what happened during the melting of the Eurasian ice sheet 14,000 years ago — it raised sea levels by 8 meters or 26 1/4 feet. All of which leads once again to the question of what we can do as individuals to alleviate global warming in the age of Trump, a man who believes climate change is a hoax. Thanks to him making an ass of himself during his coronavirus news conferences, there is a chance he may not be around.
As individuals, aside from avoiding unnecessary auto trips and walking short distances, one of the best things we can do is to eat less beef (lamb is even worse, pork much less). As ruminants, cows emit gases, mostly methane when chewing their cud and then also from the other end — although there is now hope for a vaccine that can inactivate the digestive bacteria causing it. Methane is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide in trapping heat. It is why livestock cause 14 percent of greenhouse gas emissions resulting from human activity. It is said, if cows were a country, they would rank third in emissions.
On the positive side, replacing meat with poultry, fish, vegetables and fruit — the Mediterranean diet — helps us live longer, healthier lives. So, what do we have to lose?
The dilemma of Environmental Politics
Since the emergence of neo-liberal globalization in the 1980s, it has changed the socio-political, economic and environmental discourse across the global spectrum. Basically, it was the rise of Green politics, Green parties and rising civil society concern about the ecological disaster that has shaped the discourse of environmental politics back in the 1980s. As a major field of the contemporary comparative politics, the major focus of environmental politics and diplomacy is on the policy making and strategies to tackle global warming and the climate change. Moreover, as discourse, it encompasses two major premise that shapes the foundation of the environmental politics. First and Foremost, environmental politics examines the connection between human realm and the natural world. Secondly, as a major subject of the contemporary political discourse it emphasizes on the ideological debate over ecological issues.
As an illustration, with in-depth examination of the ecological degradation and environmental apocalypse, the major focus of the environmental politics is on conservation and preservation of the natural outlook of the mother earth. Basically, it was the end of the world with shocking event of Hiroshima that has brought the discourse of environmentalism to the forefront. As a result, the broad range of the environmental issues such as air pollution, water pollution and land pollution has given birth to the Green parties across the west in the 1970s. Hence, it was the emergence of the Green parties across the west which have further explored the major themes surrounding environmentalism in the 1980s.
In this respect, over the last two decades, the major themes of environmental politics such as climate change, global warming, ecological degradation and the loss of biodiversity have exacerbated the environmental debate. Perhaps, these major themes were developed into major environmental narratives across the west by exposing their impacts on the human realm through films, songs and literary discourses. In the broader context, the popular environmental narratives across the media and political landscape have also brought the discourse of neo-liberalism and globalization to the forefront. It is because, according Green politics experts, Globalization has kept the internationalization of trade on the top priority while despising its impacts on human environment. Perhaps, this is what has brought the debate of social justice and environmental politics at the crossroad.
In contrast, it was the relationship between the human societies and the environment that has brought the issue of social justice and political constancy at the center of the ecological discourse. However, the concept of social justice elaborates about the human conduct in changing and transforming the natural world. In this respect, the basic premise of the social justice theory focuses on correcting the conduct of human actions by making human behavior more environmental-centered. Moreover, according to the ecologists and environmental theorists humans need to change their behavior towards the natural world in order to tackle the crisis of environment and ecological degradation. Perhaps, the ecologists mainly establish their political arguments concerning environmental crisis by using the theories of social justice advocated by the ancient philosopher Plato.
Basically, the whole context of Platonic philosophy concerning social justice surrounds the human nature and behavior. Moreover, the theory of social justice advocated by Plato in his book ‘The Republic’ lays much emphasis on social ethics and morality to regulate the human nature and human behavior. Perhaps, it is only through the social justice theory of Plato, we can explain the relationship between social justice and political stability. Moreover, the close connection between the social justice and political stability has clearly explained by Plato in first two books of the republic.
In both books, Plato clearly distinguishes between the Just and unjust societies from the standpoint of politics and peace. Although, the philosophy of ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle does not directly discuss about the environmental politics. However, the distinction between the Just and unjust societies explicitly explain about the dynamics of social justice in contrast to human behavior. Moreover, it is the moral and metaphysical philosophy of Plato in the Republic, which anticipates about the concepts such as regulation, maintenance and sustainability from the moral and ethical standpoint. For instance, in the book II of the Republic the discussion begins with Plato’s brother, who challenge Socrates to explain to them about the actual meaning of Justice in contrast to human behavior. In this way, the discussion begins, in which Socrates explains the dynamics of justice from the perspective of Just actions to Plato’s brother.
In contrast, after thoroughly examining the social justice theories of ancient philosophers; it can be said that their theories presents a great emphasis about the concept of ‘sustainability’. Thus, from standpoint of Plato’s social justice theory, we can draw a conclusion by relating the human behavior and conduct with major environmental themes such as Climate Change and Global warming.
Plant Rights: A Neglected Regime
Whenever an entity stood for itself to claim specific interest, it has faced humiliation at every possible level. Fight for rights never gone smoothly in history, for instance, women’s rights, slave’s rights, children’s rights, rights of a prisoner of war, etc. (Stone 1972: 451). Nobody thought in earlier times that even these could be considered as rights. The problem with our society is that we work for our self-interest. We exploit a thing up to a level that entity itself gets a realization that whatever is happening with them is not correct. Apart from self-interest, a perspective always plays a vital role in protecting the interest of the victim. The exploiters might never imagine that their actions are, in a way, harmful to the other being. Such exploitation can be rectified only with enlightenment and awareness among the general masses in time. It is to be understood that rights are always needed by the oppressed, not the oppressor. The journey of plant rights is no exception to this situation. When people come across this term, they laugh at the very first instance, considering it to be just a vague concept. This notion did not even find much discussion among the academician across the globe.
Furthermore, we disregard someone’s right, either knowingly or unknowingly. In the case of plant rights, it is mostly unknowingly since we do not consider plants to as being as they do not behave like humans or animals. Various studies suggest that plants own life, and they do respond to their surroundings in their way (Tandon 2019: 593). However, scientists are skeptical about the question of sentience in plants (Pelizzon and Gagliano 2015). Thus it makes the whole regime uncertain and necessary to be further analyzed with extra care.
The fact that plants cannot speak like other creatures does not make them less being. If they live and die like other entities on this planet, then we should reconsider our legal regime to address their concerns. Present laws for the protection of plants provide a limited scope in their application. Humans consider plants as a commodity and govern their conservation for the fulfillment of their own needs. This issue necessitates a plant-centric legal regime that should enable plants to possess their own legal identity and rights. There exist scientific limitations to provide evidence for this study. However, it is appropriate to develop an approach today, so to avoid any guilt in the future.
NEED FOR PLANT RIGHTS
The underlying issue with the plants is that they are not granted rights per se. Any violation of plant rights cannot be brought before the courts with a reason that an injury has been inflicted upon plants. The actions against plants can be challenged in the court only when it affects the interests of other human beings related to such plants. If one cannot show the nexus between the plant and its owner or regulator, then the accused party shall not be held liable for its derogatory actions. This scenario depicts a problem where the interests of the plants are compromised, and those of humans prevail.
The human-centric legal regime provides that nature should be conserved and protected to fulfill the needs of humans (Shastri 2013: 523). On the contrary, one should argue that several plant species are on the verge of extinction. It is necessary to develop a legal regime to prevent biodiversity loss and mitigate floral destruction (Marder 2013: 46-47).
Further, scientific studies are uncertain on the issue of pleasure and pain in plants (Calvo, Sahi and Trewavas 2017). Scientists have a difference in opinion on this issue. Where one set considers that plants lack a nervous system so they cannot respond to pain, the other argues that plants work differently from humans (Shepherd 2012). Daniel Chamovitz, in his 2012 book ‘What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses’ has called such a response of plants as “anoetic consciousness” – an ability to sense and react (Chamovitz 2012). However, if plants feel pain, for instance, then even plucking a leaf from the plant will constitute an illegal action that will not be preferred by the plant. Thus a need arose to determine the status of a silent entity to ensure global justice in the world.
PLANT RIGHTS: DEFINITION AND SCOPE
As per Christopher Stone in his book “Should Trees Have Standing? – Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects”, the realm of legal rights entails three aspects for the right holder. Firstly, such rights-holder can take legal action at their will. Secondly, the injury needs to be identifiable by the court that is determining relief for such an entity. Thirdly, such assistance must be in the interest of rights-holder and benefit him (Stone 1972: 458).
The definition of plant rights can be read in similar lines of human rights. Those inherent rights that every plant possesses by being a plant are its plant rights. International human rights found its basis on the principles of universality, indivisibility, interdependence, and interrelatedness (Whelan 2010). These plant rights shall be based on the similar principles of human rights. Apart from the right to live and protect against their extinction, plant rights shall also include dignity and ethical considerations for the plant. The plants shall not be subjected to the arbitrary and unethical actions of a human.
The term ‘arbitrary’ and ‘unethical’ are subjective and open for debate. While determining the scope of these rights, some might consider even plucking of the flower to be arbitrary. In contrast, for the others, arbitrariness could include deforestation, destructive cultivation, affecting reproduction, and changing the genetic pattern of plants. Although this debate is unsettled, however, the plant’s life and their dignity need to be respected beyond doubt (Schulp 2019: 112).
NATURE OF PLANT RIGHTS
Both Christopher Stone and Peter Singer have argued that these rights should not be followed in their strict sense. Granting of rights did not mean equal treatment, rather equal consideration (Singer 1993). If we take plant rights up to the absolute sense, humans cannot even have food on their plates. In such a scenario, then will it means that we are compromising the right to life of humans. Also, before identifying their rights, it is to be determined that whether each plant on earth shall be given equal rights, or we could bring some differentiation or exemption while conferring rights to some of them. Thus a distinction between vegetable and ornamental plants could be observed while determining the nature and extent of plant rights.
Science mentions that plants and animals have a similar origin (Meyerowitz 1999). Where we have a plethora of rights for one animal (humans), it is pertinent to have rights for plant kingdom that must be plant-centric instead of being human-centric. The new system should protect the interests of plants instead of humans.
WHAT ARE THE PRESENT LAWS FOR PLANT?
The present plant regime is regulated by numerous international instruments covering various aspects of plant protection. International Plant Protection Convention of 1951 prevents the entry and spreading of pests on plants. International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture of 2004, also known as the International Seed Treaty aims for food security through conservation and sustainable use of plant’s genetic resources. It works in the collaboration of the Convention on Biological Diversity, another multilateral framework with a goal of conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use of its components, and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, 1973 (CITES) is another multilateral arrangement to protect endangered plants and animals. International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, 1961 (UPOV) provides intellectual property rights to the generators of new varieties of plants.
Though the present international law non-uniformly recognizes the intrinsic value of plants still, it does not accord any legal personality to plants. Notably, some of these instruments consider plants as an object and protect them, not for their conservation but to fulfill the requirements of human. The present situation could be understood similarly as to the rights of indigenous peoples that are considered necessary for their lives and livelihood against economic developments (Phillips 2015). Thus, plants should have a mechanism available to seek redressal for their grievances.
In the 21st century, there were attempts to recognize this new realm of rights. On the 56th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Venezuelan government organizations and biological groups adopted the Universal Declaration of Plant Rights that consists of 22 principles. This declaration presents a very stringent protectionist view of plant rights. Also, the April 2008 Swiss Report “The Dignity of Living Beings with Regard to Plants” claims that since plants are alive, their morality must be respected. Further, they must not be considered as an object that can be owned by anyone (Willemsen 2008: 20).
States have reflected a commendable approach to provide legal rights to environmental entities. In the year 2008, Ecuador became the first state to adopt the rights of nature in its constitution (Revkin 2008). In 2010, Bolivia adopted legislation to grant legal standing to nature (Eckstein et al 2019: 805). New Zealand provided legal personality to Te Urewera national park in 2014, and later such status was also conferred to Mount Taranaki and Whanganui river to represent their interest through its guardians (Gleeson-White 2018). Similarly, in 2017, Uttarakhand High Court in India has conferred the status of ‘living entity’ upon river Ganga and Yamuna by making Chief Secretary of Uttarakhand, ‘Namami Gange‘ project director and Advocate General of the State as a legal parent to the river to represent their interest in the court (Salim v State of Uttarakhand and Others 2014). In the same year, Columbia has granted legal rights to the river Rio Atrato (Mount 2017). Thus, a similar approach is needed to be undertaken for plants as well where custodians are to be appointed those who may speak purely for the interest of plants before the court of law.
As we need a law to protect our liberties, provide remedies, and tackle all forms of oppression and discrimination. Similarly, plants also require the same for their existence. It is not a justified argument that since plants cannot speak so they cannot argue and plead in the court of law for their rights. Bentham advocates that the threshold to determine rights for a being should be their capacity to suffer (Singer 1993). Being a right-holder, plants can bring the claim for their interest. Moreover, such law much is made considering their interest at large. The emergence of a new right for an entity diminishes the existing realm of rights exercised by the others. Thus such necessary amendments need to be brought in our present legal system. Also, such plant rights shall be treated at par with human rights, if not superior.
Both plants and animals require sunlight, air, water, wind, earth, for their survival and development. Studies say that plant does communicate with each other in different forms (Karban 2008). Plants like ‘Touch-me-not’ (mimosa pudica) (Kumar et al 2009) or sunflower (helianthus) (Vandenbrink et al 2014: 21) shows a response to the external stimuli. It is also said that plant never dies until affected by any human-made or natural factor (Trewavas 2016). Most importantly, the plant produces ‘seeds’ that signifies the essence of life in them. It can be said that they are not a machine that breathes carbon dioxide in the presence of the sun and vice-versa. On the contrary, they occupy an essential part of the environment, along with humans. Based on a few fundamental differences between plants and animals, for example, mobility, one cannot ignore equality between the components of the environment.
The critical question is, ‘Whether plants feel pain?’ Up till now, no accurate answer has been obtained from studies. Different scientists have suggested various theories for it. The response to the issue of plant rights found its basis in a more nuanced scientific discovery. So now, another question could arise ‘What should be done until we get a certain answer?’ In the absence of such knowledge, should it be appropriate to leave the notion of plant rights aside to be decided by our future generation? Another preferable aspect could be to set up a framework for now identifying the fundamental issues of plant rights. Such a regime should come from the plant’s perspective as a matter of being a living entity. No matter, science may take the time to answer the plant mystery; however, as a human, it is our responsibility to show respect towards the plant and their dignity in our actions (Koechlin 2009). It requires sensitization among people that rather objectifying plants as a matter to fulfill their selfish needs.
A strict need for change in perception is required. Since all of our previous generations, including us, have grown up exploiting plants from ages directly or indirectly, consequently today we do not sense any form of injustice in it. We got very well accommodated in this regime, and it seems beyond imagination to think of any such idea as plant rights. This reform is challenging; however, not impossible. It would be an honor for our generation and a gift for future ones if we can correct something that has been wrongly followed by our forefathers, especially after industrialization.
- Calvo, Paco, Sahi, Vaidurya Pratap and Trewavas, Anthony (2017): “Are plants sentient?,” Plant Cell & Environment, 6 September < https://doi.org/10.1111/pce.13065>.
- Chamovitz, Daniel (2012): What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses, New York: Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
- Eckstein, Gabriel et al (2019): “Conferring legal personality on the world’s rivers: A brief intellectual assessment,” Water International, Vol 44, No (6-7), pp 804-829.
- Food and Agriculture Organization (1951):“International Plant Protection Convention,” UNTS, Vol 150, opened for signature 6 December, pp 67.
- Food and Agriculture Organization (2001): “International Treaty on plant genetic resources for food and agriculture,” UNTS, Vol 2400,opened for signature 3 November, pp 303.
- Gleeson-White, Jane (2018): “It’s only natural: the push to give rivers, mountains and forests legal rights,” The Guardian, 1 April <https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/apr/01/its-only-natural-the-push-to-give-rivers-mountains-and-forests-legal-rights>.
- Government of Switzerland (1973): “Convention on international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora,” UNTS, Vol 993, opened for signature 3 March, pp 243.
- Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (1992): “Convention on Biological Diversity,” UNTS, Vol 1760, opened for signature 5 June, pp 79.
- International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (1961): “International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants,” OJ, Vol L192 opened for signature 2 December, pp 64.
- Karban, Richard (2008): “Plant behaviour and communication,” Ecology Letters, Vol 11, pp 727-739.
- Koechlin, Florianne (2009): “The dignity of plants,” Plants Signaling & Behavior, Vol 4, No 1,pp 78-79 <https://doi.org/10.4161/psb.4.1.7315>.
- Kumar, Nilesh et al (2009): “Mimosa pudica L. a sensitive plant,” International Journal of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences, Vol 1, No 1, pp 1-7.
- Marder, Michael (2013): “Should plants have rights?,” The Philosopher’s Magazine, Vol 62, No 3, 46-50.
- Meyerowitz, Elliot M (1999): “Plants, animals and the logic of development,” Trends in cell biology, Vol 9, No 12, pp M65-M68.
- Mount, Nick (2017): “Can a river have legal rights? A different approach to protecting the environment,” Independent 13 October <https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/river-legal-rights-colombia-environment-pacific-rainforest-atrato-river-rio-quito-a7991061.html>.
- National Assembly Legislative and Oversight Committee(2008): Republica del Ecuador Constitucion de 2008 (Constitution of the Republic of Ecuador 2008), chapter VII <http://pdba.georgetown.edu/Constitutions/Ecuador/english08.html>.
- Pelizzon, Alessandro and Gagliano, Monica (2015): “The Sentience of Plants: Animal Rights and Rights of Nature Intersecting?,” Australian Animal Protection Law Journal Vol 11, No 5, pp 5-13.
- Phillips, James S (2015): “The rights of indigenous peoples under international law,” Global Bioethics, Vol 26, No 2, pp 120-127.
- Revkin, Andrew C (2008): “Ecuador Constitution Grants Rights to Nature,” The New York Times, 29 September <https://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/09/29/ecuador-constitution-grants-nature-rights/>.
- Salim v State of Uttarakhand and Others (2014): Writ Petition (PIL) No. 126 of 2014, Uttarakhand High Court.
- Schulp, Jan A (2019): “Animal rights/Plants rights,” Research in Hospitality Management, Vol 9, No 2, pp 109-112.
- Singer, Peter (1993): Practical Ethics United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
- Shastri, Satish C (2013): “Environmental Ethics Anthropocentric to Eco-Centric Approach: A Paradigm Shift,” Journal of the Indian Law Institute, Vol 55, No 4, pp 522-530.
- Shepherd, VA (2012): “At the roots of Plant Neurobiology: A brief history of the biophysical research of JC Bose,” Science and Culture, Vol 78, No (5/6), pp 196-210.
- Stone, Christopher D (1972): “Should Trees Have Standing?: Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects,” South California Law Review, Vol 45, pp 450-501.
- Taiz, Lincoln et al (2019): “Plants Neither Possess nor Require Consciousness,” Trends in Plant Science, Vol 24, No 8, pp P677-687 <https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tplants.2019.05.008>.
- Tandon, Prakash Narain (2019): “Jagdish Chandra Bose and Plant Neurobiology: Part I,” Indian Journal of Medical Research, Vol 149, No 5, pp 593-599.
- Trewavas, Tony (2016): “Plant Intelligence: An overview,” BioScience, Vol 66, No 7, pp 542-551.
- Vandenbrink, Joshua P et al (2014): “Turning heads: The biology of solar tracking in sunflower,” Plant Science, Vol 224, pp 20-26.
- Venezuelan Association (2004): “Universal Declaration of Plant Rights,” 10 December <http://www.avepalmas.org/rights.htm>.
- Willemsen, Ariane (2008), “The dignity of living beings with regard to plants,” Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology ECNH, pp 1-24.
- Whelan, Daniel J (2010): Indivisible Human Rights: A History, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
An idea whose time has come: Green Politics
Authors: Anurag Mishra and Aaditya Vikram Sharma*
As the world forages wide and digs deeper to discover the origin of the latest Public Enemy Number One, the widely believed conjecture among the public is that it originated from a wet market in Huanan, China. Scientists across the world are having a tough time finding the exact source of the virus, and world leaders are demanding a probe to look into its origins. Still, the zoonotic origin of the virus holds firm ground. Whether it was a horseshoe bat, a civet cat or a pangolin is a mystery yet to unravel.
The zoonotic origin of the virus once again brings to the fore, most compellingly this time, the questions which our leaders have long been avoiding. These questions are manifest in the four epidemics the world has seen in the last 20 years or so. Apposite among those questions is the ecologically unconcerned economic development and its wide-ranging concomitants. The very idea of sedentary urban human settlements is based on the clearing of forests and its transformation into fertile croplands. But, ever since economic growth became the cornerstone of human development and “mass production – mass consumption” the widely accepted way to sustain the burgeoning population, humans have pushed their domain more and more into the forests, thinning the line that exists between the humans and the wildlife.
To put things into perspective, the atmosphere never had carbon dioxide gas concentration of more than 300 ppm in the last half a million years or so. In 2019, it was more than 410 ppm, a direct consequence of decimating forests and increasing industrial activity. This event, among others, has been in the making for quite some time.
In the wake of the scientific developments taking place in the early 1970s, environmental concerns started to translate into political agendas. With the United Tasmania Group, the first Green Party contesting the 1972 state elections of Tasmania, Australia, the era of green politics had formally hit the road. Cut to 2020, the political experiment of green politics has been a nominal success. Even though the Greens have a presence in almost 90 countries across the world, it is a peculiar case of “a mile wide, an inch deep”.
In this series of articles, the authors set out to make a case for the need of a more assertive green politics while encapsulating the history of the Greens, the scientific developments and simultaneous accretion of environmentalism into environmental politics. This instalment covers the inception of international environmental politics since the second world war and traces the beginning of the green political movement.
The New World Order
Environmental issues have become one of the predominant points of discussion in international politics. Today, UN environmental summits are held, reports are generated by committees formed national and internationally to understand and mitigate climate change and other environmental problems, and citizen activism is at an all-time high. There is blunt awareness about the impact of human activity on the planet. In fact, in 2016, scientists recommended that the current epoch on Earth be labelled as ‘Anthropocene.’ However, this awareness is a recent phenomenon– it was not always so.
As the second world war ended in 1945, a new world order emerged. New institutions and agendas were created to instil adherence to international law and respect for human rights. To achieve the former objective, the United Nations (UN) was created. Under Article 1 of the UN Charter, “The Purposes of the United Nations are:
To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace;
To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace;
To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion; and
To be a centre for harmonising the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.”
As can be seen above, none of the aims refer to the protection of the environment. This is not to say that the environment had not been harmed. As the Second World War raged from 1939 till 1945, environmental damage had been caused on an unprecedented scale. The war ended when the United States (US) used atomic weapons on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This caused destruction, likes of which had not been seen before, to the cities and their people, as well as the environment, the effects of which are still seen today.
Until the 1960s, environmental protection was not considered an issue. The world would instead concentrate and move on to an unprecedented era of development. The US economy grew exponentially as its left-over wartime industrial base was tapped by the civilian industry. Europe had been left devastated by the war, and the US aided its allies’ economic growth via the Bretton Woods System and the Marshall Plan (formally the European Recovery Program). The Soviet Union developed and became the other superpower, alongwith the United States. This ‘development’ was achieved through massive industrialisation and development of new technologies. It is pertinent to note that the newly independent countries of Asia and Africa were more or less left out of this phase of development.
“Discovery” of Damage
Man-made greenhouse effect, capable of having a significant impact on Earth’s temperature was suggested by Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius as early as in 1895; the Swede believed that equable climates would appear across the Earth which would lead to an agricultural bounty across the planet. Ironically, Arrhenius’ anticipated boon turned out to be a menacing villain. In 1972, the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm Conference) cemented environmental issues as an agenda in international politics. It led to the creation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “it laid the foundation for global environmental governance.”
In 1985, a remarkable discovery was made. The reputed science journal Nature published a paper by Joe Farman, Brian Gardiner and Jonathan Shanklin about the discovery of the “ozone hole” over Antarctica. Despite this, it was not until the establishment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 1988 that climate change made news, a year after the Montreal Protocol had been agreed on.
Since Montreal, the world has made some significant strides in order to mitigate the crisis. However, what is unfortunate is that even the Paris Agreement makes climate action voluntary for the nations and the targets to cut down emissions of greenhouse gases nationally determined. The absence of a major emitter, the US, further jeopardises the realisations of the goals under the treaty. Further, scientists suggest that even if the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming under 2 degree celsius are met with, it might not be able to avert wide-scale human-made natural disasters.
As stated above, in 2016, the Anthropocene Working Group voted for addition of the Anthropocene Epoch to the geologic time scale, citing the unprecedented and massive impact that humans have made on our planet. A formal declaration of the Anthropocene epoch by the International Commission on Stratigraphy might take some time, but it is now writing on the wall that the business as usual approach will take us to irreversible destruction. Our generation is already witnessing the rising of sea levels, increasing intensification of cyclones and dead zones in the oceans, and more vigorous incidences of forest fires.
Due to the events highlighted above, environmental issues came to the forefront. The United Tasmania Group of Australia was to become the forerunner of a movement that would span across continents. This ‘movement’ was the creation of new political parties and the growth of new leaders who aimed to mitigate the damage to the environment. These political parties are now known to us as green parties. Green parties function as flag bearers of environmental concerns in the political arena while also advocating social-democratic economic policies and social justice.
The next part of the series will deal with the inception of the green party movement and its relevance in the contemporary world and domestic politics.
* Assistant Professor, Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, New Delhi.
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