Sustainability now needs to shift the paradigm from conservation to rejuvenation. The conversation must evolve from the scare of scarcity to the pursuit of plenty, albeit in an alternative form.
The Oxford dictionary defines rejuvenation as restoring to a condition characteristic of a younger landscape while conservation is defined as prevention of wasteful use of resource. As is evident from the definition, efficiency and protection fall in the paradigm of conservation while rejuvenation requires actions in the realm of restoration.
The world accepts, with stray but notable exceptions, that climate change is happening now. The daily average concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere at Mauna Loa in Hawaii reached 403.3 parts per million (ppm) in 2016 according to The Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, the UN weather agency’s annual flagship report. If we are to stay below the 20C temperature rise threshold, the average concentration has to dip below 400ppm. Emissions are steadily increasing and we are not yet sure when the rate of emissions from human activity will start declining. Till then the average concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere will keep going up making the climate change problem more acute.
It is obvious that reducing the rate of emissions is not a sufficient condition to tackle climate change. Even as we take every possible step to lead a low carbon life on earth, we need to simultaneously figure out a way to take carbon out of the atmosphere and bring it below the danger mark.
The Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicates that for the earth to stay below the 2°C temperature increase level, there will have to be significant amounts of ‘negative emissions’. That means we have to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and not just exult over a reduced rate of emission. This is why the conservation paradigm of efficiency and protection is inadequate to solve the problem and the rejuvenation paradigm of restoring to better health is a must.
Experts say that our ability to extract CO2 from the atmosphere is limited and that efforts to sequester carbon have been expensive and often inadequately effective if not altogether ineffective. It is, as of now, a nascent quest and will, no doubt, gather steam as time goes by. While the path to efficiency is clear with recycling, reduction of the use of virgin materials, replacing fossil fuels by renewable energy sources, making more with lesser energy, etc., being important parts of the journey, the path to rejuvenation remains blurry.
Currently the best methods of sequestering carbon are natural – by healthy forests and by planktons in the oceans. It is crucial that we rejuvenate the health of these ecosystems so that they can help us battle climate change even as we try to discover other methods to extract CO2 from the atmosphere.
Efforts are being made to use CO2 from the atmosphere to make ink. Even if this is successful the impact can only be limited. Other efforts include returning CO2 to the depths of the earth or even to restore the carbon content of the soil. Neither of these efforts have been effective yet. Some have even tried to make diamonds using CO2 from the atmosphere but once again with limited impact. The search for an effective, commercially viable method is on.
Each of the ways of conservation and rejuvenation presents a business opportunity. Recently, climate change was referred to as being the “biggest financial and business opportunity of the century” at the climate session at Davos in January, 2018. This is what provides hope that the climate change challenge will be overcome. As long as the solutions are commercially viable there will always be an economic motive to sustain them and Adam Smith’s invisible hand will, once again, rejuvenate and prove to be a saviour.
Anirban Ghosh is the Chief Sustainability Officer at the Mahindra Group. He has been working with Group in Sales, Marketing, and Strategy since 1999 and has been recognized as a distinguished CSO in his current role. A gold medal-winning engineer from Jadavpur University, Calcutta, Ghosh has pursued doctoral studies in Marketing Management at IIM Ahmedabad. He enjoys music, reading, traveling, driving, cricket and tennis. He is an active public speaker and has represented the nation at the Festival of India across multiple nations.
Views of the author are personal and do not necessarily represent the website’s views.
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The CSR Journal Team