KARIM JAUFEERALLY

In a previous article, https://www.lemauricien.com/le-mauricien/the-age-of-consequences-and-a-vision-of-the-future/403267/, we argued that our modern industrial civilization has generated a number of dynamics such as climate change, environmental degradation, energy and resource depletion which are now impacting human welfare worldwide. In short our civilisation is in over-shoot. These dynamics are probably unstoppable given the momentum they have acquired by now. These dynamics generate food, energy and water crisis that come and go, together with serious economic & financial difficulties. Taken together these crises can reduce human welfare.

These are hallmarks of a decline in our civilization. We should not be surprised of our situation; after all, historically civilizations emerge, grow, reach maturity, and then decline. This is what happened to the Western Roman Empire, the Egyptian, Chinese civilizations amongst many others. Once in full decline, other civilizations rise and the cycle continues anew.

It is likely that we are now living through the opening phases of decline of our own modern industrial civilization. Note that decline is not a fast and abrupt phenomenon. It can unfold over several decades or even centuries. The next few decades from 2020 – 2050 will probably be critical. Much can be done to slow decline and soften impacts.

lThe Government and  the corporate world. Common sense dictates that such a project of containing decline ought to be driven by Government and supported by citizens. Alas Government and the corporate world are both locked into a trance that limits their scope of action. Briefly, both Governments and corporations are committed to economic growth at any costs because their survival is dependent on delivering welfare to voters and profits to shareholders. Hence both entities are chained to a short term mode of thinking that relies mainly on high – tech, market based and financially profitable responses.

Yet tackling many of the dynamics of decline requires that economic growth and profitability ought to take a back seat from time to time and that a longer view of human welfare be contemplated. Although we acknowledge that both Governments and the corporate world are beginning to change their approach to both environmental degradation and climate change, they still do not seem to grasp that our civilisation is in over-shoot and in danger of decline.

lGreenhouse gas emissions. Hence, government and corporate sector’s responses are somehow inadequate. The top down approach has reached its limits. The lack of real action on the climate change front is an obvious example. The failure of COP 25 in Madrid in December 2019 demonstrates this point since nearly everybody from governments to large corporations and institutions worldwide agreed about the urgency of climate change. Furthermore, no significant and voluntary reductions on greenhouse gas emissions have been noted and a point of no return has probably been breached by climatic systems a long time ago. The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns worldwide did reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly, but they were not voluntary and resulted in economic hardships. As soon as the pandemic will be over, greenhouse gas emissions will probably resume their upward march.

lLocal citizen actions. Thus, much will have to rely on local citizen actions. The overall approach is to find acceptable local alternatives as substitutes for imported goods and services where feasible. The goal is NOT to become self sufficient in everything, that would be both unrealistic and detrimental to the population. However, there is much that can be done here and now without living in destitution and misery. Let us explore some of these avenues of local citizen action.

Food is a priority. Mauritius imports around 80% of its foodstuff and this ratio shows no sign of going down. This dependency on imports is a major weakness for the country.

lWidespread home composting. Yet, from the consumers’ perspective, food in Mauritius can be expensive. An obvious response is for individual citizens to begin composting their kitchen wastes and growing fruits and vegetables if circumstances permit. Widespread home composting by citizens will do much to reduce solid wastes problems whilst improving soil fertility. Over the past years we have noted an upsurge in home composting and in the number of small enterprises that have sprung to grow organic vegetables or establish nurseries. It is an encouraging trend.

lGrowing starchy staples. However, much of our food security will depend on our ability to grow more starchy foods like potatoes, manioc or breadfruit. Although we do not believe that we shall soon face a situation of shortages in either rice or wheat, prices could increase dramatically as in 2008. Wherever possible, growing starchy staples will mitigate impacts of high food prices on household budgets.

lLocally processed foods. In any supermarket, we find large selections of imported processed foods like biscuits, jams, cakes, ice creams for instance. It would be advantageous for citizens to reduce where possible purchases of imported items and prefer locally processed foods instead. That will enable more foreign exchange to remain in the country. Furthermore, cooking from basic ingredients make costs go down, savings made and useful skills learned.

Another avenue of action would be food preservation in time of plenty with pickles, jams, dried or frozen vegetables. Home bread making and bakery are within the reach of most households.

lConsumer electronics. Caution is advised when buying consumer electronics such as cell phones and computers. The eagerness for consumers to buy such goods is unreasonable. It is preferable to use existing electronic devices until they are beyond repair and to be very wary of falling for new versions of devices that do exactly what the previous versions did at premium prices.

Clothing and apparel purchases should also be scrutinised carefully. Let us give precedence over local brands rather than imported ones.

lLong lasting contentment. Finally, let us find contentment with what we have now rather than seeking more material possessions tomorrow. The rush of excitement we feel when shopping is ephemeral and superficial. Long lasting contentment is generated when we regain initiatives in our lives. This can be achieved by increasing our knowledge base, skills and aptitudes. All of the above may seem pitifully inadequate given the dynamics at hand. Yet with each seed planted, each ounce of compost produced, each home made biscuit cooked, we steer a path away from a harsh decline and make way for a gentler future. It is interesting to note that the COVID-19 crisis has shown that resilience is a local affair and so is sustainability. Let us all take note of that. We invite interested readers to contact us on krm@intnet.mu for further discussions.