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English: Devastation after tsunami in Rikuzent...

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What crisis? Is this the Earth I know and love? For over a century, various reports about crises have arisen.  All of these incidences were described as a “crisis”. At first glance, they may not appear to be connected. However, if you read the following five examples, you’ll find that there is a commonality that connects the stories based on economics, environmental, and social aspects.

Italian Dioxin Crisis: On midday of July 10, 1976 an explosion occurred in a TCP (trichlorophenol) reactor in the ICMESA chemical company in Meda, Italy. A toxic cloud escaped into the atmosphere containing high concentrations of TCDD, a highly toxic form of dioxin. Downwind from the factory the dioxin cloud polluted a densely populated area of six kilometers long and one kilometer wide, immediately killing many animals. A neighboring municipality that was highly affected is called Seveso. The accident was named after this village. The dioxin cloud affected a total of 11 communities.[1]

Bangladesh Arsenic Crisis: The arsenic problem was first discovered in the early 1980s, but public awareness of the arsenic crisis did not emerge until the mid-1990s. The World Health Organization has described the naturally occurring arsenic as the largest mass poisoning of a population in history. Today, more than 85 million Bangladeshi people are drinking the arsenic-rich groundwater. It is very probable at least 80 million people now suffer from arsenic poisoning. The exact number is uncertain because it may sometimes take up to 10 years before arsenic poisoning can be diagnosed.[2]

Related Energy Crisis: According to IBM estimates, IT kilowatt-hour usage has increased fivefold in the past five years. This IT-related energy use contributes to the establishment’s greenhouse gas emissions. CIOs and IT managers view this situation as an economic and environmental crisis.[3] This impact may not be obvious to most people, but in a majority of corporations, energy usage in data and call centers represent the largest consumption of electricity in their organizations. This has a ripple effect and worldwide implications.

Financial and Petroleum based Crisis: The message and lesson of the Tragedy of the Commons is that there are dangerous activities requiring strict, intelligent and active regulation.  Neo liberal economists believe that regulation should not hinder the free market.  They assert that the free market will always self correct.  But in a technologically advanced and interconnected world, the stakes are far higher.  Unfettered capitalism can literally collapse the financial system as demonstrated by the recent financial crisis, or the eco-system as demonstrated by the ongoing BP oil spill.[4]

Japan — Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear Crisis: In many ways, Japan is still reeling from the devastating earthquake and tsunami of March 2011 and the nuclear crisis and huge leaks of radiation it set off. … The earthquake and tsunami led to soul searching in a nation already worn down by two lost decades of economic growth, a rapidly aging and now shrinking population, political paralysis and the rapid rise of its longtime rival, China.[5]

Locally, neighborhoods that had existed 500 hundred years were wiped from their foundations, radioactive contamination affected land, water and air,  and the economic consequences affected the entire economy of Japan. Globally, the massive debris field now stretches across the Pacific ocean, spreading contaminated material seaward, and is heading to the western coast of the United States.

All of these examples are truly tragedies of mankind.  People have been poisoned, maimed, and killed through ignorance, apathy, and lack of responsibility. Right now, over 1 billion people go to bed each night, starving. The environment has been polluted and in some cases, permanently, such as the dioxin poisoning incident. Economic impact has been substantial in localities and global markets. We are now a planet with a population of over 7 billion people, with limited natural resources, faced with generations of abuse and worst practices that do not preserve our biosphere, nor consider future generations.

Let’s start from the beginning. Would it be important to understand what constitutes a crisis when tragic events like these are created? The derivation of the word “crisis”, in the West, is from Greek, “krisis” which means ‘decision,’ and from another Greek word, “krinein”, comes the meaning to ‘decide.’ So, it is in a mindset that a situation exists that needs attention where a decision must be made to rectify a problem or decide what actions should be taken to alleviate the predicament. In contrast, the word “crisis”, from the Orient, is based on a combination of two Chinese characters, that represent “danger” and “opportunity”.

So, when we talk about our Sustainability crisis of danger, I believe we need to make hard decisions about our planet Earth and take actions that should draw attention to the resolution of the problem. The “danger” is rooted in our ignorance and behavior that has damaged our environment and risks our survival. Civilization, as we know it, is rooted in poor business practices, negligence, and lack of stewardship. We have a world that is damaged and in need of planetary awareness, a vision for survival, and a “health check” for Earth’s care, called Sustainability.

This is also a crisis, veiled in opportunity. It is an opportunity to ensure survival of future generations. Those decisions to transform this world into an environment that would be a far better place to live, in harmony with nature. Those who will live and thrive in that environment will go beyond “creature comforts” of our day and be impassioned by a reality of connectedness to our eco-systems. By choosing the path towards restorative Sustainability, our opportunities will be endless and limited only by our imagination and knowledge.

So,  if we are in a crisis that encompasses economics, environmental, and social parameters; then one could argue that we are indeed involved in a Sustainability crisis. A legacy that has spanned more than a century, recognized by conservationists and ecologist, acknowledged by corporations, regulated by governments and influenced by special interest groups and NGOs. We are at a tipping point,  whether viewed as a danger or as an opportunity, mankind must make critical decisions and decide what our future will be and preserve and prepare a place for those of future generations. It is time to make a commitment for Sustainability and the starting point is in the enterprise.


[1] Enzler MSc, S.M.; Sept 2006, Top 10 of anthropogenic and natural environmental disaster; Lenntech BV, Rotterdamseweg 402 M, 2629 HH Delft, The Netherlands; http://www.lenntech.com/environmental-disasters.htm#ixzz1ew0k9utJ
[2] Ibid. Enzler MSc, S.M.; Sept 2006
[3] Lechner, Rich; Vice President of Environment and Energy, IBM, The Seven Pillars of a ‘Green’ Corporate Strategy; http://www.environmentalleader.com/2009/03/10/the-seven-pillars-of-a-green-corporate-strategy/; Retrieved: March 10, 2009
[4] Prophet Without Profit, The Tragedy of the Commons Part II: Modern Finance and BP, Copyright 2009- 2010, http://www.prophetwithoutprofit.com, Retrieved: 1 Jan 2012
[5] Japan — Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear Crisis (2011), New York Times, Feb 16, 2012, Retrieved: Feb 17, 2012

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