Note: This is an article originally posted in Planeta Futuro (El País) by Yann Arthus-Bertrand
Everyone knows what is happening to the planet, but we don’t want to believe it. We’re too caught up in our own consumption, and it’s too painful to make changes. We will have to learn how to share, and to fix the way we live and consume.
As we approach Earth Day and we continue our never-ending consumption, I feel disheartened, but I refuse to fall into pessimism. This month, there has been much talk about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report. The discussion about whether we must adapt or mitigate resurfaces, but none of this really matters. It is simply a report that no one will actually read – like many of those major conferences that cost millions of dollars and which lead to nothing. The truth is that over the last 20 years, very little has happened in this area.
Everyone knows what is happening to the planet, but we don’t want to believe what we know, and we continue exactly as we were. We’re too caught up in our own consumption. Our civilization has been built on the basis of consumption and it becomes too inconvenient and painful to make changes.
I have come to believe, even though I myself am a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations, that the answer is not in politicians, in the economy, nor in the laws; It is something spiritual. It may sound naive, but ultimately it’s how we are going to change, how we are going to learn to live together if we are to save this world. We will have to learn how to share, how to treat each other with more respect, how to fix the way we live. You may not be able to stop your own consumption, but we can change the way we do it. And if we think in this “new way,” perhaps we can begin to make changes that will make a difference.
For my new film, Human, I’m talking directly to the people about their poverty, their lives, the discrimination they face. Listening to their stories is a very powerful experience. To hear them face to face, rather than through an intermediary, is very impressive.
I talked to a man in Afghanistan who had lost both legs from a mine explosion. “Do you think that the man who invented this mine, which built it, thought of me, of my family, of what we had?” he told me. He was talking about the responsibility of our actions. We all need to be aware that we are responsible for the damage we are inflicting. We are responsible for the legacy we are leaving to our children.
We have lost confidence in our leaders; There is no disease, discomfort and a lack of confidence in what we are capable of achieving. But we need to connect with our politicians the same way the Afghan man connected with me, with a direct message that gives them the strength and the legitimacy they need to act.
There are ways to do this. One of them is the initiative launched by the United Nations with the MY World Survey, which asks ordinary people around the world what they need in order to have a better life at this crucial moment when a new agenda is being formulated to fight against extreme poverty.
Like my own 7 billion others project, the MY World survey is asking ordinary people what their priorities and needs are for a better life. Their answers should be central in the formulation of a new set of goals which will replace the current Millennium Development Goals. For once, it is not just leaders guiding policy, but now the citizens have a voice.
This new development agenda is our opportunity to combine the fight against climate change and poverty; education and clean technologies; clean water and sanitation, in a comprehensive campaign that allows you to save both the planet and people. Both cannot be separated. We cannot work on one rather than the other. Earth Day is no longer just about saving the planet, but also the people.
French photographer, filmmaker and environmentalist Yann Arthus-Bertrand French, author of Earth Above, is president of the GoodPlanet Foundation and is currently working on his latest film to be released next year. He is also a Goodwill Ambassador for United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).