The Collegiate Laws of Life Essay Contest asked Penn State students to explore ethical values and intercultural issues, and their talent for expressing their views in writing.

Nakul Grover, ’19, Paterno Fellow and Schreyer Scholar in English and Chemical Engineering, won Third Place for his essay, below, responding to this prompt:

“We are the forgotten ones, although we suffer every day from climate change.” ~ Diallo Déidia Mahamane Kattra, a Minister from Mali at the 2016 Paris Climate Talks
Is it fair that today, newly developing and still-industrializing countries are being asked to cut their emissions, thus stunting their ability to increase their own wealth and power? Are all states equally responsible for funding solutions to climate change, or are established economies primarily responsible for recouping the damage that they have initiated?

The Colonist, the Environment, and a Billion Dreams

Who knew that the number-one small-talk icebreaker at parties would be discussed between international governments? Yes, I am very much talking about the weather today. Winston Churchill, as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, ignored the infamous London smog of 1952 and announced it to be an ‘act of god’, even though science was advanced enough to understand the repercussions of pollution and steroidal industrialization. Recently, my hometown of New Delhi lay coughing inside the blanket of smog that was ten times more hazardous than the recommended breathing level. It was ranked the most polluted city in the world and instantly brought to international shame by the World Health Organization due to negligence and industrialization in the era of climate-change awareness.

The twentieth century saw the First World reunite and flourish in a bounty of resources, leaving the rest of the world, from India to Guyana, with aspirations that will cause impending doom. One of my great friends in Pennsylvania, and indeed someone I revere a great deal, claims that her dream is to live in small cottage perimetered with a plush garden; and one of my great friends in Delhi, and indeed a well-informed friend, claims that her dream is to live in a big “house” with five cars, none less than Audis and Ferraris. If they were to meet before the seventeenth century, they would want the opposite. It was this very interaction that took place when hatted men lowered their anchors on the coasts of the undiscovered, and believed that they came to an understanding. No sir, you did not understand them then, which is why they asked you to leave, and no sir, you do not understand them now, which is why they fail to understand why their backward lifestyle is asked to be more environment-friendly.

In my school, a girl from the family of garbage-pickers aspired to be like Kalpana Chawla (an Indian astronaut). Post-colonial India is home to a billion and a half dreams, and many like this girl are rooted in the hardscrabble life of a Delhi slum, literally aspiring for the moon. The stretched gray zone between underdeveloped and first-world, or a slum in front of a shopping mall, is called the middle-class and was solely constructed by bad examples set by the west.

While European CEOs are perfectly content in going to work on a bicycle, an Indian CEO would certainly
never do it at the cost of his time, effort, and most importantly, class. The middle-class is so wide that the ones on the lower end of the spectrum aren’t well informed about sustainability, and the ones on the upper-end feel alone and small in making a tangible difference to the planet.

It is unfair for the greater economies of the world to sermonize developing nations on cutting their emissions without educating them about the blunder that they are up to. Long drives and vacations through western film and media became symbols of liberation and adventure. If a billion people aspire to go on a long drive with a loved one, we are not only talking about an environmental emergency but an institutional failure. Western film and media must portray and abide by sustainability and renewable energy, to put up a good example. I can imagine how hard it must be to make and stay awake in a movie about solar panels or planting trees.

Before richer nations ask developing nations to take action against their emissions, they must ensure that renewable resources are easily available and cheap. While cloudy Germany boasts a complete switch to renewable energy, the scorching hot deserts are lightyears away from sustainable development. It is true that going completely solar, or wind or hydroelectric may not be favorable for the economies of many nations. However, richer nations can persuade them to tax their carbon emitters and use the money towards subsidizing and researching clean energy sources. Millions of jobs can be created all over the world in a new industrial revolution that will reverse all the wrongdoings that appeared to be progressive in the previous century. The Indian government has been implementing every step from the use of public transport to CFL lighting solutions. These appear to be novel and simple ideas but fail to cater to customers in the magnitude of billions whose aspirations span from $2-$2,000 per day.

Even doubling the per-capita incomes of some African nations would result in a lifestyle of the most gravely destitute Americans. The portrait of developing nations entails people who use water less than an average American toilet-flush, who live under the remuneration of as little as two cents per day and die of hunger and curable infectious diseases. Their growth and development can’t be compromised.

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