Moving past the Politics of Environmentalism in Lebanon

Jad Arabi

Picture taken from Lonely Planet

Every single day, from the moment you wake up to the moment you go back to bed, your actions leave an impact on the world around you. This could hold true for several different contexts, but is especially relevant in the domain of environmentalism and sustainability. It is our duty to make a constant effort in contributing to sustaining the world around us through whichever means are available. This article intends to briefly underscore the complexity of environmentalism in Lebanon, which as things stand is bound by politics and lost hope, and therefore making it the duty of the youth to make sure that the actions we do take every day leave a more profound impact than those before us.  

A significant factor behind Lebanon’s lack of sustainable development is the politicisation of our environmental crisis. The regime of our incompetent ruling class has been characterised by corruption and mismanagement, ultimately having detrimental influence on how we handle the gradual environmental collapse. The trash crisis has yet to be dealt with appropriately, as burning garbage and dumping waste into the sea remain as go-to options, posing a threat not only to environmental health but public health as well. Moreover, issues like electricity cuts have unfortunately become norms in modern Lebanese culture serving as yet another reminder that change is necessary. Without proper electricity, many families are left without heating in winter and cooling in the summer. In 2012, the infamous Electricite du Liban (EDL) was only capable of meeting 63% of domestic demand for electricity. Since then, the institution has continued building a reputation of failure and disappointment. The inadequacy of the government and public institutions is largely to blame for such results but the reliance on diesel oil as our main energy source is in itself harmful, because during the time of the 2030 Agenda’s release Lebanon had a reliance of 95.5% on oil for electricity. There has to be a movement towards the use of renewable energy that has a dual effect in both helping our environment and creating more affordable energy sources. Lebanon has been a part of several international legislations that are geared towards improving all aspects of life for generations to come, the only issue is how likely it is that said goals are achieved.

On September 25th 2015, Lebanon was one of many countries that adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which aims at developing a world that ensures “an equally good or even better life for future generations.” The agenda outlined 17 different development goals on a wide spectrum of issues ranging from areas of concern like poverty, education, and health. Unsurprisingly, Lebanon was seemingly lacking in the environmental department and strict changes needed to be made in order to come close to the country that is envisioned by this project. One of the more alarming spotlighted topics in regards to Lebanon’s environmentalist efforts was that of “climate action” and the need to enhance the country’s role in combating climate change. In the absence of any concrete legislation and policy that could mitigate the effects of climate change, Lebanon’s current environmental condition could become merely a fantasy for the generations to come. In this UN publication, it is mentioned that at this current rate by “2040 rainfall in Lebanon will have decreased by 10-20%” and sea levels “will rise up to 60 cm in the next 30 years.” These numbers should serve as both warning signs and incentives to change our course of action.

This country’s biodiversity and ecosystem is being taken for granted and I’m worried that we will only appreciate what we have once it’s gone. We rave about our coastline and living by the Mediterranean Sea but in “2010, 65% of total sewage in Lebanon ended up in costal waters”. Our flag has a Cedar tree on it, yet our forests are quickly depleting. I don’t intend for my ideas to come off as pessimistic, however, there is a very urgent matter at hand, which cannot and should not be taken lightly. Every one of us has, to an extent, played a role in contributing to the worsening of this environmental crisis, it would be hypocritical to say otherwise. However, if we become conscious of our errors, we in turn become in position to move forward. Nevertheless, it’s also important to highlight the amazing work done by several NGOs and initiatives that have been continually spearheading the transition to a more sustainable environment and have taken up the role of absent governmental apparatuses that fail to address the issues hurting our country.

Lebanon is currently suffering from a myriad of problems and while the need to protect the environment may not be at the forefront it must not remain in the shadows as well. The entire success behind carrying out sustainable programs is the longevity of such initiatives. It is true that a large portion of the blame falls on the generations before us that failed to account for the consequences of their actions, but we cannot deny the degree of passiveness that continues to exist today. The ability to protect our environment is largely contingent on whether or not we are able to change the culture we have first, whereby environmentalism does not fall subordinate to selfish desires. The politics of greed may have dictated the actions of those before us, but we must not allow them to have a bearing on our future and those that come after us. The facts are in front of us, we are in a dire need of change, and the more passive we remain the more we allow ourselves to become part of the problem. The necessary transition to sustainable development carries a degree of urgency because it is not only a matter of the present but it also lays out the framework for years to come. It falls on us to choose whether or not we want to be on the right side of history.

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