Values, Migration, and Environment: An Essay on Driving Forces behind Human Decisions and their Consequences

  • Walter Leimgruber
Part of the Advances in Global Change Research book series (AGLO, volume 20)

Ahead of the Bonn summit, held in July 2001 and intending to save the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, expectations had been high that the problem of increasing global warming could be solved by a general decrease of CO2 and other emissions of greenhouse gases to a level below that of 1990, and maybe even further. However, the Bonn summit succeeded only to a minor extent. Once more, little more than lip service has been paid to the warnings of the scientific community. The compromise which has been reached after tough and tiring negotiations is the absolute minimum of what has to be undertaken to prevent global warming from going on as before. Even so, there is no guarantee that the ecosystem will not capsize and put an end to humanity. Arrogance and narrow-mindedness continue to dominate human decisions.

The outcomes of the Bonn summit and of the subsequent conference at Marrakech in November 2001 illustrate the everlasting political dilemma: to find the right balance between what is urgently needed and what politicians are prepared to concede. It also demonstrates that the ecosystem is still perceived as a bottomless reservoir from which we can scoop an endless quantity of resources, and an equally bottomless sink into which we can dip all our waste – naturally everything at zero cost.

This paper is characterised by a moral undertone and is very critical towards our current Western way of thinking. It is therefore not a scientific paper in the narrow sense of the word. In particular, it is not concerned with a discussion of the predictability of environmental migrations or of potential technical measures. Döös (1997) has discussed the former and shown its limits – migrations are to a considerable extent the result of personal decisions, even if external causes must not be ignored. As to the latter, humanity has equipped itself with a formidable set of technological instruments to solve almost every problem, but we have learnt in the course of the 20th century that most technical solutions carry within themselves new predicaments. We cannot foresee the consequences of the application of a particular technology, and we usually tend to narrow down the choice of possible solutions to a problem to a single one that is considered the only realistic one. We think in a ‘mono-cultural’ way and leave no room for alternatives – the Indian ecologist Vandana Shiva (1993, p. 5) calls this the “TINA syndrome” (‘There is no alternative’). A change in attitude is more pressing than new techniques, and it is precisely at this point where the value system has to be discussed.


Soil Erosion Kyoto Protocol Human Decision Mass Migration Precautionary Approach 
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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Walter Leimgruber
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of GeosciencesUniversity of FribourgSwitzerland

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