The recent grand Indian pre-wedding party for the son of Asia’s richest person, where over 1.25 billion rupees (more than US$100 million) were spent, showed a profound irony. This spectacle of lavish spending juxtaposes starkly against the financial drought faced by social initiatives like the Global Soil Health Programme, which strives to gather a mere quarter million dollars to restore global soil health.  Thus today’s skewed priorities.

We live in a paradoxical age of plenty at a time of increasing scarcity.   No one seems to want to fund essential climate action for existential survival.  McKinsey Global Institute has calculated that the funding needs to get to NetZero by 2050 may be roughly $9.2 trillion per year, far higher than mainstream funding gap estimates of roughly $3 to 5 trillion.  Shockingly, our collective efforts have yet to mobilize even a trillion dollars towards this vital cause.

Like the Ancient Mariner’s poetic lament, “water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink,” money today is abundant yet misallocated.  Money can be wasted or treasured, depending on our individual choices.  If we prioritize ensuring that our future generations inherit an equitable share of our natural resources, then we must find and allocate the scarce resources for climate action today, rather than wait for tomorrow.

The major bottleneck to global collective climate action is that whilst individuals have money, there is no collective will to act.   The sobering reality is that climate initiatives ultimately depends on individual choices—the ones we make every day.  With each transaction, we cast a vote for the kind of world we want to inhabit.

Thus, each time we choose to overindulge or spend on unsustainable goods and services, we speed up our road to existential ruin.  In contrast, by consciously exercising spending restraint, we leave more for future generations — a collective equity for funding experiments and innovations towards a healthier planet.

Undeniably, it is difficult to detach from the pleasures and conveniences to which we’ve grown accustomed.  But the stark reality is that within each person lies the dormant power to change one’s own behaviour. While we may not be able to single-handedly reform the world, we certainly possess the capacity to control our own choices.  We have cloaked this power under layers of apathy and resignation.

The irony of individual apathy and inaction is that hope for collective action lies in leadership and governance.  Leaders like the Moses of antiquity have always risen in times of crises to persuade the community to respond collectively, often at huge personal sacrifice.   Hope lies in those rare leaders who see beyond individual gains for today, for the collective good of future generations.   

One of the biggest excuse for inaction is the lack of money.  One of the biggest deficiencies in our democratic systems is the avoidance of pain, so that in the last half century, governments have printed money to deal with the short-term pain, without addressing tough long-term structural adjustments.   Financial markets have grown during this period to over five times annual GDP, meaning that there is no shortage of money or resources, only lack of prioritization of resource allocation – using the money today to address collective needs, rather than satisfaction of individual greed.  It is easy to fall into a democratic apathy towards denial and complacency, blaming others than addressing our inward acceptance of responsibility to others.

The inconvenient truth is that we have cultivated a society of individuals so desensitized by modernity that they go about their lives with little regard for the consequences of their actions.  Every year we do not deal with carbon emission from unsustainable consumption and rising temperatures mean that we may have to focus on preparing  lifeboats rather than waiting for the missing leadership. 

The burning planet will not wait for global collective action.  All action is ultimately local – we act where we can.  The choice and action is individual, but the effect is then collective and cumulative.

No individual, leader or follower, can forget that what goes around comes around. The immutable law of cause and effect ensures that indifference and neglect will exact a toll—a toll that humanity, in its current state of inertia, is ill-prepared to bear.

The opulent weddings, once symbols of joy, now becomes a symbol of society’s illness – an ignorance indulgence for pomp and glory amidst denial of both social and planetary injustices.   According to the World Food Programme, a quarter of the world’s undernourished people live in India. WaterAid says that around 35 million Indians lack access to safe water.  These facts begs the question: could these resources not be better allocated?

Conspicuous spending like those in the movie Crazy Rich Asians would do well to reflect on the aspirational concept of ‘Ram Rajya,’ characterized by fairness and concern for all, which has been promoted by leaders like Prime Minister Modi. 

At this critical juncture, do we succumb to an ego-driven indulgence or our choices invest in a greener, sustainable eco?  It is up to influential members of society to set the example for forsaking self-indulgence for collective prosperity, along the spirit of pioneering initiatives like Mission Life.   We cannot be a generation of indifference, because that difference will mean poorer next generations that can only face wastelands where forests and clear rivers used to be.

In conclusion, the missing funds for climate action are not confined to the realm of international finance; they are hidden in the choices we make each day. By re-evaluating our priorities and embracing a collective ethos of stewardship, we can unlock the collective equity necessary to secure a sustainable future for generations to come.  Just as the penny is wise and the pound foolish, the water wasted today means that there may be droughts tomorrow. 

Contributed by

Andrew Sheng and Sneha Poddar