posted by Link on Aug 19
Dear Friends and Family,
Below I’ve included an article that I wrote for our campus quarterly, Sanketika.
There is no Excuse
There is no denying it either: we as a human race are facing an Earth-wide crises, one which threatens to burn us out of our only home in the solar system.
But we still equivocate.
As we are all aware, the Kyoto protocol is due to expire in 2012. It’s successor will be drafted, drawn up, and debated in COP-15, a meeting of all the nations of the world scheduled for December this year. All of us, as citizens of the Earth, must decide where to draw the line.
And we all have to take responsibility for our actions. Rich or poor, developed or not, all nations face the threat caused by our rampant and excessive use of energy and resources: global warming, pollution, extinction of life forms, diminishing water and food supplies.
However, many recent articles debating the scope of responsibility, seem to defend the “right” of developing nations to continue to pollute, in the name of helping their poor people. This mode of thought sort of boils down to: “We have too many poor people. We can’t risk our ‘development’ to save the climate. It’s not our fault, and so not our responsibility.”
And especially, “Our poor should not be deprived of their chance to development, esp. energy (electricity).”
These arguments are applied in all poor economies, not just India. But is it really a sound argument?
First of all, we must honestly ask ourselves:
Following our “business as usual” mode of development, will the poor people who figure so prominently in such arguments be directly benefited?
And the answer is no. The direct beneficiaries will be richer, upper class people (us), who are providing the service of energy to the poorer people. There will be no radical change. The poor are, really and truly, being used as scapegoats in this argument. They are a convenient excuse to avoid doing anything to control the damage caused by everyone BUT them.
Imagine: the poor BILLIONS contribute NEGLIGIBLE carbon emissions to the atmosphere. The enormous bulk of the emissions are caused by the “Developed” section (a very small section) of society worldwide. And that developed section (all of us) are now saying that we should not keep the poor masses out of the polluting loop?
Now, I’m not anti-development. But let’s look at what development is.
When we say ‘development,’ what do we mean? More healthcare? Yes. Less hunger? Yes. More money, more leisure, more education? Yes, yes, yes.
When we DO ‘development,’ what do we GET? More healthcare? Not according to the statistics. Less hunger? Look at the streets of Mumbai. More money? Yes, but higher costs. More leisure, more education? No, and No. In short, none of the above.
I think that the definition of development needs first to change from a higher cash flux (which it is now) to a higher standard of living, as it is in Bhutan. Currently, even the “standard of living” parameter is defined in terms of cash value. With a proper definition and relation between idea and practice, we can say that we should not harm the chances of development of the poor people. Until then, it is utter hypocrisy: we say “Develop the standard of living” and we do “develop the economy,” which in all of history has not raised the individual standard of living.
Today we can say that the standard of living is higher than it was many years ago, but this is due to averages, not related to the real situation. The standard of living for a vast majority worldwide has only gone down in the last so many years, while the standard of living for a few has gone up so disproportionately as to make an average show net increase! This is not true development, this is not what we mean when we say development, but this is what happens when we do development. This needs to change.
So back to my original thought, that this argument, as put forth, has no substance. We whine about our poor when it is convenient, and we leave them alone (or worse yet, ‘develop’ ourselves at their expense) otherwise.
And at the same time, while we use them as an excuse to avoid doing anything, the truth is that their current way of life holds the answer for us. I’m not talking about the poor children in the streets begging. Obviously that is not the answer. I’m talking about the vast tracts of populated, but ‘undeveloped’ land, where the people live, interact, eat, work, commute, and do everything that we do, but at not even a fraction of the CO2 emission levels. They will be able to continue their life even if all of the developed world comes to an end. That is where the answer lies.
So we have a funny paradox: the very people who we hold up, saying that we should not jeopardise their chances to have what we have now, are the sole possessors of the knowledge that will define the development of the future: the knowledge of small-scale, the knowledge of local production and consumption, the knowledge of moderation, the knowledge of contentment, and the knowledge of how to live with nature. That is the development of the future. That is what we need to look for.
Indeed, irresponsible environmental policies ARE a crime to humanity. As are irresponsible economic practices, the results of which we see today in the USA’s recession.
There are many decisions we can take to help our planet. Just three I’ve come up with are:
1. A moratorium on all travel (inc. air travel) for one day a week. Let’s have our peaceful Sundays back, and let’s give it to Nature. This alone would reduce many tonnes of CO2 emissions. The minor inconveniences would be met by the beautiful stillness of a clear, clean morning. (Edit: Komalirani Yenneti, a fellow agent on the Agents of Change Grounds Team reports that “CO2 [emissions] itself from the route [Mumbai-Delhi] is about 5.3MillionT and NOx is about 3.5MillionT”).
2. A moratorium on creation of any new polluting industries (inc. coal fired power plants). Let’s face it: a new commodity? We have it already. More electricity? There are better ways. More jobs? How about employing those people to repair and upgrade our existing infrastructure, plant trees, and educate others about our planetary situation!
3. An overhaul of our worldwide production / distribution mechanism. All products should be produced and consumed locally. Of course, it will be difficult to get genuine Swiss cheese in Australia, or German cars in Mumbai, but all that can be done without, really.
Some people argue that stalling the world for a day every week will damage economic growth, and adversely impact people’s lives. But the truth is that while the “growth” will be slower by one day a week, the same “growth” will happen. And giving ourselves a little time to think may even influence the ways that the “growth” takes place. A little forethought never hurts!
Three cheers for a clean, quiet, calm, and localized future!