Economy’s un-ecological attitude

Circles_of_Sustainability_image_assessment_-_Melbourne_2011

Both ecology and economy have their roots in the greek word ‘oikos’ meaning home, so the debate ecology vs economy is a futile one. We need both to survive. So lets better start finding that middle path.

Henry David Thoreau once famously asked, “What is the use of a house if you don’t have a decent planet to put it on?”

This simple well-grounded question from the 1840s makes you feel more uncomfortable today, than ever before. The choices are simple – Do you want (A) a nice house, (B) a better planet or both? Moving on from individual choices to that of an entire nation – what should be the preference of the country’s policy and decision makers? both? Unfortunately not!

At the two-day conference of state forest ministers and officials held this year, the Centre has announced and recommended changes to environmental and forest regulations, policies, and laws. What to expect – Amendments to the Indian Forest Act, 1927, Environment Protection Act, 1986, Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, National Forest Policy, 1988, and the National Wildlife Policy, 2002. Supplement it with the Land Ordinance Bill 2015, a revision of the coastal zone regulations, and quick and easy clearances sans tribal consent. The implication of such a commitment is cataclysmal and yet the resolution remains at the mercy of a few.

To being with, this is a half-witted debate. Here we are riding the shotgun for those who can fend and speak for themselves against those who cannot. And most importantly, why are we always dabbling with binary options and limiting our choices to A or B when the possibility AB is a reality?

Option A: Let’s talk about progress, better GDP growth rates and “development” – Our very own self-contained neighbours, China. With an average 10 percent annual GDP growth for the past decade, China is now officially ranked the top economic superpower in the world, beating its arch rival, the United States. What’s better? These guys are staying on top as the per capita income continues to rise annually at 8%-10%. This takes us back to Thoreau’s farsighted inquest – Now that there are houses, is everyone happy? Unfortunately, the economic expansion left behind ecological fissures costing the nation billions of dollars for a variety of “environment cleanup” projects. Besides this heavy pounding, most residents of cities are fighting serious health concerns and are resigned to accept a reduced life expectancy of 5.5 years. What’s more – A survey conducted in 2014 proved that over half of China’s rich aim to move to another country within the next five years.

Option B: Does not exist.

Option AB: In the year 2014, the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) that compared countries based on their investment risks and opportunities relating to environmental, social and governmental issues listed out its winners. The winning countries are not just ecologically debt free, but host some of the luckiest and happiest peoples on the planet, and most importantly, are hotspots for foreign “industrial” investments. Take for example a developing country like Costa Rica (ranked 54 on EPI). Similar to India (ranked 155 on EPI), Costa Rica is valued for its rich biodiversity. Over 25% of the land is protected as reserves and national parks. It produces over 80% of its electricity through renewable means. In HDI (High Human Development Index) 2014, Costa Rica(ranked 64/187 countries – compared to India -135), is among the most successful countries in Latin America and boasts of a life expectancy of 78.9 years (compared to India: 67.3 – 68 years) and a literacy rate of over 96% (India: 74.04 %). The government’s focus on sustainable environmental management has led to a steady growth in its GDP over the years.

Examples are everywhere – so is inspiration. It’s the choice we make that matters the most.

Where do we stand?

In the EPI survey conducted by Yale in 2014, India ranked 155 faring far worse than China in addressing environmental challenges. India’s environmental quality is far below all BRIC countries and 13 of the 20 most polluted cities are in India. According to the Economic Survey 2014, growth rates of productivity in agriculture sector are far below global standards with decrease in the number of cultivators from 127.3 million (Census 2001) to 118.7 million (Census 2011). More than half of India’s population faces high to extremely high water stress. The total forest cover of the country is depleting faster and wildlife populations are declining as we speak.

At a recently held conference, PM Narendra Modi said that India was ready to take lead in environment protection but, ‘people who lecture us on environment and the use of cleaner energy don’t give us nuclear fuel’. Unfortunately, nor do the recent amendments to the environment laws uphold growth. Like economist EF Schumacher explained, “We have indeed laboured to make some of the capital which today helps us to produce a large fund of scientific, technological, and other knowledge; an elaborate physical infrastructure; innumerable types of sophisticated capital equipment, etc. – but all this is but a small part of the total capital we are using. Far larger is the capital provided by nature and not by man – and we do not even recognize it as such. This larger part is now being used up at an alarming rate, and that is why it is an absurd and suicidal error to believe, and act on the belief, that the problem of production has been solved.”

It’s happening all around us – natural disasters, health hazards, skewed socio-economic growth and of course, war over natural resources. It is times like these that demand a holistic approach – one that balances and integrates environment and wildlife protection with economic growth. The ‘budget’ should not just target five years, but instead aim at building a rich and healthy nation for several generations to come – for man and animal alike. This certainly cannot be achieved by compromising nature – destroying our forests, wildlife or diminishing supplies of non-renewables at an alarming rate.

Coming back to the thing called ‘home’ – John Muir envisaged, “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity.” Imagine never being able to find that home? Your time starts now…

Article link: The Alternative

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