Environment & Sustainability
By Dhurjati Mukherjee
There is consistent discussion in the media as also conferences in many parts of the country regarding environmental concerns and methods of tackling these. But whether the innumerable studies and reports are being actually implemented to counter the effects of climate change remain a big question, not just in India but across the globe.
As regards India, the recently released Economic Survey warned that climate change was particularly alarming since it suggested that farm incomes could drop by as much as a quarter if global warming isn’t checked in time. In fact, the Survey pointed out that climate change could reduce farm incomes by around 15 to 18 per cent in un-irrigated areas in the medium term in the country. While the Survey stressed on irrigation, it is also a fact that water availability per person or household has been declining in recent years.
Another recent but significant study pointed out that not a single country among 150 worldwide is able to deliver “good life to all its citizens”, specially the poorer sections, with India among the bottom 20 in key indicators. Undertaken by researchers in UK and Germany and published in the journal, Nature Sustainability (on February 5), the study suggests that though basic needs have been achieved globally, the natural resource use pattern has been far beyond sustainable levels.
As usual, India scores relatively low on every one of the 11 social measures that the study examined compared with the US or the UK but also has lower levels of environmental transgression than any other country. In a populous country like ours, India lost more people to the impacts of climate change than any other country and suffered third highest financial losses from extreme weather events as per a report on global climate vulnerability released on November 9, 2017. The Global Climate Risk Index 2018 referred to India’s intense heat waves, extreme rainfall events and severe floods to label the country as the sixth most vulnerable in 2016 after Haiti, Zimbabwe, Fiji, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.
The scientists suggested radical changes world-wide if people are to live well within the limits of the planet’s resources. “These changes include moving beyond the pursuit of economic growth in wealthy countries, shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy and significantly reducing inequality”, rightly observed Prof. Julia Steinberg of the University of Leeds, the co-author of the study published in Nature Sustainability. Obviously, this calls for restructuring the distribution pattern of the planet’s resources in a balanced and equitable manner and also to ensure that basic needs be met at a much low level of resource use.
The fact that various environmental problems have affected human population, specially the poorer sections, has indeed been alarming. Though India is expected to record an increase of a little over 2 per cent in carbon emissions, the rise is much less as compared to 6 per cent average increase it notched up over the previous decade as per the conclusions of the 2017 Global Carbon Budget report (released on November 13 last year) on the sidelines of the UN Climate Conference (COP23).
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court in a judgment of the bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta stated that 13 of 20 of the world’s most polluted cities were in India and pollution had become the “most critical problem”. It urged the need for a concerted effort from all authorities concerned to effectively curb the menace as the problem was not only affecting the present generation but would accentuate and future generations would have to pay a much heavier price.
The order further rightly pointed out: “All our healthcare programmes would go haywire if pollution (and contamination) is not controlled. People will keep falling sick because of pollution”. Statistics, as per the Global Burden of Disease 2017, reveal that early death related to PM 2.5 in India are the second highest in the world and ozone related deaths the highest.
An epidemiological study by the Central Pollution Control Board and the Kolkata-based Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute showed every third child had reduced lung function. The report said their sputum contained four times more iron-laden macrophages than those from cleaner environs, indicating pulmonary haemorrhage. It is now an established fact that toxicity has increased at a rather fast, specially in metros and cities, leading to spurt in different forms of cancer, which till date incurable in the country.
One may refer to Stephen Fry, a celebrated TV personality and a vocal activist for science propagation who very aptly stated: “If we bet on human-caused climate change as a reality, then we will (have to) decrease pollution, discover new, cheaper sustainable energy resources, save materials and clean the planet. If we bet that we have nothing to do with climate change then we will discourage investment in new power sources, run out of fossil fuels and other finite resources and live in a dirties planet”.
It is well known that nature has given us enough to satisfy our needs but not our greed. Prof. John Galbraith lamented: “we have become slaves of machine we have created to serve us and the servitude is felt comfortable as a result of mass suggestion to which consumers are subjected”. The craving for unlimited pleasures accelerated industrialisation leading to rapid depletion of non-renewable resources and the problems of pollution and ecology.
It is pertinent here to refer to Mahatma Gandhi who pleaded for a technology and economics within the framework of ecological balance of a holistic paradigm. He tried to foster a life based on simple living and high thinking. Thus the Gandhian model of development is based on renewable resources like animal, water, oil, solar power and less on non-renewable sources, which does not lead to environmental pollution or disturbs the ecological balance. How should one go about the problem at this juncture, at least in India?
The answer is to follow ecological economics for a sustainable approach and counter the ecological threat, integrating key elements of ethics, quality of life, environment and community. An inclusive and sustainable approach has to be followed wherein there is decentralisation of political and economic power and involvement of the people in the development process.
This could be accomplished in the country through transformation of the rural sector having two-third of the population, and doubling resource from the present 20 per cent to make villages self-sufficient engines of growth and this could lead to real development.
Finally, it needs to be reiterated that at present modern civilization based on consumerism and materialism has to be outrightly rejected and a new form of civilization has to be the order of the day which is integrated with need based approach to life. A civilization that is ecologically balanced has to be the strategy of all countries, including India.—INFA