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Gandhian thought for the environment
Sunita Narain | October 10, 2006
We need to learn our Gandhi today. Now that India and China are threatening to join the league of the rich, what will be the impact on the environment? What if every Chinese owns a car? But this should make the rich world think. Think not just about the impact on the resources of our planet. But of the economic paradigm of growth that has led to much less populated worlds pillaging and degrading the resources of the only Earth.
The industrialised world may have cleaned up local air pollution in its cities. But its emissions have put the entire world's climatic system at risk and made millions even more vulnerable and poor because of global warming.
It is this model of growth the poor world now wishes to adopt. And why not? The world has not shown any other way that works. But India and China have no choice but to reinvent the development trajectory since we cannot temper the adverse impacts of growth. This is deadly.
The question then, is whether all this is possible. The fact is that the environmental movements of the rich world happened after the period of wealth creation and during the period of waste generation. They argued for containment of the waste but did not have the ability to argue for the reinvention of the paradigm of waste generation itself.
On the other hand, in our world, the environmental movement is growing during the period of wealth creation, amidst enormous inequity and poverty. In this environmentalism of the relatively poor, the answers to change are intractable and impossible, unless the question is reinvented.
But there are two essential pre-requisites. First, a high order of democracy, so that the poor and the marginalised can demand change. Second, change will demand knowledge: new and inventive thinking.
The most adverse impact of the current industrial growth model is that it has turned our planners into cabbages: believing they have no answers; only problems, for which the solutions lie in the tried and tested answers of the rich world. It is here that the rich world must learn its Gandhi. It must learn that it cannot preach because it has nothing to teach. But it can learn if it follows the environmentalism of the poor, to share the earth's resources so that there is a common future for all.