Does the country really need green technology?

Addressing a national conference of the state ministers of environment and forests, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh  categorically said that “the country is facing multiple environmental crises and that the first task is to educate the people and the challenge is of arriving at a new equilibrium between man and nature.” In addition to this he said that we need to make fundamental choices about our lifestyles in order to address the issue of ecological sustainability.

Is this profound statement coming from his speech writer? Or was this written by minister for environment Jairam Ramesh to please the environment lobby? In the last six years we have not heard the economist PM speaking for a paradigm shift to tackle the issue of ecological crisis. The sudden change in the policy at the highest level raises some pertinent questions.

A deeper analysis of the timing and the tone of speech may help us to understand the PM’s change of mind from being a staunch ‘economist’ to a supporter of ecological approach towards development.

The multiple environmental crises are not an overnight phenomenon in the country. The seeds for this crisis were sown in 1991, with the opening up of the Indian economy when the present PM was the finance minister. Adhering to the policies of International Monetary Fund and World Bank our political masters decided to follow the path of development that resulted in ‘the change of lifestyles’ that was not based on the Indian values that respected the harmonious relationship between man and nature.

The craze of achieving near to double digit growth in GDP led to decimation of our natural capital. The results of economic liberalisation are obvious, with our basic capital of land, water and air being polluted to an extent which is beyond repair. The government reports reveal that almost 95 per cent of our rivers are polluted and the water is not potable.

Similarly more than 60 per cent of the land is degraded, that is either poisoned or affected by soil erosion. The air in our cities is polluted to such an extent that the respiratory diseases have become common in urban areas. Thus, the path we have chosen has destroyed the basic capital of land, water, air and soil.

Though the government statistics show that there is marginal increase in the forest land, it is a myth because we have lost more forests for mining and mega dams. The forests might have been replaced by mono culture plantations that do not serve the function of regenerating the soil and water.

Contradiction

While lauding the knowledge of tribal communities in forest conservation, the prime minister called for incorporating those value systems to address the issue of environmental crisis. This rhetoric fades away if we look at the way these communities are denied access to their forests and uprooted from their natural habitat in the name of mining or large scale development projects.

Climate change might have been caused by the excessive consumptive lifestyle of the developed countries, but the blind copying of the western model of development in our country has accelerated the climate related problems in our country.

The government says in the Economic Survey 2008-09 that it is spending 2.6 per cent of the GDP to address the problems that has arisen out of the climate change. Thus the government has admitted to committing the mistake of ill planned industrial development that has resulted in negative impact on agriculture, water resources, health and sanitation, forests and the aquatic resources.

Having destroyed the natural capital, we want to arrive at new equilibrium between man and nature. Instead of addressing the root causes that led to creating the crisis, the government is keen on technological solutions to a basic problem.

The government wants to use the climate change bogey to solve this problem. And we want to do this with the technological help from the developed countries. The prime minister has said “we need access from developed countries in the area of new environmental friendly technologies for enhancing of sustainable development policies.”
Obviously, his speech is geared at addressing the forthcoming Copenhagen Convention on climate change. In his view, the destruction of natural capital is an opportunity for the economy. It can unleash a new era of green economics and green technology to rescue India from the recession.

The irony is we are one of those civilisations who have survived for last 3,000 years and there exists an Indian way of life that has successfully addressed the issue of establishing the harmony between man and nature. Having destroyed this practical lifestyle, we are waiting with a begging bowl to get green technologies from developed countries. This is bound to unleash technological imperialism in the name of green technologies.

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