The Ailing Planet: the Green Movement’s Role by Nani Palkhivala
About Nani Palkhivala .. Nani Palkhivala (1920-2002) was a celebrated jurist and an economist of repute. He was from Mumbai (Bombay, then), and endeared himself to the people through his articulate analysis of the Annual Budget. Businessmen, teachers, economists, and just common folks used to throng to the Brobourne Stadium to listen to his brief, but succinct analysis of the Budget. In the Bar, he was an acclaimed expert in Constitutional Law and matters related to Income tax. This essay reflects his commitment to the civic responsibilities of the people towards preservation of their endangered planet. The Indian Express newspaper carried this essay on November 24, 1994.
About this essay …Nani Palkhivala was very worried at the way humans are foolishly extracting resources from Earth, without bothering to reflect if the planet can regenerate itself in a pace sufficient to counter the exploitation. The erudite author has garnered a formidable array of facts to tell the readers that it is time to pause and ponder if such race to exploit the resources is not leading us to a cataclysmic disaster, one day.
The essay .. New Zealand leads the way towards protecting Earth.
The tiny Pacific Ocean island nation New Zealand was the first to have a political party to highlight the perils Earth faced due to various forms of environmental decay. The name of the party was aptly given as The Green Party. It was nearly six decades ago. Since then, this idea has caught on. Countries like Germany and a few other European nations have their ‘green parties’.
The tectonic shift in man’s perception of Earth…
Since then, humans have begun to think that we need to live in ‘holistic way’ on Earth, abandoning our ‘mechanistic view’ of life and living. The author is heartened by such a change in attitude that has happened the world over. Such a shift in mindset is indeed astounding. When the legendary astronomer Copernicus propounded the theory that the earth and the planets move around the Sun at predetermined intervals, the whole world was spellbound by the audacity of this truth. The earlier ideas of the Solar system were quickly trashed. In the same way, the change of man’s understanding of sustainable living on earth appears an epoch-making shift in human knowledge.
Now, we all feel that the Earth is more like a giant living system that needs timely and adequate rejuvenation to repair its damage. Such metabolic need has to be acknowledged and taken care of. The signs of inexorable decline of earth’s health are quite palpable. So, humans ave begun to start corrective measures.
The idea of Sustainable Development is born ..
‘Sustainable development’ is the brainchild of the World Commission on Environment and Development. They propounded the idea in 1987. It is a simple concept. Humans should learn to use just enough of earth’s resources, so that the future generations have enough to live with. Simply put, it means that the future generations shouldn’t find the world starved of resources, because of the present generation’s greedy and irresponsible exploitation of the same.
A soul-searching exhibit ..
In a zoo at Lusaka, Zambia, the visitors are led near a cage that has a placard hanging on the entrance. It reads ‘The World’s most dangerous animal’. The curious visitors venture inside but find it empty sans a huge mirror. They see their own reflection in it. In bewilderment, and a sense of guilt, they pause for a few minutes to introspect on the role played by human beings in wrecking havoc on the world’s ecosystem. Such realization has pushed the humankind to live with the flora and fauna around him more as partners, than as a dominant species.
Myriad species catalogued, and still counting..
Scientists have catalogued 1.4 million species so far. But, reasonable estimate says that there are another three to hundred million species yet to be catalogued. They thrive in some dark crevices of our biosphere waiting to be taken notice of. Being members of the living world, and not even being counted is pathetic and ignominious for them.
The contribution of the Brandt Commission ..
This commission had Mr. L. K. Jha as the member from India. Among other things, it went to the question of how senseless plunder of earth’s limited resources could lead to advancing deserts, impoverished landscape, and an ailing planet. Through a poser, it wanted to ignite the world’s interest on this vital matter.
Mr. Lester R. Brown’s thought-provoking book …
In his book ‘The Global Economic Prospect’, he says that the earth has four main biological systems. These are
They are the bedrocks of the global economic system. Leaving out minerals and petroleum-based synthetics, the above four systems meet all our food and industrial needs. Spiraling demands on them has pushed these systems to a stage where they are too impoverished to rejuvenate themselves. So, we have fisheries with paltry fishes, denuded forests, waste lands in place of sprawling meadows, and low-yield crop lands.
Dr. Myer’s analysis …
Poor folks living in the vicinity of forests ravage the woods to get their need of fire woods. It leads to slow decimation of forests. Dr. Myers saw how tropical forests offer habitat to vast number of living beings. Receding forests, in turn, destroys these species living off them.
Fast-dwindling forest reserves and need to step up aforestation five fold…
Firewood, wood, and clearing forest areas for agriculture have contributed to shrinking of forest cover at the annual rate of 40 to 50 million acres. Increasing use of cow dung robs the soil of its most-needed nutrient. The panacea for this looming crisis is to step up creation of new forest cover at five times the present rate. James Speth gives a gloomier picture. According to him the forest attrition is about one and half acre a second.
What our Constitution mandates …
Article 48A requires the state to protect and preserve the environment, the forests, and the wildlife. Sadly, this provision is followed more in its breach, than in its observance. The successive governments have given lip service to this matter. A recent report of the Parliament’s Estimate Committee has painted a very gloomy picture about the surge in deforestation activities over the last four decades. Experts say India is losing forest cover at the alarming rate of 3.7 million acres a year. In actual practice, this figure runs to eight million acres a year.
The United Nations is very concerned ..
In 88 countries surveyed, lost of forest cover has been found to have gone on at a very alarming rate. Aerial surveys have confirmed this.
Teeming world population fuels the danger ..
Population of humankind has grown exponentially in history. So, with each passing century, the danger becomes starker. In the first one million years of human existence, i. e., by 1800 AD, total human population touched one billion. It doubled in just one century touching two billion by 1900 AD. Between the year 1900 and 2000 AD, another 3.7 billion human beings were added to the existing population. Today, the world population grows by a whopping four million every single day!
Developed societies procreate less, but developing the whole human race is a stupendous task…
Educated, high-earning, highly-skilled people have a low birth rate. So, giving access to better education, nutrition and healthcare to the underdeveloped sections of world population would solve the problem of high birth rate on its own way, but the task is a daunting one. This is because under development increases birth rate, which in turn, impoverishes people. So, it’s a vicious cycle, hard to break. Impoverishment perpetuates poverty. Compulsory family planning is an abhorrent idea, which seldom works. So, voluntary family planning is the way forward.
India stares at a looming future..
With a population of about 1.3 billion, exceeding that of Africa and South America put together, India is sitting on a ticking population bomb. If it explodes, the country can never recover again.
All is not lost yet, as wisdom seems to be dawning…
Happily, the humankind has realized the abyss it is getting drawn into because of its soaring numbers. Steps are being taken to contain it, so that the planet remains habitable, and healthy. Curbing consumption, and being judicious in exploitation of resources could go s long way to arrest the drift towards complete collapse of the planet. This Era of Responsibility has arrived in right time, bringing hope and awareness with it.
Du Pont, the largest chemical conglomerate, is changing gears to be a model of conservation …
Edgard S. Woolard, the chairman of Du Pont, has dawned the robes of the company’s Chief Environment Officer. He has enthused many in the industry to initiate environment protection measures. This is a very heartening thing.
Margaret Thatcher, another crusader for environmental protection..
The fiery British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, has proclaimed, “No generation has a freedom on this earth. All we have is a life tenancy – with a full repairing lease. Lord Brown has added his voice saying, “We have not inherited this earth from our forefathers: we have borrowed it from our children”.
Questions and answers ….
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