Living beyond Our Means

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“The earth has enough resources for our needs – not for our greed” –

Mahatma Gandhi

In the early nineteenth century renowned political economist Thomas Robert Malthus tried to point out that incremental growth in food production can never match the food requirements of exponentially growing human population. He suggested that a better way to deal with the problem is to open sewer lines which would lead to the spread of diseases and then immediate reduction in population.

Today Malthus can be charged with underestimating the resilience of human beings as biological entity against the odds of life and nature. Lot has changed since then. Requirements of human beings today go far
 beyond mere food. If lifestyles of people living in the west is any template to go by of human progress and achievements, then it can be safely concluded that the earth has enough not only to fulfil our needs but also our greed. It seems each one of us can have things in abundance. But now the west itself is trying to spread the message that not every human being on earth can aspire to have similar level of material possessions like they have.

The simple reason of moving to this alternative discourse is that the by-product of modern man’s progress is changes in physical, chemical and biological characteristics of land, air and water which are harmful to human life and every desirable living thing on the planet. Global warming is a reality and changing patterns in atmosphere are visible.

But is it proper to blame the entire humanity for bringing ecological disaster for material growth and developments? USA is the world’s largest emitter of green house gases which are responsible for climate
change. Climate change trends are extreme weather events in different parts of the world, including heavy rains and flooding, record heat waves and severe droughts along with melting glaciers and sea ice.
 These are well documented in the various reports published by IPCC (Intergovernmental Penal on Climate Change) in last two decades. But so far UNFCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) failed in reaching legally binding agreement on green house gas emission cuts. Till now all existing development paradigms aspire to achieve the development goals by harassing the natural resources. Quite a few strains of thought within the existing paradigms of dominant development discourse propagates the planning and implementing of alternative environment friendly methods of progress without hindering the aspiration of large swathes of population.

Our society is divided into classes. No geographical entity known as nation state is exception to this fact. Not the entire population shares the blames of utter destruction and chaos in the form of global warming, climate change and depleting Ozone layer. Haves are more responsible. But structures present in the form of system also make
sure that the aspirations and priorities of have-nots are no different from people standing on the economically well off sections of our society.

So, this question needs to be asked is it fair for all of us to pay the price of mistakes not committed by many among us? But then again, are we in a position to skip the debate and reduce it to the blame
 game? Obvious answer is no. What is the solution then? Can scientific and technological advancements rescue life on earth in its diverse manifestations?

The permanent solution to the looming danger on the existence of life on earth lies in the reprioritization and reinterpretation of the essence and essentials of economic, social and political arrangements in tune with the sustainability. The attempt to achieve developmental goals by rapid liberalization and industrialization which promotes crass consumerism across the globe is dichotomous to the very idea of curbing human greed and protecting ecology. Acceptance of ecological friendly ways of life by humans is definitely going to diminish the threats and pave the way for establishing balance with nature.

This interlinked intertwined and interrelated debate leads on the need to magnify the importance of controlling and managing the innate urge of human beings to produce progeny. It is not difficult to observe that exponentially rising population and the inbuilt or enforced consciousness on individuals driven by their innate desires and wants to have all good things in life and material comfort constrains our capacity as a society to micro manage the way human being choose to live. It goes against the rationality of widely acceptability phenomenon of individualism, freedom and liberty.

Apart from sensitizing people on climate change and the resultant looming threats of extinction of life from earth, reprogramming of our thinking pattern and challenging all existing norms, conventions and
 deep rooted notions of purpose of life are required to dealt with to deal this problem effectively in the long run. Epistemological questions needs to be reframed and alternate superstructure has to be created on the newer base which would be totally different from the existing one as has been interpreted by conflicting lines of thoughts. If that seems too farfetched and unrealistic, then the short term solution could be steps within the existing socio, political, and

economic structure to convince people to adopt particular ecological friendly ways of life without any coercion. It must be premised on rationality and persuasiveness of the proposed arguments and their utility.

Developing countries are reeling under the dual threat. Forest cover is a parameter to judge the health of nature and ecology. It also reflects how human beings are treating the mother earth. In the developing countries on the one hand industrialization is taking its toll and on the other due to population explosion forests lands are under threat from the poor people who live in and around forests. To deal with it potential of forests must be developed for intangible benefits of ecological security and tangible benefit of economic returns.

India is losing 1.5 million hectares of forest cover each year. Serious degradation and depletion have been caused through overuse, misuse and mismanagement of resources to meet human greed. But our
 policy makers are following an undeclared policy that India cannot afford to set aside portion of its land and not use it for development. It is not too late massive afforestation program could hold the deterioration and at the same time massive social forestry program can meet the demands of local people fuel, fodder and timber. 

In response to a question whether he did not wish to see India reach the level of prosperity of Britain, Mahatma Gandhi said, “It took Britain half the resources of the planet to achieve this prosperity. How many planets will country like India require?”

It’s time for all of us to accept our errors and correct them.

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  • Economics is a science to distribute scarce resource in an equitable and efficient manner. But it fails when those scarce resources are diverted towards a particular path just like our economy where there is huge gap between rich and poor. As Gandhi ji said resource are not enough for the greed, when we accumulate more than our need at the same time we are snatching part of others. This belongs to people and earth as well. We are exploiting natural resources in that high amounts without considering its future impacts which we will have to pay in coming time.

    from Dehradun, Uttarakhand, India

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