The Politics Of Climate Change And The Global Crisis – Mortgaging Our Future
April 2012: Sanctuary’s February cover story, fittingly titled ‘Equity, Ecology and Economics, on the Descent of the Ministry of Environment and Forests’, provides a fanfare for Praful Bidwai’s new book and plunges to the very heart of his thesis: that when the vexed politics surrounding climate change are peeled away, those steering this country’s fate and that of its forests and forest people may actually get away with their scam to end all scams. The real and imminent descent will be for the poorest of this country.
“Many more citizens will have to die at the hands of climate change,” bitterly concludes Sanctuary’s report, “before those in whose hands the good ship India has been placed understand that water and food shortages will plunge the subcontinent into external and internal wars from which neither the rich nor poor will be immune. India is more vulnerable than even the small ocean states, which might even find new homes if good people gather across the world to hold concerts to raise money for them to buy their way into, say Australia! With the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere 392 ppm and rising, India must accept that bravado will not shield more than a billion souls from the impact of melting glaciers, rising seas, super cyclones, withering wetlands, dwindling rivers and uncertain climate.”
Is there a way out? The answer, particularly for the elite who drive this country will not be at all popular.
“It involves,” continues the report, “a guarantee of equity between the rich and poor of India, just as it does between rich and poor nations. It also involves a change in the position taken by shrill, but out-of-touch-with-reality social activists who imagine that the poor in India can suddenly be lifted from their misery by consuming, in the short run, the very resources they need for survival in the long run. The issue is less complicated than most imagine. Without genuine equity there can be no ecological resurrection in India. Without ecological resurrection, there can be no economic future. And that’s the bottom line!”
It is this bottom line that Bidwai, significantly raising the bar of scholar-activism, stylishly explores, putting on the stage, in the background, the main actors in the geopolitics of climate change, the over-developed but stuttering former First World countries doing battle with developing countries like ours, which themselves now seem intent on doing to the poorer nations of Africa exactly what their colonisers once did to them.
Both actors, in the name of economic growth, preaching the increasingly unacceptable platitudes associated with wealth trickling down, continue to disenfranchise the poor as they duel for dwindling resources be they air, water, land, forests or seed.
Bidwai himself, reporting from Durban, unlike the corporatised media of this country, was the first to condemn the insistence of formerly underdeveloped but now developing nations such as ours that they be allowed to exercise their specious ‘right’ to ‘develop’, poignantly quoting the Grenadian ambassador’s words: “While they develop, we die.”
In the foreground, so that it is not lost sight of in this drama of worldwide eco-piracy that unfolds even as one writes and others read, Bidwai places successive Indian governments who trumpeted the many virtues of liberalisation before us, stripping them of their illusions with disdain and stinging them with such ferocious critique that it is difficult to restrain oneself from smiling.
Into this mix of governments such as ours blindly allied to industrial growth, parasitic global finance lurking ubiquitously in the wings, Bidwai adds well-aimed barbs at the elite of this country intent on consuming and upgrading their already lavish lifestyles, while yet pointing to a threat that many more should admit to:
“The elite’s preferred ideology,” he cautions “is as far removed as it can be from liberalism or belief in inclusion and social cohesion. It is Social Darwinism coupled with an extremely chauvinistic nationalism.”
Bidwai’s book, and much of his recent writing, while meticulous in its inclusiveness and scope, is anything but pleasant and polite, and that is precisely why he must be read.
Particularly by those among us who may still remember our Directive Principles of State Policy, principles as our founders noted, not enforceable in any court (more is the pity), but which were fundamental to our governance, it being the state’s duty (remember that?) to apply them while making laws.
Reading them makes for a sad and disillusioning experience.
Article 46, for instance, pertaining to the ‘Promotion of educational and economic interests of scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other weaker sections’ was not intended to ensure their lands were taken over to be given to various extractive industries and they themselves turned into truck drivers.
Article 48 binds the state to organise agriculture and animal husbandry, and improve and preserve breeds: where does it exhort government to sell out to GM seeds, single crop plantations, or, for that matter, encourage Indian companies to buy land dirt cheap in East and Central Africa to grow rice and dal that can be exported to India – while the government doles out fertile agricultural land in India to industry, displacing people, taking away their right to self-sustenance?
Has our Ministry of Environment and Forests lost sight of amendment A of Article 48 made as recently as 1976 that, “the State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of this country”?
Given his rigorous scholarship, unblinking eye for detail, the complex plot that he scripts so effectively, and the urgency and passion of his arguments, it is only fair to say that this is a book that cannot be ignored – particularly by those who purport to steer our country.
Bidwai’s unravelling of equity ought to find considerable appeal with NGOs working on issues of development, gender, the environment and indeed peoples’ rights. For those so inclined, one suggests that they read the introduction thoroughly – it’s a very elegant summation – then skip ahead to Chapter 3, ‘Through Twists and Turns’; later, after reading the book perhaps, dwelling at great length on Box 3.1 therein, namely, ‘NGO Politics: From Rifts to Coalition Building’.
It is not that unlikely that supreme leaders of many NGOs may be as ossified and as guilty as our corrupt politicians of holding on to their chairs, petulantly refusing to change and, indeed, relinquishing their power to those younger. If this indeed be so, remain content that Bidwai’s book carries enough dissidence to persuade those younger, still seized by the passion to do away with poverty the peoples’ way, of the pressing need to stage a palace coup.
The Politics of Climate Change and the Global Crisis – Mortgaging Our Future
Author: Praful Bidwai
Publisher: Orient BlackSwan, 2012
Hard Cover; 392 pages;
A Reviewed by Hartman de Souza, Sanctuary Asia, Vol XXXII No. 2, April 2012