In the past few months, I read two transformative books. Robert Frenay’s Pulse is a comprehensive, extremely well researched reportage spanning the whole world on how new technologies and systems are more and more being inspired by nature. Julie Catterson Lindahl’s On My Swedish Island is exactly opposite. It is a personal, intimate and almost poetic account of how nature can influence us at the individual level. Frenay, whom I have never met, began his life as an artist. Julie Catterson, who is a good friend, was a hot shot corporate consultant. Beginning at two different ends, they have arrived at the same conclusion: that nature will be the final frontier of politics, though neither of them puts it in these words.
The Club of Rome in the 1970s, Green Parties in Europe since the 1980s, Rio Conference in the early 1990s, and Climate Change campaign since the late1990s have highlighted the importance of balance between man, machine and nature. There is progress. There is recognition of the urgency to reduce carbon emissions. A clean technological platform based on energy efficiency, renewable energy and environmental sensitivity is expanding. President Obama has hinted that he will use the US government stakes in GM to produce electric cars. The first plane powered by solar panels is getting ready for its flight, though it will fly at the same speed that the first plane made by Wright Brothers flew.
However, the rate of progress is dismal as compared to the rate of growth of risk to humanity due to the degradation of nature. Much of the debate is trapped in diplomatic shadow-boxing. Should countries be obliged to reduce carbon emissions in absolute terms or in relative terms with reference to their population? Should the West use the newly unleashing industrial revolution of clean technologies to continue dominance over emerging and developing economies? Or should we have a fresh approach to intellectual property rights for effective and inexpensive transfer of new technologies?
In their obsession to win diplomatic battles, emerging economies are losing the game of the next industrial revolution. Much of the innovation in clean technologies, renewable energies and a nature-oriented lifestyle is taking place in North America and Europe, particularly in California and Scandinavia. At the very personal level, an average person in North America and Europe spends a lot of time trekking, sailing, skiing, cycling, collecting plants and wood from forests, growing organic food, and being one with nature. As a result, new political parties in these countries campaign on the platform of preservation of environment and nature-friendly technological innovation.
On the other hand, in emerging economies, rivers are turning pink due to chemicals, where they are not drying up altogether. Seas are changing their colour from blue to brown. Forests are making way for jungles of concrete. At the personal level, an average citizen belongs to one of the two types. There is the lucky one who spends time buying stocks, apartments, cars and cosmetics. And there is the underprivileged one who spends time with protest demonstration, criminal gangs or terror groups. Both types are disconnected from nature. As a result, politicians who want them as followers either campaign on the platform of material growth to please the lucky type or religious or tribal identity to please the underprivileged type. In the process, nature takes its revenge with glaciers melting, sea level rising, rivers disappearing, crops dying, and all these factors leading to a wider divide between the two types of the average citizen. The people in emerging economies are losing both ways. They miss the prospects of new avenues of progress as described by Robert Frenay and they also miss the prospects of health and happiness that nature offers as illustrated by Julie Catterson.
However, environmental erosion in developing countries is no relief for California and Canada, Norway and New York. Several companies from advanced economies bear direct responsibility for some of the damage to environment in developing countries – be it mines of Africa or forests of Asia. Carbon movements, wind patterns, sea currents, and atmospheric temperature do not recognise national boundaries. Neither do criminals, terrorists and refugees. The most serious threats will not spare anyone. Scientists expect the world’s fish stocks to deplete in 50 years. They also expect several glaciers, and therefore rivers, and therefore fishermen and farmers, to become extinct in 50 years. There is uncertainty about oil. Nobody predicts that the world’s oil resources will be over since the Club of Rome got it wrong once. But there is no doubt that there will be serious deficit of oil by 2050 at the current rate of consumption, unless someone invents another viable source of energy. Can anyone be happy in their cocoon in a world without fish, depleted fresh water and oil, and much reduced arable land? Can the politics of competing identities solve these problems? Or is it time for us to explore a new global philosophy of sustainable relationship between man and nature? These questions need to be addressed as much at the macro-level as at the micro-level. Since politics connects the micro to the macro, political priorities of the next decade in all parts of the world will be important. If politicians of the South and politicians of the North get it right, we can have a new world. If they get it wrong, the outcome will be unpredictable. In the past, politicians fought against politicians, and one side won. In future, if politicians neglect or confront nature, all sides will lose.
Print this Article