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Mainstream, VOL LX No 24, New Delhi, June 4, 2022

Environment Destruction and the Way out | Kobad Ghandy

Friday 3 June 2022


On the occasion of World Environment Day 2022

The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change adopted by 196 Parties at COP 21 in Paris, on 12 December 2015 and entered into force on 4 November 2016. It has the goal to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. To achieve this long-term temperature goal, they say “countries aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible to achieve a climate neutral world by mid-century”. That is by 2050!!! Is there any progressive agenda? No. What about the years in between? It is all a diversion, to picture a supposed holocaust (defacto diverting from the plight of the masses worldwide) and then give the pretext, say of lockdown, as being an effective tool. Wasn’t the air so clean during lockdown? If the earth itself is in danger, the plight of the people becomes an insignificant agneda?

CoP 26 in 2021 outlined four agenda to control greenhouse gasses. Today climate change is promoted as one of the main agendas by the UN, WEF, ruling Social Democrats and the Democratic parties and most of the left forces as well. The main focus of all is to reduce carbon emissions and green-house gasses which of course is difficult as long as unsustainable living styles exist. It is basically a corporate solution to a problem created by the same corporates which promotes ‘green’ energy’ produced by the same people who pollute (like Adani in India, Tesla in US). Unfortunately, the left has no separate agenda than what is promoted by the UN and corporates. So, environmental destruction continues unabated even as all countries are signatories to the accord.

India is a good example where today huge agitations are going on against mining leases granted by the Chhattisgarh government and where the Karnataka government has recently de-notified two-thirds of the forest coverage of the state and the BMC in Mumbai proposes to cut 2000 mangroves to construct 6 bridges at a cost of Rs.1,000 crores in the Andheri, Malad, Marve Manori region. Besides, India has the worst air pollution in the world. In a recent report, India tops in air pollution deaths in the world. Air pollution was responsible for 16.7 lakh deaths in India in 2019. Globally the figure was 66.7 lakhs. The list could go on and on; suffice it to say that all agreements which set distant targets with vague resolutions are meaningless. And will continue to be so, unless there are mass movements for government policies and around concrete issues. Unfortunately, the bulk of the left are equally vague on the issue.

So, for example, in the book “What everyone Environmentalist Needs to Know about Capitalism” by the lead monthly Review authors, the focus is that capitalism creates this problem. To say that is like saying gravity results in a stone falling to the ground; But gravity results in all items falling to the ground. All problems of society are the result of capitalism not just the environment. To say that is to say the obvious. And they say there is need for an “ecological revolution”. To talk of any revolution without defining friends and enemies is to talk abstractly. Environment destruction no doubt is a product of the rapacious capitalist system, but can the latter be destroyed by an “ecological revolution” or by a socio-political change targeting the main enemies of mankind — the corporate billionaire club led by the cabal and their hangers on in politics, bureaucracy etc.

Finally though, the book does list about 20 immediate demands at the end of the book in a section entitled “What can be done Now”; this mostly repeat, without mentioning CoPs, the same corporate agenda of reducing carbon emissions. So neither the long-term goals target the real culprit nor are the immediate solutions anything much different. They merely add to the fear-mongering of a holocaust-type situation without any concrete solution.

First let me present what the immediate alternatives could be, based on mass movements and on specific issues, and also to change certain aspects of government policy. Some of the issues that need urgent attention could be:

1. Protect existing forests and promote afforestation on a massive scale and stop corporate destruction of forests. So, for example since 2019 the loss in dense forests has been higher than the gain in net cover according to the latest State of Forest Report in India. Between 2013-21 dense forest lost was 12,706 sq kms while gain in plantations was 7,142 sq kms. Besides, plantations are not forests. Also : Deforestation detected in the Brazilian Amazon broke all records for the month of April 2022 and that followed similar new records set in January and February, reflecting a worrisome uptick in destruction in a state deep within the rainforest. Satellite alerts of deforestation for April correspond to more than 1,000 sq.kms, the highest figure for that month in seven years of record-keeping. Corporates are unconcerned, but so are the left. The Amazon forests are the largest in the world and an important factor for ecological balance of the world.

2. Protect our surface and ground water. This through spreading sustainable agriculture, promotion of widescale water harvesting; ending big water projects and replacing them with small ones; establishing water treatment plants in all cities to preventing chemicals and waste flowing into our rivers and seas; etc. While some involve government policies the rest are through mass movements and raising mass consciousness.

3. Build a vast movement against consumerism that results in a lot of the energy consumed by a section of society. Curbing carbon emissions is impossible without countering consumerism, particularly of the elite and sections of the upper middle classes. In the west it is atrocious but even here it is getting from bad to worse. To give just a few examples: the cremation of just one body takes 5 quintals of wood, but the rich resort to that and films promote it. Then again, in child hood we used napkins and handkerchiefs which was washed and reused, not all tissues as today. Take toilet rolls - North America uses 23 kg of toilet paper per capita - one tree gives 50 kg of toilet paper; i.e one tree for every two persons. Tissue paper is even larger. “At least 17 trees will have to be cut down and 20,000 gallons of water is contaminated in order to produce a ton of tissue paper. The consumption of tissue paper worldwide is far more than just one ton daily. In Hong Kong alone, based on the data collected in 2014, daily consumption of tissue paper was about 668 tons. It means that in just one part of the world, about 11,300 trees and 13 million gallons of water is contaminated to fulfil the demand for the soft paper. There are three main points that have become the concern in producing tissue/toilet papers: consuming trees, contaminating water, and use of chemicals. Thus, soft tissue paper belongs to one of the most harmful products that humans ever created. Imagine the worldwide destruction of wood through just this single life-style. Not to mention the massive waste wrapping in every Amazon parcel. Air conditioning is one of the biggest consumers of electricity which can be reduced drastically, but not raised as it involves the elite. And cars, which are one of the major sources for air pollution could easily be replaced by public transport; yet that is not suggested and the focus is on electric cars. But more and more electric cars involve rare earth metals for storage; and just one of them, like cobalt, is extracted veritably through slave/child labour in Africa. Besides, it is not just coal sources that are limited, but even more so these rare earths. There are so many more unsustainable issues linked to consumerism all of which entails a mass movement against them. But not a word from Monthly Review.

4. Promote small scale industries at the district and taluka level in India to meet the immediate consumer needs of the people rather than meeting these through the big MNC and local corporates which entails huge amounts of energy wastage on transport etc. Thereby reduce the number of trucks drastically in the country and the burden on road and rail transport.

5. Finally, there should be people’s and government (not corporate) promotion of solar, wind energy on a mass scale with huge subsidies for solar panels, windmills and other sources — not-biofuels and nuclear. Introducing a graded charge for electricity consumption with the large consumers being charged heavily. If this green energy is heavily subsidised, particularly in a country like India regular power could reach every village without the massive expense of a grid. Also, power storage systems can be decentralised at panchayat or block level.

These then are some issues to be taken up within the system today through mass mobilisation. There would be many more. But at the macro level to change the system it requires something far beyond an ecological formula. If one has the goal of the long-term solution to changing the system it is not by a vague concept of “ecological revolution” as Monthly Review would have us believe but socio-political revolution whose main target is the billionaire club led by the cabal and all their hangers on in politics, bureaucracy, etc — both internationally and in India. In fact all the immediate demands outlined above can be fully realised when there is a change in the system, but to build towards that, mass movements need to be created, awareness built and concrete action taken by local communities.

                                June 5, 2022

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