Sustainable paths versus sustainable freeways in an overgrazed globe

  • 30/05/1992

Sustainable paths versus sustainable   freeways in an overgrazed globe  THE last thing you would get to know from the US-based World- watch Institute's State of the World 1992 is the state of America's own environment. Instead, you get an update on the rest of the world- from A for Algeria to Z for Zambia. This is by no means an easy task.

Institutions like Worldwatch strive hard to transform the nature of social struggles, but instead of considering this their duty, they create the impression that they are obliging us by coming out with reports like this one.

Prepared by a team of.13, with funds from 18 agencies and ideas from 52 others, the report is printed on recycled paper. Like most contemporary reports of its kind, this one too is not free of recycled ideas. What are these ideas which once ruled the world and are being constantly pulped and regenerated?

Take the concept of "development", which dazzled everyone till the other day. It was first recyled as "development without destruction", and was reborn as "sustain- able development". In the very paragraph in which "sustainable development" is discussed, the authors use terms like "developed nations" and "developing nations". There's a long list of such jargonglobal cooperation, global partnership, people's partnership, people's wisdom, traditional knowledge and commons-sprinkled throughout the book like confetti.

The West certainly overcosumes, but we learn from the chapter on livestock fearing that even its cattle and pigs are overfed. At the same time, concepts like overgrazing are used to blame cattle and goats in countries like Ours for environmental degradation. Livestock graze, they do not overgraze. They do not have hank accounts, or Swiss bank accounts for that matter, to hoard more than their requirements. It is a different matter that we have not left enough space for them. In this context, stall-feediDg is discussed.

We should not judge people on mere hearsay. Nomads and herders also have their codes of conduct. They do not go out with their animal hordes to raze the world. In India, even now, many cominumties do not allow their livestock to graze in the fields during the flowering and seeding period of grass. We talk-of local wisdom yet advise people on matters about which we have ab I u tel n kn wledge. The West, which Inilds I le whole world t( yergrazing, should be stall-fed.

The best illustration of thisiloublespeak is the chapter on nuclear wastes. The perils of rearing this western breed of cattle is candidly discussed, with examples from their own backyard. The message is clear: "Do not rear them - we regret having done so and you will too."

Yet this cosy togetherness is not apparent when other issues are being dealt with. In the tenth chapter, "Strengthening global environmental governance" , the author Hilary F French talks of GATT, and concludes that "effective environmental agreements need to include carrots as well as sticks".

At times the very language used in the book is polluted. The chapter on maternal health presents data on the shortage of trained attendants in various Ipoor" countries of the world. But where did the trained people come from? Throughout the world's villages and towns, children have been born over millions of years without these "trained persons".

According to the book, more than 150 treaties to save the world's environment have beer signed so far. Yet the world's enviremnant is far from being saved, Are these treaties like those signed between European settlers and American Indians with disastrous consequences for the latter?

The lith chapter deals with the launching of the environmental revolution. We are given the exaple of the famous Body Shop, "a UK based international chain specializing in hair and skin products launched by Anita Roddick", as a ,'model of a corporation where ococomic and environmental interests are tightly intertwined". The firm "buys raw materials from indigenous people such as the Indians in the Amazonian rainforests, packages its shampoos in refillable containers, and does not use animals to test its products", while doing green business through 600 outlets across 18 countries.

But why should the women of London, Paris, New York or even Delhi get into raptures over Amazonian fragrance? Every place has its own perfumes, good or bad. Every society in every corner of the world has. its hidden share of rich es. Recognising and respecting this is the first step to sustainable development. But, at present, going by the Worldwatch report, the global environmental movement is searching for a sustainable freeway.

--- Anupant Mishro is attached to the Gandhi Peace Foundation, New Delhi