This book is an angry exhortation against the Western model of development - its theory and practice. But anger has not blunted the authors' sense of humor. The book is marked with numerous punch lines which serve simultaneously to highlight and mitigate the anger and exasperation. It tries to demonstrate that the Western model of development cannot be sustained except by eating away the resources of the Earth far beyond its capacity for regenerating them and polluting it to an extent that survival itself would become problematic. It seems there is a little girl in Bombay who had never seen a live butterfly. The author says 'if the Western system of 'development' is permitted to endure, of one thing we can be sure: soon, not only will butterflies vanish, but little girls too'.
The different chapters of the book elucidate the above thesis in various spheres of life -agriculture, health, forestry. It begins with history and shows how the colonial government of the British undermined and impoverished every aspect of Indian life. On the other hand, Indian society is shown, with reference to the lifestyle of the Warlis, a tribal people of Maharashtra, to be simple and self-sufficient but at the same time dynamic and creative. For example, Warlis' way of catching fish is so delightfully simple and efficient! The authors move on from Warlis to record the shattering impact of modern development, some of it irreversible, on agriculture, health and forestry. They show through examples how the colonial exchange of wealth for poverty is continued after independence through the agency of the trans-national corporations whose means to get rich is nothing short of the immoral. They also explicate the hidden violence in the praxis of modern development-violence against plants, animals and fellow human beings. In each of the chapters practices which are based on renewability and which promote sustainability are described in some detail. The chapters contain a lot of useful information complete with references for those interested in developing sustainable alternatives.
The book has undertaken another major task - arguing that models of 'sustainable development' as proposed by the West, for example, in Pearce Report, are not so much about sustainability as about 'acceptable rate of economic growth', or worse, 'sustaining the Western economic system'. The interesting point about this exercise is that it uses the conceptual framework of the Pearce Report itself to argue against its conclusions - concepts like intergenerational equity, intra-generational equity Pareto optimality, benefit –costing the environment, etc.
The last few chapters of the book indicate some of the philosophical principles which can become the bases for disengaging ourselves from the harmful developmental path on which every nation in the World has set out. While admitting that it is not an easy task to do it, the authors urge individuals to start with themselves. The West has successfully persuaded the whole world that the monster of development is an economic necessity. To try to change this stream of opinion would be to confront vested interests at every turn. The magnitude of the task is enormous but the authors urge that individuals start with their own lives, by reducing the purchase and use of non-necessities. ‘Reducing one’s consumption need not wait for politician's pronouncements or economists' encouragement. The problems have global dimensions but they work through, individuals, and this gives each of us the power to exert a decisive influence on the world'.
Author: Uma Shankari