"The three centuries which followed the European discovery of the Americas in AD 1492 were a prolonged world-wide extension of this European discovery accompanied as it was by the conquest and subjugation of the conquered. After it, i.e. during the 19h century AD, the conquering west felt the need to salvage the soul of the discovered, and to lead them to enlightenment through world-wide Christianization. The world-wide program of Christianization was soon followed by the 1848 Communist Manifesto of Karl Marx, and at the realization of the Marxist-Leninist vision. Now that missionary Christianization has become somewhat downgraded, and the Marxist-Leninist vision seems to have collapsed altogether - the West, or the Westernized, seemed to have been in dire need of a new emotive phrase. The aggressive nature of Western man and his belief in his problem-solving capacities and in building powerful images about himself and his doings would have, in time, ordinarily provided the necessary emotive phrase. But as the Gods also seem to side with the West it did not have much difficulty in-finding the new emotive word. The word is Environment and it is going to be enthroned as the undisputed monarch of the world at Rio de Janeiro in Brazil on the continent of South America.

To an extent the words Environment, Ecology, Biosphere have been with us, and have been heard more and more loudly as each year passed, since the 1970s. Concern about the damage to the Biosphere, about the pollution of the environment, about the prolonged ill effects of modern methods of agriculture, of cattle breeding, of forestry had however begun to be expressed by perceptive individuals as early as the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. Mahatma Gandhi perhaps perceived such ill consequences as early as 1909. Many in Britain and Europe were opposed to power driven machine industrial production from the beginning of the 19th century itself when such production actually began on any appreciable scale.

While the crowning of the 'Environment' is yet to key place various countries of the world and their leaders of state as well as of their non-governmental organizations have been busy collectively as well as nationally in making preparation for this great crowning. One major mobilization of it was in Paris from Dec.16-20, 1991, at the personal invitation of the President of the French Republic. Some 600-800 participants from various corners of the world, about 60 from India itself, gathered in Paris for this august occasion. As many of the non-Western participants did not seem to agree with the statement, previously prepared by France, as emanating from this gathering they issued another statement of their own on the subject. Incidentally, one of the prominent Indian environmentalists is also said to have been publicly "rebuked by the UN representative at the Paris conference and told that as it was on the resources and occasions provided by them that he did his unending world travel he had no business to be talking against the international system from which he drew his sustenance. The rebuke was so sharp and unexpected that it made him feel as if he was part of a lower humanity, and he expressed his feelings bluntly in a formal session of the Conference next morning.

The magic of the world Environment seems to be so powerful that even the Indo-German eight month long Festival in Germany is also devoting some of its time and resources to the theme of Environment. The adventurous Dutch (i.e. the "people of Holland or the Netherlands as it is formally called) however have found an additional inventive approach to Environment. While them - must has also held national and international conferences on the French and similar models they further decided to invite some scholars and social workers from the non-Western world to give the Dutch their view of how they as non-Westerners looked at this subject. The result is a recently published book of 128 pages published from Holland and tided 'A Vision from the South: How. Wealth degrades Environment: sustainability m the Netherlands'.' Its authors are Mercia Gomes (cultural anthropologist, and government administrator in the very city of Rio de Janeiro where the 1992 Environment conference is to be held), Chandra Karana (involved in environmental studies in Indonesia), Sami Songanbele (agronomist from Tanzania), and Rajiv Vera (sociologist and Gaitflhian from India).

While 'A Visio from the South' has a fascination of its own, some of the facts about Holland it presents are frightening indeed. According to it while 'recycled water from sewage' is safe for drinking in the Netherlands, 'the water that drops from the clouds' (p.58-59) is not. If we in India are only a decade or two away before we ourselves undergo the Dutch experience it is time that we forget our ancient boil where rain water collected and was used for drinking even for years, and similar Indian mechanisms of harvesting rain water. According to the book the acid content of the atmosphere is so high (pH level of 4.5) that rain actually does not precipitate but is a dry fall. 'So it does not help if you hurry from the rain to avoid your hair become acidic; it will get that anyway. But you can always use tap water and a nice bio degradable shampoo to clean if. Further, 'the acid water that precipitates on trees is not easily washed off but rather oozes into them in a way that ends up killing them, or in a strange sense, making them suffer'. It may be well to remember that the 1970's European and German interest in Environment started after noticing the vast damage which had been done by acid rain to the forests and individual trees.

Another dimension of the Western environmental concern is with regard to the vast amount of domestic garbage produced by each household. In Holland it amounts to 3,000 kg. Per household per year (p.109). The far more astounding quantity, it may be very specific to Holland which seems to thrive on meat and dairy industry, is of d u n g produced by the vast numbers of domestic animals which Holland has. Holland has a human population of 15,000,000 and ll0 million domestic animals (p.124). So there are eight animals to each human being, and each group of these eight animals, on the v. average, is sad to produce 60,000 kg. of dung per year (p.109). Two-thirds of this dung seems to result from cattle feed provided to Holland by countries like Brazil and Thailand out of sheer international economic compulsions. While Holland is thus .enmeshed in the stench of dung countries like Brazil, Thailand, etc., not only have less area producing food for their people but also-are deprived of essential organic nutrients for their soils. While only 2,400,000 hectares of land is cultivated in Holland (p,62) the Dutch farming industry commands the produce of some 15,000,000 hectares (p.72)-in other countries to supply it agricultural products for its food, meat and dairy industry.

The book goes on producing similar details and data about Dutch life and industry, and here and there sees signs of hope and a new beginning in which the European world and the rest of mankind may achieve a reasonable equity. One such sign is of the European world taking to organic agriculture. But while the number of agricultural farmers in Holland in 1986 was 108,000 (p.71) the number engaged in organic farming was just about 500 (p.81). That the productivity of organic agriculture amounts to less than 6% of the modern (p.61) is said to be one of the causes of the small number taking to organic farming. The other is that these organic farms do not receive any governmental funding or support, or even loans at normal farm interest rates, as the farms engaged in modern agriculture do. Consequently, food produced on these organic farms 'costs twice or three times as much as from other farms'. So much therefore for hope.

Perhaps, the greater value of 'A Vision from the South' is in its indirectly presenting the increasingly dependent and servile status of most of the non-European world in today's context. Even if the European world were to revert, say in the next fifty years, to organic agriculture and to a newly designed industrial structure which is much less injurious to the environment it would not solve any of the multiplying problems which the non-European world faces here and now. Hope is useful but determination, assertion and action is what would actually tell. The determination and assertion of a non-European way or of multiple ways, and its example and strength alone can make an effective intervention in bringing some equivalence in the relationship between the European world and the non-European world.

Yet there seem to be some signs, though halting, of such determination and assertion. For instance some of the participants who gathered in December at Paris reacting to the 'Draft Citizen Action Plan for the 1990s' placed before the conference came with a draft of their own and titled it 'Agenda South'. Its preamble stated:

  1. The roots of our future should not grow out of the roots of the past of the last five centuries.

  2. Over this period a few powerful political and economic actors based in the North (and now including Japan) have carried out a sustained and monstrous assault on nature everywhere, in the name of progress and development, throwing the lives of millions of ordinary people out of joint.

  3. That assault continues today and shows no signs of abating, despite protests and Pleadings from citizens and earth groups based in the North. On the contrary the very same economic and Political actors get fatter, more prosperous and more powerful. They enhance their legitimacy and increase the reach of the so-called world-system to areas and peoples of the earth till now safely out of their reach or attention.

  4. These activities of the dehumanized actors of the North during the last five hundred years have followed from a way of life and a perception of man and nature that seems inherent in Western culture, and defines Western man. This Western perception of man and nature is wholly alien to ideas of living in organic harmony with nature and earth, which have formed the basis of all major non-Western cultures.

  5. These powerful actors now seek to colonies the environment movement and the forces that have made this movement the most vibrant and unsettling phenomenon of the present time. Through UNCED these actors which include Western governments, including that of Japan, international financial institutions and multinational corporations, now seek to gain a fresh level of legitimacy without having to discontinue any of their current activities. We do not wish to be part of this new wave of environmental colonization.

  6. The best that can therefore be achieved in the circumstances of today, when the economic and political elite of the North has began to claim an environmental consciousness and sensitivity, is to bring the environments of the South completely out of the control of the North, and thus from the injurious effects of Western ways of thought and living. The North at the same time should utilize its newly discovered environmental sensitivities to learn to live a lifestyle that reduces and reverses damage to the environment of the earth.

  7. The Knowledge and wisdom of the indigenous people of the South ensured survival and health of the environment over centuries. It is these sources that the world must return to for solution to the present crisis, for which the North has little to offer.

Moving from the preamble the 'Agenda South' asked its signatories to resolve:

  1. The idea of establishing a global environmental regime with powers to enforce its decisions and direction is for these reasons rejected. Any such global authority shall necessarily be dominated by the physical and fiscal power of the North and thus shall be polluted by the environmentally destructive Western ways of thought and living.

  2. The international financial institutions like the World Bank, which continue to finance disruptive projects across the planet, shall not be vested with any environmental jurisdiction.

  3. In place of the global environmental regime, possibilities of establishing regional environmental conventions between countries of similar geographical and cultural endowments should be seriously explored. The countries of Europe thus should have an environmental convention among them and take concerted actions to preserve their own environments. This European convention may also include in its other countries like the U.S.A., Canada and Australia which are predominantly populated by people of Western stock. The need of an environmental discipline is in fact the most urgent amongst these countries alone. These countries of the South, like those of South Asia, South-East Asia and various .regions of Africa and also Latin America may also work towards establishing compact regional conventions, as and when the need arises. At a later stage these various regional conventions can interact among themselves to evolve some global conventions.

    The people of the South however reject any global authority or conventions that may be imposed by the forces upholding the present world system. The people of the South are already choked with the various international regimes that control and inhibit their actions and make it impossible for them to live out their own life-styles. They do not need another international authority exercising control over them in the name of environmental protection.

    The organizing principles of the South are in fact based upon local communities coming together to look after their own affairs. Regional and larger authorities can evolve only out of the mutual interaction between the autonomous and sovereign local communities. This-Southern process of starting from local level organizations to larger ones alone can be acceptable to the South in the matter of environmental regime also. Any regime imposed from above therefore must be firmly rejected.

  4. Any fund established for the purpose of environmental protection and up gradation shall be in the form of reparations paid by the North for the damage it has caused to the environment of the earth through its actions during the last five hundred years. Since these funds are in the nature of reparations paid for injuries caused, those who are responsible for the injuries shall have no control on such funds. The environmental reparations funds shall be put in the control of a body constituted exclusively of the governments and non-governmental organizations of the South. This body shall be empowered to decide on the ways of distribution and utilization of these reparations funds. The principles of distribution shall however take into consideration the extent of damage caused to the natural environment in a particular region or country through the actions of the North'.

The participants who signed the Agenda South not only came from the non-European world but were also joined in their declaration by some of the participants from Italy, Great Britain, Romania, Uruguay, Mexico, Brazil and Japan. Signatories from the non-European world came from Malaysia/ Fiji, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Tunisia, Sir Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India.

Author: Dharampal

No comments:

Post a Comment