08 October 2019

My vote is for a Green President



No, not THAT ‘green’. That’s not what I meant. That said, this is not about a particular political party or a particular presidential hopeful. It is about policy that abandons the idiocy of economic planning that has put the entire country at risk. The entire country meaning the entire population and the full complement of natural resources, either opening it all to mindless plunder (by foreign powers and local racketeers) or wanton destruction.  

With the presidential election just over two months away we have presidential hopefuls promising the sun, the moon and the universe in its entirety. There is token references to the environment, but when policy documents and rhetoric are considered carefully, it is pretty clear that they have little or no understanding of the ways in which development can and does impact the environment in adverse ways. Well, either that or they just don’t give a damn.

We are not talking about the environment as a sphere that has to be left untouched. No. For centuries human beings have out of necessity interacted with the world around them. They’ve taken, they’ve given. They’ve taken what they had to and ensured that the taking will not exceed limits that can compromise taking as the years, decades and centuries go by. 

What do candidates do but promise us the good life? Well, ‘the good life’ can mean any number of things. It could be framed by the here and now. It can be about material comforts. It could be about opportunity for self improvement. Good health. Decent education. And, in small print, a clean environment.   

What exactly is a clean environment? Is it all about a well-oiled garbage disposal system? Many seem to understand it that way. That’s convenience folks. It’s the old, NIMBY argument, ‘not in my backyard’. Is it about a good drainage system so that Colombo won’t get flooded? That too is narrow. Systems, unfortunately, are larger than your household or city or even country. This is true for capitalism, marked by and dependent on war and plunder, and it holds true for natural processes. This is why development makes sense only if it is framed by sustainable lifestyles. Sustainable lifestyles mean sustainable and therefore responsible consumption and development that does not compromise our tomorrows on account of a grand today.  

So far, the names tossed around as candidates from main political parties are not associated in any way with sustainable development. They talk big. They promise much. They are obviously conscious of pleasing people for they talk of material benefits that they promise their presidency would yield. That’s the perennial sahana malla (bag of goodies) which of late has included the unfortunately bastardized notions of transparency, accountability, democracy and good governance.

Talk, we know, is cheap. The problem is the plan. What plans will yield what, is the question. All plans have been marked by mindless faith in the growth-led model of development. Since 1977 development thinking has been about market mechanisms.  Climate change and natural as well as human-made calamities have sobered people up to the point where environmental safeguards and protocols have been scripted into the development story. That’s just words, folks. It’s the ‘on paper’ out for the pernicious. So we have laws (inadequate) and institutions (inefficient). We have a political culture that allow thugs to ride roughshod over people and communities. Rules are bent, controls are circumvented or else ignored altogether.  At the end of the day we have an earth and waterways that are poisoned. 

That’s the price of ‘development’. That’s what getting the crumbs of ‘the good life’ has cost us. Yes, crumbs. For the majority. And that’s what it not being addressed by the presidential hopefuls. 

A year ago, in this space, I wrote a series of articles covering various subjects. It was about issues that candidates would do well to think about when they formulated manifestos. This is from the note on the environment.  

“There’s the human-centrist school which sees everything outside the species as dispensable or as having potential to serve human interests. ‘Human’ here needs to be fleshed out a bit; many things are done in the name of entireties but in fact they serve the interests of one or few and usually a particular category of people. Theories are constructed to justify carefully suppressing or footnoting the uncomfortable. For example, the term ‘imponderable’ is used and so too ‘externality’. Throw those out and we get neat equations such as demand and supply curves which intersect at ‘price’.  Sure, pressure from objectors have forced such theories to be refined and be accorded a veneer of inclusivity, but they are not fooling too many people.

“Justification comes in the form of utopias that are aggressively marketed. The ‘poverties’ of the present are used as alibis and goodies called progress and development are swung like carrots in front of the impoverished. The entire story is not told. Not all costs are talked about. Instead we are sold ‘imperatives’. And if anyone dares talk about uncomfortable truths such as global warming or climate change then the entire discourse is shifted to scientific exchange where those with bucks and power get to commission and thereafter market ‘value-free truths’ supposedly obtained scientifically.  

“It’s all in the name of ‘The People’ and Mister Progress.” 

Some people. No progress, all things considered. A decline, in fact. 

There are questions that candidates need to answer.  What does development really mean?  Where are we heading or rather what kind of destination would we like to walk towards? What are the costs we are willing to pay? What kind of benefit-package would we be satisfied with? What are the parameters and who gets to decide and impose them? And what's the fallout? It’s the last that is least talked about. 

Manifestos have of late contained the inevitable dash of green and in the lightest hue possible. We do not have green candidates. If we did, all talk of development and the good life would be sobered by the prerogatives flowing from sustainability.  So ‘future’ is not part of their plans. Not the long future and not even the short future.  

Candidates therefore do not have the moral authority to talk about national security. They can't talk about food security. They cannot talk about wholesome lifestyles. They have disqualified themselves because they do not have the vision nor the compulsion or else lack the intellect to take stock of the massive risks at hand to life as we know it. 
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