Editorial – Environment Thoughts

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In the wake of the growing chant for more liberalization of economies around the globe and the unabashed worship of the market, there are many extremely well informed voices calling for caution against dropping all economic regulatory mechanisms. It is true market worship has led to a path of growth generally, but critics are now calling attention to the fact that growth alone cannot be development. Development, they say is not about the size of GDPs and GNPs alone, but also of a number of other conditions, some subjective and others objective. One of these is environment. Among the others are: gender empowerment, equitable distribution of income, public health etc. The most economically and militarily powerful nation, the United States of America, has often been the subject of case studies in probing these issues. Some of the questions asked by Nobel Prize winning economists like Amartya Sen and Joseph Stiglitz should be able to rhetorically present the nature of the problem. Why is this most developed nation also dotted with the most number of prisons in the world? According to Stiglitz, (“Roaring Nineties”) some of the American states spend more money on prison maintenance than on primary education. It is true that these rich societies have enough to spend on both prison and education, but the picture narrates of something extremely dysfunctional? Again according to a study by Amartya Sen and John Dreze (“Development as Freedom”), Black Americans although on the average they command incomes many times higher than people in the Third World countries even after taking into account the differences in the cost of living, have a lower life expectancy than many of the latter societies. Markets also have seldom shown respect for the environment, and hence the world’s most well endowed market, the USA’s refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol on world environment. These are facts and figures that point out how incomplete the traditional notions of development are. The issues are many, but on the morrow of the World Environment Day on June 5, it would be a profitable exercise to reflect on the many awesome aspects of the environment question.The question is large and can even go beyond easy comprehension. Viewed with an evolutionary sense of time, there seems nothing that anybody can do about the changes that happen to the earth’s environment. As for instance, who can prevent the next Ice Age from happening, for science today has determined that the Ice Epochs are a cyclic event, just as the earth’s seasons are, although on a much longer cyclic path. Seasons happen because of the earth revolves around the sun and also because of the inclination of its axis at 23.5 degrees against the plane of its revolution. It is now also established that the earth’s axis is not just inclined but also wobbles by about 4 degrees and this wobbling is thought to be the cause behind Ice Ages. In evolutionary terms this cycle may take millions of years to complete, but all the same it is inevitable. The last Ice Age, a minor one according to scientists, ended about 12,000 years ago, and it is only after this event that the race for modern civilizations was flagged off. Life forms also go extinct. This is again a fact about life on earth. Millions and millions of species of life have died out while million others have come out of oblivious existence to take centre stage in the earth’s 4.5 billion years. If a comet hit had not wiped off the predatory dinosaurs about 64 million years ago, scientists believe the species of life that evolved into modern man could have remained an insignificant creature perhaps the size of a house lizard, out of its own survival instinct. Evolutionary scientists like the late Stephen Jay Gould (author of best-selling “Wonderful Life”) and Simon Conway Morris (author of the authoritative “The Crucible of Creation”) have demonstrated through the study of fossils that on the one hand life just wants to be (the sole purpose of the creature called sponge seems just to hang around at one spot throughout its life until it comes to an end), and on the other, that life forms almost with an uncanny certainty, go extinct from time to time. They have also argued quite convincingly that evolution is not centred around humans and its sole purpose is to preserve life, not necessarily human life. The awesomeness of the mysteries of life is in a pristine sense, religious. If we reflect on it with earnest, it should humble even our greatest problems. On Environment Day then, let us learn to be humble.

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