The truth is we don’t know. We pretend that we can continue to dodge the mass terrors like the one a generation ago, where we eluded a nuclear annihilation. It is now more often that we find asking ourselves, that for how long the Earth will last, when we have poisoned the water and soils and trampled thousands of creatures that are never going to come back. Climate change that was the future mocks us today in the present. Our lives are subsumed by excessive consumption and accumulation that starts with me typing these words on a laptop that consumes 60 watts/hour to Adani’s thermal factories. Once in a class of Ecological Justice, our professor professed for a world, where humans are suddenly wiped out (not impossible), how will the earth look and how will it restore itself from the plethora of human existence?
It is so difficult to find hold on this thought despite the fact that how enchanted I am with a possibility of it. Our presence on this earth is so toxic that to imagine the nature, restoring its way through it, becomes an improbable thought experiment. I will not envisage on a difficult yet fascinating thought experiment rather rally on creating spaces that can offer deliberation and reinforcing the argument of democratically led shrinking of consumption that pops up the question of radical transformation of values. In addition, readers are cautioned if they are looking for answers.
Last week, during a regular chai break at the office, a colleague mentioned about the welfarist presence of companies building hydropower projects like Vedanta and Adani in Arunachal Pradesh. One will find them to be the first ones to reach people with urgent amenities in the wake of any disaster. This news is threatening in many ways, first, we are soon heading towards a corporate democracy, and second, such presence will nullify the arguments that NGOs have been making against the hydropower or mining projects. However, the most threatening is the third, which is if the locals are satisfied (concerning compensation, rehabilitation) who is going to fight for the river that is brutally damned or the mountain that is bereaved of its minerals. The daunting challenge is how we fight the pollution of minds that vouches for anthropocene arguments. We have been proliferating mindlessly and if we continue to do so, we will not be able to ignore the catastrophic events that will unfold.
We humans are approaching annihilation; something that is not much of a surprise and probably that is why superficial attempts to curb climate change are in their full swing like never before. We usually have a tendency to believe that we can escape the worst and with the increasing authority of science and technology, this thought has gained tremendous rational backing to it. However, this planet is finite and so are the resources and we are going to experience only devastation unless we radically transform ourselves from a hypertonic modern individual towards a sober person committed to social.
But the important question to ask is who is this hypertonic individual? Well, this individual is you and I who are a result of a culture that bereft us from personal touch and belongingness. We are part of an economic system that prepares us for dog-eat-dog economy, creates insecurity, a world that propagates that it is never enough and in turn, we struggle to grapple with fear of loss and not belonging. Religious indoctrination, schooling that fosters competition, property rights that confine us, a surveillance state that creates insecure chauvinistic individuals (race, class, caste, gender) and importantly creates individualistic beings involved in personal accumulation.
Where will all this take us? To the absolute end, yes, that is anyway going to come, as the saying goes, we don’t get out this life alive-and neither will the Earth. More crucial to us still here on Earth is if we can soothe our transition from the world by revisiting the ways to transform ourselves and bring rest of life together and not tear it down. This will require a radical transformation of societies that we live in. Transformations in gender roles, different work relations, different activities, different forms, and use of energy and different relation with non-human world.
I was in Bodh Gaya a few months back to attend a confluence on Energy alternatives. As energy has never invoked any energy in me, I winked through most of the presentations. However, I was intrigued when an energy policy analyst stressed on the fact that as much we tweak the policies and bring renewable innovation, nothing much will change unless we radically depart from the current consumptive practices. I could not agree more, as it triggered the same question that has been haunting me for so long. All the pressing concerns about pollution, waste, depleting coral reefs to melting of glaciers, rising temperatures and the concern above about who will talk about river and mountain boil down to transformation of value systems.
What does the radical transformation of value systems mean? To my mind, it is centrally examining your space as a human being in this world and its relation with the universe. To simplify and elaborate, it would mean using public transport rather than private vehicles, becoming conscious of miles that your necessities of life cover and in turn attempting to reduce it, respecting differences and complexities in terms of caste, creed, colour, religion, sex, nationality etc and embracing them with compassion, to be able to go beyond binaries and explore the relationship between local and exogenous and ability to dream ecologically and culturally diverse political democracies.
Easier said than done, this necessitates the need to create spaces to deliberate upon what is a ‘good life’ and explore the meaning of life, not simply from an individual perspective, but as a collective that is conscious of the fact that our private activities have implications on others. These spaces can be the space like student clubs, online blogs/portals, community gathering, confluences or spaces that offer constant deliberation and exchange of ideas that can help us to think of ways to radically depart from our present high consumption practices. A space becomes important, simply because we do not have any, where people talk and live life of sharing, conviviality, commons or simplicity. Spaces that bring out ways of living of people about whom we get to know very little or nothing from the media too frenzied about the ‘Brangelina split’. How many of us are aware about a farmer in Odisha, who is practicing ecological agriculture to conserve sacred ecosystems or music artists in Kachchh who are continuing various musical traditions in non- institutionalised form or a sex workers cooperative in Kolkata that is relentlessly fighting to restore dignity of sex workers? There are many such small yet significant examples all over the country where people, communities are doing their bit to contribute to an alternative world.
We are living in a world where the ideas like the above will be shunned as mundane, irrational and the ones who talk about will be clubbed as over-emotional hippies, but I am hopeful that they will make sense to some of us who are disturbed, very disturbed and I am sure the count is in good numbers.
The thought remains open and with crying need for re-thought!
P.S: The arguments are young and have germinated after being exposed to few examples that are alternatives to current growth model.
Shrishtee is a graduate in Development from Azim Premji University, Bangalore and is currently working with Kalpavriksh, Pune.