With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, humans began producing substances that could not be incorporated into the biosphere. Some of these products of human economic metabolism are toxic to organisms and have a disruptive influence on the structure, and metabolic process of the biosphere that has evolved over 3.8 billion years.
By Sankar Ray
- Reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions is still ‘will-o’-the-wisp
- Club of Rome founded in 1968 at Accademia Dei Lincei in Rome as a global think tank
- OIl company BP pumps hundreds of millions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere at sites from the Gulf of Mexico to the Caspian
- Countries like the USA keep investing in surveillance technology and military equipment to attack the refugees, created by ecocides
ANDRE GUNDER FRANK, a doyen among Marxist political economists in the late 20th century, formulated ‘development of underdevelopment in a paper in the Monthly Review in 1966. He wrote, “We cannot hope to formulate adequate development theory and policy for the majority of the world’s population who suffer from underdevelopment without first learning how their past economic and social history gave rise to their present underdevelopment. Yet most historians study only the developed metropolitan countries and pay scant attention to the colonial and underdeveloped lands.” But alongside was the development of decay threatening the existence of the planet we live in. The decay is termed ‘ecocide’ which Franz Broswimmer defines as “ neologism that refers to the act of intentional destruction or degradation of the environment” (Franz Broswimmer: Ecocide: A Short History of the Mass Extinction of Species, London: Pluto Press, 2002). It is ‘the collective sum of ecocidal actions that have led to the current, disastrous loss of species worldwide.’
Nonetheless, the irreversible global obliteration of habitat that impacts on human beings markedly although environmental scientists lament that the ongoing decay of flora and fauna threatening the existence of homo sapiens is under-studied. We do not know as yet how much decimated is the principal value of the planet’s enduring ecosystems. There are estimates which vary widely – indicating the basic inadequacy of the ecocide. But the concerned scientists concur on one point – an alarming rate of loss of species –flora and fauna of the Earth. The standard trickle rate of extinction has become a gushing haemorrhage as 100 species, or more, disappear every day’, wrote Broswimmer.
THE GREAT JAMBOREE
‘Teeming millions’ (the title of a fascinating book by Dr Gyan Chand, an outstanding economist in the last decades of the British colonial era in India) has been constantly suppressed socio-economically and ethno-culturally by the ruling class of the rich countries. The rich countries pretentiously deal with the issues of environmental catastrophes and disasters. They are habituated to laying down lofty promises only to go back on them.
Take the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26) in November 2021 where 120 world leaders from about 200 countries, more than 40,000 registered participants, including 22,274 party delegates, 14.124 observers and 3.886 media representatives participated. The deliberations took place for two weeks, mainly on climate change covering versatile aspects, the science, the solutions, political will and the like. At the end of the jamboree, there was a historical achievement leading to the establishment of Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero of $130 trillion of private capital to accelerate the transition to a net-zero economy.
Nonetheless, cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are still ‘will-o’-the-wisp. The assurance of preserving a livable climate remains a far cry. The Glasgow deliberations failed to produce and support the new “building blocks” to advance the implementation of the Paris Agreement. A pessimistic António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General spoke out in disgust. “The approved texts are a compromise. They reflect the interests, the conditions, the contradictions and the state of political will in the world today. They take important steps, but unfortunately, the collective political will was not enough to overcome some deep contradictions.”
CLUB OF ROME
Consider the Club of Rome which came into being in 1968 at Accademia dei Lincei in Rome, Italy, as a global think tank to deal with and devote to arriving at amicable solutions about a variety of international political issues. Participants were “a group of world citizens, sharing a common concern for the future of humanity.” There were heads of state, UN bureaucrats, high-level politicians and government officials, diplomats, scientists, economists and business leaders. At the end of deliberations, a declaration was made public “to act as a global catalyst for change through the identification and analysis of the crucial problems facing humanity and the communication of such problems to the most important public and private decision-makers as well as to the general public.
One of the most historical documents was ‘The Limits of Growth’ (authors-Dennis L Meadows, Jørgen Randers and William W. Behrens III), published in 1972, that encapsulated the central theme. ‘The Earth is Finite’. The Limits of Growth (TLG) warned that for feeding the continued growth in industrial output, the ever-increasing use of resources would be inescapable. It was prophetic to have cautioned that resources would be increasingly expensive to obtain for being used. It was the best-selling environmental treatise in world history to date – 30 million copies of which with more than 30 translations were sold. This year should be observed as the 50th anniversary of TLG. But not every statement of TLG proved wrong. Sixteen years before the birth of The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, LTG warned of carbon dioxide emissions “climatological effect” via “warming the atmosphere”. Even though it overstated its narrative of several disasters – the University of Melbourne in a research survey questioned the timeline. LTG needs a dispassionate review.
‘The Limits of Growth’ was the best-selling environmental treatise in world history to date – 30 million copies of which with more than 30 translations were sold. This year should be observed as the 50th anniversary of TLG
Britain’s Left-leaning leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn looked at climate change and the crisis thereof as a ‘class issue’. In an essay in the Jacobin magazine, he wrote referring to petroleum, Exxon’s prediction on climate change in the 1970s ‘before going on to spend decades publicly denying its existence. Corbyn bluntly states: “The political and economic system we live in does not produce climate change by accident but by design, rewarding big polluters and resource extractors with superprofits. This is our historical legacy.
In the UK, imperial-era fortunes were made from oil from places like the Persian Gulf, where Britain sponsored an antidemocratic coup in the 1950s to preserve the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s profits. AIOC later became BP, which continues to pump hundreds of millions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere at sites from the Gulf of Mexico to the Caspian. And much of the world’s fossil money is handled by City of London financial institutions which specialise in managing oil profits.”
Corbyn moved the ‘climate change emergency’ resolution, at the House of Commons in 2019 and it was through. A huge step as it was, he spoke before a mass meeting of climate protesters from the top of a fire engine in Parliament Square. “This can set off a wave of action from parliaments and governments around the globe. We pledge to work as closely as possible with countries that are serious about ending the climate catastrophe and make clear to US President Donald Trump that he cannot ignore international agreements and action on the climate crisis.”
In the article in the Jacobin, he stressed the imperative of taking on the enveloping climate and environmental crisis. “If this system remains unchallenged, we can expect a swift increase in the floods, droughts, and wildfires that have ripped through Australia, Siberia, British Columbia, East Africa, California, and much of Europe over the last year. Intense rainstorms are up by two-fifths this century. The heaviest is three-quarters stronger than they were in the 1950s, and once-in-an-epoch hurricanes are now commonplace. But it is not just the physical consequences of these events we need to worry about; it is also the political ones”.
Intense rainstorms are up by two-fifths this century. The heaviest is three-quarters stronger than they were in the 1950s, and once-in-an-epoch hurricanes are now commonplace
The Labour party leader and leader of the Opposition in the lower house of British Parliament rightly expressed worries and pointed out that continuity of the ecosystem which is constantly endangered must be halted to prevent ‘a swift increase in the floods, droughts, and wildfires that have ripped through Australia, Siberia, British Columbia, East Africa, California, and much of Europe over the last year. Intense rainstorms are up by two-fifths this century’.
Deliberate apathy to honour commitment in preventing the emission of greenhouse effects and rise of global temperature is in sync with liberal spending in defence expenditure by leading imperialist states like the US. They keep investing increasingly in surveillance technology and military equipment to attack the refugees, created by ecocides. Billions of US dollars are incurred in new guards and drones in the Mediterranean. This is a direct encouragement to create environmental catastrophes. If a fraction of it were instead incurred in a green transition, the planet Earth would have been palpably quiet. But alas, profits of a border, surveillance, and military industry are linked deeply to the fossil fuel economy.
The conscientious voice in the US is Senator Bernie Sanders who in October-end 2020 stated unequivocally, “As you and I know, climate change is the existential threat to our planet… If we don’t act boldly, then the world we are going to leave our children and our grandchildren will be increasingly unhealthy and uninhabitable. We have a moral responsibility to make sure that does not happen. This is the single greatest challenge facing our country and the entire world, but it is also our greatest opportunity.”
In a lengthy interview, he said in an optimistic note citing drought and the decline of food production, higher sea levels and more and more flooding, increasingly extreme weather disturbances and the enormous destruction they cause, more disease and mass migrations that together comprise a mega-ecocide, Sanders points out at the breezy alternative. “We can lead the world and build a hundred percent clean energy economy – and, as we do that, we can create millions of good-paying jobs.”
CLASS ISSUE CRISIS
Bioscientist Dr. Debal Deb in his ‘Beyond Developmentality Constructing Inclusive Freedom and Sustainability’ – written at Berkeley in one of his post-doc research traced the origin of economic development and the spread of the concept of development and its immanent politics thereof in prognostication of developmentality ‘a sickness of human civilization’.
He scanned from natural science and social science perspectives the techno-industrial growth which has been linked to the health of the biosphere and the destiny of civilization. Emphasising the need of studying developmentality for a lucid perception of social-economic processes and the ‘primarily based on the biological imperatives of ‘human (biological and cultural) evolution and the web of ecological relationships with non-human components of the biosphere.
When the world was yet to discover the value and virtue of environmental protection, Indira Gandhi was the only Prime Minister to address the first-ever UN Conference on the Human Environment at Stockholm in June 1972
Deb asserts that alike all organisms, ‘humans inevitably reconstruct their habitat’, while, unlike other organisms, it remains within their power – to do so respectfully. “Like every organism, humans have drawn, and continue to draw resources from the biosphere to support their existence. In return, the metabolic process creates substances that enter into the biogeochemical cycles. The e-human metabolic products are used by other organisms.
However, with the onset of the Industrial Revolution, humans began producing substances that could not be incorporated into the biosphere. Some of these products of human economic metabolism are toxic to organisms and have a disruptive influence on the structure, organisation and metabolic process of the biosphere that has evolved over 3.8 billion years. Thus, the human world seems to stand in opposition to the biosphere. This opposition simply means that in the long run, the human species has a destiny analogical to that of the gigantic reptiles of the Cretaceous Era.”
I was compelled to use a long quote but felt it necessary to draw the attention of perceptive readers to scientific (read dialectical) logic that calls for an all-out struggle to save our planet along with its flora and fauna and human civilization. Deb stated in a determined tone, “I link the environmental damages to social injustices, if only because extinct species and lost environmental services preclude generational equity.
This is one ground where the concerns of ecological and social sciences overlap. I venture to suggest possible means of harmonising the goals and operations of social institutions (including science) toward ensuring social and environmental justice. A discussion on the subject of sustainable development, which must include the issue of intergenerational justice, is bound to invoke economic, ecological and political considerations”
The battle against environmental decay is inseparably linked to the illustrious role of India’s outstanding Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who created the ministry of environment in 1980. The system of environmental impact assessment for every project was introduced during her period. Sonia Gandhi recalled, “Throughout her life, Indira Gandhi was fascinated by and drawn to Nature in all its aspects.
The Silent Valley decision is perhaps the most telling example.” Apparently, Indira Gandhi as the PM was hell-bent on going ahead with a hydroelectric project in the national park in Kerala. But scientists who were perturbed managed to send Salim Ali, the celebrated ornithologist, to the then PM for a brief meeting. She gave a patient audience for an hour. The very next day, she announced that the Silent Valley project was dropped. It was in 1983 and I heard this from Prof M K Prasad, formerly President of All India People’s Science Network.
Indira Gandhi was personally committed to protecting wildlife, preserving forests and combating air and water pollution. When the world was yet to discover the value and virtue of environmental protection, she was the only Prime Minister to address the first-ever UN Conference on the Human Environment at Stockholm in June 1972.