Liberal Democracy-Ecological Conciousness -Ecocentricism

Examine the notion that liberal democracy curtails emergence of ecological consciousness in the society. How can ecocentric critical mass evolve out of these limitations?

Liberal democracy is a liberal political ideology and a form of government in which representative democracy operates under the principles of classical liberalism.

The word to be further detailed and cloosely looked at in that definition  is classical liberalism.

Classical liberalism is a political ideology and a branch of liberalism which advocates civil liberties and political freedom with representative democracy under the rule of law and emphasizes economic freedom

A very individual centric approach of the liberalism when tries to impose on the democracy , trying to still hold on to the democratic principles it becomes quite a confused concoction. “Economic freedom”  aspect of classical liberalism, especially is the one that on the face is in compliance with democracy, but definitely is that one which will infringe upon the “economic rights” that democracy as a form of governance  bestows upon its people.

In my opinion the “classical liberalism” and “democracy” have their own bits of contradictions. If these ideologies are put together to form liberal democracy. The liberal aspects of classical liberalism – especially the individualistic aspects mask the community/ commons aspects of democracy. And therefore the liberal democracy is loaded with individualism as a way of existence. In this paradigm of thinking a human being becomes centre to his own ways of thinking and living. Its a paradigm of exclusion , where one wants to be “different”/”special” and differentiated from the other. This mode of operation pushed for a a self centered mode of existence.

Ecological consciousness to come from the inside requires a very evolved and sensitive selves to see the other lives equal to that of our own human life. Or it comes from a very logical and rational understanding that our lives depend on whole lot of things that stem from the earth, air and water and all these elements themselves too. This makes sense even in the individualist paradigm. But the individualist paradigm has a limited understanding of what is best for individuals. That is, the consumeristic attitude propelled under this ideology has only allowed a very limited expression of individualism. A complete expression of individualism in the most evolved form will be in line with the approach an ecologically conscious person would approach the ecology. The understanding of the ecological dependency of the human race is still as the complex mesh of dependency and causation is still beyond our understanding. So the logical mind of the people who believe only in human wellbeing is difficult to be convinced.

At some level if the sense of mortality, fragility of our lives  prevails on individuals along with a sense of  the scale of existence we exist becomes clear to us, there is possibility that we live more gently. Our interactions with our fellow humans and the environments we live in will become gentle. At some level in today’s time when we people  ( especially the urbanites) seem to hardly have any connection with the land, water, air that breaths life into us. And we think its our jobs, the money we earn and the gadgets we carry is our world. We seem to forget the fragility of life due to the improved quality of life that we urbanites) enjoy.

The question of how can ecocenticism evolve in this context? Can it be systemic or should it be from the people? It is very difficult to get something changed t systemic level given the mammoth size of systems. Whereas at individual level the number of units (people) that require change is millions and billions. But what is possible by individuals who are interested in ecocentric perspective?  If anything is possible it is only at the level of effecting other individuals. There needs be effort people to understand and empathize with humanity and the world. There needs be a sense of home when it comes to this planet. And this when achieved there will be no need to tell anyone about not destroying the planet. SO the ecocentricism requires an inner awakening of the human population. Reestablishment of the connect to mother earth.

So in short it needs to be a grassroots movement to achieve this ecocentricism. About the context of liberal democracy, it will play out well if the people who are part of it are sensitive and conscious of their responsibilities they owe to this planet.

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Kaveri dispute- Karnataka and Tamilnadu – Part 2

I had a late evening bus on 24th night from Bangalore ( Karnataka) to go to Coimbatore (Tamil Nadu). In the last minute the bus got cancelled as the buses with Karnataka Registration were not being allowed in Tamil Nadu. This was as a consequence of Karnataka declining to share the water until 28th of this month post the Supreme Court verdict.

I had taken this new masters course in public policy partly to zoom out of my present frame of reference which is established from my work at grassroots. The other reason was to work in areas of environemnt other than water. Since the Kaveri issue has resurfaced this year, it looks like water is become a centre to many crisis of our times. Some researchers and activist have been talking about the dooms day being just around the corner. Especially verdicts on water being the centre of future wars. Scholars like Peter Gleick, Asit Biswas and other have been writing extensively about crisi and how to go about it. I thought we would pick what these people say and work it out somehow.

I somehow always felt this will not be the case. We will some how figure it out, get our act as a species. No! This Kaveri/ Cauvery water issue is only making all these doomd day verdicts come true.

I was sitting one day thinking how do we go about these issues of crisis of water. I felt its quite complex the whole issue of water. Its so entertwined with every aspect of life and activities we humans conduct. To be honset we have done enough to understand the root  causes of the crisis – the loop holes in the way we address drinking waer security, the change in croping patterns and crops in the command area of Cauvery river and other water uses. In short it is flawed decissions on water usage and mismanagement of resource and also mismanagement  within institutions using the water for different purposes. There have been solutions studied and proposed to address all these matters both technicaly, and institutionally. The paradigm of integrated water resource management gives a framework to work on all issues simultaneously.

But still, Why are these solutions not picked up? Where is the inertia, what is the threat in changing to newer paradigm of operation? It feels like its in our minds. The inertia is in our heads. I wonder, how do we go beyond the finger pointing excercise and think for our own selves and look for a solution which  will make sense to ourselves in the long run too?

The Century of the Self by Adam Curtis

A proposition that seems to come to me again and again is that of “propaganda” as the mode of operation. Why dont we use skills of the O&Ms and Lowe Lintas kind of agenceis to work on the heads of the population to address issues of this kind? Why do we engage them to change mindset of people only to make “fairness” a fad thing or to sell chocolates? I am tempted to drop this documentary that I have been studying for the last few weeks to push the idea of propaganda. It speaks a lot on what can be done to manipulate the “crowds”. Why not use the same for a meaninful purpose. If not done responsibly this can spin out in a wrong direction and out of control. But for now this is all is coming to me as a solution again and again.

 

 

Kaveri dispute- Karnataka and Tamilnadu

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Kaveri Pipeline work. Courtsey: BWSSB.org

The water dispute of Kaveri between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu is more than a century old. Somehow the issue is racked up only in period of scarce monsoon. Else both states sit quiet and continue to do what they were at without giving a hard look at what are they are doing with their agriculture. 

There have been many agreements between the states, tribunals set up to resolve issues, and supreme court intervening in the case and giving some random judgements without much scientific reasoning. These have been during the periods of distress again. 

When I looked at this issue in 2008 I thought we could solve the matter with tribunals. But when I look at this matter again – the canvas looks much different. The legal aspects and general managerial aspects of the canvas were then not quite clear. But now there seems to be a nuanced understanding. First of the legal aspect of it – why is there no judgement / tribunal verdict on water sharing specific to “rainfall shortage years” or “distress years”? If the clause and details of the hearings were based on scientific studies conducted on the basin, one can come up with the possible sharing quotas based on the yearly rainfall that the basin sees. Second is, why are both states not seeing that- the paddy ( in Tamil Nadu) and sugarcane (in Karnataka) are not the crops one would grow using a non-perineal river source. There as a reason why raggi was grown so prolifically in these parts of the country. Raggi and other millets did not need so much water like paddy or sugarcane needs.

Also, another matter is that of the classic conflict between upper riparian and lower riparian states. The upper riparian state like Karnataka always have the control of – how much water they CHOOSE to give, and lower riparians have to seek courts and tribunal’s intervention to get water to meet their state needs. 

When I spent sometime this morning looking at the tweets from kanadigas on the #cauveriverdict, I could only laugh at their ignorance. On both sides there are farmers, both sides need water for drinking water purpose. It is not easy to say who is correct or not. While Karnataka has around four major rivers flow in its state, Tamil Nadu’s rivers are not as many. The Kaveri that is damned in Karnataka is not even serving all the four districts equally. It is Bangalore that gets most of the Kaveri when developed in stage I, II and III. This without rectifying the 65% unaccounted for water loss ( through rusted, old pipelines built by British) in Bangalore is not a fair argument. Bangalore’s lakes which were augmenting the water requirements of the city are fast vanishing to meet the real estate needs of the city. Had the lakes been in place, the pipelines in good shape and compulsory rainwater harvesting done by all, the dependency of  Bangalore on Kaveri/Kabini would have been reduced substantially. This would have eased the conflict too. While the larger managerial issues are never addressed, all people do by the end of the day to go on strikes and burn public properties to make their point and get what they want. This is no rational way to arrive at any solution. 

Situation in both the states , its political response and people’s response is quite saddening and disappointing to the least! 

PS: I am a Tamizh. So read this article with a pinch of salt. 

The complex terrain: environment vs development

The trimester is coming to its end and a lot of writing, submissions are happening. Sleepless nights and ill health always seem to go hand in hand for me in these times.

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Challakere Grassland, Chitradurga, Karnataka, India

As a part of a project, I am exploring environmental degradation and how it’s connected to poverty both as causation and also as an effect. While trying to understand this loopy relationship, on a friend’s suggestion, I looked at the Amrit Mahal Kaval of Chellakere ( 50,000 Hectares). This and similar such large patches of land were given to pastoralist by Mysore Maharaja some 400 years ago.

In 2012, a substantial part of this land (10,000 hectares) of it was allocated to three government establishments -DRDO, BARC, IISc for drone testing, enrichment of uranium and other scientific research respectively. And this was all done by the District Collector secretively without informing the involved Panchayats. And when the villagers got to fathom what was happening, it was quite late, constructions, building of compound walls had already begun. The villagers protested on two grounds – secretive transaction of land (that was given to them by the King 400 years ago) without their consent and second is the biodegradation of the grassland.

I am in complete agreement with their argument against secretive transaction without their consent. But in a documentary about the lives of these villages and how these nuclear/ government establishments will affect their livelihood – there were points made about how practices that are practices over generations will be lost, both culturally and biodiversity wise.  My questions regarding this narrative is twofold- what is 400 years of culture compared to 5000 years of culture we as a nation have gathered? Second being, where is the EIA that shows the negative impact on biodiversity by these establishments? And any sort of development activity will have a altering impact on environment. The civilizational transitions are not going to pause just because we cannot clearly articulate negative changes that it will bring along. An average human being today – let’s say a lower middle class person today enjoy the level of comfort that none of the kings enjoys 200 years ago. All of it is, courtesy environmental exploitation/ degradation/ utilization.

The fight on the Chellakere is legit if it were about non-involvement of the communities and their consent. May be had the communities been involved early on, the establishments could have had a way that was agreeable to both parties and the factories running. But the question that bothers me, especially regarding environmental degradation is that of – what is degradation and how is it different from use? Will grazing of cattle and pastoral activities not cause degradation- by loss in biodiversity and addition of GHGs? Is a nuclear enrichment plant the only way in which this area will get polluted?

The civil society that is helping these communities in staging a protest seem to actually be putting words in their mouth and articulate it for them. The civil society also is the one who is painting the picture for them. This is not an accusation, but an observation. As Leo Saldana ( in one of his talks to us in NLSIU) put it succinctly, the ones who have their stake in such matters are hardly lettered and in-articulate. In a state where even the articulate are victimized, what the in-articulate to do. In that case, the imagination and understanding of these people given this condition will never emerge to their own minds, let alone to the larger society.

The other possible pictures in my opinion is not vision-able for these villagers. Or is it that the state has betrayed so many of the vulnerable communities (by not keeping its promises) that the state has lost the credibility for anyone to believe what they paint?

 

Soil Policy – I never gave it a thought!

 

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A wall of a hut made up of soil , cow dung and hay-stack, in Chattisgarh. Picture was taken in 2014

I have been working on water and sanitation for more than 8 years now. In the last two years I have been trying to go back to the larger environmental concerns of agriculture, human -environment conflict through my projects in the university and other research assignments. I am pursuing agriculture more elaborately for my dissertation for the Masters program here.

We had a speaker, Srinivasu (from Karnataka) to address the class on importance of soil and policy to manage it. I have always read and understood from farmers how important is soil to agriculture. I have always thought policies regarding agriculture will take care of soil as it is required for agriculture. And there do exist mention of fertility of soil and measures to keep it fertile and usable.

In the context of soil usage although the direct visible activity that engages in it is agriculture, but soil gathers fertility or deteriorates also because of other activities like that of afforestation/deforestation, industrial activities that involve letting out of pollutants on to land or using land surface for its activities.

We have policies for air quality and water, although we do not have much enforcement regarding quality norms in India. But nonetheless there is a policy. When I explored further into soil policy, I figured that there is soil policy in Europe but not much around this part of the world I live in.

I was aware of many things Srinivasu shared during his talk to the class. He works with farmers and to a great deal it reflected his perspective on soil. His perspective was ” what does soil mean to farmers”. And come to think of it, what will we do if the soil that is the fundamental requirement for food production is damaged in an irrevocable manner? I know, there is nothing irrevocable about the ecosystems. But still there could be a period when soil becomes so damaged (I am consciously not using unfertile) that we may have issues getting food to feed our population.

The points Srinivasu was sharing were about how organic farming is a must going forward as chemical farming that pulled this nation out of food scarcity no more can allow the soil to live. 95% of requirement of plant is made up of CO2, air and water. The chemical substitutes for macro-nutrients (N, P, K) provided by chemical farming makes up 3-4% of nutrient requirement of plant. The remaining 1% of nutrient required are micro-nutrients which were made available to plant by the ecosystem of microbes and other activities on the soil. Introduction and application of chemical fertilizers (N,P,K) in a unbridled manner on the field will kill the ecosystem that makes that 1% of micronutrient available. This 1% is responsible for the plant’s ability to hold it fruit or let it fall off early due to lack of strength. This adds clarity to my dissertation pursuit on what could sustainable farming do to soil. Not just to the farmer’s income but to long term upkeep of his fundamental resource for farming – land.

But one question most of us who are passionate about environmental conservation and sustainable living cannot answer- what will be the cost to a small or marginal farmer to move from chemical to organic/sustainable farming? How long before he breaks even? Are there policy provisions to help and facilitate a farmer to maintain his soil health. We have heavy subsidies on chemical fertilizers, but there is no such provision for farmyard manure, vermicompost and other such traditional source of nutrients. I shall try and address questions of organic farming in my dissertation, hope I could also look at soil health properly as it makes an integral part of the sustainable farming practice.

 

Intial thoughts- Environemental goods and Market Based Environmental Policies

Market Based Environmental Policies , can they really work a solution to the environemtal crisis we face today? I have been trying to understand this for a while now. There are two concepts that address this matter  and they can be associated with two economist. One of the olden times A.C. Pigou and other of these times Ronald Coase. The problem of environment is not something they tried to address but the negative externality of any economic transaction. most times the negative externality of any economic transaction was borne by the environment. So their theories can largely be applied to addressing problems that are related to pollution/ exploitation of environment. 

While Pigou lived in the 19th and 20th century, Coase lived in the 20th and 21st century. Pigou tried to address the issue of environmental pollution by suggesting taxation. Later this evolved into the idea of regulating the industries that pollute. But taxation is tricky, as one may not know the actual cost of the polluting activity. Regulation may be technology specific regulation , although this means reduced bandwidth from the state to monitor , this will be a disincentive for innovations on less polluting technologies. The other type of regulations is to do with respect to specifying the quality/ quantity of pollution produced. This increases and facilitates innovation whereas costs high on monitoring of the industries. 

Ronald Coase in 1960 in a paper suggested to reduce negative externality what was needed was not taxation or regulation but property rights.  Property rights that are –  well defined ( of which object, what rights does the right provide), divisible ( are the rights separate and tradable) and defendable (enforceable , recognized by norms or customs of community or government). He got a nobel prize for this particular thought. It did do good in resolving many disputes.

My reason to look at these two regimes of addressing negative externalities is to understand what are the present form of -pollution control boards and environmental clearances processes following. The regime as in India is that of regulation – more Pigouvian as we have not ( and in some cases, it is not easy) to ascertain property rights to certain geographical entities like rivers, lakes etc. Why is Coase’s approach not practices in India – it could be because of the lack of establishing of property rights or inability to allocate rights. 

The other aspect with respect to Coase’s application to environmental goods, internationally, carbon trading is a perfect implementation of it. But can we trade carbon? Does environement work in the ways economist perceive it. Is it so simplistic that I pollute in America and ask some other entity in another nation to do forestration on my behalf. Will it work? Will America will also get to exchange “pure air” generated in that country where forestration is done “ in lue of” that industry in America? 

One needs to explore this further….