I have been teaching in MA Development  program of Azim Premji University since 2010.  I am also involved with conducting short trainings for people working in the development sector from the village to the state level for last 20 years. It is mainly in that context that I am commenting  on Bharat Dogra’s three books published in 2019 : Book 1 : Planet in Peril ,  Book 2 : Protecting Earth for Children , Book 3: Earth Without Borders . I would  like to mention that I along with many others involved in the development sector have read and used materials produced by Bharat Dogra since 1990 . And in this brief review of these three books I will try to highlight why we have done and continue to do so. While Book 1 and Book 2 talk mostly about the crisis , Book 3 concentrates on possible Solutions

The rationale of these books can be understood by picking some quotes from them.

Book 2 Page 26 : According to Global Warming of 1.5 degree Report of the IPCC released in October 2018, carbon dioxide emissions will have to be reduced by 45% by 2030 from 2010 levels and reach net zero by 2050. As compared to such goals, look at the reality that more than 1600 new coal plants are due to start generation in the next few decades

Book 1 Page 77: The Global Environment Outlook Report of United Nations Environmental Programme ( UNEP) has stated “ A sense of urgency is lacking. Internationally and nationally , the funds and political will are insufficient to halt further environment degradation and to address the most pressing environmental issues even though technology and knowledge are available to do so. — The gap between what has been done this far and what is realistically needed is widening”

Book 2 Page 27-28 : Stockholm Peace Research Institute ( SIPRI) yearbook 2018 “Global security has deteriorated markedly in the past decade” . Then Dogra quotes from this report — 65 million displaced people, world military spending of $1739 billion in 2017, nine states possessing 14,665 nuclear weapons, weapon treaties expiring and breaking down recently.

The three books  quote large number of sources , giving analysis and data , showing that the world crisis has worsened in the last two decades in spite of rising concerns, agreements, some small successes. This is important as many of our students  often ask “Is the situation really so bad?” Or they have no single source where they can find a panoramic view of all the major crisis and the sources where they can go to find authentic reports and data.

Here is a list all the crisis the three books talk about : Climate , all the other Planetary Boundaries , lot on Biodiversity and species extinction  ( sixth mass extinction) , melting of arctic ice ,  the idea of Tipping Points ,  nuclear weapons, other weapons of mass destruction ( WMD), chemical weapons and pollution , biological weapons, , LAWS or lethal autonomous weapons ( robot or AI weapons);  chemical agriculture ; extinction of pollinators;  meat industry ; degradation of forests ; wildfires ; hazards of GM crops; genetically modified mosquitoes; overfishing .

This is extremely important as most discussions on world crisis today concentrate on climate and environment and omit the issue of weapons. It is to the author’s credit that throughout these three books he has kept these two ,Climate –Environment  and  Weapons of Mass Destruction of all sorts , as twin hazards to be dealt with together and also shown their connections.

To continue the list :  infectious diseases ( Book 1 page 26 : World Health Report 1996: we stand on the brink of global crisis in infectious diseases. No country is safe from them) . Remember this report is of 1996 !! ;  massively rising  inequality, injustices , and these in turn leading to increased violence ;  rising youth depression – alcohol consumption-suicides ; breakdown in social relations;  increase in daily violence –specially against women and children ; violent porn ; use of mobiles ;  failure of Nation States and United Nations ; hazards of geo-engineering and other technocratic solutions; inter River linking ; the worsening status of majority of workers in India of which the author has provided an exhaustive list ( Book 2 page 107-112).

On Book 2 page 106 , he has one page of quotations from HDR 2006-07 showing the dangers of “development” work in Himalayas and its possible effects on the whole of Indian subcontinent. It is good to remind ourselves that recent disasters like Chamoli have been anticipated many years back by those who  have been studying such things and this is also true for the global corona pandemic .

The important point is that the current world civilization ( for which I use the term Industrialism with my students ) crisis today is total and encompasses  all aspects of human life — Ecological, Technological, Economic, Political, Socio-Cultural , and the central Value System ; and that these spheres are inextricably interlinked. And the author touches upon all of these spheres as we can see from the list of crisis given above .

The question is what do we do ? And the author has provided some possibilities and frameworks in all three books. Some are his own , some from various sources .

It is worth mentioning some of  the different sources which the author has cited apart from the ones given in the beginning of this essay : World Resources Report ; World Scientists Warning in 1992  and in 2017; Edward Goldsmith ( MIT ) “Imperiled Planet; Edward Wilson on species extinction ; Johan Rostrom and Stockholm Resilience Centre; Peter Singer on war ; Mayan Indigenous people’s ethics; Chief Seattle letter ; Francis Bacon’s and Engels’  opposite views on Man and Nature ; Foster & Meadows on Net Photosynthetic Product ( NPP) ; Salim Ali on community and wildlife conservation ; James Hansen of NASA ; UN Secretary General Guiterras; Greta Thunberg ; Wendel Berry on agriculture vs industry; and Gandhi –the Talisman and true economics .  This is not an exhaustive list of all the sources cited .  I was pleased to find the author quoting Sailendra Ghosh ( Book 1 page 185) whose papers written in 1980s I find to be very perceptive and use them in my course.

I will mention only some of the ideas and stories the author presents as possible ways to tackle the crisis. As I mentioned before , Book 3 is mostly about this.

  • 12 point “World Plan to reduce GHG emissions adequately while meeting basic needs of all and ensuring disarmament” . This is in Book 2 Page 150-152 and in Book 3 Page 45-47.
  • A program on agriculture by Sustainable Agriculture , Food and Environment Alliance ( SAFE) in Book 1 Page 207-209 and Book 3 Page 70-71. This is specially relevant when thinking about our current turmoil of farmers’ movement against the three Farm Laws.
  • Educating and Continuous Campaign for Core Universal Values : Non violence &  non dominance; accepting equality and no discrimination based on gender, religion, caste, color, nationality ; restrained material consumption ; always on the side of justice; major identity as citizen of world or planet earth. Author mentions this is no easy task in schools today but without this there is no other way .
  • World Government: The author hinted at this in Book 1 and Book 2. But this is nicely elaborated in Book 3 by four chapters with headings as Concept of world government, elections, constitutional framework , specific functions. He has presented three scenarios of thinking beyond Nation States –one in which current 200 Nation States  are done away with ,  second and third where they exist but in a very different avatar and much less powers, with some gone up to the world government and much gone down to decentralized structures of governance
  • People’s Movements : In all the three books the author talks about the coming together of various people’s movements. The ones he mentions are : peace , environment, equality , gender, justice, animal rights, democracy . The hint is that the push for real solutions are not going to come from the current Nation states which evolved in their present shape in the last 200 years to  facilitate Industrialism , and that is part of their DNA.
  • The author is superb when telling real stories of movements and alternatives . RLEK’s work with van Gujjar pastoralists in Uttarakhand ( Book 1 page 225 ) ; of specific pioneering farmers  ( Book2 page 170 onwards)  associated with Sahabhagi Vikas Abhiyan (SVA) in Orissa,  with Gorakhpur Environment Action Group (GEAC)  in UP , with Integrated Sustainable Agriculture Programme ( INSAP)  in Vidarbha, and ABSSS working to get land for landless SC,ST workers in Bundelkhand.  The story of Mangal Singh and his turbine ( Book 2 page 179 – 182) . The successful saving of forests in Dec 1977 in Henwalghati region of Tehri Garhwal by determined Gandhians as continuation of chipko movement started in 1973. Such stories are extremely important for young people as otherwise formal courses and mass media is full of things which are so discouraging or is just an invitation to join the “consumption and instant gratification” festival.

There is obviously a lot of repetition between these three books, which is not necessarily always a drawback. But often the same statements have been repeated several  times in the same book. Or the same topic /subject appears several times in the same book in separated chapters making it a little inconvenient to read. The chapter headings are quite good. But a literature, sources list at the end would have been very nice. Overall these books should be very useful and inspirational for students, current and wanting to be development practitioners and activists.

Sujit Sinha , ex Faculty , Azim Premji University , Bangalore


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