Can there be a long-term solution to Ecological Crisis?

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Photo by gideon_wright

In the backdrop of the 18th G20 Heads of State and Government summit to be held in New Delhi on 9th-10th September 2023, it becomes imperative to talk about India’s commitment to the environment conservation to preserve biodiversity, along with sustainable growth of the economy. As a part of an Environment and Climate Sustainability Working Group (ECSWG) under G20, India aims to initiate and continue discussions for solutions and develop an overarching collaborative framework to address the challenges due to the climate crisis, we are facing today, effectively. The need of the hour, hence is to reopen the rationality behind ecological problems. It is necessary to understand different kinds and levels of transaction between human beings and nature that is based upon a continuous movement along experiences, reflection, and responsible action on the part of the human as ethical agent.

Marx introduced the concept of “social metabolism”, where human by his own action regulates, control and manipulates the metabolism relation between human and nature. On societal diagnosis, he discovered the irreparable rift in the interdependent process of social metabolism, the metabolism prescribed by the natural laws of life. This rift he labelled as ‘metabolism rift’. He argued that destructive side of modern techniques of production in agriculture has disturbed the circulation of matter between the human and soil thereby producing an irreversible loss. He describes the metabolism as the process of material exchange among the human and nature, which takes place in every form of production, not at an individual level.

Not only does irresponsible consumption resulted in disturbed the social, political and religious way of life, it also produced number of mechanisms which are ecologically destructive. as stated by Gandhi, “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs but no every man’s greed.” The wider gap was built between the huge accumulation of capital on the one hand and the capacity of earth and the slower cycle of ecosystem on the other. Deeper penetration of capital in the all modes of life created more unnecessary needs and evaluation of things at a market value. The rationality of the individual capitalist surpasses the rationality of the whole system in order to produce goods at a large scale, thereby overlooking the concerns of humans or the natural needs.

In order to make his theory more real, Marx showed its implication in the social life, he argued that the environmental crisis is not the crisis of the nature but the crisis of the society.  Social and ecological problems are inter-linked in the sense that the cause for the rift in both is due to those historical processes that led to capitalism to flourish. The historical process that caused the rift between the rich and the poor is the same process that caused the rift between the human and nature. Though society and nature are seen as separate entity from the capitalist eye yet they actually cannot be separated. They are dialectically interconnected.

The organism interacts with its environment simultaneously the environment acts back on the organism, this leads to the change in both. The environment is not the passive recipient of our actions but plays an active role in making an organism what it is. Environment niche does not simply pre-exist for organism to come and distort them at their will, they have a purpose of their own. The problems that we face today is because human activity has alienated all creature from their environment thereby causing the distress.

While focusing on policy measures and mitigation is important, it is imperative to focus on individuals and communities to bring about concrete and measurable change in their behaviors. The need of the hour is to ensure the children of today, who are inheritor of Mother Earth; to be at the focal point of our discussion on Sustainability. The children, are naturally observant of what surround them, that is environment. It is time to make them aware of what is an environmentally-conscious human being from the very childhood itself. The concept of sustainability needs to address enrichment, if we globally, want to achieve the Paris agreement target of keeping the earth’s temperature below 1.5 degree Celsius of pre-industrialized age.

PM Modi’s Lifestyle for the Environment (LiFE) initiative, is worth a mention here because the core value of this initiative is interdependence or interface between human and nature. It calls upon individuals and communities to drive and build it as an international mass movement towards mindful and deliberate utilization, instead of mindless and destructive consumption to protect and preserve the environment. India’s G20 presidency will share, collaborate, and build on the sense of trusteeship among the member-countries to build a sustainable future for all along the lines of LiFE.

Dr Shama, Centre for Philosophy, JNU, New Delhi.

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