Ecological issues are not a matter of luxury, but a matter of survival

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Environmentalism of the poor

For many disadvantaged communities in developing countries, ecological issues are not a matter of luxury, but a matter of survival. In India, protests and social movements are expressing these worries.

By Sunita Narain

All over India today, protests are staged against infrastructure projects and what is generally considered “development”. […]

It would be a bit far fetched to call the Naxalite insurgency in central Indian forest regions an environmental conflict. But it does have a strong environmental dimension since the Maoist militias mostly rely on taking advantage of rural people and forest dwellers whose traditional livelihoods are under threat by what state governments and the national government plan and allow in the name of development: mining and other changes of land use.

Today, protests are happening in many places. In fact, it would be correct to say that practically all infrastructure projects and new industrial schemes are under attack from communities who fear loss of livelihoods. These communities are at the forefront of India’s environmental movement. They are its most determined activists. […]

The truth is that development projects are using local resources – minerals, water, land. But they do not provide employment to compensate for the losses suffered by the people displaced. Misconceived “progress” is destroying more livelihoods than it creates. Therefore, India is resonating with cries of people who are fighting development itself.

Where do we go from here? I believe we must listen to the protesting voices, not dismiss or stifle them in the name of anti-growth dissent or Naxalism. This can be done by strengthening the processes of democracy that ensure people have a say in development.

For instance, the Forest Rights Act demands that the village assemblies in tribal areas must give their written consent to a project before it is cleared. Public hearings held during the environmental impact assessment are meant to provide the platform for people to voice their concerns. In most cases, however, the authorities rig and undermine these processes. Public hearings and even video recordings of the events are faked. In most cases one will find that the concerns people raise are brushed aside as projects are rammed through in the name of industrial development. This must stop. […]

It is evident that the need for new and vital industrial and infrastructure projects will have to be balanced with the growing dissent against it. I believe we will learn that we cannot build against the will of our people.

In the rich nations, some – not all – people practice a different environmental ethic. They find solutions within the current economic growth model – buy organic food and fair-trade clothes, drive hybrid cars and install solar panels on their roofs. The Indian middle-class is following this model. No doubt, all mean well. But what they are doing is but a drop in the ocean.

The challenges humankind faces are much more daunting than just choosing less destructive modes of consumption. In fact, the environmental movements of the poor teach us that techno-fix solutions, of cleaning up pollution even as we continue to emit more, are not good enough.

The rich world has failed to reduce its greenhouse emissions in spite of all its investments in efficiency. Yes, cars have become more fuel efficient, but people just drive longer and have more cars. Emissions continue to grow. […]

For practical purposes, the UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol remain worthless, and the impact of climate change is most painful for the poor in developing nations.

It is obvious that our planet cannot sustain the current energy-intensive growth models. Earth’s resources are limited, and the risks that go along with energy production are enormous. […]

In India, it will be the sweetest fruit of democracy if it can provide us the opportunity to reinvent the way we develop. The fact is that growth, from now on, requires doing much more with much less. Frugality and innovation will have to be our way to growth. Our challenge is to provide the gains of development to vast numbers of people. This requires inventing growth that is both affordable and sustainable.

The only driver for change is democracy and more democracy. It is only when the most powerful nations in the world will accept the limits on their growth that the world will choose that new pathway to progress. It can be done. It must be done.

The question is if the vast numbers of urban and middle-class people in India and the world will learn this lesson quickly. We cannot afford this environmentalism of costly solutions that wants to put band-aids on what is so badly broken. We must understand that our future lies in being part of the environmentalism of the poor, as this movement will force us to seek new answers to old problems.

Sunita Narain is the director general of the Centre for Science and Environment, a non-governmental body based in Delhi. She is also the editor of the Centre’s fortnightly magazine Down to Earth.


Source: D+C 2011/09 – Focus – Narain: The survival of India’s poor depends on environmental protection – Development and Cooperation – International Journal.
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Date Visited: Wed Apr 18 2012 09:47:50 GMT+0200 (CEST)

The natural wealth with which much of tribal India is endowed is also its bane. […] The Adivasi is wedged between the state programme for development, meaning mines, dams, steel plants and roads, and a private agenda for quick money, which is currently termed ‘real estate’.

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The roots of contemporary globalization lie deeply embedded in the rise of industrialization, particularly in the United Kingdom and the subsequent world-wide spread of the British economic model through colonization. Commercial links were forged between the colonized and the colonizing power. The former were distinct territorial entities whose sovereignty had been abolished by the so-called right of conquest.This occurred in the context of the voyages of ‘discovery’. When sovereignty was regained either through decolonization or war of independence economic links survived. At that time, the bond between territoriality and sovereignty was strong in such a way that the respective sovereigns could credibly exercise sovereignty over economic activity within their territory. They were thus in a position to regulate economic activity within in a manner that impinged upon their external economic relations with other sovereign states. In this way the cohesion between sovereignty and the nation-state assured the sovereign the position of a major player in the sphere of international economic relations. There was, however, a price to be paid for this, namely, democratic accountability and responsiveness to the exigencies of social justice.

This situation changed when money (currency) acquired the ability to move on a 24-hour basis at the speed of light in relation to all other economic commodities. This was facilitated by the electronic revolution in particular. This new form of colonialism, supported by the unrelenting search for cheap labour, ushered in both the dislocation and the fragmentation of the productive activity from one centre to multiple peripheries. Network became the new operative and regulative concept guiding the production of goods. […]

Even human labour, available from the labour market, will fetch a price only if it is deemed profitable. In the final analysis, the marketability of everything means the commoditization of everything for the sake of maximum profit. If souls exist at all, even they are marketable because they can be exchanged for money and over-abundant luxury. Thus, all forms of corruption are consistent and compatible with the logic of unrestricted financial power. […]

“The issue is not whether the world’s economy is governable toward ambitious goals like promoting social justice, equality between countries and greater democratic control for the bulk of the world’s people, but whether it is governable at all.” [Hirst, P. and Thompson, G in Globalization in question]

Source: “Globalization and ubuntu” by Mogobe B. Ramose, The African Philosophy Reader, pp. 732-6 p. 750
Date visited: 8 September 2021

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You can’t keep quiet on everything. At some point, if you disagree – it’s better to say it then rather than piling it up. 

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