From Ecology to Economics: The shift in human values
When considering the environmental situation we find ourselves in today, one often wonders how we could have strayed so far from our original connection to Nature, how we could have created such an unsustainable world both for humanity as well as for all the other living species the planet is home to. We may hold ourselves responsible for this crisis, but unless we understand how we got here it would be very hard to reverse some of the choices we have made as a species.

This newsletter is a review of a book written by an economist, who straddles the world of business with as much ease as that of ecology. The review has been put together for eCoexist, by Anoop Jaipurkar, who is a writer, filmmaker and farmer himself.
Author: Gurudas Nulkar 
An entrepreneur for over 18 years, Gurudas turned to academics in 2009. He teaches at the Symbiosis Centre for Management and Ecological Society, Pune. He is an Endeavour Fellow, Government of Australia and a Sir Ratan Tata Fellow at the Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore. 
He writes on topics concerning sustainability, in Marathi and has several academic papers in international journals.
‘Ecology, Equity and the Economy’ by Gurudas Nulkar is a fresh take on these often neglected aspects of development.

The writer, an economist himself, aims to encourage readers to develop an ecological approach to mitigation of environmental problems that bother us today. Climate change, sustainability, social inequality, globalization, agrarian crisis are some of the many buzzwords that he dwells upon with finesse and a uniqueness very uncommon of an economist.

While several books have been written so far on environment, ecology, restoration and degradation, somehow the role of humans in this whole change has remained ignored. Nulkar looks at human history - from prehistoric man to the modern man – through an economic perspective.
A journey of increasing greed
The book sounds more like a story of increasing human greed which starts from satisfying simple daily food needs in the hunter-gatherer stages of human society to the industrialised man of 21st century who takes nature and its finite resources for granted. Humans are already consuming 1.6 times of the natural resources available on earth, which means we are borrowing from our future generations without even informing them. If everyone lives the way an American lives then we would need 4.8 Earths!

The writer calls the hunter-gatherer stage as the “happiest period” in the course of human history because it was the time when man feared and respected nature and the rich-poor divide did not exist because there was no wealth and no ownership. Agriculture ended the nomadic stage as it led to humans settling down along the banks of rivers and eventually producing surplus food and accumulating wealth. As Nulkar says in the book: “Perhaps the biggest reward of farming was that the surplus generated freed up human time for other activities...for discovering things, inventing new stuff...and broadening his intellectual horizons.” Today, looking at the mad pace of development around us, one feels that man was at best a hunter-gatherer.

Surplus from agriculture indeed resulted in huge growth in trade and commerce, but the sad outcome of this growth story was a rapid loss of pristine forests and spoiling of natural resources like water, which continues unabated till date. The writer traces the history of Magna Carta or the Great Charter and elucidates how the newly found economic system mandated every European to get involved in some sort of economic activity.
Poverty and Market forces
Nulkar says the roots of poverty in India are to be found in mercantilism and colonization that happened during the age of renaissance (between 14th and 17th century). In the race to outgrow each other, the European colonialists plundered wealth and natural resources from Africa, Americas and Asia. The colonists were also responsible for creating large scale inequality in the colonies they ruled by employing the local people in extraction and gathering of resources. Bonded labour and slavery were rampant within the colonies. The riches gathered by the Europeans by way of colonization provided funding for industrial revolution in the late 18th century.

The book gives a sneak peek into the works and thoughts of epoch making economists like Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, Thomas Malthus, Karl Marx and many more. Nulkar narrates how growth of capitalism led to the exploitation of poor or rather creation of the rich-poor divide. Thinkers like Malthus tried hard to impress upon the rulers the perils of population explosion and its direct impact on environmental degradation. Marx was vary of unchecked exploitation of natural resources using cheap labour to fill the coffers of the rich and influential.

As it stands today, the success of a well-oiled economic system rests on consumer sovereignty and not on labor or input potential. Consumer has become the king and the determiner of market and eventually state policy decisions. This book will compel readers to analyse if the consumer is really wise enough to occupy the king’s throne.
War and the Natural Environment
The book traces the genesis of two world wars and the underlying economics that shaped, or rather distorted, the natural history of the world. For example, India and Bangladesh lost thousands of acres of Sal and Teak wood forests to help England build strong ships for its Royal Navy. The industrial revolution received an impetus from wars that required new weapons, technology, energy, iron, tin, etc. This was made possible by way of exploitation of natural resources. Post World War I, people in the west indulged in affluence and those who could not afford the comfort and entertainment offered by a hedonistic lifestyle, craved for it, thus resulting in more inequality.
The writer rues the fact that there has been very little research on the environmental impacts of wars. He emphasises that Europe lost its rich biodiversity to fuel wars and consumerism. To quote from the book: “In the first world war over a hundred thousand tons of toxic gases were used. Soldiers wore gas masks, but the other life forms suffered...Many of these toxins are persistent organic pollutants...and they show up in human food chains.” No other book in recent times has dived deep into such vital but neglected aspects of wars.
Measuring progress
Gross domestic product (GDP) is unfortunately the sole measurement of a nation’s development today. The writer tells us why and how GDP assumed the importance that it has gained in modern economics and the obsession of today’s governments with GDP-related growth. Money or currency does not have an intrinsic value of its own, but it is treated as supreme. Therefore, depletion of natural resources and pollution of renewable resources are inevitable. The writer enumerates problems associated with GDP as the sole measure of development and its impact on environment and biodiversity, human health, equality and agriculture.

Another important section deals with our water footprint, which is often ignored when we talk of water conservation or judicious use of water. Water footprint accounts for the water consumed within the entire lifecycle of the product. The writer has taken the example of a cola drink to draw home the point that invisible water use is hardly taken into consideration when computing its overall usage per capita per day.

In the penultimate chapter, Nulkar criticises free market economists for falsely believing that market forces and government intervention can overcome problems associated with resource overuse, pollution and distributional inequality. He has quoted top notched economists like Adam Smith, Stuart Mill and Karl Marx to emphasise on true sustainability and tell how unchecked development is depriving our future generations of their share of happiness and well being.

In conclusion, the writer puts up the known definition of sustainable development and also suggests what could possibly replace this unjust economic system and what should be the objectives of this new system. However, to bring about a change he puts the onus on society. In a subtle way, Nulkar nudges humanity to develop a rational control over its greed, its affinity for affluence and comfort.

To quote Nulkar: “Political patronage is critical for sustainable development, but not sufficient. It must be supported by ethical behaviour and upholding values in society.
The book is also now available in Marathi
अनर्थशास्त्र , मनोविकास प्रकाशन, पुणे 
Buy the book here
Available at the following locations:
1. Ecological Society, B1 Jayanti Apartments, Senapati Bapat Rd,Next to Ratna Hospital, Pune.
2. Gurudas Nulkar, 893 Sadashiv Peth, near nagnath par, Pune
3. Oikos office, Siddharth Towers, Opposite Karishma Soc, Kothrud, Pune
4. Jeevidha, 1303 Subhashnagar, Ground floor, Opp Bajirao Post office, Shukrawar Peth ,Pune.
Buy Online on Amazon
Contact the author
Gurudas Nulkar: [email protected], 9822034579
Anoop Jaipurkar: [email protected]
The Croak is a weekly environmental newsletter put out by the eCoexist team. It is the voice of the environment on its last legs, the final croak that can either be a plea for attention or a call of triumph as the frogs jump out of the well of ignorance and denial. Satirical, urgent and wise the newsletter brings to your attention, topics of global environmental relevance as well as emerging encouraging alternatives. Put together by a team of passionate Nature lovers, The Croak hopes to look at the environmental crisis in its face. It is a tool to reconnect readers to Nature, through questioning and self reflection. To understand the outer environment as a reflection of our own inner state, individually and as a species. And to take responsibility for enabling change.
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