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.
World Environment Day 2019
This year we have experienced one of the hottest summers in Maharashtra. Climate change is not a thing of the future - it feels like it is here - at our doorstep. How did this happen? Is it merely the natural cycle of the earth going through phases of heat and cold or is it a man made phenomenon? Something we have created and something we can change? Are we evolving in our understanding and can we create worlds that are better than the one we are in today?
To observe World Environment Day, this issue of our newsletter carries an article from Durganand Balsavar. Based in Vedanthangal, Durganand is an architect, academician and co-founded Artes-Human settlements research Collaborative. Over the last three decades he has been engaged in environment, habitat planning and its socio-ecological attributes, disaster mitigation and rehabilitation of war refugees. His series of philosophic and scientific contemplations on the human condition and creative re-imaginations – have been the basis of various architectural and educational projects in India and other countries. 

Contemplating Sustainability and
the dignity of evolution

Arch. Durganand Balsavar
The term “sustainability” has a vast gamut of definitions across the planet. The ambiguity has made it difficult to address many of the challenges of contemporary society and its rapid proliferation. Environmentalists are thus calling for re-imagining the ‘sustainable-development’ paradigm of unbridled profiteering. 
In sharp contrast, the pre-industrial understanding of ‘sustainability’ was relatively simple – and probably guided by sheer survival at a very small scale. A community in the desert would collectively ensure a frugal use of resources, conscious of its dependence on the environment. Needless to say - this implied that resources were replenished faster than their consumption. In a complex technology-driven contemporary society, such a proposition today, may appear out-dated. 
The Brundtland Report along similar lines, defines “sustainable development as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Debates on the adverse impacts of climate change continue to revolve around this interpretation. 
Defining the 'environment'
Photo by Lukasz Szmigiel on Unsplash
The word “environment’ too means differently to diverse sections of society. For instance - An ancient forest-hill rich in minerals - could have spiritual significance to indigenous communities, pilgrims and believers – who would aspire to protect the geological formation at all costs. The community most probably, is oblivious to its mineral wealth. An industrialist may envision the wealth from extracting minerals and denuding the geological formation. An economist may speculate on the new enterprise of mining that would usher a million jobs and not be concerned with the ecological denudation. To an archeologist, who has found evidence of an ancient river valley civilization, the hill could be a repository of cultural memory. To the rare and diverse species inhabiting the hill, (often voiceless and insignificant - in the face of human development) the region, is their abode - for centuries. To the environmental scientists and biologists, the hill would be a precinct for ecological conservation of these rare species. 
Sustainable for whom?
Thus the three terms: sustainable, development and environment – used ad nauseam – probably call for a rethink on the basic relationship of human species and its actions on planet earth.
On another front, the challenge of ensuring every community has access to resources, food, shelter and basic needs - becomes a significant aspect of sustainability. 
  • Could we extend this philosophy to flora and fauna that have a right to exist and grow? 
  • Could we aspire for human intervention, which is a holistic, empathetic process? 
Of course, the ground reality may not be as idealistic as environmental scientists would wish for. It is tied down with vested interests, historic problems, contestations and diverse viewpoints - that are not easily resolved. Measuring adverse impacts of human intervention are complex extrapolations and fraught with complexities and contradictions. The parameters of assessment too, tend to vary from one region to another, due to many factors – including geographical and socio-cultural contexts. 
Most often, assessments of sustainability, development and ecological conservation are human centered.  Contemporary thinkers have called for a broader “ecological-centered process”. Such a process would be conscious of inter-dependence of human existence, flora and fauna, as well as physical resources and energy cycles. 
How much?
At one level it is surprising to witness collective apathy to the rapid depletion of resources, extinction of species, as well as air and water pollution (rivers and sea). Speculating some of the possible reasons - A consumerist society would inherently increase consumption – given its definition of “improving” living conditions. Any attempt to deny the acquisition of artifacts (like cell-phones, cars, clothes, shoes, fast-foods, gadgets, etc.) would be perceived as blasphemous and an infringement on individual freedom to consume. Over centuries, the ambitious race to be economic superpowers, control natural resources and territorial hegemony has been the cause of several wars and genocide. 
The primary question that M.K.Gandhi raised (despite certain inherent contradictions), eloquently articulated by Ramchandra Guha and others is “How much do each of us need to sustain ourselves?”.
In this complex context, a re-imagination of the ground reality and the diverse voices could initiate a deeper discourse involving social, cultural, economic, environmental and humane dimensions - Madhav Gadgil, Elinor Ostrom, Medha Patkar, Gaura Devi, Sundarlal Bahuguna, Baba Amte and several others.
Photo by John Gibbons on Unsplash
Building consensus
They reveal a growing realization that “development” can no longer be measured in narrow economic terms. However, it would require renewed efforts to evolve a broader consensus on viable alternatives that could mitigate the adverse impacts of climate change. 
Will such a consensus remain elusive for the moment? 
The economic incentives of mass production, since the industrial revolution - placed technology at the core of deliverance of the good life. The Industrial revolution spurred the consumerist society and large-scale production. There has been a commensurate rapid increase of population as well. Fossil fuel driven growth has been accompanied by increased air pollution, depletion of resources, rapid deforestation, extinction of species, pollution of rivers, increased garbage and plastics, global warming and a possible sea-level rise. 
On the other hand, technological innovation has also brought in new forms of connectivity, opened up access to information through the web, improved health-care and life expectancy and several other tangible improvements to human life. The contentious issue has been the complex negotiation between natural evolutionary processes and exploitative, technological, interventions of humankind. 
Environmentalists are often perceived to be against development and growth, against the use of new technologies, against economic progress. On the other hand, the “conventional economists” are focused on the need to expand Industrial and economic growth at a rapid pace by appropriating natural resources. 
A new paradigm
The diverse world-views have generated several speculations of the future; -from dooms-day scenarios; mass inter-planetary migrations to Mars; grandiose utopian visions of technological luxuries served by artificially intelligent androids and robots. 
However, the series of International Climate Change Summits indicate that it is time to engage in a meaningful discourse on the use (and mis-use) of technology and science. 
- Could this discourse re-visit the paradigms and patterns of growth and development? 
- Could we recognize the limits of mindlessly extracting from nature and respect the dynamic balance of the environment? 
- What would the human species require for its basic sustenance, even as it respects bio-diversity? 
A deeper consciousness
Raising these questions inevitably draws us into the intangible and qualitative aspects of human existence. The forays into artificial intelligence, genetic modification, artificially conjuring new species to inhabit the earth, cloning – each has new possibilities - exciting enough for the next sci-fi Hollywood blockbuster too. 
- Should we however, be concerned that the human race cannot fathom consequences of re-engineering the world (genetic modifications, etc.) ? (or)
- Is indiscriminate human activity creating significant adverse impacts to our planetary balance? 
These contemplations lead us to search for a deeper consciousness and the human aspiration to seek beyond forbidden boundaries. The discourse of human action thus needs to broaden, and include the intrinsic right of each species to co-exist with an evolutionary dignity. 
History has indicated that the human race is imbued with both qualities - profound empathy as well as unbridled greed. It could continue with its frenetic, techno-economic pursuit or consciously choose to be inclusive and humane and restore the sanctity of the environment. The tacit choice will probably shape the plasticity of an unknown future.
Contact the author: [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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