Millennial blunder

Ecology cannot be a function of political economy

Published: Sunday 07 June 2015

-- the Millennium Ecology Assessment (mea), an outcome of an exercise undertaken by a global think tank under the United Nations (un), is out with fanfare. It is a scientific consensus report outlining the relationships of ecosystems all over the globe and their service capacity with human activity. We take it seriously. Henceforth, its findings will be used in various multilateral negotiations to 'save the Earth'.

mea's most significant revelation is that all ecosystems have suffered in the hands of humans more in the last fifty years than any period in history. What's telling is that ecosystem services are almost beyond repair even as the commercial exploitation of nature has gone up sky high. This typifies the character of dominant political economy today. Significant increases in food production have not reduced poverty and hunger. In fact, communities have suffered increased pauperisation. In the last 50 years, the dominant political economy has forcibly snatched wealth, at times violently, from large sections of people, and then negotiated how much to give back as 'aid'. The inherent imperative of Capital -- devoid of ecological value -- forces a cycle that must first create a problem, then drop a few million out of the safety net as part of the solution.

The super-bureaucracy of the un is busy creating ad-hoc 'safety valves' to contain the problem. mea rightly proclaims that the un 's millennium development goals (mdg) will not be achieved if the status quo of current production systems remains: sanitation goals in all regions will trail drinking water targets, also defeating health targets. It is a pity sanitation has still not been turned into a large-scale 'business model'! The goal of 'sustainable access to water' sounds hollow when one finds out that a mere 2 per cent of all government spending in developing countries is on low cost water and sanitation projects. Duplicity abounds in such systems. On a larger scale, the mdg of global partnership for development sounds like a bad joke, for the current subsidy of us$350 in the developed world remains 6 times of total development aid.

The news of rapidly degrading ecosystems is sure to attract a section of the global thinktank into a greater conservation orientation. This will be futile. The poor did not create the vicious chain between poverty and ecological damage. People do not need a dollar a day, only their rights restored. That can only happen when political economy becomes a function of ecology.

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