HUMANITY never needed a global social contract
more than it does today. With the nations of the world
jointly facing a global ecological crisis but sharply
divided in economic terms, there never was a greater
need for humanity to live as one. The forthcoming
United Nations Conference on Environment and
Development (UNCED) could have provided us with
precisely such an opportunity.
No citizen on earth wants his or her environment to
be polluted and destroyed. But different economic
conditions can force different environmental objectives and approaches on different nations and communities. While the rich and well-fed are more interested
in the environment because they want to secure their
future, the poor, caught in a daily struggle to survive,
are interested in the environment because they want to
secure their present.
But none of the nations has tried to present an alternative vision of how to manage this earth in a fair and
sustainable manner for all. European nations, under
greater pressure from their domestic environmental
lobbies, have been more open than the US. However,
the US insistence has finally worn them down and
they have caved in. The South did not even get off to a
start. It accepted the Northern agenda of global warming and biodiversity right from the start and simply
pressed for its traditional demands of additional aid
and technology transfer.
In all this, nobody has cared to spare a thought for
the likes of a Kalavati Devi, the proud inhabitant of the
Himalayan village of Bached. She herself may never
come to hear of UNCED. But nobody knows more than
Kalavati Devi the importance of nature. She walks
miles and miles every day to collect her daily needs of
fuel, fodder and water. With the forest line receding,
her daily struggle becomes ever more arduous.
Yet she walks lightly on this earth. She emits little,
she takes little, she destroys little, and she knows a lot
about the uses of trees in her neighbouring forest.
Nobody will mention Kalavati Devi at the conference. But Southern leaders will use her at every opportunity to tell the North that their nations have been
abstemious, austere, and have not contributed to the
earth's destruction as much as the world's rich, especially those living in New York and London. This will
give them the moral.strength to demand money and
4 technology in exchange for their commitments to
observe ecological discipline.
But what will they bring back for Kalavati Devi?
Everything at the conference now seems to be
falling into place. Malaysia's Mahathir has agreed to
attend the Earth Summit after making a big ftiss about
his right to decide the fate of his forests. The global
warming treaty is now ready for signature. There is
every likelihood that the biodiversity convention will
be ready too. The Global Environmental Facility has
been accepted as the intetim funding mechanism for
the global warming treaty. The member-nations of GEF
have agreed to broaden its decision-making mechanism. There will now be a role for developing countries while donor countriies will also get a weightage
for their contributions. The stage is now set for the
Earth Summit to become a "modest success".
What does all this have to do with Kalavati Devi?
The North is not very wrong when it describes the
South's demand for money and technology as a form of
blackmail. Of course, the ' Northern leadership says all
this only to protect its ecohomic interests and hideous
lifestyles. But isn't the Southern elite also promoting
its vested interests? It is not the elite of Delhi or
Nairobi which keeps greenhouse emissions low or contributes anything to our knowledge about the world's
biodiversity. What guarantee has the Southern leadership offered to ensure that the flow of green money
and technology that it has been so strongly demanding
will end with Kalavati Devi?
Bush, Kohl and Major may not have shown much
leadership, guardians as they are of the world's vested
interests, but Mahathir, Li, Narasimha Rao, Mugabe
and Collor, the representatives of the world's poor,
have not shown much either.
Kalavati Devi is not a beggar. She is a very proud
woman and she would have held her head high. She
would have readily accepted the need for global ecological discipline and convinced everybody how critical it is for her survival. But she would have given the rich and filthy a piece of her mind. She would have
demanded a fair and equal world and an acceptance of
her rights to her environment - from her immediate
forests to her fair share in the earth's common
resources like the oceans and the atmosphere.
She would have proudly thundered, "I don't want
anything. just give me my fair share and I will gladly
live within it like any self-respecting person." She
would have added, "Don't preach to me too much
about your laws and the need to create more of them. I
have seen the likes of many of them in the past. Just
create a system'in which I can control you when you
harm me and you can control me when I harm you" -
a deepening of participatory democracy in the use of
the world's natural resources and a democratic system
of checks and balances.
Kalavati Devi would probably have gone above the
heads of Northern presidents and prime ministers and
directly addressed herself to the young and vocal environment movement. She would have brought out the
best in the movement, inspired a new vision and
argued from the strength of her traditions and her roots
- the key strengths.of Southern societies.
Kalavati Devi would have probably not brought
home any more dollars than what our trained diplomats and bureaucrats have been as to. But she would
have inspired, used the occasion to put her concerns
forward, and won the talking point.
Our leaders, however, have failed to make the grade.
With all the rhetoric now over, they will quickly make
their peace with the Northern elite in Rio. They will
use the morality and austerity of Kalavati Devi at every
opportunity. But she will not matter to anyone in the
The ecological crisis is the result of precisely such
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