Hothouse sophistry

Published: Thursday 30 June 1994

WHILE resource- and consumption-intensive development depresses most environmentalists, their ideas are acquiring popularity in ways little suspected. When a heat wave scorched parts of north and central India recently, a leading newspaper waxed eloquent of Delhi becoming a solar cooker and protested that such a change was hardly sustainable. In nearby Rajasthan, a bureaucrat asserted that Jaipur's hottest day of the decade on May 25 had been caused by global warming, showing that the minds of Indians may be globalising even faster than their economies. The fear of global warming also led a religious congregation in the Maldives to beseech the Lord to ensure that their pretty islands would not be submerged under oceanic waves on some day of reckoning.

Whether such consciousness results from reason or merely a feel for the fashionable is rarely reflected upon. Even the best of environmentalist rationale, anchored by informed knowledge, is often grounded by light-minded notions about nature. And, though environmental problems assume far more stark and pervasive forms in the Third World, it is not the only domain of such ignorance.

Take the case of global warming itself. Even in the West where environmental research is more advanced, there is much simplistic gas about the greenhouse effect. However, its impact is felt far more solidly than the ill-informed interpretation of the Rajasthan civil servant simply because the pronouncement is made in the West.

For some time now, developing countries have been accused of a supposedly greater responsibility in causing climate change. This trend is particularly marked in the US, where several universities have instituted multi-million dollar studies to determine the quantity of methane released by Third Worldly bovines belching and breaking the wind otherwise. On the same count, these countries have been confounded by suggestions that their rice must have the right price, even though runaway consumption of fossil fuels by industrialised countries continues largely unabated. And that even the most eminent of Greens are prone to show false colours was evident in the blatantly unfair scheme of fixing countrywise estimates for the emission of the greenhouse gases, advanced some years ago by the New York-based World Resources Institute.

Regrettably, environmentalism's sophistication often allows for sophistry. Given this element as much as its universal significance, this worldview must never be allowed to escape the heat of relentless investigation and examination, no matter how uncomfortable.

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