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Future in the past

FUTURE OF PROGRESS: REFLECTIONS ON ENVIRONMENT AND DEVELOPMENT Edited by Vandana Shiva, Helena Norberg-Hodge, Edward Goldsmith and Martin Khor Publisher: Natraj Publishers Price: Not Stated

By Rahul
Published: Wednesday 15 February 1995

-- (Credit: Rustam Vania)LADAKHI tribals have started dreaming of going blonde, having blue eyes, owning 2 shiny cars and wearing skin-hugging jeans! There is a worrisome increase in the incidence of violence between Buddhists and Muslims, as well as within the communities themselves.

The sole culprit, according to "Deep ecologist" Helena Norberg-Hodge, is the modern, industry based consumerist economy. Introduction of this economy to Laddakh has led to the collapse of its native subsistence-based economy and social structure. Norberg-Hodge laments that these people have lost their self-esteem and have become insecure and greedy.

Environmental degradation and human misery has led "Deep" ecologists to call for going back to pre-industrial lifestyles and social formations and reject the homo-centric view of the biosphere. The book is a collection of articles generated during an international conference of Deep ecologists, held in Sweden under the aegis of the International Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC).

Arguing its case in the introduction to the tome, the ISEC says that economists of the industrial regime, frenetically pursuing "growth", ignore social and environmental costs. This gives rise to squandering of natural resources, urbanisation, ungoverned population growth, centralised decision making, cultural breakdown and ethnic strife. Laddakh today, as portrayed by Norberg-Hodge, may be seen as a perfect example of that nemesis.
Social justice Deep ecologists also deprecate plagiarisation of the biological products of poorer countries by the biotechnological and pharmaceutical industries of developed countries, and the unequal trade agreements between the developed and developing worlds under the new Intellectual Property Rights regime. Some authors have argued in favour of incorporating ecological issues within movements for social justice.

The situation, as painted in the book, is alarmingly pathetic. The ISEC proposes a way out: living in small communities, using only locally available resources sustainably, and rejecting outright the media-propped international consumerist culture.

But the ISEC's argument looses its way in the woods, when it says that this has to be achieved through public campaigning as well as grassroots activities. Unfortunately, while there has been a boom in campaigning, grassroots organisations seem to be withering away. The "campaigners" jet in and out of international conference venues, enjoying 5-star luxuries. Meanwhile, the women of Reni, whom Vandana Shiva glorifies for having started the Chipko movement, are today in a sorry plight. The middle-class leaders are busy "campaigning" instead of working in the field, and the music of the hills have been submerged under the cacophony of the sawing off of entire forests.

The ISEC should have cut down the volume of the book. If they intended a wider circulation, they should have produced a slimmer volume, instead of wasting so much paper, and hence, wood.

---Rahul is an activist working among tribals in Madhya Pradesh.

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