ONE cannot recall any movement in world history which has
gripped the imagination of the entire human race so completely
and so rapidly as the Green Movement which started nearly
twenty-five years ago. In 1972 the world’s first nationwide Green
party was founded in New Zealand. Since then, the movement
has not looked back.
We have shifted — one hopes, irrevocably — from the
mechanistic view to a holistic and ecological view
of the world.
It is a shift in human perceptions as revolutionary as that
introduced by Copernicus who taught mankind in the sixteenth
century that the earth and the other planets revolved round the
sun. For the first time in human history, there is a growing
worldwide consciousness that the earth itself is a living
organism — an enormous being of which we are parts. It has its
own metabolic needs and vital processes which need to be
respected and preserved.
The earth’s vital signs reveal a patient in declining health.
We have begun to realise our ethical obligations to be good
stewards of the planet and responsible trustees of the legacy to
The concept of sustainable development was popularised
in 1987 by the World Commission on Environment and
Development. In its report it defined the idea as “Development
that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the
ability of future generations to meet their needs”, i.e., without
stripping the natural world of resources future generations
In the zoo at Lusaka, Zambia, there is a cage where the notice
reads, ‘The world’s most dangerous animal’. Inside the cage there
is no animal but a mirror where you see yourself. Thanks to the
efforts of a number of agencies in different countries, a new
awareness has now dawned upon the most dangerous animal in
the world. He has realised the wisdom of shifting from a system
based on domination to one based on partnership.
Scientists have catalogued about 1.4 million living species
with which mankind shares the earth. Estimates vary widely as
regards the still-uncatalogued living species — biologists reckon
that about three to a hundred million other living species still
languish unnamed in ignominious darkness.
One of the early international commissions which dealt,
interalia, with the question of ecology and environment was the
Brandt Commission which had a distinguished Indian as one of its
members — Mr L.K. Jha. The First Brandt Report raised the
question — “Are we to leave our successors a scorched planet of
advancing deserts, impoverished landscapes and ailing
Mr Lester R. Brown in his thoughtful book,
The Global Economic Prospect, points out that the earth’s
principal biological systems are four — fisheries, forests, grasslands, and
croplands — and they form the foundation of the global
In addition to supplying our food, these four
systems provide virtually all the raw materials for industry
except minerals and petroleum-derived synthetics. In large
areas of the world, human claims on these systems are reaching
an unsustainable level, a point where their productivity is being
impaired. When this happens, fisheries collapse, forests
disappear, grasslands are converted into barren wastelands,
and croplands deteriorate. In a protein-conscious and protein-
hungry world, over-fishing is common every day. In poor
countries, local forests are being decimated in order to procure
firewood for cooking. In some places, firewood has become so
expensive that “what goes under the pot now costs more than
what goes inside it”. Since the tropical forest is, in the words of
Dr Myers, “the powerhouse of evolution”, several species of life
face extinction as a result of its destruction.
It has been well said that forests precede mankind; deserts
follow. The world’s ancient patrimony of tropical forests is now
eroding at the rate of forty to fifty million acres a year, and the
growing use of dung for burning deprives the soil of an important
natural fertiliser. The World Bank estimates that a five-fold increase
in the rate of forest planting is needed to cope with the expected
fuelwood demand in the year 2000.
James Speth, the President of the World Resources
Institute, said the other day, “We were saying that we are losing
the forests at an acre a second, but it is much closer to an
acre-and-a-half to a second”.
Article 48A of the Constitution of India provides that “the
State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment
and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country”. But what
causes endless anguish is the fact that laws are never respected
nor enforced in India. (For instance, the Constitution says that
casteism, untouchability and bonded labour shall be abolished,
but they flourish shamelessly even after forty-four years of the
operation of the Constitution.) A recent report of our Parliament’s
Estimates Committee has highlighted the near catastrophic
depletion of India’s forests over the last four decades. India,
according to reliable data, is losing its forests at the rate of 3.7
million acres a year. Large areas, officially designated as forest
land, “are already virtually treeless”. The actual loss of forests is
estimated to be about eight times the rate indicated by
A three-year study using satellites and aerial photography
conducted by the United Nations, warns that the environment
has deteriorated so badly that it is ‘critical’ in many of the eighty-
eight countries investigated.
There can be no doubt that the growth of world population
is one of the strongest factors distorting the future of human
society. It took mankind more than a million years to reach the
first billion. That was the world population around the year 1800.
By the year 1900, a second billion was added, and the twentieth
century has added another 3.7 billion. The present world
population is estimated at 5.7 billion. Every four days the world
population increases by one million.
Fertility falls as incomes rise, education spreads, and health
improves. Thus development is the best contraceptive. But
development itself may not be possible if the present increase in
The rich get richer, and the poor beget children which
condemns them to remain poor. More children does not mean
more workers, merely more people without work. It is not
suggested that human beings be treated like cattle and
compulsorily sterilised. But there is no alternative to voluntary
family planning without introducing an element of coercion.
The choice is really between control of population and
perpetuation of poverty.
The population of India is estimated to be 920 million
today — more than the entire populations of Africa and South
America put together. No one familiar with the conditions in
India would doubt that the hope of the people would die in
their hungry hutments unless population control is given
For the first time in human history we see a transcending concern
— the survival not just of the people but of the planet.
We have begun to take a holistic view of the very basis of our
existence. The environmental problem does not necessarily signal
our demise, it is our passport for the future. The emerging new
world vision has ushered in the Era of Responsibility. It is a holistic
view, an ecological view, seeing the world as an integrated whole
rather than a dissociated collection of parts.
Industry has a most crucial role to play in this new Era of
Responsibility. What a transformation would be effected if more
businessmen shared the view of the Chairman of Du Pont,
Mr Edgar S. Woolard who, five years ago, declared himself to be
the Company’s “Chief Environmental Officer”. He said, “Our
continued existence as a leading manufacturer requires that we
excel in environmental performance.”
Of all the statements made by Margaret Thatcher during the
years of her Prime Ministership, none has passed so decisively
into the current coin of English usage as her felicitous words: “No
generation has a freehold on this earth. All we have is a life tenancy
— with a full repairing lease”. In the words of Mr Lester Brown,
“We have not inherited this earth from our forefathers; we have
borrowed it from our children."
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