Calcutta Notebook


The disastrous impacts of global warming are beginning to appear live and clear especially in the frequent occurrence of extreme weather events. The main culprit is carbon emissions. But controlling this is difficult because the leaders fail to recognise the inherent conflict between unending growth and environment. The source of carbon emissions is ever increasing production and consumption of goods and services. Travelling in air-conditioned car and shopping in air-conditioned mall adds to consumption of energy and to carbon emissions. People want to reduce carbon emissions while increasing the rates of growth. This is like pouring oil in fire and simultaneously trying to quench the smoke.

Belief is that this difficult task can be accomplished by the use of clean technologies just as an improved oven uses less fuel and emits less smoke. But the total carbon dioxide emitted will increase if four dishes are cooked on the improved oven instead of two dishes on the conventional oven. The use of clean technologies may not lead to a reduction in emissions. California provided special incentives to people to use fuel-efficient hybrid cars. The energy dissipated during application of brake is captured and stored in a battery in these cars. That gives better fuel average. But this did not lead to a reduction in fuel consumption. Instead, people undertook more- and longer journeys. One can see this happening in India every day. Rich families use copper coated fuel-efficient cooking vessels. They also consume more energy per person. Generally, a person who is capable of using expensive clean technologies also has higher consumption.

There is general belief that one can reduce carbon emissions by the use of clean technologies. Such is unlikely to take place. Instead the clean technologies are likely to add to consumption and put more strain on the already stretched earth.

The larger problem of sustainable development is also not solved by the use of clean technologies. AIDS, for example, has been created due to uncontrolled sex. Ground water level is depleting across the country because of excessive withdrawal for the cultivation of water-hungry crops like grapes and chilies. Excessive consumption of meat by the rich is depriving the poor of even staple food grains, causing malnutrition and leading to spread of TB. Wars are being launched to capture the natural resources in faraway lands and this is fuelling the growth of terrorism. Use of genetically modified crops is suspected to increase the incidence of diseases such as blight. These myriad problems will continue to increase even if one manages to control carbon emissions. Ultimately humankind will have to reduce its consumption to levels that are supported by the earth.

Mankind is trying to increase consumption under the impression that this is the route to happiness. This is the real source of problems like carbon emissions, terrorism and depletion of groundwater. These problems will not be solved even if political leaders somehow manage to control carbon emissions.

Many civilisations have become extinct in human history. Ancient Egypt, Indus Valley, Iraq, Greece and Rome have all died. Empires of Mongols, Portugal, Spain and Britain have imploded in the last six hundred years. This has happened because these people could not present a definition of sustainable growth. For example, Rome indulged in large scale loot of other countries. Rome became internally weak from such over-consumption and could not protect itself from the attacks by Berbers. The challenge before man is to secure happiness without unending increase in consumption. The control of carbon emissions alone will not deliver.

The beginning has to be made by a combined effort of economists and psychologists. 'Happiness' will have to be connected with subconscious desires instead of consumption. Every person must be encouraged to discover his subconscious desires. If the subconscious desire is of eating ice-cream then he should not be encouraged to consume more bananas. A cultural policy of controlling consumption will have to be made. School children will have to be taught that happiness comes from discovering one's inner self rather than from mindless increase of consumption. Restrictions will have to be placed on advertisements that implant new desires in the minds of innocent people. King Yayati sought the youth of his son so that he could fulfil his sexual desires. But he found no happiness even then. He then realised that happiness comes from within rather than without. This is the message that needs to be spread. Then consumption will reduce and all the associated problems along with.

People face today the danger of extinction. But it is unfortunate that instead of quenching the desire of unending consumption, the talk is only of controlling carbon emissions-that too with increase in consumption. This will not do.

Vol. 51, No. 39, Mar 31 - Apr 6, 2019