No Prophet of Doom

Book: The Politics of Climate change and the Global Crisis
 Mortgaging Our Future
Author: Praful Bidwai
Publisher: Orient BlackSwan
Pages: 367
Price: Rs.750 (hardback)
Year: 2012

Hartman D Souza Cavorem Quepem Goa

If you mention Praful Bidwai’s name to former Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh (who often features prominently as an active agent of industrial growth over forests), or to a certain high-profile NGO, you’ll have both running for their antacid tablets. Such pills could also benefit those in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), their lobbyist chums, and their scientists and functionaries who have been hoo-hah-ing that the nuclear plants in Jaitapur and Koodankulam are totally safe and that Fukushima was not, strictly speaking, ‘dangerous’. Although, given Bidwai’s chillies that take nuclear energy apart, something far stronger than Gelusil is recommended.

It would take a few months of concentrated study to really get one’s head around this book. So wide is the scope, so meticulous, rigorous and passionate Bidwai’s scholarship, it will be an important signpost
for anyone genuinely interested in further unpacking the complex geopolitical issues thrown up by the term, ‘climate change’.

They could be scientists, sociologists, planners, economists and NGOs. Or just those agitated over those who lead us in New Delhi looting the earth and its resources —young, feisty men and women now primed to forge green alliances to explore new paradigms surrounding labour, wealth, capital and industry, or perhaps even furthering the notion of ‘de-growth’: (http://www.web.ca/~bthomson/degrowth/degrowth_history.pdf; http://www.inclusivedemocracy.org/journal/vol3/vol3_no1_Takis_degrowth.html)

Bidwai is no prophet of doom, which is why he must also be read by visionary industrialists willing to phase out intrinsically destructive businesses and (ad)venture into renewable energies, or those politicians willing to come out of their ancestral moulds. Given that we are in a mess largely because of them, it’s certainly got something for the bureaucrats and their ministers, advisers, pundits and PR managers, not to forget the various political parties who purport to make our policies — all of whom trumpet the virtues of pragmatism and high growth rates in the same breath, succumbing to the facetiousness that brought us to this brink of disaster in the first place.

Isn’t it sad, then, that the speedy creation of individual wealth in this country in recent years, and all the reprehensible measures taken to ensure this, may figure as one of the great ‘success stories’ of this century, with Indian industrialists intent on ‘ruling’ the world, now making the white boys do what the white boys once did to them?

I write about this book because there are organic links. I live on a natural farm in the lower foothills of the Western Ghats as they course through the eastern borders of Goa, and furrow brow with the rest of the workers, wondering why, as if we were in Delhi, we need thick blankets in January. Why this sudden dew as thick as a mild shower in early April that plays hell with the fruit flowers? Why trees that ought to have dropped their leaves have not, and why the laburnum flowers, like bunches of bright yellow grapes, haven’t made a first appearance yet?

Why, even in mid-April, the nights and early mornings out are chilly enough for a thick folded double bedspread, only to bring out a sun that, as in in Nagpur, progressively dries whatever moistness remains in the shade by 8.30 in the morning? Why, the Curca that runs through the farm, a tributary of the lovely Kushawati, is a good foot lower than it was at this time last year? Or, why, Paikeachi Zor, a sacred adivasi spring under threat from a cluster of illegal mines made legal through sinister machinations, is a mere trickle compared to previous years?

But, then, ‘what to do?’ as they say somewhat fatalistically in Goa.

Bidwai can expend himself writing a landmark tome, others will dutifully review it, and still others will read it and grow angry. But this is the real world, predicated by those preaching more of the same.

There’s the new BJP government in Goa — oblivious to the Madhav Gadgil-chaired report on the sorry state of the Western Ghats, consciously ignorant of the fact that the Shah Commission inquiry on illegal mining is still pending. The BJP regime is now bending over backwards with great haste and efficiency to appease Goa’s mining barons for bringing them to power, dutifully endorsing the ‘legal’ rights of these few high-caste families.

“Mining is the backbone of the Goan economy” is the happy jingle they sing as Goa’s forests and water are turned into orphans of the universe. So how are they different from the corrupt Congress regime backed by the mining mafia which was ousted? The news is not good at all. (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/goa/Work-order-for-phase-1-of-mi...)

In 1987, Masanobu Fukuoka, the father of the real green revolution, warned us that agriculture was approaching a limit of no return. “When the land perishes, willing or not, the defeated farmers will have no choice but to become the pawns of agribusiness. Food production will have to be carried out as part of a broader strategy.”

Daring to be explicit, he wrote: “Control over America’s seeds today lies squarely in the hands of five oil companies. Working hand in hand with political and economic interests, the oil companies have moved into bio-industry and begun to take control of agriculture. The seed war started long before this.

The moment America’s oil companies consolidate their control over the seeds of cereal grains such as rice and corn and over superior lines of livestock, America’s farmers will be done for. The truth is that the hands of the oil companies have already stretched out over the entire world...”.

Fast forward to India 2012. And you instinctively know there is reason enough to study Bidwai’s book, and halt those destroying this Earth and pillaging its resources.

Excerpts: ‘Even before Fukushima, the scenario was dismal’

… The history of nuclear power is littered with untenable claims, rosy projections, and false promises. One such claim is that the nuclear power is manageable and reasonably safe, or can be made safe. The credibility of this claim has eroded with each accident and each revelation of unsafe practises prevalent in the nuclear industry. It took a bad knock with Chernobyl in 1986. And now, the Fukushima disaster in Japan which started on March 11, 2011 has blown a huge hole through the claim, and highlighted the inherent hazards of nuclear power, including its potential for catastrophic accidents such as core meltdowns.

In many ways, Fukushima is the world nuclear industry’s worst-ever accident. The circumstances that made the disaster possible—including appallingly lax and
collusive regulation of nuclear activities for safety, industry malpractices and systemic deception, and concealment of facts material to public safety—deepened the credibility crisis. Fukushima may turn out to be the last chapter in the history of the world’s nuclear industry.

Yet, even before Fukushima, the world nuclear scenario was dismal. The global nuclear industry has been in decline relative to other energy sources for more than two decades. On April 1, 2011, there were 437 operating nuclear reactors in the world — seven fewer than in 2002, the historic peak. Since 2002, 25 units were started up, but 32 were disconnected from the grid, including six units at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan… 

Finally, India’s record in respect of nuclear safety is deeply unsatisfactory, with numerous accidents and a large number of cases of exposure of occupational workers to radiation doses well in excess of the officially stipulated permissible limits, at least 350 of which were documented from India’s first nuclear station at Tarapur…

In India, the operator, planner, licensor builder and manager of all nuclear projects are all subsidiaries or divisions of a single agency, the government’s DAE. The AERB, in charge of safety in all civilian installations, reports to the Atomic Energy Commission chairman, who is also DAE secretary. It is dependent on the DAE for its budget, personnel and equipment...

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: MAY 2012