How to marry economics with ecology in human development.
The other important part of the solution is a constant and unremitting effort to lessen poverty and uplift the quality of life of the poor through an environmental-friendly path of development. We have at present many useful concepts and strategies for achieving this aim like for example, micro-credit, organic farming, appropriate technology, rural development, agro-industries, population control, capacity-building, women-empowerment. Government has to actively and consciously promote, encourage and reward all creative thinking, innovation and experimentation in these domains of development and also all new concepts and strategies for enhancing the quality of life of the poor in an environmentally benign and holistic path of growth. Education and empowerment of women and population control are perhaps two crucial factors which can bring about a substantial improvement in the quality of life of the poor people who are at the bottom of the income pyramid.
We have already briefly discussed the population problem in our earlier article. Raising population seems to be not as much of a threat to the environment as it was perceived by some environmentalist. However, every new addition to the population requires resources and energy to make him or her into a healthy educated and productive citizen of the world. And since the available resources are limited, the problem of population should not be taken lightly. The long-term solution to the problem involves two strategic measures. Among the poorer, less educated sections of humanity, the remedy lies in making them aware of the economic, social and health benefits of the small family. In the poorest sections of the farming communities, the big family has an economic advantage because it supplies free labour force. To persuade the small and poor farmer to renounce this economic advantage, he has to be provided with a credit-system and a better agricultural technology which increases his productivity and help him to earn more with less labour-force, like for example, micro-credit, small-scale mechanization, cottage industries.
For the richer and more educated section of the society, the solution lies in awakening every individual, especially the younger ones in school, to the environmental consequences of their action and provide her with the information, knowledge, incentives and also disincentive or threats, to make her behave in an ecological responsible way. However, mental education does not always lead to corresponding behaviour. For example, in a recent study conducted by National Geographic Society it is found that the citizens of richer nations, though environmentally more aware than the people of poorer nation, are less eco-friendly in their behaviour. In most of us who belong to the average humanity, behaviour and action proceeds not from mental knowledge but from more physical, vital and emotional factors like need, necessity, urgency, pleasure, threat of law, material, economic or social benefits, physical or vital attraction, emotional enthusiasm or affinity. At the higher level, as we grow inwardly, a change of consciousness brought about by a moral or spiritual awakening can lead to a lasting and enduring change in action and behaviour. In evolving sustainable strategies, we have to take into careful consideration all these factors.
For example, in environmental education factors like presenting an image or symbol of Nature pleasing to the emotion or senses, a living contact with the beauty and harmony of Nature, creating a sense of urgency of action, are as important as providing scientific knowledge of ecology. However, the physical, mental, vital, emotional and spiritual methods or strategies are not mutually exclusive. They can be pursued simultaneously but with an emphasis on one or more of them depending on the nature of the target group and the stage of evolution of the individual or the group.
Empowerment of Women is the other Key Result Area which can lead to a substantial positive impact on the environment. For Women as the Mistress of the home and the family is the creator of the psychological, social and material environment within the home and the surrounding.
An educated and empowered women, well-informed in childcare, sanitation, nutrition can bring down infant-mortality, bring up a healthy child, can keep the home and surrounding environment clean and healthy. If she is trained in a skill, she can bring additional income to the family. And finally when a young or would-be mother is educated on the deeper psychological and spiritual dimensions of motherhood and child development she can create individuals and leader who can transform the world. So an enlightened women is a great force for transforming the environment and the world.
One of the interesting new developments in the contemporary economic scene is the emerging trend in business towards “Corporate Social Responsibility” and a new found interest in the problem of poverty. Recently, a distinguished business thinker, C.K. Prahlad had proposed a marker-oriented blue-print for fighting poverty with profit. Entry of big business into the arena poverty eradication has its advantages as well as danger. The advantage is that it will bring the formidable financial, technological and managerial resources and capabilities of business into our battle against poverty. The danger is that the predominant profit-orientation may lead to an open or subtle exploitation of the poor for the commercial interests of the company and a neglect of the human, environmental and cultural dimensions of the problem.
Here comes the crucial role of NGOs who are working in this domain. These NGOs have to renounce their unduly suspicious and hostile attitude towards big business. They should not hold on to the attitude that all big business is evil and bent on exploiting the poor and destroying the environment. There are some positive values emerging in the new corporate environment like for example business ethics and corporate social responsibility. So when business organizations show a genuine and sincere commitment for the upliftment of the poor, even if it is for commercial motives, they have to be welcomed by NGOs as co-partners in the battle against poverty.
Here the role of NGO is three fold: first is to keep a vigilant and holistic eye on all the activities of business and their consequences; second is to ensure that poor people are benefited and not exploited and the human, environmental and cultural dimensions are not ignored; and the third function is to act as coordinating intermediaries between business and the poor, helping to channelise the resources and expertise of business to the poor. This may be easy to say but difficult to do. However, when there is a sincere commitment to the poor on both sides and a common agenda, then difficulties and differences of viewpoints or interests can be resolved through a process of progressive experimental and experiential learning.
Here again, poverty reduction will not lead to any substantial improvement in the environmental condition of the planet, if we do not know how to manage the resulting prosperity. If the income-levels of the poor are raised to the levels of the middle-class and this additional income is spent on western-style consumption like car, TV, fridge, then it is not very favourable to the health of the environment. When the Tata group launched its 1-lakh car, Nano, for the lower income group, a leading environmentalist remarked that Tata’s dream car gives him the nightmare! Tata’s dream car may fulfill all the emission standards. But as we have discussed in our earlier articles, emission control and fuel-efficiency can’t do much if the quantity of energy-consuming and carbon-emitting vehicles increases manifold every year. So the poor has to be educated not only in creating wealth in an environmental-friendly way, but also in using and managing wealth with a long-term perspective, causing minimum damage to the environment.
The author is a student and practitioner in the path of integral yoga.