Growth concerns

Print edition : June 24, 2016
The sustainable use of resources rather than unbridled growth must be the basis for development.

WHEN the title of a book pithily sums up its content, one knows that one is on to a good thing. And this is just the case with the book under review. The two authors, Kamal K. Kothari and Chitra Chandrasekhar, are united by the common theme of their thoughts, which essentially says that “…not only do our economic theories lead to unsustainable development, but in reality amounts to stealing from our future generations. …we will leave our children with a huge debt…. [O]ur economic theories and capital allocation models do the same thing: promote current consumption at the cost of future generations.”

Talk like this has been buzzing around the world of environmental conservationists for years, and there have been theories and counter theories. But here there is a difference. Stealing from Our Children is heartfelt—even in conversation Kothari’s anger, frustration and despondency at the obvious rape of resources are more than apparent.

The much-vaunted idea of development is a double-edged sword, which the book contends we are wielding in a suicidal manner. Everyone justifies growth,” they write, “…some are constantly trying to meet the demand in the market, others go all out to create demand…. but what are the implications of unbridled growth?” Whatever sceptics might like to believe, there is a physical limit to growth and the planet cannot sustain both an increasing population and increasing consumption. About land, that simplest indicator of space availability, the authors say: “The per capita land availability has less than halved in the last 60 years and will continue to fall as population expands.”

Concerns about food with the concomitant concerns of increased use of fertilizers, hybrid seeds, decreasing genetic diversity of crops and increase in sudden crop blights are already manifesting in varying degrees the world over.

The authors put across damning evidence of a resource crunch that the world will not be able to overcome and tell us that vital metal resources have limited reserves that will last for about four to five decades, that is, within the lifetime of a large number of the world’s population. Or this fact which calculates that by 2030 it will take two earths to support humanity at the current rate of consumption of resources. And who is to say that the current rate will not increase?

Using reports, statistics, philosophy, historical analysis and futuristic predictions, the authors have brought out a book that is a readable balance of economics, industry and just plain common sense mingled with the worries of the average person, the readership the book addresses. It explains things with simple bluntness.

The book says that from the perspective of a child born now with the average life expectancy of 70 years, many resources will be depleted totally by his retirement. Less food, less space, increased carbon dioxide in the air, increased heat, inundation of large tracts of coastal areas, erratic rainfall, floods and famine—the scenario is biblical and there is no sign of an ark unless of course one considers Kothari and Chitra Chandrasekhar’s simple solution of living sustainably. Can we make lifestyle changes? Can we rethink material prosperity? Can we really say “no” to these questions?

The book brings to mind a 1970s film called Soylent Green, which portrays an overpopulated world with barely any resources. So how do those humans survive? By eating processed rations and a biscuit called soylent green whose only ingredient is dead fellow humans. In the 1970s, the film came under the science fiction genre, but as has been proven repeatedly, what is science fiction today can become the reality in the not-too-distant future. To environmental naysayers and others, Stealing from Our Children should be viewed as a peep into the future.