EARTH DAY -
has existed for at least four billion years.
During this stretch of time, it has witnessed countless transformations:
continents have shifted, rocks compressed and metamorphosed, hills and mountains
have risen and fallen, streams and rivers have been forged and dried, ice ages
have come and gone. Our continents are of enormous size, but together they add
up to but a small fraction of the surface area of the
the silent merger of sunshine with the salts of the seas, and perhaps with the
intervention of an unseen power, the miracle of life arose, and at its apex
appeared our first ancestors, self-aware and questioning, dreaming and debating,
loving and hating. Gradually they learned to mold matter and energy, and other
life forms came under their sway and mercy. In less than a couple of million
years, humans became even more creative in
water, birds and beasts, the heat of the desert and the cold of the polar zones,
fruits and flowers on plants and trees, minerals from deep down, coal and oil
and gas, and the mighty forces of atoms and nuclei were rapidly subjected to
human manipulation. In an orgy of domination for creature comforts we have been
intruding into the beauty of nature and the salubrity of our environment.
two centuries since the ease-giving ingenuities of the Industrial Revolution
began to percolate into human societies, we
have begun to realize the harm we have been wreaking upon the air, land, and
water of the earth: the very bases of our physical survival.
begun to reflect upon these. At least some thoughtful thinkers and informed
scientists, if not the world at large, feel
that the time has come for self-restraint. The wisdom of the ages, enshrined in
the insights and scriptures of ancient cultures, come to our aid in this
context, for they have invariably spelled out the grandeur of Nature in a spirit
of humility, acknowledged the power of the world in a spirit of reverence, and
stressed the harmony between us and our environment. But we need more. For
problems never-before-confronted, we need visions never-before articulated.
be a temptation to point the finger at the Cartesian-Newtonian perspectives of
science which have unwittingly given rise to the ecological time-bomb. But we
should be careful not to confuse science with technology.
Science has given to humankind understanding and insights on a myriad
features of the physical world, the emancipation from mind-enslaving
superstitions, and eradication of a hundred plagues and diseases that used to
consume hundreds of thousands in generations past.
a United Nations-sponsored report
spelled out in gory detail
some of the environmental havoc that
our industrialized civilization has
unwittingly perpetrated. And the scientists involved in preparing the document
predict dire consequences if intelligent and urgent steps are not taken.
tension of our age may be described in simple terms by saying that it is a
confrontation between ecology and economy:
between keeping the environment safe and life-sustainable on the one hand, and
providing employment and income for the vast majority of people, on the other.
It is a tension between the urgent necessities of today and the need to ensure
security for tomorrow. This in itself can be quite frustrating, but some
thoughtful economists have argued that this is not an impossible challenge.
problem is a good deal more complex, compounded by at least two other factors:
there is the blatant contrast between
the standard of living of the average citizen in industrially advanced countries
and the so-called developing countries.
This asymmetry, exposed and rubbed in by globe-encircling media, fuels the fire
of discontent, anger, and the irrepressible urge, if not the need, to emulate
the more comfortably living minority of humankind. Aside from the
creature-comfort appeals of such hankering, especially in its more unnecessary,
not to say, grotesque exaggerations of having more than one bathroom,
telephone, cameras, TV, automobile, etc. per family, it also provides eork for
more people and the attendant economic security.
why, when Western nations warn Third World countries about the dangers of rapid
industrialization, and protesters march at the World Bank against funding
rapid-industrialization projects in developing countries
it sounds to the people there like the exhortation of a man in an
air-conditioned limousine to crowds trudging bare-foot
along in a hot sandy desert to walk their way to the oasis rather than
jump into a car because the vehicle spews out carbon monoxide
and makes unseemly noise.
development has a devastating
consequence on the environment because many aspects of technological living is
an overt or subtle assault of Nature. If we ever reach the stage - which seemed
a worthwhile and realizable goal barely fifty years ago - in which every person
in every nation on the planet would achieve the standard of living of the
industrialized countries, the consequent destruction of the rain forests and
degradation of the environment will become totally unbearable to our eco-system.
these conditions, what are we to do? Taking into account both the ecological
impacts for the whole world, and the economic necessities for significant
sections of the human family, several steps seem indispensable:
we need to adopt a long range plan to bring down the standard of living (i.e.
per capita consumption of matter and energy) of people in the industrialized
countries. Perhaps we must set an international standard of matter-energy
consumption, which must be lower than what obtains in first world countries, but
higher than what it currently is in Third World countries. I rather doubt that
this will ever come to pass, unless there is real physical danger to the
survival of energy-consuming nations.
pollution of some sort is inevitable in most energy-transforming gadgets, every
nation or group must be allowed a certain pollution index, depending on its
continue to invest significant amounts for research and implementation of
projects to clean up the environment.
and this too is more easily said than done, we must bring about a cultural
revolution in the values and meanings we attach to life on earth. For only then
will we reduce the size of our cars and refrigerators, and the number of lamps
and faucets in our homes.