Obviously there are two ways to think of the environment. firstly the attitude of the poor who is demanding from the surrounding without thinking of the damage done. The other is the civilized with a consciousness about the survival of the environment. This doesn’t mean there’s only one way to divide the attitude of humans to the environment. There are in fact countless ways of understanding and engaging with the world around us. In the entire history humans, spread through out the world, many ways humans reacted with the environmental cake, so to speak: according to the ‘needs’ of the moment, envisaged futures, later give rise cultural habits practices philosophical frameworks, theories of being etc.
We need not go into all that here. What needs to be done is to examine the extremism with respect to the environment. We must apply Buddha’s middle path theory; to speaking there are two kinds of extremism. One could characterize them as follows.
There’s the idealistic school that believe that humans at the center of creation – sees everything outside the species as dispensable or as having potential to serve human interests. ‘Human’ here needs to be fleshed out a bit; many things are done in the name of entirety but in this class divided society they serve the interests of one or few and usually a particular category of people; in the modern world the international bourgeoisie. Theories are constructed to justify carefully, suppressing or footnoting the uncomfortable. For example, the term professionals is used and so too ‘intellectuals’ to cover up exploitation and plunder. Throw those out and we get neat equations giving us the exact happenings within the systems. . Sure, pressure from social and human rights critiques have forced such theories to be refined, but they are not fooling too many people.
Justification comes in the form of modernism and high rise development that are aggressively marketed. The slums and dirt of the present are used as shameful crimes and goodies called progress and development are swung like carrots in front of the impoverished. The entire story or the conspiracy is not told. Not all costs are talked about. Displacement, compensation and loss of community are not assessed. Instead we are sold grand plans and mysterious projects. And if anyone dares talk about uncomfortable truths such as global warming or climate change then the entire discourse is shifted to scientific exchange of views from engineers and scientists where those with connections cash and power get to commissions and thereafter every thing is resolved by market ‘value-free truths’ supposedly obtained scientifically. It’s all in the name of ‘The People’ and modernist Progress.
According to Buddha modernism will accompany the negation conservatism. There are those at the other extreme who sometimes operate as though human beings should not disturb the natural process at all. They protest, of course democracy allow that but without violence and blood shed. Then they go to courts and get rulings prohibitingactions and they talk of dire consequences. They too, finally agree to development that bring in ‘the future’ but with a plan to preserve the environment. Human beings have always exploited the world around them. In fact no creature is self-contained. While other creatures are dependent on nature, humans have exploited the environment. The trick is to figure out a mode of engagement that is wholesome, so that humans contain the totality of the planet intact; something that of course detracts by the very fact of engagement but at the same time consciously supports regeneration.
There are people who argue, forcefully with commitment, that a certain degree of economic prosperity is necessary before a nation can shift to a green economy. A country like Sri Lanka, even if it retired environmental concerns for the next decade, cannot impact the global environment in any significant way. Let’s ignore for now the story of Maha Parakrama Bahu that he wanted all little drops of water in Lanka to be collected to be used in agricultural projects before let go to sea. On the other hand there are modernist who argue that if development is dumped in favor of environment, the price will have to be paid by the poor and this will invariably transform into environmental costs that are worse. If not at best, expenditure will be pretty much the same. These arguments are articulated in discussions on a wide range of subjects, especially when it comes to energy, waste disposal, industries and agriculture. Costs, benefits, renew-ability and recovery rates feature significantly in the debates.
Lost in all this is an overall framework of what ‘development’ truly means. Where are we heading or rather what kind of destination would we like to walk towards? Can we go to new Parakum yugaya? Is that the real green apex? What are the costs we are willing to pay? What kind of benefit-package would we be satisfied with? What are the parameters and who gets to decide and impose them? There’s no bottom line. Well, there is, but it’s flexible. It has to contain the health of the planet not just the beloved Lanka, the health of the people currently alive and those who are yet to come. We need to talk about decent, healthy and environment-friendly lifestyles.
Above all we need to revisit the discourse of freedom and limitations of the same and integration of nationalities with self determination. We have to recognize the right of the other, which is politics, (and therefore power) is part of the story. We must devise strategies that consider such factors instead of meekly submitting to them or pretending they don’t exist. We have to factor in the reality of corruption. There are loopholes and there’s bulldozing through barricades. We cannot legislate against all these, but we can find different ways of empowering rational, civilized and responsible governance.
This is the only planet we have. This is the only life each of us has. Life would include concerns and aspirations, not just for self but for friends, families, nationalities and larger collectives we identify with. All this is part of the story.
Dr Vickramabahu Karunarathne, BARRACKS LANE, COLOMBO 2
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