Economics to Suit Gaia

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Lutheran church

Gaia, the Greek Earth Goddess came into prominence in recent years after James Lovelock wrote his path breaking book of the same name. In beautiful, often lyrical prose, and with painstaking holistic science, Lovelock wrote of the miracle of Gaia. We felt we owed Gaia a Bhoomi issue in her honour. The concept of Gaia not being very well known in India, we hope our readers would enjoy this issue of understanding and celebrating our “living” planet Earth.

As we go to print, it is ironic that the world is still reeling with the tragic earth quake, tsunami and nuclear plant catastrophes in Japan. Ironic, because of James Lovelock’s controversial belief in the importance of nuclear power for the future of our civilization, which he felt was doomed because of its dependence on fossil fuels. The possibility of a different development path did not occur to him, a path using renewable energy and with more non-materialistic growth. The possiblilty of a more sustainable development path is not taken seriously by our political and corporate leaders either. In the recent World Economic Forum, during a panel discussion on growth in developing countries like India, there was not a word about climate change or dealing with any kind of ecological degradation. Our Finance minister, who was one of the panel members, said that unfortunately in the Agricultural sector there cannot be more than 4% growth, hence the answer to higher growth lies in more people moving over to the Industrial and Service sectors so that the percentage of our population engaged in Agriculture reduces from the present 62%.

What happens to food production in the long run? The answer probably would be more industrialized farming with even more chemical fertilisers, pesticides and GM crops. Cannot we learn from the U.S. which has 1% of the population in farming, huge mechanized farms for both meat and cereals and 93% processed foods, all of which have contributed to one in three Americans being obese, diabetic or suffering from heart disease or cancer? 

A recent newspaper headline says “Capitalism is working fine in reshaping the world”. The words were spoken by Warren Buffet, supposedly the world’s third richest person, at a CII meeting in Bangalore. The headline is merely an example of the continuing refusal of the rich and powerful to see the writing on the wall.

In the same meeting there is more talk of losses in Japan being uninsured and that Japan’s tragedy “is not a super catastrophe from a financial standpoint” One wonders, why is it that other ‘standpoints’ are not taken seriously? Such as focusing on renewable energy and a more low-energy lifestyle and accepting human limitations of dealing with nuclear accidents? Environmentalists began hoping that there is now more substantive support for the anti-nuclear power movement. But with hardly any soul searching or reflection, the powers that be seem to be arming themselves with more and more reasons why nuclear power plants in India will be more earthquake proof than in Japan. We have become used to piece-meal solutions which create more problems, like pesticides causing cancer or our choice of nuclear energy causing irreversible radiation. Following a different development path would mean that we respect Gaia as our essential life

support system, and work on a paradigm around Gaia’s ecological principles. Gaia’s web of life is eclipsed for most of us by a man-made web of modern life. The scales of modern life that blind us need to fall so that we can design an economic system that suits Gaia. 

In this issue of Bhoomi, Wangari Mathai. Vandana Shiva, Joanna Macy, Karthik Kumar and others talk of ways to live lightly and responsibly on Gaia.