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Time To Choose

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 (Paper presented in the Seminar on Power Development and Environmental Protection Conducted on 10.8.91 at Trivandrum in connection with the Annual General Body Meeting of the Association)
Environment is a global issue today and environmental protection a global concern. Man reacts to his environment as individual as well as collective. And that is nothing but natural being part of his struggle for existence. Man endeavours to continuously modify the environment for his own development and survival. That being a collective effort the business of modifying the environment or what we call as development has assumed a global character.
  (Paper presented in the Seminar on Power Development and Environmental Protection Conducted on 10.8.91 at Trivandrum in connection with the Annual General Body Meeting of the Association)

Environment is a global issue today and environmental protection a global concern. Man reacts to his environment as individual as well as collective. And that is nothing but natural being part of his struggle for existence. Man endeavours to continuously modify the environment for his own development and survival. That being a collective effort the business of modifying the environment or what we call as development has assumed a global character. The global concerns for protecting environment have thus their roots in a global production system that has already concretised during the past one or two centuries. The fear that, the global production system created for improving the environment for living conditions of man would ultimately upset the delicate balance of the elemental forces in nature, in essence is the basis of global concerns on environment.

The debates on environmental concerns are thus conditioned by the conflicting forces at play in the business of improving the environment. Several contradictions come to the surface when we closely examine the differing perceptions on environment. While development is considered as formal organised business by the society, environmental concerns are mainly voiced by informal and voluntary organisations. And why should there be a contradiction between developmental and environmental concerns of mankind?

Monopoly control of the global production systems by a small minority with very little of democratic participation by the people at large is the root cause of this apparent contradiction. The socialist system had a better chance of resolving this contradiction in Soviet Union and other East European countries, but its opponents in those countries succeeded in politicising even its minor lapses in this regard to their own advantage. Under the market economies this contradiction is supposed to be resolved with the help of the so called 'green technologies'. This model visualises that the formal business organisations operated by corporate capitalism will be pressured into developing and adopting eco-friendly technologies by informal organisations of the people through consumer resistance or similar movements. In other words eco- friendly technologies or environmental protection itself should become hot pastures of corporate capitalism. Whether the problem will get resolved or not in that fashion may be debatable, but this is already happening.

The debates around the 1987 Montreal Protocol regarding the global use of CFCs is a telling example. Having developed or about to develop the so called eco-friendly substitutes for the ozone eating CFCs the managers of global capitalism wants all the developing countries to rapidly switch over to the new refrigerants and ban the use of the old ones. Under the pretext of protecting intellectual property rights, developing countries will be fleeced in the name of restoring or protecting the ozone layer though Western countries were the real culprits for its destruction.

Thus even the global concerns on environment are turned into opportunities for making super profits by corporate capitalism and for the perpetuation of exploitative linkages between the two worlds. Informal and voluntary organisations of environmental enthusiasts are often promoted and encouraged by warnings business groups in order to serve their sectarian interests. Environmental and ecological factors are being increasingly used as non-tariff barriers and for trade restrictions among the developed nations themselves. Environmental issues are often powerful weapons in the hands of warring political groups. And under such conditions how can one expect the numerous informal organisations that get floated all around the glob&to be genuinely concerned about the environment?
Environmental concerns are most intense around energy development. Energy being a crucial sector and of vital interest to global business this is nothing but natural. The well orchestrated global campaigns against dams, reservoirs and hydel power had their origins from the Aswan High Dam on Nile built by Egypt, a third world country in co-operation with the Soviets. With the Oil prices soaring high in the seventies, coal became dirty energy and nuclear power dangerous and positively costly. Interestingly five years after the Chernobyl tragedy the nuclear options seems to be emerging more and more environmentally attractive. Recent review reports by the Times USA and the Economist of U K make interesting reading now at this point of time.

The mass of conflicting and confusing data, claims, opinions and assessment by Soviet Scientists and politicians with differing perceptions was the major content of the report in the Economist {April-27}. However it concluded with a lot of satisfaction: "In the end the consequences of Chernobyl may be more than a horrifying collection of statistics about unleashed radiation, deformed lives, premature deaths. Because the disaster revealed something about the basic nature of the Soviet System, at a moment when it had at last become possible to do something about that system, the political consequences may prove the most profound of all." The ill planned or even insufficiently authorised testing of the Chernobyl System as stated  by the Soviets in their report to I A E A in 1987 might have been as well a political accident!

Americas' Time magazine in its June 3rd issue brought out a special report- "Time to choose" - on nuclear power. The report has its opening paras:" Nuclear Power - The words conjure up first the explosion at Chernobyl that spewed a radioactive cloud across the Ukraine and Europe five years ago, poisoning crops, spawning bizarre mutant livestock and exposing nearly 5 million people to dangerous fallout. Then the words summon Three Mile Island and the threat of a melt down that spread panic across Pennsylvania's rolling countryside seven years earlier. Could any technology survive such disasters? Nuclear energy appeared doomed.

"Yet it lives and is generating renewed interest. Even Chernobyl is being seen in a different light: a U.N. study released last week concluded that the nuclear accident did not cause as much harm to the Soviet population as experts had originally thought. The highly controversial investigation, conducted at the Kremlin's request, found there was no increase in birth defects among the population that lived in areas within 500 km of Chernobyl. The residents risk of cancer and other radiation- related illnesses? Far less than what  had been estimated."

After commenting online salutatory effect of nuclear power on the salutatory effect of nuclear power on global warnings and acid rains, the Time's report concludes; Off all the genies unleashed by modern science, none has inspired more anxiety than the atom, which is the wiser course: running the risk of a worldwide rise in temperatures or taking the chance that just one or two Chernobyl-style accidents will have devastating environmental impact? Or should the world minimize both risks in favour of heavy reliance on efficiency and alternative energy and then not be sure there will be enough power to go around?

The choices are difficult and anguishing- using fossil fuels, nuclear power or conservation - but any or all of them are preferable to the easiest option of all, which is simply to do nothing. Following any course will require years of commitment - and as projections of electricity demand soar, there is no time to lose"

Three points emerge from the conclusion arrived at by the Times report:

First: Americans are not prepared to leave to the market the decisions regarding environmentally acceptable energy options.

Second: They are for planned action at national level in the energy sector.

Three: There is very little that non conventional energy can contribute in the near future.

And what is true for USA is even more true for India with a per capita consumption of energy at around two percent of that of the former. But the Americans keep on telling us to leave everything including energy development to the international market forces and do little by way of national planning! And our environmentalist keep harping on the virtues of non-conventional energy. In fact these two voices merge in to a harmony of confusion - eating into our very will to survive as a nation.
 

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