Churning the Earth by Aseem Shrivastava & Ashish Kothari
The first reaction after finishing the first section of the book Churning the Earth is to see if we can go back to the pre-liberalization era in India. And re-gain all the natural resources we have lost. Or re-gain the level of equity that existed in the society. Given that going back in time is not really a possibility at the moment, you want to know what can you do to stop this race towards consumerism. And you read the next section where authors try to showcase some stories where people have found alternatives to the consumerism of the globalized culture.
They have tried to carve out potential models for the future. And have tried to sound optimistic. Though the conviction is not really there. The format of the book is like ‘Satyamev Jayate’. Where they introduce you to the impacts of a menace. Then give you data to prove the extent to which the menace is there. And in the end, show some hope by showcasing people who have fought and found a solution for the problem. In the hope that these experiments would be replicated or at least inspire others.
The key message that authors have is that free market economy that we see as a panacea is not really so. It is letting the organizations like IMF, WTO and World Bank dictate what we do with our natural resources or assets. It also gives more than justified power in the hands of corporations. Whom authors choose to call Trans National Corporations. Economists may have their own jargon to explain this. But to me, it is a simple common sense of Bania Buddhi as I like to call it. ‘Anyone who gives you money does so to gain something out of it. Be in interest income or some favors that they may not get otherwise’.
Now, in this light why do we see FDI as a boon? It is like loaning your present in the hope that it will brighten your future. But we forget that you cannot build a future on credit as credit usually does not let you reach the future.
They question the hidden cost of globalization. Where there is no accounting of the ecological cost involved in transporting the raw material as well as finished product across geographies. They introduce you to the growing disparity between rich and poor. And between urban and rural India. Given the exuberance seen in the media and business reports, we all should have benefitted by now. But the data shows that the gains have actually helped the countable few. And a lot of these gains have come at the cost of what poor and rural people in the country have lost.
They make a strong case against land grabbing in the name of building special economic zones. They find that more farmers are committing suicide now than were before 1991. And this is when so-called debts have been written off. And agricultural productivity is supposedly better. They bring focus to the deteriorating ecological balance in the country. With forests being cut mindlessly, building of dams without impact analysis and mining being allowed both legally and illegally. And earth being robbed.
Now, these are not really the issues that we do not know about. If you read newspapers regularly you might have read almost everything in this book. But what authors have done is bring all these pieces together and put them in perspective that joins all of them. And shows that the actual problem may be bigger than the sum of these individual issues. And the fact that the issues do not exist in isolation, they have an impact on each other and hence on all of us.
In the second section, the stories that they tell are inspiring. Of individuals or small communities that are making small changes in lifestyles by living in an ecologically balanced way. By being producers rather than just being consumers. Based on these living experiments they recommend a model they call RED i.e Radical Ecological Democracy. I am not an expert to evaluate this model. Though I can say that it is rooted in what has worked on a small scale. And something that can be experimented on a large scale. In the last chapter they do some scenario analysis and try to see what the future can look like, this is obviously theoretical. When you read the scenario, which one should our policymakers choose is too obvious, but if they will choose that is a big question.
If you work for a large organization, read this book Churning the Earth to evaluate the potential impact you may be creating on the environment or if there is anything that you can do to reduce it. If you are a conscious citizen of the world read Churning the Earth, if you want to do some positive experiments in life read the second section of the book. Not a happy book to read, but you may want to read it to be happier in the long run.