’s cover story showcased Yale and Columbia’s environmental performance index. The story used the project’s green rating of nations to map the world in terms of ‘green performance’. India was ranked an abysmal 120th, mostly thanks to the failure of sanitation. In contrast, conflict-afflicted Sri Lanka was ranked 50th. This is not entirely shocking. We probably deserve this.
It’s not only sanitation that’s not a priority. Ecosystems are unimportant to our policy-makers too. An example is the outrageous policy being cobbled to manage our coastal zones. In 1991, a landmark notification ensured that there would be no construction or development within 200 meters of our coasts. In its latest avatar, it contains amendments that will ensure that India destroys its coasts almost completely within the next decade.
New tourism projects, for example, are likely to use its tantalising loopholes and come up in areas that are best left alone. And no, being green doesn’t make tourism viable in fragile ecosystems. They really need to be left alone, but the law won’t let them.
India had better re-think its coasts. In cyclones, it’s the mangroves and vegetation that protect the land. They are decimated wherever land is developed. With global warming on our heads, we better re-think a healthy environment as our shield.
Robbing Peter, Feeding Paul
China fared poorly too; at 113, its ranking was unimpressive. The story included a photograph of a pile of e-waste on a Chinese sidewalk with a caption that read, “China fares badly for many industrial ills, due in part to its huge consumption of goods.”
China’s (and India’s) new consumption is framed as a global problem. But, as is being pointed out, the US still guzzles twice more oil per day that China and India combined.
I believe the rating is not entirely fair to China. Of course, the country is far from green and at the local level, it lacks political will to implement pollution control. But a large part of its production is for export, and to feed the markets that hunger for cheap consumer goods. That North Americans today can afford to consume goods as they do is because the Chinese foot the pollution bill.
A Chinese activist recently informed me that the pollution from production is so huge that there were almost 500,000 ‘environmental incidents’ last year. Most were protests by farmers against factories that polluted.
The Yale-Columbia project is a brilliant first step to bring global attention to environmental governance issues. But in its next avatar, it needs to factor in environmental justice.