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The new ethics of frugality at JLF 2018: Small, less and slow is the way forward

‘Elite buyout’ and the need to change the paradigm of development featured in a session on the environment, titled In Denial: Betrayals of the Earth, at the Jaipur Literature Festival.

JaipurLitFest Updated: Jan 27, 2018 15:13 IST
Vidya Subramanian
Jeffrey Gettleman, Pankaj Sekhsaria and Prerna Singh Bindra in conversation with Amita Baviskar during a session titled In Denial: Betrayals of the Earth at the the Jaipur Literature Festival.
Jeffrey Gettleman, Pankaj Sekhsaria and Prerna Singh Bindra in conversation with Amita Baviskar during a session titled In Denial: Betrayals of the Earth at the the Jaipur Literature Festival. (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)

Amita Baviskar, professor of sociology at the Institute of Economic Growth, conducted an efficiently moderated and engaging session with three environmental reporters and activists in the first session of the third day of the Jaipur Literature Festival 2018. Baviskar lost no time in raising the level of conversation above the usual “climate change is a problem” line by asking if we weren’t all hiding behind the massive spectre of climate change to abdicate responsibility for the things that we do to cause things like floods, poverty, and inequality. “Does climate change distract us from other pressing concerns?” was the first question of the morning.

For Jaipur Literature Festiva full coverage, click here

On the panel were Prerna Singh Bindra, activist, journalist, and former member of the National Board of Wildlife; Jeffrey Gettleman, The New York Times’ South Asia bureau chief; and Pankaj Sekhsaria, author of four books on the Andaman and Nicobar islands. The rest of the conversation kept up the standard of discourse, even if some questions of historical responsibility for pollution and whether it would not be more appropriate to pin blame on capitalism or the western world would not be more responsible than simply blaming “humans” for climate change, were conveniently side-stepped.

Bindra and Gettleman agreed that the present government had done some serious damage to environmental responsibility by diluting the laws around environmental impact assessments at the altar of ‘ease of doing business’. Even as the Prime Minister spoke at Davos about taking a leadership role in mitigating climate change, our rules for environmental clearances have been systematically weakened over the past three years.

But they didn’t spare the members of the audience from responsibility either. What did we do when the situation in Delhi got so bad that people could barely breathe, Gettleman asked. Why weren’t the people out on the streets protesting for the government to do something? And he answered his own question by saying, “elite buyout”. Those who can, choose air purifiers and pollution masks, and carry on, he suggested.

The most radical idea for fixing the system, however, came from Pankaj Sekhsaria (left), who called for a change in the paradigm of development itself. (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)

The most radical idea for fixing the system, however, came from Pankaj Sekhsaria, who called for a change in the paradigm of development itself. Why do we think building roads and highways is development, he asked? In places such as the Andamans – where he works – the road is the metaphorical and real vector for taking out resources and bringing in disaster, he said. The understanding of development itself needs to change, he contends. We need a new ethics of frugality. Small, less, and slow should be the way forward.

Hoping that “altruism will kick in” at some point, and leaders and people will suddenly wake up and be responsible is of no point. What we need is strict laws and better implementation, the panel agreed. A problem of this magnitude is not something that can be solved simply by individual responsibility. Governments and big businesses must be held accountable.

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