Funding environmental services; fundamental questions or process issues?
By T.R. Raghunandan, 09 Oct 2015

My apologies for a break from my weekly blog. After five weeks of skipping my schedule, I resume my series on funding of environmental services.

As expected, my blog of five weeks back received some thought provoking responses.

Suraj Kumar, a social media friend, asked me some questions to which I did not have straight answers, except to acknowledge that these were serious questions indeed. His series of unbroken questions were as follows; and I quote from his comment,

 ‘What is ‘economic growth’ really? How is ‘value’ created? And what is the exponential function’s role in ‘growth’? Is it possible to pursue the exponential function forever on a finite planet? What happens to a monetary system based on debt (forget even the massive globalised externalities and link) if growth stops? And if growth stops and money loses meaning, will the proposal work? Anyway, who are we to lay siege to life? What is this extremely speciesistic narrative that humans are more important than nature to destroy it in the name of ‘sustainable development’? Who are we to call the homes of living beings as your ‘resources’? Where is the divinity and sense of reverence and deep connection to everything around us in this pretentious white-man affair?’

These questions stopped me in my tracks, because I had not paused earlier to consider these very fundamental questions; which touch upon not only how we use our public and private moneys better, but force us to reflect upon our position as one amongst many species that lives upon this planet.

So I decided to spend some time thinking about these questions; and whether there can be any final answers to them.

All that I can come up as a response is that the final answer would be that we have to limit our needs as a species, to take care of a planet that has limited means to provide for us. However, even if that final answer is staring us in the face and indeed yelling at us to stop our unsustainable hegemony over the planet, the sheer momentum of our population growth and our energy needs is not likely to stop, much less reverse.

As regards whether there is a divinity or otherwise in this, or any other alternative approach, I hesitate to enter into this area, primarily because, as an atheist, I see the entire world, including ourselves, as nothing more than a random, though elaborate arrangement of chemical, electrical and electromagnetic impulses. To attribute divinity or lack of it to one or the other component of this random arrangement is something that one could discuss endlessly.

In the meantime, there are some practical immediacies to address. India’s population is growing at an alarming rate, and in a skewed fashion. Currently, only Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and the north eastern states have stabilised, or are close to stabilising their populations.

So, before I get back on track to discuss how public finance policies might, or might not enable environmental protection, I can only quote Robert Persig. He speaks for me as well.

 “The way to solve the conflict between human values and technological needs is not to run away from technology. That’s impossible. The way to resolve the conflict is to break down the barrier of dualistic thought that prevent a real understanding of what technology is – not an exploitation of nature, but a fusion of nature and the human spirit into a new kind of creation that transcends both. When this transcendence occurs in such events as the first airplane flight across the ocean or the first footsteps on the moon, a kind of public recognition of the transcendent nature of technology occurs. But this transcendence should also occur at the individual level, on a personal basis, in one's own life, in a less dramatic way.” 

― Robert M. PirsigZen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

Next week, let’s look at the implications of the recommendation of the 14th Finance Commission to include forest cover as a factor in the distribution of central revenues to States.

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