Covid-19 Lockdown: A Golden Opportunity to Reset

Gaurang J. Yajnik
06-04-2020

Covid-19 lockdown has got us thinking, “What went wrong?” It is the time to look back and reflect. It is high time that we realise how mercilessly we have exploited, tortured and misused the natural resources for our extravagant life-ways. The lockdown has provided us with the opportunity to think why the frequency and severity of natural calamities have been constantly increasing. The irony is that we call them ‘natural’ but they are actually ‘human-made’ calamities because our exaggerated life-ways are at the root of the imbalances caused in nature. Is it not our duty or compulsion to heed to this warning? This is the perfect moment to re-calibrate or to RESET our thinking and life-ways for our better future in tune with nature. Let us think of a way to start.

Imagine children between the ages of four and ten during the present lockdown. They have a dozen questions to ask their parents. What is going to happen to us now? Why we locked down? Are we going to die? Will we not get food and milk? Why can’t we go out and play? Why can’t we go to school? Why do we have to wear a mask, use so much sanitizer and soap? When the parent tries to explain by saying, ‘Nature is angry because we have behaved badly with her. We have forgotten to listen to her in our mad pursuit of material wealth and success. We all want to be rich and famous. So this is her punishment.’ The child hits back saying, ‘Why should we be made to pay for your fault?’

As Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” So, let us understand the root cause.

We live in an age of rapid and unprecedented planetary change. Indeed, many scientists believe our ever-increasing consumption, and the resulting increased demand for energy, land and water, is driving a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene. It’s the first time in the Earth’s history that a single species – Homo sapiens – has had such a powerful impact on the planet. Everything that has built modern human society is provided by nature and, increasingly, research demonstrates the natural world’s incalculable importance to our health, wealth, food and security. All economic activity ultimately depends on services provided by nature, estimated to be worth around US$125 trillion a year. As we better understand our reliance on natural systems it’s clear that nature is not just a ‘nice to have’. Business and the finance industry are starting to question how global environmental risks will affect the macroeconomic performance of countries, sectors and financial markets, and policy-makers wonder how we will meet climate and sustainable development targets with declining nature and biodiversity. (Source: LPR 2018)

The Living Planet Report of World Wildlife Fund attempts to explain the changing levels of global biodiversity and the pressure on the biosphere created by the exploitative use of natural resources by human beings. This is explained with the help of two indicators viz. the Living Planet Index and the Ecological Footprint.

The Living Planet Index (LPI) is an indicator of the state of global biodiversity and the health of our planet. The global index, calculated using available data for all species and regions, shows an overall decline of 60% in the population sizes of vertebrates between 1970 and 2014.

Ecological Footprint accounting measures the demand on and supply of nature. On the demand side, the Ecological Footprint measures the ecological assets that a given population requires to produce the natural resources it consumes (including plant-based food and fibre products, livestock and fish products, timber and other forest products, space for urban infrastructure) and to absorb its waste, especially carbon emissions. On the supply side, a city, state or nation’s biocapacity represents the productivity of its ecological assets (including cropland, grazing land, forest land, fishing grounds, and built-up land). These areas, especially if left unharvested, can also absorb much of the waste we generate, especially our carbon emissions. (Source: LPR 2018) The ability of ecosystems to renew themselves is called biocapacity or Earth’s bio-capacity. The Ecological Footprint measures the pace of human consumption keeping in view the Earth’s bio-capacity. Together biocapacity and Ecological Footprint provide an empirical basis for determining whether humanity is living within the means of our planet, and how this relationship has been altered over time. Through changes in technology and land management practices, biocapacity has increased about 27% in the past 50 years. But it has not kept pace with human consumption: humanity’s Ecological Footprint has increased about 190% over the same time period. (Source LPR 2018).

Gandhian Economic Thought: A solution

Producer behaviour and consumer desires are at the root of all socio-economic, environmental problems. The basic assumption of conventional Economics is that human wants are unlimited and means to satisfy them are limited with alternative uses. This has led mankind to have profit maximization at the cost of others which amounts to the overshoot mentioned earlier. The answer to this is the Gandhian approach towards life and economic activities. Gandhian Economic thought is very different from conventional economic thought. Gandhian economic thought is based on moral or ethical values. Gandhiji advocated thrift in using limited natural and non-natural resources. Based on the Gandhian idea of thrift, we can limit our desires and also save the environment. The Gandhian idea of thrift leads us to formulate a new economic assumption of limited desires and limited resources. Exercising this will have far-reaching effects in the long run where we shall be able to save resources for the requirements of our future generations. Moreover, we shall be able to save the environment from further degradation i.e. to eliminate the overshoot. If this is ideally followed, we can create a situation where there are limited desires and unlimited resources.

Suggesting minimization of human wants Gandhiji has written in From Yerevada Mandir: ‘We are not always aware of our real needs and most of us improperly multiply our wants and thus, unconsciously make thieves of ourselves. If we devote, some thought to the subject, we can get rid of quite a number of our wants. One who follows the observance of non-stealing will bring about a progressive reduction of his own wants.’ (Sharma, 36.)

Gandhiji suggested the doctrine of non-possession to replace the doctrine of multiplication of human wants as advocated by conventional Economics. He believed that ever increasing or multiplying needs is the root cause of all economic activities and thereby environmental problems. He believed in ‘simple living and high thinking’ not in ‘complex living and confused thinking’

Further, Gandhiji also advocated the decentralization of economic activities. According to him decentralization of economic activities can also solve major problems. His micro approach advocates self sufficiency of villages or micro groups based on cooperation. A self-sufficient village or micro group is independent with inter-dependence. In other words we can say that Gandhiji advocated SEZ (interpretation mine) i.e. Small Economic Zones not Special Economic Zones. If we look at his idea of independent micro groups or his idea of decentralization of economic activities with reference to environmental problems, we can be self-sufficient by improving and maintaining pure and eco-friendly environment at the village or micro level by producing eco-friendly goods and services. If all such micro units (villages) are capable of having their own self-cleansing, self-sufficient ecosystem then automatically all the districts will have a self-cleansing, self-sufficient eco-friendly ecosystem. Thus, as the circle expands all eco-friendly districts will constitute an eco-friendly state which in turn will lead to an eco-friendly country and this in turn will lead to a world with a sustained eco-friendly eco-system.

Gandhiji’s economic ideas have moral or ethical connotations as Gandhiji’s economic thought is based on fundamental ideas of Non-violence, Man as the supreme consideration, Philosophy of minimization of wants (Thrift), Importance of Bread Labour, Production for masses by masses, Doctrine of Trusteeship, Swadeshi, and Sarvodaya (Well-being of all).

Thus, the Gandhian way of economic life can solve present day all socio-economic, environmental problems and help us to reserve sufficient resources for the future generation because as Gandhiji held that, ‘nature believes in abundance not in scarcity’. Scarcity is manmade. He has observed in one of his earliest speeches, “I venture to suggest that it is the fundamental law of nature without exception that nature produces enough for our wants from day to day, and if only everybody took enough for himself and nothing more, there would be no pauperism in this world.” (Sharma, 135.)

Gandhiji has not given any systematic mathematical model or theory for nature exploitation or for any economic/environmental problems but he believed that the more mankind tries to overpower or exploit nature, the more they will be endangered and alienated from nature. Only his ideas of ‘wantlessness’ or voluntary reduction of wants can have far-reaching effects as suggested by the LPR to eliminate overshoot. No legal provisions or environmental laws can improve the situation without a change of heart. We must admit at this level that Gandhian Economic thought is very relevant. It is rightly observed by Shriman Narayan who established the need of Gandhian Economics and its relevance way back in 1970, but which is still as important in 2020, “I am, therefore, convinced that Gandhiji’s economic thought is basically sound and relevant to our times. I would go a step further and state without any shade of hesitation that instead of being medieval and out-of-date, Bapu’s (Gandhiji’s) ideas are even ahead of the times, and economic and political compulsions would inevitably force us to revert to them for resolving some of the paradoxes that intrigue us today.” (Shriman Narayan, 215.)

On a parting note we can say without doubt that the need of Gandhian Economic thought today and its relevance to present day all socio-economic and environmental problems is a matter to be considered seriously for it has the potential to ignite the imagination of people so that all can be instrumental for a better future by RESETTING our life-ways. What future can be ours is entirely in our own hands. We can reverse the alarming picture of our future. Let us pledge to protect mankind and environment.

References: 

Field , B. C. 1997. Environmental Economics : An Introduction . New York : The Mcgraw- Hill Companies, Inc.

Kolstad, C. D. 2003 .Environmental Economics .New York: Oxford University Press.

Narayan Shriman, 1970. Relevance of Gandhian Economics. Ahmedabad; Navjivan Publishing House.

Rao, P.K. 2000 Sustainable Development. Massachusets; Blackwell Publishers Inc.

Sharma, Rashmi. 1997. Gandhian Economics : A Humane Approach. New Delhi : Deep & Deep Publications.

WWF. 2018. Living Planet Report - 2018: Aiming Higher. Grooten, M. and Almond, R.E.A.(Eds). WWF, Gland, Switzerland.

WWF. 2006. Living Planet Report - 2006: Chris Hails, Jonathan Loh, Steven Goldfinger, (Eds). WWF, Gland, Switzerland.

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