If you have a problem, fix it. But train yourself not to worry, worry fixes nothing. - Ernest Hemingway

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Not a pie in the sky

[Hi folks! I was off-blog for a long time as I was suffering from a serious bout of teaching. I am yet to be fully fit, but recovering. You can count on regular posts here from now on. That’s a promise signed in blood.]

Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “The earth can provide for everyone’s need, but not everyone’s greed.”

The greatest sage of the modern times has been forgotten in his own country, not to mention the rest of the world. We haven’t accepted the minimalist lifestyle preached by Gandhi. Rather, we unquestioningly follow a lifestyle that helps industries grow, but tends to exhaust the limited resources of the earth. Let me give a few examples.

Our government pays lip service to checking global warming but quietly encourages the car industry. There is not even a thought to check the proliferation of fuel-guzzling sports utility vehicles (SUVs) run on diesel subsidized by picking the poor man’s pocket. The environment minister of the country, Jairam Ramesh said, “Use of SUVs and BMWs in India is criminal” (Economic Times, 13 November 2010). But his government carries on with the criminal activity, unconcerned.

On the other hand, we no longer have pavements in our cities to walk on. Pavements are hacked down to widen roads for the ever-increasing and ever-bigger cars.

Thanks to the eight-to-ten percent annual growth in GDP over two decades, the government coffers are overflowing. The government employee’s salary was doubled in 2006. Many government pensioners today earn a lot more than what they used to while working. The white collar employees in the organized sector too make a lot more today.

But we continue to spend only one percent of our GDP on education – one of the lowest in the world. We have some of the finest institutes of higher learning, and also the largest illiterate population in the world. The primary school system is in a shambles in India. We have many world-class corporate hospitals, but the poor in Chhattisgarh and elsewhere die for want of basic antibiotics.

There is a method in the madness. The economic model adopted by our government requires a huge middleclass with disposable income to support industry and commerce. People have to spend more and more to support industry and business to “grow”. In the process, two things are happening: the poor are largely forgotten by the policy makers, and we are using up natural resources thoughtlessly.

It is not new. The so-called first world has been following this economic model for long. Many social scientists have calculated the consequences of this use-and-throw economy on the global resources. There are credible calculations that show the earth just cannot carry on with the burden for more than a few decades.

How bad is the conspicuous consumption of the West? Here is a case.

Marina Bay Sands, a resort facing the Marina Bay in Singapore, is advertised as the world's most expensive stand-alone casino hotel. Besides the usual trappings of a luxury hotel meant for the super-rich, this place has a special attraction. The complex is topped by a 340 metre-long “Sky Park” and a swimming pool, set on top of the world's largest public cantilevered platform supported by three towers. At 200 metres (656 feet), it is taller than the Eiffel Tower. The Sky Park opened in 2010 looks like this.

When I first saw the pictures, it struck me as a great piece of engineering. And I also thought: Good heavens! Does one have to climb sixty floors to go for a swim? What next? a snow-capped mountain two hundred metres below the earth’s surface?

What do you think of the sky-park: an engineering marvel or a grotesque waste of materials and energy resources?

10 May 2011


  1. Dear Santanuda,

    Welcome back! A lot of us I am sure were missing your writings.

    Your post as usual was thought-provoking. I could not agree with you more on the topic of our imbalance in expenditure. Spending meagre amounts of our GDP towards education and health is an unpardonable crime being committed by successive governments. Our ignorance towards preserving our natural resources will surely prove disastrous one day.

    I would though differ with you over the example that you have given. The Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore has been made specifically for the super rich. The building in itself is surely an architectural wonder. We shall never be able to afford the luxury that it offers but is it correct to stop others who have the financial strength from enjoying it. They have earned the money and they do have the right to splurge on things that they like.

    If the hotel utilizes its resources (electricity, water) responsibly and makes use of other energy saving techniques like rain water harvesting etc. then I guess it can contribute in its own way to the environment.

    There are numerous examples of such constructions that were built by the rich for themselves but have now turned into monuments that we marvel at. Taj Mahal, Pyramids are some of the prominent examples.

    As in all cases, it is the question of striking the right balance. Acting wisely and responsibly will probably help us achieve that.

  2. Dear Anirban,

    Thanks a lot for your thoughtful comments. I am sorry about the delay in getting back.

    I appreciate your point. All the man-made wonders of the world could have been considered wasteful expenditure when they were constructed. What's worse, most of them were possibly built with slave labour. Despite that, no one, save the fanatics like those who destroyed the Bamyan Buddha statues, would deny that that the pyramids of Egypt and Mexico, the Chinese Wall, the Taj etc. are milestones along the path we humans have traversed.

    My point is that the dominating economic system of the recent times is most probably leading us to an unsustainable lifestyle.

    Like most other issues, we perhaps can identify the problem, but often, we don't know the solutions. But I am sure one part of the solution will be to avoid unnecessary consumption of natural resources. We cannot go back to the days of the Pyramids, and I fully agree with you, the crux of the matter is "striking the right balance".

    Thanks once again. I wish more people would get back with their comments. Since that hasn't happened, I guess I have to improve my writing.


I will be happy to read your views, approving or otherwise. Please feel free to speak your mind. Let me add that it might take a day or two for your comments to get published.