The Per Capita Myopia


Praful Bidwai brings lucid scholarship and a fresh perspective to issues of climate change, says Nagraj Adve

Green prophet Praful Bidwai
Green prophet: Praful Bidwai, Photo: Shailendra Pandey

THERE ARE two dominant trends in literature among those who agree that global warming is ongoing and serious: those who think, wrongly, that technological solutions will work in isolation (George Monbiot’s Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning; Mark Lynas’ The God Species); and those who root the climate crisis in the workings of the capitalist system (John Bellamy Foster’s Ecology Against Capitalism; Joel Kovel’s The Enemy of Nature; Jonathan Neale’s Stop Global Warming: Change the World). Praful Bidwai falls in neither.

He does underline energy efficiency in a whole range of applications, and devotes a chapter to the recent flowering of renewable energy in many countries, but he is no technophile. Combating climate change is for him “in the last analysis… about transforming the existing relations of power”. He also mounts a multifaceted critique of India’s changing climate stance, its linkages with our foreign policy and big power ambitions, our energy policies, and offers informed, detailed alternatives. By doing so, he has initiated a third approach, in the Indian context. On the other hand, while he does discuss capitalism’s recent neoliberal avatar and its connections with climate change, and transborder production and globalisation, the book ignores capitalism’s essential logic, which is one of growth, accumulation, profits and the drive to avail of the cheapest input costs, particularly labour and raw material. In the former lies the book’s strengths; in the latter, its main, significant weakness.

The book offers a four-pronged critique of dominant approaches to climate issues: one, of “limited” per capita notions of equity favoured by the Indian government; the alternatives it discusses include, importantly, equity within nations, something that some non-governmental actors also miss out. Two, of reliance on the market. Three, the crafting of India’s climate policy and negotiations as completely elitist and non-participatory, a criticism that also holds for the formulation of climate action plans currently underway in many states. And four, a critique of many of the eight missions of the National Action Plan on Climate Change.

The Politics Of Climate Change And The Global Crisis
The Politics Of Climate Change And The Global Crisis: Mortgaging Our Future, Praful Bidwai Orient BlackSwan 392 pp; Rs 750

He proffers, in its stead, energy planning models that are decentralised, flexible and ecologically sound. Practical alternatives are presented — more public transport, water-saving measures such as the system of rice intensification, the varied uses of biomass — and, at another level, the potential offered by the remarkable rise of new renewable energy over the past 10 years, particularly wind and solar photovoltaic. He also discusses six categories of alt ernative proposals regarding climate negotiations, of which the most interesting, he suggests rightly, is the Greenhouse Development Rights framework for it imposes obligations on the rich regardless of their nationality. But how some of the visions he discusses will see light of day — particularly in the absence of adequate popular pressure in the four largest emitting countries, China, the US, Russia and India — is moot, a dilemma he’s alive to. Given the urgency of global warming, what is feasible and how quickly we can turn things around — considering the inherent logic of capitalism and its intensification worldwide — is one that he chooses to ignore.

Notwithstanding that, this is a superb book. Bidwai brings lucidity, breadth of knowledge and scholarship to a wide range of issues, some of which include positions mirrored by activist organisations in India: the myth that nuclear power is a panacea for climate change; the many dangers of market mechanisms such as the Clean Development Mechanism; that much of what the Indian government claims as adaptation is merely a repackaging of existing programmes; the hazardous advocacy of large dams and river-linking within the National Water Mission; the need for a more decentralised generation and use of energy, particularly in villages that have no electricity, etc. This book is essential reading for a wide audience even beyond those engaged with climate change. For it to reach them, a cheaper paperback edition would be handy.

Adve is a Delhi-based activist


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