Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Note in Solidarity by Sri. Sagar Dhara

GD’s (as he is fondly called by friends) deep concern for the spoilage of the River Ganga, and all rives. I interpret this as his deep concern for all of nature, though expressed immediately for the Ganga. We have poisoned our atmosphere with excess carbon dioxide (three times what the earth can absorb back) by burning 14,000 tons of coal, oil and gas a year. The damage is irreparable, at least in the short run, and the consequence—global warming is going to wreak havoc with our environment and economy.

Lands that support the major global populations are already water-stressed. In 25 years, global water demand is expected to exceed water supply, with potentially disastrous consequences. After that, the occurrence of water wars will only be a matter of time.

Forests house over two-thirds of known terrestrial species; they also harbour the largest share of threatened species. As loss of natural habitat increases, humans loose their natural heritage, and therefore their ability to survive.

Per capita forest in ha

We have exceeded earth’s capacity to support human society. Today we require one and a half earths to support us as we have started living off the earth’s natural capital rather natural interest that it generates. The north nations and the rich in the south nations are responsible for this.

GD’s reference to “this terrible lust for money, material things, and particularly for electrical energy” is very apt. It is the root cause for humans overusing and fraying nature so badly that it no longer is able to provide adequate ecosystem services. Three tipping points—climate change, the exhaustion of fossil fuels and the deterioration of the environment—converging together at the same time, are on the verge of causing a collapse of human society as we know it today.

Humans, like other living beings are both energy converters (convert energy from one form to another) and energy users. But unlike other living beings that take only as much energy as they require for survival and reproduction from nature, humans are endowed with the ability to create knowledge of energy conversion technologies. Over time, as they humans have increased their knowledge base, they have stolen energy from other living beings and depleted nature off its energy conversion capability. Historically, a small class of humans have also stolen energy from the vast majority. This was done through devices that gave rights to the rich to colonize nature and harvest its energy, while denying the majority the same rights. The “selfish gene” syndrome only not only allowed the privileged class to do gain maximization, but also made the under-privileged class to also imbue this outlook, to their detriment.

GD places the power to “sacrifice and asceticism” above all other powers. This to me, points towards the need for the world to power down as the real and only solution for the rapid depletion of fossil fuels, even as global primary energy use has doubled in the last 35 years, and continues to currently grow at over 3% per year (@3% annual compounded growth, energy use doubling time = 23 years). Neither green nor nuclear technologies are viable alternatives for fossil fuels. And replacing oil, whose production has already peaked, with coal, of which the world has reserves, will only increase carbon dioxide emissions, and hence hasten global warming.

GD’s action to go on a fast unto death also points towards the need for ordinary people to act by themselves to protect and even recover their environments, and not leave it to others, governments included, to perform this task.

I have known GD saab for over 25 years and have great respect for him as a thinker, a person who has a deep concern for the environment and humanity, and a person of great integrity. Most importantly GD is a man who walks his talk. He has once again shown that while intellectual arguments may be convincing to those who have the leisure to indulge in them, it is action that finally counts in changing the world. There is another dimension to his action that is worth noting. His action is a moral one and is non-violent. It points to the question of what is our relationship to nature—are we a part of it or are we apart from it? And we wish to re-negotiate our relationship with nature, can we do it in any other way except non-violently, after all the violence we have done to nature and to humans through all these centuries? GD’s reference to sacrifice, and his offering non-violent satyagraha has immense meaning and emotional appeal to me. Human society can only be transformed from its violent, selfish and unequal ways and ideologies only with the tools that GD has chosen, and no other.

I wish I could join GD. Alas, I have commitments to an aged mother and a young daughter. Hence, I will have to wait my turn. I have decided to support GD through a token action. I am leaving for Uttarkashi on 10 June by AP Express and will go on a fast from the time GD starts his fast till the 15th night in support of the cause for which he has taken such a monumental decision. Those who wish to join me from Hyderabad are very welcome. Others who wish to sign the attached memorandum to be sent to the Prime Minister, may do so, and send a copy to Envirotech, A-271 Okhla Industrial Area Phase 1, New Delhi 110 020 (envirotech@vsnl.com), from where an All-India campaign to support GD’s cause is being coordinated. An effort to meet the PM in this regard is being made.

In solidarity with GD and all others who are supporting him and his cause.

Sagar Dhara

19 May 2008, Tel: 40 2753 6128; Email: sagdhara@yahoo.com

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Dr. G. D. Agrawal Scientist and Rishi

Dr. G. D. Agrawal Scientist and Rishi

Meeting Dr. G. D. Agrawal in his spartan, two room cottage in Chitrakoot, Madhya Pradesh, you would never guess what an accomplished and distinguished scientist he is – first Member-Secretary of the Government of India’s Central Pollution Control Board, former Head of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at IIT Kanpur and a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley. The list goes on and on.

Yet this eminent professional sweeps his own floors, washes his own clothes and cooks his own meals. He retains only a few possessions and dresses in homespun khadi. At the age of 76, his main mode of transport within Chitrakoot is a bicycle and when he travels further afield, he goes by ordinary bus and second-class train. These are the deliberate choices of a devout Hindu whose deepest values are for simplicity and reverence for nature. Dr G.D. Agrawal is the doyen of environmental engineering professionals in India. Well past retirement, he continues to teach and inspire students as an Honorary Professor of Environmental Sciences at the Mahatma Gandhi Chitrakoot Gramodaya Vishwavidyalaya, in Chitrakoot (M.P.).

Dr Agrawal is a much sought-after EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) consultant and a Director of Envirotech Instruments (P) Limited, New Delhi – a company that he established with some of his former students from IIT-Kanpur. He is an engineer’s engineer, the person senior professionals turn to for solutions to difficult technical problems. At CPCB he was instrumental in shaping India’s pollution control regulatory structure. He has been a member of various official committees for policy-making and administrative mechanisms to improve India’s environmental quality.

Dr Agrawal is a legendary and inspiring teacher whose students remember him with awe, admiration and affection. In 2002, his former students at IIT-Kanpur conferred on him the Best Teacher Award. He has guided scores of Masters and Doctoral students who are now leaders in the field of environmental engineering and science. Among his more prominent students was the late Anil Agrawal, the trail-blazing founder of the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi.

Dr Agrawal has been deeply committed to supporting rural development initiatives grounded in scientific methodology. Among others, he has helped mentor well-known development activists like Dunu Roy (IIT-Bombay,’67) of The Hazards Centre, New Delhi, Dr Ravi Chopra (IIT-Bombay,’68) of People’s Science Institute, Dehra Doon and Rajendra Singh, a Magsaysay awardee and founder of Tarun Bharat Sangh.

Born in a farming family in Kandhla (Muzaffarnagar district, U.P.) in 1932, he did his schooling locally and graduated in Civil Engineering from the University of Roorkee (now IIT-Roorkee).

He started his career as a Design Engineer in the Irrigation Department, Uttar Pradesh and later obtained a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley. He has dozens of scientific publications to his credit. Dr Agrawal is both deeply religious and rigorously scientific.

His passionate devotion to the River Ganga comes from his strong Hindu faith; his conviction that we are staring at an unprecedented ecological and cultural catastrophe comes from his powerfully logical mind. As a citizen and a patriot, he has made it his life’s mission to recall India to its glorious traditional reverence for nature and to share that wisdom with the “developed” world. His sense of his duty allows him to do no less.