The Forest Survey of India releases a biennial report ‘ India State of Forests’. It outlines the statistics prepared by the government with regard to the forest cover and diversity in India. The report of 2017 assessed the economic value of forests and underlined the need for forest conservation.
Several international organizations call for biodiversity conservation and prevention of extinction of animal and plant species. They cite research which shows that with every species that goes extinct, the human race inches closer to extinction. Air and water pollution must be controlled because it creates health issues in humans.
Me, My and Money
These are just a few instances of what is called ‘anthropocentrism’. It is a thought process which puts humans at the centre of every action or goal. On the other end of the spectrum is ‘ecocentrism’, which puts nature and its dynamics at the centre of everything. A classic example that differentiates the two starkly is culling of animals. At times, when the population of a certain species increases beyond limits or if the activities of the animal becomes a menace, then controlled killing of these animals is carried out. For example, culling of kangaroos in Australia to control their population, culling of aggressive street dogs, culling of monkeys which raid crop fields etc. Anthropocentrists would justify it because human interests must be protected. But ecocentrists would object saying that each plant or animal has an intrinsic value in itself, which is no more or no less than the intrinsic value of a human being.
Clearly, in reality, anthropocentrism has the upper hand. Combined with unregulated capitalism, they make a potent combination, as capitalism puts personal gain at the centre of every action and goal. Together, they seek to utilise or exploit natural, human, social and all other resources to monetise them and gain profits. This puts a price tag on every single thing and being. Nothing is sacred.
The elderly are cast away into old age homes or worse as they are not economically productive; rather they are a drain on the family’s finances. Unproductive workers are terminated, notwithstanding their years of labour or the hungry mouths back to feed at home. While environmentalists are crying themselves hoarse about global warming and glaciers melting, corporations and governments are preparing to capitalise on the new ice-free sea route which will open up in the Arctic a few years from now.
Every inch of the Earth is sought to be encroached upon. Rainforests, which are the lungs of the Earth are being cut down at a rapid rate, using newer, more powerful tools. Only around 13% of the oceans are untouched by humans. We see it around us too. Open spaces in the city giving way to high rise apartments, grasslands in suburbs being converted into landfills, fertile agricultural land being sold to corporations or for building roads. Until the maximum profit is extracted from these resources, there will be relentless pressure. For instance, all measures taken by a private enterprise towards it employees, such as training, paychecks and holidays, is geared towards maximum productivity, which translates into maximum profit, constantly pushing employees to do better. Or, get fired. Can he never work stress-free, earning his pay doing work he is comfortable with, and have a fulfilling life? In other words, can’t we just leave him be?
So, why can’t we just leave it be? Why do we have to see everything from the prism of benefit and profitability? Was it always this way?
Man has always wanted to have control over his milieu, for his survival and comfort. But until recently he recognised that Nature was bigger than him. He was a participant in the greater scheme of things. Now, greed has overtaken need. He wants to tame nature to suit his convinience. But, he has grossly underestimated Nature; the COVID-19 pandemic, being a case in point.
Value? Did you mean how many rupees?
Closer home, we have heard how our grandparents and great-grandparents gave away or gambled away land and property. Whatever was earned was spent for consumption by everybody. Wealth was held by the community or huge, joint families. This is in stark contrast with families of the present times. Wealth is created and held within small nuclear families and all outsiders are excluded. There is no limit on the number of apartments or cars or high end phones one can have, because price tags have become more important than coexistance and values.
Many invaders came to India, but, eventually, they made it their home. The wealth created out of our bountiful land, stayed within her people. But the white imperialists and capitalists could not just let the indigenous civilizations be. They had to exploit the peoples and their resources for their profit. Nearly 9% of India’s national income was drained into Britain annually during 200 years of its colonisation. Slavery, a black spot in the history of humanity, commenced during this period. The million-dollar question is, can humans ever leave anything be? Perhaps it is the answer for the pressing questions facing mankind.
More about the impact of imperialism on indigenous civilizations across the world in upcoming posts!