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REIMAGINING SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT (SD)

IN A SHIFTING CLIMATE
Dr. Thrivikramji K.P.
thrivikramji@gmail.com
Center for Environment & Development
Thozhuvancod, Thiruvananthapuram 695 013
Introduction
Sustainable development (SD) visualized utilization or exploitation of earth
resources (viz., litho-resources and bio-resources) in moderation or
sustainably such that there will be enough of these left behind in the
shallower crust of the earth and above the crust for meeting the needs of
future generation of humans say in the decades and centuries to come. The
term sustainability coined in the 70s seemingly earned world acclaim,
political support, policy initiatives and administrative credibility to varying
degrees among the community of nations. The founding of EPA in USA by
legislation also rendered added meaning to the maxim of sustainability.
The extractive industry focusing on exploitation of (non regenerative) lithoresources squarely leads to its depletion or even exhaustion, and if this
trend of dependency on litho resources continues steadily, in fact it has
been so, inescapably the human society may be heading toward a lithoresource dead end. The prosperity in all facets of human life in the world is
couched on the access free or otherwise to litho-resources.
On the contrary, bio-resources are regenerative at differing time scales (viz.,
seasonal, annual and perennial food crops, seafood and poultry and timber
crops and wild trees). The regenerative potential allows scaling up of
production by injecting modern technologies (such as culturing, devising
hybrids, scientific planting, improved agronomy practices, smart irrigation
and optimal fertilizing) to meet the rising global demand.
In addition to food, fresh or clean air and water are essential for the
wellness or physical and to some degree mental health of the population.
The turn over atmospheric air and winds and rain keeps the lower
atmosphere fairly clean. The hydrologic cycle, maintains a flux from land to
ocean
supplying annually a fresh stock of water in the form of snow and
liquid water. This flux is a great cleanser of the lower atmosphere and earth
materials closer to surface and
Since 1970, the population dynamics of the world went through a huge
change in the last four decades. At the time of the grand design of SD, the
world population stood at 3.5 bn, while it is at 7.0 bn in 2012 and headed to
8.3 bn by 2050. Logically, the SD strategies of the late last century need a

relook and perhaps an overhaul consequent on the doubling of population


and intimately connected world.
Brief on SD
As early as 1970, the term sustainability appeared in the lexicon of
developmental economics or strategies which meant equilibrium with basic
ecological support systems. The Brundtland Commission report Our
Common Future (WCED, 1987) identified economic development, social
development and environmental protection as three pillars of SD. In here,
sustainable development was defined as Development that meets the needs
of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to
meet their own needs.
As a rule, SD envisages growth and development based on natural,
manufactured and social capital for own welfare and that of future
generations. The UN included under SD, land development and human
development issues (like education, wellness and quality of life). Or shall we
say, SD expressly implies conservation of earth resources for future
generations. In other words, unabated supply of, or access to quality water,
air, food and shelter (WAFS) to meet basic human needs now and in future.
Interestingly, the distribution of such mundane resources or the resource
quartet in the continents of the planet earth is anything but overly uneven.
Or presumably and fundamentally laws of nature, go contrary to the very
essence of the foundation of SD.
Natural Resources
Now, a word or two about earths resources. Firstly, the natural resources
impose a limit in human development and economic growth. To large extent
this is overcome by import of the essentials from surplus economies to
regions of deficit. But the commodities and materials demand a high price
at the user end and hence only nations with flush funds alone has the
affordability. Now points about the resources and their broad profiles.
Natural resources belong to two broad categories, viz., regenerative or
biogenic resources or bio-resources and non-regenerative or lithogenic
resources or lithoresources. This universal dichotomy has been understood
by the humans right from the very early days of civilization.
Bio-resources
Among the twin resources, the bio-resources type is infinite in its own tenor
or right, while the other is finite. The infinite or biogenic resource is
comprised of all the members of the plant and animal kingdoms that either

supports the gastronomic needs or the aesthetic pleasure of the humanity.


As these are biogenic and hence regenerative a quick or sudden stoppage of
supply is nearly improbable as the span of the life cycle of most members is
under a year. Only forced extinctions can eliminate their loss. These are
the main stay of the humanity either directly or indirectly.
The biogenic resources or bio-resources for short are seasonal, annual and
perennial crops or tree species that yield food materials for humanity and
fodder for domestic animals. The non-edible plants and tree products do
serve the needs of a section of wild animals of the animal kingdom.
Litho-resources
Indeed it is to the contrary that story of litho-resources go. Under lithoresources comes rock and associated mineral resources, embedded natural
fuel resources, cogenerated ores and minerals, industrial minerals and
certain rock species or types. All these are associated with the crustal rocks
of the earth and especially in the continental crust. Of late, some very large
oil and or gas deposits have been discovered off shore in the ocean and at
various depths. For example the Deep Water horizon of British Petroleum
in the Gulf of Mexico (which went through a great accident in the recent
years) is pumping oil from a deep offshore reservoir. In India the Bombay
High oil field off Bombay, is another example of an offshore oil reservoir.
Other examples exist in the Mahanadi-Godavari basin in the east coast of
the country. Or these resources are part and parcel of the basic building
blocks or rock formations of earths crust, viz., one among the trios that
make up the solid surface of the earth. Others are the mantle immediately
below the crust and the core at the core. The litho-resources per se are
indeed finite and took tens to hundreds of millions of years to originate and
develop.
As these non-regenerative resources localized in the crust of the earth at
variable depths from surface requires for its exploitation strip mining,
subsurface mining or extraction by pumping. In fact, once we finish off
these litho-resources, we would have to look for these and newer resources
in the neighboring planets. Well, then there is ample meaning in our efforts
on perfecting planetary commute. Or shall we say that the litho-resources
are finite. Alternatively, we can apply our mind for creating new and hybrid
materials or matter to meet our daily non-food requirements (?) from the
atmospheric gases and water molecules both of which are in plenty.
The time frame for the formation of the lithogenic resources is simply
incomprehensible to humans. Right from the Greco-roman days, humans
have been steadily exploiting the earth resources and the same process
continues to grow exponentially. The latter aspect or the finite nature is the
fact often ignored by or oblivious to the greedy minds who reach back to

the river bed to gather river sand an archaic substitute for fine aggregate of
the designer-builder.
Human Population (Bomb)
The history of numeric growth of the Human population is nearly well
charted by US Census Bureau and the UN. As pointed out earlier, the SD
frame work along with detailed strategies are meant to ensure a decent
living especially for the millions of poor people distributed among the
different nations of the world. The 2012 world population of 7.00 bn, is
predicted to hit the 8.5 bn mark in 2050. In 1970 world population was only
3.5 bn.
Soon after the WWII, the world population stood at 3.00 bn. Of the 7.22 bn
world population roughly a little more than 2.00 bn are in the fast
developing economies of China and India. Indian population is predicted
cross the Chinese population figure by 2030. Developed countries like the
USA and member countries of EU and especially the northern European
nations are currently facing a population decline or achieved the state of
zero population growth.
Indian scenario
For countries like India and to some extent China the population level bodes
a bad omen in respect of SD. The per capita availability funds for of land
and human development are the sectors that shall undoubtedly take a heavy
beating. As a nation Indias goal is to supply the essentials of human
development like good food, safe water, modest shelter, modern health and
adequate facilities for education. Finally, to cap it all, ample opportunities
for earning a decent wage.
However, a few hundred million of the Indian population is still without
access to these basic needs. People and families are not connected to water
grid or electricity grid or sewage and waste disposal systems. Decent
infrastructure in the sectors of housing, transport, waste water treatment or
solid waste disposal is still a far cry in our country.
The national government has before it a very stupendous task of removing
such deficits in an acceptable and reasonable time frame. Financial crunch
is haunting the nation. But the recent fall in crude prices is a blessing in
disguise for India (like many other oil importers of the world) as there is a
sheer drop in the flight of dollars from our country which is a three-fourth
importer of its oil and gas needs. The level of endowment of coal in India is
very substantial and government plans to double the thermal electricity
production in next five years. However, this proposal has road blocks from
the carbon emission restrictions voluntary or mandated by the COP Lima
2014 and Paris 2015.

Global Climate Change vs. India


The Lima summit, 2014 leading to Paris in 2015, is drawing up a road map
for cutting the CO2 emission cuts by various nations of the world
substantially. The fountain of hope for reaching a successful agreement at
Lima and then later next year in Paris, was on display in the Beijing summit
earlier this year between China and USA (the two major CO2 emitters at
nearly 40%) where the two countries agreed to cut down the emission level
to 2005 by 2025. This time around the slogan is or a voluntary reduction of
emission by the member countries. India will have to be a party to this
decision and take a new path. At Lima the Indian delegation unveiled a five
pillar policy of mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology development and
capacity building. The low carbon or carbon free economy is the goal our
country. Reducing the coal-thermal-electricity and promoting nuclear
thermal, solar PV and wind generation are options before the country to
achieve this goal.
Shale gas in the USA
Unmistakably, perhaps the greatest boost to the economies of worlds vast
majority of nations is the harnessing of shale gas in the USA for their home
consumption and consequent steep reduction in their import of Persian Gulf
oil and gas. Oil production/manufacture from the Canadian Tar sands of
Alberta is also an added boon to USA.
The recent glut in shale gas in the USA, has impacted hugely and
permanently the global oil price. For the next 50 to 100 yr the American
economy will grow and prosper with the indigenous shale gas and oil.
Indeed soon USA will be in a position to export shale gas to the NATO
countries. This new resource has pushed down the oil price to about $70
per barrel and according to Moodys shall soon the price will hit a still lower
mark of around US $60 per barrel.
This indeed is a great financial relief for Indian economy in that the savings
accruing by this route could go to other sectors facing a fund crunch. Or
more monies will be available to achieve the SD goals. This is true for the
rest of the worlds net importers or partial importers.

New Global Connectivity

The satellite TV and optic fiber-satellite communication highway shrunk the


world by taking slices of the world from one part to the living rooms, class
rooms and homes in other corners of the world and marked the beginning of
closely-knit-global-community. Now the high speed internet furthered the
proximities of nations and freely transferred data, information and
knowledge across. This new structure forced and continues to do so in every
realm of human life from education to health care, human rights to
obligations and infotainment. This and reverse flow of funds from oil
consumers to producers in the recent past demands a relook of the SD.
Reimagining SD
The structural changes due to the low carbon or zero carbon goals to thwart
global warming, steep decline in the global oil price to nearly half of what
it was a year ago and racing population growth especially in the countries
like India, China and African countries, satellite and direct to home
television broad casting and the high speed internet together warrants a
revisit to the SD. I designate the new or redesigned SD1.0 as SD2.0.
As it stands the pillars of SD1.0 identified in the pre-nineties logically call
for revision for the simple reason that the world economy and the global
GDP in particular those days were perhaps half of what is today. Social
ambience, financial resources and the number of people needing access to
basic inputs for a decent life are far more now, in the 21 st century and
indeed their needs are poles apart now.
I therefore strongly recommend a revisit to the basic tenets of SD1.0 and
review and revise the structure and goals accordingly. For example the
satellite and direct home TV was non-existent then opposed to now today.
The class teacher can now be in the living room and be teaching lessons for
school age kids.
The high speed internet and cheap tablets are a new process by which
one could enroll in a course for credit and finally when course and credit
requirements are fulfilled earn a college degree and a good rewarding job.
Access to Public health practices and packages can be delivered to the
needy and discerning through TV and internet both are kind of cheap in
most countries of the world. The RTI act and Aadhar are a pair or couple
that fuelled empowerment of citizens.
The vital messages relating to resource conservation (both bio-resources
and litho-resources), can get a rather wide reach through the new devices
in the modern age.
Acknowledgements

I sincerely thank Shri P. Sivasankaran and Dr. Babu Ambat (Executive


Director, CED) for encouraging me to ponder deeply on the subject of SD.
Once in the process, I re-looked the process of SD in the backdrop of the
connected world. I am responsible for the glitches if any in the facts or
oversights in the rendering.
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Useful Reading.
Brundtland Commission (1987). "Report of the World Commission on
Environment and Development". United Nations.
Thrivikramji.K.P., 1986, River Metamorphosis due to Human Intervention,
Report submitted to MOEF, New Delhi, 151 p.
World Commission on Environment and Development (1987). Our Common
Future. Oxford University Press, ISBN 019282080X.

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