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Environmentalism, Sustainable Development & India’s Social Economy

Raakhee Suryaprakash

Founder, Sunshine Millennium


A major challenge to the economy, life and livelihood is inequity. Tyrannized by Western growth
simulations and inadequate economic models, mindless and jobless growth seems to be prioritized at
the cost of the environment, peace and shared prosperity. Inequitable growth seems to be most
prominent feature of the “new industrial age” and the “plastic age.” When trying to achieve common
good, the most efficient way is to ensure equitable development. Economic inequity fosters most of the
social ills that plague today’s globalized society. This paper will show that bottom-up sustainable
development prioritizing environmental protection together with sound policy supported by “political
will” can ensure “prosperity for all” without harming our environment. The recently launched Indian
Ease of Living Index (ELI) and the opportunities offered by the smart “Swachh Survekshan 2019” with its
focus on sustainability and public participation offer a way to bring movements that protect the
environment while empowering the marginalized to the fore. There are successful pilots and working
models across the country and the globe that can be scaled up to optimize Human Development in
urban epicenters in synchrony with environmentalism and empowerment of the marginalized – women,
the poor, the indigenous and the dalits. With India and its coastal populations, infrastructure, metros,
capitals and megacities at the frontline of the impacts of climate change moving to low-carbon
sustainable development model will benefit us first. As the 2018 New Climate Economy Report puts it,
sustainable development will save the global economy $26 trillion in the long term while benefiting the
people and the planet:

“a transition to sustainability will both be concentrated in particular countries

and communities, so every policy and infrastructure decision needs to be made
with equity in mind. … We need a new class of economic models that can
capture the powerful dynamics at play, including transformative technological
advances, preservation of essential natural capital, and the full health benefits of
cleaner air and a safer climate, including the containment of pandemic diseases.”

As we battle climate change, and work to decarbonize the economy while prioritizing equitable human
development, the voice of the voiceless and marginalized need to be heard. Ancestral knowledge of
tribal communities and the innovative spirit of women and the urban poor who face down challenges
everyday need to be harnessed for common good. The ELI’s parameters of “Reduced pollution; Public
open spaces; Solid Waste Management; Waste Water Management; Assured water supply; Power
supply; Identity & culture; Economy & Employment” can all be addressed through the low-carbon
growth model which takes into account the experiences and aspirations of the marginalized while
keeping the preservation of the shared commons front and centre. Truly a win for all.