India knows how to avoid collapse

India is a country that is set to face huge social tensions. Not only will Climate Change make life more precarious for the poor, but the suggested solutions to climate change will destabilise them yet further. However, India also contains the seeds to a solution to this, especially amongst its activist struggles. Jared Diamond’s book Collapse is a chilling read, considering how closely its account of the implosion of civilisations past also traces out the arc of our current global predicament (Diamond, 2005). He teases out the implications of population and consumption growing exponentially: It means that consumption hits natural resource limits at a very great speed, and that the moments before that collision are a huge party for those at the top, since consumption is at its absolute peak. This leads to a situation where the rich are living such a high-life that it is near impossible for them to imagine the plight of the poor, who are the first people to be hamstrung by the dwindling of resources. This gap is what disables the early warning systems of failing societies, and it is precisely this gap that we see opening up around climate change. Right here, right now, in In-

dia, but also even more so globally, this fatal gap in understanding between rich and poor is stark and growing. No issue exemplifies this gap and the dangers it represents better than climate change. The Darfur Crisis was called a taste of things to come with climate change (Moon, 2006) occurring in one of the most population dense parts of the world, in the face of a shifting climatic regime. However commentators on the area pointed out that at the same time as food became scarce in Darfur due to the shifting climate regime, the value of land rose, especially as it was already being bought up by capital intensive schemes from the World Bank and IMF to reform agriculture. Effectively what kicked off the civil war in the area was Urban Elites coming in and speculatively buying up the land that had started rising in value, and thus increasing its value further in a positive feedback, a kind of Gold-rush (Polgreen, 2007). It was this gap, between speculation and subsistence, that was the spark that set the area on fire.

This is a problem not just for Darfur but for the world at large, and no-where illustrates this better than India. By dint of its huge population and very high levels of land pressure (see figure 1), like Darfur, Asia is highly vulnerable to climate change. Asia lacks huge areas of free land for people to

So in security terms. and it is also nuclear-armed (China. India. the whole world needs soFigure 2: World Map with area adjusted by Nuclear Weapons holdings. . Pakistan and so on).Figure 1: World map with area adjusted by population. move into.

By this mechanism. to the extent that ore refineries often have Coal-powered plants attached to them. as well as corrupting local politics. are also to be subsidised in the name of Clean Development. This applies to Asia as a whole but especially to India which holds the most poor people of any country on earth (some 30% of all people below a dollar a day). India is to date in receipt of over 2 Billion USD of Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) funding. that also displace huge numbers of people and divert huge areas of Forest lands. which is designed to let developed countries emit by paying developing countries for making cuts. India as the second largest receiver of CDM funds is already leading the way in practicing mitigation as a way of displacing people. The processes of displacement by Mining are accelerating fast: More than twice as many diversions of Forest for mining were granted from 1997-2007 . Felix Padel and Samarendra Das.cial solutions under climate change that will create stability in densely populated areas. The CDM funds are going to the industrial interests already involved in marginalising local people. will explain the enormous resource and energy intensity of the Minerals industry. in their upcoming book on Aluminium Mining in Orissa. You can see this gap between subsistence and speculation opening up in India right now. Yet these industries.

The food price spike in 2008 was attributed by the World Bank as being 75% down to the growth in bio-fuels1. 2007). since energy consumption and income track each other very closely (Strahan. was turned over to feed energy markets.than for the previous ten years (Nayak. 2008).he arrives at 75% basically by subtracting from 100 what he thinks is the significance of other impacts such as the Australian drought. through linkages like bio-fuels. instead of producing stuff to feed humans. Cultivable land. demand for bio-fuels and food prices. in terms of sheer weight of numbers. When energy markets become tight. into food markets and so hit the poor very hard. which is more than enough to cause a crisis. So again India is forging ahead in the displacement sector. although their pitifully low purchasing power confounds that to a great extent. .” However. I would like to look at a case in depth to tease out how the economics of resource shortage drive these issues. In other words the scarcity of oil leads to a rise in the cost of 1 Jenn Baka. This is what lets countries export food even as people starve. it is very easy for purchasing power to cascade. let’s instead look at the links between Oil prices. Food markets are dominated by the poor. Energy markets are by stark contrast utterly dominated by the rich. is skeptical of the 75% figure “ I don't agree with Mitchell's assessment as it lacks rigour -. who works on Bio-fuels at Yale. somewhere between 30% to 75% of the rise is likely to be down to bio-fuels. Since Felix and Samarendra have covered the Gold Rush that is chasing dwindling minerals. for instance in 2008 when demand for oil out stripped supply.

2009).5 million tonnes of Forest Carbon were traded in 2007. Behind each of these stories there was a dwindling resource (carbon air-space or minerals). A chilling footnote to this discussion is that in February 2009. 2007). Coming up is the budget for carbon offset in the new US Climate Bill. 2008).energy. and then a move by the rich to corner that resource. To put this in context only 7. that is orders of magnitude of pressure on forest land (Baka. a US-India deal was brokered to increase bio-fuel production (Taragana. so we are talking orders of magnitude of potential growth in this trade. often by enclosing what was formerly a commons. and this is passed on into a rise in the cost of food. and carving it up amongst themselves and trading it. Even the International Energy Agency now admits that it is just a question of when conventional oil production peaks and they say 2020 (Macalister and Monbiot. three times the size of any previous national carbon trading proposal. Then the price could go as high as $300 a barrel (Strahan. It . just before predictions regarding this summer’s drought were first taking shape. Just imagine the impact on food prices. Does this sound like Collapse? In 2008 the oil price went to $100 dollars a barrel. 2009 personal communication). which is talking of figures of 2 Billion tonnes of Carbon offset per year.

000 Hectares of land (Vallely. from Madagascar. When you consider that natural resource consumption is growing exponentially across the board. around minerals. 2009). So why is it so popular as an approach? It is remarkable to see how policy-makers really start to take an issue on board. Climate Change is already turning into a politics of land control. then those with money tend to circle in. to Sudan where South Korean companies have bought up 690. 2007). As we can see a sobering fact of life that as a resource becomes scarce its value increases. The Stern Report marked a sea-change in climate debates. and toxic financial products like the Clean Development Mechanism are already starting processes of displacement. increasingly around fresh water (Barlow and Clarke. will be followed up by gold-rush after gold-rush of purchasing power seeking out quick and lucrative fixes to the problems of over-consumption. With bio-fuels. Financialisation is clearly not such a solution. this is exactly what is being seen all over the world. it becomes clear resource shortage. It follows that as something becomes expensive. 2002) and also around oil (David. around carbon commons with CDM. where a deal to grow Palm Oil as a bio-fuel precipitated a coup. bring- .

1983). amongst those whose environmental problems are already under-recorded through state pollution control boards.and at a collective level it is) but it is understandable when you look at how people get things done in big the economics of it into public focus2. These organisations see the world and act on it through budgets and statistics. standable though this is. such as forests and “wasteland”. Crudely put. . it makes it no less dangerous. These marginal groups are the humans who most often rely on the commons that are being enclosed. instead of considering how many people climate change might kill. UnderThe biggest impacts of climate change will be in the non-cash economy. This seems deeply sick (Monbiot. They simply cannot secure access to a livelihood by cash-means when in competition with rich world purchasing power for a dwindling resource base. someone came up with figures about how much it would cost. this is the language of action in a policy context (Hacking. Thanks to Jenn Baka for flagging this. However being drawn into the cash economy will only expose them further to the economic forces likely to be their undoing under conditions of scarcity. or state below poverty line registers. He did this by using a 0% discount rate on the future. taking responsibility in this way being somewhat radical amongst the Professors of prudence. 2008 . So the language of large institutions leads to financialised ap2 Within the dismal science Stern put a fire under the climate-costing debates by rallying against the “Jam-now-pay-later” school.

without a cash nexus) in a certain area. 1989). preferably with a certain amount of local democratic control in terms of how that access is managed. alongside a collapse in purchasing power to bring food in. as happened in the Bengal Famine. It is possible to protect livelihoods by non-market means. This helps to explain. In their analysis it carries two burdens. One is to point out that people obtain things from outside the cash economy.proaches to climate change which heighten the crisis for those actually facing shortage in a life-threatening sense. This is Jared Diamond’s gap written across the face of the earth. but to do so you need to secure non-tradable access to those livelihoods. where there is a collapse in both direct entitlements to food (from the environment. for instance how their can be famines in times of increased food production. and not necessarily directly by food shortage. via economic entitlements. . The second is to show how famine can be driven by a collapse in purchasing power. Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze put forward the useful idea of “entitlements” to help economists to understand famines (Drèze and Sen. from the high production areas.

what of $300? 3 It is important to note that this mechanism can also occur where purchasing power chasing a given resource increases. with the Gold Rushes described above likely to be a major factor in that. and this with oil at $100 a barrel. thus driving up prices. due to unpredictable weather and displacement by sea-level rise. Climate change is likely to create a crisis both of direct entitlements to food from the environment. bringing about an effective collapse of a local cash-entitlement without necessarily seeing a decrease in local purchasing-power. One possible way forward is “targeted benefits” like the NREGA scheme. 2007)3 . when food price inflation sets in? At what level of financial pressure does the Government cave in and leave the poor to their fate? There were suggestion in 2008 that the relatively small food price rise then was placing financial strain on the government. . coming from central government. How long will such political will last when chemical agricultural inputs and petrol become very expensive. But this makes local communities dependent on political will at the center. So what you need in order to deal with this combination is some kind of protected non-tradable entitlement that is immune to these gold rushes and that gives some buffer against climatic unpredictability. at least as expressed in cash terms. but also a crisis of purchasing power.This also explains how India can export food even as people starve (Patnaik.

However. and perhaps unsurprisingly. and the expensive procedures involved in verifying Carbon Credits. by a happy coincidence India already has a mechanism for trading Forest that looks remarkable similar to the Trees-as-Carbon-Credits approach of REDD. to limit State Government diversion of Forest lands. Forests are to be brought into the CDM regime via a scheme called reductions in emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries (REDD)(UN. 2008). Judging by CDM. the Supreme Court case known as Godarvarmen mutated into the ongoing Mandamus of “The Forest Case” over-seeing all clearances for diversion of Forest (Dutta and Yadav. The move towards this process has caused a great stir amongst Indian policy makers. a major bargaining chip for them in the Global Carbon Countdown. Forests have also come caught up in the process of trying to trade for space in the Carbon Cycle. who have latched on to the statistic that India’s Forests absorb 11% of India’s emissions. 2007). In an attempt to enforce the Forest Conservation Act of 1980.There is an alternative approach to social security that has emerged in another area. Ironically. be- there is little need for speculation on this point. that of Forests. this centralised clearance process had begun to . these schemes look highly unlikely to involve local communities and much more likely to displace them.

This political process took an even more unusual turn when the Supreme Court decided that in order to protect Forest Land from diversion it should effectively be put up for sale. 2008). Any observer of Indian politics would not find it hard to answer the following question: Where is Carbon best stored. Admittedly these measures were to prevent State Governments diverting land to their-friends-in-business on the cheap. and also to pay a compulsory afforestation fee (CAMPA).resemble the “Single Window Clearance” process desired by the World Bank and other business lobbies to simplify investment access to natural resources (Gopalakrishnan. which represented the cost of reforesting twice the area of the land to be cleared. allocating only 1000 out of 11.000 crores of the fund to planting trees. and none of it to supporting local governance of natural resources. but they morphed into a mechanism where powerful parties could buy their way into Forest land. It is precisely this fund that is being touted . central agencies have kept hold of the funds from CAMPA. as a tree in the ground or as money in a political pocket? Despite Condemnation from the Parliamentary Standing commitee. contrary to the Standing Committee’s recommendations (CSD). The scheme was to force parties diverting Forest land to pay both the Net Present Value of the land. supposedly calculated to reflect market rates.

Consider that the request from the developed world towards countries like India is that they re-jig their entire energy infrastructure away from cheap and dirty solutions like coal. as the current problems in Chattisgargh illustrate. This amounts to a very potent recipe for Collapse. far from helping the vulnerable 40% who depend on the rains for their food (Briscoe and Malik. 2007).as India’s new 2. It seems clear that in order to have the resources and social stability required to re-jig your energy system. and judging by the way the funds have gone so far. to adaptation. India is a country with a severe social unrest problem. Clearly this is not a scheme that will lead to local empowerment of communities. which have reduced per capita calorie intake as well as increased indebtedness and farmer suicide rates (Patnaik. In other words yet another Gold-rush that will undermine livelihoods. This has been worsened by the pressures of liberalisation upon the poor. 2007). What it is likely to do is further open the door of a single window clearance model for forest diversion based on the principle of who pays wins. 2009). is likely to further displace them from their livelihoods. A financialised approach to climate change.5B USD afforestation program in the run-up to Copenhagen (Mohuiddin. to more social security. you cannot be engaged in . it is unlikely to help mitigation either.

In other words something has to give.any relation with a government or business body tends to turn exploita- . they also have a tendency to descend into corruption and to bring about patron client relations between the givers and receivers of assistance. which can grow under dry conditions. working with food security. The contention is that climate instability can be met by traditional crops such as Millets. and so can only take place where communities have control of their own land and some sort of autonomy from local political and economic processes. This is in order to secure those areas for investment (Democracy Now. What is it that can provide a buffer to rich-world purchasing power in the face of dwindling resources? The earlier discussion of the Food Crisis shows that centralised schemes like NREGA are not necessarily to be relied upon. Apart from it being unclear if the government can afford them. or rather as they put it Food Sovereignty. It is a picture that every activist here will recognise . However Millet cultivation is looked down on as backward and not at all lucrative. This is very much the view of groups like the Deccan Development Society. “Green Hunt”.a war with your own people. in an operation called. Bear in mind that India is lining up for an offensive on Maoists in its central Forest Belt. with the upmost in unintentional irony. 2009).

where collective control and policing of natural resources locally becomes the basis of Forest 4 The Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill 2006 . The Marine example illustrates the crux of the issue: The lack of natural boundaries at sea makes a co-existence regime with nature much more self-evident than the land-based human exclusion models that have dominated wildlife and forest law to date.tive. partly via the context of Mangroves. 2007). So the answer is local autonomy over natural resources. 2009). It is such measures. That fisher communities also tend to be autonomous and internally democratic also speaks to the provisions in the FRA for Community Forest Resources. This is a situation already being worsened in the emerging natural resource Gold rushes. based on political and economic purchasing power. with the notion of “Sea-Tribal” being mobilised to describe the traditional and direct relationship with nature of those communities (Sridhar and Shanker. This is pretty much exactly what the Forest Rights Act (FRA)4 attempts to put in place. This approach is already being discussed in the context of extending it within India towards fisher communities. that secure livelihoods regardless of the flows of purchasing power. a return of control over the commons as Anna Pinto puts it (Pinto.

There are ongoing debates raging about how successful such de-centralisation of control is likely to be. 2009). these kinds of approaches need to be broadened to become an inclusive safety net for the poor in the face of a rapidly changing world. This is a response to the historical injustices of Adivasi dispossession which went on under existing closed and bureaucratic systems of rights allocation (Bijoy. 2008). It is this innovation. from the failures of meaningful participation under JFM to anxieties about lack of local environmental knowledge (Ghost. With resource pressures mounting across the board. and the need for a stable transition to low-carbon economies becoming ever more pressing. none of this explains away the need for a local democratising project in relation to natural resources to provide the autonomy required for resilience in the face of climate and financial instability.Governance in inhabited areas. which forms the kernel of the political project behind the act. and there is an existing model in law (the FRA) showing how to start creating a legal framework for this. The bottom line is that there are emerging models for local democratic non-financialised control of natural resources out there for all crucial livelihood areas. However. one based around lo- . of decentralised local natural resource governance overseeing the allocation and maintenance of both Forests and rights to them.

could lead the world.. What India really needs to move in this direction is the political will to make it so. to move India further towards an integrated regime of democratic natural resource management. as well as to agricultural development. 2008). and by this I mean activist India.B. through my ongoing engagement with the activist struggles dealing with these issues. In bringing this about. 2008) and the right to food (Saxena et al. and the implications of this within this wider debate. This may be born of the understanding that there is nowhere else to go. via an indepth ethnography of one such implementation struggle. N. This is an area that is ripe for further study and policy autonomy and democratic governance of natural resources. I wish to turn this work into a book. This is an approach that could be applied to things like the right to water (Grönwall. India. and using the ethnographic work to support the argument. My ethnographic work and wider analysis will be looking at the possibilities for implementing such an act. but it is also only really likely to happen via political pressure. . but one dealing with these wider issues.

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