Environmentalists are rightly alarmed that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government is busy dismantling the environmental regulatory system in the country. Over the past two months, the media has reported that clearances for projects, from mining to roads, have been fast-tracked. While the website of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) has not been updated in August, in the two months till July end, forest clearance was granted to over 92 projects, which will divert some 1,600 hectares of forest. More recently, it was reported that the National Board for Wildlife has processed many projects located near or in sanctuaries and national parks.
Additionally, rules are being changed, purportedly to speed up the process. This is being done in mainly two ways. One, as much as possible, MOEF is pushing decision-making to the states in the name of streamlining the process. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification has been amended to delegate powers to clear certain projects to the state-level EIA authorities. This is being done with the full knowledge that the state agencies lack capacity and accountability. So, the effort is not to take informed decisions about adverse impacts of projects. The effort is to get rid of the clearance system or at least to push it as far away as possible.
Two, wherever possible the provision of holding public hearings or taking gram sabhas’ [village meeting] consent is being diluted or even removed. For example, small coal mines—classified as producing 8 million tonnes annually—have been allowed to double their capacity without holding the mandatory public hearing. Other changes are also in the offing that will further chip away at this condition, which makes it necessary to get the consent of the affected communities or at least to hear and heed their concerns. Clearly, listening to people is not convenient for industry.
On September 15, in a tribunal that few know exists, the fate of millions of people and hundreds of millions of dollars will be debated and decided in the next six months.
The tribunal is the World Bank Group’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). It sits in downtown Washington, D.C., behind security guards at the World Bank. At issue is the future of El Salvador, some 2,000 miles away, where a global mining company—Pacific Rim, now owned by Australian/Canadian corporation OceanaGold—wants to mine gold in ways that could well poison the river system serving over half the Salvadoran population.
The crime alleged by the mining company is that the government of El Salvador has not approved a mining license for it. But the real crime is that a foreign corporation is trying to stifle democracy in a country where a small landed oligarchy and U.S. intervention stifled it for so long.
What should I eat now? Is there nothing that is safe?” This is what I am asked every time the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) does a study on toxins in food. It is a fact that our food is becoming unhealthy—not because of deliberate adulteration but because we are choosing to produce it in unsafe ways. India is at the beginning of industrial food production focused on efficiency and profits, and not on consumer safety, so it still has a choice to get it right. Why should the country not exercise its right to food that secures livelihoods and nutrition?
This time CSE has looked at antibiotics in chicken. Its laboratory bought 70 samples of chicken from different markets across the National Capital Region. It analysed each animal for six antibiotics: oxytetracycline, chlortetracycline and doxycycline (class tetracyclines);enrofloxacin and ciprofloxacin (class fluoroquinolones) and neomycin, an aminoglycoside. All these antibiotics are critical for humans. These are the same medicines we are prescribed when we are taken ill. These are life-saving drugs.
Today we know antibiotic resistance is almost a health pandemic. It is said that humans are headed towards a post-antibiotic era, where these miracle medicines will not work. No new class of antibiotics has been discovered for the past 20-odd years, so what we have is what we should keep for critical treatment. It is well known that resistance is growing because of our overexposure to antibiotics. A drug is no longer effective for treatment when microbes become resistant to it.
But we do not realise that our overexposure to antibiotics is also growing because of the food we eat.
Regular Triple Crisis contributor James K. Boyce, director of the Program on Development, Peacebuilding, and the Environment at the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) and Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, addresses a new “cap-and-dividend” climate bill before the United States congress. This interview originally appeared at The Real News Network. Prof. Boyce’s detailed views on climate policy appeared earlier, in five parts, on Triple Crisis and its sister publication Dollars & Sense. It is available in full here.
Smart is as smart does. The NDA government’s proposal to build 100 “smart” cities will work only if it can reinvent the very idea of urban growth in a country like India. Smart thinking will require the government to not only copy the model cities of the already developed Western world, but also find a new measure of liveability that will work for Indian situation, where the cost of growth is unaffordable for most.
The advantage is that there is no agreed definition of smart city. Very loosely it is seen as a settlement where technology is used to bring about efficiency in resource use and improvement in the level of services. All this is needed. But before we can bring in smart technology, we need to know what to do with it. How do we build new cities and repair groaning urban settlements to provide clean water to all, to manage the growing mountains of garbage, to treat sewage before we destroy our rivers and to do something as basic as breathing without inhaling toxins?
It can be done. But only if we have our own dream of a modern Indian city. We cannot turn Ghaziabad, Rajkot, Sholapur, Tumkur or even Gurgaon into Shanghai or Singapore. But we can turn these cities into liveable models for others to emulate.
Sixty people died in a building collapse in Chennai earlier this month. There is much more than the municipal incompetence that needs to be fixed to avoid such tragic incidents. This building was located on the Porur lake, a water body that provides services, such as groundwater recharge and flood management, to an otherwise water-starved city. If you care to ask the obvious question how construction was permitted on the wetland, you will get a not-so-obvious response.Wetlands are rarely recorded under municipal land laws, so nobody knows about them. Planners see only land, not water, and greedy builders take over. The water body is filled, buildings are constructed, and a crucial service provider is killed.
It is time we realised that a water body is not an ornamental luxury or a wasted land. A city’s lake is its lifeline Read the rest of this entry »
A previous article of mine on Triple Crisis trashed the arguments for the international trade proposal called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and applies as well to the loathsome Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. These “partnerships” represent but two more attempts to sell the pernicious nonsense of “free trade”. In my new book, Economics of the 1%, I go to the analytical roots of the neoliberal trade ideology to rubbish the incantation of “gains from (international) trade.”
I recently attended a meeting in London with environmental activists, including a well-known British climate scientist. As a result of that meeting, I realize that my critique of “free trade” was far too timid and narrow. The essential problem is not these attempts by the U.S. bourgeoisie via our government to gain advantage in international markets. The problem is international trade itself. The charts below show why. The two countries with the most exports in 2012 are the United States and China, with Germany and Japan considerably further back (both the U.S. and China over US$2 trillion, Germany at just over US$1.5 trillion).
By no accident, China and the United States are at the top of the pollution list, with Japan #5 and Germany #6. But, “wait,” you say, these are also the largest economies in the world, so the issue is their domestic energy use, not whether what is produced is exported.
Industrial mining continues to generate horror stories that fill front pages. Among the most recent, in May 2014, more than 300 miners were confirmed dead after an explosion in a coal mine in Soma, Turkey.
To the extent the mainstream is touting solutions, the spotlight is on “transparency”—such as under the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. But these efforts focus mostly on ensuring that the gains from mining are more equitably distributed between company and host country. That does not directly address whether mining is being done in an environmentally and socially responsible way.
As I have written elsewhere, we need to make mining policy environmentally, socially, and economically responsible—not just transparent, or even transparent with accountability, regarding who gets what share of the revenues.
So this blog post is sharing the good news about six countries trying to move towards responsible mining policies. Some are more successful, significant, and meaningful than others, but all are worth following.
One of the objectives of Thomas Piketty’s economics bestseller, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, is to estimate the evolution of the capital-income ratio of an economy. According to Piketty, “a country that saves a lot and grows slowly will over the long run accumulate an enormous stock of capital (relative to its income), which can in turn have a significant effect on the social structure and distribution of wealth” (p. 166).
Piketty defines capital—which he calls “national capital” or “national wealth”—as “the sum total of nonhuman assets that can be owned and exchanged on some market” (p. 46). Capital therefore includes all forms of real property (including residential real estate) as well as financial and industrial capital (plants, infrastructure, machinery, patents, and so on) used by firms and government agencies. But capital also includes farmland and natural resources, such as fossil fuels, minerals, forests and any other similar natural capital that can also be bought and sold on markets. In sum,
national capital = farmland + marketed natural resources + housing + other domestic capital + net foreign capital
Climate change has a surprising new follower: the U.S. president. The U.S. government has been the biggest bugbear in climate change negotiations. Since discussions began on this issue in the early 1990s, the United States has stymied all efforts for an effective and fair deal. It has blocked action by arguing that countries like China and India must first do more. Worse, successive governments have even denied that the threat from a changing climate is real, let alone urgent. President Barack Obama, who came to power in the first term with the promise of change in dealing with climate change, was noticeably coy about the issue in the recent years.
But in May this year, the U.S. government released its National Climate Assessment, which puts together carefully peer reviewed scientific information on the impacts in the United States. It makes clear that even the United States is not immune to the dangers of climate change. In fact, many trends are visible and the country is already hurting.