Demand India Protect Old-Growth and Abandon Coal
India is a thriving democratic nation with tremendous potential to achieve just, equitable, and ecologically sustainable national development that could last forever. Yet India is heading towards social and ecological collapse unless it stops burning coal and clearing its natural ecosystems, especially important old-growth forest remnants. The momentum of unfettered economic and population growth sweeping India is so severely damaging to the environment that failure to stop burning and cutting threatens the nation’s reliable climate, food and water supplies, and its future potential for sustained national advancement. India is an amazing place in so many ways. There is still hope that they will come to understand the importance of a different development model based upon intact natural ecosystems.
Sadly, the great and ancient nation of India is following the failed development model of the Western overdeveloped nations. Its policies have come to equate liquidating natural ecosystems for temporary economic gain with true and lasting national advancement. Nowhere is this clearer than in India’s failure to establish national land use regulations and end its ever-growing dependence upon coal for energy. If India does not stop burning coal and destroying its natural ecosystems, it will soon face social and ecological collapse. The repercussions of the wholesale collapse of such a populous nation would be of such magnitude that it might well contribute significantly to collapse of Earth’s one shared biosphere.
Nowhere is lack of land-use planning regulation in India more evident than in southern Kerala state. The “Evergreen” state is known for its greenery and important remnant Western Ghats Forests which still hold viable populations of Asian elephants and tigers. Their monsoon-fed green water towers provide ~40% of India’s water. A highly credible scientific mapping plan – the Western Ghats Experts Ecology Panel Report (WGEEP), often referred to as the “Gadgil report” after its lead author – has been developed for the area to establish zoning of ecologically important areas to ensure sustainability, particularly of water for the Western Ghats region.
Yet this cutting-edge land-use planning effort has been put on hold after a barrage of unfair attacks by vested political and economic interests. Ecological Internet’s Dr. Glen Barry – while visiting Kerala – noted this appears to largely be due to the corrupting influences of the Goa mining industry, Syro-Malabar Church and Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council, and petty scientific jealousies between rival researchers. These established elites are all protecting their economic interests over the environmental needs of the poor.
The Gadgil report would identify natural ecosystems crucial to Western Ghats’ and India’s long-term development (including all remaining old-growth forests, which have dwindled to less than 7% of their former extent) and establish a much needed data-driven methodology to map and restrict ecologically sensitive areas from development. The report by the Madhav Gadgil committee is based on cutting-edge environmental science and, if implemented, will definitely protect Kerala’s much-diminished forests and shrinking water resources and slow the process of climate change. Unless Kerala’s forests are protected and restored, the seasonal monsoons which deposit much of India’s water in these green water towers are threatened, as are large herds of Asian elephants and individual tigers which are signs of healthy and connected ecosystems.
Similarly the Indian political system appears incapable of weaning itself from a deepening coal addiction. India is planning 455 new coal plants (compared to 363 in China). Most of India’s coal is found under natural forests, and recently bans on mining in forested areas were lifted, to make coal production easier. Unlike China, which is a tyrannical ecocidal mess, India is a democracy, and there is greater potential for change through reform rather than a need to replace the entire system. The question is whether India will succumb to the greed of a small but powerful minority who want to usurp the larger community’s fundamental rights of access to clean air, water, and food. India’s political establishment should embrace long-term sustainable development programs as developed by one of their own greatest scientists in the WGEEP report. If India fails to embrace legal regulatory structures to protect ecosystems, its national material prosperity will be short-lived, and never equitably extended to the poor.