Opinion | Why this is the right time to follow green economy in India

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Green economy is a combination of two words — greenery (ecology) and economics. Economics studies human needs in relation to material ends and means, while ecology deals with the study of living organisms and their interactions with the environment. Green economy is a new theory and approach in which an economy is considered to be a component of the ecosystem in which it resides. Simply, the economy is part of the ecosystem in which it exists, being its subsystem. Green economy is known by different names such as Eco-economics or Ecological economics.

As per this theory, material wealth and environment are not mutually exclusive. It presupposes that economic resources of the earth and planet earth are interconnected, interdependent and can co-exist. The purpose of the economy to fulfil the material needs of human beings cannot be at the cost of the environment which is as important for the well-being of human beings as his material well-being.

Green economy refers to the efforts towards identifying a growth path that leads to sustainable development — ecological, economic and social. It seeks the expansion of existing economic theory to include natural systems of the earth and its resources, human health, values, and their well-being which are not factored into the conventional economic theories. It also underlines that natural resources should not be destroyed for the sake of the economy. It does not aim to stop economic activities for the sake of the environment; however, it aims to breed economic efficiency and good decision-making by taking full cognizance of all the cost-effects of economic activities on natural systems and resources. So, it talks of sustainable economic development through the path of green growth.

It seeks to expand the traditional concept of growth to green growth and GDP to GGDP (Green Gross Domestic Product) which factors in environmental costs into a country's conventional GDP. Green GDP factors in the loss of biodiversity and accounts for costs caused to climate change. It also includes physical indicators such as “waste per capita” or “carbon dioxide emissions per year”, which may be aggregated to indices such as the Green Development Index. In June 2009, 34 countries signed a Green Growth Declaration, acknowledging that green and growth can go hand-in-hand.

Major principles

The twin factors of the economy are production and consumption. Green economy considers natural capital as a critical economic asset. For this, the green economy proposes sustainable consumption and sustainable production. For this, it champions safeguarding, restoring and investing in nature. It proposes to invest in protecting, growing and restoring biodiversity, soil, water, air, and natural systems. Unlike the traditional approach of economy, the green economy focuses on growing wealth that will support wellbeing as well as wellness. Financial wealth is a means to attain well-being which is not mere material but includes the full range of human, social, physical and natural capitals. It takes a long-term perspective on the economy, creating wealth and resilience that serve the interests of future citizens, while also acting urgently to tackle today’s multi-dimensional poverty and injustice. An inclusive green economy is low-carbon, resource-efficient, diverse and circular. It embraces new models of economic development that address the challenge of creating prosperity within planetary boundaries. On an institutional basis, the green economy is guided by integrated, accountable and resilient institutions.

Green economy in Indian cultural ethos

Indian traditions, values and culture have always been the proponents of oneness with nature. Man is not an independent individual; he is part of a larger universe. As per Indian scriptures, like human beings who are composed of Panchtatva (five basic elements of earth, water, fire, air and space), the universe is also composed of these five elements. Our scriptures from Vedas and Upanishads to Puranas adore these five gross elements and teach us to protect them for our own survival.

Five elements of The Universe. Image courtesy Jakub Jankiewicz/Wikimedia Commons

Surprisingly, pollution referred to in these ancient texts is the deterioration of these five gross elements by unethical activities. The Rig Vedic hymns refer to gods and goddesses like sun, moon, thunder, lightning, snow, rain, water, rivers, trees, etc, and have been glorified and worshipped as givers of health, wealth and prosperity The Gāyatrī mantra of the Rig Veda, which is chanted on every auspicious occasion, is worshipping the sun on daily basis. Ancient Indian traditions of sacred grove, which consists of a bunch of old trees, generally at the outskirts of a village, which were left untouched when the original settlers cleared the forest to establish the village, are still followed in many rural areas. Jainism advocates complete non-violence or ahimsa which prohibits killing of even the smallest insects or microbes. Sri Guru Granth Sahib states, “Air is the guru, water is the father, and earth is the great Mother of all.’

In his treatise Arthshastra, Kautiliya underlines the economic importance of forests in the formulation of principles and policies of the state. This perhaps is the oldest reference we find of ‘green-economy’ ever in the written history of the world. For him nature and economy coexist and state can only flourish if the ecology is preserved. He gives the concept of Dravyavan which is an economic forest where economic resources can be exploited but not at the cost of ecology. He mentions special positions tasked to protect and safeguard wildlife, preventing the act of poaching. Chanakya’s reference to vikriti (pollution) warns people regarding the side-effects of impurity in air and polluted water.

Achieving green economy in India

Green economy aims at sustainable consumption as well as sustainable production. At an individual level, the green economy aims at minimalism which means the consumer while using any resources must be guided by his needs instead of greed. One thought of school which is also known as eco-idealist assumes man to be a rational ecological human being who can reverse the degradation of the environment by changing his lifestyle like following minimalism in which man uses bare minimum resources.

Nature has its own solution and will eventually lead to a healthy balance between man and ecology and green growth. One cites the COVID-19 period as evidence where reduced human activities have led to improvement in ecological conditions like cleaning water in rivers, less air pollution, etc. Indian culture has an inherent ethos of minimalism which is juxtaposed to the rising Western culture of consumerism. There is another view, known as eco-capitalist, which says that sustainable development can be achieved within the existing structures by amending the existing laws, promoting green and environmental technologies, by a carbon tax, by de-carbonisation and by limiting the use of perishable natural resources.

So to follow the path of green economy, we have to combine both the above approaches. At an individual level, a culture of minimalism and concern for mother nature has to be imbibed through education right from schooling. For this, values of being one with nature, plantation and cleaning the air, water and other natural resources have to be integrated into the education curriculum. 5Rs — reuse, reduce, recycle, refuse and repurpose — should be part of the education curriculum. The other way is to invest heavily in green technologies like renewable energy, resource-efficient technology and zero-carbon technology.

Renewable energy provides energy in four important areas: electricity generationair and water heating/coolingtransportation, and rural (off-grid) energy services. Renewable energy is collected from renewable resources, which are naturally replenished including carbon neutral sources like sunlightwindraintideswaves, biomass and geothermal heat. At policy level, incentives for efficient use of resources and natural assets, including enhancing productivity, reducing waste and energy consumption, and making resources available to their highest value be focused on.

Field and wind turbines in India. Vestas/Wikimedia Commons

Opportunities for innovation in green technologies addressing environmental problems should be incentivised. For this, we have to create new markets by stimulating demand for green technologies, goods, and services; creating new job opportunities. This is the time to follow the green economy.

The author is an interior designer. She has created more than 120 mini-forests and 700 vertical gardens with waste plastic bottles along with her husband. Views expressed are personal.

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Opinion | Why this is the right time to follow green economy in India
Opinion | Why this is the right time to follow green economy in India
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