ADVANTAGES OF BIODIVERSITY
By adopting a different, more positive, and more proactive approach to the challenges that environmental issues pose, Indian enterprises will greatly benefit in this millennium. The prevalent attitude today, with some exceptions, is that environmental concerns impose costs that are best avoided. This is natural since these are costs which can fairly readily be externalised and imposed on somebody else. Thus, when industrial effluents render river water unfit for drinking, or decimate fisheries, the costs are paid by people who have to seek other sources of water for domestic use, or pay more for fish. A rational economic organisation would, of course, try and, as far as possible, avoid paying these costs. It would first invest in lobbying against regulations demanding pollution-control. If that does not work, it will invest in bribing pollution-control authorities to certify that it is obeying regulations, even if it isn't. I have more personal experience of such corporate attitudes. A Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) engaged me as a consultant to look at the environmental impact of its operations. In my report, I made a number of specific recommendations to avoid adverse environmental consequences while endorsing other aspects of their programme. I offered to help train their engineers and contractors to ensure that my suggestions were implemented. Not only did the PSU ignore this offer, it deleted all my suggestions for safeguards while preparing a consolidated environmental-impact assessment report. It would, undoubtedly, be to the advantage of not just society at large, but the corporate world itself to shift from a negative to a positive approach. The Japanese experience is instructive in this context. Forty years ago, the Japanese industry too pursued the negative approach that the Indian industry follows today. But, in the 1960s, public pressure created a climate that convinced industry that it should give up externalising environmental costs. One trigger was the Minamata disaster, which brought to light serious public health consequences of heavy metal pollution in the Japanese Sea. The resultant public outcry led to effective pollution-control regulations in Japan. As a result, the Japanese automobile industry had to develop ways to control emissions. Controlling emissions meant lower fuel consumption. So, the Japanese auto industry surged ahead of rivals not only in pollution-control, but in fuel-efficiency as well. This placed it in a position of great advantage in the world market when petrol prices rose sharply in the early 1970s. Some economists contend that this is what fuelled the ensuing growth in the Japanese economy. Today, the Japanese are world-leaders in the efficient use of material, energy, and information resources, and this is a significant source of their competitive advantage. Unfortunately, India is amongst the world-leaders not in the efficient, but in the wasteful use of resources. We use about 5 times as much energy for a billion rupees worth of gross domestic product as the Japanese do. Such waste means environmental damage. It also means lack of competitiveness in the global market. It is inevitable that Indian industry pursue a more efficient use of resources this millennium. One fallout of this will be a lower environmental impact. But global markets will also force Indian industry to become environment friendly. The pressures are not going to be only from outside the country. Many forms of environmental degradations impose real suffering on people and Indian citizens will increasingly speak out against it. In the highly literate state of Kerala, for instance, the popular science movement, KSSP, has spearheaded campaigns to generate good information on environmental issues through public efforts. These will grow and spread to all parts of the country in the next few decades. Equally important, living as we do in a country of rich natural endowments, there are...
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