Who will bell the Cat ? #Tribalrights


At the receiving end: Paniyas in Gudalur. Photo: Mari Marcel Thekaekara

MARI MARCEL THEKAEKARA, April 14, 2012, The Hindu

What does one do when a tiger‘s life is apparently more precious than an Adivasi‘s?

On March 30, Kokila, an Adivasi woman, was collecting firewood with a few friends near Kozhikolly village in the Devala area of Gudalur taluk, 50 km below Udhagamandalam, when she was charged by an angry elephant. It hurled her to the ground. Mercifully, I hope, she died instantly. The elephant kicked her around like a football and smashed her into a pulp. An Adivasi who saw the incident said, “It was terrible. She was smashed to pieces, like chamandi actually. We had to collect the bits and put them into a sack. It was a sad and sickening task. We could not prepare her for burial according to our rites. There was no body left.”

A passionate conservationist asked me, “Did they get compensation?” The question angered me. Kokila was a lively, feisty, irrepressible woman. Panichis, women belonging to the Paniya tribe, are independent, proud and they tend to keep to themselves. Kokila was different. She represented her people, even becoming a Panchayat member, really unusual for a Panichi woman. I recall her taking a lead on stage in dramas. She was bold and theatrical, making everyone laugh, dancing infectiously with abandon, urging everyone to join her. How do you compensate the death of such a woman? Of any woman for that matter? Can you replace the person for her family? Her children? Her people?

No one deserves this

Does anyone deserve to die in such a dreadful manner, for absolutely no fault of their own?

I live on the edge of a forest and all my friends and community are passionate about conservation. When elephants break our water tanks, or create havoc for a few days, we accept it philosophically. After all, we are living on their turf, in once-uninhabited terrain. It’s okay to lose a little. For the poorer population, a paddy or banana field gone is their entire livelihood. I shudder when I hear people throwing huge loud firecrackers to chase away the menace. I’m even more distraught when I hear that they throw burning tyres, which will stick on the elephants’ skin, cause terrible pain and is the only thing guaranteed to make the animal move. But I know I’m reacting like a city armchair environmentalist, sitting safe and sound in my solid stone bungalow listening to the screaming and the firecrackers from a comfortable distance while poor people battle for their lives, their livelihoods and their precarious homes.

Collision course

In the last year in the Gudalur area, there have been elephant problems every day, leaving the locals angry and fearful; a really unhealthy lethal combination. Last year, two people were killed around the same time in different locations by two separate elephants. One, a poor Gurkha working as an estate watchman, far away from his northern home. The other, an anonymous youth on a bike.

Even as I mourn the dead victims — collateral damage, wild lifers would say perhaps — I understand the rage of the elephants. Elephant behaviour has drastically changed even in the last two decades I’ve lived here. Every pachyderm has bullet wounds festering and hurting the animal; injuries that have driven the once-docile beasts to regard humans as the enemy. Adivasi elders tell us that they walked among the elephants without fear 50 years ago. Those days are long gone. As I write this, I hear about a child gored by a wild boar outside her balwadi. Luckily, she’s not dead, only badly wounded, recovering in the Gudalur Adivasi Hospital.

My entire family are wildlife enthusiasts; two of my kids were born here. We’ve lived outside the sanctuary for almost 30 years now. I believe sanctuaries must be sacrosanct. I believe we must protect our tigers and our elephants and the less exciting unknown species that co-exist with them. I know all the conservationist theories. We need to move people out. But forest dwelling Adivasis have rights too. And till they choose to move out; they have a right to stay safe. The Forest Department, in order to protect wildlife, should dig those elephant trenches around vulnerable habitations. It’s hard to explain to ordinary people, apart from armchair wildlife enthusiasts, why a tiger’s life is deemed so much more important than our laughing, dancing, full-of-the-joy-of-life Kokila. A tiger’s death mostly makes it to every newspaper in the country; each life is precious, counted, documented by tiger lovers in London and New York. It makes for eye-catching, sexy photographs too. Our Kokila will never make headlines. Perhaps the Coimbatore editions will carry an item: “Tribal woman killed by elephant”.

That’s what ordinary village people find incomprehensible. Sometimes, when I think about it, I do too

Living in a nuclear hell


By Charles Stratford , Aljazeera

The town of Muslymovo has to be one of the saddest places on earth. The thousands of people who have little choice but to live here, on the banks of the Techa river not far from Russia’s southern border with Kazakhstan, are the victims of a nuclear disaster that began more than six decades ago.

They are still suffering with the consequences of life next door to the Mayak nuclear plant – still dying from the radiation-related illnesses that have claimed the lives of so many before them.

Mayak was constructed in the 1940s. Our driver knew how to avoid checkpoints. We stuck a small camera on our windscreen and drove to within a hundred metres of the plant gates.

It’s like a city. Families work and live here. Teenagers chased each other in the snow just beyond the fence.

Mayak is surrounded by silver birch forests. Signs by the road warn people not to enter the woodland or pick the wild mushrooms. Mayak once provided the Soviet Union with around 40 per cent of the world’s weapons-grade plutonium.

The country’s first atomic bomb was built here. Between 1949 and 1951, the plant dumped hundreds of tonnes of highly radioactive waste into the nearby Techa.

Hundreds of villages were resettled but incredibly, four remain in the contaminated area. Residents don’t know why they were never moved.

Many people we spoke to say they are being used as human guinea pigs. They talk of a secret government experiment looking at the effects of radiation exposure on humans.

They say they have to go to a hospital in Chelyabinsk, the regional capital around 50km away, for treatment of the various radiation related illnesses they suffer.

One woman described her visits.

“They must have tested new drugs on us. You come from the hospital where you spend a month then get sick for a month at home. They don’t treat you. They hurt you. They don’t say anything.”

Some of the old Muslymovo village has been moved in recent years but to a place which is only a less than a half hour walk from the highly radiation polluted river.

The Geiger counter readings we took by the river showed radiation levels 50 times higher than the level experts say is safe for humans.

Our driver, who himself suffers chronic radiation illness pointed to a car tyre frozen solid in icy marsh. He said if we tested our Geiger counter there we would get a reading at least three times higher than the one we had.

There were no barriers or fences to keep people out. And there were footprints in the snow everywhere. A rusty sign warned people not to enter or pick the berries.

But fishermen still come here. In the summer children still swim.

Most people in the village know the dangers but seem resigned to their fate. They don’t have the money to move to a safer place. Many others seem ignorant of the risks.

“We get sick and many get cancer because of the atoms”, said one woman, “we can’t stop our children from swimming in the river”.

The government says the resettlement programme is complete.

It gave some of the Muslymovo residents the choice of around $35,000 to find a new home of their choice or be moved to a house on the new site 2km from the river.

Most say the sum was never enough to afford a home further away.

They say a lot of money which was supposed to go towards building new homes was stolen by contractors or officials.

Most of the residents we spoke to complain of the Radon gas which they claim seeps from the soil and into their homes.

“Out of the frying pan and into the fire,” says one man. “It’s only 2km to the river. We are still in radioactive territory. There is radioactive Radon gas in the houses. We think this was arranged to embezzle the money.”

“We bought soil from the old place. When we moved here they didn’t tell us it was dangerous here. They found Radon gas later when the houses were already built.”

Russia’s state nuclear agency Rosatom has launched an inquiry into claims the money was stolen. The investigation continues.

Residents complain their new homes are poorly insulated against the brutal winter cold that can reach lows of minus thirty degrees.

“You cannot treat people like this. After we suffered from the radiation river and now they move us here to unsuitable houses, to this land. People are tired – tired of the fighting,” said one man.

Most of the children in this area suffer some form or other of radiation related illness.

Symptoms of Chronic radiation sickness include recurrent infections, swellings, anemia, unhealed wounds, hair loss and bruises. Long term exposure to high rates of radiation causes birth defects and cancer.

Locals call it the “river sickness”.

The boy in our report with the growth on his neck is 17 years old.

He has eight brothers and sisters. They all suffer from radiation related illness.

His mother says she took him to the local doctor to get his neck checked.

She says the doctor told her the lump would disappear. She says her son was never even offered a biopsy.

This, in a place where people have died of cancer for decades. An area that has some of the highest levels of radiation pollution in the world.

“We are afraid, the consequences are terrifying. But where can we move to?” she said.

So many people we spoke to kept asking the same thing “Why haven’t we been moved further away from the river?”

The government says it recognises that thousands of people still live in the contaminated zone.

It offers the insultingly meagre sum of around $4 a month compensation. It offers approximately $30 a month towards medical costs.

We tried speaking to local government health workers.

We waited five hours to speak to the doctor in our report.

When he did finally show up, he seemed embarrassed – as if he wanted to answer our questions but couldn’t.

The conversation he had on the phone which we secretly filmed is evidence there’s perhaps much the government doesn’t want outsiders to know.

And then there are the hundreds of families that were never moved at all. Not even the 2km up the road to the new village.

We met 87-year-old Ekaterina. Her family was originally from Germany.

During World War Two, Stalin moved thousands of Germans living in Russia as far away from urban areas as he could.

Ekaterina and her family were moved to one of the villages near Mayak.

In 1957, when an explosion at a plant storage tank forced an evacuation of the area she and her family were relocated again.

They were moved to Muslymovo next to the radiation polluted river. Fifty years later she is still there.

She breaks down in tears when we ask her how she survives. She says she was never able to have children. Her husband died years ago.

“Many people have died of cancer in this area. People are always sick. I want to move but I was never asked. I don’t understand why.”

Between 2001-2004 up to 40 million cubic meters of more radioactive slush ended up in the Techa river. The government acknowledges this as fact.

A criminal investigation was launched.

In 2005, prosecutors moved to charge the head of the Mayak Nuclear plant.

He was convicted but soon after pardoned in a general amnesty to commemorate the 100th year anniversary of the Russian parliament.

Immediate Release–Green Tribunal suspends environment clearance for POSCO


POSCO Judgment of National Green Tribunal – Briefing Note

On March 30, 2012, the National Green Tribunal held in Prafulla Samantra and Anr. vs Union of India and Ors. that the 31.1.2011 final order of the Environment Ministry – permitting the POSCO project to go ahead with certain conditions – should be suspended until a full review of the project can be undertaken (by specialists with fresh terms of reference). The NGT Bench consisted of Justice C.V. Ramulu, Judicial Member, and Dr. Devendra Kumar Agarwal, Expert Member.

The tribunal has observed that, “A close scrutiny of the entire scheme … reveals that a project of this magnitude particularly in partnership with a foreign country has been dealt with casually, without there being any comprehensive scientific data regarding the possible environmental impacts. No meticulous scientific study was made on each and every aspect of the matter leaving lingering and threatening environmental and ecological doubts un-answered.” (para 7, page 22)

It has also seriously questioned the appointment of Ms. Meena Gupta as the chairperson of the review committee which was set up by the MoEF in 2010. The judgement states that Ms. Gupta’s appointment was “definitely hit by personal / official / departmental bias, in other words, she supported the decision made by her earlier. This is in gross violation of principles of natural justice.” (para 6.9 page 22)

Key Directions of the Green Tribunal

The Tribunal has directed a “fresh review of the Project” (para 8.1) that has to look at the problems noted in this judgment as well as the majority and minority reports of the earlier Enquiry Committee (see list of dates), etc. In particular it has to look at:

Land and infrastructure: The clearance was given for a 4 million tonnes per annum (MTPA) steel plant, but the land, water etc. were allocated for a 12 MTPA project (which has been POSCO’s stated plan). The judgment directs MoEF to “consider optimizing the total land requirement for 4 MTPA steel plant proportionately.”(para 8.5) Moreover, the impacts of other infrastructure for the plant have not been assessed at all, even though they were planned for a 12 MTPA plant.

Issues that should have been done now, but which MoEF left for future studies: On several points highlighted by the review committee, the MoEF just said future studies should be done and ignored the issue. The Tribunal finds this deeply unsatisfactory, and notes the following among other issues:

Water: The Tribunal said that “We are all aware that … the drinking water is becoming scarce commodity and at every level precaution needs to be taken for protecting the drinking water supply to human habitation and preventing from utilizing such water for industrial use … alternative water source for the present project, like creating/ constructing a small barrage or augmenting any other existing source at the cost of project proponent to avoid the utilizing the water meant for Cuttack city… could be examined.” (para 7.4, page 29)

Pollution: The plant’s discharge was also left for future study by MoEF. The Tribunal says this is a “serious environmental concern.” (para 7.4, page 30)

Impact on surrounding wetlands and mangroves, as well as cyclone risk: This was left for vague future studies without any time frame or modus operandi. In addition, the Ministry has to frame a policy to ensure large projects are assessed in full for a single clearance (rather than being allowed to get piecemeal clearances for each component, as in this case) and for their full capacity at the start (paras 8.7,8.9). It also has to do a strategic assessment of the ports in Orissa. (para 8.8)

POSCO and the government sought to argue that the case cannot be filed as the original clearances were given in 2007 (and, incidentally, will expire in May/July this year). The Tribunal held that the 2011 order can still be looked at even if the 2007 ones cannot be; it therefore directed review and suspension of the 2011 order.

POSCO and/or the government can appeal this decision in the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, MoEF has to constitute a review committee of subject specialists (para 8.3), define timelines for compliance with conditions (para 8.4), establish a committee for monitoring compliance with these conditions (para 8.4). No work can start on the project until the review process is over.

The case was argued by Sr. Adv. Raj Punjwani, Adv. Ritwick Dutta and Adv. Rahul Choudhary for the petitioners.

Key Events

  • June 2005: POSCO, Orissa government sign MoU for 12 million tonne steel plant, private port and captive iron ore mines. Protests begin in steel plant area and area is cordoned off by peaceful protesters.

  • May 2007: Environmental clearance for port granted by Environment Ministry, then under A. Raja.

  • July 2007: Environmental clearance for plant granted by Environment Ministry, then under PM. Secretary is Meena Gupta. Protests continue in the face of violent attacks and numerous arrests.

  • December 2009: Forest clearance granted for taking over forest land by Environment Ministry, then under Jairam Ramesh.

  • August 2010: Forest clearance suspended following complaints of violations of law, and Enquiry Committee constituted under Meena Gupta.

  • October 2010: Three member majority of enquiry committee gives report saying environmental and forest clearances illegal. Meena Gupta dissents, holds clearances legal but recommends additional study and time to ensure compliance.

  • January 31, 2011: Environment Ministry disregards both majority and minority reports, upholds environment and forest clearances, while prescribing some additional conditions (mostly consisting of additional studies to be done in future).

  • June 2011: Prafulla Samantray challenges final order in National Green Tribunal.

  • March 31, 2012: Green Tribunal judgment.

For further information:

Prafulla Samantray, activist and petitioner in this case, 09437259005

Prashant Paikray, POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti, 09437571547

Kanchi Kohli, activist, 9811903112, kanchikohli@gmail.com

Shankar Gopalakrishnan, Campaign for Survival and Dignity, 9873657844, shankargopal@myfastmail.com

Bombay HC orders state to stop work on Kalu dam


Dam Damned

Dam Damned (Photo credit: Lingaraj G J)

By Mustafa Plumber | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA

The Bombay high court on Thursday stayed the construction of a dam being built on Kalu River in Thane district because necessary permissions were not obtained by the state government from the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF).

The stay would continue for three months until the ministry decides on the proposal seeking permission.

On June 5, DNA had first reported how the dam, if built, would submerge an area of 2,100 hectares, including around 1,000 hectares of dense forest, and displace four villages.

“The private construction company appointed by the state government cannot undertake any activity unless further permission is given by the court,” said the division bench of Justice DD Sinha and Justice VK Tahilramani.

The bench rapped the ministry for not deciding on the proposal within three months as per the forest conservation rules, thus allowing the state government to carry out the construction activity on the dam site. “If it is a temple or a resort, it is ok. But if the matter is in larger public interest, it should be decided on a priority basis. You cannot keep everything on hold,” the bench said.

The bench noted that the ministry was non-apologetic for the delay.

“It is unfortunate that the statement made by the ministry on completing the entire exercise within four weeks was not honoured. However, nor there is an apology or regret in this regard. Because of procedural technicalities, the process was not completed. Due to the apology by the counsel, we don’t propose to take this matter any further.”

The bench directed the MoEF to decide on the state government’s proposal, seeking permission for development on forest land within three months. The Central Advisory Committee of MoEF has two months to submit its report/suggestions/recommendations based on the report dated February 9, submitted by the Chief Conservator of Forest (Central) in the ministry for consideration. Thereafter, the central government has to take a decision on it within a month.

The directions were given during the hearing of a petition filed by Shramik Mukhti Sanghatana, an NGO, alleging that the dam is being built without required permissions from the forest department.

In an affidavit, the state government admitted that work on Kalu dam in Murbad began in October 2010 without permission from the Centre and MoEF.

The MoEF had carried out a site inspection and the report submitted by the chief conservator of forest said the construction should be stayed as the state government had not got the necessary permission.

Advocate Gayatri Singh, appearing for the Sanghatana, argued that the work order was given on May 29, 2010, and only after the petition was filed, the state government applied for permission to the chief conservator of forest in June 2011.

According to the state government, as per a resolution passed on July 9, 2009, it was granted an approval for building the dam.

Death Toll up to 7 in Riots over Water Tanker Killing in Mumbai


Mar 2, 2012-The driver of the water tanker, Suresh Salve succumbed to his injuries in hospital, as the death toll in the ‘water tanker riot’ rose to 7. Harish Malvade, the guard who fired the first shot killing Pradeep Amre, the 11 year old boy from the local slum, is fighting for his life even as the police waits to question him. Sources say the gun was unlicensed.

The riot apparently broke out as the people from the slum tried to stop the tanker and ask for water. The driver tried to force the tanker through the crowd, injuring some people, and riot broke out. The driver was pulled out and almost beaten to death.

Meanwhile the parents of the boy, Pradeep Amre are leading a morcha of over a 100 slum dwellers demanding an investigation into why a thirsty young school boy was shot for trying to steal a water from the tanker. The Mumbai police are trying to bring the situation under control as the riots threaten to spread to other parts of Mumbai. The water situation continues to be precarious and water tankers are being brought in to Mumbai, but are often unable to get to their destination as they are waylaid by armed gangs.

This is the 3rd day of no piped water supply in Mumbai.

More here

 

Indian doctors consider alternatives to nuclear energy


International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War is a non-partisan federation of national medical organizations in 62 countries, representing tens of thousands of doctors, medical students, other health workers, and concerned citizens who share the common goal of creating a more peaceful and secure world freed from the threat of nuclear annihilation. IPPNW has remained a leader in the global movement for a world without nuclear weapons, launching the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) in 2007, and working with numerous other NGOs to promote a Nuclear Weapons Convention that would outlaw these instruments of mass extermination under international law. Indian Doctors for Peace and Development (IDPD), IPPNW’s Indian affiliate, held an interactive session on nuclear energy on October last year  at the India International Centre in New Delhi. Professor Andreas Nidecker, President IPPNW Switzerland, and General Vinod Saighal were the featured speakers. The session was moderated by Dr. L.S. Chawla, President of IDPD. Dr. Nidecker presented medical arguments against the civil use of nuclear power, explained in detail the reasons why nuclear energy is not a viable source for meeting the world’s energy needs, and reported that after the Fukushima nuclear reactor crisis the Swiss government decided to phase out nuclear energy. He described the harmful effects of radiation throughout the nuclear chain — from uranium mining to nuclear waste disposal. Fukushima, he said, has put a full stop to the false claims about the safety of nuclear energy. Dr. Nidecker noted several specific drawbacks to nuclear energy, including rising costs, security issues, the absence of a solution to the waste problem, intense water usage, environmental contamination, the health effects of exposure to ionizing radiation, and the increasing risks for nuclear proliferation, and the diversion of investments away from better, safer, and more sustainable alternatives, such as wind and solar power technologies. General Saighal urged the development of a strong antinuclear movement. Dr. Chawla pointed out that nuclear energy is fraught with dangers to the health of the people, particularly those living around nuclear facilities. He said these problems had been confirmed by the IDPD study on the health effects of people living around Jadugoda uranium mines. Dr. Arun Mitra, General Secretary of IDPD, said that the Indian people have to build a strong resistance against the nuclear policy of the government “against all the odds posed by the government and the pro-nuclear lobby in our country.” Read the Report hereConnect with them at -http://peaceandhealthblog.com/

Climate change and social justice towards an Ecosocialist perspective


Global Warming & Climate ChangeAsit Das

After the Kyoto protocol and the IPCC report, climate change has emerged as a serious issue facing mankind. Climate change and the issues of social justice should be seen in the context of the urgency of the global ecological crisis.

Some writers think that the origins of today’s global ecological crises are to be found in the unusual response in Europe’s ruling states, to the great crisis in the 14th century 1290 -1450. There are indeed striking parallels between the world system today, and the situation prevailing in a broadly feudal Europe. At the dawn of the 14th century, the agriculture regime, once capable of remarkable productivity, experienced stagnation. A large population shifted to cities; western trading networks connected far-flung economic centers. Resource extraction like copper and silver, faced new technical challenges, fettering profitability. After some six centuries of sustained expansion, by the 14th country, it had become clear that feudal Europe had reached the limits of its development, for reasons related to its environment, its configuration of social power, and the relations between them.

What followed was either immediately or eventually the rise of capitalism. Regardless of one’s specific interpretation, it is clear that the centuries after 1450 marked an era of fundamental environmental transformation. It was to be commodity-centered and exclusive, it was also an unstable and uneven, dynamic combination of seigniorial capitalist and peasant economics.

This ecological regime of early capitalism was beset with contradiction. In the middle of the 18th century, England shifted from its position as a leading grain exporter to major grain importer. Yield in England’s agriculture stagnated. Inside the country, landlords compensated by agitating for enclosures, which accelerated beyond anything known in previous centuries. Outside the country, Ireland’s subordination was intensified with an eye on agricultural exports. This was the era of crisis for capitalism’s first ecological regime. For all the talk of early capitalism as mercantile, it was also extraordinarily productivist and dynamic, in ways that went far beyond buying cheap and selling dear. Early capitalism had created a vast agro-ecological system of unprecedented geographical breadth, stretching from the eastern Baltic to Portugal, from southern Norway to Brazil and the Caribbean. It had delivered an expansion of the agro-extractive surplus for centuries. It had been, in other words, an expression of capitalist advancement following Adam Smith and occasionally, combining market, class and ecological transformations in a new crystallization of ecological power and process.

By the middle of the 18th century, however, this world ecological regime had become a victim of its own success. Agricultural yields, not just in England but also across Europe, extended even into the Andes and Spain. It was a contributor to the world crisis. It was a world ecological crisis, i.e., not a crisis of the earth in an idealist sense, but a crisis of early modern capitalism’s organization of the world nature of capitalism and not just a world economy, but also a world ecology. For even many on the left have long regarded capitalism as something that acts upon nature treating it as a commodity. This world ecological crisis can be characterized as capitalism’s first developmental environmental crisis, quite distinct from the epochal ecological crisis that characterized the transition from feudalism to capitalism. It was a crisis resolved through two major successive waves of global conquest – the creation of North America, and increasingly India as a vast supplier of food and resources; and then, by the later 19th century, the great colonial invasion and occupation of Southeast Asia, Africa and China.

The Industrial Revolution retains its hold on the popular imagination as the historical and geographical locus of today’s environmental crisis. It was a view that co-existed with the profound faith in technological progress. It can be viewed that the industrial revolution as the resolution of an earlier moment of modern ecological crisis and a more expansive, more intensive reconstruction of global nature. The industrial revolution offered not merely a technical fix to the developmental crisis that marked capitalisms ecological regimes, but within this revolution, was inscribed a vast geographical fix, which at that time was as limiting as it had once been liberating. Such a perspective of world ecological crisis offers a more historical name and a more hopeful way of looking for a pro-people approach for thinking and acting about the problems of ecological crisis in the modern world. While the technological marvels of the past two centuries are routinely celebrated, it had become clear in the 1860s that all advances in resource efficiency promised more aggregate resource consumption. This is how the modern world market functions, towards profligacy and not conservation. The technological marvels have rested on geographical expansion neither more nor less than they did in the formative centuries of capitalist development. The pressure to enclose vast new areas of the planet and to penetrate even deeper into the niches of social and ecological life has continued unabated. Now we are witnessing the imperial process of new enclosures, with a partnership with the ruling elites, and the corporate sector of the Third World countries. All this has been reinforced in the same manner by a radical plunge into the depths of the earth to extract oil, coal, water and different types of strategic resources. It is an ecological regime that has reached, or will soon reach, its limits. Whatever the geological veracity of the peak oil argument, it is clear that the American led ecological regime that promised, and for half a century delivered cheap oil, is now done for – this is a bigger issue than present limits of oil reserves.

It is from this standpoint that an accounting of earlier crises may help us to discern the contours of the present global ecological crisis. At the outset, it seems capitalism’s preference for externalizing its crisis through colonial expansions, plunder and conquest of new territories for resources and markets, has reached its definite and destructive geographical limits. As long as fresh land existed beyond the reach of capital, the system’s socio-ecological contradictions could be managed. With the possibilities for external colonization foreclosed by the 20th century, capital has been compelled to pursue strategies of internal colonization, among which we might include the explosive growth of genetically modified plants and animals since 1970. Drilling even deeper and to even more distant locales for oil, water and minerals; converting human bodies, especially those of women, people of color, workers and farmers into toxic waste dumps for a wide range of carcinogenic and other lethal substantives.

There has been lots of critical analysis of different dimensions of contemporary environmental degradation, of government policies, and the role of multinational international agreements. What is needed is sufficient care given to the task of situating these factors systemically and historically.

There is a certain urgency to the present ecological crisis. Now it has been proved that the world economy has been driven to the limits, and in some cases beyond a whole range of ecological thresholds. The global ecological crisis is not impending, it is already here. To understand the structural logic of this crisis, we have to have a historical perspective on globalization and distinguishing the new from the old, in the present juncture and trying to situate the contemporary dynamics of the world historically. Our response to the fate of human civilization depends on how we deal with this age of ecological catastrophes. By locating today’s ecological transformations within long run and large-scale patterns of recurrence and evolution in the modern world, we may unravel the distinctiveness of the impending ecological catastrophe. This means that we have to situate ecological relations internal to the political economy of capitalism and not merely placing concepts of ecological transformation and governance, alongside those of political categories of political economy from the standpoint of the historically existing dialectic of nature and society. Once ecological relations of production are put into the mix, one of the chief things that come into view is the production of socio-ecological regimes, both regional and on world scale. These initially liberate the accumulation of capital, only to generate self-limiting contradictions that culminate in renewed ecological bottlenecks to continued accumulation each time the cycle starts anew; historically, this has been more expansive and intensifies relations between capital labour and external nature. The task before us is to identify the different forms and kinds of the unfolding ecological crises.

The Writing on the Wall

Ecology: The Moment of Truth

Explaining the magnitude of the crisis and the urgency to deal with it, John Bellamy Foster in his note “Ecology: The Moment of Truth” says: “It is impossible to exaggerate the environmental problem facing humanity in the twenty-first century.” Nearly fifteen years ago he observed (John Bellamy Foster, “This Vulnerable Planet”, 1994): “We have only four decades left in which to gain control over our major environmental problems if we are to avoid irreversible ecological decline.
Today, with a quarter-century still remaining in this projected time line, it appears to have been too optimistic. Available evidence now strongly suggests that under a regime of business as usual we could be facing an irrerevocable “tipping point” with respect to climate change, within a mere decade.

Other crises such as species extinction (percentage of bird, mammal and fish species “vulnerable or in immediate danger of extinction” are “now measured in double digits”).

The rapid depletion of the oceans’ bounty; desertification; deforestation; air pollution; water shortages/pollution; soil degradation; the imminent peaking of world oil production (creating new geopolitical tensions); and a chronic world food crisis – all point to the fact that the planet as we know it and its ecosystems are stretched to the breaking point. The moment of truth for the earth and civilization has arrived.”

To be sure, it is unlikely that the effects of ecological degradation in our time, though enormous, will prove apocalyptic for human civilization within a single generation, even under conditions of capitalist business as usual. Normal human life spans, there is no doubt that considerable time is still left before the full effect of the current human degrading the planet comes into play. Yet, the period remaining in which we can avert future environmental catastrophe, before it is essentially out of our hands, is much shorter. Indeed, the growing sense of urgency of environmentalists has to do with the prospect of various tipping points being reached as critical ecological thresholds are crossed, leading to the possibility of a drastic contraction of life on earth. (See “Ecology: The Moment of Truth” by John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark and Richard York, Monthly Review, July-August 2008).

Capitalist and Socialist Response to the Present Ecological Crisis

Under capitalist conditions, the environment is more and more transformed into a contested object of human greed. The exploitation of natural resources, and their degradation by a growing variety of pollutants, results in man made scarcity, leading to conflicts over access to them. Access to nature is uneven and unequal, and the societal relation of man to nature therefore is conflict-prone. The ecological footprints of people in different countries and regions of the world are of very different sizes, reflecting severe inequalities of incomes and wealth. Ecological injustices, therefore, can only usefully be discussed if social class contradictions and production of inequality in the courses of capital accumulation are taken into account. The environment includes the energy system, climate, biodiversity, soils, water, wood, deserts, ice sheets, etc., the different spheres of planet earth and their historical evolution. The complexity of nature and the positive and negative feedback mechanisms between the different dimensions of the environment in space and time are only partly known. Therefore, an environmental policy has to be made in the shadow of a high degree of uncertainty. This is why one of the basic principles of environmental policy is that of precaution. The effects of human activities, particularly economic activities on natural processes and the feedback mechanisms within the totality of the social political and economic systems, constitute the so-called societal relation of man to nature. Only a holistic attempt to integrate environmental aspects into discourses of political economy, political science, sociology culture studies, etc., can make possible a coherent understanding of environmental problems and yield adequate political response to the challenges of the ongoing ecological crisis.

Green Capitalism and Capitalist Response to the Ecological Crisis

Mainstream environmentalists seek to solve the ecological problems almost exclusively through three mechanical strategies: (1) technological solutions, (2) extending the market to all aspects of nature, and (3) creating what are intended as mere islands of preservation in a world of almost universal exploitation and destruction of nature habitats. In contrast, a minority of critical human ecologists have come to understand the need to change our fundamental social relations.

The Capitalist Response to Global Ecological Crisis

The ecological crisis is a complex mix of dangerous trends. Capitalist ideology characteristically views only the components of this crisis, thereby obscuring its systemic nature. The build up of greenhouse gases and the consequent spectres of climatic tipping points have been widely, if reluctantly, acknowledged within the US ruling class, although for the most part without any matching sense of urgency. Little attention is paid to this in official mainstream campaign discourses. Different dimensions of the crisis are viewed either as a local problem, or more alarmingly, as opportunities for future profit. One can see these in the spread of toxins, the depletion of vital goods – notably fresh water, and biodiversity; the increasingly intrusive and reckless manipulation of basic natural processes as in genetic engineering, cloud seeding, changing the course of rivers, etc.

An adequate response to the crisis will ultimately involve addressing all these dimensions. We are still only in the earliest stages of necessary awareness. This means that we must first convincingly address the arguments of those who would downplay the depth of the transformation that long-term species-survival will require. One part of this task responding to those who deny human agency in climate crisis is a matter of pitting straightforward scientific reasoning against assertions made principally by representatives of corporate capital. Another challenge comes to social ecology from those who put forward the view that the only feasible green agenda is a capitalist one.

Green Capitalism

Among the many possible illustrations of “Green Capitalism”, a small news item in the financial section of the March 7, 2008 issue of the New York Times, provides a useful lead. Captioned “Gore gets rich”, it reports that former US Vice-President Al Gore, fresh from winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his cautionary filmed lecture about global warming, invested 35 million dollars with Capricorn Investment Group, a firm that puts clients’ assets into hedge funds and invests in makers of environmentally friendly products. The article also notes that Gore has flourished from his business ties with Apple and Google, and that he was recently made a partner at Keiner Perkins Caufield, the top tier Silicon Valley Venture Capital firm. A visit to the Capricorn Group’s website leads to stories about the various projects in which its funds have been invested, one of which is Mendel Biotechnology, which is working with BP and Monsanto supported by a 125 million dollar grant from the US Department of Energy, to find a way to propagate Miscanthus – a potentially more efficient fuel-producing plant than corn, for quick planting and maximum yield.

This is quintessential capitalism; its only green attribute is the notion of crop-derived fuel as offering a clean and green form of energy. The following core aspects of the ecological crisis, however, remain unaddressed – if not aggravated, in this scenario:
Although bio fuels may produce less greenhouse gas than petroleum, their aggregate impact in terms of air and water pollution, soil degradation and food prices may be more severe.

No recognition is given to the need to reduce the total amount of energy consumption of paved surfaces.

Large-scale use of cropland as a fuel source impinges on food crops without reducing pressure on the world water supply.

Agri-business practices, whatever the product, have their negative impact on bio diversity.

Monsanto is implicated in the coercive imposition of genetically modified organisms (GMO).

Silicon Valley is at the cutting edge of capitalist hyper-development that has accelerated innovation and obsolescence, a generation of vast quantities of toxic trash.

The US Government continues to provide subsidies to corporations rather than supporting efforts directly to address long-term human needs.

The more familiar image of green capitalism is the one of small grassroot enterprises offering local services, solar housing, organic food markets, etc. It is true and promising that as ecological awareness spreads, the space for such activities will grow. We should also acknowledge that the related exploration of alternative living arrangements might contribute in a positive way to the longer-term conversion that is required. More generally it is certainly the case that any effective conservation measures, including steps towards renewable energy that can be taken in the short run, should be welcome, no matter who takes those steps. However, it is important not to see in such steps any repudiation by capital of its ecologically and socially devastating core commitments to expansion, accumulation and profit.

To remind ourselves of this core commitment is not to claim that capital ignores the environmental crisis, it is simply to account for the particular way it responds to it. This includes direct corporate initiatives and measures taken by capitalist governments. At least in the US, however, the former thrust predominates. The accepted self designation of these approaches, ‘corporate environmentalism’ defined as environmentally friendly actions not required by the law and thereby signifying explicitly that the corporations themselves are setting the agenda. The most tangible expression of corporate environmentalism is a substantial across-the-board jump through the 1980s in the numbers of management personnel assigned to deal with environmental issues.

On the basis of both theory and performance, and viewing the corporate sector as a whole, we can say that this new emphasis has made itself felt in two ways. On the one hand, corporations have been alert to opportunities for making environmentally positive adjustments, where these coincide with the standard business criteria of efficiency and cost reduction. On the other hand, more importantly, corporations have acted directly on the political stage, with an exceptionally free hand in the US. Both by lobbying and direct penetration of policy making bodies, they have moulded regulatory practices, censored scientific reports and shaped a defiant official posture in the global arena exemplified by US withdrawal from the Kyoto accords. In addition, they have undertaken vast public relation campaigns (Green Washing) to portray their practices as environmentally progressive. From outside, as well as within the US, they have attempted with considerable success to define in their own interest, the internationally accepted parameters of sustainable development – initially through the continuing activity of the World Trade Organization, as well as corporate partnerships with United Nations Development Agencies.

None of these efforts embodies the slightest change in basic capitalist practice. On the contrary, they reflect a determination to shore up such a practice at all costs. The reality of green capitalism is that capital pays attention to green issues; this is not at all the same as having green priorities. Insofar as capital makes green oriented adjustments beyond those that are either profit-friendly or advisable for PR purposes or protection against liability, it is because those adjustments have been imposed, or as in the case of wind turbines in Germany, stimulated and subsidized by public authority. Such authority, even though exerted within the overall capitalist framework, reflects primarily the political strength of non or anti-capitalist forces like environmentalist organizations, trade unions, community groups, grassroot coalitions, etc., although these may be supported in part by certain sectors of capital, such as alternative energy and insurance industries.

As this whole current of opinion becomes stronger, advocates of green capitalism pick up on the popular call for renewable energy, but accompany it with a vision of undiminished proliferation of industrial products. In so doing, they overlook the complexity of the environmental crisis which has not only to do with the burning of fossil fuels, but also with assaults on the earth’s resource base as a whole, including for example, the paving over the green space, the raw material and energy costs of producing solar collectors and wind turbines, the encroachment on natural habitats not only by buildings and pavements, but also by dams, wind turbines, etc; the toxins associated with high-tech commodities and the increasingly critical problems of waste disposal; in short, the routine spin-offs from capital’s unqualified prioritization of economic growth.

Proponents of green capitalism respond to this by saying that economic growth, far from being the problem, is what holds the solutions. Environmentalism in this view is a purely negative response to ecological crisis giving rise to unpopular practices like regulation and prohibition. Hence, the singular “green capitalist” caricature of environmentalists. All of them direct our attention to stopping the bad, not creating the good. The “good” from this perspective, is a scenario of jobs, material abundance, and energy independence, understood however, within a characteristically capitalist competitive framework. While the need to cut greenhouse gases is recognized, the challenge is posed in narrowly technological terms. Attempts to resist consumerism are belittled, on the assumption that innovations, along with massive public investment, will solve any problem of scarcity; the vision is emphatically centered on the visited states, with China invoked to signify that the growth is unstoppable. The very existence of an environmental nexus is called into question, on the grounds that the category “environment” can only be conceived either as excluding humans or as being synonymous with everything – at either of which extreme it is seen to make sense. The biological understanding of the environment as a matrix with inter-penetrating parts is not entertained. Ultimately, green capitalism is a contradiction in terms.

One pole is referring to a complexly evolving equilibrium encompassing the growth of one of its particular components. Ironically, the core capitalist response to ecological crisis is a further deepening of the logic of commodification. Capitalist practice has come to pose not just as a material threat to ecological recovery, but also as an ideological threat to socialist theory and by extension to the prospects for developing a long-term popular movement with an inspiring alternative vision.

Socialist Response to Global Ecological Crisis: Towards Ecosocialism

Human beings depend on functioning ecosystems to sustain themselves, and their actions affect those same ecosystems. As a result, there is a necessary “metabolic” interaction between humans and the earth, which influences both the natural and social history. Increasingly the state of nature is being defined by the operations of the capitalist system, as anthropogenic forces are altering the global environment on a scale that is unprecedented. The global climate is rapidly changing due to the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. No area of the world’s ocean is unaffected by human influence, as the accumulation of carbon, fertilizer runoff, and over-fishing undermine biodiversity and the natural services that it provides. The millennium ecosystem assessment documents show that over two-thirds of the world’s ecosystems are over-exploited and polluted. Environmental problems are increasingly interrelated. Experts have been warning that we are dangerously close to pushing the planet past its tipping point, setting off cascading environmental problems that will radically alter the conditions of nature.

Although the ecological crisis has captured public attention, the dominant economic forces are attempting to seize the moment by assuring us that capital, technology and the market can be employed so as to ward off any threats without a major transformation of society. For example, numerous technological solutions are proposed to remedy global climate change, including agro-fuels, nuclear energy, and new coal plants that will capture and sequester carbon underground. The ecological crisis is thus presented as a technical problem that can be fixed within the current system, through better ingenuity, technological innovation and the magic of the market. In this view, the economy will be increasingly dematerialized, reducing demands placed on nature. The market will ensure that new avenues of capital accumulation are created in the very process of dealing with environmental challenges.

Yet this line of thought ignores the root causes of the ecological crisis. The social metabolic order of capitalism is inherently anti-ecological, since it systematically subordinates nature in its pursuit of endless accumulation and production on ever-larger scales. Technical fixes to socio-ecological problems typically have unintended consequences and fail to address the root of the problems – the political economic order. Rather than acknowledging metabolic rifts, natural limits, and ecological contradictions, capital seeks to play a shell game with the environmental problems. It generates, moving them around rather than addressing the root causes.

One obvious way capital shifts around ecological problems is through simple geographical displacement. Once resources are depleted in one region, capitalists search far and wide to seize control of resources in other parts of the world, whether by military force or markets.

One of the drives of colonialism was clearly the demand for more natural resources in rapidly industrializing European nations. However, expanding the area under the control of global capitalism is only one of the ways in which capitalists shift ecological problems around. There is a qualitative dimension as well, whereby one environmental crisis is solved (typically only in the short term) by changing the type of production process and generating a different crisis, such as how the shift from the use of wood to plastic in the manufacturing of many consumer goods replaced the problems associated with wood extraction by those associated with plastic production and disposal. Thus, one problem is transformed into another – a shift in the type of rift.

The pursuit of profit is the immediate pulse of capitalism, as it reproduces itself on an ever-larger scale. A capitalist economic system cannot function under conditions that require accounting for the reproduction of nature, which may include time scales of a hundred years or more, not to mention maintenance.

This is where the socialist response to global ecological crisis assumes importance. The social order of capital is characterized by rifts and shifts, as it freely appropriates nature and attempts to overcome, even if only whatever natural and social barriers it confronts. It only makes shifts or proposes technological fixes to address the pressing concern, without addressing the fundamental crisis, the force driving the ecological crisis – that is – capitalism itself. As Istevan Meszaros has said, “In the absence of miraculous solutions, Capitals’ arbitrarily self-asserting attitude to the objective determinations of causality and time in the end, inevitably brings a bitter harvest, at the expense of humanity and Nature itself”. (See Istevan Meszaros, “Beyond Capital”, Monthly Review Press, New York).

The global reach of capital is creating a planetary ecological crisis. A fundamental structural crisis cannot be remedied within the operations of the system. Capitalism is incapable of regulating its social metabolism with nature in an environmentally sustainable manner. Its very operations violate the laws of restitution and metabolic restoration. The constant drive to renew the capital accumulation process intensifies its destructive social metabolism imposing the needs of capital on nature, regardless of the consequences to natural systems. Capitalism continues to play out the same failed strategy.

The solution to each environmental problem further generates new environmental problems – one crisis follows another, in an endless succession of failure, stemming from the internal contradictions of the system. If we are to solve our environmental crisis, we need to go to the root of the problem – i.e., the social relation of capital itself, given that this social metabolic order undermines the vital conditions of existence. Resolving the ecological crisis thus requires in the end a complete break with the logic of capital and the social metabolic order it creates.

It is here that the socialist response to global ecological crisis assumes importance. A socialist social order, that is a society of associated producers, can serve as the basis for potentially bringing social metabolism in line with the natural metabolism, in order to sustain the inalienable conditions for the existence and reproduction of the chain of human generation. Given that human society must always interact with nature, concerns regarding the social metabolism are constant, regardless of the society. But a mode of production in which associated producers can regulate their exchange with nature in accordance with natural limits and know, while retaining the regenerative properties of natural processes and cycles, is fundamental to an environmentally sustainable social order.

The above clearly shows that to solve the world ecological crisis we should struggle for the creation of a socialist social order.

The transition from capitalism to socialism is a struggle for sustainable human development on which societies in the periphery of the capitalist world system have been leading the way.

The transition from capitalism to socialism is the most difficult problem of socialist theory and practice, the question of ecology magnifies the importance of finding a way out of this global ecological mess. Human relation with nature lies at the heart of the transition to socialism. An ecological perspective is pivotal to our understanding of capitalism’s limits, the failures of the early socialist experiments, and the overall struggle for an egalitarian and sustainable human development.

The real prospects for the solutions of global ecological crisis can be seen in the struggles to revolutionise social relations in the strife for a just and sustainable society, and are now emerging in the periphery of the world capitalism system, that is the third world societies. They are somehow mirrored in movement for ecological and social revolution in the advanced capitalist world. It is only through fundamental change at the centre of the system, from which the pressure on the planet principally emanates, that there is any genuine possibility of avoiding ultimate ecological destruction. For ecopessimists, this may seem to be an impossible goal. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that there is now an ecology as well as political economy of revolutionary change known as ecosocialism. The emergence in our times – the struggles for sustainable human development in various people’s struggle in the global periphery could mark the beginning of a revolt against both world alienation and human self-estrangement. Such revolts, if consistent, could have only one objective – i.e., the creation of a society of associated producers rationally regulating their metabolic relation to nature, and doing so not only in accordance with their own needs, but also in accordance with those of future generations and life as a whole. Today the task of transition to socialism and the transition to an ecological society are one.

The Idea of Ecosocialism

Richard Smith wrote in “The Engine of Eco Collapse”, published in the Ecosocialist journal ‘Capitalism, Nature and Socialism’, Vol. 16, No. 4, 2005:

“If capitalism can’t be reformed to subordinate profit to human survival what alternative is there but some sort of nationally and globally planned economy? Problems like climate change require the “Visible hand” of direct planning. Our capitalist corporate leaders can’t help themselves, have no choice but to systematically make wrong, irrational and ultimately – given the technology they command – globally suicidal decisions about the economy and the environment so then, what other choice do we have than to consider a true ecosocialist alternative?” (Richard Smith)

The concept of ecosocialism has been advanced by socialist thinkers like Andre Gorz, James Conner, Paul Burkett and John Bellamy Foster et al.

Ecosocialsm is an attempt to provide a radical civilizational alternative to capitalism’s destructive process. It advances an economic policy founded on the non-monetary and extra economic criteria of social needs and ecological equilibrium. Grounded on the basic arguments of ecological movement and Marxist critique of political economy, this dialectical synthesis attempted by a broad spectrum of authors from Andre Gorz to Elma Aluater, James O’Connor, Joel Kovel and John Bellamy Foster. It is at the same time a critique of market ecology which does not challenge the capitalist system, and of “productivist socialism” which ignores the issue of natural limits.

According to O’Connor, the aim of ecological socialism is a new society based on ecological rationality, democratic control, social equality and the predominance of use value over exchange value. (See James O’Connor, ‘Natural Causes, Essays in Ecological Marxism’, The Guilford Press, York, 1998). The above aims require: (a) collective ownership of the mean of production by, and (b) democratic planning, which makes it possible for society to define the goals of investment and production, and (c) new technological structure of the productive forces. In other words, a revolutionary social and economic transformation.

For ecosocialists, the problem with the main currents of political ecology represented by most Green parties is that they do not seem to take into account the intrinsic contradiction between the capitalist dynamics of the unlimited expansion of capital and accumulation of profits, and the preservation of the environment. This leads to a critique of productivism, which is often relevant but does not lead beyond an ecologically – reformed ‘market economy’. The result has been that many Green parties have become the ecological alibi of centre left social – liberal governments. (For detailed critique of existing green politics, see Joel Kovel – ‘Enemy of Nature’.)

A critique of the productivist ideology of progress and of the idea of a socialist exploitation of nature, appeared already in the writings of some dissident Marxists of the 1930s, such as Walter Benjamin. But it is mainly during the last few decades, that “ecosocialism” has developed as a challenge to the thesis of the neutrality of productive forces which had continued to predominate in the main tendencies of the left during the twentieth century.

Many scientific and technological achievements of modernity are precious, but the whole productive system must be transformed and this can be done only by ecosocialist methods, i.e., through a democratic planning of the economy which takes into the account the preservation of the ecological equilibrium. This may mean, for certain branches of production, to discontinue them – for instance nuclear plants, certain methods of mass/industrial fishing (which are responsible for the near extermination of several species in the seas), the destructive logging of tropical forests, etc.

The list is long. It first of all requires a revolution in the energy system, with the replacement of present sources (essentially fossils) that are responsible for the pollution and poisoning of the environment by renewable sources of energy: water, wind and sun. The issue of energy is decisive because fossil energy (oil and coal) is responsible for much of the planet’s pollution, as well as for the disastrous climate change. Nuclear energy is a false alternative, not only because of the danger of new Chernobyls, but also because nobody knows what to do with the thousands of tons of radioactive waste toxic for hundreds of thousands and in some cases millions of years, and the gigantic masses of contaminated obsolete planets. Solar energy, which has never aroused much interest in capitalist societies (for not being profitable or competitive), must become the object of intense research and development – a key role in the building of an alternative energy system.

All this must be accomplished under the necessary condition of full and equitable employment. This condition is essential, not only to meet the requirement of social justice, but in order to assure working class support for the structural transformation of the productive forces. This process is impossible without public control over the mean of production and planning, that is public decisions on investment and technological change, which must be taken away from the banks and capitalist enterprises in order to serve common good.

The whole society should be able to choose democratically which productive lines are to be privileged and what percentage of resources are to be invested in education, health and agriculture. The prices of goods themselves would not be left to the law of supply and demand, but determined as far as possible according to social political and ecological criteria. Initially this might only involve taxes on certain products, and subsidized prices for others, but ideally, as the transition to socialism moves forward, more and more products and services would be distributed free of charge, according to the needs and will of the citizens.

The passage from capitalist destructive progress to socialism is a historical process, a permanent revolutionary transformation of society, culture and mentalities. Politics is central to this transformative process. It is important to emphasize that such a process cannot begin without a revolutionary transformation of social and political structures, and the active support by the vast majority of the population of an ecosocialist programme. The development of Socialist Consciousness and ecological awareness is a process, where the decisive factor is people’s own collective experiences of struggle, moving from local and partial confrontations to the radical change of society.

This transition would lead to not only a new mode of production and an egalitarian and democratic society, but also to an alternative mode of life, a new ecosocialist civilization, beyond the reigns of money, beyond consumption habits artificially produced by advertising, and beyond unlimited production of commodities that are useless and harmful to the environment.

This requires a qualitative transformation of the development paradigm itself. This means putting an end to the monstrous waste of resources by capitalism, based on the production, in a large scale, of useless and harmful products: the armaments industry is a good example. A great part of the goods produced in capitalism with their inbuilt obsolescence have no other usefulness; is not excessive consumption acquisition of pseudo novelties imposed by fashion through advertisement and mass culture? A new society would orient production towards the satisfaction of authentic needs, beginning with those which could be described as the basic requirement of a democratic egalitarian society – water, food, clothing, housing, including basic services like health, education transport and culture.

Only through an ecosocialist politics we can avoid the impending ecocatastrophe, thus saving the planet and human beings.

Asit Das-asit1917@gmail.com

Research Fellow

SADED/CSDS

Report reveals how untreated hospital waste is endangering New Delhi


By Neetu Chandra

Government hospitals in the Capital are turning a blind eye to the hazards of bio-medical waste by either casually dumping the untreated waste despite expensive incinerators installed at the hospital or outsourcing the work to private agencies.

A report released by the directorate of health services has revealed that the biomedical waste treatment facilities at these hospitals lie unused or underutilised with the work outsourced to private agencies with little or no monitoring of how the hazardous waste is processed.

The report revealed that major hospitals such as Lok Nayak, Guru Teg Bahadur, G.B. Pant and Deen Dayal Upadhyay have failed to comply with the waste management norms despite expensive incinerators installed in the hospitals.

Incineration is a waste treatment process that involves the combustion of hazardous organic substances contained in waste materials. Hospital waste is hazardous because of the presence of chemicals from medications, solutions, or strains of TB, Hepatitis B and C. Doctors say the pathogens can be harmful for humans as they can be ingested or inhaled and absorbed through skin openings.

The report also reveals that in the past five years five major government hospitals – Rao Tula Ram hospital, Rajan Babu Institute for Pulmonary Medicine and Tuberculosis, Palika Maternity Hospital, Lodhi Colony, International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology and National Institute of Immunology – have shut down their incinerators owing to technical reasons.

A visit to Lok Nayak hospital by Mail Today revealed that the hospital is dumping needles, syringes, glucose bottles and blood bags inside the premises where the entry is restricted to the employees.

Similar is the case with GTB and DDU Hospital which fail to segregate the hazardous chemical waste and outsource it to a private agency.’The condition in government hospitals is pathetic. Setting up an incinerator costs around `2 crore so the hospitals hire other companies to treat their waste. They have outsourced the facilities which is causing losses to the government,’ an official of the directorate of health services said.

‘These hospitals throw out the waste without segregating it for the private companies to pick up which is generally done by rag pickers and scrap dealers. There is no proof that these agencies are treating the waste properly,’ the official added.

Dumped: These disposable syringes and plasitc tubes were found in a garbage dump outside one city hospital

But the DDU hospital which has an incinerator installed claims that the unit was shut down because of the emissions.

‘The incinerator was proving hazardous due to its emissions so we stopped it. We started giving it to a private agency authorised by the government. We have autoclaves for the treatment of plastics in the waste,’ DDU medical superintendent Dr Promila Gupta said.

The directorate’s findings have been endorsed in a separate report released by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) which says that in the past five years the number of functioning incinerators have come down from 67 to ten.

The report attributes this to lack of proper maintenance and monitoring as the prime reason for the shutting down of the waste processing units which cost more than `2 crore to install.

‘To control pollution and for an efficient waste management, hospitals with 50 beds or more have been directed by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee to install solar water heating and rain water harvesting systems as well as incinerators,’ the report said.

The hospitals with 50 or more beds that do not have incinerators are flouting the Bio Medical Waste (Management & handling) Rules, 1998.

The report said the DPCC has issued public notices to several hospitals for flouting the waste disposal guidelines.

more

Delhi Government hospitals are the biggest water polluters, according to review

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