First it was ₹50 lakh from cricketer-turned-politician from Delhi, Gautam Gambhir. Seemed a tidy sum for an individual to be contributing. Then came Godrej and it’s ₹50 crore. The Ambani’s couldn’t be bested and so they popped in with ₹500 crore.
Then came the mother of them all, a whopping ₹50,000 crore from Premji at a time when the Indian government was wrestling with a ₹1,70,000 crore fund to be raised for mitigating the suffering of her disadvantaged millions. They did it quietly. Cheerfully.
You realise soon enough that Premji alone had totted up a benumbing ₹1,45,000 crore in all over the last ten plus years. What makes philanthropy or philanthropists work?
What is it that has stirred fear in us as humans? Why have all the alarming threats to earth’s ecosystems that are far more real left us cold and unmoved for twenty years? There have been enough reports and research on table that have painted the terrible prospects before us of how human well-being is intertwined with the fate of all other species.
Once the scare of this pandemic is behind us over the next few months will the world return to its frenzied pursuit of economic growth. Farming, logging, poaching, mining, decimating of more forests for rail and road ways, are altering the natural world at a rate never before seen in the history of the earth.
If we recognise that the pandemic takes about six weeks as a lag time for the damage it can wreak on the human species and so clamp a lockdown on the entire world, does it take a stretch of our imagination to know the immense threat that lies before us if we don’t stop the loss to biodiversity?
It’s well known that the earth’s atmosphere took 50 years to begin to be impacted by the excesses of the 1940s and 1950s. The abuse of the last 30 years will be fully seen only by 2050 or the last decades of this century.
If the scare of the virus could get the best of nobility from thousands of humans as we prepare for a 3-week lag time of its impact, why isn’t the threat of a 40-year lag that is so much larger than the pandemic rousing fear in the world’s minds?
The lethal combination of population growth and resource consumption, climate change and global warming, habitat conversion and urbanisation, over-exploitation of natural resources and environmental degradation is not something we can afford to return to if such fears of loss of millions of humans have to be put aside forever.
How much is much, is a question that the world’s business and political leaders have to ask. If the world’s economy is stretched at $50 trillion of monetising every year, what should be an aspirant goal for its nations?
Should India stretch its non-existent natural resources, vie with the world, and ravage her residual depository of biodiversity to grow beyond the $3 trillion of GDP that it crossed a year ago? Or should India turn inward, look at the two billion hands that she has as strength and build her sinews on growing self-sufficiency in food and offering health and well-being?
If the figures of prospective deaths in merely the hundreds have instilled fear as deep in human hearts, why has then the epic losses of 400,000 in the 2004 Tsunami, or the quarter million who perished in the 2008 typhoon in Myanmar left us cold, unmoved?
The capacity to fear in humans breeds this phenomenon known as preparedness. Because early humans were quick to fear dangerous situations, they were more likely to survive and reproduce. Preparedness is even seen to be a genetic effect. But somewhere the human instinct for fear is not honed sharp enough to rouse us all to action on the scale that the ecological threat needs. There is a real and far greater danger that awaits us the next fifty years if we don’t act now as one species, beyond political and economic boundaries.
The pandemic dwarfs in the face of the far larger problem for all mankind, of the very viability of the earth itself. Will this war, now begun on a virus that is only a derivative of the far deeper malaise of the deep destruction we have wrought the last century, be continued beyond the threat of the pandemic?
The world has to choose now to be inspired by such an overwhelming response from some of its citizens who have given as much as they have in response to the current fear of loss of human lives.
The amazing resolve that the world’s governments have shown in four quick weeks has to be strengthened to wage the more serious battle of addressing the gigantic scales of physical and chemical transformation of materials, of the need to clean up our oceans, and of a lot many things that need collective action.
It is then that this unsettling pandemic will have served the purpose of pulling humanity from the brink of extinction. It’ll help to remember the world lost 52 million people to the last such pandemic of a hundred years ago — the influenza that scourged China, a war-torn Europe and an India that lost 17 million people.
If our capacity to fear has mobilised such swift action in as less as a few weeks, all that the world’s governments have to do is to keep this amazing collective resolve to wage the bigger battle.
(The writer is a pioneer in green buildings and a Senior Fellow of the Indian Green Building Council.)
(The Federal seeks to present views and opinions from all sides of the spectrum. The information, ideas or opinions in the articles are of the author and do not reflect the views of The Federal.)