Summary of “The Ailing Planet: The Green Movement’s Role” by Nani Palkhivala

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This article by Nani Palkhivala focuses on issues related to the deteriorating condition of the earth. Nani Palkhivala talks about the Green Movement that started nearly twenty-five years ago and has proved to be one of the single most important movements that have gripped the imagination of the entire human race. The world’s first nationwide Green party was founded in New Zealand in 1972.


Today, we have shifted our view from that of a mechanistic one to a holistic and ecological one. Nani says that this shift in human awareness is as revolutionary as that introduced by Copernicus who for the first time taught mankind that earth and other planets revolve around the sun. For the first time, there is a growing worldwide realisation that earth is a living organism and that it has its own metabolic needs and fundamental processes which need to be taken care of.

The earth’s condition is similar to that of a patient’s declining health. We have certain ethical obligations and responsibilities towards Mother Earth that needs to be fulfilled for the benefits of our future generations. In 1987, the concept of sustainable developed was popularised by the World Commission on Environment. It is defined as the kind of development that fulfils the needs of today without hampering the reserve of resources for the future generations.

There is a zoo at Lusaka, Zambia, where exists a cage with a notice “The world’s most dangerous animal”. Inside the cage is a mirror where you see yourself. Various agencies across the globe have helped in creating awareness in people to build a system based on partnership.

It has been found that there are about 1.4 million living species on earth. But biologists suggest that there are about three to a hundred million other living species that are still unknown.

Mr L.K Jha, one of the distinguished Indian in the Brandt Commission raised a question in the First Brandt Report asking if we wish to leave behind a scorched planet with impoverished land and degrading environment for our future generations. In the book “The Global Economic Prospect”, Mr. Lester R. Brown points out that the earth’s four major biological systems are fisheries, forests, grasslands and croplands and these form the basis of the global economic system. They provide us food and raw materials for industries except for minerals and petroleum-derived synthetics. In many areas, these systems are being exploited to an extent that is damaging their efficiency.

Over-fishing is a common instance of this condition. Local forests are being destroyed in order to procure woods for cooking as a result of which firewood, in some places, have become more expensive than food. According to Dr Myers, when one destroys the tropical forest that houses several species, these species face extinction as well.

It has been said that forests precede mankind: deserts follow. The world’s tropics forests are now being damaged at the rate of forty to fifty million acres a year and the increasing use of dung for burning takes away from the soil an important natural fertilizer. According to the World Bank, we need a five-fold increase in the rate of forest planting to cope up with the expected fuelwood demand.


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The President of the World Resources Institute, James Speth, stated that we are losing an acre-and-a-half forest every second. Article 48A of the Constitution of India states that the State shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country but it is regrettable that laws are neither followed nor enforced in India. For instance, even though the Constitution says that casteism, bonded labor and untouchability shall be abolished, these still shamelessly flourish even after 40 years of operation of our Constitution. A recent report of the Parliament’s Estimates Committee highlighted the disastrous depletion of India’s forests over the last four decades. India is losing its forests at the rate of 3.7 million acres a year. But the actual loss of forests is likely to be eight times they are indicated by the statistics.

A three-year study conducted by the United Nations using satellites and aerial photography reported that the environment was ‘critical’ in many of the eighty-eight countries that were investigated.

The growth of population is one of the major factors deteriorating the future of human society. In 1800, the population was just a billion. By 1900, another billion was added to the population. In the twentieth century, however, another 3.7 billion was added. The present world population is estimated to be 5.7 billion. Every four days the world population increases by one million.

The rate of population will decrease if there is a rise in income, a spread in education and an improvement in health conditions. Thus, development is the best way to keep a check on the growing population. But development may not be possible if there is a continuing increase in the numbers.

The rich get richer and the poor produce children, which causes them to remain at poverty. More children indicate more unemployed people. People must be encouraged to do voluntary family planning. The choice is simple- it is between birth control and preservation of poverty.

Today, the population of India is estimated to be 920 million which is more than the combined population of Africa and South America. If a population is not controlled then the consequence is death by starvation.

Now the concern is severe; it is not only about the survival of the people but also the survival of the planet. The environmental problem might not kill us as of now but it is our passport for the future. It is a holistic and ecological view to see the world as a united whole rather than a disjointed collection of parts. It is our responsibility to build a better future for our progenies.

The industry has the most vital role in this new Era of Responsibility. The Chairman of Du Pont, Mr. Edgar S. Woolard, who was the Company’s Chief Environmental Officer, declared that as a leading manufacturer, they were required to excel in environmental performance.

Margaret Thatcher also expressed her concern for the environment by saying that no generation has a freehold on this earth. We have to live a life like tenants with a full repairing lease. Mr. Lester Brown, too, stated that we have not inherited this earth from our predecessors but we have borrowed it from our future generations.

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