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May 6, 2009 / zanzi

Day Three

On Day Three, the 6th of May, Mr Sodhi from the Centre for Environment Education began with a little performance during which he warmed up to the group and got the sustainability workshop underway. He showcased some publications for UNDP and CEE projects that he is involved with. After a couple of definitional slides, that made quite loosely constructed distinctions between terms like knowledge and wisdom, he presented some facts and figures.

The first of these stressed on 16 crore farmers in India who consume 80 crore kg of chemicals per year, while the government subsidizes MNCs who manufacture these to the tune of 12,000 crore rupees a year. The next slide, though, prompted a few titters among the group, since it made the claim that urbanization is increasing in India. The statistics to back this view were conspicuous in their absence after Kundu’s diametrically opposite statement, and demonstrated aptly how good-natured bluffing can be dangerous.

The presentation meandered on with some points throwing up heated debate. The group abided with good humour throughout, without politeness vanquishing frankness. Mentions of eco marking, consumptive lifestyles and consumer choices, standards and implementation, as well as the timeless debate between industry, corporate responsibility and accountability, came up with varied views assimilating in the open group space.

Mr Sodhi had a few pearls which he enjoyed dropping off his string on occasion. This partly made up for the loss in emphasis that is bound to result from restricting a Sardar to English! A couple are quote-worthy. Interestingly, India’s report to the UN CED during Rio 1992 featured the statement – The real challenge of development is not how to get there, but how not to. Having taken on Dr Regine at the outset on questions of methodology, Mr Sodhi was up to the task in his own inimitable manner with ‘Words together make a meaning, worlds together make a difference.’

After tea, we split up into our three groups and took up specific mechanisms to analyze within our thematic frameworks. The suggested methods of institutionalizing various objectives were through policy, legal approaches, systems, technology, financial mechanisms, enforcement, education and communication. The urban sustainability group took up the approach of citing problem areas, coming up with a generalized set of solutions through a brainstorming session, and linking up the solutions with the identified areas.

The presentation round was quick but articulate. Our group tried to capture a broad perspective, looking at policy and systemic issues. The water resource management group focussed squarely on the urban scenario and came up with a number of specific policy suggestions and implementation schemes. The climate change group addressed three different mechanisms within their theme and reflected on policy with respect to these. The whole exercise served as a pretty handy precursor to the work ahead of us, which will involve constructing future scenarios and working in a comprehensive manner, building on the initial basis within each theme.

The post-lunch session commenced with part of a filmed discussion between – and Sunita Narain. This served as the take-off point for a discussion in which the central points in Narain’s argument were identified, disagreement sought and explained, and consequently a platform for the theme of sustainable development and international climate change negotiations was constituted. With several contributions coming in from specific group members, a general political discussion ensued. This started out with participation opportunities for multiple stakeholders at forums such as the UNFCCC CoP, malfunctioning of democratic mechanisms and the potential for effective public information systems. It seemed to be drifting into musings on the CRZ-CZM transition and talk about Olive Ridley sea turtles and Tata Nanos prior to Dr Regine’s intervention.

With an hour’s space for the personal evaluation exercise on ecological handprint versus footprint, another of the CEE resource persons took over with a presentation on sustainable lifestyles with a demand-side perspective. Typical examples in best practices within consumption management and rationalization such as the following were outlined:

UK – Changing patterns and one planet economy

Sweden – Think twice

Finland – Getting more and better from less

A note on the side:

It is instructive to note the paradoxical nature of some of our environment and the learning we are engaged in. Especially today, with CEE in charge of affairs, the only really meaningful session was the one in which we split into three groups and worked on different drivers of change within our themes. As this is being written, we are engaged in an attempt at calculating our ecological footprint versus handprint, and the presence of resource persons doesn’t seem to be making the process any better than what one could achieve from taking a test on their website or any number of others. But without meaning to offend, it is funny (in a profound sort of way) to consider the paradoxical physical elements at EPTRI.

Some flush tanks are leaking, and the best way at present to save water has been to temporarily turn off the supply to them. A couple of rooms have electrical problems, or leakages in the wall plastering, and yesterday there were intermittent power failures due to damage in transmission caused by stormy weather the preceding night. Isaac Asimov in his famous Foundation series would have linked this with the decay of civilization, pointing at the lack of prompt availability of plumbers, electricians, and general repairmen as signs backing this.

This is instructive. We have also discussed the somewhat unavoidable problem of ourselves as a group using a fair number of unsustainable options during the course of this month – several flights, air conditioning, some packaged goods and material-intensive resources. This is rather unavoidable in the interest of maximizing our outcomes within a limited time-span. At the same time, our living environment, the facilities and available human resources or lack thereof, as the summer school proceeds, is a potent source of learning as well. These provide a direct pointer towards the sort of sustainable innovations that are needed, the challenges that we are up against in the Indian context specifically, the way different institutions function. It is also an opportunity to implement some learning by doing. Flush-tank repairs, anyone?

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