Nepali Times Asian Paints
Here And There
Green with greed


There was a time when everyone seemed concerned about over-consumption, pollution, depletion of resources and everything we came to know as 'green'. Even the World Bank, under acute pressure lead by brave activists in Nepal, decided to consider the good of the 'world', before the financial returns of the 'bank'.

Green parties were resurgent everywhere. People in developed countries were recycling their rubbish, driving smaller cars or using public transport. Young people in particular knew about the fate of the earth if we didn't make serious changes in the way we lived. By 'we' of course, I mean people in rich countries. But developing societies too were experiencing growing awareness of environmental issues and demands.

My own feeling at the time was that it had much to do with the end of the Cold War. The collapse of the Soviet Union, of the Berlin Wall in Germany and the end of repressive communism removed a shadow from peoples' lives. It was no longer possible that we'd all be annihilated in nuclear crossfire between America and Russia. So we turned our attention to the planet and her dwindling, increasingly more poisoned resources.

Those were heady days. So what do we find now, more than a decade later? Do we find progressive environmentalism across the political spectrum? A philosophy of making gentle, sustainable use of water, air or mineral wealth? Do we generate electricity from clean, zero emission sources and use sensible transport powered by electricity or fuel cells?

Well, no, we don't. In North America, our vehicle of choice is the offensive and dangerous Sport Utility Vehicle. Public transit has never been more in need of passengers or public money. The streets are littered with fast food rubbish and the drinking water is laden with pesticides and heavy metals. The food chain is plagued by poison and disease and the air seethes with poison.

Abroad, the picture is little better. China is turning into an environmental nightmare to make the worst American chemical dump look pristine. Indian cities are becoming unliveable. The oceans are running out of fish in part because we dump too much toxic waste, and also because too many people eat too many sea creatures. As for the air, is there any left? Or is it all coal fired power plant emissions and smoke?

So what happened to the Green movement? What happened to all those young people in the early 1990s who could quote chapter and verse about the dire straits we were in, and what had to be done to turn things around? Why did we let get this way? It's easy to blame conservative politicians for gutting environmental protection measures, which is what has been happening in the United States.

George Bush's government, according to its critics, has been anything but green. But there were the lefties in Bill Clinton's administration, and that nice Mr Blair in Britain and all those Social Democrats in Europe. They haven't done anything to clean up the planet either.

All I can conclude is that being green can't survive the greed that grips us when times are good. The developing world gets dragged along as we rich folk consume and pollute at will. Now things are looking grim again economically, and I fully expect we'll be awash in environmental woe soon enough. It's that simple, it's that shallow.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)