What’s Wrong with The World: From a Conservationist’s Diary – Part 1

While everyone is responding to a stimulus, is it our fate to perish? PC: Meelika Marzzarella, Source: Unsplash

(Part I of a two-part series)

There is a pressure to utilise this lockdown amid circumstances surrounding Covid-19. Some paint, some cook, while some dance. Of course, I don’t have to remind everyone of the dishes quarrelling in the kitchen sink or the broom lying in a corner, vying for their attention. So, I decide to do what I probably do best – sit and ignore that urge to eat potato chips.

Sitting on a bed doing nothing is blissful! It then turns into lying down, and then I tend to think of all the things going wrong with the world – our forests dwindling, oceans emptying, climate changing. Aggravating all of this are our politicians not bothered, corporations focused on maximizing profits, ignorant people, and my parched bank account. I am certain these common thoughts cross many minds. What I’m even more certain of is that these thoughts play an implicit role in conservation action.

You see, it is not just during this lockdown, but it’s been over two decades that I have been ruminating on these things, to the point where my brain runs like a quintessential Indian soap opera, the kind where a pregnancy lasts for years on end. While replaying these thoughts in my head practically all the time (boy, conservation should have been a girl, I would have totally won her over), I also brushed up my understanding of ecology, economics, game theory and what not. Now that I sit with some mind space, I realise that things that once frustrated me don’t bother me all that much anymore. I’d like to tell you why.

So, what is really wrong with the world? Why are we destroying ecosystems and, in effect, our very existence? Actually, nothing is wrong. To put it briefly, everyone is responding to stimulus, but that simply isn’t good enough.

In ecology, we learn that there is really no balance in nature. All we have are equilibria established through evolution and succession between and among abiotic and biotic components. Why did I, in my early days, always talk about maintaining the balance of nature, when there really wasn’t any? Silly me.

Things interact with each other and come to an equilibrium that leads to a stable system. Over the years, negative interactions such as parasitism (in which one has a positive outcome and the other has a negative outcome) give way to positive ones like mutualism (in which none of the components feel any negative impact), and so the system becomes ‘stable’. In other words, nobody benefits from greed in nature and eventually equilibria are attained in which everyone benefits.

It serves no purpose for viruses to keep killing their hosts; eventually, they will be left with none and perish. Virus that causes cold does not kill the host, both live. The ideal equilibrium is where everyone lives on and procreates. This is true with human interactions too.

This far, without any jokes?! I am pretty serious about this stuff, no laughing matter. Let’s delve into it a little more.

The question is, how does this work in the case of human interaction? Humans have always had an underlying anxiety about resources. Resources are always limited either because of the technology that exploits them or their scarce nature or just their proportion as opposed to the population. This is a stimulus and individuals have to now think whether they should hoard or take what is needed at that moment.

We wouldn’t be bothered to put in the effort of collecting and stocking up, we would just return to the supermarket when needed. But what about that neighbour whose family’s aggregate weight is 700 kilos? Then I think I’d rather pick up a little more than I can carry and store it lest the stores run out. On their part, the neighbours think of us skinny jacks as not needing any food and supplies. However, they are hoarders and are worried about their collective appetite, stocking up for months on end.

Plainly put, this is what’s happening to our natural resources, especially the common pool resources, which in an economic categorisation are nothing but rival and non-excludable in nature. That means, everyone has access, but if one is to get it, others won’t. Gareth Hardin called it the Tragedy of Commons in 1968. However, a wise woman named Elinor Ostrom observed that it can be averted, provided certain conditions are fulfilled on both the resource and on the attributers’ side. I’m not surprised she received a Nobel Prize for this in 2009. We will come back to this later, I’m hoping to spin this in a spicy Bollywood style, where everything is strung together at the end, including the police.

Power is probably the ultimate high. One way of getting it is by being a political leader or a minister. Yet is it that simple? It is pretty much impossible to be a lone wolf in the world of politics; one has to join a political party or form their own. Political parties are huge corporations that do not make a single product that can be sold in the market. They keep running the juggernaut of ideology. Imagining the sheer amount of people that a political leader meets is tiring. I bet social distancing must come as a welcome break.

Political leaders and parties spill into the nation through their outreach efforts. For this they need money – lots of it – and where does it come from? Party donations! My guess is as good as yours on where these crores come from. Such money comes with its duress and requires politicians to make trade-offs to be in power. That should explain some of their decisions.

India’s relatively young population of 1.37 billion and its satellite TV driven aspirations, which like potato chips, is something they can’t do without. Governments have to satisfy aspirations at a time when they struggle to provide nutrition, education, and energy. The days of any government are counted. They probably get one chance, which could be every five years. They must honour the trade-offs they make as a political party, work towards development of the nation, their idea of development being physical connectivity, increased livelihood opportunities, energy requisitions… all in limited time.

In such a position, what would they focus on? Sustainability for the long term, which is invisible for the voter, or short-term GDP raising measures? Not to forget – GDP is a measure of consumption, and to boost GDP, the government must boost consumption which, in turn, means exploitation of resources.

Doesn’t the government have sensible advisors? We are not a banana republic, we do have subject experts and bureaucrats at hand for advice, but again, what is their stimulus? After a point, obviously, things are driven by the minister and the government’s agenda. So, some environmental clearances find innovative ways through the otherwise red taped system.

(Read Part II of the two-part series here)

Rushikesh Chavan

Rushikesh Chavan is an ecosystems conservationist who has been working in the field for the past two decades. He currently works at the Wildlife Conservation Trust.

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.

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2 comments

  1. Excellent article
    Equilibrium is 1st and last outcome of any system no matter how but nature will always achive it by taking its own course

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