Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Menace of Development

This article alerts us to a faux development which mainly benefits 1%of the world's population while savaging the environment and pauperizing at least 50% of the world.Many empires have crumbled because these catered only to a minuscule minority. Numbers count, and unless the civil society intervenes in a decisive way, this civilization of ours may well be on a road to nowhere.

Mobility and transport shape our living options and spaces. Cities in India and China used to be primarily cities for bicyclists before globalisation. Today, Delhi, Bengaluru, Kolkata are undergoing a makeover from cities designed around walking and cycling to cities designed around the car. In contrast, cities like Copenhagen have promoted the bicycle — 55 per cent if its citizens cycle every day — and have become the model for sustainable mobility.
This is what a brochure titled “City of Cyclists”, given out by the City of Copenhagen, says: “Upon visiting new cities, we instinctively look upwards, seeking out the grand monuments that define the place. Here in the Danish capital, the iconic Little Mermaid statue has caused generations of visitors to utter the same four words. ‘but she’s so small’. Therein lies the key to understanding Copenhagen. The Little Mermaid isn’t small, you see. She’s life size, much like the city that she calls home. If it is monuments you are after in Copenhagen, don’t look up. Look around you, right there at street level. Our greatest monument is motion. It is a massive, constant, rhythmic and life-size legacy. The never ending flow of Copenhageners on bicycles is like a symphony of human power.”
The cycle, not the car, is the most modern transport because it will survive oil shortage, and does not contribute to greenhouse gases. Fourteen per cent of greenhouse gas emissions come from transport. Because the cycle depends on renewable human energy and not on fossil fuels, it is pollution free.
The resource demand of cars is not just for the fossil fuel used for driving them. Cars have a limitless appetite for oil. They also have a limitless appetite for metals like steel and aluminium and other materials used for making them — iron ore and aluminium has to be mined, forests have to be cut, indigenous people have to be displaced. To reduce costs and increase profits, mining is increasingly shifting to the Third World.
In India, the steel and aluminium industry is not just unleashing a war against nature. It has unleashed a war against the tribals. Tribals are resisting Vedanta’s bauxite mining from their sacred mountain, Niyamgiri, and in Kalingananagar, Orissa, tribals are resisting the Tata’s steel plant where 13 people were killed in 2006, and one has been killed in 2010. Tata’s Nano plant could not be set up in Singur, West Bengal, so it was shifted to Uttarakhand where 1,000 acres of fertile land of an agriculture university has been taken over for the car factory.
The car also requires land for driving and parking. The culture of speed needs highways and superhighways. And highways destroy homes and villages, farms and forests and trees. Cars redesign the countryside and the city.
Hitler promulgated the German Reich Automobile Law to make highways possible through centralised control. India has introduced the 2003 Highway Act for similar centralisation and concentration of power.
In both Germany and India, “autos-only” roads replaced the pluralism and democracy of transport. A German memorandum identified the countryside as the biggest impediment to the automobile: “It is expected to share the streets, with horse-drawn carriages, bicyclists and pedestrians… the modern concept of traffic engineering is to introduce a network of special highways, to serve the needs of long-distance travellers and to be used by the fastest automobiles (for which it is meant)…”
Across India, I witness ancient neighbourhoods in our ancient cities being torn down to widen roads for the long-distance traveller. And road widening for highways is removing our ancient trees that provided shade along our ancient roads.
The ficus is a sacred species of a biodiversity economy. Ficus trees were planted along roads to provide shade. If a road had to be widened, it would go around the ficus trees. Today, however, millions of sacred ficus trees planted hundreds of years ago are being cut down to make highways.
The car creates violence against the earth and human communities. The cycle and cycle-rickshaw are non-violent systems of mobility that create work and livelihoods.
The superhighway and the automobile is the ultimate cultural symbol of non-sustainability and ecological exclusion. Our roads once had place for the cow, the horse, the camel, the elephant and the car. We are now privileging the car-owner. The sacred cow has disappeared from Delhi’s roads.
Rickshaws and handcarts, the ultimate expression of climate-friendly mobility without fossil fuels, must be banned in order to “clean up” the streets to make way for cars and automobiles.
The bicycle and cycle-rickshaw create a shared and collective prosperity. The automobile creates a consumer-driven pseudo prosperity for less than one per cent of the population in countries like India.
From 2006 to 2011, India is projected to be the fastest growing auto manufacturer among the world’s top 20 car making countries. India will soon also be an export hub for automobiles. Bloomberg, the economic news agency, describes this as “cashing in on the nation’s auto lust” but also recognises that “nation” in this instance is only 0.7 per cent of the population. In India, only seven people in every 1,000 own a car, compared with 450 in the US and 500 in Europe. The “market” is not 1.2 billion Indians but the 216 million members of the middle class.
One per cent of India’s population is robbing 99 per cent of mobility, and often, the life they used to lead.
According to the Institute of Road Traffic Education, Indian roads are witness to over 230 deaths and around 3,500 serious injuries every day. The death rate in road accidents in India is 140 per 100,000. Most of those killed are in the age group of 15-44. India has one per cent of motor vehicles but six per cent of vehicular accidents. A vehicular accident is reported every three minutes and 100,000 people are killed every year in India on the roads, more than in any other country. Road accidents are highest on national and state highways, heavy vehicles like buses and trucks are responsible for 43 per cent of the accidents. It has been estimated that six million more people will die and 60 million will be injured over the next 10 years in developing countries, with India accounting 30 per cent of those accidents, unless preventive action is taken.
The cycle is a symbol of peace, equity, democracy, sustainability. The car is a symbol of violence, inequality, dictatorship and non-sustainability. What we chose will chart our future.
- Dr Vandana Shiva is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust

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