Social equality is essential for sustainable developmentUplifting all segments of the Nepali community has holistic benefits for the society, environment and economy.
Climate change, the most significant environmental catastrophe in the world today, is fueled by megacorporations looking to make quick profits. These corporations have engaged in resource extraction and waste disposal practices that have not only increased greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere but have also contributed to other forms of environmental destruction such as water pollution, land degradation and deforestation. Consequently, this capitalistic business model, that only concerns itself with the bottom line, has ratcheted our footprint on the environment—to proportions that cannot be sustained any more.
These same businesses that benefit from the exploitation of the environment also benefit from the exploitation of people. Many large corporations—especially in oligopoly markets—routinely engage in labour- and consumer-rights violations. Additionally, they have also committed environmental atrocities in low-income communities that did not have political or legal clout to fight back. Companies have violated indigenous land and water rights, for example, by deforesting the Amazon, while planting palm oil trees in the Philippines or while constructing crude oil pipelines through Native American land in the United States.
Because global environmental and social systems are so large and complex, it is often difficult to draw conclusions on causalities, i.e. it can be challenging to determine which actions, in particular, brought about what outcomes. However, one aspect of such dynamics is clear: an individual (or community) may be a victim in one context and a perpetrator in the next. For example, despite negligible emissions, Nepalis have had to bear the brunt of the effects of climate change. There are lots of global justice implications here, some of which are currently being explored in the global climate change negotiations arena.
Meanwhile, however, we have our own system of economic and social hierarchy that has manufactured our very unique brand of social injustices as well. For example, this injustice is apparent in the way we manage solid waste in Kathmandu: We tend to dump waste on river banks and slums where transient communities live, or situate landfills in poorer neighbourhoods outside the valley. This disproportionately skews the impact of our wasteful lifestyles towards the poor. Additionally, caste-, ethnicity-, sexuality- and gender-based politics also limit access to resources and decision-making powers, further exacerbating the cycle of poverty, neglect and abuse.
Ironically, the poorest do not only face the brunt of environmental atrocities but of ecological protection schemes as well. This happens especially in developing countries like Nepal, where a lot of people are pushed to the margins and forced to depend on natural forest resources to meet food, fuel and fodder requirements. However, extreme forms of environmental protection like militarised conservation severely limit or completely forbid this local dependence on forests for sustenance. This happens even as wealthy tourists enter the parks for pleasure. And also as affluent Nepalis (using bribes, policy loopholes or gaps) commercialise protected landscapes for profit.
If Nepal is successful in scaling up its current growth model—which is environmentally unsustainable and socially problematic—our development will be no different than that which fueled climate change. Sustainable growth requires that the private sector and the government in Nepal look beyond profits, and take social and environmental considerations into account.
The principles of social equality and inclusion dictate that every Nepali must have access to the same benefits and opportunities without regards to their caste, ethnicity, disability, gender or sexuality. Policies need to be created and implemented to promote equal rights of women, LGBTQIA+, Dalits, Madhesis, Janajatis and other disadvantaged minorities.
Promoting such social inclusivity not only has intrinsic merit (of uplifting the lives of millions of Nepalis) but also contributes to economic development and environmental protection within society. Studies have found that when people are granted their fundamental rights, we also promote mental and physical well-being that increases their input to society and reduces crimes. Furthermore, empowering more people, like women, to enter the workforce uplifts the economy. This explains why nations are increasingly trying to recruit more and more women to do paid work.
Research conducted in eight countries, including developing nations like India and China, also shows that diverse leadership teams tend to increase both innovation and profits within companies. This can come as no surprise. The more perspectives we take into consideration while designing or advertising our products and services, the more likely it is to appeal to a larger customer base. However, this effect can only be realised when diversity permeates into all levels of a corporation, including the leadership roles. Having a diverse, innovative on-grounds team may not mean much if there isn’t someone higher up to understand and execute the idea effectively.
Most importantly, though, creating such inclusive economic growth means that people will no longer have to rely entirely on non-replenishable natural resources and intensive agriculture to sustain themselves. When people are not living hand-to-mouth, they can be educated and incentivised to engage in sustainable forestry and agricultural practices that will take their own future needs and the needs of future generations into account. They will have enough in the present to be able to invest for long term environmental benefits.
It is said that the true measure of any society lies in how it treats its most vulnerable members. How we choose to engage with Nepali women, minorities, and other sentient entities, will not only hold implications for our morality and ethics, however. It will also determine the strength of our future environmental and economic systems.
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