Dust in our eyesThe cutting edge of political debate among the mighty countries today is the relationship between power and mother earth’s health.
The cutting edge of political debate among the mighty countries today is the relationship between power and mother earth’s health. After the elections that have brought new leaders and systems in powerful countries of the West as well as of Asia, the debate gained new strength, but with a propensity for loss.
Terms such as “depoliticising scientific” conclusions and prioritising liberal values and political ecology over and above the biological, and “indigenous ecology”, a term used by Bandana Shiva who gave a brilliant Mahesh Chandra Regmi lecture in Kathmandu a few years ago, are dominating the discussions today.
But the world is now poised for a radical change in this matter after the new American establishment promised to withdraw from the global ecological fraternity in favour of creating jobs for its countrymen and women. In the West, the debate on climate has become squarely political.
That is, those who defend the logic of saving the ecological environment of the world are said to be lurching to the left and those who do not, to the right—which includes racists and xenophobes. Ecology and politics were never as ideologically defined as they are now.
News of the melting of massive icecaps and the rise in pollution levels has become common. David Attenborough, at the age of 90, is still vigorously interpreting his visuals of nature and animals of the unique order. For us pollution has become invisible, especially in Kathmandu, where metaphorically and figuratively, visibility is getting low.
Last week, while leaving Kathmandu for Delhi, I did not have an iota of hope to breathe fresh air in that capital too. Another polluted sky was pervasive there. There is no escape from polluted air anymore for people who live in big cities. But then, the rural areas are also badly affected by this change. I have a few small narratives to share before posing a question regarding the Nepali ecological conundrum.
Over the years, I have been trying to understand the reality of the global ecological change. I recall a few events. Immediately after my scholarship was terminated as part of cutbacks in educational grants in Britain, I left Edinburgh, where I was a student, for London to meet friends.
The year was 1979, and Margaret Thatcher had just become Britain’s powerful prime minister. One day, when I was walking in a street in London, a tall, quaintly dressed man called me to stop. He stalked off after giving me a leaflet. The words, “London is drowning, repent now!” were printed in bold letters, surprising me to the core. I have still preserved that piece of paper, because it came when I was going through a difficult time, and the apocalyptic tone of the words struck a chord with me.
Since then I began to follow the meaning of the drowning imagery. The coastal cities and island countries would be threatened by the rise in sea levels due to melting arctic icecaps, said the interpretations. One erstwhile president of the Maldives made an appeal to countries to start thinking about giving the Maldivians a land to shift to when the sea water begins entering their island.
I was surprisingly horrified to read that news. The other day, I met an old Dutch friend—the prominent linguist George van Driem, at Thamel’s Himalayan Java coffee house—who said he has moved to Switzerland because the Netherlands is drowning.
There is a saying in the Netherlands—god made sea and man made land. George’s words reminded me of the leaflet handed to me years ago in London. The incident had stunned me with its mystic power at that moment. But I can easily link the apocalyptic imagination to a reality that is haunting the world today. The worst polluters of mother earth are speaking recklessly and irresponsibly. Wrong-headed politics and discursive violence over nature and ecology are dominating the media.
Nepali ecological conundrum
I am intrigued by the Nepali situation. The most important question that none of us, as far as my knowledge goes, have raised: Are the ecologists in Nepal the rightists or the leftists in terms of political ideology? If this question is dividing the world, I believe it should have some effect in Nepal too, where politics and political parties have dominated all spheres of life.
There are either the so-called leftists or the so-called rightists here in politics.
But personally, I have seen nothing but a conundrum in Nepal as far as ecology is concerned. The leftists and the rightists, the democrats and the royalists have all recklessly destroyed Nepal’s nature and ecology. I do not remember any political groups or parties working earnestly to save the forests and the general ecological conditions. Politicians do not see nature in Nepal.
I am attributing this to the political groups and the culture because not a single political finger was raised when Kathmandu’s lovely trees were mercilessly sawn down and the lush green forests of the plains and the hills brutally decimated. I was awed by what a medical doctor told me when I went to consult him about my occasional short breath syndrome.
I felt sometimes as though I was being asphyxiated. The doctor said there is a great shortage of oxygen in the air because there are not enough trees to release it in Kathmandu. I got my answer.
India uses coal, because of which it is called a ‘coal nation’. But Nepal has always relied on forests for domestic fuel energy, and petroleum and electricity for other purposes. Nature has always been the target for all kinds of attacks for the sake of energy, settlements, politics, money-making and most important of all, creating power bases.
These are all dangerous options. There is neither left nor right political semantics in Nepal as far as ecology is concerned. And, that trend is going nowhere.