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Consumerism in India 'intricately linked' to stress on high GDP growth rate paradigm

Counterview Desk 

 Niti Aayog Vice Chairman Rajiv Kumar, referring to the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has reportedly said it is time to shift focus from consumption to conservation, insisting, if urgent steps are not taken to reverse the damage caused by climate change, a disaster is in store. “There is a lot to be gained and achieved in conservation, in minimizing our needs and wants rather than being in a consumer society," he insisted, adding Indian society traditionally created very little waste and "use and throw" was not a part of its culture.
Referring to the statement, power and climate change policy analyst Shankar Sharma in a letter to Dr Kumar it "must have surprised many thousands like me in our country", adding, while it came as a "pleasant surprise", there are many "associated questions" that need answering. Sharma has forwarded two discussion papers (click here and here) along side the letter in order to highlight "associated genuine societal concerns."

Text of the letter:

I may please be excused to seek a clarification whether these views  also represent that of Niti Aayog and that of the Union government's convictions. It is hard to believe so without clarification in the context that it is probably for the first time that a person of your official position has made such a clear statement: “The way forward is less consumption of natural resources, more innovation of materials using less resources and recycling of these resources”.
The statement has profound relevance to India, a country with a large population base and still growing, and which is also facing acute resource constraints, because the present government (as well as all successive governments) has been practicing a economic paradigm of high GDP growth rate, which has directly and indirectly encouraged consumerism.
Our recent practice has been to judge our development through erroneously arrived yardsticks such as 'per capita energy consumption', 'per capita water consumption', 'per capita paper consumption', 'per capita steel & cement consumption' etc. In this context, the profoundness of your statement will become clear when we look at the consequences of consumerism, as we can see around us generally across the world, but specifically across India.
Some of the formal definitions of consumerism are:
(i) advocacy of a high rate of consumption and spending as a basis for a sound economy;
(ii) social and economic order that encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts;
(iii) the idea that increasing the consumption of goods and services purchased in the market is always a desirable goal and that a person's wellbeing and happiness depend fundamentally on obtaining consumer goods and material possessions.

Consumerism, which basically means a person's demand for more and more wants and luxuries instead of real needs, should apply to all materials and energy. Your statement that “the way forward is less consumption of natural resources, more innovation of materials using less resources and recycling of these resources”, should mean profound implications for the future of the country, and should pave the way for only sustainable policies by the state and central governments and for a sustainable way of life.
Are Niti Aayog and the Union government committed to such a paradigm shift? Will this change in our developmental and economic paradigm be clarified soon in the form of national policies such as 'National Energy Policy' and ‘National Resource Efficiency Policy', the draft of which was released by Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) in 2019? Otherwise, people may deem these associated statements by the Vice Chairman, simply as rhetorical to suit a particular occasion.
Since consumerism is intricately linked to the high GDP growth rate paradigm, the same needs adequate focus with regard to our society.
I am sure you will agree that a sustained high GDP growth rate year after year will mean the manufacture of products and provision of services at an unprecedented pace leading to: setting up of more factories/manufacturing facilities; consumption of large quantities of raw materials such as iron, steel, cement, chemicals etc.; increasing an unsustainable demand for natural resources such as land, water, minerals, timber etc.; acute pressure on the Government to divert agricultural /forest lands; huge demand for various forms of energy (petroleum products, coal, electricity etc.); accelerated urban migration; clamour for more of airports, airlines, hotels, shopping malls, private vehicles, express highways etc.
If policy actions are not taken, people may deem statements by the Vice Chairman, simply as rhetorical to suit a particular occasion
Vast increase in each of these activities, while increasing the total greenhouse gas (GHG, responsible for global warming) emissions, will also add up to reduce the overall ability of natural carbon sinks such as forests to absorb GHG emissions. There will also be increased pollution of land, air and water along with huge issues of managing the solid, liquid and gaseous wastes.
In this context, what has been stated in the 2019 draft of National Resource Efficiency Policy is also of profound nature:
"Driven by rapid economic and population growth, the demand for natural resources, especially materials have grown manifold over the last few decades. In the endeavour for economic growth, natural resources have been largely indiscriminately exploited, adversely impacting the environment and biodiversity. Further, cross linkages between resource use, climate change, land degradation and biodiversity loss has been scientifically well established.
"Meeting the demand for products and services, of rising population with increased aspirations has led to mostly indiscriminate exploitation of natural resources and would further lead to increased pressure on resources resulting in environmental degradation, thereby raising sustainability concerns. India, as one of the fastest growing economies with GDP at 2.6 trillion USD, has increased its material consumption to six times, from 1.18 billion tons in 1970 to 7 billion tons in 2015, however this economic growth has been coupled with inherent cost on natural environment.
"The material consumption is projected to more than double by 2030, in order to provide for increasing population, rapid urbanization and growing aspirations. The projected pace of economic development is going to put pressure on the already stressed and limited resources and may lead to serious resource depletion and environment degradation affecting the economy, livelihoods and the quality of life. Further, material use is also closely associated with the problem of increasing wastes, which when suitably processed could deliver valuable secondary resources.
"On the current status, this draft policy lists also many concerns: 'High import dependency of many critical raw materials; 30% of land undergoing degradation; Highest water withdrawal globally for agriculture; 3rd highest CO2 emitter, responsible for 6.9% of global CO2 emissions; much lower recycling rate at 20-25% vis-à-vis of as high as 70% in developed countries (Europe); low material productivity compared to global average; 3rd largest material demand (year 2010); resource extraction of 1,580 tons/ acre is much higher than the world average of 450 tons/ acre'."

While congratulating you for making public Niti Aayog's clarity on such a critical issue such as consumerism, can people of our country expect soon clear and sustainable policies on all the associated sectors of our economy, thereby leading our communities to a lifestyle of ‘simple living and high thinking’, which is also our cultural heritage, and thereby also leading the whole world truly in the fight against Climate Change and various kinds of inequalities?
In this context, our country urgently needs diligently prepared national policies such as "National Energy Policy", "National Resource Efficiency Policy", the revised "National Action Plan on Climate Change", "National Forest Policy" etc.. Full commitment to such a policy of 'minimizing our needs and wants, rather than being in a consumer society' by all sections of our society, particularly by the government, will go a long way in mitigating and adapting to the Climate Change. In this context, my congratulations to you again for having initiated an important paradigm shift in our development/ economic policy.

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