Champagne, Cats, Frogs, Pigs, Zebras or Horses – How do we cure Povertitis and Affluenza?

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Champagne glasses, cats, frogs, pigs and horses : One of  the most visually enticing keynote addresses in the Forum creatively links natural resource consumption and conservation, policy directives, economics, dematerialization and sustainable living with images of the animal world.

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Creating powerful imagery, Professor Ashok Khosla persuaded his audience of  the pressing need to change our entrenched value systems, our perceptions and prejudices of our present surroundings. Through the sessions of the WRF 2011, I have heard politicians, academics, students and the youth spreading ideas on economic growth with resource management but Khosla for a change, shows through example what he has been able to achieve.  His office building is one such example. Built out of ash, recycled waste and recycled construction material, it fosters the message of green building, as it consumes 40% less energy and at 50% less construction costs.

The analogy of a champagne glass describes what has become of the the world. The the top narrow bowl is the Global North, controlling more than 90% of the world’s wealth, while the stem reflects the Global South controlling less than 10%  of the world’s assets.  While the North tries to find out whether they should continue with ‘business as usual’, meaning industrialization and increased resource misuse and depletion;  the path which the South will take remains an ever present dilemma.  In a world diseased with povertitis and affluenza, where do nation states go from here? The global south with its new found appetite for development remains in the worlds purview.

The South needs to decide on the limited alternatives available.

  • Copy cat : Follow the destructive path the developed countries had followed in their quest for financial wealth and supremacy obliterating natural resources in its wake.
  • Piggy Back : Relying on the North to bail the South out of its troubles.
  • Leap Frog : Rethinking national development, endogenously defining a new life, adopting Factor 10 resolutions, innovation, adapting market in stitutions and decentralizing production and delivery.

Professor Khosla believes that the path of capacity building for developing countries is by becoming capable of taking care of themselves and not asking the West for financial help as asking for more aid leads to further complications. A leap frog agenda, transcending traditional paths to development for Khosla becomes the most acceptable.

Therefore, to move towards efficiency which is directly related to cost, there has to be a basic shift in human thinking.

Developing countries cannot afford to follow the route developed countries did. Lack of infrastructure in the developing countries also entails that while developed countries follow a certain path towards resource utilization, developed countries would need to follow an alternate agenda. They need to build their systemic capabilities to reach the efficiency frontier and at the same time reduce costs. This would in essence  mean that instead of following just factor 10 goals, countries would now need to design factor 50 goals, change their value systems and ideas, lifestyles with the government and the civil society leading those changes. Though we are engaging in risky behavior as Khosla states, we need to make changes to our lifestyles.

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Risky behaviour

Charming though Professor Khosla is, I am left with the question and that is though developing countries should not piggy back on the developed world, how do nations which do not have the resources to develop their infrastructure, have a working formula because they cannot afford to fail? I agree with Khosla, though left with limited choice, as people from the developing world, we need to push governments to formulate and implement policies which ensures plentiful resources not just for our futures but for posterity.

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