Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is currently wrapping up an official visit to India. Because the population of Mauritius is almost 60% 1st, 2nd or 3rd generation Indian, I am rather keen to know what goes on and down in what is referred to as the sister country here on the island.
Try as I might, I am unable to 100% agree with India’s environment and forests minister, Jairam Ramesh. Mr. Ramesh has said that India is not currently in a position to legally enforce emission reductions. Both China and India have stated that they would be held back from economic growth if they were forced to reduce or strictly target and control emissions.
The quick version of the argument is that the West grew and became a successful industrial powerhouse without having to comply with any such standards, so why should they have to put limits on themselves when the West didn’t have to during its boom years?
It’s an interesting argument to make and I can understand it to a point. It has also got to be incredibly frustrating when others from abroad try to influence or recommend change to a country and culture that is not their own. But the world is a shared place and I do think some sort of progress can be made for the benefit of all, it just has to begin and starting something has always been the sticky trick.
From my own recent experiences, I now think that trying to figure out successful ways to limit, control and monitor emissions on a national scale in a developing country would be a huge challenge and it is on this point that I can relate to Mr. Ramesh’s statements.
I mean, a big green light was given to produce and sell as quickly and cheaply as possible. Factories were built. Jobs were created. A lot of money was and is still being made. And now because the planet is heaving from the effects of previous decades’ go-go-go ways, Indian companies would have to figure out ways to keep costs down and implement cleaner ways of manufacturing. Whew. Sounds like a lot of work.
Mauritius is just starting to have conversations about recycling programs. Recycling is simply not done here on a national scale. In fact, on a recent return visit back to the States, I was chucking my aluminum cans and glass bottles into the garbage without a second thought. Once the enforcement of keeping the habit in place is gone, it seems the habit simply leaves the mind.
There are a few current efforts to increase the awareness of ‘living green’ on the island, but many of these dialogs are starting in the private sector. The ‘green IT’ initiative is getting a lot of local buzz, but I tend to think it’s not the kind of buzz which will later be turned into laws which are then actually enforced. Currently, being ‘green’ is seen as a new way of making money and in a developing country that way is sometimes the ONLY way.
When I think about the amount of people, awareness campaigns, enforcement and enforcement of the enforcement that would be needed to do this kind of task in Mauritius, it makes my head spin. And India is so much larger with so many more companies and citizens. Whew. Sounds like a lot of work.
While I was working for a local consulting firm here, I had to go on many manufacturing plant tours to observe current business processes in play. On one such visit I noticed a tarp-covered small pile in the middle of the shop floor not more than 20 feet away from a packaging line with employees. When I asked what the tarp was covering, I was told it was where certain fumigations took place on raw material and the tarp was to trap the toxic vapors.
I made mention that this process seemed to fall within the category of ‘hazmat’ and that a proper room, suits, vents, etc. should probably be used. More importantly, the line employees were being indirectly exposed to toxins on a daily basis, I pointed out. The plant manager full-heartedly agreed with me, but said that they didn’t currently have a room and that it would be a lot of work to set everything up. Whew.
So, why couldn’t Mr. Ramesh have said, “Man, this is really going to be a huge pain in the arse to do and it won’t be done overnight, but we’ll give it our best shot” or “We’ll need some help to really put this into play. Perhaps the West could send some capable people with previous experience of having done this exact same exercise in many, many companies in the West over here to help guide and advise us”??
I suppose it’s all rather more complex than my tiny personal experience can relate to and advise upon; however, for all the head spinning and exhaustion about all of the potential work to be done, I just can’t feel comfortable with Mr. Ramesh’s comments nor agree with the argument that the West got to pollute and grow so India should now be allowed to do so as well.
I mean, would India have said ‘no’ to put health warnings on cigarette packs? Yes, it’s been proven across the globe that cigarettes are bad for the health, but first tons of citizens will get sick and die and then when everyone is good and ready, the decision to put warnings on the packs will be made and put into practice.
Maybe it’s simply time to just roll-up the sleeves and get the job started.