Not another book on environment and sustainability, was the thought I had when I picked up NR Krishnan’s A Green Economy – India’s sustainable development. Books on this topic generally touch upon how ancient India reverently cared for Nature and how we have lost it all now and so on. Krishnan, a former Environment Secretary, could be counted on to being different, but perhaps not much — so I thought. Erroneously. The very first chapter harpooned me good. 

The book makes for a fascinating read. It does start with ancient, glorious India and what Hinduism taught about Nature — Krishnan sprinkles the pages with extensive quotes from the Vedas and Upanishads, as could be expected — but pretty soon, the reader gets a crucial insight: how Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Islam differed from Judaism and Christianity in their views on Nature and how the Jewish and Christian ‘anthropocentric’ thinking influenced how the Western nations deal with Nature. 

Without being offensive or disrespectful, Krishnan observes that Jainism (for instance) makes man and nature responsible for ‘paraspara upa jeevanam’, or symbiotic relationships, and Islam stresses that all living beings are equal, but in contrast, in Judaism and Christianity, God was believed to have vested in human beings a lordship over nature and all its constituents. God commanded man to “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over everything that moves on the earth.”

Though thinkers like Rene Dubos (who said that anthropocentrism provided an excuse for over-exploitation of natural resources) and Reverend TR Malthus (who pointed out that arable land is finite and cautioned about the ‘population-food mismatch), much of core Western thinking was that natural resources were inexhaustible. Indeed, this thinking was in lockstep with a political philosophy called ‘utilitarianism’, which held that only man was sentient and all else were incapable of pleasure or pain. 

Unbridled maul of nature

Thus, this thinking laid the basis for the era of exploration and colonisation with a view to accumulating wealth for a nation and later for the unbridled maul of nature during the industrial era. 

The early part of Krishnan’s book is thus a ‘foundational course’ for the reader to grasp the essence of the rest of it. It is in Chapter III that one sees the emergence of a pause in Western developmental philosophy and a turn (U-turn?) towards environmental protection. That sets the tone for Chapter IV, titled ‘Twentieth Century – Part I” and Chapter V, called ‘Twentieth Century – Part II’. These two chapters describe how environmentalism took root and grew in the West and dwells substantially on the emergence of the discord between the developed West and the developing countries over each other’s share of the blame and respective responsibilities in remedial efforts. There is a fascinating description about Rachael Carlson’s book, Silent Spring (1962), which brought the world’s attention to the ill-effects of spraying DDT on trees on the bird population. Other books, such as Population Bomb (1968) and Limits of Growth (1972) also shaped public thought towards exploitation of natural resources.  

From this point, the book flows through history of climate action and the evolution of the Sustainable Development Goals. In Chapter XI, Krishnan traces the evolution of the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility and Triple Bottomline. The book ends with a chapter on Growth, Equity and Environment and, in conclusion, the author warns us not to equate ‘sustainable living’ with ‘reduced standard of living’.  

The most remarkable aspect of the book is the impressive amount of research that has gone into it. This has imparted to the book such detailing that ensures that there is never a dull moment while reading it. 

Check out the book on Amazon here

Review: A Green Economy – India’s sustainable development
By NR Krishnan
Published: Notion Press
Pages: 326 
Price: ₹374