18 December 2013

Cyclone Phailin Aftermath, India © Peter Caton / Greenpeace


The year passed by. Not many noticed that 100 years ago, Tagore received the Nobel Prize for his accomplishments. Tagore, the Poet of Asia, was nobody's man at one point of time. West doubted him after he returned Knighthood after the Jallianwala incident; Indians, after he criticised Mahatma Gandhi on non-cooperation. Central to Tagore's criticism of non-cooperation was the idea of internationalism.

He saw negativity in non-cooperation and warned the world about unnecessary rivalry among nations. Gandhi had his explanations and it is debatable whether Tagore's criticism was right. But if we leave the context and consider just his idea of internationalism and worries he had flagged; we find many of them coming true after a century. Trade rivalry is at its peak in the name of globalisation. Time is running out to take action on climate change and international negotiations seem to be leading us nowhere.

How does the current idea of globalisation differ from internationalism? It might be of academic interest for experts. But as a layman and without going too deep into technicalities, it looks quite clear that globalisation, as it has rolled out, has been just about economic interests. Internationalism, as should be, goes way beyond economics and encompasses the socio-cultural cooperation and in the present scenario, is the cause of degradation of environment and health. Moreover, globalisation has been about competition controlled by and in favour of the strong against the weak. Internationalism, on the other hand, can only be accomplished in the true sense that it can keep up the spirit of global cooperation while preserving and benefitting from the idea of local in terms of trade and culture.

On the receiving end from the impacts of globalisation have been the global causes of environment and health. Looking back at the developments in the last few months, we have enough reasons to worry about. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned us that climate change is majorly man-made. While we were looking forward to CoP 19 at Warsaw with hope; it came as a disappointment. At a time when countries should have realised the urgency to take steps to achieve the global targets on emission cuts, they kept themselves limited to and even backtracked on their earlier stand. Brazil reported 28 percent increase in deforestation rates, Japan lowered its target and Australia rolled back its climate legislation. What's more? India backtracked on Minamata convention which aims to phase out use of mercury which is known to be the most toxic (naturally occurring) substance. Amidst all this, developed vs. developing looked like an unending rivalry. Historical responsibility has become a favourite excuse for upcoming economies for not taking action and blaming developing countries, a convenient way to continue business as usual. Tagore's is a lost cause!

But the problems that we are facing remain intact and unavoidable. It remains a challenge to keep the global temperature rise within 2 degree Celsius. About two third of the total deaths happening globally are because of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). There are predictions that natural calamities such as floods and cyclones will become more frequent than ever in years to come. From Brazil to Indonesia, forests are being destroyed at a faster rate than ever. Many invaluable animals and birds, from Siberian Cranes to Sumatran Tigers, are on the verge of extinction. We have no answers on how we are going to tackle these. And the answer cannot come from rivalry. The hopes lie on the possibilities of cooperation and collaboration. We may have drawn boundaries but we are bound to share the planet and its fate.

Tagore's ideas around 1910 did not catch people's imagination for obvious reasons. People who did not even have a 'nation' could not align to the idea of abandoning 'arrogant nationalism'. They could not think about international cooperation at a time when they were looking forward to non-cooperation as a hope. But things have changed. It has been 66 years since we got independence. The population of the world has more than quadrupled since Tagore had got his famous Nobel Prize. We, as a nation and as part of a global community, have the uphill task of securing the future of the planet. Let's make sure that Tagore does not remain no-one's man when we need his ideas the most.

 Avimuktesh Bhardwaj is a Forest Campaigner at Greenpeace India.