It’s time to prepare for the future before the nature of raw materials and inputs changes so drastically that a new civilisational order is required

There comes a time in management of knowledge when phrases become clichés and are repeated ad nauseam, without many pausing to think about their meaning or significance. One such phrase is “The world is changing.”

What is often not clear is what is changing, by how much and in which direction? Unfortunately though, this does not even bother people sufficiently for them to pause. This is also true about the watershed times that we live in. Fossil fuel is now nearly passé. Hydrocarbon-based energy, to move vehicles and generate heat, is given a lease by the most optimistic of forecasters of not more than 30 to 40 years. The rest of the debate is known too well to bear recount.

Yet, there are obvious aspects which never figure in the debate. The overall consumption would indeed go down if the population was to remain a constant. The reduction in the quantum of the demand of the existing population is more than made up by the rise in demand from the population which is subsequently added. To bridge the gap between past consumption of the horizon year and current year of reckoning, therefore, becomes a methodological requirement. New consumers keep the level of consumption constant.

Similarly, developments of one sector are very often serenaded without factoring a composite picture. Consider the way a particular Minister has been propagating electrical vehicles. These, in their present state of research and development (R&D), are at best a showpiece purchase by those who can afford a third or fourth car. The battery of an electrical vehicle is not only exorbitant and with a short life but cumbersome to maintain and tricky to deal with. Yet, coming as it does from the exalted office of the Minister-concerned, it has had a dampening influence on the enthusiasm for petrol or diesel vehicles. Inter se parity rarely passes the mind of those whose careers depend on attention-grabbing statements or positioning themselves as ‘innovative’!

No less dramatic is the threatening effect of climate change: the melting glaciers, sometimes the change in nature of the rivers. Not unknown is the level of the sea water rising in certain parts of the world, at certain times.

Not only is there a fight for the forest cover but there are lifestyle issues related to forest produce. Typical of the products would be Gum Karaya. This product is used in food industries as a thickener and emulsifier of food. It can be used in concentration as stabiliser for aerated dairy products and frozen dessert. It can also be used for controlling the formation of ice crystals. Clearly it is an input to lifestyle issues of many urbanised folks. The examples can be multiplied.

The snag is people are not talking of this enough and not enough R&D is going into it. These are big issues. Perhaps so big, that they get trivialised. Whereas all the structures are there to pay attention to these concerns, the outcomes are difficult to locate or for that matter even draw significant attention. The non-descript of the urban elite is likely to yawn over all this, shrug his shoulder and say “well …these are complicated issues.” In one breath the line of thought has been both mystified and de-constructed and the bandwagon rolls on.

For the sake of argument one can be tolerant about this attitude and one can talk of lesser rarified things like forest cover. There are silent workers, say in Manipur, who are working to not only save the forest cover but to extend them. One such person is Moirangthem Loiya. He works silently to clear the roots of the trees and plant fresh saplings to keep the acreage of the forest cover growing. He has not been recognised by any award. Apparently he does not even care. Even comparatively more experienced people in forestry have testified to his having saved flora and fauna by replanting 300 acres of forests. Indeed, he quit his job to plant different types of plants in Punshilok forest in Langol hill range of Manipur. It took him nearly two decades and, of course, Punshilok has become a plastic-free zone. He claims that he does not want to buy land and own it. The Chief Conservator of Forests, Manipur, Kereilhouvi Angami claims that anyone else is equally welcome to replicate Loiyo’s feat. There are reserved forests, there are protected forests and there is a whole typology of forests entirely lost to the learning of avant garde curriculum of so-branded elite schools. The preposition is simple: What is the kind of generation we are preparing for the future? In the meanwhile, the water table keeps receding and water conservation is more talked of than acted upon. It’s time to think of the future and prepare for it before the nature of the raw materials and the inputs changes so drastically that a new civilisational order is required.