The brawl between development practitioner and the activists is a healthy thing as long as it addresses the core of the problem. But that is too ideal to happen. The issue of development is seldom black and white. There are lots of grey areas and that is what keeps even a failing development agenda continue to be promoted by its proponents. It benefits those in the development industry and not the ones for whom it is intended to help. That does not mean that all development agenda are in the grey areas. There are very distinctly beneficial programme with good intention, but the tussle between the proponents and the activists often distort the whole essence of the agenda. Green economy is one such issue that has been proposed, discussed, interpreted and misinterpreted in many ways for some time now. Its proponents have argued vehemently about how green economy would salvage the world from the current miseries of economic recession and help address climate crisis, while the opposing views have branded it as yet another plot by the imperialists against the poor nations to restrict them from using western model of development. What does green economy after all intends to do?
Though the current economic model that measures its success in terms of GDP helped reduce poverty and hunger for millions in the world, it also created two of the major problems that the world has never seen before; it has added unprecedented stress to the resources that sustain life, and through unequal distribution of wealth, significantly widened the gap between the poor and the rich. It would not have been so obvious, how the gap has impacted the society globally particularly in the rich world, had it not been for the ‘we are the 99%’ movement. One does not need to be an economist to realize how difficult has it become to live in today’s world. The current economic model has added lasting problems than it has solved. The free market created unfair competition for a boundless accumulation of profit for a small number of people while a large number had to take the burden of producing that profit – both socially and economically.
The global economy has been facing crises, since the end of 2007, which primarily resulted due to the shortcomings of the existing economic model. Asian countries faced with the economic crisis in 1997, while the crisis of 2008 was felt in the west. Small economy like Nepal may not experience the recession as seen by larger economies, but a careful examination shows even more serious situation that we have got ourselves in due to the shortcomings of the current economic growth model.
Nepal’s development of the past nearly 5 decades that basically targeted GDP based growth, not only failed to address the core issue of widespread poverty, but instead helped the same elites that had enjoyed opportunities for education, employment, and earning prospects throughout the history. Very few connected to power centres or belonging to the upper layer of the social hierarchy got good jobs, education in better places, and a status in the society. The size of the ‘99%’ followed its natural growth but without access to even minimal level of services that a state is supposed to ensure to its citizens.
Long before the ‘occupy movement’ of the west, the Nepalese ‘99%’ revolted in 1996 against everything that existed as tradition from Monarchy to the religion. Though it was said that the movement was against the feudal system, the actual energy for the movement came from the fact that people saw an unacceptable level of discrepancy within the society where some enjoyed life and others were barely making two ends meet. The movement shook the very foundation of the society. It changed the country from a Hindu kingdom to a secular republic. But, has the disparity changed? Since the same economic model is in existence the economic discrepancy has rather grown even larger. The gap between the rich and the poor has probably widened beyond our imagination. Today, in our new economic order promoted by the free market and open policy, a teacher in a private school earns less than the salary of lowest person in the government, while the commercial banks which have grown substantially to exploit market opportunity pay a monthly salary of between 500,000 to a million rupees to their CEOs. Whereas, a large number of youth do not even gets the same low paying jobs. It is not the political instability, which may think it is that has kept the economy from growing and therefore the youth are forced to go for foreign employment, but the existing economic system has created the gap so much that earning at home is just not enough to support the families. A majority of those who go to the foreign employment do so because they fail to earn a monthly salary of 15-20,000 rupees at home.
The other side of the economy is that it has added stress to the environment. Over-exploitation of ground water resource, increased pollution of water sources, widespread deforestation, and over-harvesting of soil nutrients have degraded the environment and depleted our resources considerably. The poor are the most affected when the environment degrades.
The green economy concept largely attempts to address the question of whether to continue to spend on activities that encourage over exploitation of resources, or to spend on activities that will minimize the environmental stress and help both the rich and the poor, economically. If it does so, there is no need to be critical of the concept.