The theme of the Science Day in 2018 was Science and Technology for Sustainable Development which is relevant even today.
This is significant because now we have come to realize that what we call progress is leading the world to sure destruction. The “Limits to Growth” prescribed by the famous book (Club of Rome, 1972) may be outdated now, or there may be some points of contention. However, there is no doubt about Global Warming and Climate Change, despite whatever the western leaders might say, are here to stay. Global warming is a fact and there is no doubt that this is certainly due to human intervention, as the UN sponsored IGPCC Reports confirm. The proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has gone up from 300 parts per million to more than 400 ppm, and is still going up. The role of vehicle and power plant emissions in this phenomenon cannot be disputed. In other words, it is not any specific technology but our industrialized life style, which is at fault But the industrialized society in general, and the USA in particular, are saying that they are not willing to change their life style. In other words, global temperatures are bound to rise further. The consequences of Climate Change are not at all acceptable to humans. Not that all living beings might die off. On the other hand, some might survive. But humans may not be part of the lot. And that is small consolation!
Similar are the dangers created by unbridled industrialization and marketization. It is significant that two of the early and self righteous supporters of Free Market Economy, viz., USA and UK have practically disowned the idea by opting for Brexit and discriminative import control. At the same time, former socialist propounders, like China, are objecting and demanding free entry into the western markets.
So what do we do? Peoples’ reactions are surprising and frightening. A lot of them seem to ignore this impending calamity. It is the old story of putting all your faith in the market and government. They believe in Business As Usual. This is clearly unacceptable. Yet it is a fact that such persons rule the world. Brexit and Trump are returned by popular vote. It is no joke. This means that a great many people think like this. And quite a few among the rest of humanity also seem to think like this, or at least that the Corporates know best, and what is good for the Stock Exchange is good for us! That is why the Stock Exchanges of the world are flourishing. The well being of countries is still measured in terms of GDP growth rate, and the debate in this country is openly about whether India will score 7% or more this year. And a lot many seem to take pride in the fact that the number of Indians among the billionaires in the world has gone up recently. What more is required to prove that India is Shining, or that Ache Din have come! Yet many people are worried about all this. That is a good sign. But what do they do? Of course they blame the government and (all the) politicians for this evil; and advocate a change of style. But what changes? This is the real problem. Some hold that all this evil is due to science and technology and ask for a go back to the good old days before all this science and technology came. They talk about organic farming, naturopathy, traditional architecture, and agro- based industries. Even in an ‘educated’ state like Kerala, the organized opposition to vaccines came as a big surprise and shock. Can we
survive like that? Can we write off all the good things that science and technology have brought us in the past? How about the increase in life span from about 35 to above 75 which we now enjoy? Or the fall in infant mortality from about 100 per thousand births to the range of 10 ? Or the improvement in houses, roads and travel, not to mention education? Can we afford to ignore all this? Can we support the rising cry against vaccinations and other immunizations raised by all sorts of fundamentalists?
Obviously not. On the other hand we have to ask for a rational scientific approach to the problem. The answer is not a denial of science and technology, but a rational approach to it. S&T are not to be controlled by market forces but by social will and planned guidance. But how to bring about this rational and scientific control over the market, and at the same time to keep up democratic rights and privileges? The pattern shown by the USSR and China do not seem to be attractive. The first has failed and second seems doubtful if not deviant. Most of the former socialism enthusiasts appear to have given up their hope, apart from a few hopeful vibrations from, may be, Brazil or Venezuela or Cuba, occasionally. But is that really promising?
Thus the unenviable and inescapable challenge is to find out a real alternative to the free market, despite what ever the market enthusiasts and ‘Chicago’ academics might say. Again, there is no ready made answer. Nor the answer is purely academic or theoretical. Nor can it be merely mechanical. It has got to be a combination of economics , politics and philosophy. For, whenever we talk about styles of life, philosophy is inescapable. In other words, going to back to Gandhiji, who said there is enough in the world for every man’s need, but not for anybody’s greed. Distinguishing between need and greed, giving priority to the needs of the last (Anthyodaya) before going after the greed of the affluent, devising sociological and political control over the free run of the market but at the same time avoiding bureaucratic hegemony, all these are challenges, for which our solution may not be a universal solution, and therefore has to be devised by ourselves. Perhaps this is included in developing a scientific temper, which was mentioned by Nehru.
This is the real message of our Science day.
Dr. RVG Menon
Former Director ANERT