Adopting minimalism: Way forward to a better world

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Adopting minimalism: Way forward to a better world

Monday, 30 December 2019 | Neeraj Kumar Pande

Once again it is the juncture in time when the world marches towards another year. However, it does so with a belly bloated with several complex yet undigested environmental, economic, political and social challenges. Most of these challenges remain unresolved and have enough potential to overshadow all achievements and success spells which could have otherwise been boasted of.

This has resulted in a palpable sense of weariness with which we welcome the year to come. Surface level problems such as public grievances against various governmental moves and a wavering economic growth in the concluding quarters of the year 2019 have caught public attention the most.

However, the fact that India is an inseparable part of a complex global conundrum of environmental problems, water and food paucity can not be understated. The most critical and vicious predicaments which demanded a lion’s share of world’s resources throughout this year were air pollution, forest fires, refugee settlement and burgeoning waste problems. At the bedrock of all civil unrest, income inequality and degrading ecology is a global culture plagued by avid consumerism.

With every unit of energy, mineral or any resource used, there is a certain amount of waste which is generated. Environmental pollution, particularly of the land resources, is the ultimate outcome of this. 

It has become axiomatic that with this mind boggling pace of materialism and consumption driven social system, there is a commensurate decline in peace, natural resources and human health. As Mahatma Gandhi once opined, “there is enough on earth for everyone’s need but not enough for everybody’s greed”.

That humans are a mere evolved genre among other forms of animals inhabiting the planet is a fact which is most often forgotten easily. With such sophisticated mental and physiological abilities the social, technological and economic progress made by all human cultures, in varying degrees of course, is hardly a matter of surprise.

However what really is a matter of surprise and regret is the carelessness and apathy with which humans have treated their respective ecosystems. No wonder then that in contemporary times the most nature friendly and healthy communities are those which are relatively technologically laggard and least modernised. For instance despite opening up to industrialisation and outside trade right from 1970- 80s,  the economy of Bhutan has been very particular about ensuring a sustainable development.

Forests still cover about 60 per cent of the total land area and majority of the population is still economically dependent on traditional sectors. It is natural then that Bhutan remains not only the most green county in Asia but also statistically the happiest.

 The Bhutanese government plays a rather patriarchal role when it comes to protecting the forest and water resources of the country. Paradoxically it is believed that the least developed societies should always take lessons in growth and infrastructural development from their first world counterparts.

Here however it is important that we ask ourselves that what exactly does development even mean? Does it mean a lopsided evolution where industrial growth and rising per capita incomes come at the cost of fast depleting and damaging natural resources? This almost amounts to injecting a botox of development to otherwise rapidly ossifying human civilisation.

The total percentage of forest cover in India as per the official estimates of the Forest Survey Of India in 2018 is barely a 24 per cent. This abysmal figure is nerve wracking when we know that we are already drowning in a quic      in nature.

A realistic solution of all urban problems lies deep inside our own minds. The spirit of material acquisition arises out of a deep sense of insecurity which if analysed scientifically is natural to all living organisms. However to give in to all psychological insecurities without considering the ecological trauma it causes to society is totally sadistic. There is a reason why many cultures believe and adhere to a minimalistic way of life.

This “new” minimalist lifestyle is a movement which is in opposition to the existing consumption-centric society. Capitalism has forever focused heavily upon consumerism for propagating itself. In a matter of a handful of decades post liberalisation Indian society became more and more like a mirror image of western societies. Today when the waste generated by the first and third world countries threatens the world alike, there are many people and communities even in the west who are adapting themselves to a minimalistic way of life.

Japanese society is known to be moving towards adopting simplicity and de cluttering of their living spaces. Even most communities inhabiting the Scandinavian regions believe in purchasing things based on their functionality and not simply momentary pleasures or aesthetic appeal. It is also important to understand that minimalism is not just limited to art, food, literature or home interiors. Minimalism is about thinking twice before discarding possessions only because of minor defect in them or sheer boredom. Restoration of things before simply throwing them is an important value to be inculcated in people. Even simple things like food leftovers, fabrics, papers and medicines can be recreated or recycled to make many other utilities of value. This is especially useful in developing countries where the income gaps are unimaginably huge.

A mindful redistribution, community sharing, preserving and recycling are productive processes which can not only reduce the output of waste but also prevent unnecessary buying and accumulating by people. There is a reason why Fumio Sasaki’s work “Goodbye Things”, a revelatory book on the importance of minimalism took US and other developed cultures by storm to become a best seller immediately. In India most people are still caught up in a cyclonic wave of consumerism. The tremendous market for foreign goods which we have turned into is only a testimony to this. It is high time we pause for a while and re think about channelising our resources into appropriate usage. Rather than investing money, manpower and technology into tackling the waste menace which is incessantly increasing, we must consider shifting towards a zero waste policy.

While disposable money does differentiate between the haves and have nots but ecological crisis falls on everyone equally. Before packing our rejected items into black garbage bags, we must think of every possibility to translate them into resources. In most countries, kitchen and gardening waste composes the biggest share of municipal solid waste. This type of waste, when segregated at source itself and then collected separately, can be turned into an energy source or fertiliser conveniently. A change in waste creation and management patterns of society needs awareness and action on part of all groups in society.

Even in the manufacturing industry beginning from product designing and packaging to choice of materials, the entire value chain should be redesigned from the perspective of waste prevention. Self restraint exercised today can go a long way in ensuring a greener and cleaner planet later. Waste can be a burden if managed inappropriately and can be a resource if dealt with systematically. Among all other resolutions we adopt this new year, reducing the waste burden of our society by becoming minimalistic, should be the cardinal one.

(The author is a retired civil servant)

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