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Technology Choice Towards Holistic Ecological Criteria

When economic development programmes are viewed from the perspective of all the three economies, a clearer view of the political economy of conflicts over natural resources is expected to emerge. In the dominant mode of economic development, perceived within the framework of the market economy, mediation of technology is assumed to lead to the control of larger and larger quantities of natural resources, thus turning scarcity into abundance and poverty into affluence: Technology, accordingly is viewed as the motive force for development and the vital instrument that guarantees freedom from dependence on nature ' The affluence of the industrialized west is assumed to be associated exclusively with this capacity of modern technology to generate wealth.

The concept of technology per se as a source of abundance and freedom from nature's ecological limits are based in part on the limitations of the market economy in understanding in a holistic manner, the same resources which it exploits. Only when development processes are viewed in the holistic perspective of all the three economies can the scarcities and underdevelopment associated with abundance and development be clearly seen. Most resource-intensive technologies operate in the enclaves with enormous amounts of various resources coming from diverse ecosystems which are normally far away. This long, indirect and spatially distributed process of resource transfer made possible by energy-intensive long distance transportation, leaves invisible the real material demands of the technological processes of development.

The spatial separation of resource exhaustion and the creation of products have also considerably shielded the inequality creating tendencies of modern technologies. Further, it is simply assumed that the benefits of economic development based on these modern technologies will automatically percolate to the poor and the needy and growth will ultimately take care of the problems of distributive justice. This would, of course, be the case, if growth and surplus were in a sense absolute and purchasing power existed in all socio-economic groups. None, however, is correct. Surplus is often generated at the cost of the ecological productivity of natural resources or at the cost of exhausting the capital of non-renewable resources. For the poor, the only impact of such economic activity often is the loss of their resource base for survival.

It is thus no accident that modern, efficient and 'productive' technologies 'creased within the context of growth in market economic terms are associated with heavy social and ecological costs. The resource and energy intensity of the production processes they give rise to demands ever increasing resource withdrawals from the natural ecosystems. These excessive withdrawals in the course of time disrupt essential ecological processes and result in the conversion of renewable resources into non-renewable ones. Over time, a forest provides inexhaustible supplies of water and biomass including wood, if its capital stock, diversity and hydrological stability are maintained and it. is harvested on a sustained yield basis. The heavy and uncontrolled market demand for industrial and commercial wood, however, requires continuous over-felling of trees which destroys the regenerative capacity of the forest ecosystems and over time converts these forests into non-renewable resources. Sometimes the damage to nature's intrinsic regenerative capacity is impaired not directly by over-exploitation of a particular resource but indirectly by damage caused to other natural resources related through ecological processes. Thus under tropical monsoon conditions, over-felling of trees in catchment areas of streams and rivers not only destroys forest resources, but also stable, renewable sources of water. Resource-intensive industries do not merely disrupt essential ecological processes by their excessive demands for raw materials; they also destroy and disrupt vital ecological processes by polluting essential resources like air and water. In the words of Rothman: 'the private economic rationality of the profit seeking business enterprise is a murderous providence because it cannot guarantee the optimum use of resources for society as a whole. It cannot avoid continually creating situations which cause the pollution of an environment

In the context of resource scarcity where most resources are already being utilised for the satisfaction of survival needs, further diversion of resources to new uses is likely to threaten survival and generate conflicts between the demands of economic growth and the requirements of survival. It, therefore, becomes essential to evaluate the role of new technologies in economic development on the basis of their resource demands and conflict with the demands of survival. The productivity of 8 technology in the perspective of human survival must distinguish outputs in terms of their potential for satisfaction of vital or non-vital needs, because on the continued satisfaction of vital needs depends human survival. As Georgescu-Roegen points out,

There can be no doubt about it. Any use of the natural resources for the satisfaction of non-vital needs means a smaller quantity of life in the future. If we understand well the problem, the best use of our iron resources is to produce plows or harrows as they are needed, not Rolls Royces, not even agricultural tractors.

In the context of the market economy, the indicators of technological efficiency and productivity are totally independent of the difference between the satisfaction of basic needs and luxury requirements. between resources extracted by ecologically sensitive or insensitive technologies or of the nature of the contribution of economic growth to diverse socio-economic categories. In the context of a highly non-uniform distribution of purchasing power and scanty knowledge of or respect for ecological processes, economic growth depends on production and consumption of nonvital products. The expansion of the formal sector of the economy for the production of non-vital goods often leads to further diversion of vital natural resources. For example, water-intensive production of flowers or fruits for the lucrative export market often results in water scarcity in low rainfall areas. In a world with a limited and shrinking resource base, and in the economic framework of a market economy, non-vital luxury needs are fulfilled at the cost of vital survival needs. The high powered pull of the purchasing capacity of the rich of the world can draw out necessary resources in spite of resource scarcity and resulting conflicts.

This complete lack of recognition of the resource needs of the survival economy nature's economy in the current paradigm of development economics shrouds the political issues arising from resource transfer and ecological destruction. For the economic sector based on 'efficient modern technologies', this provides an ideological weapon for increased control of the sponsors of economic development over the total natural resource endowments of the countries concerned.

The ideological and limited concept of 'productivity' of technologies has been universalised with the consequence that all other costs of the economic process become invisible. The invisible forces which contribute to the increased 'productivity' of a modern farmer or factory worker emanate from the increased consumption of non-renewable natural resources. Lovins has described this as the amount of 'slave' labour at present at work in the world. According to him, each person on earth, on an average, possesses the equivalent of about fifty slaves, each working forty hours a week. Man's annual global energy conversion from all sources (wood, fossil fuel, hydroelectric power, nuclear) at present is approximately 8 x 10 (12) watts. This is more than twenty times the energy content of the food necessary to feed the present world population at the FAO standard per capita requirement of 3,600 cals per day.

In terms of workforce, therefore, the population of the earth is not 4 billion but about 200 billion, the important point being that about 98 per cent of them do not eat conventional food. The inequalities in the distribution of this 'slave' labour between different countries is enormous, the average inhabitant of the USA, for example, having 250 times as many 'slaves' as the 'average Nigerian'. And this, substantially is the reason for the difference in efficiency between the American and Nigerian economies: it is not due to the differences in the average 'efficiency' of the people themselves. There seems no way of discovering the relative efficiencies of Americans and Nigerians: If Americans were short of 249 of every 250'slaves' they possess, who can say how 'efficient' they would prove themselves to be.

The increase in the levels of resource consumption is taken universally as an indicator of economic development. If the present level of resource consumption in the USA is accepted as the development objectives of India, the total resource demands of 'developed' India can be calculated by multiplying the current resource consumption by a factor of 250. Neither our forests nor our fields or rivers can sustain such a 'development'. When per capita resource consumption is considered, the Malthusian argument relating population with resource scarcity does not hold good. More significant than the population factor is the total resource factor. Thus, although many countries of the South have a much larger population than those of the North, the industrialized of the world consumes more grain than all the other three-quarters put together. This high consumption is due to the fact that intensive livestock production in industrialized countries accounts for 67 per cent of their total grain consumption. This Efficient' process of livestock management for the production of meat, as reported by Odium requires 10 calories of energy input to produce one calorie of food energy. The energy subsidy provided by the capital stock of the earth's non-renewable resources makes a resource inefficient process appear as efficient in the market economy. It is interesting to note that even in the West, nearly a century ago one calorie of food was produced by using a fraction of a calorie of energy input. The same is true in the economics of water resources use in modern agriculture. When the production of high yielding varieties of seeds is evaluated, not on productivity per unit land (tons/ha) but per unit volume of water input (tons/le lit), these miracle seeds of the Green Revolution are seen as two to three times less efficient in food production than, say, the millets. The results of evaluation of the technological efficiency of processes associated with economic development, when reexamined on a holistic basis and optimised against all resource inputs, would generally lead to the conclusion that: 'the much talked of efficiency of widely practiced high technology is not intrinsically true. They are, in fact, highly wasteful of materials and pollutive (that is, destructive to the productive potential of the environment)'.

New technologies in the market economy are innovated for profit maximization and not to encourage resource prudence per se. The extent of inefficiency in the utilisation of natural resources with production processes based on resource-intensive technologies, can be illustrated with the production of soda ash, an important industrial material. In the Solvay process for the production of soda ash. the two materials used are sodium chloride and limestone.

The entire limestone used in the process ends up as waste material, 25 per cent of the sodium chloride is lost as unreacted salt. From the balance 75-80 per cent, the acidic half is lost and only the basic half goes into the final product. Therefore only 40 per cent of the raw materials consumed are actually utilised. The waste products pollute land and water resources systems. The economy of the process is artificially made good by concessions in procuring limestone, salt and fuel and further concessions in respect of land, transport, etc. It is these subsidies for natural resources which make the counter-productive processes appear efficient.

Referring to the technology of production of frozen orange juice Schnaiberg made the following remarks:

What is true of the unobtrusive shift from fresh oranges to frozen orange juice is typical of most transitions from traditional to late industrial technologies. The majority of these become more energy intensive: the energy content of all the necessary production processes increases per unit produced.... The hall mark of modern technology is its typical labour saving quality-not its energy saving aspect."

Guided by a narrow and distorted concept of efficiency and supported by all types of subsidies, technological change in market economy-oriented development continues in the direction of resource intensity, labour displacement and ecological destruction. The long-term continuation of such processes will lead to the destruction of the resource base of the survival economy and to human labour being rendered dispensable in the production processes of the market economy. The partisan assumptions of modern economic development which cannot internalise the economy of natural processes and the survival economy are thus being raised to the level of universality. As a result, with the expansion of economic development in Third World countries, the resource-intensive and socially partial development is leading to social instability and conflicts. While ecology movements in the industrially advanced countries are directed against more recent threats to survival like pollution, ecology movements in Third World countries have a much longer history related to resource exhaustion and ecological degradation of natural ecosystems. It is in these countries that the holistic ecological criteria for technology choice is needed most urgently.

The process of transformation and utilisation of natural resources for the satisfaction of societal needs determines the economic organization of human societies. At various stages of development, the dominant patterns of utilisation of natural resources have been guided by the dominant pattern of scientific knowledge, and through the generation and use of technologies that actually bridge the gap between natural resources and human needs and requirements.

A special characteristic of human societies is that they can make deliberate choices between different ways of using resources and satisfying needs. The existence of plurality of alternatives in resource use for economic development creates the need for a selection criteria to make rational decisions about the use of natural resources and technological change. A dialectical relationship exists between the criteria of technology choice and the nature of science and technology developed in response to the criteria. Traditional societies as well as modern scientific-industrial societies have adopted different systems of science and technology which differ primarily in the criteria of choice or rationality that guides resource use patterns for human needs satisfaction. The characterization of certain societies as primitive and unscientific is, thus, sociologically and epistemologically unfounded. The fact that values and rationality criteria of one form of social organization generate a particular type of science and technology matched to a particular criteria of scientificity does not imply that other social organisations lack a scientific basis for their economic activities.

A schematic representation of technological paths as bridges between natural resources and human needs is presented in Figure I. I. If sustainable utilisation is the objective that guides the criteria of choice for a development strategy, a resource prudent technological path (T.) is rationally chosen. If maximization of the growth of man-made processes and increasing the productivity of labour is the objective, then a more resource-intensive path (T2) which is the integration of a large number of smaller technologies (t1) and in which increased resource and energy inputs allows the increase in labour productivity, is rationally chosen. In this process a large amount of secondary resources (R2-R6) are additionally required.

Traditional societies in all their diversity have, in general, shared a common set of characteristics. They have used natural resources prudently to satisfy minimum needs sustainably over centuries. Such resource use was based on

Resource flow in resource prudent t1 and resource.-intensive t2 technology chains

  1. A knowledge system with an ecological understanding of nature.
  2. A technological system for processing resources to satisfy human needs with minimum resource waste.
  3. Rationality criteria for demarcating vital and non-vital needs and between resource destructive and resource enhancing technologies.

Traditional world views and practices deterred over-exploitation of natural resources at all levels. As they were based on ecological perceptions of nature and guided by restraints in resource use, they used technologies which prevented ecological disruption. Modernisation of traditional societies in its present form has, by and large, been taken as synonymous with the substitution of indigenous science and technology systems by the modern western system. In this manner the resource-intensive western pattern of resource use is thrust on non-western societies through modernisation.

Modern western scientific knowledge, however, differs from indigenous knowledge systems in three important ways:

  1. Modern western scientific knowledge is reductionist and fragmented.
  2. Modern western technological systems are based on reductionist science and are generally more resource-intensive.
  3. There are no criteria of rationality or technology choices to evaluate modern science and technology on the basis of resource use efficiency or need satisfaction capability.

These characteristics of modern western science and technology systems breaks the chain, beginning with natural resources and ending in the satisfaction of human needs and demands, into small fragments of individually identifiable economic activities. This provides justification for the resource intensity of the dominant paradigm of economic development and technological change, and thus leads to ecological instabilities. Ecological crises are thus inevitable products of economic activities which are propelled towards longer and more complex and resource-intensive technological chains (T2) for the satisfaction of older needs (N.). Only individual segments(l) of the whole technological chain are examined from the narrow criteria of labour productivity. The situation is best exemplified in the case of food production. While indigenous and traditional food production practices used about half a calorie of energy to produce 1 calorie of food, the present mechanised and chemical farming techniques use 10 calories of energy to produce 1 calorie of food. These characteristics of contemporary scientific industrial development are the primary causes for the contemporary ecological crises. The combination of eco!ogically disruptive scientific and technological modes, and the absence of rationality criteria for evaluating scientific and technological systems in terms of resource use efficiency, has created conditions where society is increasingly propelled towards ecological instability and has no rational and organised response to arrest and curtail these destructive tendencies.

Ecology and the Politics of Knowledge

The paradigm of modern science has evolved in the last few centuries in an environment where all economic activities were aimed at maximising the productivity of man-made processes in individual sectors of the economy (Figure 1.2). This led to the development of modern technologies with highly negative externalities which remained invisible within the conceptual framework of modern science and economics. This shortcoming emanates from three basic fallacies of modern scientific knowledge:

  1. It identifies development merely with sectoral growth, ignoring the underdevelopment introduced in related sectors through negative externalities and the related undermining of the productivity of the ecosystem.
  2. It identifies economic value merely with exchange value of marketable resources. ignoring use values of more vital resources and ecological processes.
  3. It identifies utilization merely with extraction. ignoring the productive and economic functions of conserved resources.

Development planning based on these false identifications tends to create severe ecological problems because of its inability to recognise ecosystem linkages and the ecological processes operative in the natural world. The ecological relationships between the sectors of natural resources contribute to essential ecological processes which are frequently found to be vital for human survival. Thus, the stability of ecological processes is not merely a matter of aesthetics. An incomplete understanding of the material and economic values of ecological processes leads to the destruction of the material conditions for economic development and eventually survival

Figure 1.2 Structural Linkages of Economic Objectives with Scientific Knowledge Systems and Ecological Impact

Since the availability of essential and vital resources for survival is dependent on the maintenance of essential ecological processes, economic activities which generate sectoral growth in the shortterm by destroying the essential ecological processes cannot lead to development in the long run. On the contrary, by decreasing the productivity and availability of vital resources, they initiate the process of underdevelopment.

When the natural world is viewed ecologically as a system of interrelated resources which maintain the material basis for human sustenance, economic values can no longer be perceived merely as exchange values in the market. Economic values in the ecological perspective are not always equivalent to their exchange value in the market, evaluated without any significance to their use value.

As a corollary, natural resources can have economic utility that cannot be quantified through the exchange value in the market. Such economic utility includes the maintenance of essential ecological processes that support human survival and, thus, all economic activities. The economic utilisation of resources through extraction may, under certain conditions, undermine and destroy vital ecological processes leading to heavy but hidden diseconomies. The nature of these diseconomies can be understood only through the understanding of ecological processes operating in nature.

The economics of sustenance and basic needs satisfaction is, therefore, linked with ecological perceptions of nature. The economics of sectoral growth on the other hand is related to reductionist science and resource wasteful technologies which are productive in the narrow context of sectoral and labour inputs, but may be counter-productive in the context of the overall economic base of natural resources.

The case studies in the following chapters are only representative of thousands of such cases seen everywhere. They reveal a certain pattern of contemporary economic development which can be identified thus:

  1. Development has been equated only with the growth of manufacture in individual industrial sectors and with the increase in productivity of only man-made processes.
  2. This sectoral growth of man-made processes has also led to ecological destruction of the natural resource base, affecting negatively other sectors of the economic system. This leads to the decay of systems productivity of all productive processes, man-made and natural.

As a result of this limitation of contemporary economics, economic development has, consequently, been taken to be synonymous with growth. The higher the rate of sectoral growth, the higher is the index of economic development. Possible ecological destruction caused by the resource intensity of sectoral growth that is guided purely by non-ecological economic considerations, has never been introduced in the processes of planning for economic development. The benefit-cost analysis of development projects has thus externalized those ecological changes and is incomplete in three important ways:

  1. It deals with benefits and costs as profits and losses in financial ferms.
  2. It deals with benefits and costs only in the narrow sectoral perspective and ignores costs generated by inter-sectoral linkages.
  3. It deals with benefits that are largely available to more visible and economically powerful groups and ignores costs that are borne by the less visible and economically weaker groups. These costs and the associated underdevelopment are thus made invisible in modern economic analysis.

The utilisation and management of natural resources in India has so far been guided by the narrow and sectoral concept of productivity and restricted benefit-cost analysis. This narrow concept of productivity and benefit-cost analysis has blocked the conceptualization of the criteria of rationality of technology choice which maximizes needs satisfaction while minimising resource use, thus maximising systems productivity. For example, the clear felling of natural forests in the catchments of rivers, and planting of industrial species of trees has been justified on the grounds of increasing productivity of forests. This concept of productivity is, however, only related to productivity of industrial timber, while forests produce other forms of biomass, like fodder and green mulch, or maintain productivity of soil and water resources. The direct impact of the clear felling of catchment forests on agricultural production through its destructive impact on soil and destabilisation of the hydrological balance is not taken into account in the calculations of the benefits and costs associated with forests. Regular floods and droughts, which are the consequences of irrational land and water management, are branded as natural disasters for which the whole nation pays heavily. Consequently, the poor and marginal groups which depend on agriculture for their livelihood face increasing impoverishment and poverty. This thrusting of negative externalities on the poor and marginal groups directly leads to the polarisation of society into two groups. One group gains from the process of narrow sectoral growth, while the poor and marginalised majority suffer because of the ecological destruction of natural resources on which they depend for survival.

The dialectical contradiction between the role of natural resources in production processes to generate growth and profits and their role in natural processes to generate stability is made visible by movements based on the politics of ecology. These movements reveal that the perception, knowledge and value of natural resources vary for different interest groups in society. The politics of ecology is thus intimately linked with the politics of knowledge. For subsistence farmers and forest dwellers a forest has the basic economic function of soil and water conservation, energy and food supplies, etc. For industries the same forest has only the function of being a mine of raw materials. These conflicting uses of natural resources, based on their diverse functions, are dialectically related to conflicting perceptions and knowledge about natural resources. The knowledge of forestry developed by forest dwelling communities therefore evolves in response to the economic functions valued by them. In contrast, the knowledge of forestry developed by forest bureaucracies, which respond largely to industrial requirements, will be predominantly guided by the economic value of maximising raw material production. The way nature is perceived is therefore related to the pattern of utilisation of resources. Modern scientific disciplines which provide the currently dominant perspectives of nature have generally been viewed es 'objective', 'neutral' and 'universally valid'. These disciplines are, however, particular responses to particular economic interests. This economic determination influences the content and structure of knowledge about natural resources which, in turn, reinforces particular forms of resource utilisation The economic and political values of resource use are thus built into the structure of natural science knowledge.

Partisan science versus public interest science

When the dominant resource use is guided by vested interests or special interest objectives, it generates a partisan science which tends to be reductionist in character. Two central assumptions underlie this reductionist perception of nature: (a) natural resources are isolated and non-interacting collections of individual resources, and (b) natural resources acquire economic value only when commercially exploited.

This approach to nature is reductionist on two counts. First, it reduces nature to its constituent parts, and takes no cognizance of the relationships between the parts, and the structure and functions of the whole system. Second, it reduces economic value to a man-made construct-something which is the product of technology and capital inputs for the market. Nature's work and the work of women or marginal communities which depend on nature s productivity is thus ignored and destroyed.

Partisan science tends to be epistemologically reductionist because maximisation of special, vested interest objectives focuses on single resource functions. Partisan science must be narrowly conceived-it is inherent in its logic to perceive nature in a way that maximises the special interest objective and to be blind to ecological and environmental costs that this perception entails.

Environment movements that emerge as a protest against the violation of public interest through special interest groups must therefore not merely indicate the social and environmental consequences of narrow profit maximisation. A deep and sustained resolution of such conflicts in favour of the larger public interest must be based on the emergence of a different approach to nature in the creation of a public interest science. The characteristics of this public interest science are such that it must be ecological which means: (a) it must be based on the recognition of relationships and interdependence among the various material components of nature; (b) it must be able to see and assess nature's work and assign a value to it; and (c) relatedly, it must be able to locate how nature's processes support survival, not merely profitability.

Ecology provides an epistemological framework within which alternatives to reductionist science and technology are not merely possible, but preferable too, because reductionism fails to provide faithful accounts of nature. This cognitive failure of reductionist sciences stems from the incapability of reductionism to take into account properties that emerge from relationships in nature. In this sense, the ecological foundations of an alternative science and technology differ from philosophies based on epistemological relativism. While epistemological relativism also includes the possibility of alternatives, it denies the existence of materialistic criteria of the rational choice of alternatives. This is the limitation of the Kuhnian model, as well as other models arguing for plurality from a purely sociological or physiological perspective, not from materialist foundations. The ecological foundations for an alternative science and technology provide a materialist epistemology for evaluating the rationality of knowledge claims on the basis of their materialist adequacy in guiding action in the real and complex world. The rejection of the reductionist interpretation of materialism need not amount to an adoption of a materially vacuous philosophical position. The ecological perspective provides such a materialist alternative to reductionism. The distinction between reductionist materialism and ecology is the difference between mechanical materialism and dialectical materialism repeatedly articulated by Marx. Engels's analysis of this distinction in his critique of Duhring reads exactly like a contemporary ecological critique of reductionist science.

The analysis of nature into its constituent parts were the funda mental conditions for the gigantic strides made in our knowledge of nature during the last four hundred years. But this method of investigation has also left us a legacy of the habit of observing natural objects and natural processes in their isolation, detached from the vast interconnection of things, and therefore not in their motion, but in their repose, not as essentially changing, but as fixed constants, not in their life but in their death, in contemplating their existence it forgets their coming into being and passing away, in looking at them at rest it leaves their motion out of account because it cannot see the wood for the trees. Dialectics grasps things and their concatenation, their motion, their coming into being and passing out of existence.

In a world where relationships are an actuality, the denial of such relationships and the multidimensional properties they give rise to, has created a reductionist world view and knowledge system which is inadequate in functioning in the real world. The materialist criteria provided by ecology allow for the perception of such a failure of knowledge systems through the ecological instabilities induced by them. Reductionist knowledge leads to unreliable claims about natural systems and processes on the basis of the ecological criteria of.materialist adequacy. The cognitive failure of reductionism is due to the fact that reductionist science has created ecological instabilities which in turn threaten survival. In a materialist epistemology, systems of knowledge are simultaneously systems of action. Reductionist science leads to the human transformation of nature which is successful in creating artefacts and generating exchange value, but which fails to maintain the essential life-support systems on which human survival depends. Reductionism is not an epistemological accident. It is a particular response to an economic need of a particular form of economic organization. The reductionist world view, the industrial revolution and capitalist organisation are the philosophical, technological and economic components of the same process. Economic growth, the achievement of this economic organisation, is materially based on externalizing the real costs of production, and on commercialising hitherto common resources to provide inputs to the production process. This entails a large withdrawal of industrial resources from the ecosystem in accordance with the demands of the market, not in accordance with the renewal capacity of resources or the needs of the people. Since it is the individual resource which generates exchange value through extraction, scientific knowledge of natural resources which is created as a response to this economic system must necessarily be reductionist. Properties of resources which stabilise ecological processes but are commercially valueless because they cannot be exchanged in the market place are ignored, and eventually destroyed. Profits and commercial exploitation shape the context in which properties of the natural systems will be perceived and known.

Scientific knowledge is not universal, objective and neutral as it is posited to be. It is always a particular response to a particular interest. When the interest is the commercial utilisation of resources for maximising exchange value, the type of knowledge system that is created is reductionist. Internalisation of profits and externalisation of costs is a normal consequence when nature is treated as if its individual components are isolated and unrelated, and the only components with economic value are those that can be transformed into commodities. The basic terms, concepts and definitions have built into them the economic values of the interest to which the knowledge is a response. In contrast, when the interest is sustainable livelihood of the people and the satisfaction of basic needs, ecological knowledge is the response.

Ecology as a public interest science is central to a just resolution of environmental conflicts in the contemporary setting because it is science and not politics that is used as the explicit justification and legitimisation of destruction, in the name of progress. 'Science' is used as a final arbiter in all resource conflicts. The term 'scientific' is viewed as synonymous to public interest. However, since dominant science is partisan, decisions based on it will serve the special interest groups. Public interest science is a tool which makes explicit the political nature of partisan science and makes it a factor located within environmental conflicts, not a source of independent and neutral judgements about conflicts. Public interest science, however, does not merely have a critical role in the politics of knowledge and politics of the environment. It also has a constructive role in generating new paradigms of science and development based on ecological principles which ensure sustainability and justice.

Probably the exemplar of public interest science is Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (1962) which exposed the destruction caused by the use of poisons in pest control and laid the foundation for alternative non-chemical means of control. It was public interest science

Introduction because in substance it was ecological, and in form it was different from the work of entomologists which while being critical of pesticides had remained confined to debates among entomologists and had failed to inform public debate and public policy. Silent Spring as public interest science, as a technical critique of dominant partisan science supporting pesticides, helped the growth of the environment movement since the sixties. It strengthened the movement because while exposing the cognitive weakness of partisan entomology it gave congnitive strength to ecological pest control and to the right of the individual citizen not to be poisoned by another person's pesticides. Knowledge is power, and environment movements need the cognitive power derived from public interest science. The Narmada groups have shown how this power can be used to control powerful agencies like the World Bank. Doctors in the voluntary sector working in Bhopal have shown the power of public interest science in the rehabilitation and relief provided to the victims of the gas tragedy.

Ecological Audit: Towards Ecological Criteria for Technology Assessment

The resource-intensive nature of new technologies and the lack of recognition of the renewability of natural resources are, thus, at the root of the contemporary ecological crises. Ecological development as opposed to short-term economic growth, has to be based on a technological choice for the most productive means of sustainable resource utilisation This process of technological choice through the assessment of the material costs and benefits of an economic activity constitutes an ecological audit.

It differs from the conventional benefit-cost analysis in two ways. First, it evaluates benefits and costs in material terms and not in narrow financial terms based on market factors. Second, since the ecosystems perspective recognises that resources may play multifunctional roles and can have conflicting utilities. an ecological audit also takes into account which social groups and sectors will gain and which will lose materially as a result of a particular utilisation of a resource. An ecological audit also differs fundamentally from environmental impact assessments carried out in a reductionist paradigm, which does take the environment into account but merely as a bundle of fragmented and unrelated resources, as a set and not a system of resources. Such a fragmentary approach to the environment fails to assign economic values to essential ecological processes which arise from resource linkages and which it is incapable of perceiving. This fragmentary view has led to the impression of conservation being anti development and ecology being a luxury. Piecemeal environmental solutions provided by such a fragmentary approach are incapable of offering a lasting solution to the problems of natural resource utilisation and ecological crisis. Ecological audit is, therefore, the only scientifically adequate and socially just basis for the planning and assessment of the total environmental impact of a particular economic activity.

The information for an ecological audit is provided by the ecological sciences (Figure 1.3). Contrary to the common misunderstanding that ecological concern is opposed to scientific and technological advancement, an ecological audit challenges sciences and these challenges are far greater than the ones presented by modern strategies of economic development. The economic objectives of ecological development being:

  1. Satisfaction of all basic needs.
  2. Economic development with sustainability.
  3. Equal distribution of the costs of development.

The scientific and technological challenges posed by ecological development may be classified as follows:

  1. Increased resource use efficiency for the satisfaction of basic needs of the people, e.g., development of more efficient firewood stoves, land use for high nutritional output with low resource demands.
  2. Increasing GNP(2), the productivity of nature, e.g., development of more sound hydrological practices that increase infiltration and percolation to underground water resource.
  3. Increasing GNP(l), the productivity of man-made processes without reducing GNP(2), the productivity of nature; e.g., improved knowledge of organic farming.

Figure 1.3 The Role of Ecological Audit in Public Interest Planning and Evaluation

These objectives pose problems to science which are more diverse and complex in nature than those posed by sectoral growth. The methodology of scientific and technical research for ecological development accordingly, will have to be geared to this diversity and variation. At one level it will mean interdisciplinary knowledge generation without any loss in the level of sophistication and systematisation. At another level it will imply learning from the wisdom of the people who are closest to nature and who are custodians of our ecological heritage-farmers, the traditional fisherfolk, tribal people, etc.-and decanting it as public interest science, which, together with an expert knowledge of the discipline will form the knowledge base for ecological development and utilisation of natural resources as shown in Figure 1.3.

Ecological sciences are providing a new paradigm in which the criteria of scientificity of modern science will not be strictly applicable due to its fragmented nature. Technologies will have to be evaluated in the background of not only one part of the chain of process from natural resources to the final product, but the entire technological chain. At the same time, appropriateness of technologies may not necessarily and blindly be associated with the lack of systematization that is normally associated with modern western science.

People's involvement in the evolution of ecological sciences is imperative on two counts. First, the marginalised majority have a right to determine their path of development. Second, it is the marginalised communities who retain ecological perceptions of nature at a time when the more privileged groups have lost them. Forestry science needed women of Garhwal and tribal people to remind it that catchment forests were not mines of timber but a source of water. Scientists, technologists and decision-makers need to develop a new respect for these other sciences and scientists. In the recognition of their insights, visions and day to day experiences lies the only hope for the growth of alternate ecological sciences and hence, the survival of people.

As the cases in the following chapters show, ecological perceptions of nature have been presented from outside the reductionist partisan expertise. They have emerged from the ecological perspective of the people whose survival depends on those ecological functions of natural resources which reductionist and vested interests have ignored. The evolution of ecological knowledge in general, will depend on people's actions and movements because reductionist expertise is epistemologically and politically constrained from evolving into a non-reductionist framework. According to Feyeraband, this dynamics of the evolution of knowledge from an expert dominated to a people dominated process is the only route to a free society:

In a free society intellectuals are just one tradition. They have no special right and their views are of no special interest (except, of course, to themselves). Problems are solved not by specialists (though their advice will not be disregarded) but by the people concerned, in accordance with the ideas they value and by the procedures they regard as most appropriate... This is how the efforts of special groups combining flexibility and respect for all traditions will gradually erode the narrow and self-servicing rationalism of those who are now using tax money to destroy the traditions of the tax payers, to ruin their minds, rape their environment and quite generally turn living human beings into well trained slaves of their own barren vision of life

The evolution of public interest-oriented ecological knowledge is, however, likely to be opposed by the reductionist partisan expertise because this 'threatens their role in society just as the enlightenment once threatened the existence of priests and theologians'.

The evolution of the ecological, sustainable and equitable utilisation of natural resources in an alternative development strategy will also, quite obviously, be opposed by the vested interests who benefit from the existing reductionist, unsustainable and inequitable utilisation pattern.

This process has already been initiated in countries like India. At one level, people's attempts at redefining development through sustainability and justice are resisted by the introduction of a false dichotomy between 'development' and 'ecology', which conceals the real dichotomy between ecological development and unsustainable economic growth. At another level, the resistance is a consequence of the rejection of peoples perception of ecological destruction as 'unscientific', 'unproved' and 'unverified'. These attempts of experts and vested interests will work against human knowledge and public interest science, and fin turn against the possibilities of human survival.

The growing conflict between the profitability imperative and the survival imperative will lead to the emergence of a politics of knowledge. It is in this sense that ecology as the foundation of an alternative public interest science and technology converges with ecology as a foundation for the politics of survival of the people.

Alternative science and technology are not utopian dreams to be kept frozen for some post-revolutionary era. As public interest science, they are emerging here and now, as an essential part of the struggle for life through the politics of ecology.

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