India as Anthropocene

The choke points to global sustainable development are palpable here. The cities are already massive and choking, but 70% of the building stock needed to accommodate the hundreds of millions of rural poor immigrating to urban opportunity has yet to be built. Wells and rivers are running dry and farms are being abandoned for lack of water, yet more than 200 million people still lack water access. India contributes only 4% of global greenhouse gases, but emissions are projected to increase 60 percent by 2030 because 40% of residents lack adequate energy access. To end malnutrition and provide middle class diets will require doubling or tripling of food production, but arable land is polluted, degraded, and shrinking from industry, urbanization, and drought. Climate change is not debated; the impacts are visible in disrupted agriculture, changed monsoons, and heat stroke.

If you want to see the challenges of the Anthropocene and learn how to solve them, come study in India. India houses 17% of the global population on 2.4% of the global land area. Most arable land is cultivated or degraded. Most ecosystem services are captured or lost. Extremes of air and water pollution, soil erosion, and biodiversity loss are everywhere evident. Yet, there remains clear and urgent need for economic development. Poverty is persistent and widespread: people are malnourished and dying. The tension embedded in Brundtland’s definition is near the breaking point: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”

The ultimate resource thrives here. Hardly a day goes by that choke points of the Anthropocene are not discussed in major media: water, energy, climate, population, poverty, urbanization, green economy, globalization, health and human rights. India’s universities produce highly educated and motivated workers with enormous respect and expectations for the modern institutions of business and career advancement. And the world’s largest most complex democracy is also the world’s largest reservoir of diversity, compassion, hope, beauty, and grace. The culture’s great tolerance for ambiguity and change will work towards its advantage in the dynamic and unpredictable Anthropocene.

In terms of sustainable development, as India goes, so goes the world. Solutions found here will show the way for both developing and developed nations in the Anthropocene.

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Hull is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability http://cligs.vt.edu/
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