Fukushima and the struggle for a sustainable world

Anandi Sharan


Anandi Sharan is 50 years old. She works in DASAG Switzerland, a company specialising in promoting renewable energy systems in sustainable social arrangements. She lives and works in Bangalore.

The struggle for an equitable and sustainable world is about prevention as much as about cure. Yet the right-wing standard of living argument has many literates in its thrall. The state shall be an agent for the delivery of a standard of living, the argument goes. But not so long ago Gandhi, Ambedkar, Tagore and even Nehru preferred gold coinage and gold reserves in India to the Rupee let alone the dollar. Would we spend gold on nuclear energy? Surely not.

As soon as we think of money as our own, and as supremely valuable for the reproduction of life and society, then growth, the state, and the delivery mechanism of a standard of living are revealed as oppressive and counter-productive ideologies. Once our country and our wealth as well as our money let alone our bodies and our will to work are considered our own, with which to make informed choices, we find ourselves passionately asserting that democracy is neither synonymous with industrialisation nor even with development. In fact democracy is nothing more or less than the process of reproducing life and labour to deliver welfare for human beings in some sort of least impact relation with each other and with nature. Contrary to the patriarchal ideology of capitalism there is no overwhelming need to constantly increase labour productivity in order to reproduce society. In fact increased labour productivity displaces labour, and where labour is displaced unemployment ensues. And if there is no absolute need for constantly increasing labour productivity where then is the need for commercial energy?

The industrial disaster at Fukushima nuclear power station thus has its origins in the standard of living ideology to which countries and states and decision-makers and corporations and banks and engineers and technicians and consumers and housewives and literates of all types continue to succumb – apparently since the Fukushima disaster there is a planning process for 50 new nuclear power plants underway in various countries. One report on the impacts of the Fukushima nuclear power plants on marine radioactivity reported that five months after the disaster the typical ocean surface caesium-137 isotopes – which along with caesium-134, iodine-131 and strontium-90 are distributed by nuclear reactor disasters or nuclear weapons testing, and which pose the greatest risk to plant, animal and human health -, were four times higher than before the accidents at Fukushima. Reports say that some families from around the disaster exclusion zone feel that they are being treated like guinea pigs in experiments to determine the impact of nuclear contamination on humans, the oceans and plants and animals. They are planning to emigrate to South Korea where there is apparently an uncontaminated spot of ocean-shore line much like what they were used from before the accident at Fukushima. It is a sad fact that there are more and more environmental refugees all over the world and within India as thoughtless planners put up installations to deliver goods and services for a globalised standard of living wherever the demand for it may materialise, to the detriment of the people who were living in the vicinity before the arrival of the plant.

The fact that global and national consumers can only express the demand for a standard of living by disastrously impacting nature and society with jobs in the so-called progressive sectors of the economy is testament to the self-perpetuating nature of the destruction which these self-same consumers when they are thinking as rational human beings are desperate to avoid. The non-progressive sector, the care economy, is then left to mop up the mess, but is ever less capable of doing so. The capitalist system for the global production of a standard of living has resulted in the increasing frequency of disasters of the type like at Fukushima, as well as in millions of smaller daily disasters like automobile accidents, chemical pollution of factory workers, and asthma and diabetes due air pollution and denatured foods respectively. Finally also anthropogenic climate change ensued from the accumulation of the greenhouse gases from the use of commercial hydrocarbon energy in the atmosphere.

All this adds up to the need for a total rethink of the ways and means for engaging with life. The care economy which in India delivered more GDP than the GDP accounted for by the national accounts in the 1990s is today struggling to manage the fall out of the combined disasters from industrial expansion, destruction of agriculture, destruction of soils and water quality, and the wrong economic system that does not reward those sectors where there is low labour productivity. But low labour productivity is nothing other than life being lived in a care economy. There is no avoiding the need for personal, relational or care goods and services. Most work is done in this sector, which includes agriculture, yet the majority of Indians today earn less than what they need to reproduce their life and that of their child if they have one. Calorie intake on average is 400 calories compared to the 3000 that is prescribed for a healthy life. None of these economic problems can be solved by installing highly automated nuclear power plants where the cost of one job is in the many tens of crores.

On the occasion of the first anniversary of the Fukushima disaster it would thus be sensible to remind ourselves of what we really want. What we want is a money system to support the reproduction of labour at whatever low labour productivity the undernourished and frail majority of Indians find ourselves in. Not-for-profit enterprises and a universal wage grant will enable the labourer to cover the costs of the reproduction of her labour and of society. The state in India needs to decentralise, localise, and acknowledge agriculture and renewable energy services with their low productivity as nonetheless essential economic activities for the maintenance of human life – the only economic base that India needs. Not-for-profit manufacturing needs to be allowed to flourish to absorb the necessarily low productivity manual labour which human beings are capable of delivering and to use the necessarily low productivity renewable sources of energy which are non-damaging to human beings, plants and animals. What is wrong with low labour productivity? It provides the same or even better spiritual and cultural wealth than anything an industrial system can offer. Thus in India the transition to net zero greenhouse gas emissions and a steady-state economy with zero population growth that sequesters more carbon dioxide than it emits is only possible if the target of getting back to a pre-industrial level of concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is a moral imperative that also includes a religious commitment to providing an economic reward at above reproduction cost to labour and society. There is no possible role that nuclear power can have in this mission.

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