A spell of inaction

For just over a month now, hardly anything has happened at pointReturn – except, most gratifyingly, the 300 odd plants in the ground have continued their growth and the windmill has continued to water them. With that comfort, I spent the time of inaction to observe a few oddities.

Issues engaging the world – climate change, peak oil, recession, poverty, food shortages, commodity price increases etc- are discussed in very fine detail in urban parts of the world. In fact experts in these fields produce erudite papers loaded with complex numbers and many more young people are in line to gain doctorates in these subjects and swell the rank of experts.

And yet, to the urban world the adverse consequences of these crises seem quite distant. Well-paid jobs or profitable enterprises enable city folk -thus far- to buy petrofuel at whatever the price, turn on their air cons, run power generators, consume food from afar. Despite the chilling details and numbers with which articles and documentaries narrate the crises facing the world, the level of urban comfort does not reflect any awareness. There is the occasional environmentalist party bore who has the centrestage for a moment but it soon passes.

In rural India however, consequences are felt directly, often almost immediately. And they are coped with and assimilated in entirely different ways. Let me give a few instances from the last month in Chennai, India where I live.

Fierce and unseasonal rains lashed the whole state of Tamil Nadu in the middle of March. ‘Climate change’, murmurred the city in a knowing voice, as it looked out from behind safe windows. In the villages around pointReturn paddy, peanuts and watermelons awaited harvest when the unexpected rains arrived. If peanut is not harvested and sun dried, residual moisture makes them sprout. Rice stalks go limp and grains gone damp will begin to ferment. Watermelon loses esteem and prices during a cold spell quite apart from not completing their sun ripening phase.

As I drove to pointReturn, farmers everywhere were bringing out wet crops and drying them on roads and their fore yards. It is back breaking labour. These are true entrepreneurs – at least insofar as ‘risk taking’ goes- who in the absence of any hand-holding interpret climate change in their own way. “The seasons are changing”, they mutter, “these are evil times”. They may not be far off the mark.

“Information is the key,” declare learned city folk. In the week preceding the rains, the leading daily of Chennai, ‘the Hindu’ carried a small satellite map of the arriving storm in its inner pages. Its headlines belonged to -what else?- inflation, recession, politics, ideology and analysis. The state’s agricultural officers were too deep in slumber to notice the storm. Once the skies opened up however, farmers got their day of fame as cameras telecast them soaking wet beside ruined fields. Government announced ‘due’ compensation which the farmers mocked away saying it will never arrive.

2 thoughts on “A spell of inaction

  1. Sorry, I have taken all this time to reply you. You ask some significant questions and make suggestions that I have given much consideration to.
    First off, this: “how about 40 or even more people living off the land, with all the creature comforts that they are used to currently, making absolutely no compromises to their quality of life, and living completely in harmony with the environment.”
    I fear there is a mutual contradiction in this question, that arises out of what ‘creature comforts’ are. If high-end single-user cars, air conditioning, all the electricity you need are excluded, would the residents be making “compromises to their quality of life”?
    I do hope pR succeeds and becomes a template for others. But once we become aware of ‘inconvenient truths’ about sustainability we must be prepared for ‘inconvenient changes’ to our life-styles. I consider safe and comfortable housing, self-rationed electricity, clean water, air and food, collective or public transportation and access to the Internet are all that is required for a modern life and I aim to work towards providing these at pR.
    The costs of a project like pR are surprisingly modest. I do keep meticulous account of the sums spent and will publish them some day soon, when the project has passed certain milestones. Suffice it is to say now, that the whole thing will not exceed a upper-end apartment and a fancy car in any of India’s metros today- and that, in an increasingly wealthy India is within the reach of a population that would exceed that of the UK.

  2. I salute your spirit, and admire your courage to involve yourself in this project.

    I have a few suggestions for pointReturn – I did think a lot before giving these suggestions, because you are out there, doing something that is commendable – and to sit where I am, and just give you suggestions, is something I actually feel guilty about! If you turn around and ask me – why dont you actually do something instead of just giving suggestions, I would be at a loss of words!

    I would like to suggest a subtle rethink to the goals of pointReturn. If this project is to make a meaningful difference, it is not enough to show that it can support 40 people, who are willing to make compromises in their lifestyle, and can live off the land, without damaging the environment. Though that goal is by itself laudable, I think that is something which will not make a meaningful difference to mankind.

    I know this goal itself is quite a challenge, and is quite difficult to acheive. But please consider changing this goal to some other goal, so that it can make a meaningful difference – how about 40 or even more people living off the land, with all the creature comforts that they are used to currently, making absolutely no compromises to their quality of life, and living completely in harmony with the environment. At the same time, it should not cost any more to live this kind of life, than it does to live a regular life.

    In a sense, this project is about a differnt way to live life – but I think if it is just about a different way to live life, people will watch it from far away, and applaud you for your courage and conviction. This has to be a better life to live – not just better in terms of the environment, but actually better, in terms of comforts, quality of life, health, wealth, everything. I hope this project will actually start a trend – not just prove a point.

    Please also publish all your costs of pointReturn – land costs, input costs, labour costs, everything. Let the whole world see how possible and affordable it is to get this kind of lifestyle. Any upfront investments in windmills, solar power, etc. can be quantified and offset against the long run savings of using them. Like a company does audits, there can be initital capital costs, interest costs, depreciation, tax benefits, savings in long term costs, everything factored in.

    This is the sort of project that should make a meaningful difference – it should not be just an experiment, or a proof-of-concept. It should be the stepping stone for hundreds and thousands of such projects all over the world.

    Pls let me know in what ways I can be involved in this project. I cant think of a better way to give meaning to life!

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