During my recent sojurn in Dhaka, I learnt quickly how to plan my day. Totally unfamiliar with the city, I’d ask the driver how far it was to a certain place. “6 kilometres” he’d reply. “No” I’d respond, “how long will it take to get there?” “one and a half, maybe two hours” would be the answer. “But on the weekend its faster - only 45 minutes.”
Someone told me there are 1000 new cars coming into Dhaka every month - multiply that by dozens for the growing metros in the subcontinent, and we have Consumer Armegeddon.
It’s the cities of South Asia that are the most glaring examples of what Thomas Friedman means in this story catchingly titled The Earth is Full.
In India, a nation of inveterate shoppers, consumerism has been given its head now that the growing middle class are earning salaries that would have been unthinkable even a decade or two ago. My friend assures me it takes a lakh a month to keep an average household going in Delhi, if you take in the education of a couple of kids, the lowly monthly salaries of the minimal number of servants (cleaner, nanny, cook, maybe a driver). And that’s not counting the interminable shopping for non food, non essential baubles - the saris, shawls, shoes, jewellry, objects for the house, cars, electronics and so on and so on.
Friedman just re-iterates what anyone with even a passing interest can find in the countless books, newspaper and magazine stories about climate change and dwindling resources. James Lovelock was shouting the news decades ago. The planet is a living breathing thing and we are killing it with a thousand blows, every second of every day.
I’d like to believe the “eco-optimist” Paul Gilding who says that we’ll come to our senses and make some radical changes real fast at the nth hour. I’d like to believe that when my kids grow up, they won’t be living in some world that runs along the lines of a science fiction book, a world where land and sea have turned into uninhabited deserts and the only way of surviving is in some nightmarish urban landscape.
But a visit to my beloved India - where the thoughtless shopping and consuming party seems to be without end - doesn’t give me any empirical evidence that we’re coming to our senses anytime soon,