Saturday 13 November 2021

Climate Crisis: Bangladesh May Drown, Pakistan May Face Severe Droughts

An Indian friend of mine, Sri Sagar Dhara, who is attending the COP 26 meeting, has sent a report from Glasgow on the prospects for Bangladesh and Pakistan in the year 2100. Being a South Asian (Indian) myself, I read it with great interest, which caused the following thoughts to occur in my mind.

    Please read the highly interesting article of Sagar first. Link

Then my comments.

Saral’s Comments

I thank Sagar Dhara for this article focusing attention, unusually, on Bangladesh and Pakistan, two of India’s “dear” neighbors, who after all are no small islands in the Pacific or the Indian Ocean. How dear they are to us has been demonstrated by the recent NRC exercise in Assam and the three wars at India’s Western front. The description of the plight of the people of Bangladesh and Pakistan in the near future is, I hope, realistic, coming as they do from knowledgeable people from the two countries. But Sagar’s conclusion? Is it at all realistic? And his exhortation to us Indians? What chance does it have of being accepted?

Empty Idealism or Down-to-Earth Realism

Sagar writes: “…. should India help? As a country that believes in vasudaiva kutumbakam (the whole world is a family), of course India should help … .” “Vasudaiva kutumbakam” is a noble, but, sorry to say, empty ideal. I have heard/read it as a slogan a few times in the speeches and writings generated by outwardly idealist NGO activists. The slogan itself was perhaps coined by some sage in ancient India some three thousand years ago. But today, it is a far cry from the reality. I do not know when “India” ever believed in this ideal.
    In the Christian Western world, I have more often heard the cynical saying: “Everybody for himself and God for all”. That is also roughly the conclusion of human ethologists on the reality of human nature. The current treatment meted out to illegal migrants at the Polish-Belarussian border corroborates this.
    Empty idealism devoid of all realism is the bane of NGO welfare activities. Two years ago, at a big gathering of Fridays for Future, I heard a speech by a young woman who is active in the efforts to save illegal African migrants from drowning in the Mediterranean Sea and help them reach the shores of Europe and enjoy a better life there. She asserted inter alia “every human being has a right to choose the country where (s)he wants to live.” I do not know where other than in her fertile imagination this right has been codified. But I know that her activities are promoting fascism in Europe as a reaction.
    A German politician, the then President of the state, whose traditional task it is to give idealist speeches in high-flown language, said in 2015 or 2016, at the height of the illegal migrants crisis in Germany, something like this: “Our hearts are very big, but our capacity is limited”, whereby he stretched his arms on two sides to make the sign of embracing people. He meant Germany’s capacity to accept immigrants.

No Solution ?

Sagar writes, the people of these two countries would suffer for “no fault of theirs”. That is roughly true. But not entirely. Nobody else is to blame other than those Bangaldeshis (and West-Bengalis) who in the past went farther and farther south, clear cut parts of the Sunderbans and settled down on the very low-lying delta areas. Such flood-prone and regularly cyclone-ravaged low lying areas should not have been inhabited at all in the first place.
    I understand, population pressure did not leave many ordinary poor people any other choice. But surely, it is not the Western imperialists that created the population pressure in Bangladesh (and West Bengal). Bangladesh became an independent country in 1971 when its population amounted to 65.5 million. Today, i.e. in 2020 figures, it stands at 164.7 million. In the same period, Pakistan’s population rose from 59.73 to 220.9 million (Source: Internet, Google). The leadership of these countries, usually highly educated and well-informed, could have done something at least in this area of policy, which has been fully under their control. If they had, the suffering today would have been much less.
    Sagar reports: a principal scientific officer from Pakistan, when asked, “Does Pakistan have a solution?”, replied “No”. An apparently rich farmer from Bangladesh, who, mind you, has the financial means to travel to Glasgow and stay there for a few days, suggested the solution that India should accept climate refugees from Bangladesh. This is surprising, capitulation!
    It is true that, climate change being a global problem, Bangladesh and Pakistan cannot tackle all their climate change related problems on their own. But nor can India do that. And in the future, India too will require help from the countries to tackle climate change impacts on its territory.
    So can anything be done at all? At least to mitigate the bad effects of climate change, if not to solve the whole problem? I think yes. World Bank sources say that at present, the population growth rates of the three countries are as follows: Bangladesh - 1%, Pakistan - 2%, India - 1%. That means, at current rates, every year, the population of Bangladesh is growing by 1.64 mil., that of Pakistan by 2.29 mil., and that of India by 13.8 mil. Obviously, in this area at least, these countries could do much more to take off the pressure. This is the easiest thing to do. Other things are much more difficult. For, as I formulated two-three years ago as an impossibility theorem:

“It is impossible to fulfill the continuously growing demands, wishes, aspirations and ambitions (100 per cent renewables for instance) of a continuously growing world population while our resource base is continuously dwindling and the ability of nature to absorb man-made pollution is continuously diminishing. It is a lunatic idea that in a finite world infinite growth is possible.”

    Dr. Manmohan Singh, the then PM of India, said already some 10 years ago, he had the most difficult task of creating 10 million new jobs every year. How can then the present-day government create jobs in India also for the climate refugees of Bangladesh and Pakistan?

Monday 1 November 2021


On the eve of the COP 26, UN’s world climate conference (to begin in Glasgow on 31. October. 2021), Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the host country UK, said in Rome the following:

“This is our memento mori,” (‘Remember that you will die’.) ….“After its fall, the level of education in Rome, the construction skills went down, the marvelous villas were lost, even the livestock shrunk in size. The same thing can happen to us if we don’t act against climate change now.” He said further that global warming will spur “colossal migrations, shortages of food and water, and many other conflicts.”

Johnson was optimistic that modern societies have the capacity to mitigate the negative effects of humans on the planet. ( I am not so optimistic. I am of the opinion that particularly modern societies are not capable of mitigating this impending collapse.
    I have dealt with this topic in an earlier short essay posted on this blog on 1. October 2019 ( Recently, I read a review article on some books on this topic published in the journal  Nature ( Thereupon I wrote another short piece in which I explained why I disagree with the politician Boris Johnson as well as with the scholar-authors reviewed in the said article in Nature. It is reproduced below:


I sincerely thank Nadarajah for posting this. Even to read just a book review is better than not to read anything on this unpleasant subject simply because the books are too discouragingly long. While reading the review, the following thoughts occurred to me:
    I am convinced that our present-day civilization is heading for a collapse, for I cannot see that we humans have resolved to do the
needful to mitigate, let alone avert the various crises converging to result in an inevitable collapse. The first and the most important things to do for the purpose would have been to stop all further economic and population growth in the world. But the leaders of the world have not resolved to do that. On the contrary, they are all actively pursuing the goal of continuous economic growth and passively tolerating the continuous spontaneous growth of world population. The collapse would not be like a big-bang bomb blast, it would happen gradually, but, from now on, more or less rapidly. In fact, the process has already begun.

Societies, Civilizations, Cultures

If we are allowed to go only by the short presentations in the review, the authors of the books have dealt mainly with the collapse of societies that emerged in different particular civilizations obtaining at the time.
    Most people use these terms interchangeably, meaning the same thing. But it is useful to differentiate between them. Let us use the term society in the following sense: a more or less large group of people living under more or less similar social and religious hierarchical systems having more or less same/similar social laws, norms, rituals and moral codes. And let us use the term civilization to imply a certain level of state formation, a certain level of material and
technological development covering housing, clothing, transportation, communication, techniques of production of food and other useful things, formalized laws such as criminal laws, property laws and laws governing other material relations which are generally brought into force by the rulers of the particular historical time.
    Here I do not intend to elaborate on the terms societies, cultures and civilizations. It may suffice to give a few examples: Samuel Huntington gave his most famous book the title “Clash of Civilizations”, whereas in its German translation, it is called “Kampf der Kulturen. We in India e.g. speak of Hindu culture (with its sub-cultures), Muslim culture etc., although we are all, more or less, living in the same civilization, half industrial and half rural, where e.g. both motor vehicles and bullock carts are used as means of transportation.
    Of course these things are always in a state of flux, border lines between the terms are often blurred. But I hope readers understand what I mean. I would like to conclude this paragraph with a quote. Knowledgeable people use the word “culture” in its social-anthropological meaning, namely “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, customs, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society” In this meaning “culture” includes also “the material organization of life”, that is, “social and economic
institutions.” [Edwards, Paul (ed.) 1967]

What is collapsing Today?

I am a bit disappointed that the reviewed authors have addressed the subject as so many case studies, which they have done with a ‘retrospectoscope’. Of course, the collection is very good history writing. But our present-day civilization is quite different from those of the past, those of the Rapa Nui, the medieval Mayans, the ancient Sumerians etc., and even from the high civilization of the classical Romans.
    It is different in that none of the past ones were
global like our present one. In none of the past civilizations countries were so dependent on imports and exports of goods and technologies for their economic prosperity or survival as the countries of today. To mention just a few more examples, there simply was no global, not to speak of instant, communication before our times, no cheap means of travelling all over the world, no great similarity of the life-style of the rich and the middle classes in all countries, no similarity of the diseases they suffer from (Covid-19 e.g.) and the healing technologies they use, no identity of the knowledge they impart to their students etc. etc.
    Of course, the
cultures are not converging yet. Their differences still remain, but the gaps are slowly closing, The different religions are still there. And although English has become the lingua franca all over the world, the vernacular languages are not disappearing, on the contrary. These two things – religions and vernacular languages – are becoming more and more the cores of cultural identities that are often causing conflicts. But that is a different subject.
    Our present-day civilization is different in another very important respect. Whereas in the previous ones, energy supply for work was mainly based on human and animal labor, that of ours is mainly based on fossil fuels. Whereas the former sort – human and animal labor – was eminently renewable, fossil fuels are eminently nonrenewable, hence ultimately exhaustible. Wind and solar radiation also played a substantial part in the production methods of previous civilizations – wind as the power behind sailing ships and wind mills and the warmth of solar radiation as the main factor in growth of vegetation and food crops. They do not play such great roles in our present-day civilization.
    Two additional important differences are: (a) in the quantity and type of
man-made pollutions: In the previous civilizations, most pollutants were biodegradable. Wastes that were not recycled were rare in the past. Today it is just the opposite. (b) Today’s most dangerous man-made pollution, high rates of emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere are going to change the global temperature for perhaps a million years, making the Earth uninhabitable.
    The cases of collapse studied by the learned historians were singular and isolated, occurring in different times and caused by different factors. There were of course factors that were common to all these cultures and civilizations, e.g. steady
population growth throughout history, development of class societies, greed of oppressive ruling classes etc. They surely played some role in their history, but not necessarily the decisive ones in their collapse. Resilience, revival or replication was possible because of continued existence of sufficient renewable resources and of further possibilities of migration to greener pastures that were sparsely populated and/or where the local populations were militarily not strong enough to resist aggression.
    When, however, our present-day civilization collapses, which is happening in front of our eyes (see e.g. the article by
Paul Kingsnorth posted by Sajai Jose on 29.10. on this list), it cannot be salvaged. It is already overpopulated, there are no satisfactory possibilities of large-scale migration to greener pastures any more, the nonrenewable resources so very essential for running its over-complex economies will have been gone forever, and many parts of the Earth may finally and irreversibly have become uninhabitable.
    Let me finish this text with two quotes from Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, whose disciple I regard myself to be:
Georgescu-Roegan (1971/1981: 296) calls the supplies of nonrenewable energy sources and other minerals in low-entropy state “the limited dowry of mankind’s existence on Earth”. A dowry is not only a limited but also a one-off gift, Therefore, he comes to the logical conclusion:

“Even with a constant population and a constant flow per capita of mined resources, mankind's dowry will ultimately be exhausted if the career of the human species is not brought to an end earlier by other factors.” (ibid)

On the fate of our present-day civilization, he wrote in a fit of pessimism,

"Will mankind listen to any program that implies a constriction of its addiction to exosomatic comfort? Perhaps the destiny of man is to have a short, but fiery, exciting and extravagant life rather than a long, uneventful and vegetative existence. Let other species, – the amoebas, for example – which have no spiritual ambitions, inherit an Earth still bathed in plenty of sunshine." (Georgescu-Roegen 1972/1976: 35)     

    I do not quite agree with NGR. I do not think the human species would disappear from this Earth altogether. We are far too intelligent for that, far too ingenious. Our descendants would survive, in somewhat still inhabitable pockets left behind after the collapse, but in much smaller numbers. They would however live in a different civilization and with different cultures.


Edwards, Paul. ed. (1967) Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 1967. New York].

Georgescu-Roegen, Nicholas (1971/1981) Entropy Law and the Economic Process, Harvard University Press. Cambridge MA (US).

Georgescu-Roegen, Nicholas (1972/1976) Energy and Economic Myths. New York: Pergamon Press