How Much Should a Person Consume – A Review

How Much Should a Person Consume?: Environmentalism in India and the United States by Ramachandra Guha
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There is a stigma attached to grown-up people who care too much about the environment. Once, when I was 15, my school friends and I were riding our bicycles back to our homes. We were chatting and laughing, maybe a little too loudly. A saffron-clad homeless guy stopped us and proclaimed “The world is going to end in 2008!”, as if to say “Stop being so happy”. He didn’t have any rational reason for why the world was going to end. We looked at him like a madman, and that’s how we still look at anybody who talks about the end of the world; even if they are rational, qualified people who have researched for decades.

But once in a while, maybe the day you have no drinking water at home because you forgot to tell the water guy, or the day you take the shortcut through an underdeveloped area, a very real fear will creep up on you. If it does, succumb to it. Heed it. Think through it. And do what the fear recommends.

We don’t really need a book to say that we consume too much and that humans have robbed the earth of its resources. But we need this book to show us the scale; to show us just how much damage we have done. And to tell us if it’s repairable.

“The motorcar has multiplied at the rate of bacteria and the sentiment among young professionals is that not to possess at least one is to be left out in the cold.”

I can see now, after reading the book, that there have been many movies trying to tell us to be aware of the environment we live in and respect it – Avatar, Finding Nemo, Grapes of wrath, Swades to name a few. We remember the movies but forget the message. It is not entirely our fault too. We just don’t know the context. We live in our own little bubble without really giving a thought about the ripple effect created by our activities. Our next meal does not depend upon it, so we ignore it.

“There is an intimate though not often noticed an overlap between ecological entitlements and economic status. Not only do the rich and powerful consume more than their fair share of the world’s resources, but they are also better protected from the consequences of environmental degradation.”

And that is where this book wins. By giving you the complete context about all the efforts being put in across the world by different NGOs, activists, and the general public to preserve the environment. By explaining the different approaches they take. By pointing out the mistakes they are doing. And by telling us what needs to be done.

I became a fan of Ramachandra Guha after reading India after Gandhi. This book has put him on a higher pedestal. In his own words, he is more comfortable conversing with “dead” documents than living people. And we need more people who can do that and write engaging books that make readers care about important things – like the end of the world. And I also liked the fact that him being a passionate environmentalist did not affect the way he talked about Nehru in India after Gandhi.

One thing I thought this book lacked was, on a personal level, I didn’t get any pointers on what I should be doing. Should I start walking to work? Should I go join an NGO? Should I be the change I want to see? Will it have any impact? On some level, I know it myself. But it would have been a good way to end the book. And the book title was, in fact, misleading. Though I ended up liking what he led me to, I’m not sure if others would feel the same way.

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