A Multifaceted Collage on Environmental Matters: From Brazil, India and Austria

While I juggle readings from Austria, India and Brazil on my daily schedule, the cross-country analysis is inevitable. In this post, I share three pieces of articles from three different sources (and nationalities), which shall serve the reader as a composite insight on co-related topics, which differ most and above all, by its reporting point of view.

On March 8th, 2011, the Austrian newspaper “Der Standard” published an article about the Austrian plant construction firm ANDRITZ AG, technology provider for the construction of the mega dam in Belo Monte, Northern Brazil (more precisely in the state of ParĂ¡, where I lived for 18 years). In this article, ANDRITZ replies to the critics of the Viennese Archdiocese on ANDRITZ’s participation in this project, which puts at stake the livelihood of 50,000 local people (estimates count that 250,000 other shall be indirectly affected as well), which altogether represent an unprecedented environmental impact. ANDRITZ justifies its participation stating that it is part of a consortium and it delivers only a ‘small part’ of the turbines and generators for the project.

On April 6th, 2011, the Brazilian website xinguvivo.com.br published an article on the official statement by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), in which it makes a demand to the Brazilian government to (immediately) suspend the alreay in ‘advanced-stage’ process of licensing for the construction of the dam.

These two pieces of news caused me remember a ‘Newsweek’ article by Jeremy Kahn published on March 13th, 2011. Named ‘Why India might save the planet’, the article focuses on the Indian environmental minister Jairam Ramesh and his battle on India’s economic growth without the devastation of the environment.
The article talks about the $12-billion steel plant proposed by the South Korean steel conglomerate POSCO to be built in India, which after having been approved by the minister, caused mass protests by local tribal groups, who alleged the plant endangered their livelihoods due to its massive environmental impact. Following the protests, Ramesh suspended the project for further analysis, which led to a new green light as long as POSCO could manage to fall in line with 60 new conditions. These included that POSCO would be limited to just half of the original plant area, 2% of the project’s profits would be invested back on the local community and a quarter of the plant’s premisses would be preserved as green spaces.
In the interview given by Ramesh to ‘Newsweek’, he says: “The way to resolve the conflict between environment and development is to make the tradeoffs explicit”. He added: “The paradox of economic growth is that ecological devastation benefits one section of society only”. On the other hand, he continues: “On the environment, the track record of the Indian industry is not much to write home about”.
Besides the aforementioned review of the POSCO project, Ramesh also blocked Vedanta, a British conglomerate, from building a $1.7-billion bauxite mine, claiming it violated forest-protection laws. On this issue, he says:

If bauxite mining is going to destroy livelihoods, if bauxite mining is going to pollute water sources, if bauxite mining is going to lead to large-scale deforestation, it is better not to have that bauxite mining.

And the list of companies and projects getting a “no” from Ramesh is growing. ‘Livelihood environmentalism’ is what India needs, Ramesh says – a system that cares for bodies of water, forests and land on which the nation’s farmers, fishermen and tribal groups depend. These ecosystems are as essential to Indiaas its new factories and mines.

The growth-hungry BRIC countries might indeed be currently scoring high in economic growth. GDP, the most common indicator of growth, does not take the ‘environment factor’ into account, though. The surprises of not having this factor equated might come up at a certain point (but at what costs?)
As previously mentioned, this post is intented to provide some food for thought. This is not supposed to be taken as a complete panorama on any of the subjects discussed. Again, this is a collage of articles that sounded simply ‘interesting’ to the mind of a Brazilian guy, living in Austria and working for India. This shall serve as an insight for someone out there, too.

3 Comments

  1. I am happy to have Jairam Ramesh as our environment and forest minister. He does compromise, but he does push the corporate sector to whatever extent he can. I was working on another project where I know that he cancelled the allocation of coal mining blocks near a tiger reserve in central india to a private power producer. He did not allow mining there at all, even though it was aggressively and openly supported by another minister.

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