HAMLET AND THE
Loving Sai Ram and greetings from Prashanti Nilayam. Recently, with much
fanfare and media-hype, Boeing unveiled its latest aircraft, Boeing 787,
dubbed the Dreamliner. It is yet to fly but already, over five hundred of
this type of aircraft have been sold to airlines all over the world.
Sometime prior to this, the much-awaited Airbus 380 made its appearance and
in fact even flew into India. While the 380 is HUGE – it is said that with
economy class seating all through, it can carry about eight hundred
passengers – the 787 has a capacity of only 300. However, its great virtue
is that it is supposed to be highly fuel efficient; that is to say, it would
emit much less carbon dioxide per passenger-mile as compared to any other
aircraft on planet Earth right now.
Much was made of how “green” the plane is, how small a carbon footprint it
leaves etc. Further, since it is very fuel efficient, it would cut down the
cost of air travel, benefiting flyers; all very nice of course. However, the
more thoughtful ones are asking: “Yes, this plane would pollute far less
than those now flying and bring down the cost of flying. But then, that
would encourage more people to fly which would not be so good. That is to
say, even though in one trip the plane might pollute less, if the airlines
decide to have many new flights to meet the increased demand , then one
would be back to square one with as much pollution as at present if not
This is a very real issue, and the question boils down to this: Does mere
improvement in the efficiency of energy consuming gadgets help at all?
People are talking of better and more energy efficient bulbs. Good, but if
as a result people start having lots of bulbs all over the place, then as
the population increases, the total energy demand might still be
unacceptably high. Where does this leave us?
The issue before is Hamletian, if one can coin such a word! You recall of
course the famous soliloquy, which goes like this:
To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing, end them?............
In a similar manner, our question really is: TO CONSUME OR NOT TO CONSUME!
Unfortunately, a large section of the Western world is hooked on a
have-the-cake-and-eat-it-too sort of approach. The idea seems to be: Let us
be as green as possible but changing life style? That is out of the
Some thirty years ago, [before the economic boom in China, and later in
India, Russia and Brazil plus a number of other smaller countries like
Vietnam], the word used to be: “The rest of the world cannot and must not
try to have the same standard of living as people in America do. There are
not enough natural resources in the world for that. Europe to a certain
extent and Japan in Asia could be exceptions; but others, they would have to
settle for less.” There was not much protest, because there was at that
time, no way really of catching up the Joneses.
The IT cum Globalization wave changed all that. Suddenly, China emerged from
nowhere, and India which many until recently thought of as a country waiting
to become a failed state, was becoming a “threat”! In fact, in one of his
State of the Union Messages, President Bush made particular mention of India
and announced the launch of a special initiative to keep America’s cutting
edge sharp, so that it is not squeezed out by the competition.
All this is fine but what has it got to do with Hamlet on the one hand and
the Dreamliner on the other? Everything, and to understand that, we first
draw your attention to an event that happened sometime ago in Peking
University in Beijing [for those of you who do not know, Peking was the
earlier name of Beijing; while the city has changed its name, the University
has not. We believe it is the same with Bombay University though the city
where it is located is now called Mumbai!]. The event we are referring to is
a lecture given there to a distinguished audience by Professor Jeffrey Sachs
of Columbia University. In the course of his lecture, Professor Sachs warned
how growth of technology is causing severe harm to the environment and how
in this regard, China has to be particularly careful. During question time,
a question was asked relating to the apparent conflict between growth and
pollution. The discussion went like this:
YU YANG JIE: Professor Sachs, my question is about, to what extent should we
protect the environment, because when there is a conflict between
environmental protection and economic development, it's unwise and also
impossible to totally stop the economic development for the sake of
environmental protection. So my question is, how should we find the optimal
balance between the two.
JEFFREY SACHS: The choice that sometimes puts economics versus the
environment is largely mistaken in that the environment is part of the
economic wellbeing, it's not in contrast to the economic wellbeing. Now let
me say that choices that we actually face on how to use land, how to fish,
how to use our energy resources, are less dire and less painful than we
think, if we look closely at our real opportunities, especially with
technology. I talked about the new kinds of sustainable energy systems that
we can adopt at relatively low cost, but let me talk about another issue -
massive over-fishing of the oceans, leading to a destruction of the
fisheries. China is the pioneer now at a global scale of an alternative
agriculture, so massive fish farming - and China farms perhaps eighty to
ninety per cent of all of the world's fish now - that's a technology,
farming the fish rather than depleting the oceans, that gives us hope.
Basically, Prof. Sachs places a lot of hope in technology and of course
global co-operation . His view is that technology can solve problems and in
short, 1) the West does NOT have to lower its standard of living, and 2) the
presently less-developed countries can jolly well catch up using newer
technologies that pollute far less. So, with new less polluting
technologies, it is a win-win situation.
We are not at all convinced that this solution would work. The Dreamliner
highlights how things could go wrong. Here we have a technological marvel ?
an aircraft that consumes less fuel, pollutes less, and promises low fares.
Less cost would be very nice for airlines for they could have more services.
Everything looks nice and cosy.
What about the other side of the picture? More travel means more airports
since the present ones would be choked. More airports means more land for
building airports; more energy consumption for making cement; more water for
construction, more road traffic, more cars moving about, more hotels, etc.,
Is this really improvement? And what about the social impact? What about
people moved out in order to build airports? In India, this is a big
problem. Every project that leads to more urbanisation means loss of forests
or grazing land or agricultural land. Is this good?
The issues are many and most people do not have the time or the patience to
think them through. A few do though but their warnings are seldom heard. We
prefer to consider all this via the prism of Swami’s teachings. In our view,
it is time to take seriously Swami’s advice concerning ceiling on desires.
If people decide to put a ceiling on their unnecessary wants and undesirable
desires, then there can be a dramatic turn around on many fronts, ranging
from pollution, all the way to crime and corruption.
Ever thought about it? Ever wondered why God has come in human form?
Many may say: ?Well, ceiling on desires is nice to talk about but not
practical.? Suppose a person is very sick and there is a drug announced that
holds promise. Would not the patient of his relatives give that drug a try?
Where desires are concerned, have we even thought of placing a ceiling?
Supposing we do a paper exercise in cutting down travel, energy consumption
. And consider using the time that would now become available for doing good
to Society. Don?t you think much can be achieved?
Dear reader! We should not merely hear or read; we should of course do these
both but also think. As Swami says first one must hear, then one must write
it into the hard disc [i.e., store it in our memory], then recall and
analyse and rewrite the conclusions back into the HD. This stored info must
thereafter be recalled and used as appropriate. Swami uses three words in
this context. Sravanam, Mananam, Nidhidhyasam, and compares this to putting
the food into the mouth and chewing, then swallowing and thereafter
digesting so that food becomes energy for sustenance.
Please think about today’s issues and how Swami’s teachings are very
pertinent in relation to them. It is only if we do that that we would be
able to take the first step. Remember, it is only when WE take one step that
HE would take a hundred!
Thanks for being with us and giving us a bit of your time. God bless, Jai
With Love and Regards,