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Manifest of Goodwill


Ramaswamy R. Iyer

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT AT RISK: IGNORING THE PAST
By Joseph H. Hulse
Cambridge University Press, New Delhi, 2007, pp. xviii 371, Rs. 695.00

VOLUME XXXII NUMBER 8 August 2008

The author of this book is a highly respected figure, who, as the blurb tells us, has enjoyed a long and distinguished career in academia and in the field of international development. Given the vast knowledge and wide-ranging experience that have gone into the making of the book, the manifest goodwill of the author, and his evident concern about the future of humanity, it seems graceless for the reviewer to go beyond complimentary remarks and ask hard questions. Nevertheless that disagreeable necessity cannot be avoided.   The book is indeed a well-meaning one. It brings together many different elements: capsule histories of several technologies, and of international aid agencies and their programmes; concern at the unsustainable direction that the development process has taken, and at the unwillingness of opulent western countries (in particular the USA) to accept changes in the interest of sustainability and equity; and a scattering of unexceptionable sentiments, high-minded exhortations and ironic comments. However, one wishes that the book had been more tightly structured, with “its prolixities docked” (to borrow a phrase from Fowler), and propelled by a forceful central thesis on what needs to be done to pull humanity back from the brink of disaster. Unfortunately, while the book tells us a great deal, much of it interesting and useful, it lacks rigour and a strict sense of relevance to the main theme. In the Introduction the author says that “much of relevance is perforce omitted”. One feels tempted to add that much of irrelevance is needlessly included. As for where the book leads us, one is not at all clear.   A few words in justification of that harsh comment about relevance seem necessary. ‘Technology’ is not new. It has been with us always. However, it was only in relatively recent times that human beings acquired the capacity to make unsustainable drafts on nature, inflict grave damage by way of pollution and contamination on it, and partially destroy their own habitat. If this is what our (and the author’s) central concern is about, then we (and he) must surely focus on the rapidly accelerating pace of technological development in recent times, the economic theory that supports this, the dangers that the combination hold, and the possibility (if any) of stopping and reversing the process. That focus is missing in the book.   For instance, it traces the historical evolution of technology in diverse fields, such as agriculture, ...


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