Friday, January 2, 2015

Corruption for Sustainability

This idea has been making the rounds in my head ever since I started
getting glimpses at the extreme amounts of money being spent in
otherwise innocuous infrastructure development.
Example: The road and footpath on an average road in this city.. costs
more money than needed to feed, clothe and rehabilitate all the poor
people who will pass by that road and footpath.

Another example: Channeling a "nallah" or river with straight-line
cement embankments costs much more money than it takes to form a
living ecosystem with grassy, bushy soil gently merging into the
water-stream along a curving length, plus the ecosystem embankment
purifies the water flowing by, hence covering the cost of sewage
treatment plants; as well as slows it down during monsoons, thus
preventing drowning deaths.

The textbook assumption is that governments choose the cheapest
possible ways to accomplish things as budget is very limited. Another
textbook assumption is that the more proper solutions are more
expensive than the improper solutions. We know from real life
experience now that it is not so : There's actually huge quantities of
money in these treasuries, and the corrupt nature of our system
ensures that actually quite wasteful projects get sanctioned... all
because they yield a higher margin. This ground reality came out
incredibly in Satyamev Jayate's episode on waste management.
(http://www.satyamevjayate.in/dont-waste-your-garbage.aspx) The
amazing, totally eco-friendly project that can heal huge landfills
permanently and sustainably.. owing to its dirt-cheap cost, got
rejected in favour of an unsustainable, cover-up solution that costed
ten times more money.

A common refrain I hear is that the ecologically damaging projects are
being done as they give a good "margin".

On the other hand, eco-friendly alternatives are being shown again and
again to have much lower expenses than the cement/concrete/etc
standard models.

(Disclaimer: Advocates of expensive solutions like electric vehicles
and solar streetlights and complex patented materials that require
high-tech to fabricate, please walk elsewhere.. there's nothing for
you here. Sustainable means easy-to-make, locally sourced. And it
means adapting needs and ways to suit what's available rather than
stubbornly sticking to unsustainable practices disguised as needs. If
you don't get that then you don't understand sustainability.)

Well, HELLO! If it's cheaper, then why don't we make the eco-friendly,
pro-sustainability projects such that they fetch the deciding powers
even higher margin?

Example: You have a citywide urban farming project that'll cost, say,
Rs.10 lakhs. And the output looks awesome.. like most of the
sustainable solutions it's something that looks like it's grand but
actually has very simple and hence cheap origins. You take the project
to the administration, and bill it at Rs.50 Lakh, and tell them they
can keep the extra Rs.40 Lakh.
That's a freakin' 80% margin right there! Way better than most
road-concretization projects!

So, how about it! Use sustainability's cheapness to make it even more
lucrative for the fat cats; get pilot, proof-of-concept projects off
the website and on the ground. Later when there is enquiry and
exposure of the gap between cost price and list price, the project
will have already proved its usefulness through its existence smack
inside the city, within easy reach of all inquisitive minds, and the
message that carries through will be : "Shit, this is so damn cheap,
AND it works! Let's do this!"

So, calling out to the regular and would-be isshmaart contractors :
Change the materials and designs you use to make an even bigger
fortune, AND build a brighter future for your children; both at the
same time!

Disclaimer : This author's perspective focuses on transitioning
society to a more sustainable state from a relative, doable
standpoint rather than an absolutist, impossible one. The author
refutes the self-righteous delusion of criminalizing individual
persons for the corruption present in society; rather he sees them as
co-sufferers on the same boat, and there is a systemic phenomena that
needs to be addressed at systemic, collective level. The author also
refutes the zero-sum-game hypothesis and insists that the
much-misquoted 2nd Law of Thermodynamics does not apply to systems
that have living beings in them; that it IS possible to increase order
over time as exemplified by planet Earth's biosphere; to have win-win
situations and increase prosperity for all. If you dispute the
solutions proposed then please provide something in exchange that is
even more easily doable, not less; and also provide your underlying
assumptions.

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