PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 June, 2011, 12:00am


by Chandran Nair
John Wiley & Sons

A global agreement on climate change is doomed from the start.

The West, made rich by the consumption-fuelled growth that drives the world economy, will only reduce its environmental impact insofar as it can retain its present ways of life. The effects of the free market's degradation of natural resources are remote and any price seems too high to justify lower growth.

But developing countries, particularly in Asia, don't have that luxury. As Chandran Nair, author of Consumptionomics, sees it, Asia, through sheer weight of numbers, will confront the limits of its environment first.

Better to think local, act local. Stop looking to the West for inspiration, abandon thoughts of a technological saviour and give up on just using resources more efficiently. Switching to a hybrid car isn't the answer. Instead, give up on the car altogether - get used to the idea of making do with much less and put ecological sustainability at the centre of national policy. We can't trade, engineer or finance our way out of this. If there's anything the past few years have taught us, Nair says, it's that the markets won't save us, but an approach called risk minimisation just might. Look for 'ways to moderate impact'.

And to achieve this, Asia needs strong states. Democracy is not essential, but good governance and public support are givens.

Consumptionomics is a call to ecological arms that Asia is well-placed to lead. If nations from Sri Lanka to China can find new ways to live within their environmental means, then they may become models for others to follow.

It's hard to imagine any reversal in the mainland's ecological fortunes without input and questioning from the populace, and that means developing broader civil society. People have to be able to come together and plug into a responsive, corruption-free civil service to raise the alarm about lead from a battery factory, for example.

Who knows if the mainland really does have the greatest potential, as Nair says, to realise the change. But his broader point that we must look to ourselves to make the difference is a valid one.