Mansoor Khan divides his time between running a Farmstay, cheese-making and traveling around the country lecturing the Corporate world & top educational Institutes on the theory of ‘Energertics’ & ‘Peak Oil’ which he believes is a tricky topic. The Bollywood Filmmaker who launched Aamir Khan with Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak and also belted out another blockbuster Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar is now telling an entirely different story through his Book ‘The Third Curve – The End of Growth As We Know It’.
Standard questions about sustainability, social & environmental development don’t even seem to apply to this filmmaker-turned-author who explains how limited resources of the Planet is not a problem, but a predicament. Hence it cannot have a solution, but requires a fundamental change in a mindset accustomed to the concept of ‘perpetual growth’. A passionate advocate of Gandhian principles of simple, local living Khan tells The wp Journal’s Nidhi Singh in this interview about how the fundamentals of energy and its roles in our industrial model are little understood and never discussed. That, he points out leads to people asking the wrong questions.
You have said that you do not want to lecture about saving the environment – at the same time you have emphasized the need to drop off the false concept of growth immediately and start looking at some realistic solutions- what solutions would you advocate? Anything that the Corporate world can imbibe immediately as a part of their wp?
Corporate Social Responsibility is not only about ecology and social systems. It should also be about getting the big picture and recognizing the hazards of chasing impossible dreams of perpetual growth which eventually causes immense damage to social and ecological systems. How can Corporates be socially responsible if they are willing to burn all kinds of earth capital to chase impossible growth figures.
So to be truly responsible, wp programs need to understand the Energetics, Energy Descent and it’s impact on Growth. Corporates (like most other people) have not yet seen the connect between chasing perpetual exponential growth and the collapsing economies, social unrest, displacement, inequity, wars, species extinction, forest destruction, ground water depletion, drying rivers and ultimately Climate Change. Perpetual Growth is a disease ideology that eats everything to perpetuate itself. Pretty much like a cancer cell that believes it should double and double and double till it eats the very organ it is a part of. In chasing perpetual economic growth we are all behaving exactly like cancer cells and we call it progress! Wow!
During your research for your book, or even recently – have you come across any wp model that you think has understood and modified their ‘growth’ strategy based on an understanding that ‘energy’ is the real currency?
To clarify right at the onset, my book is not directly concerned with the social aspect of corporates or the government or industry. It talks in a different zone of the correlation between energy and growth. What it says is that our modern industrial world is built on a one-time stash of 300 million years of stored sunlight capital of energy called fossil fuels which have shaped and run our world in a unique and irreplaceable way. And even more the availability of this energy follows a bell-curve which means that when only half of the resource is over it starts falling till it reaches zero. We are at that half way point now which is the Peak of the bell curve and therefore the name Peak Oil. This inevitably spells the end of the perpetual growth paradigm. This is understood and appreciated by all the corporate audience I have spoken to at places like Cognizant, Allegis, Morgan Stanley, Yahoo, Ebay, Paypal and many more. But there is little they can do about it right now because all the rules of the game that we have made across the board are for perpetual growth. So to answer your question they will not be able to modify their strategy unless they accept that they should plan for a zero if not negative growth future.
What solution do you think could work to combat the impending energy crisis?
Calling it an energy crisis is incorrect. It makes it seem as if there are methods to get out of this situation and it is only a matter of doing the right thing. And the words problem and solution are also invalid. The finiteness of the earth and therefore energy and resources it can give is not a problem -It is a predicament. Predicaments are aspects of reality like the finiteness of our life called death. They are non-negotiable. So predicaments have to be dealt with in an honest and non-deluding manner. The geological truth is that we are in global energy descent and that means we have to adapt to that reality. To do it sensibly and with least long-term damage we would have to make a paradigm shift in our economic and industrial thinking to exactly the opposite that is presently followed. Shrinkage instead of Growth, Local instead of Global, steady-state instead of perpetual growth. Mind you this is not an option. It is what is happening anyway around. The high fuel prices, the high food prices, the persistent global recession, the failing banks, the dropping growth rates are all manifestations of energy descent. Corporates and governments have to see it through this new lens of energy descent and stop making growth plans that are not going to happen and will end eventually even if we pump them for a while by burning our remaining resources.
In Budget 2014, the Finance Minister Mr. Jaitley has announced the setting up of a 100 Cr. National Allocation Fund for Climate Change – how would you suggest it be put to use?
Climate Change is a direct response of the living earth to the madness of perpetual exponential growth that extracts and depletes at ever increasing speed to keep the mantra of progress and development going. It disrupts all life systems, forests, rivers, fertile soil and so many more and burns them at the altar of perpetual growth. We have burnt 1 trillion barrels of oil and similar proportions of coal and natural gas to get here. We are at present behaving like addicts that will kill, loot, burn, rape or do anything to get the next fix. Cut all the Boreal Forests to get to the tar sands, then divert the Athabasca river with humongous quantities of natural gas to make steam to get the oil out of the sands. Well don’t you think this is going to rock the global climate balance to a tipping point? No government in the world is talking about accepting that the only true remedy to Climate Change is inverting our false economic paradigm of growth which anyway is faltering in the face of energy descent.
So indeed all the rest of our energy and ecological capital is going to be burnt in this impossible pursuit of perpetual growth. So what is 100 crores going to do? I don’t know what Mr. Jaitley has in mind but in my opinion it is not a matter of spending 100 or 10,000 crores that can deal with climate change. It is a question of slowing our maddening pace of plundering all the earth’s capital in sync with the emerging reality that growth is over no matter how much we plunder. That will do the trick itself. And maybe then we can spend those 100 crores on something more useful.
Budget 2014 also announced major plans for Solar & Wind power and solar panel components to get cheaper – is that a promising sign as a possible start towards ‘sustainable growth’ ?
For a start ‘sustainable growth’ is an oxymoron. They are 2 contradicting terms. You cannot sustain growth forever. Having said that we also have to examine the false promise of solar and wind. They are useful but they cannot sustain growth because every step of wind, solar, hydro, nuclear or any other alternative energy being touted these days actually runs on an infrastructure that is built, run and maintained with fossil fuel energy. So to that extent they are all ‘energy converters’ and not energy generators. And even more, fossil fuels are in descent. So these so called alternatives are going to become more and more expensive. Besides, they only give us electricity and the fundamental infrastructure of the modern industrial world runs on liquid fuels and not electricity. And last of all they do not give us any of the byproducts of petroleum that are crucial to building and maintaining our industrial world like bitumen, plastics, lubricants, insulators, fertilizers, pharmaceuticals etc. Solar and Wind are useful in a small way but they are not the answer that most people are automatically expecting as a replacement for petroleum.
The Corporate world now has to spend a mandatory 2% of profits on wp as per the law effective 1 April 2014. What would you recommend for wp as a solution to the imbalance between the concept of perpetual growth and Earth’s finite resources?
wp spending for human equity and environment is a separate issue. It does not offset the imbalance between the Concept of Perpetual Growth (exponential) and the Finiteness of the Earth (bell curve). That is a non-negotiable reality and paying 2% or even 50% profits is not going to change it. It is not going to appease the earth into giving more energy after it has reached the peak. Corporates have to understand and accept this.
You said in one of your interviews that ‘concepts like energy efficiency have not been able to curb the world’s gross energy consumption’ – then what, in your view can steer us in the right direction?
In a growth paradigm energy efficiency creates the illusion of saving at a micro level but increases consumption at a macro level. How can that be? Well just consider this. Every single device and process has become more efficient over the last 150 years and yet our energy consumption is merrily going up in an exponential manner. How is that possible? This is called Jevon’s paradox. Mr. Jevon had observed that in the late 19th century when coal extraction became more efficient, it did not result in less energy being used but in fact even more. This is to be expected in a world premised on compounding growth. Because in a growth based paradigm of economics we will only use the efficiency gained to make more products. After all, the final objective in our modern economic system is to make money grow. And so any benefits from energy efficiency are quickly used to increase output.
By the way, efficiency is also energetically wrong sometimes. For instance people believe that CFL’s save energy whereas the fact is that more energy goes into making them than they save in their life cycle. This all comes to fore when you understand and apply the principles of Energetics which is energy accounting. How much energy used versus how much saved. So in my opinion energy efficiency can only be effective if and when we change our paradigm exponential growth as embedded in our financial system. Only then will we perceptibly notice the advantage of energy efficiency.
You have recommended the study of ‘energetics’ as more crucial than economics- can wp help to make that happen?
For sure. But it will require that the folks involved in wp study this perspective of energy principles in full honesty and then accept that perpetual growth is over because we are in energy descent. They will have to understand that economics is a false discipline that only concerns itself with a token called money whereas Energetics is the true discipline as it concerns itself with the real currency of the universe which is energy. You can make all kinds of false laws like, debt, time value, compounding etc. for money but you cannot do that for energy. Once wp personnel truly understand and accept this they will be able to communicate this to the Corporates and then together design more holistic wp programs.
Tell us a bit about your Conoor Farmstay and cheese-making and how you have made it into an energy efficient, sustainable way of living.
I live in Coonoor on a farm because it makes me happy. We make small efforts to make our lives small and local. We have 10 cows and we use only their dung as fertiliser. Also we generate gobar gas from that dung and our cheese is made using that energy. We have solar panels for water heating. We have made bricks for a number of our structures from local soil. For our building foundation we tried to use as much of the stone from within our land. We don’t put any chemicals in our soil or hormones into our cows. These are small steps towards common sense.
But ‘sustainable’ is a difficult goal. The word is used so easily these days. There is nothing sustainable in the way we run our world. For a start we burnt 150 million years of stored sunlight (fossil fuels) in 150 years. That is a deficit of a million is to one. Now would you call that sustainable? So it is high time we stopped fooling ourselves that the efforts that we are doing come anywhere even close to being sustainable. Without accepting the end of growth and energy descent and then following the principles of ‘Transition’ which means how to shape our world in a shrinking energy scenario, we are still talking from the back of our heads.
Mansoor Khan’s book ‘The Third Curve’ is available at all Landmark Stores and online at amazon.com, flipkart.com. The author, who has given over a 100 lectures at dozens of prime Corporates, ISB, The Energy & Resources Institute (TERI), IIM’s, Symbiosis Campuses and TEDx talks is also currently engaged in writing & planning a film on the subject to take it to a wider platform.