ENVIRONMENTAL EFFICIENCY PANACEA FOR THE WARMING WORLD: MY JOURNEY WITH THE THEORY OF ENVIRONMENTAL EFFICIENCY
Finding a workable solution to bring environment and development hand-in-hand had been in my thought process from the day I passed out from the premier institution of planning in India. My post-graduation thesis dissertation was a wakeup call for me to dedicate more on that.
Almost a decade had passed by while balancing my personal life, my career and my family commitments. It was all very very hectic days, some were very happy moments while some were difficult ones.
I utilised my spare time contemplating over the committed topic. I diverted my habit of deep thinking towards this novel cause. I collected newspaper cuttings which were describing the problems faced due to bad city planning and compared with the good practices elsewhere. Since my post-graduation dissertation was on the same topic about my city where I have been living for the past several years of my career, I got a base from where I could build up my concepts to identify a solution space to tackle the environment-development dilemma as both are very important for human life and they are to be taken ahead hand-in-hand.
Finally, I got the answer, why my city is failing to manage the environment efficiently. The methodology as to how to establish my answer scientifically was a nerve-racking challenge to me. I read a lot of publications, journals, conference papers and newspaper reports to know the literature available contributing to this topic and due attention was given to the recurring environmental problems hampering the city’s development.
My State is coined as ‘Gods Own Country’ by the tourist folks and is one of the most sought after tourist destinations of the world, as evident from the recent list published by the ‘Lonely Planet’, the popular travel guide. Kochi is known as the ‘Queen of Arabian Sea’ from the time immemorial. It is the commercial capital of the tiny state of Kerala, in the Southern Indian Peninsula, which is known around the world for its high human development achievements albeit with low per capita income. Along with many unique strengths and opportunities, the state has weaknesses and threats too on sustainability considerations, which could prudentially be managed to make it the best place in the world.
I applied for a Senior Research Fellowship at CSIR, Govt of India to do PhD on this topic, while I was working with the Union Government. It was by availing the ‘extraordinary leave’ for five years for study purpose. The biggest challenge faced by me was to find a guide who would guide me in this multidisciplinary topic in my city as it was quite difficult for me to move away from my city due to family commitments.
Finally, I won the situation as I could get an expert in Managerial Economics who wholeheartedly agreed to guide me. But the sad part is that I could not utilise the fellowship awarded to me as the leave was not sanctioned due to some exigencies there. I even approached the Hon. Central Administrative Tribunal which was a vain attempt as I could not succeed in getting a fellowship extension. I was advised by the CSIR to apply again and I succeeded in getting the award afresh.
I took a job change for a higher post, that too in the most prestigious planning institution in Kerala in my city. That was an opportunity for me as I found that my new organisation is the best place to do a PhD in such a challenging topic. So I utilised my second-time fellowship of CSIR to register PhD on a part-time basis with due permission from my employer.
With solutions in mind, I started thinking backwards searching for a methodology with scientific backing. One thing I was very clear that the human development leading to happiness and welfare of people of today and tomorrow is the ultimate aim of any development exercise more so when the population is having an increasing trend while we have only one earth. Searching around for the supporting literature I found that the human development index of UNDP is the best indicator of ‘output’.
The title of the thesis was decided in the initial stage itself which is ‘Environmentally-efficient development management system ‘ without even realising that I could finally come out with the term the ‘Environmental Efficiency’, the most powerful indicator useful to the humanity. Since ‘efficiency’ denotes output by input, I was searching around for a comprehensive indicator for the total input to the system which combines energy and land as I found difficult to integrate them with my knowledge. I came across the word ‘ecological footprint’ and elaborate study on the topic revealed that it is the best indicator to combine land and energy consumption to a single platform. I am thankful to WWF to publish the various ‘living planet reports’ in which the research by Dr Mathis Wackernagel of Global Footprint Network are included.
Having a research-oriented mind I diligently spent my office hours in the best possible manner in delivering my duties there. Many of the projects and programs handled by me were related to the novel cause of global warming. Monitoring the Comprehensive Transport Study conducted by M/s RITES, Urban Indicator study of UNCHS, Sustainable Project identification for the Global Environment Facility (GEF), Local Urban Observatory etc are only some which gave me insight to expand my concepts. It was indeed a win-win situation for my career as well as my organisation.
While balancing my family responsibilities and office work it took long ten years to me to finalise my thesis dissertation as I used only my spare time for this novel cause. My enrolment for a short term course in an NGO contributed to my PhD program as I learned useful software systems and got access to useful data with which I could succeed in preparing the ‘Environmental Efficiency Map’ of my study area using proxy indicators.
I was awarded a PhD in social science by my university where I enrolled as a part-time student. My guide, my viva-voce chairman and my jury member, all encouraged me to continue my research. I also got permission from my organisation to conduct independent programs to propagate this novel concept of environmental efficiency as it is contributing to national development.
As advised by my well-wishers, I, with my life partner (who is an energy expert ), registered a Public Trust for dedicated work in this line. It was on the 2nd day of February 2013 which coincided with my daughter’s twenty-second birthday. This is to immortalise the theory of Environmental Efficiency. I involved my family to do voluntary work for this cause. The logo of the trust is designed by my son, which carries its content at a glance.
I started talking in different platforms on this topic. The presentations available in social media are only some. Some were conducted in my official capacity and some at personal capacity in the name of the trust. Day in and day out I started thinking on how to go ahead as I found there were so many obstacles. My policy of righteousness at times created many hindrances to move ahead. Also as I was working in a non-academic institution I was virtually moving against the wave to attain my goals.
As I had immense bright ideas to expand my theories, I attended a post-graduate diploma program in the related topic in a world-famous institute that too on a self-funding basis by availing personal leave. The amount I got on the maturity of my life insurance premium for 25 years was also utilised fo remit the fee of the International Institution. I shared all my published materials to them. Also, I shared to the international audience a methodology, clicked in my brain on the spot, for ranking of the city’s performance based on environmental efficiency theory. Though my ideas were lauded during presentations and discussions there, I could not succeed in collaborating with them.
I needed to get my intellectual property protected and I appointed a patent consultant. Indian Patent application is filed subsequently. I prepared project reports contributing to my theory of Environmental Efficiency for my organisation which are pending at government for clearance. Kochi Hygeia Valley- the healthy city project, Project for combating urban flooding and drought, NMT oriented community development which included a 6.5 km cycle track and walkway etc are only some among them.
I did take some cooling days after my superannuation from my organisation as I had to struggle a lot due to some untoward situation in my office. I was duly rescued by the Justicia. Now I resumed my journey with the theory of Environmental Efficiency and a dedicated office is set up for the purpose. I have umpteen number of ideas to develop it further and I am sure that I have to go miles and miles until it is taken over by the world to attain sustainable earth. Striving to attain my goal itself gives me pleasure. I believe this is the biggest charity to the world. I keep my fingers crossed.
Dr May Mathew
JPEG image by Miss Jeenlee Anto, Postgraduate Planning Intern