Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Single Pane of Glass

By Mark W. Danielson

On a recent visit to Mumbai, India, reality struck like a tsunami. My airport hotel had the best security I’ve seen. Our taxi’s undercarriage was searched with mirrors before being allowed to approach the hotel, our baggage was scanned before going inside, we walked through a metal detector, and our room keys were required to operate the elevator. Two additional locks inside my room ensured no uninvited guests could enter.

Inside my room, red apples were stacked in a bowl, bottled water was available, lavish furnishings were suitable for any dignitary. From my window, I viewed the new terminal that’s under construction, the control tower, and an elevated road or railroad that was also under construction. But the pleasantries of my room could not hide the poverty outside. Within a mile of my hotel, thousands of squatters live in shacks constructed of whatever materials they can find. Bordering the airport’s taxiways, children playing in dumps could hurl a rock and hit my aircraft. The streets are filthy. Large feral dogs lie in the shade. The wild monkeys probably kill the smaller dogs.

During the course of one evening, five male squatters set up camp directly under my window. A single pane of glass now separated the haves from the have-nots. But before passing judgment, realize that in India, this is a way of life. There has always been a caste system here. India’s gross national product continues to grow, their airport and transportation improvements evidence of that, but in spite of this, poverty remains high. Compare this to China, which has in three decades transformed itself into a vibrant society with clean paved streets, shiny personal cars, bright casual dress, and a booming economy. But China’s woes are on the horizon. Their emerging middle class is demanding more money so global industry leaders are already seeking cheaper labor in Africa. Considering Africa’s politics and instability, it is unlikely that any of its countries will reinvent itself like China. Equate North to South Korea and you will understand.

When Westerners see such disparity, their first inclination is to “fix” it – to right the wrongs in our world. But this logic is flawed because Earth cannot sustain the level of standard that developed countries currently enjoy. The expanded need for resources among developing countries is currently pushing our planet over the edge.  

While it is true that a single glass pane separates classes, rather than criticize India for its inequities, we are better doing all we can to preserve Earth’s resources and pressure developing countries to clean up their environment. The air quality in Asia, India, and much of its surrounding countries is horrendous because turning out products is more important than pollution control. Western countries don’t see much of this, but it truly affects us all, one way or another. Earth Day was April 22nd, and yet few noticed. If we think of every day as Earth Day, everyone, regardless of economic class or social status, will benefit.

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