In New York City, dozens of protesters gathered outside Governor Andrew Cuomo’s offices Wednesday to oppose a bailout of New York’s aging nuclear power plants that could cost ratepayers up to $7.6 billion over the next 12 years. Bruce Rosen of the group United for Action says New York should instead turn to clean energy sources like solar and wind to meet its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The New York protest came as a draft budget document seen by the website Axios reveals the Trump administration hopes to slash the Energy Department’s renewable and energy efficiency program by nearly 70 percent.
The Centre’s claim that people “can’t have absolute right over one’s body” further reinstated its absolute faith in biometric technology. Its latest defense in favour of collecting biometrics for Aadhaar came during the hearing of three petitions challenging constitutional validity of a change in law that compels people to link Aadhaar with PAN card.
Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi argued that the government was entitled to have details about a person’s identity if it was providing facilities. But one person’s entitlement could mean disenfranchisement for others.
While Rohatgi argues that recent protests over “so-called privacy and bodily intrusion” are “bogus”, others seem to be asking whether privacy is indeed a fundamental right.
Linking right to privacy with Article 21
The Article 21 of the Constitution says, “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to a procedure established by law.”
In 1994, the Supreme Court, for the first time, directly linked the right to privacy to Article 21 of the Constitution and stated: “The right to privacy is implicit in the right to life and liberty guaranteed to the citizens of this country by Article 21. It is a “right to be let alone”. A citizen has a right to safeguard the privacy of his own, his family, marriage, procreation, motherhood, child bearing and education among other matters. None can publish anything concerning the above matters without his consent whether truthful or otherwise and whether laudatory or critical. If he does so, he would be violating the right to privacy of the person concerned and would be liable in an action for damages.”
But the Centre has dismissed any existence of ‘absolute right’, which, in legal parlance, refers to those rights that cannot be curtailed in any way. They cannot be reduced or amended. Just like the right to free movement, speech and expression—which can be curtailed based on an executive order—the right to privacy is also limited.
However, does that give government an absolute right to force citizens into sharing their DNA details?
According to Rohatgi the right over one’s body was not absolute as law prohibits people from committing suicide and women from terminating pregnancy at an advanced stage. He also referred to the rule wherein people are required to allow police to measure their breath for alcohol content in drunken driving cases.
Individual’s rights vs State’s actions
While affirming that the examples given by Rohatgi were not appropriate as the case is related to taxation law and not with offence, it stated that a balance had to be maintained between an individual’s right and the state’s actions. “The State has the duty to maintain the liberty of an individual. The State has, more importantly, the obligation to maintain the dignity of an individual. Dignity is an individual right,” said Justice Sikri.
There have been incidents (or some would like to call it exceptions) in the past where individuals were allowed to exercise ‘absolute right’ over their body. The ruling in the Aruna Shanbaug case, upholding the validity of euthanasia, was one of them.
According to senior counsel Shyam Divan, who appeared for the petitioners, “The Constitution of India is not a charter of servitude” as it protects the sovereign power of the people and places limitations on government control. Stating that the Constitution provides for the individual’s autonomy over his or her body, Divan added that it was for the individuals to decide “whether they should part with something as intimate and personal as biometric data for any purpose”.
Earlier Divan had argued that idea of property included all legal rights. “A man’s primary property is his own person,” he said, drawing from Thomas Hobbbes and John Locke—17th-century philosophers who contributed to the concept of individual rights. The Article 21, he asserted, protects the individual’s dominion over his or her body and therefore, the new income tax law went against Article 21.
What makes Aadhaar unique is exactly what makes people anxious— fingerprints and iris impressions. All of this is done on the basis of a questionable assumption that there are parts of human body that do not age, wither and decay with the passage of time.
Moreover, there’s no legislation that empowers an individual to appeal in case his rights are affected. According to the Aadhaar Act, any legal action against misuse or theft of Aadhaar data can only be initiated by UIDAI. Hence, citizens are left with no legal recourse, creating an opportunity misuse of the database.
In three short months during monsoon season, India historically receives 75 percent of their annual precipitation. Imagine awaiting this promised, bountiful rainfall and receiving 14 percent less than average. This is what happened in 2015 – and it compounded decades of drought. India is suffering a water scarcity crisis but, until recently, most people believed that over pumping groundwater was the number one reason behind it. Now, a new study published by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Gandhinagar in Nature Geoscience, shows that variable monsoon precipitation, linked to climate change, is likely the key reason for declining levels of groundwater.
India’s rainfall has decreased since the 1950s. When rainfall decreases, so does the water table. By observing climate patterns and well depths, researchers found that groundwater storage dropped in northern India about two centimeters per year between 2002 and 2013. Today, groundwater irrigates over half of India’s crops, but aquifer levels are falling, threatening both water and food security.
India’s groundwater problem is detectable from space. From 2002-2013, a satellite from NASA mapped aquifers around the world. The Gravity Recovery Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite detects the Earth’s mass below it and uses this data to measure groundwater pumping. GRACE reported that 54 percent of 4,000 measured groundwater wells are declining, some dropping by more than three feet per year.
A warming world has made India’s monsoon season less predictable. During the past century, the Earth warmed 1.5 degrees, largely due to humans’ unprecedented burning of fossil fuels. What appears to be a small change in temperature is causing drastic upheavals in natural patterns. Increased atmospheric temperatures are changing wind currents and causing more frequent and intense storms. In some cases, this is also redistributing rain and intensifying drought.
In India, warmer air over the Indian Ocean has altered the path of monsoons – leaving Indian farmers high and dry the past two years in a row.
There is no singular definition for water scarcity that takes into account the availability, accessibility, and quality of potable water. However, the Falkenmark Indicator (FI) is a popular tool that measures water runoff and population to determine levels of water stress. According to the FI, a country is considered ‘water scarce’ when they have less than 1,000 cubic meters of usable water per person annually. In 2015, analysis using FI categorized India as having ‘absolute scarcity’, with less than 500 cubic meters of water per person annually.
So little water affects security. Last September, protesters set 56 busses on fire in Bengaluru when the Supreme Court ordered that Karnataka must release more water from Cauvery Dam to be used by a bordering state. Retrofitted oil trains deliver millions of liters of water to Lature, a district east of Mumbai. Madhya Pradesh, a state in Central India, deployed armed guards to protect one of its reservoirs after farmers from a neighboring state attempted to steal water last year.
Farmers are on the frontlines of the water crisis with India seeing a serious uptick in farmer suicides. Some estimates put the number of related suicides at 500 in 2015, but the central government only publicly acknowledges that 13 farmers’ suicides were related to water shortages. According to the Government of India, 52 percent of agricultural households were in debt in 2014. Heavy debts have resulted in an exodus of farmers, who are now seeking daily labor in large cities.
“Farmers invest their own borrowed money for sinking bore wells to develop agriculture,” said Secretary R.H. Sawkar of the Secretary, Geological Society of India (GSI). Bore wells are similar to tube wells, long shafts that are drilled into the earth. Electric pumps are used to draw the groundwater through the tube to the surface. Most rural farmers pay a flat fee for unlimited electricity to pump from tube wells, leading to over-pumping.
But farmers don’t have the money, tools, or know-how to drill deeper wells that can access sinking water tables. This creates a serious dilemma in areas where levels drop by almost a meter per year.
“Only rich farmers can effectively pump groundwater from deep aquifers and the urban rich can buy extra water for their luxuries like car washing, [maintaining] lawns near their residence and [using] bottled water for drinking purpose,” said Sawkar.
There are over 20 million tubewells in India today, a technology that enabled the Green Revolution in India. The Green Revolution was a global shift in agricultural production, beginning in the 1930s; it mechanized farming for developing nations and utilized new technologies, like pesticides and genetically modified crops, to feed a booming population. Developing countries could suddenly grow more food on the same amount of land.
When India gained independence in 1947 the central government – along with the Rockefeller and Ford foundations –brought the Green Revolution to India. This meant cultivation of genetically adapted, high-yielding seeds, a deluge of fertilizers, and flood irrigation. Tube-wells proved to be the best way to irrigate more land, since they reached untapped groundwater. But today, annual groundwater pumping removes at least 24 times what was consumed in the 1950s.
“India also inherited Britain’s water policies that were based on water abundance. Any landowner had the right to pump as much groundwater as they wanted… India doubled ag[riculture] productivity between 1972 and 1992 under this system,” said Trevor Birkenholtz, political ecologist at the University of Illinois Urbana-Chapmaign. “In short, there was no groundwater law.”
Laissez-faire pumping is today reflected in the fact that farmers pay a single flat fee for electricity to power tubewell pumps.
The same revolution that once sustained India’s growing population is partly to blame for the cracked and barren landscape that farmers try to cultivate today. According to the World Bank, India’s population tripled since the 1960s, hitting 1.3 billion in 2015. As India continues to battle climate change and overpumping, an equitable distribution for groundwater, if it ever comes, will take considerable intervention.
“This requires strong political will to address this issue, which is lacking,” Sawker said.
Groundwater law and rulemaking falls under the purview of individual states in India. Researchers say that the central government will have a difficult time overcoming this decentralized system, if they wish to establish national water laws. To date very few politicians have fought to limit water pumping.
“No politician wants to be the one that tells farmers – who vote at rates upwards of 85 percent – that they can no longer pump groundwater at current rates,” said Birkenholtz.
It’s more likely that authorities will mandate drip irrigation or restrict the supply of electricity, perhaps through metering, to limit pumping. Using drip irrigation and gaining “more crop per drop” is an efficient alternative to flood irrigation.
Unfortunately, groundwater pumping is only half of the problem. Taking on climate change is equally important in solving India’s water scarcity. Climate change weakens monsoons, groundwater fails to recharge, wells run dry, and families go without water. The future of India’s water security, in part, rests on international agreements to combat climate change like the United Nations Paris Agreement.
“Weather is uncertain by nature, and the impacts of climate change are extremely difficult to predict at a regional level,” explained Wada. “But our research suggests that we must focus more attention on this side of the equation if we want to sustainably manage water resources for the future.”
Today, India accounts for 4.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Under the Paris Agreement, the country has committed to generating at least 40 percent of its electricity from renewable sources and decreasing carbon emission intensity related to GDP by 33-35 percent by 2030. This means India’s emissions will likely rise, depending on the level of its economic growth.
Illegal or not, these experiments will likely continue in secret. Incidentally, it is well known that Facebook was funded by the CIA’s “not for profit” venture capital firm In-Q-Tel leading many to believe it’s a data collection hub for the U.S. government.
On January 19, 1861, runaway slave Lucy Bagby Johnson, 18, was arrested in Cleveland by US federal marshals in the company of her owner, a wealthy Virginia slave owner named William Goshorn. Johnson had escaped several months earlier, making her way to Ohio, where she gained employment as a domestic. Arrested and taken to and from prison past crowds of protesters, Johnson was prosecuted under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, a law that prevented her from testifying on her own behalf. She was ultimately placed on a train and sent south across the Mason-Dixon line that separated “slave” and “free” states, and back into bondage in Virginia.
On February 8, 2017, Guadalupe García de Rayos, an undocumented worker living in Arizona, was detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials during a routine visit to ICE’s Phoenix office. Arrested by authorities acting under President Donald Trump’s new anti-immigrant executive orders, García de Rayos, a mother of two teenagers and a US resident since 1996, was spirited away for deportation past hundreds of protesters, among them her friends and family. Like Johnson 156 years earlier, she had no recourse to the courts.
History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes, or so the saying goes. Several commenters, among them Columbia University historian Eric Foner, have noted similarities between the Fugitive Slave Act, which was a major cause of the American Civil War (1861-1865), and Trump’s January 25 executive orders entitled “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements” and “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.”
The infamous Fugitive Slave Act, or the “bloodhound law” as the abolitionists called it, enlisted local police in the North as agents of the slave owners by imposing a $1,000 penalty on any law enforcement official who did not arrest an alleged runaway slave, based on as little as an affidavit of ownership from a Southern court. The law precluded the arrested individual, now bound for deportation to slavery, from having a jury trial or being able to testify on his or her own behalf in court. Its specific intent was to prevent cities and towns in northern states from providing sanctuary to runaway slaves and absorbing them into the growing wage-earning working class.
The law made Canada the ultimate destination for most runaway slaves, via the “Underground Railroad”—the system of safe houses and hiding places slaves used to escape bounty hunters, bloodhounds and federal marshals. In Canada, part of the British Empire, laws and court rulings had followed the famous Somerset decision of 1772 in which Lord Mansfield held that in England there “was too pure an air for slaves to breathe in.”
Even more consequentially, attempts to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act increasingly angered masses of people in the North, leading many to believe in the existence of a “Slave Power conspiracy” that was intent on expanding slavery throughout the union.
Like the Fugitive Slave Act, Trump’s executive orders target so-called “sanctuary cities,” where local authorities extend a modicum of social services to undocumented workers and their children, or turn a blind eye to their presence. Like their antebellum precursor, Trump’s orders dragoon local authorities into the apprehension of immigrants, threaten punishment to anyone who would assist immigrants, and deny the apprehended due process.
They have created a new Underground Railroad, with many immigrants attempting to traverse the US in the hope of finding sanctuary in Canada. And, like the Fugitive Slave Act, Trump’s orders have been met with angry protests across the US. The undocumented worker, as with the escaped slave 160 years ago, is the object of a growing sentiment of solidarity.
As striking as the parallels between the Fugitive Slave Act and Trump’s anti-immigrant orders may be, there is also a direct link overlooked by Foner and other commentators. Though separated by 167 years, both are outcomes of the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848.
The Fugitive Slave Act emerged directly out of that predatory war, which was provoked by the Democratic administration of James K. Polk as a means of tamping down the growing controversy over slavery beneath a wave of national patriotism—and adding vast new territories for slavery’s expansion. The stage for war was set by immigration—but at that time, by slaveholding Americans following the expansion of the cotton economy westward and into the province of Tejasin Mexico, where slavery had been illegal since 1829. The central aim of the Anglo-Texan plantation elite, in declaring independence from Mexico in 1836 and then conspiring to join the US, was to secure and expand slave-based cotton production.
Polk’s war looked to have been a smashing success. The American military routed its weaker Mexican rival, occupying Mexico City in September 1847. In the subsequent Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the United States took one-third of Mexico’s territory, forcing Mexican recognition of the annexation of Texas, New Mexico and part of Oklahoma, and ceding what are today the states of California, Arizona and Nevada, as well as parts of Colorado and Wyoming.
A great wave of flag-waving patriotism swept the country, as Democrats and Whigs set aside their differences to celebrate “military glory—that attractive rainbow that rises in showers of blood,” as the young congressman Abraham Lincoln, an opponent of the war, put it. Disgusted, Lincoln left politics and returned to his Illinois law practice.
The writer Henry David Thoreau was put in prison for refusing to pay taxes in protest against the war. “If the alternative is to keep all just men in prison, or give up war and slavery, the State will not hesitate which to choose,” Thoreau said.
But some observers understood the predatory war would solve nothing. “Mexico will poison us,” Thoreau’s friend Ralph Waldo Emerson presciently warned.
History teaches again and again that wars of aggression have outcomes their plotters fail to predict. Waged to preserve slavery indefinitely, the Mexican-American War instead set into motion a series of events that led in 15 years to its destruction. In the short term, the southern elite’s dream of expanding its slave empire to California was thwarted by the discovery of gold there in 1848, just one week before the signing of Guadalupe Hidalgo. California quickly drew tens of thousands of prospectors, small businessmen and incipient industrialists who demanded “free labor” in the Golden State. It entered the union as a free state in 1850.
Shocked at the loss of California—and the betrayal by northern Democrats led by David Wilmot of Pennsylvania, who had attempted, unsuccessfully, to block slavery from all territories taken from Mexico—the Southern elite demanded redress. This they were given with the Fugitive Slave Act, part of the Compromise of 1850, authored by Henry Clay (1777-1852). Bowing before accomplished fact, California, and with it the agricultural bonanza promised by its Mediterranean climate and fertile valleys, would be a free state. In exchange, the South was given an aggressive new Fugitive Slave Act along with “popular sovereignty”—the possibility that slavery could be established in any new territory based on the vote of the free white settler population.
None of this served to appease the South or to defuse the “irrepressible conflict.” Just the opposite. Popular sovereignty ultimately brought a dress rehearsal for war in the form of “Bleeding Kansas,” as the territory filled up with armed free-staters such as abolitionist John Brown (1800-1859), who faced off against the pro-slavery guerrilla bands organized in neighboring Missouri. As for the Fugitive Slave Act, it served only to radicalize Northern public opinion against “the Slave Power.”
Again and again, Northerners poured out into the streets to defend their neighbors and coworkers targeted for extradition to slavery. One example was the rescue of Joshua Glover in Milwaukee in 1854 by a crowd of some 5,000 people. In this way, the Fugitive Slave Act only hastened the Second American Revolution.
The other outcome of the Mexican-American War has been incubating in American history for a much longer time. The new border imposed through Guadalupe Hidalgo attempted to divide in two that which would prove, in the long run, impossible to keep separate: the economy and the people of the southwestern portion of North America.
The treaty left behind tens of thousands of Mexican citizens in the new American states. From the 1850s until the last several decades, Mexicans could, and did, move back and forth across the border with relative ease. Their migration was encouraged in the 1920s after the US effectively prohibited mass European immigration with the National Origins Act of 1924, which imposed no quota on Mexican immigrants.
Then, in the depths of the Great Depression, the Democratic Party administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt targeted Mexicans for deportation and repatriation, including many who were US-born. This was reversed in World War II with the Bracero Program, which over the next 25 years brought several hundred thousand Mexicans to the US as low-paid and highly-exploited “guest-workers.”
The end of the Bracero Program in 1964, combined with the dispossession of the massive Mexican peasantry owing to the “Green Revolution” organized by US banks and agribusiness in collusion with the Mexican elite, fueled a large-scale labor migration. Driven from the land, their subsistence agriculture replaced by cash-crop agricultural export industries, the Mexican and Central American peasantry has been incorporated, in all but name, into the American working class.
Nowhere is the contradiction between nation-state and global economy more clear than on the US-Mexico border. California and Texas, the big prizes taken from Mexico in the 1840s, are today the two most populous American states. Were they independent, they would be the world’s sixth and 10th largest economies, respectively, each by itself larger than the Mexican economy with which they conduct several hundred billion dollars in trade.
Yet, according to a 2012 estimate, each state’s population is 38.2 percent “Hispanic”—a figure that is growing rapidly. From the border, the Mexican and Central American migrants have spread across the US, living and working side by side with US-born workers. Outside of Los Angeles, the largest Mexican-American population is found in Chicago, where some 700,000 reside.
This raises one other telling parallel between the Fugitive Slave Act and Trump’s orders. Both are desperate bids to defend a border against disruptive social and political changes—that is, to stop the progressive advance of history.
The Southern elite had learned that “in the relation between the two races,” as the pro-slavery politician John C. Calhoun phrased it, wherever slaves interacted with free workers, black or white, slavery was undermined. It was not accidental that Frederick Douglass learned to read and write and came to know of the North, freedom and abolitionism by living side-by-side as a rented slave with working class boys and men in Baltimore. As the late C. Vann Woodward noted, “[T]he encouragement that city conditions gave to interracial contact, familiar association and intimacy… corroded the master’s authority, diminished his control, and blurred the line between freedom and bondage.”
In the decades before the Civil War, the Democratic Party attempted to arrest these developments by establishing the first segregation laws in the South and in the North, imposing the Fugitive Slave Act, and whipping up racism by suggesting that freed slaves would take the jobs of workers, drive down their wages and rape white women—the very rhetoric aped by Trump and his fascist supporters today.
The failure of these politics, manifested in the election of Lincoln in 1860, required more desperately reactionary measures. Civil War historian James McPherson has described the Southern secession that year as a “preemptive counterrevolution.”
He writes that “rather than trying to restore the old order, a preemptive counterrevolution strikes first to protect the status quo before the revolutionary threat can materialize.” Yet the slaveocracy’s attempt to roll back the wheel of history, which can be traced back to the Fugitive Slave Act, resulted in its destruction. “Seldom in history has a counterrevolution provoked the very revolution it sought to preempt,” McPherson concludes.
Today, powerful historical forces—above all, the growing social power and political consciousness of the working class—threatens America’s decadent oligarchy, personified in Trump and his ultra-right personnel, who are quite conscious that time is working against them. Michael Anton, director of strategic communications for the US National Security Council, last year warned in his pseudonymously published Flight 93 Election that “the ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners with no tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty means that the electorate grows more left, more Democratic, less Republican, less republican, and less traditionally American with every cycle.”
Trump’s anti-immigrant measures, like the Fugitive Slave Act, are an attempt to strike out against history and prevent a gathering revolutionary threat. They will prove no more successful.
The big bad wolf will come. This is what has dictated global climate change narrative for so long. The world has tiptoed around actions that need to be taken at a certain speed and scale to curtail emissions; global agreements have been bent out of shape to appease climate deniers. And in Paris, the world literally scraped the bottom of the barrel to tie up a weak and unambitious agreement to control climate change. All this, because it believed that doing anything more would get the opposition, particularly in the US, riled up.
As a result, the US has made the multilateral world change rules; reconfigure agreements, mostly to reduce it to the lowest common denominator. Then when the world has stitched together a weak and worthless deal, the US has walked out of it. All this while, its powerful civil society and media has hammered home the point that the world needs to be accommodating and pragmatic. “Our Congress will not accept” or, worse, “Republicans will come” has been the common refrain.
This happened in 1992, when in Rio, after much “accommodation” the agreement to combat climate change was whittled down; targets were removed; there was no agreed action. All this was done to bring the US on board. But it walked out. Then came the Kyoto Protocol, the first and only framework for action to reduce emissions. Here again, in December 1997, when climate change proponents Bill Clinton and Al Gore were in office, the agreement was reduced to nothingness—the compliance clause was removed, cheap emission reduction added and loopholes included. All to bring the US on board. Once again, they rejected it.
Then came Barack Obama and his welcome commitment to climate change actions. But what did the US do? It made the world completely rewrite the climate agreement so that the targets are based on voluntary action, not science and the contribution of each country. Each country is allowed to set targets, based on what they can do and by when. It has led to weak action, which will not keep the planet temperature rise below 2°C, forget the guardrail of 1.5°C. This was done to please the Americans who said they would never sign a global agreement which binds them to actions or targets. Paris, fatally and fundamentally, erased the historical responsibility of countries and reduced equity to insignificance.
At all times we have censored the truth of the urgency of climate change; or the need for effective and drastic action by the more powerful and rich countries; or the need to curtail emissions by curtailing or changing lifestyles so that efficiency gains are not lost because of more consumption. The world has restrained its language so that it could get the participation of the most unwilling—the proverbial, and now the real, big bad wolf.
Now that the big bad wolf has come to power, what will the world do?
There is no doubt that Donald Trump is of another shade of this grey. He denies that climate change is happening. He is also certain that the US needs to dig more coal; build more power plants and do everything to ramp up production, which will increase greenhouse gas emissions.
What do we do now? This is the zillion dollar question. Climate change is happening as seen in extreme weather events. It is impacting the poorest in the world, the ones who have least contributed to the stock of emissions in the atmosphere. Will the world now call a spade a spade? Or will it engage in more meaningless censorship so that it woos the undesirable and, in my belief, unchangeable?
I cannot speak for the US civil society, which seems to relish its beltway games. But I do know that we have no option but to push for greater attention and action on climate change. Our priority in India is to reinvent growth without pollution: find ways to urbanise without first investing in private transport systems and then investing in cleaning up the air; or find ways to provide the energy-poor with clean power without first investing in electricity grids that do not reach them. These are our imperatives. Countries like India have the opportunity to do growth differently and we must.
But it is also a fact that the coming of Trump will make it harder for all environmentalists, particularly those working in the emerging countries of the South, to argue that we must stand different. The protectionist agenda will push against globalisation and encourage all to dig deeper and harder to get to the last lump of coal to burn. Forget the climate change crisis. It is tomorrow’s problem.
It is also clear that the coming of Trump will also stop us from scaring ourselves into restraint and self-censorship. The big bad wolf is not coming; it is here. The only way ahead is to confront the reality that the world is getting warmer and the future more insecure and catastrophic. Only then can we hope to change our future.