When we do manual work and look after other living things, when we live and die as joyous workers using only our hands and bodies to engage with all other living things around us, we contribute to the ecological wealth of which all living things are a part.
Around half of most plant material is carbon. Thus, by growing agricultural products we are sequestering the carbon dioxide being emitted by polluters using fossil fuels. When we use commercial energy, we are cranking the global heat machine. Most Biharis use just a few litres of diesel a year. If our emissions are say half a tonne of carbon dioxide from burning diesel or kerosene, our sequestration is around at least one tonne from growing two tonnes of agricultural product in our field.
The difference between an average Bihari's low emissions from burning fossil fuels and her high production of plant material is her net contribution to reducing the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Most Biharis are the lungs of the planet.
The best kind of physical work involves building up soil, growing food, and supporting the natural cycle of carbon sequestration and release in natural forests and other natural ecosystems of which we are a part. It involves, for example, swimming in lakes and catching fish. it is more than possible to support 10 people on a hectare of land if the money system supports us to do so.
In the interest of human survival and the survival of the remaining plants and animals, the money system must be reorganised to reward human work and penalise consumption of commercial energy.
Bihar with its huge generation of biomass every year is part of the lungs of the planet even today, contributing to carbon sequestration rather than carbon dioxide emissions. Long may it remain this way, at an economically more prosperous level once the world economy is revamped.
Because of their ecologically sustainable lifestyle Biharis are ideally placed morally to make these arguments at the national and international level.
The argument goes like this:
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the sum total of the money created in a national economy. Domestic here means national as opposed to world. The trouble is that the other domestic sector which is the labour done in households and in family farming is not counted or not properly counted let alone rewarded in capitalism, and not measured properly in conventional GDP measures.
This is because banks do not lend a woman money for bringing up her child, the ideology being that the domestic sphere is regulated by the contract between man and woman in marriage, and that the division of labour in the household is a matter of gender division of labour or in progressive households any other agreed division of labour between man and woman or two men or two women or whatever or between the generations, that gets the jobs of cleaning, cooking and child rearing done.
Similarly, an agricultural labourer is still often paid in kind by landlords, and their remuneration falls through the crevices of the columns of the statisticians.
In the upper class, the salaries of the householders are high enough to hire male and female wage labourers for the domestic chores. Landlords hire labourers. These inequalities are the result of the tendency towards inequality built into the capitalist economy that I am describing here.
To compare the economics of manual labour of domestic labour in the home and manual agricultural labour on the land, - which together constitute the care economy for society and the earth -, with the idealised capitalist form of wage labour at a computer or in a factory in the formal economy, we may use the following facts.
A human being consumes 2500 kilocalories of energy a day from plant and animal matter. Expressed in Watts for an easy comparison with electricity for example, it allows a person to do 2500 kilocalories/0.860 kilocalories = 2907 Wh of work per day. As there are 24 hours a day a living breathing person thus has the capacity of 121 Watt. Living can mean such things as consuming or producing information from or for the internet, operating weapons of mass destruction, or it can be digging a field, climbing a tree, making love, or sleeping. The work can be done using machines run on commercial energy, or it can be the manual work of looking after children, families, or natural forests that live and grow in ecosystems.
In a way, one can say it amazing that a human being who is such a complex and powerful organism is expending not much more energy than two of those old fashioned incandescent light bulbs.
The kind of work done by humans if it does not involve the application of labour to machines run on commercial energy, is much more likely to contribute to a social system that contributes to balanced carbon cycles of sequestration and release of carbon dioxide. Even if in the long run there may be ecological degradation, it takes much longer to degrade an ecosystem if the group has only the physical work of its members at its disposal. Unlike capitalist production based on herding workers into machine rooms, it takes much skill and love and patience to create and maintain the culture that is based on mutually supportive individuals based on manual work in a productive and non-destructive metabolism with nature.
Compared to the labour of a person, a litre of diesel has an energy value of 16700 kilocalories. Thus, a litre of diesel mined from the earth displaces the work of 16700 kilocalories /2500 kilocalories = 6.67-person days. Now let us say that in capitalism a litre of diesel is valued at around Rs 60, or let us say one Swiss Frank / United States Dollar / European Euro / UK Pound. So, if a capitalist has to pay more than 1 SFr / 6.67 = 15 cents/10 Indian Rupees for a day of the work of a person, she is better off paying a machine that runs on diesel to get the work done.
But though the diesel may be cheaper than the labourer, the climate change impact is worse: 1 litre of diesel when burnt emits 2.6 kg of carbon dioxide. Combined with the damage to flora and fauna at the place where fossil fuels are extracted, the damage to ecology of mining and burning coal and petroleum products has resulted in an average global temperature rise on earth of 1.63 degrees Celsius since the pre-industrial date of 1750.
Many people are pessimistically calculating that because of the adverse combinations of all parameters and combined with feedback factors, the temperature rise from burning fossil fuels may be ten degree Celsius by 2026. Others disagree, with discussions focused on the contribution of each of the various elements causing temperature rise directly and due to feedback effects. The point however, is that it is the money system created by banks, and by the governments that collude with them, that prefers to use commercial energy rather than human beings for production, that is responsible for this entire mess.
In capitalism, human labour is a reserve army for commercial energy whereas if we want to reverse climate change we have to have an economy that is precisely the other way round: if we were paid Rs 500 per day for manual work in the care economy, and a litre of diesel were to cost at least 6.67 times more, and other commercial energy similarly raised to price levels that take into account their negative impact on the atmosphere, then the economy will be pushing us to employ each other and work and trade with each other through manual work, rather than using diesel and other forms of commercial energy; and if we are educated on how to do regenerative agriculture based on no tillage, integrating cover crops and diversifying the choice of crops and species on the field, the turnaround from destruction to regeneration in those areas with degraded landscapes can happen in two years.
Not enough renewable energy technologies can be manufactured with renewable energy to replace the commercial energy that the rich in the West use that would let them continue exploiting the rest of the world. And in any case, there is overwhelming evidence that renewable energy is simply being used not only for exploiting the developing world but to produce products not really needed for human consumption and that at the same time they again cause the emission of carbon dioxide when produced, distributed and used.
No man-made energy conversion system, whether renewable energy technology, fossil fuels or nuclear energy can do the work of ecological processes which function as part of the natural ecology that human beings are intended for.
We therefore see that the fact that domestic work and labour for rewards in kind in agriculture is not counted in GDP is triply dangerous: first, it encourages men and women to go out to work in the outside economy (outside the home) where money is created by banks for industry, infrastructure and IT based jobs that all use commercial energy whether fossil fuels or renewable energy thus causing climate change. Secondly if women and men who are biologically for part of their lives meant to rear children, are not paid for this work, the household becomes a sphere of conflict instead of socially recognised place of production and reproduction of society and ecology. And thirdly it prevents the economy from creating GDP in the only sector that is based on equality fraternity and justice: the care economy of home, agriculture and forests, in which everyone is equally dependent on their own manual labour and thus using a resource we all recognise as having in common equally.
If the government creates GDP by paying manual labourers in the care economy, we can have a productive economy that contributes to climate change mitigation and social harmony, instead of causing climate destruction and aggression against women who are in the present scenario made out by many men to be dependent and non-productive, and so subject to violence.
To make a start in the new direction, MGNREGA should also be paid to women and men doing household chores. And all Biharis who sequester carbon dioxide should be making the argument that those who are the lungs of the planet should be rewarded by the economic system, not penalised.
Anandi Sharan was born in Switzerland, lives in Bangalore, and worked in Araria District in 2016. She mainly writes about India and how we need a better money policy to help agricultural labourers and women especially to adapt to man-made climate change.