Sunday, April 15, 2007

Do we really have the right to use our own resources

"We have no authority to use more than what is required at minimum cost be it energy, materials, or money", Laurie Baker

The renowned architect and humanist Laurie Baker passed away recently. His life story has been covered in most of the news magazines that come out in India. This was one sentence that struck me most. The whole low-cost philosophy of the man can be summarized in the above sentence.

The statement applies not only to architecture and building but to almost all walks of life. These days the term affordability is being redefined every day. With salary levels going higher and higher, more things are becoming affordable for the average educated and decently employed person. The question however is, should somebody go for something just because he/she can afford to? The answer Laurie Baker gives is a definite NO.

The world has only a fixed absolute amount of resources. Be it energy, natural resources, natural products, we have only a finite total amount. Additionally some of the resources that are replenished by nature - example trees - are generated at some finite rate which limits the rate of our usage of such resources. All resources have a cost in procuring and delivering to the end user. However the costs normally does not include the cost incurred by the Natural System in generating the resource. A simple example is paper. The cost given by the end user for the paper reflects only the cost in cutting down the tree, transporting it, creating the paper and transporting it. The cost incurred by nature in growing the tree is discounted. The further cost incurred by nature when the tree is cut down is also discounted.

The world economy is governed by market forces. Unfortunately mother nature has no say in the market economy and her debit columns remain blank. People draw from it but don't pay the cost. It is for this reason that the great man said that people should restrain themselves from over-consumption just because they can afford to do so. It should be remembered that the affordability is most probably a result of the skewed cost structure. So the safest rule of thumb when a decision has to be made regarding a purchase is - can you do without it, if not then what is the minimum quantity that you would want to meet your needs.

This philosophy can be seen in the creations of Laurie Baker and in his simple lifestyle. He was a Gandhian to the core and lived up to his high ideals.