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A RIVER RUNS AGAIN by Meera Subramanian


India's Natural World in Crisis, from the Barren Cliffs of Rajasthan to the Farmlands of Karnataka

by Meera Subramanian

Pub Date: Aug. 25th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-61039-530-4
Publisher: PublicAffairs

Journalist Subramanian examines a handful of environmental woes besetting India, along with hopeful remedies.

This is investigative journalism as story: fact-filled but optimistic, rueful and inviting. The author writes with warm intelligence, and she challenges readers. She sounds five particular environmental issues—though, inevitably, they also reach into cultural and economic concerns—each a grave, ruinous path. She categorizes the five issues as elements: earth (agriculture, toxicity), water (purity), fire (pollution, disease), air (extinction, chemistry), and ether (reproductive health, sexual predation). She devotes a chapter to each, providing an overview of the problem: how the green revolution has bottomed out, soil has been destroyed by herbicides and fungicides, farmers are indentured servants to fertilizer (which has become “like crack for crops”), and how seed industries are now patented and pricey. The author also looks at industrial, residential, and sacrificial effluents that have contaminated the water supply; the destruction of wetlands; the overuse of groundwater; cookstove pollution; deforestation; chronic respiratory and heart diseases; the looming extinction of vultures (uncharismatic, yes, but “a natural and efficient disposal system”); the explosion of vicious, carrion-eating dogs; and the unwanted children and sexual violence that have become increasingly commonplace. In each chapter, as well, Subramanian offers specific antidotes as anecdotes, narrating in a measured, conversational, welcoming voice. She examines the increase in soil complexity through tilth development; the return of natural predators for pests; the brilliance and effectiveness of small-scale irrigation, a return toward the great Indian waterworks; efficient cookstoves; the banning of toxic chemicals; and grass-roots reproductive education and “criminalizing sexual harassment, voyeurism, and stalking—acts still widely dismissed as ‘Eve-teasing’ in India.” Each of the stories is comprehensive while nimble, as well as provocative.

Promising prescriptions to five of India’s baneful environmental cases—right thinking and accusatory in all the right places.