The Oxford Dictionary declared “Climate Emergency” as the word of the year 2019. The science of ‘Climate Change’ is complex and overwhelming for a layperson. It will require measures on a global scale, but there are individual actions that each one of us can take in our day-to-day lives to reduce our carbon footprints. A movement that started with a teenage girl in Sweden has mobilised millions across the world to strike against climate inaction, many of whom are children and young adults.
They refuse to go to school or work till concrete action is taken to protect the environment and future of the countless others who inhabit our planet. Several individuals across the world have joined hands to demand immediate climate action from their local, state and national elected representatives.
There are 7.3 billion people on our planet and while the accumulative wealth is owned by just a handful of people and corporations, every single person has the power to create change. But there are two issues with that — not every individual is privileged enough to make decisions that benefit the planet and those who are privileged don’t think it is enough of an urgency to act.
Sustainability is a complex and often misunderstood and misquoted term. What exactly are we trying to sustain? Why are we trying to sustain it? When we do something ‘sustainable’ are we actually creating unintended consequences that are likely to create further complications? Are we trying to sustain the planet only for our benefit or do we realise and internalise the importance of other creatures living along side us? Do we realise that we need the planet for our survival and not the other way around?
Time to Act
Atul Bagai UNEP, India Country Head says that the United Nations Environment Program in India is committed to working on solving environmental issues here. “The recently published 'Emissions Gap Report' acts as a catalyst for change – inspiring many to not only take action themselves but also put pressure on their governments to do the same,” Atul says.
We have the power as individuals to change the larger narratives around us but we are part of the few privileged ones living in this manic world.
Having started a successful campaign in 2017 called ‘No Straws Attached’, I can say today that refusing a single use plastic straw won’t change the world, but it has the power to start a conversation and movement that will eventually change the world. The war against single use plastic straws (and other similar products) by such campaigns has led to them being replaced in a lot of places with eco-friendly products.
As we move into a new decade and closer to a climate catastrophe as most scientists are predicting, there is an increasing need to wake up from our deep slumber and act because like Greta rightly said: “I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.” So, here are a few things that you can do in your daily lives to participate in the global movement to prevent catastrophic damage to other species, including our own on this planet.
Do we really need multiple pairs of shoes, pants, bags and almost everything else? Our lives have become so inextricably tied to the material things we own (and want to own) that we often forget that they are ‘just’ things and nothing more. Evidently, this boom in materialism has caused negative externalities for our planet – the millions of T-shirts that are made and sold cheap almost never expose the environmental and social impact of making them in the first place and let’s not even get to what happens when we are done wearing that shirt a few times. Hence, we need to consume consciously —before buying anything, ask yourself why are you purchasing the item? Do you really need it or just want it? Where has it come from? What could the impacts of its production and end of life be? Let’s learn to appreciate what we already have and put that extra effort into building and sustaining relationships instead of things.
Why do we term something as waste? Is it only because it does not serve its original purpose? Are you bored of it and looking for the next new thing? Owing to this mindset our planet is literally drowning in the ‘waste’ that we are constantly churning out? In India alone, The Ganges is responsible for carrying up to 1.2 billion pounds of plastics into our oceans every year —and that’s just ONE waste stream. Sumeet Bodington, chief development officer, Renew Oceans Foundation says that India is undergoing rapid urbanisation and industrialisation. The rivers in India, starting with the 2,525 km-long Ganges, act as a carrier for plastic waste to oceans. “We have started our journey with river Ganges in Varanasi for that precise reason. Through our land and river-based technology solutions, we hope to reduce ocean plastic pollution where it begins. We are also building scalable, circular economies for plastics in river communities, so the communities are incentivised to address the root causes,” says Sumeet.
There is simply no other species on our planet that creates waste, forces others to live amongst it and directly and indirectly negatively harms everything around it. The other fallacy that we have conceived over the years is the concept of ‘away’. A recent study that found Australian plastic among waste contaminating Indonesian food chains is direct evidence. The waste in a person’s trash bin says a lot about the person and his/her relationship with Nature. Everything is a resource and once you realise that I doubt you would want to toss it. If our kitchen waste is capable of reviving soil health and nurturing life and increase carbon sequestration then it’s time we all looked into our dustbins and re-evaluated the resources we have mistakenly termed as waste.
The Way Ahead
The transportation sector plays a key role in economic activity and social integration but it also relies on fossil fuels. It is responsible for a large chunk of greenhouse gas emissions across the world. Optimising our transportation could help ease urban air pollution.
Many cities today are being designed keeping mobility at the core. In India we look for a quick fix. While schemes like odd-even are great – why do them only for a few days a year?
Using the metro, public buses and car-pooling to school or work is the way to move ahead! More demand and usage of public transport will and can create
better last mile connectivity.
Start a Movement
Engage and participate in the movements around you. If you aren’t feeling inspired enough to start a movement, maybe joining one will do the trick! Movements from the ground up have led to revolutions across the world. Seek out those who are planning, organising and mobilising and join the tribe! It’s never too late and can only help strengthen and amplify the voices.
The citizen’s movement that sprung up to protect the Aravallis in Gurgaon (#AravalliBachao) is a perfect example of collective action to protect our forests from greedy land sharks and politicians.
According to Navdha Malhotra, associate campaign director of Purpose, as citizens it is our responsibility to take action at our individual level and demand it from our government as well. “Our campaigns like Help Delhi Breathe aim at bridging this gap between the public and the decision-makers. What we need is an entire ecosystem coming together including policy makers, think tanks, creative industry, media, academia and civil society to tackle our climate challenges.”
Latika Thukral founder, I Am Gurgaon feels that there is a sense of indifference for the environment by the government. “In true democracy, people need to voice their views to protect and save spaces,” she says.
Those of us reading this and other similar articles are part of the privileged few who can choose to even attempt to live sustainably. There are many for whom it just isn’t a choice – think of the people who are repeatedly impacted by natural disasters or even manmade ones like the hurricanes in The Bahamas or the Flint Water Crisis or even the ones for whom basic food and shelter is a priority for themselves and their families. Our world today is thoroughly segregated in terms of accessibility, privilege and those at the bottom of this pyramid cannot afford to switch to biodegradable toothbrushes and flash their keep cups. We have a responsibility to ensure that we do what is in our capacity to help others make more responsible decisions and also understand the impacts of each decision made. “History has taught us that only public led revolutions has have brought change. We need to raise our voices NOW so that our kids’ future is safe,” says Bhavreen Kandhari, an environmentalist.
A simple example could be — give fruits or home cooked meals to the poor on the road instead of packaged food to avoid creation of trash. Help your local fruit and vegetable vendors understand the benefit of cloth versus plastic bags. Our planet is capable of living without us in some form or the other – but are we capable of living without it? With every New Year comes the time of making resolutions — promises, pacts and commitments for personal wealth, happiness and prosperity. This year let’s make an important resolution — to protect, preserve and serve when our planetary health is in dire straits.