October is here and once again there is the familiar nip in the air. But just as we thank our stars that the air quality in September 2019 was far better than September 2018 (the better air was due to the lingering monsoons, and not due to any of our doings!), there is also the unfortunate news that stubble (crop) burning in areas of Punjab and Haryana has already begun. Combined with the winter smog, this unrestrained stubble burning plays havoc with the pollution levels across the National Capital of Delhi. There is haze all around and on bad days one can even feel the suffocation of being in a smoky gas chamber. Worst affected are children and senior citizens and those vulnerable to respiratory allergies.
Many miles away, at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York recently the 16-year old Swedish girl Greta Thunberg once again fervently appealed to the world leaders that it is already very late in fighting “climate change”. And that it should have been dealt with as of yesterday, and, on a war footing. Environmentalists and those concerned are hoping against hope that her voice is heard. Her urgency is not misplaced. A few glaciers have completely melted while others including the Himalayan glaciers are reducing in size every year, the sea levels are rising putting those that live close to sea shores at risk and a huge number of plants and animals have gone extinct or are facing extinction.
Status quo cannot continue anymore. If we do not reduce unabated burning of coal and fossil fuels and do not stop deforestation, there is every possibility of a permanent irreversible colossal damage. And while our generation might just scrape through the ill-effects, the next generation will be most certainly and severely impacted.
Greta is joined by many young environment warriors around the world who are demanding that we hand to them a much environmentally saner world. Gurugram too has seen young school children come out on streets and roads to protest and raise awareness about Gurugram’s environment issues. Many citizen initiatives, NGOs too have stepped up their campaigns and call for action, and there is certainly heightened awareness, but will this influence policy makers to take a strong stand and stop environmental damage is yet to be seen.
How could you and I make a difference? We need to redefine the means and magnitude of development we are seeking. That will happen by making mindful changes in our lifestyle to reduce our carbon footprint – by adopting walking and cycling and using more and more public transport, shifting to solar and energy efficient appliances, composting our kitchen waste etc. Besides, we could participate in awareness drives, join campaigns on climate change to help put pressure on politicians and leaders to make environment-conscious decisions. Our leaders in one stroke can take an irresponsible decision that can cause irreversible damage.
It will need a huge united effort for environment is still not considered a priority. Why else would be a road be planned in the middle of the bio-diversity park in Gurugram or the Aravalli Forest be under constant threat to being reduced to make way for real estate development? Or why would the Arrey forest in Goregaon in Mumbai be denuded of its trees for metro carshed project. Or why would coal mining be re-started in Chattisgarh affecting elephant migration and local villagers. Earlier, dense forests have been cut in the Sawantwadi-Dodamarg wild life corridor in the Konkan belt of the eco-sensitive western Ghats zone. There are ample examples of undermining our precious forest and cutting them wily nily for making roads, real estate development, industrial projects, mining or plantation of high-yielding crops. Why don’t our policy makers get it that a forest razed is a forest lost forever; with rich, vibrant bio-diversity and several eco-systems gone with it.
We do not need experts and consultants to tell us what choices to make. It is plain common-sense and practical wisdom. Mahatma Gandhi, our most revered leader understood it well. He was a strong proponent of conserving forests and retaining soil vitality. If we were to follow his concepts of frugality and circular economy, we would have never landed in the mess that we have created. As we mark this year with 150years of his birth anniversary celebrations, let us pledge to revive some of his simple philosophies on sustainability to fight climate change.
Finally, let me leave you with one actionable agenda. Haryana goes for its state assembly elections on October 21. Let us chose our leaders wisely, leaders who understand that we need to care for and nourish our environment to safeguard our children future.