The earth has enough for man's need but not for man's greed was what one of India's greatest visionaries, Mahatma Gandhi had to say. With 5th June being decreed as World Environment Day, one wonders whether the date will just come around and go with people holding functions to commemorate the occasion, mouthing platitudes, and then forgetting all the ground realities till the issues come close enough to haunt all of us.
Environmental degradation is certainly one of the most terrible offshoots of globalization and rampant consumerism. To start from home, Bangalore is one of the cities that have been terribly affected by the indiscriminate cutting down of trees and sealing in of lakes in the name of growth and industrialization. Till about ten years ago, Bangalore, enjoyed the nomenclature of Air-conditioned city and did not need fans even in the summer months. But in the past few years, everybody has been making a beeline for air-conditioners as the Mercury has started to soar to unbelievable heights in the summer months.
In 1961, the city boasted of 262 lakes that were considered to be a part of Bangalore's green belt. Presently, only 61 of them are alive while the remaining have made way for concrete structures including the City Bus Station. Most recently, the Hulimavu Lake has been converted into a huge shopping arcade with different areas for each member of the family to shop in.
When most of the lakes were in existence, the vapor from these used to rise up and spread across the city, giving it its salubrious climate and air-conditionedeffect. They also provided an excellent drainage area for rainwater. Recently, there was a heavy spell of rain (pre monsoon showers) that caused huge water logging in Bangalore and resulted in the overflow entering the houses of people in low-lying areas. Many of these residential areas have come up where the lakes were originally situated so it was only natural for the rainwater to have ended up there but try telling this to the people who live there. Most of them blame the civic authorities for their woes but very few have tried to understand what has led to this state of affairs with a city, which has been choked in the name of progress and growth. It is hoped that the government and city planners will at least heed the warning bells and remember that progress cannot be at the cost of degrading the environment as the chickens can only come home to roost.
But why blame the government alone, every individual, has a responsibility in protecting the environment, if he/she is serious about leaving a world for the next generation to inherit. It is common knowledge that in a place called Plachimada in Kerala, the Coke factory, has been depleting the ground water (for the mass production of its drink) and generating sludge from its plants that has affected the potable water and the health of the people in the region. Thankfully, with the awareness created by environmental activists, the people have become aware of their rights and the government has been forced to take action against the factory in question.
As far as individuals are concerned, a very important area where each one can make a difference is in the matter of civic consciousness. The not in my backyard syndrome (NIMBY) does not really help the environment when it comes to throwing the non-biodegradable plastic that you have generated from your backyard into your neighbor's alley. What has to be remembered here is that your environment will still become polluted wherever the plastic is thrown! Saying No to Plastics can certainly be one way of fighting the huge ocean of plastic waste that is not only threatening to engulf Bangalore but the whole world. Listening to a BBC Radio program, I was surprised to hear a listener from Italy complain about plastic bags fluttering on bushes and taking away from the natural beauty of her city and this despite the country achieving a fair amount of success in reducing the usage of plastic by asking shoppers to pay a heavy amount if they take home their shopping in plastic bags.
Most important of all is to remember Gandhi's exhortation that the world has enough for man's need but not for his greed. There is a need now to curb the unhealthy consumption that the world has become slave too as there is a direct link between excessive production and environmental degradation. One clear example is that of the increase in the use of cars with each member of a family claiming the need to own and drive his/her own vehicle. The 700 million automobiles of the world are already using up two-thirds of the gasoline and releasing carbon dioxide that has already ushered in the era of global warming and the greenhouse effect. The desire to control the oil resources has also seen the worst war of the 21st century and one wonders what others will follow with environmentalists warning that the next wars will be those fought over water, which is likely to become a commodity in short supply.