Environment Day: Of Tokenism And Ironies
Suddenly everyone around seemed to have reignited their love for their mothers, realized that their mothers were the best (whatever it means) and rekindled their memories of pleasant incidents with mothers. Preceding the Mother’s Day was Women’s Day, a day to celebrate women, as if half the population on planet does not exist otherwise. After a point even the mainstream media had had enough. A Hindustan Times’ article stated “While I do appreciate the free manicures, drinks and air miles this Women’s Day, let’s aim to stop the tokenism. It means nothing. Instead, let’s aim for deeper, long-lasting and more substantial solutions”. While an editorial in The Hindu said “What have we reduced International Women’s Day to? It’s nothing short of a jamboree. Events aplenty are organised around March 8 to demonstrate our admiration for ‘womanhood’, which clearly most of us don’t seem to understand.”
Given our love for tokenism, one wonders, how different – if at all - is the Environment Day? What of the people celebrating it? How similar are they from our politicians posing with brooms for the Swachchh Bharat campaign? Or the campaign’s ambassadors? Daniel Fernandes, a stand-up comedian, had pointed out, some of them have never used a broom in their life!
Tokenism has been welcomed with open arms by the environment community. It is not just Environment Day. A host of them exist. From the ‘Earth Hour’, where we switch of lights (only those which we do not need!) for one hour in the year to ‘Bike to Work’ Day where – for the environment - we cycle to the office – one day in a year! There are also the t-shirts designed and pledges taken. There appears a happy rush to ape the West without either taking a critical look at the actions or giving a second thought to their relevance locally. Mid-day was succinct on this tokenism in environment, “It is time we concentrated on keeping trees, not tokenism, alive.”
During times when leaders miss the irony, or chose to ignore, it is left to the arts to highlight the issue. These environmental leaders and their supporters are familiar with the science (very rarely it is the proverbial rocket science) and give a damn. Two large organizations, neighbours at one of the most elite localities in the country, reminded us of this; one supported a golf tournament and the other owned a golf course. That it was left to the AIB to highlight the environmental and social impacts of golf courses speaks a lot for our times and environment community. Not just large organizations, there are experts who attend environmental conferences at the drop of the hat; flying all over - whenever sponsored – to apparently encourage people to protect environment.
As an urban populace our connect with environment and nature is at best fuzzy. Education in schools has us look at ourselves as ‘apart from the planet’ and not as ‘a part of the planet’. It occurs to the rare urban few to enjoy the elements of nature around – see the sunrise and sunsets, touch the trees and feel the leaves, listen to the squirrel moving on dry leaves or branches waving in the wind, or smell the earth after rains. Our arrogance has us do what we want in our cities and yet demand that the distant forests remain pristine and untouched. We refuse to put in extra effort be it to use public transport or collect water our RO filters discard. But we have given ourselves the privilege to demand that the people in and around forests stop cutting firewood - to preserve the environment. This, of course, is not for an hour or a day!
The environment organizations too have not been very different. Some of them espouse values and mores of the societies their managers come from, some try to follow the leaders. The fortress conservation approach does not help either. Its ‘forest areas should be protected’ approach, as if, exempts some of them of thinking of connections. As a corollary they refrain from taking a critical look at the environmental impact of their actions – be it flying, buying more phones, laptops, gps, cameras, camera-traps, binoculars and driving large cars. Many personnel in these organizations move only with air-conditioners in vehicles even in forest dominated landscapes – heat, dust or important conversations are the excuses. In doing this they end up cutting themselves further off from an environment they seek to protect.
There is a need to move out of this rut. One of the steps could be to move beyond money and finance to a unit which has more direct connect with the environment. The decisions – travel, stay, asset purchase, project design – would need to be also based on impact of environment. Environment impact warrants as much, if not more, space as the conferences, publications, proposals and reports. In addition there is a need to work towards a common unit to measure the net environmental benefit of actions. In other words an action which leads to high resource consumption (read impacts the environment elsewhere) but does not result in equivalent or desired benefit may need to be done away with.
Coming back to Environment Day there is little point in continuing to organize events to get rid of the guilt and then continue business as usual. Amongst else, there is a need to understand the environment cost of the celebrations, figure out the impact we are making and ascertain whether it is worth the investments. Printing t-shirts one day and talking about the water they consume on another day is surely not going to help. Scenario warrants delving deeper and taking a critical look at one’s actions.
To be heard the environmental community will need to move beyond tokenism and walk the talk. Unless the community revamps its actions we will soon see Environment Day being placed along with likes of Mother’s Day and Women’s Day.