“Silence is a powerful enemy of social justice.” – Amartya Sen
History stands testimony to the fact, that among other things, it takes voice to staunch injustice. Whether it was Raja Ram Mohan Roy or Nelson Mandela, one person with courage has made the majority, riding on the wave of voice and words.
Today, as 52 small island nations across the globe face serious survival threat owing to environmental imbalance, as 1 billion people go hungry day after day, as 13 million hectares of forest cover is erased annually, and as species get extinct sooner than the most pessimistic scientist predicted…humanity longs to hear the surge of that voice of dissent.
Nature knows the best
The planet bequeathed to us by nature has a history of 4 billion years. Through eons of evolution, a gurgling molten mass of material cooled off to become conducive for life. First in the form of singular cells, and later in complex forms, life broke through the chrysalis of uncertain environments, and flourished. Continental plates tore apart and fused to give way to variegated topography. Oceans dissolved surplus carbon and high-altitude glaciers gave birth to rivers. The transformation of earth’s crust segued perfectly with the life above it. Always, at the right time, earth provided its inhabitants with what it took to survive. There was enough algae for the micro-organisms, enough vegetable matter for soil and bacteria, and enough forests and hunting options for the Neanderthal man. Nature, the overarching mother, kept her elements in perfect balance. An orchestra of myriad instruments, none playing out of tune.
Even when we homo sapiens arrived on the scene, with our revolutionary grey matter and opposable thumb, nature responded with generosity. Agriculture was rewarded with the birth of civilizations, and surplus led to trade and travel. The ball of invention was set rolling, and man continued to transform earth like never before. Wars, conquests, nations, ammunitions, industry, transport, technology, software, internet…the greed to invent created a society perennially hungry for more. More grains, more livestock, more water, more comfort, more cars, more gadgets, more flyovers, more fuel, more everything. Consumption is the new mantra of a market-driven economy. Factories spew more carbon dioxide. Industries scour forests for more minerals. Real estate is fast replacing green swathes, and wars are being waged for more oil.
In the last 60 years, Earth’s population has tripled. Fishing catches and paper consumption have increased fivefold. 40% of arable land has suffered long term damage. The ice cap is 40% thinner than it was 40 years ago. Global sea level has risen by eight inches since 1870, and the average temperature recorded of the last 15 years has been the highest ever recorded. In this time, Indians have dug 21 million wells, and have had to abandon 30% of them. Over half of the world’s 7 billion population now resides in cities. 5000 people die a day because of dirty drinking water. 30% of coral reefs, the marvel of aquatic life, have disappeared. The geologically disadvantaged, that is the low-lying small nation islands such as Kiribati, have reasons to be concerned. Rising sea level might force them to evacuate. Already, it has started contaminating their drinking water and decreasing food production, as more and more land gets eroded by rising waters.
Environmental degradation is followed closely by unprecedented social disparity. 20% of the world’s population consumes 80% of its resources, and half the world’s wealth lies in the hand of top 2% population.
Man’s greed for more has outpaced nature’s ability to replenish herself. Do we realize, that if and when nature unleashes her furies on us, we might not have the time to take corrective actions?
Stir up the inner voice
The writing on the wall is loud and clear. Speak out we must, but not before we have reflected and introspected on our own lives.
Let’s analyse. How do we go about each day? How do we eat, sleep, travel, buy, consume, expend and invest? Does our lifestyle destroy the essential to create the superfluous? Do we carry a cloth bag to the local grocery or do we accept polybags? Do we use pooled/ public transport for daily travel or are we dependent on a private vehicle? Do we really need the extra car we have? How often do we change our mobile phones? Can’t we live without our modern widgets? Do we know that a leaky faucet can drain up to 200 gallons of water a day? Isn’t it better to have multi-grains in our diet rather than face scrub? How many types of apparel does it take to satiate our senses? How have we contributed in making this earth a better place to live in?
Among Buddha’s legion stories is one where his disciple asks him for a new robe. On that, the saint enquires what his disciple did with the old robe. The student replies that the robe was first used as a bed spread, then a window curtain, then a kitchen cloth, then a floor-swab, before ending as a wick in Buddha’s lamp.
Embolden the outer voice
More paper is recycled and more afforestation is carried out today than ever before. Windmills dot the landscape of Denmark, and solar panels can be seen in mofussil parts of India. Slowly, but surely, the awakened conscience is paving way for vocal voice, and subsequent change. People’s movements can further galvanize governments into action. Compulsory green cover for builders, mandatory plantation by industries, prohibitive taxes to curb profligacy, R&D on alternate energy, ban on chemical warfare, strict enforcement of rules, a culture that rewards moderation and sharing…voice has, and can achieve, the balance where man and nature exist in harmony.
The time to blame past evils for today’s perils is gone. The only way exhaustible resources can be saved is by inexhaustible goodwill, creativity and innovation. The pleasure of pathless woods, the rapture of lonely shores and the bounties of this wonderful planet is not for our generation alone.