With an unusual harsh summer beating down hard across most parts of Southern India, villagers in rural Mysore, tourists in Fort Kochi and apartment owners in Sarjapur Road have been taken by surprise. Most discussions in the past few weeks are centered around the severity of the summer and how to cope with it. At the same time, a couple of months back, families in Northern India were shivering from a record extended winter.
Strangely, there are many who claim that the extreme weather has been a blessing in disguise as these aberrations can no longer be dismissed as unusual phenomenon. The climate has wildly fluctuated in the past decade with extreme lows in winter being offset by extremely hot heatwaves for three to four months in a year.
The last decade saw the six warmest years since records began to be mentioned. Even more interesting is that eleven warmest months were recorded in the past fifteen years. While most of India’s scorched cities brace for the month of May, concerns over an increase in heat wave related moralities have risen.
Heatwaves Felt at the Dinner table?
However, these extreme heat waves, which are increasing in frequency and intensity, have had an unexpected fallout. Are we seeing a change in people’s gossip-time, coffee table or lunch break discussions? Years of aggressive campaigning for planting more trees or consuming less electricity or using water wisely have targeted to change the attitude of common man towards these pressing issues.
But these heat waves are now playing the role of the chief communicator for common-men, let alone environmentalists. This has catapulted climate related issues into the minds of the masses.
In India, families have started to discuss air quality over the dinner table as India leads the pack for most cities with worst air quality in world’s top twenty. Students have started discussing about how the holy Ganges and Yamuna are polluted beyond repair.
Marshalls fighting fires in distant forests can now expect an army of volunteers to drive down and help the forest department and be assured of front-page coverage in most newspapers. It is now apparent to humanity that the looming threat of climate change is standing right outside their doorsteps. The importance of having a conversation about environmental issues is now being realised by a central business district techie and the roadside vendor alike.
The Rise of a ‘Green Consciousness’
It’s the little details that are vital. It is the dawn of an age when the actions of one will have a bearing upon the fate of others, leaving no one isolated in their first world comfort. We are witnessing shrill cries against the reluctance of governments to reduce emission levels.
It must be considered a good sign when many show concerns when oil fields in Iraq burn, not because crude is lost but because of the colossal damage to the ecosystem.
Indian farmers are already sensing the mistakes they have made by surrendering to agricultural businesses and have started questioning the policies that degrade soil quality over a period of time and the same policies which drive pollinators like bees towards extinction. Young minds are leading the crusade across the planet and challenging adults to mend their ways.
Sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg has become the next messiah of climate change mitigation by campaigning against her government in Sweden. Katrin Jakobsdottir, a left-wing environmentalist became Iceland’s prime minister marking the rise of green politics. She is from a green political party in her country that fights for environmental causes.
The Need for An Ecological Renaissance
Back in our country, questions are being asked in distant Latehar where poor people are sandwiched between degrading forests, uncompromising governments and rifle yielding left-wing extremists; questions are being asked in the hills of the Nilgiris where widespread ecosystem changes have compelled native tribesmen to revert back to old age customs, whence growing Ragi was not decried as eating a poor man’s food but, as the perfect right nutritional mix.
Questions are being asked in Hasdeo Arand, in Niyamgiri, in the melting snow peaks of Himalayas and in the fishermen dominated coasts, as to what is going wrong with our environment! What we see today is the beginning of a seed about to germinate, a seed hypothetically termed as an ecological renaissance – yet we are far from it.
Now, people are more interested in reading Yuval Harari and Vikram Soni and more interested in listening to Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio.
We desperately need a renaissance, for nothing less would save us from the impending doom looming large over us. Ecology should no longer remain just a subject taught in premier institutes or just a theme researched upon to gain innumerable doctorates.
Ecology should no more be relegated to a handful of professionals who find it difficult to disperse the idea of sustainability to the so-called teeming millions. Ecology should instead be the very basic understanding through which we understand and appreciate processes of the life supporting system we live in. Ecology has to be soon ingrained in the heart and mind of every single person alive.
A Need to Change the System?
The past few decades have been catastrophic to say the least, but even more catastrophic is the specter of the future. Many silent springs have been written, theories propounded, doomsday theories have been put forth, but strangely, the real target – the masses – has been neglected.
The plethora of report and interpretations fills up library shelves but the person tilling the land is excluded from these exciting discussions. He is merely informed of the decisions that were taken in luxury hotels by a few well-read intellectuals, dressed in three piece-suites, and having acquired degrees from world’s top educational institutions.
However, the right to live and be enlivened has touched all. This has lead to a scenario where people have started to interrogate: Why do we use malathion when neem might just work well? Why do we build dams when all we need are small local structures? Why do we need coal mines, when we can have rooftop solar and wind setup for electricity? These “Whys” are becoming a force to reckon with, with each passing day and taking shape in the form of countless movements.
Koel-karo, Appiko, Silent valley and Chipko are merely the manifestation of harping doubts which somehow managed to stick on to our consciousness - Stuck not because they would have affected us now, but because we will surely be the one losing out.
It is a time for a new ecological renaissance and a time to strengthen old ones. As Greta Thunberg says, “Until you start focusing on what needs to be done, rather than what is politically possible, there is no hope. And if the solutions within the system are so impossible to find, then maybe we should change the system itself.
(Kunal Sharma has 15 years of experience in the field of ecotourism, forestry and conservation and blogs at livingforest.blogspot.com. Abhijit Dutta is a post-graduate from Indian Institute of Forest Management & has taken the plunge into wildlife conservation recently. He writes at cruciblesofnature.wordpress.com. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the authors' own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)