The World Environment Day: Bring Back Respect and Reverence for Nature to Save Mankind
Arvind Gupta, Director, VIF

The UN General Assembly designated fifth June as the World Environment Day in 1972. In 1974 the first Environment Day was celebrated on the theme “Only one Earth”. That theme is as relevant today as it was then. Covid-19 has brought home the oneness of the planet forcefully.

The novel coronavirus has forced us to rethink about our place in nature’s scheme of things. The virus jumped from animal species to the humans and has spread across the world claiming over 370,000 lives in a matter of six months. Despite massive lockdowns, social distancing measures and handwashing protocols, there is no end in sight to the pandemic’s fury. More attacks may happen in future. Are we equipped to deal with them? One cannot be too optimistic at this stage when coronavirus has still not been controlled.

The pandemic is the perfect reminder of the troubled relationship between humans and nature. Unless humans rethink their relationship with nature, more devastation will surely follow.

Even as the coronavirus pandemic is raging, nature has sent other reminders to warn the humans of their folly to underestimate its power. Within a space of a week, a super cyclone hit the eastern coast of India followed by another cyclone which struck the western coast. It was the first time since 1891 that Mumbai was hit by a cyclone. Mumbai escaped the full fury of the cyclone as the latter changed its trajectory slightly at the last moment. The city, inhabited by 20 million people, is already reeling under the massive coronavirus attack. Had the cyclone struck Mumbai, which cannot handle even normal flooding episodes, the devastation would have been unbearable.

There were five-episodes of low-intensity tremors in a matter of a few weeks in Delhi and the surrounding areas. Delhi and the National Capital Region has a population of over 25 million. The capitalis located in a seismically sensitive region. People have naturally become anxious.

North India has also been facing the fury of the locust swarms which have visited over Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Punjab after many years. At least 10 large swarms have been seen in different parts of the country. They have affected several thousand hectares of cultivation. The locust swarms this year have already ravaged parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan in Pakistan. It seems that the cyclone which hit Yemen and Oman in 2018 brought in so much moisture that lakes were formed in desert areas. The surrounding greenery provided the breeding ground for the locusts. These are the locusts which have come towards India. India was lucky that the rabi crops had been harvested and removed from the fields before the locust arrived. Otherwise, there would have been massive devastation. The threat from the locusts is still alive and serious.

There is enough evidence to suggest that climatic events have been the factors behind massive migrations in Africa and the Middle East. These migrations are also the cause of many conflicts.

The loss of forests, biodiversity, damage to ecology, destruction of coral reefs, melting of the Arctic Sea ice are some of the manifestations of the strained relationship between man and nature. The massive load of plastics is threatening the marine life on which so many livelihoods depend. Air pollution claims millions of lives every year in India alone.

Climate change remains an existential threat to mankind. The politicians refuse to acknowledge the seriousness of the climatic threat. No tangible and effective action has been taken to mitigate the threat. Despite the Paris Climate Change accord, emissions are not coming down.

The strict lockdown in India had some positive impact on the health of the environment. As transportation stopped and construction activity came to a halt, the air became clear, the waters of Yamuna and Ganga became crystal clear. The Himalayan peaks became visible from large distances. Air pollution which has been a major problem in Indian cities reduced drastically. No governmental action could have achieved this so quickly.

While many celebrated these natural phenomena, it was clear that the price to clean air and rivers was to be paid in lost jobs and livelihoods as the economic activity came to a near halt due to the lockdown. The lesson is that the economic activity, which is essential for living, must be carried out sustainably.

That is where the problem lies. We have still not been able to find the right balance between development and environmental conservation. Unless this balance is found, nature will be damaged which in turn would threaten human existence. The costs of environmental damage must be factored into economic activity.

Mahatma Gandhi used to say that mother earth has enough for man’s needs but not for his greed. Sustainable development must distinguish between need and greed. While poor developing countries need to step up their economic growth simply to live, the developed countries, who have already exploited the planet’s resources for centuries, must temper down their consumption levels. A balance between the consumption of the rich and that of the poor need to be found. Technological solutions alone cannot provide the answer to emissions. A mindset change is required. The climate justice argument, which seems to have gone out of fashion, needs to be brought back in discourse and action if global emissions are to be controlled.

Nature is revered in Indian philosophy and culture. This is also the case with many world cultures. The Rig Veda is full of hymns in the worship of nature and the gods who control the forces of nature. The farmer asks the forgiveness of mother earth as he tills the land. Such a reverential attitude helps foster a harmonious relationship with nature. Tribal and pagan religions have also feared and worshipped nature. However, the monotheistic religions had a different view as they believed in one God. Missionaries and proponents of these religions came in conflict with native religions which worshipped nature. They were denounced as idol worshippers, regarded as inferiors and were forced to convert.

In Western socio-economic thinking, nature is regarded as a commodity to be harnessed in the service of man. As a result, there is a huge exploitation of natural resources which has resulted in irreparable damage to the environment. Increased carbon dioxide emissions have led to global warming and climate change. Nature’s balances have been disturbed due to anthropogenic activities. The window to stop the growth of emissions is closing rapidly. Irreversible damage to the planet is inevitable if further emissions are not controlled. Covid is a reminder that this is the time to act.

This year the theme of the World Environment Day is ‘Celebrate Biodiversity‘. Besides celebrating biodiversity, we should be talking about saving it. We should be humble and acknowledge that humans cannot win against nature and its forces no matter what technologies they employ. Respect and reverence for nature must be brought back into developmental paradigms.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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Very timely reminder for striking balance between anthropogenic activities and the mother nature.


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