Going Green – Then, Now and Later

         Everywhere you go, people are ‘talking’ about going green. I mean, they are just talking! So, you hear the word ‘green’ more often than any other word nowadays. But why is it becoming so important? Why can’t they just forget about it? Oh! There might be a catch. We are humans after all, the smartest species on the planet earth. We like talking about it not because we care, but because deep inside somewhere we know that the non-renewable resources are depleting at a rapid rate and with our current world population of 7.46 billion which is growing at the rate of 1.13% per year, the day is not far when all the technology and machinery that we are using for extraction and processing of resources now will be irrelevant and useless. So instead of sitting and waiting for the world to turn around, why not exploit this inevitability and take the so called ‘first mover advantage.’ But what does this attitude tell about us? Are we so sophisticated that we can turn every muddle into a vantage or we are so naïve that we cannot even comprehend that we are excavating an abyss for our own destruction?

            The situation is exacerbating with time. Oil accounts for 40% of our all energy use. As per EIA’s International Energy Outlook 2013, we have enough oil to last for just 25 years. Post that period, the difference between the quantity supplied and the quantity demanded will be so immense that the prices will shoot up to such an extent that no ordinary person will be able to afford it for personal use. But why do we care!

            Freshwater accounts for only 2.5% of the world’s water. But considering 70% of that  freshwater is present in the form of ice and snow, we are eventually left with only 0.75% of water which we can use for our personal needs. But we choose to throw our trash, garbage, and litter in the freshwater streams. If we talk about the holy river Ganges, it provides water to 40% population of India across 11 states. But instead of preserving and using its water judiciously, we choose to dump all our untreated human and industrial waste directly into the river. It doesn’t matter if the scientists say that the Faecal Coli Level are off the charts or the level of chromium is 10 times the permissible limit; we choose to dive and take a bath in the holy Ganges because it is pure and thus washes out all our sins. We might catch some water borne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, hepatitis A, dysentery, etc. in the process, but it is alright. Because why do we care!

            As per UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 18 million acres of forests are destroyed every year; which is close to the size of the country Panama. As a result half of the world’s forests have been cleared already. But did we stop? You are right; we didn’t! Though we know that deforestation is responsible for 12 to 17% of greenhouse gas emissions annually, but I guess, this reason is not valid enough to stop us from cutting the innocent trees. So we choose to pay ₹10 lakh/m3 for exotic ‘African Blackwood’ instead, as if other avenues of spending are not lucrative enough. We choose to participate in our local ‘Tree Plantation Drives’ voluntarily (not sure though) and then boast about it proudly after planting 2-3 trees as if we have done a great deed indeed. Because this is it; this is where our responsibility ends. After all, why do we care!

            We Indians celebrate Diwali, the festival of light, with full enthusiasm and zeal every year. We light candles, lanterns, diyas, and… crackers(unfortunately!) with as much exuberance as possible. Though we know that firing crackers is not good for environment and consequently for us, but we choose to fire them anyway. The PM2.5 tiny particles suspended in the air reached to 1238 on the day of Diwali in Delhi, the capital of India. However, WHO recommends PM2.5 to be below 10. It says exposure to annual average of PM2.5 of 35 or greater may lead to 15% higher long term mortality risk. But Delhiites chose to fire cracker anyway. Because why do they care!

            The world is slow in realizing the fact that it would do no good to bury our heads in the sand like an Ostrich in the wake of the looming crisis. Forming the protocols would not help until you ratify it and live by it. The Kyoto Protocol was adopted nem con by the member countries in 1997, whereas it entered full force only after 8 years in 2005. And even 11 years after that, there are still 29 countries in the world who have not accepted it. Moreover, developed countries like the United States of America which accounts for only 4.38% of world’s population, and uses 25% of world’s resources; burning up 25% of coal, 26% of oil, and 27% of world’s natural gas, has just signed the protocol and says that it will not ratify it (make it a law that they must follow). Now, how do you expect the small developing countries to ratify it when the developed global power itself is not doing it.

            The other major event organized by the United Nations in the past was Earth Summit also known as Rio Summit in 1992. This summit is considered to be relatively successful than the Kyoto Protocol in a way that 172 governments participated in the summit. And they unanimously came up with ‘legally binding agreements’ on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Also, to ensure that the member countries comply with the agreements, Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) was formed. Though some of the issues raised in the summit have not been addressed yet, but still it should be considered as a big achievement because they could address at least some of the prominent issues pro-actively (which is such a rare thing these days).

            Hence, if we take the learnings from our past, for an initiative to be successful, I believe that two things are necessarily required. Firstly, the people should feel responsible for their actions. They must find the answer to the question, “Why do I care?” An initiative can be successful only when people are ready to take responsibility by themselves. And it can happen only when they are self motivated. Secondly, the initiative should be legally binding and its compliance should be assessed at regular intervals(if possible). Initiatives like Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Clean Ganga Mission, Toilets Before Temples and Water Conservation can be successful only when the government is fully committed to it. Young India will definitely draw inspiration and come forward if the government shows commitment in its actions. Of course, it will take time as castles are not built overnight. But with mutual coordination and accountability, it can definitely be achieved. We just need to walk the talk, as talking certainly isn’t enough!

– Akshay Kaushal