Attention needs to be paid on protecting coastal zones and forests, rather than sacrificing them for mining- Harini Nagendra, Professor of Sustainability, Azim Premji University. (Part-II)

Paridhi Sinha

We all know that small steps can make a big difference. What are some of the lesser- known initiatives that people can take to maintain the ecological balance and deal with climate change on an individual level?

The biggest step is to form communities. Whether working for lake restoration, waste clean-ups, composting, environmental campaigns or anything else, the power of the collective is tremendous. Different people have different interests and strengths – some are good naturalists and can communicate this love for biodiversity to others; others are passionate about composting and recycling and can form groups within their society or residential areas; still others are good organizers and communicators, and can be active parts of environmental movements. Environmental action can be very motivating, but the obstacles in one’s path are often huge – working in a collective inspires everyone to keep going, and there is exponential power and chance of success when people get together.

The President-elect Joe Biden has made it clear that he plans to listen to scientists on climate change and rejoin the Paris Agreement that Donald Trump had withdrawn from. What do you think that means for a developing country like India in the battle against climate change especially since the age old tussle between sustainability and development seems even starker due the economic slowdown due to covid 19?

India has announced and started on an aggressive programme to ramp up its use of renewable energy, which is excellent. The challenge for India is that it is difficult to wean away from coal, and in fact as a country we plan to use more coal as well in the coming decades, to fuel economic growth. To find a way forward we need political will, and to search for solutions that couple economic growth and development to renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, and alternate ways of living that are not environmentally destructive. Unless there is a serious search for such alternatives, along with funding and subsidies for environmentally friendly practices, the current economic system will push us towards further exploitation of the environment for short-term economic growth with disastrous long term consequences.

Since you have written a book that examines the transformation of human-nature interactions in Southern part of India. Also, we have seen Goa development projects making headlines on stopping deforestation. What do you think over the years, human concern for nature and biodiversity (as individual, communities and nations) has increased overall or decreased and what has been the effect of such increase or decrease?

Over time, many national and local governments have increasingly pushed many environmentally destructive developmental projects. But conscious citizens – individuals and communities – have led environmental activism and pushed governments to act on climate change, deforestation, air pollution and many other critical environmental issues. For instance, Sunrise Movement, a youth organization in the USA that pushes for politicians to act on climate change, is just 4 years old – but in these four years it has been very successful in making climate change into an important electoral issue in the 2020 US Presidential elections. Greta Thunberg and the work of schoolchildren striking on climate change via Fridays for Future has also played a hugely influential global role.

We believe that rapid unplanned and unchecked urbanization is creating chaos in India. With Goa deforestation and Delhi becoming a gas chamber in itself are something we should give our attention to. How the governments can step in here?

Governments have a major role to play in enforcing policy measures. Within Delhi, greater attention needs to be paid to reducing emissions from legal and illegal waste dump sites, reducing dust from construction sites, improving and incentivising public transport, and planting trees to mitigate air pollution. In Goa, similarly, attention needs to be paid on protecting coastal zones and forests, rather than sacrificing them for mining, port development and other environmentally destructive activities. Only Governments can play this role.

Link to part one of the interview:

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