World Environment Day: Time for Nature?

“Nature never did betray
                           The heart that loved her.” – Wordsworth

The poet may be right in these lines, but there is no doubt that the modern civilisation has betrayed nature. Today we are about to enter the third decade of the 21st century, 170 years after Wordsworth, yet he still has much to teach us. Wordsworth lived through a period of intense social transformation which has a kind of resemblance with today’s world. In his writings he presents a world in which technological innovation was changing everyday life. Like us, he recognised the role of scientific changes in his contemporary world, and he was conscious about the impact of these dramatic changes on nature. The difference, he tried to do something about it, most of us don’t. How many of us have genuine gratitude and sympathy for our mother nature?

We, the modern people are just fond of using nature: “the foods we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink and the climate that makes our planet habitable all come from nature.” In fact we consider it as our own property and always betray nature by using her only for the sake of our ‘best times’. But is nature ours to claim? According to the old western thought the concept of nature has persistently been limited to that of just a resource; to a storehouse of divine design filled with goods and services with one purpose only to serve humanity. In the classical times nature was viewed as a design made by gods to serve human beings and later this idea was adopted by the theologians of Christianity “who in this respect, one could claim, turned more to Hellenistic than to Judaic images.” For a long time Christianity thought that nature is loaded with God’s gifts to humanity something that came with Adam and Eve and so far as the present world scenario is concerned we are also in the same vogue. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why it is commonplace to cut the trees, to destroy the mountains and even to lose a big forest in our world, without being bothered about it. Every year we celebrate World Environment Day where we promise to contribute something good towards our mother nature. Our mainstream media publishes ‘go green’ slogans. But this is not sufficient at all; abusing nature everyday and appreciating it just for one day is meaningless.

Today who is able to breathe fresh air in our smart cities? Who can say that our rivers are free from pollution? The answers are obvious and perhaps this is why the theme of this World Environment Day has been chosen as “time for nature”. Indeed this year too we will celebrate World Environment Day by posting ‘go green’ slogans on social media along with the pictures of planting saplings. But this does it truly fall in the category of “time for nature”? If we really had time for nature today, won’t we feel the terror of witnessing the rabid degradation of nature? In India itself, many butterfly, bird, reptile and mammal species are on their last legs. It is important to realise that the smart-city era can never truly materialise without a sustaining natural environment. The changes in nature due to our irresponsible behaviour has already created difficulties. Desertification, global warming and abrupt climate changes are just the beginning. We may forget about the correlations and causations or be ignorant as many policy makers are. But scientists are clear about the devastating consequences that the end of nature is having on the world. Nature’s reducing impact is generally clear in physical terms: as trees, lakes and open spaces vanish and are supplanted by firmly separated multi-storeyed structures, progressively abusing zoning and difficulty laws: Indian urban communities, at the very least, are transforming into “heat islands”.

The effect of India’s loss of forests and wildlife have been widely documented and reported on a variety of things: monsoons, livelihoods, traditions, etc. For example, the Western Ghats, a 1,40,000 sq km swathe of damp forests and hills larger than Chhattisgarh, running from Gujarat to Kerala, one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots, a cradle of forests, animals and water, interlinked in a vast, intricate web of life, is in danger. This web is being torn apart with unprecedented speed. According to the scientists of the Indian Space Research Organization, over 90 years, the Western Ghats lost a third of its forests along with some innumerable species, many before they were discovered. Another apt example will be of the coal mining issue of Assam. Recently a proposal for coal mining by the North-Eastern Coalfields (NECF), inside Assam’s Dehing Patkai (Amazon of the East) elephant reserve was granted approval by the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) on April 24, 2020 (although coal mining had been illegally going on for a long time at Patkai). “Being a completely virgin rainforest, this sanctuary is very rich in biodiversity. It is an ideal habitat for non-human primates. Till date, 47 mammal species, 47 reptile species and 310 butterfly species have been recorded” there. Moreover, this rainforest “harbours about 293 bird species, belonging to 174 genera and 51 families” along with the habitats of dozen different ethnic groups: the indigenous Assamese communities, Tai Phake, Khamyang, Khamti, Moran, Ahom, Muttack, Nepali people and Tea-tribes. This mining project is harmful for the ecological balance of the whole region but its capitalist backers are powerful. Now, can it truly be ‘time for nature’ when a government, which claims to believe in sustainable development without harming the environment, takes such decisions? Is it really ‘time for nature’ when most of us seek to destroy our mother nature in the name of ‘development’?

It is good to see that our new generation is protesting against deforestation, climate change, coal mining and everything else which may harm our mother nature. But if we genuinely want to stay true to the theme of ‘time for nature’ we must rectify our wasteful ways and opt for sustainable living because today nature needs humanity rather than a teeming population of heartless Homo sapiens.

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