By Charumati Haran:
One of the most popular economic sayings is that “There’s no such thing as a free lunch”. Families all over the world follow it in their daily lives and children are taught to judge every option for its pros and cons.
How does this relate to the environment? Let’s face it: People will not usually help the environment if they cannot see some kind of benefit. For example, when one has a choice between using a cloth bag which is expensive or using a plastic bag which is universally available and versatile. It is a similar to the choice between using a petrol car versus a diesel car. In fact, many times, environment friendly alternatives are either more expensive or harder to obtain. While many may be convinced by pure love for the environment, it is a different matter for those who have limited resources (including patience!). Many people can only vaguely understand that it will help “the earth”. Many also believe that because they alone cannot influence the environment movement and so it would make no impact whether they alone pollute or protect. Especially when one considers that many people may not be educated or learned enough to understand all the benefits, it is not surprising that the initiatives to help the environment do not get as much help as they should. The challenge therefore in this day and age is to make helping the environment economically viable and useful for the great majority.
Another thing that would be of great help would be to make it fashionable. If helping the environment is adopted by the youth the same way they have adopted mobiles, internet and facebook, progress will be much faster. The problem here is that many of the admirable initiatives, sometimes taken by the youth themselves, do not receive enough publicity.
So keeping these two things in mind, I would like to share with the readers 3 initiatives which make it easy to help the environment:
1. The Citizen Sparrow Initiative — Anyone living in India, especially those in urban cities, would have noticed by now the decline in the numbers of sparrow. These lovely birds and their chirping will soon be left only in memory if something is not done to save them. The citizen sparrow initiative is by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) which tries to document the population and specially the distribution of sparrows. One can visit here , create an account and fill out a simple questionnaire. Any citizen can contribute his knowledge of sparrows in a particular location, how many they remember, when they saw them and so on. A comprehensive database is being formed with member contributions marked on a map. This data will be very helpful to BNHS and the organizations which are collaborating with the BNHS on this project. A similar campaign has been launched by the Nature Forever Society. Their ‘Common Bird Monitoring of India’ programme is on www. cbmi.in
2. Rural innovations — It is not shown often enough in the mainstream media about how rural areas of India have become a hotbed for innovation. A cycle that runs on water and land, a scooter-powered flour mill, a solar mosquito killer, a cycle-powered washing machine, a pollution control device that can be attached to almost any genset — these are just a few of the over 100,000 outstanding innovations that have come from rural India. Some of the innovations, like the scooter-powered-flour mill have made debuts (in the film 3 Idiots), but a majority of these brilliant ideas and products are yet to be recognized across the country. They should be taken up and encouraged by state governments and central governments through grants. These innovations are tailored to the requirements of the rural areas and are often much cheaper than using conventional products. The National Innovation Foundation maintains a database of nearly 1, 40,000 innovations in a number of fields. However, because not all are publicized or sponsored, they do not reach their full potential in the national or international market. This will also be important in economic upliftment of the poor.
3. Eco-friendly startups — This is a much more successful version of the above. Young entrepreneurs are making waves with startups in retail. The startups themselves are quite varied: Some focus on selling quirky eco-friendly products for home use including Haathi Chaap, Bougainvilla Design and DastKari Haat Samiti. Others focus on activities like packaging (HonECOre). Sarga focuses on textiles, both industrial and textile. An example of online retail is MyGREENKart.com. Some designers are even using the abundant waste in our society to create works of Art! Examples are Junk 2 Inbox and Wonder Waste.
Of course, to all of these one can add the more commonly heard pieces of advice: reuse paper, conserve water and electricity, carpool, use public transport and so on. But one has to analyze deeply to figure out why so many people do not follow these ideas, even when they can conveniently do so. Personal preferences may be one reason, but many times people genuinely believe that the current state is better than switching to an eco-friendly way of doing things. This is where it has to be made easier for people. While the government undoubtedly plays a very important role in this, the role of the people is to ensure the right changes are made. The most convenient way to do that these days, is an RTI application, as getting the right information is the first step to solving a problem. A fight against the system may seem personal at first, but inspiration spreads when someone takes the first step.