By Pitambara Somani and Rajat Rai Handa:
This complex intertwining world we have built around us lays its roots in our environment. However, today the very air we breathe has become the “the world’s single largest environmental health risk”.
100% of the Indian population is exposed to pollution levels exceeding WHO guideline standards. This number includes you. Every year, 1.2 million people die in India because of Air Pollution. What’s worse? It harms children much more than adults. For example, did you know that half of 4.4 million children who live in Delhi suffer from irreversible lung damage? The effects of air pollution are not only unforgiving but also lasting. According to a report released by the Global Burden of Disease, our air has become the fifth largest killer in India.
How did we let things get so dire? This must have been preventable. In a lot of senses, it was, as emissions from thermal plants, vehicles, biomass burning, municipal waste burning, road and soil dust came to light as large contributors. Regulations should have been put in place, and environmental consciousness should have been raised. But the lack of this is argued as a side effect of progress, of industrialization, of jobs being created and the world becoming smaller. If the future is breathing through air masks, we need to re-evaluate and rethink some of our priorities.
And what better time to rethink the issue than Diwali, the festival of lights (and not the festival of firecrackers, as some may have you believe), following which air pollution gets its own stage. By now, everyone has heard about the Supreme Court ban on the sale of firecrackers in the Delhi-NCR region. It sparked a ferocious debate online, fuelled by a misguided tweet by Chetan Bhagat which communalised the issue. Rather than coming together to fight this menace together, people have been divided yet again. Keeping rhetoric aside, let’s look at a fact here: On the morning of November 1, 2016, Delhiites faced average PM2.5 levels over 700 micrograms per cubic meter. This was one of the highest levels ever recorded in the entire world. Anyone who honestly looks around their surroundings after a night filled with firecrackers cannot deny the mess it leaves behind.
So what do we do? As citizens facing a collective problem the first and most obvious suggestion would be to not burst crackers. This Diwali, let us think beyond momentary pleasures.
Reduce, reuse and recycle. The waste we generate is directly linked to the pollution levels around us. So don’t burn your waste, or leaves, or anything for that matter in public. If we all manage our waste properly, less waste reaches landfills and a crisis like Ghazipur is also averted. Landfills themselves contribute to air pollution, so less waste in landfills, means fewer pollutants in our air. Delhi’s waste woes are many and solutions few. Even Waste-to-Energy plants create more problems than they solve.
Be conscious of your energy consumption, because when things come easy, the burden always falls somewhere else. Buy energy saving appliances, install rooftop solar panels, turn off the lights when you leave the room. It is simple, but that doesn’t mean it is not effective. It has a ripple effect.
Use public transport, cycle, walk or carpool whenever you can. It is more taxing and requires more effort but it will help. Plant more trees. Buy local produce. This is not an exhaustive list – find more ways to reduce your ecological footprint and share them with others too!
That brings us to our concluding statement. In our highly opinionated country, not everyone wants to listen or is willing to understand. We would still encourage you to sit with family and friends and discuss this issue at hand. It is important to engage in discourse. Moreover, do try and talk to your local representatives about this as well. Let them know you care and that their response to this crisis is being monitored.
We still truly believe that we live in a wonderful world, and this Diwali we promise to do all the above to keep it that way. Start slow, but start somewhere. Time is running out. Only together can we keep our city, clean, green and more environment-friendly.