The number of people who have joined their hands, across India, to win the title of the third-largest carbon emission producer globally amounts to 1,369,084,656. In India, around 62 million tonnes of waste are produced every year and only a mere 22% of that is processed- downcycled or upcycled. Also, by 2045 the numbers will reach 450 million tonnes.
It is popularly believed that the re-advent of globalisation and increasingly complex functionalities of capitalism that has pushed the patterns of a consumer all around the world to undergo immense change. Patterns of consumption are part of the problem and are not the sole prerogative for the same. Indian society has witnessed a paradigm shift from the old tradition where the nature of thriftiness—wherein the families, generation-after-generation, not only reused and recycles products, towards a more expansive neo-consumption habit, where ‘generation X and Y,’ characterised by substantially high levels of disposable income in hand, are moving towards compulsive hyper-consumption. What we need to distinguish here is that consumption is not wrong, rather it is a necessity.
Although that being said, unregulated and unprecedented levels often result in bringing forth the unsustainability of man. Consumption constitutes of vital choices, entailing to both lifelines (water, food, clothes, health) and lifestyles (white goods, brand-conscious compulsive shopping, leisure, entertainment) that explicitly and implicitly impact our environment. Further, there is an inequality in consumption patterns, often resulting in a large section of the more vulnerable rungs of society having to directly deal with its aftermath. It is instrumental that the species of human beings—us—understand that our actions and decisions not only threaten our immediate environment but will also lead to the extinction of other species.
Time and again, humans are sold the idea of how more is good and is a stepping stone to one’s happiness. What many undermine, is one’s individuals ability to not only ensure their own safety and healthy living but also that of the others. To progress towards building a conducive environment for all, across species and biotic-abiotic systems, a solution can be drawn from shifting our economy’s pattern.
India, from a ‘circular’ economy, has made a journey towards becoming a ‘linear’ economy, which has been categorised as the core of the problem. In the past, when a jar of jam would get over, it found a new life within Indian households as a pickle container, or to store pulses, etc. Today, its new home is tucked away from the aesthetically pleasing city boundaries to the suburbs that hold landfills. Land, like other natural resources, are finite in nature. Therefore, judicious use of the same is the key to sustainable development. Despite us seeing no worth in our waste, there is enormous potential to capitalise on it as a resource that is of value. There is a section of the population within India, approximately 1.7 million, whose livelihoods are engaged in value preservation of the waste produced by us.
Now is the time to acknowledge that we live in a world where a global ‘crisis’ and not global ‘change’ is the reality, a world that needs to start to see merit in what impact an individual can have on the world. The planet is under growing pressure, our consumption is only adding to that, which is why we need to do our bit. Is our reluctance perhaps the hypocrisy of the human mind that stops it from achieving its best potential? Are we suffering from the tragedy of the common goods? Or are we the rational human beings pushing the onus on the government and not engaging in a dialogue at the level of the civil society. Whatever it might be, one has to take a call and be the change-maker.
Note: The author is part of the current batch of the Writer’s Training Program.