Countries in some parts of the world have managed to flatten the curve of rising infections, but, what about flattening the curve of rising environmental degradation?
Climate strikes all over the world gained momentum in 2019. In September 2019, global climate strikes all over the world witnessed large scale participation. The protests which took place on September 20, 2019 were the largest climate strikes in human history with about 1.4 million people participating in Germany, 300,000 people in the UK and Australia, and around 250,000 people in New York alone. These protesters have been demanding climate action from their governments. They demand a complete shift to renewable energy and implementation of policies for environmental conservation.
While it hasn’t been easy to change the attitude of policy makers from one of apathy and denial to one of acknowledgement, the pandemic and the consequent social distancing measures make it harder. It has become tough to register their protests in public and demand climate action by coming out in large numbers. Thus, the climate movement has gone completely virtual and seems to be raging on, as it attempts to bring within its ambit more and more environmentally-conscious citizens.
Many video conferences are being held to increase awareness among people and initiate dialogue around the climate crisis and its various facets. This initiative has given rise to new collaborations among different organisations working around environmental issues. The virtual world makes it possible for environmentally-conscious citizens from all over the world to connect, strategize and share experiences with each other.
The COVID-19 crisis has made people from all over the world more conscious about the wide ranging consequences of environmental destruction and mismanagement. It has made people realise that we are not equipped to deal with various problems related to environmental degradation such as rising air pollution, shrinking agricultural land, depletion of freshwater resources, spread of infectious diseases, increasing severity and frequency of natural disasters, rising sea levels and various other issues.
At the same time, this wake-up call is being blatantly ignored by our government. The government is making many environmentally harmful decisions. In April 2020, the Environment Ministry cleared the Etalin hydroelectric project in the Dibang Valley of Arunachal Pradesh. The project will result in felling of 2.7 lakh trees in the biodiversity-rich Himalayan area.
The project had been in consideration for many years by the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) and had faced opposition from locals in Arunachal Pradesh, especially the local tribals. The government has used the nationwide lockdown as an opportunity to give their nod to a highly controversial project which will have irreversible consequences for the environment.
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) proposed a draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 2020 on March 12, 2020, which would replace the current notification of 2006. The EIA notification of 2006 is used to regulate clearance given to various projects such as dams, highways, ports, airports, mines, thermal powers plants, etc.
The EIA provides the mechanism for taking into consideration the views of various people who would be affected by the proposed projects. The new EIA notification threatens to change India’s environmental protection and regulation policy in a way that could have disastrous consequences for the ecology and lives of people affected by these projects:
These steps by the government prove that environmental activism has a long and difficult path ahead of it, before our politicians even acknowledge the looming environmental crisis and start acting in accordance with rules of environmental law and start taking climate action.
It is necessary for us to recognise the limitations the current pandemic puts on the climate movement. It has become harder than before to communicate, mobilise and have public discussions with people in remote areas and people from underprivileged backgrounds who do not have access to the internet and telephone services. Communities such as those of farmers, fish workers and tribals are the ones who are directly and severely affected by the environmental policies of the government and thus they have an instrumental say in public discourse on such issues.