Our development models have been mostly copy-pasted from other countries, especially Europe and the Americas without any concern for local needs and situations. This has been going on since the last century. Earlier it was compulsive to do so because of colonialism but now that we have a sovereign state doing the same thing is another level of nonsense.
In any so-called development project, nature is the first one to be sacrificed. Humans are seen as something distinct from nature and not as part of it. One positive thing that this Coronavirus has shown us that we are a small minuscule minority when it comes to living on this planet. Therefore we are not owners of nature but just temporary guests. The tree plantation exercise being done all over the country are a target driven exercise with little planning and concern for natural factors. Foreign and invasive species are being planted ignoring native species which grow well even in bad conditions.
Also, some trees planted were just ornamental or incompatible with their local environments and barely absorbed any emissions. The tree plantation idea probably seems to have been picked up from a similar initiative in the UK. Plantation thus remains a major PR exercise and on the ground, all the money, time and energy are wasted in the long run.
The need is to become scientifically rigorous about these methods and adopt them as per the context. The plantation drive mentioned in the UK has also failed because of similar reasons. Our first priority should be to stop cutting the existing trees and depletion of forests. It is the most precious resource on the planet and influences everything from climate to rainfall and also our lifestyles. Just try walking down a street with trees on both sides on a hot summer afternoon, and another street with no or fewer trees. You will notice a temperature difference of at least 3-5 degree centigrade. Not just that, the most important thing – oxygen as we call in Bharat “ praan vayu” comes from trees.
Afforestation seems to be a good damage control option but it’s foolish to do it after destroying the existing vegetation. Annually over 15 billion trees are cut down and if we go on at this speed there will be no tree left on Earth after 200 years. The industrial revolution has unleashed this nude dance of anti-nature development activities further fired up by globalization after the 1990s.
Forests in this country have nurtured rivers and ancient civilizations for many thousands of years. They are the basis of our existence! Most of our festivals, rituals etc are also nature-based. Development is needed but not at the cost of the environment. Another important point is the way in which we have landscaped our cities and lifestyles. Both are driven by a mad consumption-driven model, wherein if only if you consume more goods, it is seen as a mark of progress.
This has created issues of urban heat islands, temperature variations and disease spreads. In my city itself, I have witnessed the mad rush to make cement roads and block the entire street leaving no gaps even for the rainwater to percolate in the soil. It’s hard to find open space anywhere now.
The public apathy towards all this and also the lack of awareness in our educational systems where EVS is just a time pass subject to score more grades add up to the problem. The youth has been the driver of social change in any country and needs to be mobilised even on this topic. They are the ones who will suffer the consequences in the long run.
In the end, it is not just about government policies or industrial houses working together – it won’t help unless you and I and each one of us gets together to create change. Our thoughts, actions, habits, character and approach formed at an early age in life, will go a long way in sustaining these changes.