Learn to be Earth stewards

Learn to be Earth stewards

The ‘conquest of nature’ has got us to the precipice of  doom as environmental degradation is the gravest threat to human life, second only to nuclear war

April 22 will be a historic day for the national Capital and perhaps, the world, for it shall be the cleanest Earth Day, since 1970. John McConnell, creator of Earth Day, may be smiling in heaven finally, due to the lack of noxious clouds and vapour trails. The increased oxygen might have made the angels slightly euphoric too. But cosmic events aside, can we conserve our planet? As we introspect, it is clear that the “conquest of nature” has got us to a precipice of planetary doom as environmental degradation is the gravest threat to human life, second only to nuclear war. It has very serious geopolitical consequences. Noam Chomsky recently on Democracy Now said that India and Pakistan, may go to nuclear war over shrinking water resources. Overall the roast is cooked and the Earth cannot take more violence. Pandemics and diseases are corrective reminders from nature, that it is time to steer away from our ecologically-destructive design and recreate a new economy and a new world.

How can we create a new world? Do we renounce the material world and choose a life devoid of technology? No. The Coronavirus provides us with an opportunity to reduce mindless consumption and reimagine a new paradigm, where the air is healthy and waterbodies are clean. To survive climate change and extinction, we need to adopt five principles: Reduce, Reuse, Regenerate, Swadeshi and Agro-ecology. We need a strong “green economy” (non-polluting, circular, renewable-based) to rebuild India and the world. For most part of the last century, technology has been used to destroy the Earth, we have to bridge the two now. The Industrial Revolution 4.0 needs to be built on a “green economy.” But where does this path begin? We begin this journey by bringing “Earth awareness” into our lives. The Earth is alive, she is not merely dirt, or water or mountains to be mined. We have to reconnect with our land, mountains and rivers. We have to respect it.

Once this consciousness fills us, the next step is to reduce our imprint on this planet. Each action or product we buy/use has an impact on this Earth. Yet all our parameters of success — big houses, many cars and so on are ecologically lopsided. Reducing water, fossil fuel and electricity consumption, is not only “smart” but economical too. We need to get off the consumption bandwagon and fossil fuel economy to discover alternatives. A very simple way to reduce consumption is to reuse things. One can start by reusing gallons of RO outlet water for plants or washing dishes, or converting old clothes into blankets. India is filled with innovative ideas of reusing and recycling things.

Discarding two negative patterns of consumption definitely adds up to one big environmental positive. Humans are not masters of the world, but in the words of the renowned American conservationist Aldo Leopold, mere “stewards of the land.” This land we have received from our ancestors, but only borrowed it from our descendants. And carbon reductionism, viewing actions/climate action in terms of their carbon footprint only, is not the only solution. We have to take the positive and holistic approach of regeneration versus an isolated negative outlook of carbon reductionism. Our efforts should not be to replace the fossil-fuel-economy with bio-fuels, or low carbon tech but reinvent the economy and our lives, with regenerative principles of creation.

Mahatma Gandhi outlined the solution for us. He called it Swadeshi economy. This is a system is pillared on self-sufficiency, dignity and local co-operation, while having minimal or a positive impact on the environment. This economy was a decentralised system of production, which shared surpluses and took from other what it could not produce. It is about time we accept a Swadeshi 2.0 in India, aided by ecological technologies. Before you buy something ask yourself can I replace this, with something as good made locally or sustainably?

Now for the final pillar of this pledge: Agro-ecology. Industrial food systems including cattle and poultry farms have destroyed human health and lives. Farmers suicides, cancer, foreclosures of small farmers, abuse and crime in rural communities all around the world are mere symptoms of a rabid production system. Our rivers are polluted with fertiliser and pesticides run-off and the consumer family is experiencing a plethora of diseases. But is agro-ecology viable? Scientist ML Jat has proved so. Agro-ecology does not only provide healthier food, but the practice reduces chemicals and fossil fuels in our food system. It has provided eco-system services by cleaning waters, sequestrating carbon, normalising the nitrogen cycles and flavourful food. So where can we begin? Start at your own home, grow a garden with veggies or plant herbs like coriander in a pot, but remember without chemicals. Reach out to a farmer who can grow food agro-ecologically for you. The culmination of these principles is the foundation of a green economy. As the world has descended into economic darkness, India needs to emerge from the ashes of a broken economic and industrial system to embrace it. On this Earth Day we need to embark on the path of science, resilience and the Earth.

(The writer is Director, Policy and Outreach, National Seed Association of India)

 

Originally published on The Pioneer on April 22nd, 2020: https://www.dailypioneer.com/2020/columnists/learn-to-be-earth-stewards.html
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