Saturday, December 16, 2006

Environment and health - clean up ?

Typically, when we talk about global warming, India typically takes the stance that global warming is caused by the rich countries, and now when not-so-well developed countries are trying to develop, they are so far behind in emissions per person that they deserve the right to continue on their development track for a long time and not worry so much about environmental control. This sounds like a pretty nice track to follow and actually sounds pretty logical, but I submit that this is good as a negotiating position and not for internal policies.
India needs to follow sound environmental policies for its own good. We need to learn far more from the experience of other countries in the region of environmental control. The western countries have gone through long periods of tremendous environmental exploitation and have suffered through it. They have had long periods of smog that caused immense suffering to their citizens, they had extremely dirty and polluted water bodies. It is only when they saw the ill-effects of this on their citizens that they acted, and spent vast amounts of money to repair the situation, including putting forward laws to control things. In the US, it has been local governments that are acting when the federal government has shirked its responsibility by imposing controls. The Europeans have taken great steps towards environmental control and consider the issue to remain a priority in their policies.
We in India have a environment ministry that is only as strong as the willpower of its minister, and improvements have typically come in only when the courts have taken the quality of life as a standard and started cracking down on pollution control. Even with this small effort, there are vast sections of the economy and industry, especially in smaller towns, that continue to be environmentally unsafe.
Water bodies are extremely polluted and there are hardly any active effective campaigns to make these water bodies such as rivers and lakes (which are as valuable as gold in terms of their necessity) safer for human and animal use. We kill (in terms of poaching and due to sheer apathy) some of our precious wild-life and yet there is only a muted hue and cry (missing tigers in Sariska as an example). Go to some of the smaller cities and you cannot escape the pollution in the sky and in the air.
The health and productivity costs are incredible. Pollution and unsafe working conditions condemns many families every year to doom. We have managed to sow so much fertilizer and chemicals in the ground to try and boost farm productivity that we have a cocktail of chemicals every time we eat something. Typically every year, there is a brown cloud floating over South Asia (visible from satellites) that is a devil's concoction of chemicals.
It is only when citizens gear up and campaign for better environments that we will lead a healthier life. We need more examples of people doing their bit for a safer environment. One example is from this article on Desicritics (about a man trying to calculate the cost of a tree and propagate the message). Even the Supreme Court that has been very active in terms of improving the environment acted on the basis of complaints filed by an active lawyer and due to the campaigns by ordinary citizens.
It is only when we raise our voices that we can improve things. Even if one is not able to do something directly, at least follow good environmental policies of your own. Make sure that your vehicles are well-tuned and avoid too many emissions (this also saves fuel); observe what all your throw out and evaluate how much of re-use can happen; if you read about people doing good work in this area, see how you can contribute to their work (it could be just a cash donation or actual spending time on that effort).

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:14 AM