14 July 2009

environmentalism in india

One of the casualties of climate change is the Indian monsoon. I have blogged about it before and currently Greenpeace in India is running a Rainspotting project in order to study change in monsoons to feed into the larger climate story. Coming in from London to report is Grace Boyle - she is interning with Greenpeace for the course of the summer and has been blogging about her experiences with her own blog that she writes for the Independent. Grace's accounts are often stark and unflinchingly realistic.

Recently she asked me to write a small piece on environmentalism in India and to read it on her blog, look
here. Or just read on...

Environmentalism is kind of dead in India. This is my belief; mostly environmentalism in its most basic, intrinsic form is connected to the respect for the commons. Anytime someone teaches you not to litter, that someone is teaching you to respect the commons and by proxy igniting an environmental spark. In the absence of this education, both respect for the commons and environmentalism is a lost concept in India.

Environmentalism in India takes on many different forms however – with most of the urban population, it is something that is hyped and something that is ‘someone’ else’s problem. But they do not know who that someone else is and they refuse the responsibility of that someone else being them. Why should they? – with their fat paychecks, fancy cars and flash clothes?

Rural India – the ‘real’ India in so many ways, the India that is connected to the mysteries of this vast land and intrinsically connected to the many colours of her soil. They know. They notice; the changes, the peril that lies beneath those changes, the heart-break that goes with change that is unwanted. To them this change is almost perverse, like a clarion call before death finally comes.

There are some that embrace change and some that fight against it. On the side that fights, there are several organizations working in India to raise the profile of the issue. Public perception of this is varied from apathy to mild interest to outright support. The last category forms the smallest percentage – the apathy is most worrying. Consequences of global warming – the biggest battle that humankind faces barely brings a reaction to many people in India – surprisingly even the so-called informed young crowd.

So far this ‘green’ movement has been just that – a movement, something that can fade away, something that is ‘cool’ for now – like a fashion statement. The gravity behind it is lost somehow because the messengers are trivializing the issue, dumbing it down to reach across to the masses. My argument: concepts of environmentalism have enough there for it to cross over intellectual barriers – this dialing down is detrimental because it aims for a mass rather than a critical mass to hasten the tipping point.

Part of the reason for the inaction and apathy is that India has never been a revolutionary culture – it has been a culture that quietly hums along, taking everything that has been thrown in its way – accepting rather than rebelling. This has been ingrained in its peoples’ psyche so deeply that it will take much much more than threats of climate change to spur this mighty elephant into action.

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