Fight to preserve our fragile ecosystems

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Fight to preserve our fragile ecosystems

Thursday, 06 June 2024 | Rajdeep Pathak

Fight to preserve our fragile ecosystems

It is crucial to adopt sustainable practices to protect our environment and ensure a secure future for the coming generations, or it may be too late before we realise it

The planet is grappling with unprecedented environmental challenges. According to media reports on May 29, 2024, Delhi recorded the highest temperature of over 50 degrees Celsius, a record-breaking event in 80 years. Then, there is the impending water crises, looming large in the Capital City – between politics and their blame game. Meanwhile, forest fires ravage the hills amidst the political fire ignited by the biggest dance of democracy, the Lok Sabha Elections which has finally ended and a new government will soon join the league of service within this ‘democratic’ panorama.

Not only this, according to media reports, a massive fire broke out in Kashmir’s Ramnagar forest division early Sunday, June 2, 2024, causing immense damage and an estimated loss of crores of rupees in timber and other natural resources. Another major fire has been raging for three days in Daya Dhar of Ghordi Block, Udhampur District, intensifying, despite continuous firefighting efforts. The Daya Dhar forest, home to a significant population of peacocks, has suffered extensive harm, impacting these birds and other wildlife. The forest fires in Udhampur pose severe threats to the environment, wildlife, and local communities, with the destruction of vegetation and the release of harmful pollutants having far-reaching consequences.

Not just this, the social media ‘Instagram’ is upbeat with a heart-wrenching visual display of hundreds of people of all age groups raising their solidarity in preventing the authorities from felling over 2000 trees of the Khalanga forest, prominently the Sal trees in the hill state of Dehradun. The reason for felling the trees – to address the water crises faced by the City.

This proposal has sparked significant opposition from local activists and citizens, who are protesting, pleading, and urging officials, including authorities – from the Chief Minister to the bureaucrats – to reconsider this move. They highlight that the Khalanga Forest, a vital green lung for the city, contains century-old trees and diverse species, crucial for maintaining ecological balance. Activists suggest constructing the reservoir in Dwara village, which has barren land and suffers from water scarcity, as a more sustainable alternative.

According to a report, dated May 9, 2024, published at https://groundreport.in/latest/dehradun-2000-trees-will-be-cut-in-khalanga-forest-to-make-a-reservoir-4550484, activists are voicing strong opposition, citing the ongoing climate challenges like wildfires, etc. Citizens believe that the plan to cut 2,000 trees from the reserve forest requires serious rethinking. Further, residents of Doon, led by Colonel Vikram Thapa (retd), president of Bal Bhadra Khalanga Vikas Samiti, suggest using barren land instead of encroaching on lush green forests. Initially proposed for the Kulhan Mansingh area, the site was shifted to Khalanga. Demonstrators, including ‘Nature Buddies’, ‘Citizens for Green Doon’, ‘Balbhadra Vikas Samiti’, ‘Toy Foundation’, ‘Proud Pahadi’, and ‘Pahadi Peddlers’, symbolically tied “Rakshasutra” (see Instagram video) on marked trees.

Not only this, in another such incident, the Delhi-Dehradun Expressway construction, aimed at improving connectivity, resulted in the felling of over 7,500 trees, along a 16-km section. Approximately 4,983 trees were in Uttarakhand, while 2,592 were in Uttar Pradesh. To compensate, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) proposes to plant 1.76 lakh trees.

Welcome to the celebrations thatmarked the 2024 World Environment Day on June 5. Amidst these glaring adversities and threats to the environment, the World Environment Day 2024 celebrations – whose underlying theme this year is “Our land. Our future We are #GenerationRestoration,” calls for global action for protecting the environment and rethinking the decisions, that could be detrimental to Mother Nature and her inhabitants. No doubt, this year’s World Environment Day (WED) campaign, focused on land restoration, desertification and drought resilience. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia  hosted the 2024 World Environment Day global celebrations.

Despite commitments to Sustainable Development Goal 13 by 2030, climate change persists with escalating devastation. Global temperatures are rising, fuelling catastrophic events like Europe’s 2019 heatwave and Australia’s 2019-2020 bushfire season. Melting ice caps imperil coastal regions and islands like the Maldives, Miami, and Venice. Extreme weather events, including record-breaking hurricanes and deadly typhoons, wreak havoc, exacerbating water scarcity through prolonged droughts and shifting precipitation patterns.

Addressing climate change requires a comprehensive approach: reducing greenhouse gas emissions, adapting to changing conditions, and promoting sustainable development. Transitioning to renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and geothermal is crucial, with countries like Germany and Denmark leading in adoption. Enhancing energy efficiency in buildings, transportation, and industries can further reduce emissions.

Sustainable agricultural practices, like agroforestry and organic farming, help lower emissions and enhance food security, while urban farming and vertical agriculture offer innovative solutions. Protecting and restoring natural ecosystems, which act as carbon sinks, is vital. Efforts like the Bonn Challenge and Costa Rica's reforestation initiatives demonstrate the benefits of increasing forest cover and biodiversity.

Promoting a circular economy can reduce resource consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by minimizing waste and reusing materials.

The European Union's Circular Economy Action Plan exemplifies this approach, aiming to transition from a linear “take-make-dispose” model. Sustainable urban development, focused on creating resilient, low-carbon cities, emphasizes public transportation, green building practices, and smart city technologies.

Education and awareness are also critical, as schools, universities, and community organizations play essential roles in fostering environmental stewardship. Through environmental education programmes and campaigns, individuals can be empowered to make informed decisions and take action to protect the environment.

In this context, Mahatma Gandhi’s poignant reflection on our connection to the Earth resonates profoundly in these times: “If Earth is not we are not. I feel nearer to God by feeling Him through the Earth. In bowing to the Earth, I at once realise my indebtedness to Him, and, if I am a worthy child of that Mother, I shall at once reduce myself to dust and rejoice in establishing kinship with not only the lowliest of human beings, but also with the lowest forms of creation whose fate-reduction to dust I have to share with them.” This profound statement encapsulates the essence of environmental stewardship and the need for sustainable development.

James Lovelock, a British scientist, proposed the Gaia hypothesis, which views the Earth as a self-regulating system. This idea aligns with Mahatma Gandhi’s view of the Earth as a living entity with which we share a deep connection. Lovelock’s work emphasizes the interdependence of all living and non-living components of the Earth, suggesting that harming one part affects the whole system.

As we face the pressing issue of climate change, it is imperative to adopt sustainable practices to protect our environment and secure the future for coming generations. Individual actions, combined with collective efforts, can pave the way for a sustainable world, ensuring that future generations inherit a healthy and thriving planet. It is now or never.

(The writer is Programme Executive, Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samit; views are personal)

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