Ankit Anand (Student of AMPPP Class 2021)
Deputy general manager – strategic initiatives and regulatory policy, Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited
Boris Yelstin once said, “We don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone. Freedom is like that. It’s like air. When you have it, you don’t notice it.” These times during the Covid pandemic have been such. With the waves of the virus and its mutations, came the lockdowns and for once, we were bound to our homes with an invisible chain. The ‘lakshman rekhas’ so created encapsulated us within the concrete walls of our dwellings. Across social media handles, people shared their reminiscences of long walks out in the open, amid a scent of flowers, and their longing for a whiff of fresh, free air.. Those routine things, which we took for granted, now seem to be lost.
However, it was never like this before. Over the centuries, we have been exploiting our natural resources to the extent of plundering Mother Earth. The mountains of garbage have become the impromptu welcome gates to our cities. We have been constantly polluting our rivers and then crying hoarse for lack of drinking water. About the air quality, the least said, the better. Long before the pandemic, masks had anyway become necessary if you wanted to survive in heavily polluted air – loaded with PM 2.5 particulates and what not- but, we never stopped and never realized the damage we were doing to our nature, our environment. We never took a break.
Over the past few years, we have started experiencing extreme weather events. The flooding of our cities and towns became so common that it stopped becoming a breaking news anymore. Around a year back, India had battled two super cyclones – first, it was Amphan on the east coast and then Nisarg on the western one. Glancing back, it seems like they were a warning sign of an advancing threat. About the same time this year, nature have sent us a reminder in the form of Taukte taking on the West Coast and Yaas on the Eastern seafront – super cyclones with increasing intensity, damage and unpredictability. Who would have thought that a cyclonic depression that started around Lakshadweep would make inroads as far as Ahmedabad (an aerial distance of about 1400 km) and would impact Haryana as well (a little more than 2000 km)? Before the cyclones, we battled glacier bursts in Uttarakhand, first near Chamoli and then,around Joshimath. These disastrous, unanticipated but not entirely unexpected ‘natural events’ not only took precious lives, but also damaged an entire power plant project that was supposed to be the torchbearer of development in the region.
Even if these signals are not enough, the world witnessed early flowering and fruiting seasons across the world. In Japan, the cherry blossoms peaked in the last week of March, which has been the earliest blossom to ever happen in the last 1200 years. Although we were in the middle of the La Nina event cycle, that was supposed to bring a temporary cooler period, 2020 was the third-warmest year on record. Back home, studies done by the Indian Meteorological Department have indicated a shift in rainfall patterns within the country due to human-induced climate change events. These changes would not only affect the cropping patterns but would devastate the life and livelihoods of people of the area. Another study by the Indian Ministry of Earth Sciences, records the dangerous fact that surface air temperature over the Indian landmass has increased by over 0.7°C during 1901–2018, and that by 1° C over the Indian Ocean region during 1951-2015. Based on the study, the Indian authorities admitted: , “The complex interactions between the earth system components amidst the warming environment and regional anthropogenic influences have therefore led to a rise in frequency of localized heavy rainfall events, drought and flood occurrences, and an increase in the intensity of tropical cyclones etc. in the last few decades.”
Amidst all these developments, our reliance on technology has grown overwhelmingly, to the fact that technology became our favourite go-to buddy. People have their virtual avatars, and their social ‘media’ life has almost overpowered the personal one. Even more so, technology is now being placed as an aid to enable your life and replace the natural elements. Want to visit the tulip gardens in Amsterdam or Kashmir valley? Just put on your AR/VR headset. Want to pet a dog? Just get a robo one. So on and so forth. However, this pandemic-induced break has brought forth the realization that nature and environment are irrreplaceable. While a sense of fatigue emerges from using technological tools and platforms, a simple stroll on green grass outside your home can bring in natural freshness and enliven a being. In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare has said “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Yes, for most of the cases, albeit the one powered by Artificial Intelligence.
Recently, several surveys have reported that GenZ is getting more anxious about environmental matters and climate change. In one of these done by Amnesty, climate change was reported as the most important issue that the world faces today. Rising activism is another sign that people want things done, but a process that has been unchecked for centuries will take time to stop and reverse. It is good that the voices are getting louder, but it is even more important to prevent them from becoming noise. Identifying this trend among the GenZ, the UN has aptly hashtagged this year’s World Environment Day Celebrations with the tag “#GenerationRestoration”. The event on 5th June will also mark the start of a decade of Ecosystem Restoration Programs, and thus the tagline “Reimagine.Recreate.Restore”. Although the program is well-aimed, it would take each one of us to play our part to the fullest to be able to make any meaningful change. So, let’s take a pledge that once the lockdown is over and we allow ourselves to step back in nature, we will amend our ways and make sure that the healing starts – not only for us but, more importantly, for the environment around us.
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“The views expressed in this article are personal. Ankit Anand is a student of the Advanced Management Programme in Public Policy at the Indian School of Business.”