Saplings cannot replace forests felled while Govt rushes to destroy the environment

From Dibang Valley in Arunachal to Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary in Western Ghats, Dehing Patkai in Assam to Gir National Forest, permission for projects have been approved without discussion

Photo Courtesy: Social Media
Photo Courtesy: Social Media

Ranjona Banerji

Evidence that populist politics is dangerous to the social fabric of a society is all around us, world over. There is one aspect of this danger however that we only pay lip service to: the health of the planet. Because the subject seems so enormous or worrisome or technical or just inconvenient that fighting it seems worthless.

And it is true that individual efforts, while laudatory, can manage only so much in getting the planet’s temperature down or stopping the temperature rise. The big change has to come from massive global governmental effort. And equally as massive corporate acceptance.

And here comes the big problem. All the celebrations of the Paris Accord of 2015 went down the drain when President Donald Trump of the USA, reneged on the deal and withdrew from the agreement. The USA is not just the biggest, richest and so on nation in the world, it is also the biggest polluter, with China just having caught up.

And it is in the USA where the most climate misinformation is freely shared and exchanged. Fossil fuel-dependant companies and financiers tie up with politicians to set up a massive climate change denial industry. Outright lies are fed to politicians who parrot them widely, scientists are decried and denigrated and science itself is portrayed as some sort of hoodoo especially designed to upset fossil fuel interests.

A good example of the reach of the fossil fuel industry, despite all the scientific evidence, is the unrelenting abuse directed at the young school student Greta Thunberg for daring to speak her mind about climate change.

The Trump way and the fossil fuel way is one method of combating proof of planetary collapse to suit the doomed future of the fossil fuel industry. In India, we have adapted a whole other method. We pay constant lip service to the problems of climate change and we have several government schemes, some of which actually work especially in renewable energies. For decades now, free saplings have been donated to increase green cover and mitigate the effects of global warming.

This is commendable indeed. But all this would have worked a lot better if we didn’t have that other problem in India: that of the need for relentless “development”. Just as the fossil fuel industry bankrolls political careers in the US, in India, we have our own industrial and political interests. The Narendra Modi government has, for instance, used the lockdown to open up natural reserves for “development” which includes mining, railways and roads.

From the Dibang Valley in Arunachal Pradesh to Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary in the Western Ghats, from Dehing Patkai in Assam to the Gir National Forest in Gujarat, permissions for over 30 projects in eco-sensitive areas have been fast-tracked without the mandatory discussions.

The draft law on Environmental Impact Assessment aims to make permissions for destruction even easier. The draft is in the judicial system, so the life of the planet is in the hands of hopefully enlightened judges. The government meanwhile fights back by blocking websites of environmental activists.

The problem is that destruction of old forests cannot be compensated by planting a few saplings. Planet Earth has gone past that point. My paternal grandfather, a forest officer, was one of the chief initiators of the Van Mahotsav idea, to celebrate our forests, but that was decades ago. Right now, if we do not preserve our old forests, our wildlife, our natural stores of carbon dioxide, we stare at disaster. Not just for us, but for future generations.

The effects of the destruction are already around us: Extreme weather events from unrelenting forest fires to huge droughts to massive storms, extreme temperatures with records being routinely broken, disruptions of normal weather patterns. Then there are melting polar caps, with Greenland, the Arctic and the Antarctic, all in trouble. Melting ice means rising sea levels means disruption of ocean currents means patterns of life in disarray.

The planet will right itself. For life on the planet, that’s another story.

The time for denial and childish reluctance to take responsibility has gone. Untrammelled “development” only makes money for a few. Either way, the planet and Nature do not care. There are solutions, but they require public pressure and public understanding. Politicians won’t do it by themselves. Wake up now or no one will want to wake up 100 years from now.

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