The Gadgil Committee report in 2011, headed by the famous Indian ecologist, Madhav Gadgil, was criticized for being too environment-friendly.
In Goa, every Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report submitted by iron ore mining companies provided false information about the hydrological impact of mining.
Some people I know were stranded on rooftops during this past week’s flooding in Kerala. My friend’s grandmother, uncle and aunt went missing for a few days. My district, Idukki, was the worst hit, although for some miraculous reason, the small town where my house is situated was almost unaffected. Tourist destinations like Munnar lay in shambles. The multiple resorts, granite quarries and mines had left the mountainsides devoid of enough vegetation to retain topsoil during rains, leading to landslides that snowballed into avalanches of soil.
Most towns, cities and villages have turned into little islands, cut off from each other and from the rest of India. Although the cities of Kochi and Trivandrum are not too badly hit, water and electricity supplies have been cut. Power cables would electrocute people if they fell in the flood waters and water pipes that broke under the pressure of floodwaters could not be repaired at those depths. Airports are shut, train services halted and roads destroyed, and right now, my parents say it is like waking up from a war: the worst is yet to come.
I helped organize donation drives in my college hostel. But at the back of my mind, it keeps nagging me, the fact that we are sending them food, toiletries, essentials all packed in plastic, and then bundled together into ‘care packages’ again tied together in one plastic bag. Plastic is what we spew into the oceans. And during the flood, the rivers regurgitated all the waste that we threw at them. In areas where the water subsided, you cannot see the clay that you would normally expect after a flood, you see a carpet of waste, of plastic bottles and bags and utensils and toys; you see nature giving back what we gave it.
After the floodwaters subside, the state must deal with the spread of waterborne diseases that have already begun their advance, and the rehabilitation of hundreds of thousands of people whose homes have been destroyed, not to mention cleaning up, restarting transport operations and reorganizing agriculture.
When the cyclone Ockhi hit the coasts of Kerala last year, little press coverage was given to the lives of the fishermen it had affected. People mentioned it in passing, but fishermen are far away from the humdrum of city life, their existence was barely acknowledged, their sufferings blamed on themselves. The Syrian Catholic churches said that since the fishermen were newly converted Latin Catholics, they were not obliged to help them, it was a case that the Latin Catholic church had to deal with on their own. During last week’s flood, it was these very fishermen who have been, and still are, rescuing people, regardless of the nuances of Catholicism and religion, from places the army cannot reach with their advanced rubber boats, which are too light to withhold the force of gushing floodwater. The fishermen, used to navigating the harsh seas in their dinghy wooden boats, are skilled at maneuvering through the waters to reach those who need help. One fisherman laid in the water to act as a bridge for people to walk on from a rooftop on to his boat. To call it heroic would be an understatement.
We ignore nature in the same vein we ignored these fishermen. We talk constantly of increasing our material comfort, of buying our mothers expensive bags and our fathers expensive yachts, of one day being able to join the mile high club so that we can laud it on instagram. We fail to realize the blip that we are in this world, this universe. In the flood relief camps, both rich and poor alike live together, both rich and poor alike have only the clothes on their backs and nothing else. Maybe the rich have iPhones to call their relatives with, but what difference does it make when the telecom provider is the same, when the clarity of the call is equal. They are all eating the same rations now, suffering equally now. Would it change their minds in the future? Would they be nicer to the less fortunate once they have their wealth returned to them? Maybe, maybe not.
Gadgil warns of the likelihood of a similar situation bound to arise in Goa, where mining and ‘development’ are paving the way for potential monsoon-related disasters. No one listened to him in 2011, no one is listening to him in 2018. Personally, I love both these states for their natural beauty and laid back way of life, and the thought of one succumbing to the other’s fate has me in a state of horror.
I talk about climate change a lot on social media. My area of research is in climate modelling. It’s for a reason. It’s because I realized, not understood but realized (and yes, there’s a difference, believe me), that we can’t take nature for granted. Capitalism is the antithesis of nature, it’s a perpetual cycle of infinite greed fueled by a conscious ignorance of real world consequences. If we don’t rethink our current system, and I mean the whole socio-economic system that praises profit, we cannot avoid digging our own grave.
For the past few years, my parents have been on a path of self-sufficiency. They are attempting to go entirely ‘off-grid’, self-reliant when it comes to food, water and energy, and for the most part, they’ve succeeded. But the years when we were transitioning from the materialist culture served to us to this path of being one with nature, we faced a lot of opposition and skepticism. I remember a younger me being occasionally angry at them for not conforming to society’s standards of what ‘wealthy’ should look like: where was the big SUV and the massive driveway? Why were we so far from shopping malls and clubs? Where were the gyms? Eventually I got used to, and began appreciating, their lifestyle and their choices. We barely depended on companies or the government to provide us with the major resources you need for life. The barren land we bought had been converted into an oasis of flora and fauna. I felt like we had built our own resort and we were, and are, truly happy there. Even now, it amazes me to think of the progress they made but on the outside, to society, their progress was next to nothing, and it is this culture of profit-mongering that irked me. And it is this culture that has been failing us time after time.
It takes a lot of courage to go against the tide, and that’s what most people lack. I think that’s what allows the tide to wash over us. Let’s hope that this is a lesson learned, and when my state has to be rebuilt, let’s hope we build around nature, instead of over it.