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Environmental concerns and remedies

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By: Muneeb Afzal

Our relationship with our environment is intimate, intrinsic and inseparable. It is based on the amalgam of rights and responsibilities both of which are equally important to lend stability and sustainability to the foundations of the relationship. Any attempt to prioritize our rights while trumping the consideration of responsibilities will lead to disastrous repercussions. If we possess the right to utilize the environment and its resources for pursuing the goals of material prosperity, at the same time we are obliged to utilize it judiciously and give a due regard to the rights of other nonhuman living things.  Morality must go beyond anthropocentricism so as to value the rights of other living creatures as well.  Our right in this context devoid of responsibility will degenerate into license which is a potential threat to the integrity, stability and sustainability of our environment. A brief survey of this give and take relationship is of immense importance to assess how things have gone so far.

The benefits flowing from environment can be assessed on three different levels -material, cultural and personal. Apart from providing a basic life supporting system, the environment nourishes the generations and facilitates the development of civilizations. The recent decades witnessed a great progress in economic growth and development in which we take a lot of pride, what explains these achievements? Of course the human effort has been instrumental in these accomplishments but it would be highly unrealistic to assess the achievements in terms of human efforts only and overlooking the significant contribution of our environmental resources. Our relationship with our environment is not wholly and solely material in nature, we attach a cultural significance to it as well. We identify ourselves with the surroundings we live in.

As a Kashmiri, I identify myself with the scenic beauty of my Kashmir and its soothing climate. The Jhelum means something more than merely a river for me and the chinar is a part of my being a Kashmiri.  At the personal level, one attaches a meaning to his environment in his capacity as an individual. The natural beauty penetrates his soul and provides to him what may be called an inner comfort. He understands the language of nature and communicates with it to find the peace of heart and soul.

Let us come to the other side of the story which is dark and dismal.  It is very unfortunate that in the race for material aggrandizement and to satisfy our extreme version of self-interest we lost the sight of our responsibilities towards the environment. Our one sided considerations for satisfying material selfish instincts made us intrude the environment aggressively and assertively. We remained highly unprincipled and immoral in our relationship with our mother earth. Our Endeavour to privatize the interest and socialize the loss has given rise to a number of serious environmental concerns.  The issues of biodiversity loss, climate change, pollution and land degradation we face today entirely justify the claim.

My conscience compels me to present a picture of what is happening at the most basic level of our villages. The human greed is plundering their beauty and shattering their charm.  The wide flowing streams shrunk with every passing year. The disposal of human and animal wastes pollutes their water and obstructs their flow. The burning of stubble during the harvesting season poisons the air and throwing of household wastes into the open spaces robs our villages of their luster and splendor. Our villages known for natural beauty are falling victim to our reckless and negligent behaviour. The story of our towns and cities is no different. Rising population, industrialization and many other factors have deteriorated the quality and exerted an intense pressure on the environment.

What we do to our environment is a mirror reflection of what we do to ourselves and our future generations. The backlash of our carelessness towards our environment in the form of grave environmental concerns is quite visible. The issues of pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, land degradation, health issues etc have given a serious setback to the quality of human life. The lives of numerous others species are under threat and some are no longer in existence. There is a question mark on the sustainability of the environment as well. Nothing but human transgression is responsible for all this.

Given the nature of the issue, environmental protection is not a choice but a necessity. Our concern for ourselves must include at the forefront a concern for our environment. We are left with no alternatives but to be action oriented to address the issues of environment. There have been efforts at international, national and regional levels in which governments try to devise a mechanism to deal with the environmental issues. Of course the cooperation between national governments, international organizations and other nongovernmental organizations is crucial, however here I shall briefly stress the need for community driven transformation. The involvement of local community is so fundamental and crucial that without it much of the facts cannot be changed on the ground.

To attain the goals of community driven transformation, the role of education and environmental awareness programmes become crucial. Environmental consciousness must be inculcated into the people so as to familiarize them with what to do and what not to do. Through the use of various platforms including social media, an aggressive campaign must be initiated to change the reckless behaviour of people towards their environment. At the local level, people must be encouraged to use dustbins for waste disposal. The must be prompted to construct and use toilets to ensure pride and dignity for themselves. Planting trees and not obstructing the flow of water are among other things that can be encouraged at the local level. To put it in the words of Baba Dioum, we conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, we will understand only what we are taught.

We must now understand that it is our environment and it is our responsibility to conserve and preserve it. We must understand that our actions must not violate the rights of other species and the rights of coming generations. We must strike a proper balance between our rights and responsibilities so that environment remains stable and sustainable. Besides our mother earth and its environment, we have nowhere to go we are obliged to protect ourselves in the form of protecting our environment.

Service to the environment is a service to the humanity, poisoning it is poisoning humanity.

– The writer can be reached at [email protected]

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