[World Environment Day] An Approach Towards Holistic Environmental Narrative

Environmentalists have been warning us for some time of doomsday scenarios and we have hardly flinched in response. But today on June 5th 2020, with pandemic Covid-19, swarm of locusts in the air, the Cyclone Nisarga, Amphan unleashing at one end of the spectrum have surely taken us aback with shock and tremors, and emergence of greenery all around, emergence of species said to be rare or even extinct to several habitats, the pollution indicators at an all-time low have pleasantly been soothing to say the least. Surely, this period is going to be one of the most defining timeline for coming generations. Herein we have both the signs of hope for the future, accompanied with even more greater signs of dismay, pessimism and even annihilation.

Thus today, we are at the cross roads and the path we embark on, is going to define the trajectory of life here on planet Earth. Climate change and environmental degradation is one of the most pressing challenges that confront the humanity. Some experts believe it is an existential threat. The everyday rising number of droughts and floods do pay testament to the above theory. The number of species of flora and fauna that has gone extinct also tells the sorry story of our times. As Naom Chomsky puts it, to diagnose climate change as “extremely severe” is an incorrect diagnosis, it is much more than that. We in India as a “developing” country, find ourselves with a question of trade-off between developments vs. nature. In recent times, the number of environmental clearance that has been granted has prompted few activists to rename the Environmental Ministry to Clearance Ministry. Our individual attitude and actions towards environment need a serous makeover.

In this milieu, I propose a serious introspection, rethinking and coming together of minds and chalking a way ahead, and embarking on a journey towards a Holistic, Egalitarian and Sustainable World. One of the pre-requisites of the above mentioned vision is a change/alteration in the worldview on nature, environment and relation with human beings.  I would like to propose three key principles to start a discussion on a fresh narrative to mitigate the crisis:

Take Responsibility/Ownership:

Very often, despite understanding the gravity of the environmental catastrophe, people hardly respond. This is due to perception that it is not our fault, or there is nothing they say or do, which will lead to visible changes. This is true even at international level, where countries pass on the ball from developed to developing countries and vice versa. So at this juncture, it is paramount that we take responsibility for the actions. This is the first step, in the direction. In Quran “Mischief has appeared on land and Sea because of the hands of men that have earned” (30:41). Thus this principle must be implemented both at individual and collective level. When we take responsibility, we will effectively become the stakeholders, which will open multiple avenues to mitigate the crisis.

Holistic Outlook

The modern man has had the attitude of being at war with Nature. He is plundering, looting, ravaging whatever he finds, how much ever he wants. Man has gone into depth of oceans and plundered to the highest peaks of mountains to deepest terrains on soil. The essential root cause of all this mishaps is our attitude and outlook. Arundhati Roy in an interview puts this perspective beautifully when she says, “humans look at the beautiful mountain, and all they see is how much bauxite mineral they can extract”. Precisely this is the deep rooted attitudinal shift that is required. In a free market, liberal system, the exploitation of resources needs an alternate vision. Religion and spirituality has guided humanity from time immemorial and it has gems which can turn this place into paradise. Two of the important perspective regarding outlook are, firstly we must understand our position here on the earth. We are the vicegerents of the God here on earth, a trustee and it is our responsibility to look after this place. Thus this outlook brings a dynamic shift in our positioning from plundering to protecting, winning or losing to living in harmony. Second very important perspective is that of balance. This earth has been prepared with delicate balance, or “Mizaan” as the terminology goes, and the directive is do not transgress the balance. If we are to glance at the major Environmental crisis at hand, and inherently the principle of Balance has been violated. Thus, this is also an important perspective in the Quest for holistic narrative.

Respect for Nature

The Third and the important principle which is being proposed are respect and love for nature. The Trees, animals, stars and the galaxies form the intricate ecosystem that we live in. It is essential that all the stakeholders are treated with equal importance. Herein lays the secret of this principle. We must consider all the sentinel beings as stakeholders, not as MAN vs Rest and plunder the Ecosystem, the resultant which we see in forms of different crisis of increasing magnitudes. In Quran there is a concept of “Ummamul Amthakaloon” which means nations of many species. This concept can be extended to understand that there is a divine sanction for the sanctity for all kind of life here on earth and in them are the signs of the Magnificent, Creator who is behind this. Thus these creations in nature are acting in accordance with Divine purpose serve the higher purpose. And the elimination of such in form of extinction of species is bound to have repercussions. Thus the new narrative has to place Nature at its true pedestal and this is not just materialistic desire for our future generations to inherit a habitable earth, but also our endeavour to lead a harmonious and a syncretic life.

I will close these deliberations with three action oriented tools from Professor Al-Jayyosi  to make strides in our quest for a new language, narrative and discourse.  They are:

  • Green activism which he calls as Green Jihad
  • Green Innovation: Green Ijtihad
  • Green Lifestyle :Zohd, meaning equivalently in English a life of abstinence.

The above tools are very profound. Especially in this knowledge or information era, the innovation should be a key focus area. Finally I would like to close by stressing on need to incorporate lifestyle changes. As a proverb goes, “Earth has everything for our need, not our greed” is essentially a message that needs to reverberate on this Environment day.

As Hubert Reeves has aptly put “We’re at war with Nature, if we win it, we’re lost”