The year began with horrific bushfires ravaging the heart of Australia and further proved that changing climate is one of the most daunting global challenges of our time. The need of the hour is to earnestly acknowledge that Earth interests are much superior to ours and must be given their due voice.
What’s with the air these days? Why is it so easier to breathe? After so many years, one can see a starry sky and identify which one among them is supposed to be their door ke dadaji (distant grandfather). Don’t you miss the smoggy mornings of the city, the ‘sublime’ burning smell, which you got a whiff of in every breath? Well, obviously, you do not. The COVID – 19 pandemic and the consequent lockdown has opened our eyes to the rampant harm afflicted on the environment by our callous development. New videos and images of wild animals roaming freely on roads and highways that are bustling with people on normal days, surface almost every day. As humans stay at home, nature has been reclaiming its deserved space and showing us what we have been missing out for decades.
Climate change and environmental destruction have been hot topics of debates and discussions for many years now. International conventions, innovation forums, strikes and protests, are regularly organized to address the various issues and questions pertaining to the environment. Various governmental and non – governmental organizations in numerous countries have been working towards cleaner and healthier environment. But still the current scenario clearly indicates that we are not on the right path to achieve United Nation’s ambitious Sustainable Development Goals as our ignorance deepens climate change induced injustice. The denial of world leaders to commit towards action against climate change shows that in order to survive, the Earth needs to have greater representation of its interests before the court of humankind.
A country grapples with many critical issues – economic growth, provision of health and education, internal politics, international relations, and so on. As the policy makers get tied up in these, environmental concerns take a backseat and come to the limelight only after the occurrence of some natural catastrophe or due to international pressure. Over many years, environment laws have been amended to meet the present, more pressing needs. But, whenever there is a conflict between nature and development, the scales of justice either favour the latter openly or intervene too late. For instance, in the Aarey forest controversy of 2019, the Supreme Court’s judgment to stop the felling of trees came after the damage had already been done. Protesting activists were also beaten up and arrested. In India, Public Interest Litigations (PILs) have emerged as efficient tools for environmental NGOs and social activists to ensure the enforcement of citizen’s right to healthy environment. But the courts approach in entertaining PILs for environmental protection, however, has not been consistent.
For example, while the court has entertained PILs on environment problems such as water pollution, air pollution, and forest degradation from industrial activities, it has maintained a distance from PILs for environmental protection due to infrastructure projects such as dams, thermal power plants, airports etc. Particular guidelines for entertaining PILs have also been laid down, creating fear among spirited people fighting for environmental justice. Due to the spread of awareness among the common masses, political parties all over the world have been forced to feature environment-related issues in their manifestos. However, the impetus either gets lost among other matters after the elections or falls prey to the most typical characteristic of politics – promises made are never completely delivered.
The Earth is facing incredibly serious natural resource and environmental challenges: climate change, fresh-water depletion, deforestation, pollution, habitat destruction etc. Overpopulation has led to reckless changes in our consumption patterns and is estimated to put significant stress on public infrastructure and finance, especially in areas of health and education. The thing with environmental impacts is that they are slow in nature and cannot be perceived instantly. We must realize that if we allow the plunder and ravaging to continue and keep ignoring the needs of Earth in the name of progress, then great destruction looms over the whole of humankind.
The destruction Earth is being subjected to is not selective in who it punishes; it doesn’t see borders and it doesn’t favour one government over another. Its effects will affect everyone, and we must acknowledge that, at this point, there is no returning to “how things used to be.” Our leaders must realize or be made to realize that climate change and environmental degradation are crises that humanity has not ever faced before, and it cannot be solved with just some innovations and improved technologies. It requires concerted efforts to be made at all levels, in whatever capacity, to eradicate the negative consequences of indiscriminate development. We must acknowledge the vitality of discussions, followed by actions that need to be taken to address environmental concerns in all arenas, from educational institutions to courts of justice. The existing environmental laws need to transcend regulation of the human use and destruction of nature and transform into legal rights of nature to exist and flourish. This is because one of the most formidable weapons the cause of the Earth can have is legal protection through the recognition of rights, also termed as ‘Rights of nature’. Since 1971, Earth justice – a non-profit public interest organization based in the United States, has been working as ‘the legal backbone for the environmental movement’ world over. Environmental activism must also understand their responsibility to coax cessation of injudicious progress and to encourage leaders to adopt sustainable development.
It is high time that we pay due heed to the clarion call of Earth, urging us to reorient our development. We need to start from the premise that everyone matters—rich or poor, farmer or civil servant, woman, or man. Then, we must plan and act upon ways to reduce the ill effects of destruction outpoured by us on nature and reap the benevolence of our mother Earth in a sustainable manner. Only then can we save ‘life’ as we know it and build a beautiful planet and fulfilling lives, as promised to each one of us under the grace of the universe.
Featured Image Credit: Anastasiia Mishchenko