For many of us living in cities, one ray of hope while coping with the harsh realities of the pandemic has been a greater awareness of Nature from the confines of our homes. I often found myself soaking in the joy of the sheer diversity of birds that I saw and heard; the incredible pallet of colors that the clearer sky offered at dawn and dusk; the nights studded with stars. I imagined Nature healing herself. It was somehow healing for me too.
The reality as we ‘unlock’ is rather different. I read about a video, made public by the Brazilian Supreme Court, of a cabinet meeting where the country’s environment minister says that the Covid -19 pandemic offers a distraction to push through measures in the country that dilute rules to protect Nature. I can imagine similar ploys, being deployed right now by many other governments.
My heart goes out to people who work in such governments. Individuals who may also care for Nature, who probably opted for public service to do good; only to find themselves in roles that push for greater destruction. What can you do if the game everyone is playing is the wrong game?
On this world environment day, let us not delude ourselves. Let us accept that the typical activities – drawing competitions, awareness campaigns, quizzes, meetings (now webinars) – that we associate with celebration of this day are not enough. Humanity is too deep into an existential crisis to be served with mere optics or sound bites. The theme for this year’s World Environment Day is Biodiversity. Here is a question to reflect on. Is the study of biodiversity an advance scientific endeavor? Or is it a study of the rich intangible heritage that is embedded in the cultures of indigenous peoples across the world?
An important way of truly protecting biodiversity is to ensure real spaces and respect for cultural diversity, especially of peoples whose lives are still rooted in Nature. While scientific studies are important; peoples’ observations of their local ecologies over generations have created a rich repository of wisdom and knowledge that still awaits its due recognition.
Acknowledging this makes biodiversity a part of lived experiences that is beyond ‘books’, where the daily rhythm of life of humans can be responsive to the unique needs of local micro-ecologies.
For many of us this is a time for some collective soul searching. There are enough of us who are genuinely concerned about how dysfunctional and destructive our relationship with Nature has become. What fails even us, are our current dominant systems – our current default ways of being.
Our lives are determined by a mind-bogglingly complex interplay of systems – natural, economic, technological, social and cultural, etc. Even our mindsets are systems, reflections of patterns determining what we value, what we prioritize and pursue, how we pass on knowledge and wisdom across generations – how we function as collectives. We have been brought to this Anthropocene Epoch through systems that have been shaped by paradigms and narratives that are rooted in ‘isms’ like feudalism, colonialism and industrial capitalism, etc. These have always normalized extraction, exploitation and exclusion. Thus, the results that these systems are designed to deliver are invariably fundamentally extractive, exploitative and exclusionary.
Anyone who cares for the environment – every time s/he flies, drives, rides a train or bus; makes / watches a film or runs an online campaign or even writes an email – contributes in some ways to the very destruction that s/he is against. For most of us – our most convenient choices available to us – the food that we eat, the water we drink, what we wear, what we discard, how we discard them; almost each and every choice before us causes some kind of harm to the environment.
At an organizational level, it would be interesting to look into the actual environmental footprints of organizations set up to ensure the well-being of the planet. Is it possible that many such organizations are fully committed to the well-being of the planet, yet fail to be mindful of the well-being of their own team members on the ground? The way we imagine work and the work cultures that are dominant even in not-for-profit organizations are often rooted in practices adopted in a different era when exploitation was invisible and normalized. Can the well-being of the planet be realized by people whose own well being are not given due consideration?
The good news is that we still have choices. For many the journey has already begun. It requires a lot of individualized unlearning, along with collective efforts for systems transforming.
In nature, abundance and sufficiency play important roles. On the other hand, scarcity is at the heart of driving the human systems that currently dominate our lives. It is this sense of scarcity that drags us into the rat race.
More and more people are taking inspiration from Nature and choosing to leave the rat race. It is a difficult transition. Determining what is sufficient for ‘me’ as an individual; exploring what each of us has in abundance and nurturing those - opens up spaces for synergy and collaboration.
So much is happening; to create a future that is different. Let us connect the dots to create the diverse systems that respond to the needs of our times.
Pinaki Roy is a trained social worker who is interested in environmental issues, and is associated with the Forum for Responsible Building. For more information please contact Pinaki at pinaki.r(at)gmail.com
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.