The World Environment Day (WED) turned fifty this June. As the United Nations’ principal outreach programme for promoting and harmonising environmental initiatives, the event has seen phenomenal support over the years with participation from over 140 countries and millions of people commemorating the day even in the remotest corners of the planet.
To a participant nation like India, it has become an obligation and the responsibility trickling down to individual government agencies and NGOs alike. It would be safe to assume that every state in the Union seldom fails to celebrate the event, every year, with Nagaland being one where it has become a tradition for the government, as well as non-government agencies, taking the lead in advocacy efforts.
June 5, 2023, was no different. Multiple celebratory events were organised across the state, the reports and press handouts of which were given ample space in the local newspapers and digital portals.
It would be implicit, from the wide attention June 5 receives, of the inroads made by the sustained advocacy, sensitising people on the significance of the day. To quote the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), it is a mission “to inspire, inform, and enable nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.”
Unfortunately, the resultant awareness has not translated into visible change, rendering the commemoration of the day no more than symbolic affairs. Year after year, as opposed to the impression of a growing consciousness for the environment stirring people into action, the majority of the populace has still to inculcate sustainable habits. The notion of waste segregation is non-existent; roads still get littered, while drainage, where only liquid waste is supposed to flow, is regarded as waste bins.
It is a place where community cleanliness drives, also known as social work, equate to clearing roadside plants and litter, while ignoring the solid trash that are clogging the little drainage that exists.
Contradictions mark the commemoration of the day when government functionaries call people to action, while hardly practicing the pro-environment lifestyle they promote in public. The contradictions are obvious in the way legislators and bureaucrats unashamedly turn up to environmental events in unforgivably big entourages, comprising multiple high carbon footprint vehicles, only to preach sustainable living.
The recent WED celebration had the Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Nagaland, condemning jhum (shifting) cultivation. He was fervent in his appeal to protect and preserve the existing trees and forest. Sustainable habits, however, encompass a lot more than protecting forests alone.
The state government department, which hosted the programme, served water in banned single-use plastic bottles. The irony was completed by a plastic canvas loudly proclaiming the UNEP’s slogan for the year— Beat Plastic Pollution.
‘Practice what you preach,’ on the whole, is one really tough phrase to master. But it is not entirely impossible. There are habits, as simple as using reusable shopping bags, which can be cultivated by the individual and at the government level, downsizing VIP motorcades. These and other simple habits like not throwing solid waste into drains and on the thoroughfares can go a long way in contributing towards protecting the environment; while giving practical meaning to the ‘Act Local, Be Global’ catchphrase.
The writer is a Principal Correspondent at The Morung Express. Comments can be sent to [email protected]