Environmentally Challenged

There has been a spate of articles in the newspapers recently, covering the illegal felling of trees in Pune by construction companies, specifically the sandalwood trees from Koregaon Park and Pune Camp, by smugglers. An observation I made is that it is mostly the senior residents, having lived in these areas for almost three to foure decades, who have consistently drawn the attention of the authorities to the blatant violation of the environmental laws. They say that their efforts to draw the “kids” into the community watch effort has been an uphill struggle due to the reluctance and lack of civil responsibility among the young.


I find it disturbing that most of the so-called “older” generation are so quick to dismiss us as a selfish, ignorant and often, a hedonistic lot. What’s even more disconcerting is that I find very little evidence as to why I should contradict them. We are so knee deep into our love lives, latest movies and gizmos and gadgets, that we no longer care for what’s happening economically, socially, politically; something that has just begun to change after the Mumbai terror attack on 26th November, 2008. But environmentally, to say that we are a selfish generation wouldn’t be as appropriate as saying that we are a self obsessed one. You only have to live with four other college-going girls in a Paying Guest accommodation in Pune to find out exactly how bad the scenario is.


When I was pursuing a Diploma in Liberal Arts – Science and Sustainable Development, one of my assignments had been to look at my living quarters as a system, and assess the waste and consumption patterns and find a way of minimising both.


The most easily identifiable problem was the wastage of electricity. Some of the girls were scared of the dark, so the light in at least one part of the room remained on all night. Some would leave their laptops perpetually hooked to the plug point and the weirdest of all was the need for the fan while wanting to sleep under the blanket, even in winters! To top it all off, it wasn’t helping that my landlady only charges us Rs.200 per person, rather than by the separate metre she has installed for our room.



My solutions; yell at my roommates every time they got it wrong or talk our land lady into charging us by the metre. Thankfully, I managed the latter. Now, there is a zero-watt bulb that is on in the night, the laptop is put on charge only when drained and it’s either the fan or the blanket.


The second most persistent problem was the food. Two of the people in the group like cooking their own meals, and hence, see no problem is buying vegetables for the entire week at one go. But the resultant odour in the room, due to their rotting and subsequent wastage, was something that needed immediate attention.


Since my sudden and rather vigorous campaign was gaining some grudging support, the two of them actually talked the vegetable vendor to drop off a supply everyday in the mornings and the leftovers were dully stored in the fridge, so that it could be used another day.


Then the problem of the non-biodegradable make up. This was a landmine for me to navigate because, let’s face it, girls will be girls. Some research led me to discover that fish-scales were an important ingredient in most lipsticks, as were certain proteins harvested from insects. The fact that certain soaps too, were made of animal fat, sealed the deal. Turmeric replaced the facial packs, and Vaseline petroleum jelly has replaced the glosses…


Fashion is very important to females in their late teens, studying in colleges. And the price we pay for this is plastic bags. So we have started carrying our own bags, made of cloth or jute. We very politely refuse the salesmen’s attempts at stuffing our purchases into a decorated polyethylene bag and just put it into our own instead.


Our vehicles were another issue. Though our institutes are very close to our accommodation, succumbing to laziness is easy. We probably spend a hundred rupees on fuel every month, but add a lot to the pollution already plaguing the city. My solution to this was provided by none other than the famous television talk show host, Oprah Winfrey.


I had a recording of one of her shows, where she had these groups of doctors tell the audience about the various effects of smoke, emission gases, etc. The most interesting thing was that the surgeons among the group had brought pictures of the human organs after the exposure to pollution over their entire lifetime as opposed to how they should be.


The scooters have now been replaced by our legs and on the occasional bout of laziness; we take the public transport.


There are many problems that still need to be answered, but with a little research, the solutions are just as easy to find. This was just a small example of how much knowledge can empower us. While I agree that just an individual effort doesn’t mean much on the large scale that the world operates on these days, it counts for something because we can influence many. What makes us human beings different from all other animals is our ability to share our knowledge and use that to make a difference. And since we are the most tech-savvy generation of our time, I would urge my peers to use it to the earth’s advantage and not just their own. In the words of the great Captain Planet, “The power is YOURS!”


Manita Deo



[Image source:http://www.flickr.com/photos/niyam/1621213489/]