The need to save the environment and our planet so that future generations can live safe, secure and happy with plenty of trees and biodiversity, was the single-point agenda of the two insightful sessions at the virtual Rotary institute. Ecology warrior Vandana Shiva and nine-year-old Licypriya Kangujam from Manipur, discussed issues such as climate change, pollution, epidemics and eco-friendly organic farming to ensure sustained prosperity for human beings in an ecosystem that respects the wellness of all living beings including plants.
This pandemic is considered a health emergency, “but we fail to understand that there were pandemics and epidemics in the last few decades as we have deregulated commerce and celebrated greed as the highest end of human activity which is measured in terms of economic growth,” said Vandana. Wealth is created by extraction from the earth, farmers, societies and communities. “But true growth should promote growth of trees, children’s well-being and community welfare,” she said. Bhutan stands out as it has measured its wealth by Gross National Happiness instead of GDP or GNP.
Conquests and militarism are at the roots of violence against the earth and people, leading to divisions in society. “The inequalities in our society have become absolutely unbearable, for 0.0001 per cent of people control more wealth than half of humanity. We forget that pandemic roots are in ecological destruction and over 300 epidemics have come as our greed invaded the forests in the name of feeding the world.
Corporates vs well-being
Vandana observed that only 10 per cent of genetically-modified soyabeans grown in the Amazon forests by burning the lungs and livers of the earth are used for human consumption, the rest go to animals and biofeed. “We are destroying the very fabric of the earth for a handful of companies.” Nearly 20 per cent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emission comes from destruction of forests in the last 2–3 decades. If we add to it the contributions of industrial and global food systems, that is destroying our health, “we are talking of 50 per cent GHG emissions from non-sustainable food supply system,” she explained.
In the early 1970s, the Chipko activists hugged the trees on the foothills of the Himalayas to protect its rivers and mountains. At the Navadanya Farm, a biodiversity hub, in Tehri Garhwal over 2,000 crop species, 750 rice and 250 wheat varieties are grown through organic farming. “Food is the currency of life; our health begins with food. A non-sustainable, unjust food system is behind all emergencies we face, including climate change, existential challenges, health and pandemics. When you apply chemicals, then the food turns counterfeit. Chemicals are not part of the nutrition cycle as they kill soil microorganisms, the butterflies, bees and pollinators that give one-third of our food.”
Our food has lost 60–70 per cent of nutrients due to chemicals in agriculture and then we fabricate a part of our food as junk food. “We pay our farmers just 0.04 paise for a packet of chips which will make our children obese and diabetic.” Biodiversity is the health of our ecosystems and “Rotary will have to join us in the journey next decade to create an economy of care that regenerates earth,” she pointed out.
Pass climate laws
Calling for world leaders to act now to find long-term and permanent solutions to pollution and other ecological crises, Licypriya who grew up in Bhubaneswar, said she had to drop-out of school in 2019 as she could not commute to Delhi from Odisha frequently to stage protests in front of the Parliament and “my father could not afford the travel expenses. I miss my friends, teachers and this is an emotional time for me.”
She is urging PM Narendra Modi and the MPs in Parliament to pass climate change bills into laws to control carbon emissions and GHG. She wants climate change to be included in school curriculum so that India mounts a fight at the grassroots level. Licypriya has launched the ‘Monday for Mother Nature’ drive for schoolchildren with a target of planting one million trees a year; so far 3.5 lakh saplings have got new shoots.
Painting a gloomy picture, she said the bushfires in Australia, and California wildfires to destruction of Amazon and Siberian forests to melting of the Himalayan snow caps and rising sea levels, have all contributed to make the earth warmer. “Many children lost their homes with climate change becoming a global emergency, but our world leaders don’t have the time to talk to us,” she said.
The best gift one can give her children is not an expensive car or wads of money, “but a beautiful planet for which we need to change the world, starting from the family.”
The founder of The Child Movement recalled that taking part in the UN’s disaster management conference in Mongolia as a six-year-old was a life changing experience for her and Greta Thunberg from Sweden influenced her thought process. She was the recipient of the Global Child Prodigy Award 2020 by Puducherry Lieutenant Governor Kiran Bedi in New Delhi.