Of awareness, climate and cricket: World Environment Day and the same old story

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May I come in sir; came a faint voice that pulled me out of a daydream of comparing Joe Root to the cricketing legends of old? Greg Chappell, Len Hutton, Sunil Gavaskar… The voice echoed again, repeating the same phrase. I shook myself from the chair, put Ravi Shastri and Nasir Hussain inside me and replied affirmatively to the lady. Sir, we have decided to celebrate World Environment Day on Monday and we need your service for this function, she said, putting a little more weight on the word “sir”. Is that why you came into my cabin after a while, I wanted to ask, but ended up asking a pretty simple question. What type of service? In fact, we want you to give a five-minute opening speech, she surprised me with both the request and a slightly longer look. But the keynote is given by a guest or a university professor, I replied. This year it’s just a departmental function with no outside guests, although we specifically asked the university cleaning staff to honor the occasion, their response pleasantly surprised me.

Why don’t you give the speech, I tried to crown her and throw the ball back to her in one go. No sir you please please please she said modulating her tone with each ‘please’ and settled for whatever the girls reserve for special occasions. Can I see the schedule for the day, I asked and she handed me a piece of paper. The paper containing the timetable was decorated in the corners and looked like the menu card of a middle-class restaurant. Mattar paneer and buttered naan I tried searching but ended up finding less tasty dishes like the inaugural speech, documentary screening, keynote speech, poster presentations and vote of thanks. Ok, I’ll be there, I tell him after a short pause. Thank you, she said and left the room after breathing a sigh of relief. Ravi Shastri and Nasir Hussain who were waiting outside entered the room which had just been vacated. WG Grace, Hanief Mohammad, Brain Lara……… the reverie resumed.

Do you speak today too, interrupted a lesser-known boy, as I scanned an almost full auditorium on the day of the event. Oh yes, I replied, trying to sound less interested. ” What do you want to talk about ? he dug further. World Environment Day, I gave the simplest answer possible in a slightly higher tone to silence him with an infusion of Arnab. Moments later, the buzz in the auditorium has died down, as the people who matter most arrive to occupy the front row of chairs. After the inaugural address, two well-decorated ladies responsible for hosting the function, spelled my name in unison for an opening address to be delivered. Here are excerpts from my speech that I gave that day.

Each year, we celebrate several days to reiterate our commitment to a cleaner, greener, sustainable and more pleasant environment. Each year, we pledge to remain soldiers of nature and to protect pristine ecosystems from the assault of our own credo. Every year we articulate more scientifically sound reasons to stop environmental exploitation at least by the means over which we exhibit some control. Every year, purples, yellows, blues and many other hues take on green at least metaphorically to let the world know that we are descendants of Wangara Mathai and Julia Butterfly and that we exist for a cause.

But despite our best efforts, we seem to be accomplishing nothing or very little in terms of approaching the goal of sustainability. All conferences, seminars, symposiums or any other gathering whether at the local, national or international level only end with commitments and promises which unfortunately do not see the light of day. With climate change; with the new pandemic knocking at our door, we are running out of time to save the planet from unimaginable disasters. I have listed some major reasons which I believe are responsible for the polluted state of affairs we find ourselves in. The first and foremost reason, I suppose, is our wavering faith in science and scientific advice. We unwittingly overlook most of the do’s and don’ts that the scientific community repeatedly asks us to follow. Most of these results are the result of decades of research. But sadly we waste no time brushing them aside like a skippable youtube ad just to give us a super comfortable life.

Another aspect that needs to be touched is that of our consciousness, which is certainly in a deep deep sleep. For the small steps, which could make a bigger difference in creating a sustainable planet, we don’t even need scientific sermons, all we need is to awaken a half-dead or sleeping consciousness. For example, a small shred of polyethylene that we spit out after tearing a package of milk with teeth, piles up tons of polyethylene (only in one city) and heads for the ground, making it less fertile. To end this path of soil pollution, all we need to do is find a better way to tear up the milk carton so that all the polythene is recycled. Dozens of such examples could be counted at your fingertips, where each of us can be a warrior in a society that degrades the environment. From carpooling to renouncing the use of polythene bags; From throwing our trash in community bins to minimizing our reliance on finite resources, there are countless ways we can contribute to creating a better environment around us. I ended my speech by reminding the audience that we are all environmentalists by birth and polluters by choice, all we have to do is awaken our innate trait.

It was a thunderous speech, complimented a well-known attendee a day later. Oh! Thank you, I returned his compliment with a big smile especially since the same boy had sent me the clicks of the event. I didn’t see you after the event where did you go, he asked a question that I expected to come. Hmmm, I had few visitors, with whom I had dinner, my answer created more questions in his mind and he asked the simplest one. Who? Ravi Shastri, Nasir Hussain and Joe Root, I answered and disappeared from the scene.

(The author is a PhD researcher in the Department of Environmental Sciences, Central University of Jammu. The author resides in Pinglena Pulwama and can be contacted at [email protected]).

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