The Need to Create Awareness of Environmental Justice in Children
Call it the Attenborough Effect or the Greta Thunberg Effect, sustainability of our environment is getting discussed across the globe- on the media, social media, public platforms, in parliaments, academic world and elsewhere. The popular TV Series Blue Planet II and Our Planet had led to a positive impact on people's attitude to environment. A survey done by GlobalWebIndex showed that 42% of the consumers had reduced the use of disposable plastics while an overwhelming majority felt sustainable packaging has to be adopted to save our environment. The 16-year-old Swedish girl Greta Thunberg grabbed the attention of the world to the necessity of our Nature by holding an anti-climate change strike in Stockholm last year. Now several thousand students in over 100 countries have pledged support for her in what is known as ‘Friday for Futures’ whereby they skip school every Friday to hold demonstrations to make policy makers and politicians aware of the need to have policies to save our planet.
In Kerala, the God's Own Country, the devastating floods of 2018 once again raised alarm bells about how the State manages its fragile eco system. There are heated debates about whether it was a ‘man-made’ disaster or an act of God.
It was in this backdrop, the 47th Rajagiri Round Table Conference on the theme 'Students and environmental justice' was held at SH College, Thevara, on April 10. The session began with introductory remarks by R. Ramabhadran Pillai, Editor of Pallikkutam. The subject experts were:
1) Dr. Prasant Palackapillil, Principal, SH, College, Thevara;
2) Dr.Manoj C.N., CEO of Pelican Biotech and Chemical Labs, Alappuzha;
3) Dr .Shaju Thomas, Head, Division of Environmental Education and Conservation, Tropical Institute of Ecological Sciences, Kottayam.
Excerpts from the session:
When talking about the environment protection, it is very important to think of which is the environment that we are trying to protect. Is it the environment that existed 500 years ago, 10,000 years ago or the more recent one? Your lifestyle is decided by the businessmen or the industry who create new products and innovations. We cannot live in concrete houses unless we break the rocks and do quarrying. Every product that we use such as TV, air-conditioners, the wooden furniture, and plastic products have an impact on the environment. The chair itself was not common at one point of time. It was originally designed for old age and then it became the symbol of power when kings and ministers were made to sit on it. No other animal uses these chairs and furniture. The tooth paste was developed as a cosmetic product for the film world, but now is commonly used by everyone. The files, papers, pamphlets were all products created by businessmen by first creating a need in your minds.
History tells us that Indian civilisation was among the first to start agriculture and also start destruction of forests for that purpose too and still continuing with it. As industry creates new and new products, it creates a lot of peer pressure especially among the students and youth to conform to those standards. The materialistic lifestyle creates even more anxiety and stress as we have to conform to a lifestyle that others follow. I feel if people embrace spirituality, this craving for material possessions can be reduced and that is one of the ways to reduce consumption of environmentally unsustainable products. Students should use common sense to come out with solutions and certainly, they have a major role to play in creating environmental awareness among our policy makers and society at large.
Dr Shaju Thomas:
Let me begin with a question, which geological era are we living now? Some scientists say it is the Holocene era that has been around for the past 11,700 years while some others say we have entered the Anthropocene era. But when it comes to day-to-day life, we are now in the 'Capitolocene' era. In this era, capital is responsible for all the problems we face today. We want to amass more wealth; we want to lead better lives. Man dominates every part of the earth and even beyond. We are planning voyages to Moon and the Mars. We are living in the LPG Era (Liberalised, Privatised and Globalised). We have no freedom to move, only capital freely moves across borders. The Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) will not save our lives.
When it comes to the student community, what I feel is that they are experiencing a 'nature deficit’ syndrome. They are disconnected from nature and not living in the real world. They have a biophobia - fear of nature - as against 'biophilia' which is an innate tendency to look around and enjoy the other living beings. They live with cyberphilia and digitalphilia. The climate change is an outcome of industrialisation, market economy, over exploitation of resources, over consumption and over production. Climate change is a result of global warming and I am sure the students can make a huge impact in addressing the issue of environmental justice. Thought leaders, philosophers, academics and politicians are aware of social justice and we need to go beyond environmental justice because our consumption is exceeding all limits. Perhaps, we need to think of ecological justice and Natural Justice related to climate change. What resources we are leaving behind for future generations is vital for sustainability of life on earth.
Dr. Prasant Palackapillil:
Lifestyle, no doubt, is one of the causative factors of the environmental issues that we face today. Many people consider Yoga which is promoted by our Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a set of physical exercises and learning breath control. But I would like to stress the principles of Yoga that we need to practice daily. Five important among them are Satyam (Truth), Ahimsa (Non-violence), Asthayam and Aparigraham. We cannot live without causing injury to any living being as all our activities somehow cause harm in one way or the other. It is told about Gautama Buddha that he passed into eternity causing harm to no one. The principle of Asthayam means not taking anything form earth that does not belong to you and the principle of Aparigraham says we should not take anything which is not required by us. If there are no other living beings, human beings may not survive, but if human beings are not there, nothing is going to happen to Earth. In the name of sanitation by building septic tanks, we have contaminated our ground water with e-coli and take water from the rivers after heavy chlorination. We must make an effort to make our life simple. When you leave this planet, only your footprints should remain. Education will be a big failure if we cannot teach our children to sustain the living organisms and keep our rivers free from plastic pollution. How many of the students have felt their bare foot on soil?
When should environment education begin?
Concern for environment should begin from home, according to Amitha Unnikrishnan, Student, II MSC Environmental Sciences, SH College Thevara . When the temperature soars, people buy air-conditioners to make themselves cool but won’t plant trees. Children are out of touch with nature and are addicted to digital devices. Increase in the number of certain animals leads to production of more methane gas while use of fossil fuels lead to destruction of environment, she added.
Sreemol Prasad, student of SH College, was of the view that awareness about environmental protection should begin from childhood itself. My Tree (Ente Maram) project of Kerala Government was laudable. A diary containing a lot of information about preservation of soil and conservation was given to students. However, Dr Shaju Thomas was of the view that there was no follow-up on the ‘Ente Maram’ project and hence its objectives were not possibly realised.
Dr. Prasant Palackapillil said that environmental education should become part of the campus learning, but parents are not educated at all in this domain. Even among teachers of life science, the awareness is not adequate. "We are all slaves of convenience," he added. Mark-based or assessment- based education systems are also negatively impacting introduction of environment education, he added. Teachers and students find it a burden to go through the learning and assessment process. Dr Shaju Thomas said environmental awareness should occur as a parallel process and not as part of the syllabus.
Awareness of environmental justice should begin from primary school onwards, according to Athira Nair D, Research Scholar. She recalled the words of Mahatma Gandhi - Nature has enough to satisfy every man's need, not greed. She lamented that none of the political parties were discussing about the Gadgil report and destruction of Western Ghats during election time.
On the other hand, environmental education can be creatively introduced in the syllabus, according to Kiran Kumar. E, Research Scholar, Department of Zoology. Students can be taught as to how much less carbon dioxide is absorbed by the environment when a tree is cut. There are too many laws but too less justice. Students are not aware of what can be done to protect our environment as there is not much content in text books to create that understanding of nature.
Students as well as other stake-holders should be made aware of the materials that go inside a product whether it is leather or glass. Leather is tanned by chromium while glasses are coloured with heavy metals. "We are not aware of the materials that we use in our daily lives whether it is clothes, pen or spices," quipped Mr Manoj CN.
Taking a balanced view
Noting that there is a tendency to view industrial activity as destructive of environment and harmful for living beings, Divya Dinakaran, Student, Chemistry Department, SH College, highlighted on the need for a more balanced outlook. When it comes to production of soaps and medicine, a lot of chemicals are used which are obtained from nature itself. Algae and other organisms are also utilised for the production of medicines and cosmetics. This is beneficial to mankind. Normally, patents are not given to products if it is proven that nature and living organisms were harmed while producing it, she said. Arun Varadarajan, Student, Physics Department, SH College, underscored the need to recycle products to prevent deforestation.
How to make a mass movement
However, Dr. Prasant was of the view that environment was not a priority area for politicians and environmental education should evolve as a separate discipline for teacher training. If environment campaigns have to become mass movements, we may have to follow the techniques and practices used by political parties. Even politics in campus is driven by certain goals and objectives which are effectively implemented every year by the students. It may be bringing more student members in its fold, winning elections, preparing agenda, holding competitions and campaigns, rallying students behind them. The one thing that binds humanity is spirituality and here religious leaders can play a role in getting across the message of environmental protection, Dr. Manoj said.
Sreemol Prasad, SH College student, was of the view that if students are exposed to ways as to how mankind is destroying nature, they might take steps to prevent it. She talked about an activity she undertook with 40 students whereby they collected plastic dumped in Pathiramanal islands. All students who pass out from the college should go back with a plant sapling, she said.
· Environmental education should begin from the primary classes itself.
· Materialistic living, introduction of newer products and technologies influence our lifestyles and add to peer pressure to acquire them. Spiritual thoughts can help us shed some of our acquisitive nature and value experiences above products.
· Children are experiencing ‘nature deficit syndrome’. They should be exposed to nature and understand ways for co-existing with other living beings.
· Don’t take anything from nature that doesn’t belong to you or something you don’t require. Only leave footprints, not marks of destruction
· Environmental lessons should begin from home - with the minimal use of air-conditioners and equipment that emit greenhouse gases. Instead, children should be encouraged to plant more trees.
· An effort must be made to understand the materials that go inside consumer products; avoid plastic or other non-degradable, toxic materials that can harm the environment.
· A parallel effort beyond syllabus should be initiated in colleges in the first year of under-graduate studies to create awareness about environment among students.
· Students can involve more in the cleaning of canals, waterbodies and public places within their vicinity.
· Taking the best practices from spirituality, business and politics can help make environmental awareness in to a mass movement.