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May 02, 2019 Thursday 02:34:18 PM IST


Cover Story

Environment literally means surrounding and everything that affects an organism during its life time. It is the sum total of water, air and land inter-relationships. It includes one’s home, place of work, schools, community parks, etc. which play a big role in one’s overall health, happiness and well-being. Healthy environment is a necessary component of a healthy life. Many a time nature is taken for granted and ignored. But the fact is that the people cannot move forward without the benefits and services that our nature provides. A healthy, properly functioning natural environment is the foundation of sustained economic growth, prospering communities and personal wellbeing. It has to be accepted that health and well-being of the current and future generations are linked to the state of our environment.

The Indian constitution is one of the first in the world to recognize the importance of environmental conservation. The Constitution directs the “State to take measures to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the environmental quality”. It also makes it a fundamental duty of every citizen to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife. As the Constitution provides the framework for creating a welfare state, it is necessary that the finite natural resources of the country be optimally utilized without adversely affecting either the health of the people or the environment.

There has been progressive pressure on the environment and the natural resources of every country and every State over the years. Take the example of Kerala State. The exceptional nature of the State with a high literacy rate, its unique economic, social, political and cultural ethos and high density of population contribute to pressures on the environment. The alarming consequences of this pressure are becoming increasingly evident. The undesirable consequences of the development measures carried out without proper environmental considerations have left their indubitable impacts on the environment in Kerala, such as – (i) Loss and degradation of forests; (ii) Loss of mangrove ecosystems, unique ecosystems as Myristica swamps, laterite hills etc; (iii) Threat to coastal ecosystems; (iv) Increased sand and clay mining; (v) Depletion of freshwater and marine fauna; (vi) Conversion of paddy lands and wetlands; (vii) Deterioration of the rivers; (viii) Increasing scarcity of water; (ix) Loss of farmland productivity; (x) Alarming rate of air, water and soil contamination; (xi) Menace of solid waste and electronic waste; (xii) Increasing threats from industrial pollution; and (xiii) Growth of urbanisation.

Environmental justice

Environmental Justice is a movement that grew from the recognition of a disproportionate number of environmental burdens in certain communities. It works to ensure a healthy environment for all regardless of race, nationality, income, gender or age.The United States Environmental Protection Agency defines environmental justice as the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, colour, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. The concept of environmental justice began as a movement in the 1980s due to the realization that a disproportionate number of polluting industries, power plants, and waste disposal areas were located near low-income or minority communities. The movement was set in place to ensure fair distribution of environmental burden among all people regardless of their background.Environmental justice therefore implies a model of sustainable development that integrates economic development, poverty alleviation and environmental protection.

Examples of environmental burden that may be considered under the umbrella of environmental justice cover many aspects of community life. They include any environmental pollutant, hazard or disadvantage that compromises the health of a community or its residents. For instance, one of the examples of environmental justice issues is inadequate access to healthy food. Certain communities, particularly lower-income or minority communities, often lack supermarkets or other sources of healthy and affordable food. Another issue is inadequate transportation. Air and water pollution are major environmental justice issues. Because many lower-income or minority communities are located near industrial plants or waste disposal sites, air and water quality can suffer if not properly monitored. These communities may also contain older and unsafe homes that put residents at higher risk of health problems. In short, environmental justice implies that everyone, regardless of factors such as race, colour, and income, is entitled to equal protection under environmental laws, regulations, and policies.

Environmental justice andeducation

Environmental justice is as an important component of social justice education. There is a need to integrate environmental justice education into the school curriculum.  Teachers have a unique opportunity to empower children living within impacted neighbourhoods to take a stand for environmental justice. It provides an opportunity to teach students how to bring together perspectives and ideas from multiple disciplines to bear on a problem and how to work in interdisciplinary teams. It is an excellent way to engage students in the study of environmental issues because it incorporates the scientific examination of the cause and effects of environmental issues with personal and community impacts.

There are several engaging models of environmental justice education programmes that illustrate ways of engendering scientific literacy and environmental empowerment. Vegetable cultivation in schools is an example.At a local level, organic farming allows for food to be grown without toxins, sans large machinery. Teaching about organic farming (may be seen as environmental education) and teaching about sustainable farming are part of environmental justice education at the local and global level.By educating children about sustainable development, we empower them with the knowledge to work for social and environmental justice and to become stewards of the earth on a local and global level.

A moral duty

In ancient India, environment protection was a moral duty, whichwas imposed on people by religion. Hinduism emphasizes the protection ofthe environment and the living creatures. Some of the animals wereconsidered as Gods and some others as the vehicles of Gods. Certain trees likeBanyan, Tulsi,etc. were given reverence as the dwelling place of the Gods.The history of modern environmental activism in Kerala could betraced back to those literary references to the scenic beauty of this piece ofland. The affinity with nature has been a feature of Malayalam literature sincelong. It is interesting to note that the Malayalam poets had played a very active role in the Silent Valley Movement. People’s struggle against big dams has been one of the mostprominent phenomena on the socio cultural and political canvas of thecountry during the past two decades. Anti-dam struggleshave managed to create an atmosphere that is more receptive to issues likedisplacement and environmental impacts.The movement against Endosulfan has also to be referred here. Several Non-Governmental Organisations such as Kerala Sastra Sahithya Parishad that have contributed to the history of Kerala environment movement,also raised environmental justice issues.All of them have contributed largely to raise the environmental consciousness of Keralites, and thereby to accept them as environmental justice issues.

It is a fact that the educators have a unique role in instilling a sense of environmental justice in their students. By empowering youth who live in areas of injustice, the seeds can be sown to develop strong communities of resistance and planning. Perhaps the most influential way to encourage embodied literacy is to establish a nurturing environment that fosters democratic and socially just relationships between the school, family and surrounding community. The history of the environmental justice movement demonstrates that community-based models that involve participatory action research allow individuals to fully embody the living meaning of the complex concepts of environmental justice.

(The writer is former Director, Institute for Climate Change Studies, andformer Chief Scientist, Centre for Water Resources Development and Management)

Dr. George Chackacherry

(The writer is former Director, Institute for Climate Change Studies, andformer Chief Scientist, Centre for Water Resources Development and Management)

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