The penchant for assigning a day for everything and everyone is a very 20th century phenomenon. A sure fire way to become an instant media celebrity. A lot of events can be organised around it. There is always a possibility of marketing few products in such gala functions. Above all it makes the participants look hip and in tune with the times.
God forbid if you try to break the norm let alone question it. “Oh you didn’t wish your mother on Mother’s Day, how rude!” You may keep telling them you take care of her 365 days, 24×7 and don’t need a special day to remind you of her sacrifices or the love she has showered on you, but it all falls on deaf ears.
Similar psychology works in the case with environmental campaigns. Of all the campaigns like “save the children”, “Save trees”, “Save tiger”, “Save water” and what have you, the most pompous I have come across till date is “Save the Earth”. The irony inherent in saving something is it is never saved and ultimately doomed for destruction. Take the case of all the campaigns built around saving something like “saving trees in the Himalayas”.
The entire campaign got enough traction in media and made heroes out of common men. However, cursory glance at the impact of the campaign suggested it didn’t stop logging or wanton loot of natural resources in the region where the campaign was undertaken and sustained for close to a decade.
“Save the tiger” campaign has a similar story. The magnificent big cat is nowhere close to being secure. On the contrary its survival has become more precarious than what it was when the campaign began 40 years ago.
The examples I have given are from India but the trend by no means is restricted to this country. Globally hundreds of thousands of people come out on the street, participate in long marches, run for something or the other, their children participate in painting competitions or they sign petitions online or offline. However, the real impact of these activities is at best negligible.
A question arises why is it so? When so many people are taking part in just causes and investing their time and energy in running, marching, demonstrating or signing petitions, why the impact is not commensurate with their efforts? The answer is all the efforts are directed towards creating a lot of sound and fury signifying little. These efforts are like television debates on politics which yield little but attract a lot of eye balls.
With the advent of internet and social media slacktivism has proliferated at every level. According to the definition, slacktivism, constitutes signing online petition or joining social media groups and clicking “like” buttons.
This kind of arm chair involvement and meaningless running and demonstrations is at the heart of the problem. Instead of demanding any serious, long term commitment that disturbs and challenges a person’s comfort zone, it pampers the vanity of individual and makes them feel good that they have done their bit. Taking time out to walk a few kilometres, hugging trees, switching off lights for an hour or signing online petitions creates a false sense of meaningful involvement without breaking a sweat.
The second reason is the tone and tenor of the campaigns. Take the case of “Save the Earth”. It is as I said earlier pompous as hell. Please, Please, Please, my dear friends don’t even bother to go in that direction. Earth is a couple of billion years old and we humans (including proto-humans) are only a million year old inhabitants.
The Earth survived dinosaurs, super volcanoes and meteorite attacks. It has witnessed many species evolve and then disappear in her journey since creation and will survive the human onslaught and still live. It is the human who is at the risk of becoming extinct. There is limit to our adaptability. Even with our present technology, knowledge and huge numbers we are finding it difficult to survive in many parts of the world as our physical capabilities as well as economic cost of survival is making sustainable human life a daunting challenge.
So what should be the way forward? Two examples from India’s hinterland come to my mind as the right way in dealing with environmental issues and constructive engagement. In the remote Himalayan state of Uttarakhand’s Gwaldam district, a man named Kalyan Singh Rawat was pained at the continued denudation of the Shivalik hills.
He knew vanishing tree cover was bad news for people living in the area. So he quietly launched a campaign with himself at the forefront to plant native trees. He would hold small meeting and impress upon people that trees are important for human survival and safety as they stop landslides, conserve water and produce thousands of things needed in their homes. He hit upon a novel idea by combining tree plantation with daughter’s marriage. He proposed to all those who joined his campaign to ask their newlywed daughter and her husband, before leaving the house for the first time, to plant a tree. He then told the family members to take care of the plant like they cared for the daughter. He impressed upon them that the tree was their daughter’s favourite possession and if it will be taken care off she too will feel happy.
It took Rawat a while to convince people. Slowly this campaign became a part of the tradition and today more than 400 villages in the area practice this tradition. Thousands of trees have been planted and people who have been associated with the campaign do it as a duty and not as a charity towards anyone. They know it’s for their own good. It’s a pity Rawat never got his due and his movement never got any national or international recognition.
Similarly in Rajasthan, Rajendra Singh told villagers point blank that you will have to rough it out and give up certain farming habits if you want water. He told them that reviving the rivers is not a charity towards environment but good for your own survival. So better get up, get going and construct new check dams, be frugal with your water use and repair old water ways. He has been able to revive 5 rivers and bring back water supply in 1000 villages.
So what lessons these two examples hold for all the public campaigns around the world. First and the foremost both the leaders had absolutely no inclination to become an instant media hit. Secondly they were clear that their action needed to bear tangible fruits. Third they made it clear to all their supporters in the beginning that no one is out to do a charity it’s for their own good. Fourth everyone involved needed to give up something, take up something and own up every action they were undertaking.
This brings us back to all the “save-whatever-comes-your-way” campaigns. I think the first step should be to rephrase them. All the campaigns should be merged into one global campaign — “Save Yourself”.
Humans should be told that their dolt like behaviour can’t go on for long and it is not the Earth but you and your progenies who are in danger of extinction like many other species of flora and fauna. So please spare the earth and every other thing you are out to save and try saving yourself by being a bit more circumspect in what you do, consume and plan to acquire. It should be made amply clear from the beginning that lifestyle choices and the sacrifices humans make, in the process, are not a charity towards mother Earth. They are doing a favour to themselves.
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