Rekindling Ties with Nature

By Debapriya Mukherjee

When I had started to live permanently in my village named Moutorh (District Purulia, West Bengal, India) I became interested in how nature can provide practical lessons and answers to challenges I was facing in my own life. During my tenure in the Central Pollution Control Board as scientist I visited many hill stations, forests, rivers, lakes, ground water sources, wetlands, cities, industries, and many more places to assess the level of pollution and its adverse impact on environment and human living as well as possible measures to minimize the level of pollution.

But what I observed was the suffering of poor people mainly due to contamination of water particularly ground water (arsenic, fluoride and many other pollutants) as well air pollution. In the backdrop of my sincere effort to prevent pollution, I can strongly advocate that I did nothing because at that time I did not consider myself as one of the 800 million citizens of the country and could not overcome a luxurious lifestyle. After reading many inspiring books, attending many seminars and discussing with Dr Samar Bagchi, who was a real fighter to protect the nature and put in sincere efforts to educate students with his “No cost, low cost” science experiments till his death, I could possibly find the way to spend my life (though it is late at age 67) teaching the students in my village to be in contact with nature and natural farming on a small scale.

After spending two years in my village, I discovered that nature had a huge impact not only on my own life but also on the lifestyles of my wife and students. Now I realize that nature is filled with amazing things to teach us how to think more clearly and scientifically, not only related to plants, birds and animals but also how to tune into our physical surroundings in all areas of life. Most people in the modern world have lost their innate naturalist intelligence, but human beings are animals at heart.

We must be surrounded by plants, birds and fresh air for amazing beneficial effects for the mind and body. But the way we are destroying our natural world has led to dreadful outcomes. One example can clearly focus on the loss of biodiversity and its adverse impacts on human beings.

In the early 1990s, vultures across India started dying and declined to the brink of extinction. India’s three most common vulture species declined by more than 97 per cent between 1992 and 2007. The vultures fed on the carcasses of cows contaminated with diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory drug routinely given to cattle in south Asia at the time and were thus poisoned.

That was the beginning of a far-reaching chain reaction. As vulture populations crashed, cow carcasses started to pile up, and the numbers of rats and wild dogs surged. Dogs became the main scavengers at dumps previously used by vultures. Data suggests that from 1992 to 2003, dogs increased by 7 million. The number of dog bites soared and rabies infections shot up, causing tens of thousands of people to die each year. In 2006, diclofenac was banned, and vulture populations have slowly started to recover. Many such examples exist. Sparrow slaughter in China sparked insect plagues and deadly frog fungus caused malaria spikes.

Many more examples can be cited to establish the dreadful outcomes of the destruction of the natural system. Wildlife populations are in free-fall around the world, driven by human overconsumption, population growth and intensive agriculture. On average, global populations of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles plunged by 68 per cent between 1970 and 2016. Despite knowing nature is declining at an unprecedented speed, we are spending decades talking about the declines but find ourselves unable to do anything to manage it. It really frustrates me.

Though personal responsibility is the crucial area, when I speak to my close friends, they say that their individual action does not make any difference. That is absolutely wrong. When I got worried about the disorder of the natural world that was affecting my life and making me unhappy, I started to involve myself in positive change such as a simple way of living and proper education to the students. Education of students through learning from nature is gradually motivating them to be informed and updated with what is happening in the world.

Now the students feel nature is their mother and they try to find ways to protect it. Fighting for a cleaner planet and a better world has never been as urgent as it is today. I believe that only students can make a difference. Now they have realised that the solution is not a difficult one. They have started to reduce what they are consuming, reuse what they are throwing away and recycle what they have to throw away.

To make them aware, composting of house waste, minimum use of plastic, separation of plastics to use it for producing fuel (though not 100 per cent successful), production of indigenous paddy through natural farming without using any fertilizer and without cow manure to minimize greenhouse gases, reuse of domestic water for gardening, use of water hyacinth to produce handcrafts and other such activities are going on in my village on a small scale.In addition, I encourage them to walk or cycle or take public transport.

They carry their food in a reusable container and wash it later to save the planet from having to decompose plastic wrapping of food. They avoid buying a bottle of water at school and instead carry filtered water from home. They use pencils instead of pens as it is made out of wood that is recyclable and also use notebooks made out of recycled paper. They are not as shiny as the other ones but they keep them conscious. Though it is difficult to control the rest of the world, it is easier to control what I do in my own life.

Saving mother earth is important for students as it will make them aware of how to use natural resources and how a healthy balance can be maintained between nature and human life. Young people can fight strongly to save nature. Starting to believe in something is the first step to making it real. So let’s start believing in ourselves.

(The writer is former Senior Scientist, Central Pollution Control Board. This article was first published in the Statesman)

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I write because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, said George Orwell. As a writer, I never kowtow to the whims and dictates of the sacred godmen or godwomen, the political bigots and hypocrites, dealers of laymen, the dishonest and self-serving intellectuals, traders of religions, the betrayers of ‘other’ Indians who eke out a living by their sweat, who are living in fear for being lynched for this and that.

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