I got a message from Shabnam Manati, a teacher at Kandahar Institute of Modern Studies (KIMS) in Kandahar, Afghanistan, requesting me to address an audience over Skype on the occasion of World Environment Day (they had the event on June 1st instead of June 5th). A day before the event, Ahmad Shah Sayeedi, Director, Lincoln Learning Centre, asked me if I could talk about what India is doing to better the environment in about four minutes. Here's my speech:
I would like to thank all of you, especially Mr Ahmad Shah Sayeedi and Ms Shabnam Manati, for giving me the honour of speaking on the occasion of World Environment Day. This is also the first time I am addressing the people of Kandahar and I feel very proud to do so.
The world has a population of over seven billion people. India and China account for two-and-a-half billion between themselves. The pressure on our natural resources is tremendous. This year, in India, we had one of the worst droughts in forty years. As temperatures touched the early fifties, streams dried up and groundwater levels fell drastically. Desperate farmers watched their crops die without water.
This is not a third world problem. The last two years, I lived in Australia during which Queensland suffered its worst drought in a decade. Australia is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. It has severe weather conditions – cyclones and floods in some parts, and not a drop of rain in others.
As I got acquainted with Australia's unpredictable weather, I also understood how individuals used the nation's resources carefully. My neighbour would water his lawn once a week. My art-teacher would scold us if we used any extra water to wash our brushes.
In the developing world, women spend hours fetching water they can use for cooking, washing and cleaning. The quality of water is often poor and contaminated. The Ganga is India's holiest river. But population growth, drainage of waste and the use of the river for transport has resulted in severe pollution. After years of ignorance, India has teamed up with Germany to clean up the river and restore its pristine status.
We talk a lot about climate change and its impact. But in our day-to-day lives, we're too busy to worry about when we will run out of water, fuel and food. When the last tree is cut down, the last fish eaten, and the last stream poisoned, only then we will realise that we cannot eat money.
What we have killed or poisoned is gone. Now we must sustain and maintain what is left. After decades of degradation of forests by deforestation, mining, smuggling and poaching, India has managed to once again increase its forest cover through afforestation, active preservation of its biodiversity and clamping down on smugglers and poachers. We still have a long way to go, but we're heading in the right direction.
One of the biggest causes of pollution, climate change and wars is our dependence on fossil fuels. We have alternate energy sources – solar, wind, hydro and biomass. We have to tap into them. I live in the state of Gujarat in the western part of India. It is India's most industrialised state. Even in the remote regions, there are wind-mills and solar panels. While we are still dependent on coal and petroleum, these investments in alternative energies is security for our future generations. There might be a day when all our electricity is from renewable sources. On May 8th this year, in Germany the country’s solar, wind, hydro and biomass plants supplied 87 per cent of the power. Power prices went negative. Customers were paid to consume electricity.
We have to think about sustainable options. The choices we make at a grocery store can have far-reaching impact on carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere. Opt for locally-made products which are organically grown. They're likely to use up far less fuel to be transported to us than exotic fruits flown halfway across the world. We must choose carefully.
I'll end this talk with a Native American saying, “When the blood in your veins returns to the sea, and the earth in your bones returns to the ground, perhaps then you will remember that this land does not belong to you, that you belong to this land.”