I grew up in a lush green village in the Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra. Trees, shrubs, herbs and creepers covered the landscape as far as the eye can see. For my family conservation wasn’t just another social cause, it was a way of life. My grandmother’s outdoor garden was full of fresh vegetables and herbs for every ailment. She nurtured the plants and in return they provided her with the rich bounty of mother nature. Today, I live in the bustling metropolitan city of Pune and while it is greener compared to most other cities, the expansion of city limits has led to deforestation of the surrounding area to make room for concrete jungles, with the cityscape polluting the air, water and land around.
This phenomenon isn’t unique to Pune or cities and can be seen all around the world. Urban areas are expanding rapidly and rural agriculture is getting more commercial. We are shifting away from use of natural pesticides and fertilisers and have started using harsh chemicals which harm the soil and groundwater. We push our natural resources to the limit, extracting as much as possible and then some. Human activity has led to the acceleration of global warming which will lead to drastic climate change. Melting icecaps cause rising sea levels and a two degree rise in global temperatures would endanger the lives of over 600 million people living on low-elevation coastal areas. We would lose 14 trillion dollars by the year 2100 in damages to life and property and could potentially face one of the worst mass migration crises the world has ever seen. We, as global citizens, play a major role in conservation of earth’s natural resources. Our actions can stop the devastation we are causing and as individuals we can make small changes in our daily lives and routine to contribute to conservation. Planting native trees, herbs and medicinal plants in our balconies and backyards will help add more greenery to our local ecosystems. Saving water and electricity will lead to a lower carbon footprint.
Fossil fuel combustion for energy and transportation is responsible for approximately 64% of greenhouse gas emissions globally. Electric cars and scooters are a better alternatives to traditional petrol/diesel run vehicles, however the electricity used to recharge them should be derived from renewable resources. Shifting to solar power for household electricity and using green modes of transport like bicycles for short distances, with carpooling and public transport for long journeys will also reduce emissions during work commutes.
Plastic is a non-biodegradable resource which takes centuries to decompose. Microplastics are plastic particles less than 0.2 inches (5 mm) in diameter which are either produced as small plastics, such as microbeads added to toothpaste and scrubs, or created when larger plastics breakdown. Microplastics are common in oceans, rivers, and soil and are often consumed by animals. Microplastics harm marine life and find their way up the food chain to us. We are also exposed to them through air, one study found plastic fibres in 87% of human lungs studied. Consumption of microplastics potentially leads to cancer, liver damage, respiratory ailments, immunodeficiencies and interferes with the endocrine system. We should thus look to eliminate plastics from our homes as much as possible. Using reusable jute or cloth bags made from discarded clothes for grocery shopping is a good way of eliminating plastic bags from our homes. We also need to stop single-use plastics like straws, plastic wrappers and packaging, along with plastic cutlery. This will limit the amount of plastic consumption outside the house.
Production and consumption of various meats is responsible for up to 20% -50% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Ruminant animals such as cattle are some of the most harmful to the environment, since they produce gases like methane which do not utilised in processes such as photosynthesis. Meat, cheese and eggs have some of the highest carbon footprints while fruit, vegetables, beans and nuts have much lower carbon footprints. Thus, switching to a vegetarian diet will have a large impact on your personal carbon footprint.
An IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report released during the UN Climate Change summit 2019, shows that global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide would need to fall 45% by the year 2020 if we are to limit the effects of climate change. Thus, individual effort is not enough, we have to mobilize the masses and pressure governments to adopt sustainable development goals and policies. Planning and execution of public projects need to be done consciously, assessing their impact on the environment and taking steps to prevent harm and reverse any damage caused. We have to act fast and act now if we want to save our planet.