The Conundrum

My publication, at the University of Montana, in the Mansfield Center, promotes better understanding of Asia, U.S. relations with Asia, and ethics in public affairs. This was part of an international student exchange program named Study of The U.S. Institutes (SUSI) on Global Environmental Issues. I was amongst the 5 participants selected each from Brazil, Russia, India and China.

My first exposure and thereon interest towards working on environmental issues was when I was 13. I was part of an organization called Yardstick, through which we had worked at World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), visited the Gujarat Science City and a remote village in Maharashtra called Pabal. As part of a working team, we had conceptualized, designed and constructed an eco-friendly portable refrigerator from scratch. We introduced what we developed to the villagers, who eventually put it to good use and this gave me a great sense of satisfaction. Two of the many issues that plague my country are Global Warming and Clean Water, Sanitation. That notwithstanding, higher urbanization in India has accelerated through higher birth-rates coupled with mindless migration of rural population to urban systems. That, is still an issue that India is wilting under and plays a significant role with regard to this context.

One of the major crises that India and also the world is facing is purely on account of our own madness for unbridled pursuit for societal-growth, progress, and ironically, the conflict that is caused by human, Global Warming. It can be argued that it was the World War that propelled industrialization. The underlying rationale that justified industrialization was ‘optimal utilization of resources for increased productivity’, but the victim, as we are painfully realizing now is, destruction of natural resources. It is widely accepted that machines replaced human labor in that era. Now, I see that we have reached a phase, where machines will replace humans themselves. I do not know if I should be alarmed because yet again, I do not see any thought-leadership in forming regulations, and checks and balances. India did not enforce any laws on environmental protection during the age of industrialization. As time progressed, we saw a mushroom growth in polluting industries that were built on reclaimed land from precious water bodies etc. Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister is known to have called steel plants and dams as “temples of modern India”. The establishment ignored the natural elements and now, we’re suffering the Sun’s wrath. There is data that shows ‘we are now breaking global temperature records every three years’. The need of the hour is to make peace with the Sun and Water, lest events such as the Ozone layer depletion and melting of glaciers erase life. Of what use is Artificial Intelligence then, when human intelligence is wiped out? Let me say here, that I am no Luddite.

About 71% of electricity consumed in India is generated by thermal power plants. That translates into toxic air pollutants and particulate matter in the atmosphere. Ironically, the highest ever pollution level in India was recorded in Delhi in 2015, where legislation is supposed to be made. The Delhi Government called for curbs in vehicular traffic such as the Odd/Even rule to reduce automobile air pollution. To my knowledge, there is no authentic data to validate if allowing vehicles with odd registration license plate numbers to run on odd days of the week and vice-versa has had any significant impact at all.

We are all aware that clean sources of energy like- solar, wind and biomass, though currently expensive, can sustain human life. It is the duty of the establishment to intervene and steer India to a level of being a green-state. At the moment, they seem to be stunned by the costs of harnessing perennial energy from the Sun, Water and Biomass etc. The inertia also seems to come from the muscle that the corporate sector enjoys. Only a few states with efficient governments that tie up with multinational organizations via public private partnership (PPP) have successfully established solar panels, wind mills and biogas plants etc., in a few locations to generate a considerable chunk of the region’s electricity consumption.

India, home to the second oldest civilization on Earth, has been a land of many rivers.  Indians consider their rivers holy and worship them like how we revere our cows too. But, since we gave in to the inveiglement of industrialization without actually learning about what to do with the waste that is generated, thus resorting to dump these industrial effluents into the rivers with a false sense of gratification that if the holy river can cleanse human sin, it can definitely cleanse the industrial effluents. This is my second issue– Clean Water Sanitation. The river Ganga (Ganges) which originates in the Himalayas, is considered the holiest of all. It is an irony that it is also the most polluted river. It is widespread practice for people to bathe and to follow the forbidden custom of laying the dead to rest in the holy river; not to mention mismanaged waste disposal, cattle bathing and open defecation in and around most other rivers. There are instances where large masses of chemical foam erupt from such polluted water bodies and flow into habitable areas. An example of such a water body is the river Musi in Hyderabad, it has become a toxic garbage abyss. The first criterion to fix this is to make technology economical yet progressive. This calls for collaboration and participation from all stakeholders. My personal interest in these issues arises from the fact that I’m part of an NGO called Street Cause as Director for one of the programs called Hyderabad Youth Assembly. We visit villages and tribal areas across the State and install LED lights, solar panels, portable water purifiers and briquettes (compressed biomass fuel that can be used instead of burning wood to cook food). We also conduct orientation and FAQ sessions along with the village Sarpanch (head) to help them understand the gravity of the situation and to get their buy-in on the value.

While in the U.S., I’m keen on learning from the guided study tours to places like the UMs PEAS Farm, as well as other cultural and Government establishments, and about industrial techniques to manufacture solar panels, miniature wind/hydro turbines, compost biomass and biofuels (anaerobic digestion) using cost efficient methods and durable material. I eagerly look forward to connecting with like-minded youth from other countries, share my experience, learn from each other and gain hands-on experience. This program would equip and empower me to take charge with a bounty of knowledge, global alumni network and renewed enthusiasm to contribute in a meaningful way.

Akshat Thonangi,

20th June, 2017

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