International Mother Earth Day

By Nandkumar M Kamat

April 22, the original American founded Earth day became International Mother Earth Day – IMED, after UN general assembly passed a resolution in 2009. For Goans who worship the earth goddess Santeri /Shantadurga every day is a spiritual earth day.

It is a bit of irony that the largest polluter in the world, USA had to wake up in 1970 to recognise the danger of the oil spill which prompted the Wisconsin senator, Gaylord Nelson to observe April 22 as Earth Day. On that day 20 million Americans participated in various activities. This year IMED would be observed by a billion people.

The Earth is too big and complex a planet for the humans to "save" it and save it from what, basically from human interference in the biosphere. But is there any change or hope after celebration of 52 Earth Days? Even the ex vice president of USA, Al Gore couldn’t convince his own country about global warming, climate change and the need for the USA to join and ratify the Kyoto Protocol. But he had his moment of glory for his documentary – ‘The Inconvenient Truth’.

Much hyped by media, now Earth Day has just become another glamorous, publicity and attention seeking sing and dance, high carbon foot print party activity. People are just refusing to save the "earth" below their feet and in their neighbourhood. For many, Earth is a romantic planet. If it was so then there wouldn’t have been earthquakes and tsunamis which take innocent lives. The new breed of environmental anarchists is stretching its romantic demands too far. Humans or technology can’t "save’ earth. But on Earth Day decisions can be taken along with suitable actions to show some respect for "Mother Earth".

Would there be any action to save the last few sand dunes of Miramar-Caranzalem and restore the natural sand dune vegetation which the forest and tourism department aim to burn down for making space for manicured lawns and coconut groves? Would there be a little less sewage to be discharged in the Santa Inez creek which fans of concrete jungles love to label as a ‘nallah’ or gutter? Would local consumers make a beeline at Agarwado, Siridao, Merces, Curca, Bhatim, Nerul for organically produced medicinal local salt - the highly nutritious, iodine rich "agarachem meeth" of Goa produced with no impact on the environment?

Earth has seen worst kinds of naturally polluting episodes and mass extinction of species in the past. Respect for "Mother Earth’ basically means - reducing our needs and wants, reducing our individual and collective ecological and carbon foot prints. Earth Day means a personal and family level environmental ethic. Offering cheaper petrol which comes from exhaustible fossil fuels, pampering high urban energy consumers – and then complaining about increasing number and density of polluting vehicles on narrow and accident prone roads is the worse kind of hypocrisy in a state which depends on its’ power supply from other states. They suffer the pollution to provide us electricity.

Earth Day demands not supply side management but curbs on all sorts of consumer demands. Goa needs a demand management policy in every sector - energy and water supply, labour and food supply. Is it possible to drink water directly from the tap anywhere in Goa? If not then what has gone wrong? Who has created the urban solid waste problem? How many dust bins on the footpath one can spot along a busy arterial road like Panaji’s 18th June? Even in our large university campus money is insufficient to install small dust bins in key locations to prevent littering. Why are our rivers dying and springs and fountains disappearing?

On Earth Day one needs to look closely at the 532 watersheds in Goa - how many of these have been left intact? The Merces spring became polluted and then vanished from public discourse. High density soak pits at Altinho would finish both the springs in Panaji-Boca da vaca and the Fonte Fenix. If Panaji and the wealthy suburbs switch off their 8000 air conditioners for one day then it would be sufficient to provide power in villages like Potrem and Salgini in Goa for weeks. If the food that is wasted in eateries in Panaji and Margao in one day is saved, then hundreds of hungry mouths can be fed.

For a resident population of 25 thousand vehicles, Panaji wastes thousands of litres of water every hour for washing and scrubbing them. Would washing of vehicles and watering of green lawns contribute towards "saving" Mother Earth?

The sorry state of our estuaries polluted with human waste, oil, grease and heavy metals, the backwaters carrying flotsam of the city, the creeks stinking of hydrogen sulphide, the worn out sluice gates, eroded embankments, thinned out mangroves - indicate our real love for 364 days of the year for "Mother Earth".

A new anaerobic digester in RCC has been created in Fontainhas by closing down the open nallah running parallel to the road and which joins the Ourem creek near the Handicrafts corporation office. It would produce foul odours during summer and overflow during monsoon. The mortality of fish due to expected anoxic conditions in the so called "Mala lake" showed how faulty were the ideas of designers who were totally cut off from local ecological history.

It is unpalatable but bitter truth that the ‘property value’ of all those coastal areas of Goa vulnerable to sea level rise would fall to zero in a few years. So how does one move constructions, settlements away from the coasts? The proposed Mopa international airport is likely to see the exodus of Goans tormented by climate change in the future and compelled to relocate elsewhere. Would the human-animal conflict end in Goa? Why are people suddenly chasing the sacred elephants out of Goa and have begun to hate sacred monkeys ruining their cash crops?

Goa has already chosen its economic agenda - the promotion of tourism and mining-which automatically negates all the talk of ecological, social, economic and cultural sustainability. So it all boils down to myriads of small individual actions - install bird baths in hot summer, promote kitchen and terrace gardening, reduce water and power needs, harvest rainwater, do composting, mulching, plant more useful trees. The urban consumer is a drain on the earth’s resources but he would be in the forefront to shout the loudest in the name of environment. Since Goa has the country’s highest index of urbanization - the urban environmental constituency would expand and acquire tremendous nuisance value in politics. Every town in Goa would first need a people’s environmental ethic before it qualifies to observe Earth Day.