The Fight for the Planet

February 27, 2010

Every once in a while you might go outside for a walk. On the way, you might sit down, empty your mind, and take in all the beautiful images, tranquil sounds, and sweet scents created by mother nature. A little lizard might crawl by your hand. You might hear the lovely voice of a songbird. The wonderful scent of a rose might fill your nostrils. These are the marvels of the Earth’s many ecosystems… gifts that may soon go away.

Now, close your eyes, and imagine the future of the Earth. Flying cars? Nope. Magnificent chrome robots? None. Fancy spaceships flying at the speed of light? You wish. What you would see is a world laid to waste. Large pieces of coastal land would be flooded with high seas, now filthy with trash and toxic materials. The skies would be black with smog. The rivers that we get our water from would be either dried up or poisoned. Areas that once contained lush forests teeming with life would be dead, dry wastelands, with almost no animal life in sight. And worst of all, our very own species would be nearing endangerment, starving and thirsty because of the lack of food and water. This could be the future, caused by humanity’s worst enemy, ourselves.

For a long time, the planet has been a victim of mankind’s “progress.” At first, humanity was just another species, just a little more intelligent. Then, they started to form into small tribes, and in just several thousand years, they managed to spread what they call development all over the face of the planet. Beautiful, green, forests were torn down to make way for farmland, houses, and great big cities. Countless amounts of animals were killed, and plenty of species became extinct. And when all this was finished, the new people who came to live in these areas started abusing the land even more, throwing garbage everywhere, introducing invasive species, and ultimately hurting the ecosystem even more without thinking about the consequences of their actions. All of this happened so that the human population can continuously grow and live in the lap of luxury.

Some may ask, why should we care more about animals and other wildlife? I’ll give you some good reasons.

First of all, humans aren’t mini gods, superior to animals in every way. Just like us, animals can feel pain and fear, and they need places to live, which we are taking away. Would you like it if aliens came to our planet, burned whole cities down, put mines, farmland, and their own cities in their place, and drove us away to various “undeveloped” areas, only to come and repeat their actions again and again until there was nothing left for us. You would probably hate it, and feel the same way that those innocent animals did.

Second of all, when human development attacks the environment, it not only hurts the planet, but us as well! The many trees we cut down absorb carbon dioxide, one of the gases that causes global warming, a process that traps heat in the earth, causing glaciers in the polar ice caps to melt, increasing the sea level. We release many tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere with cars, factories, power plants, and other polluting machines and buildings, so trees help clean up our mess. Also, you may not know it, but many animal species help us as well. Bees help pollinate flowers, creating more plants and  the fruit we eat. Mosquitoes spread malaria, killing millions every year, but frogs help keep the mosquito population in check. And even if a certain species doesn’t seem to help us directly, the extinction or mass extermination of a certain species can cause a destructive chain reaction that can cause an environmental crisis of unimaginable proportions. For example, a staple of the otter’s diet is sea urchins, which eat kelp and other algae. If the otter population in a certain area started to decrease, sea urchins would thrive, and attack the kelp supply in the area. Kelp is also an important food source to many other aquatic animals such as fishes, and with the kelp supply decreasing, the fish population would start to decline as well, including the fishes that we eat. In conclusion, unsustainable human development is a destructive force that is both a threat to the planet and a threat to the human race.

Now that you know about the dangers that we bring to ourselves, take a look at an area that could soon become an example of this. In the bustling city of Chennai, in India, there are many beaches facing the Bay of Bengal itself. These beaches attract people all over the city to play at game booths, go on rides, splash in the waves, build sand castles, or just hang out. To add to that, this coast is home to many fishermen who depend on the sea and its life to make a living. Apart from people, the beaches are home to much wildlife, with crabs and bivalves digging in the wet sand and Olive Ridley sea turtles, an endangered species, surfacing to lay their eggs in the sand. However, these wonderful places could soon be desecrated by the monsters we call the government.

The Tamil Nadu government is proposing to build a road built on pillars going overhead along these beaches. This expressway will run along the coast within city limits and then loop around the city along all its waterways, costing Rs. 4000 crore (40,000,000,000 rupees). Its purpose is to “beautify” the beach and congest the city of traffic. However, there are many faults in this idea, faults that could hurt the city instead of helping it.

This project will do the exact opposite of what it is meant to do. Instead of beautifying the beach, it will badly impair the beauty of the Chennai coast both by hurting the ecosystem and crowding the area. To add to that, the many cars that come to the area will not decongest traffic in the city, but instead will bring many more cars to the beach road, making it unusable. Besides all the harm it does to the city, it will also harm the marine wildlife there. The cars will release much chemicals and spill oil, which will poison the organisms inside and outside of the waterbodies, such as the turtles that nest there. They will also bring noise pollution, soil erosion, and adverse effects on drainage systems, which keep the city clean.

This project may also affect the lives of common people. The road will uproot several fishing hamlets along the coastline, destroying the peaceful lifestyles of the poor fishermen, not to mention killing off the fish, their primary source of income. The tar and concrete will also radiate more heat, increasing the temperature by at least 3 or 4 degrees, one of the last things that the blazing hot city needs. Also, if a natural disaster such as a tsunami or a cyclone occurs, it could uproot the structure, damaging the lives of hundreds of thousands of people living on the coast. This project is a true example of horrible human development, one that hurts the people and the ecosystem.

If you think this is bad, then have no fear, go ahead and stop this. On the beaches of Chennai, there are multiple protest demonstrations going on, and you can be a part of it. To find out how, contact ‘Save Chennai Beaches Campaign’ and you will get the info on the upcoming protest demonstrations and other ways you can be a help. Together, we will stop this destructive programme.

Since the dawn of man, our species has been expanding its power over the face of the planet. Already, we have destroyed much of the wildlife on Earth, and this “development” is not stopping anytime soon. However, the common people have the power to push this back. If we join together as comrades in arms, we can form a line that the big corporations with their heavy machines cannot cross.

We don’t need money or influence, all we need is numbers. Come, let us rise up and fight for Mother Earth!

Naren Pradhan

Naren Pradhan

Editor’s Note – If you are interested in contacting Save Chennai Beaches campaign, please call Sharada at – 9600040682

Lethargy

January 11, 2010

People complain about the state of our country a lot. People also complain about the state of our city a lot. People definitely complain about the state of their street a lot. and people love complaining that their fridge is too loud, and their neighbours are too cold.

People tend to complain a lot, apparently.

This isn’t a bad thing, and I’m definitely not saying it is. It isn’t a great thing, either. It sort of shows that people care about where they live, and how they live in it. But there’s a distinct disconnect between what people are saying, and what people are doing.

There seems to be a general feeling of ‘Arrey yaar… let him take care of it, no? Why me?’ going around town. This isn’t very new. I believe the scientific term for this feeling is called ‘laziness’. Laziness is a dangerous thing, these scientists say. They say it’s very contagious, and to make sure to wash thoroughly once in contact with it. There’s no easy cure for it. Once the bug is caught, it’s extremely hard to get rid of.

What we’re trying to do at ROB, is make people understand that it isn’t someone else’s problem. It is, in fact, our problem. Laziness isn’t going to get anyone anywhere. It’s going to effectively doom us all to hell, but apart from that, it achieves near nothing.

Why is it our problem? ‘Cause if there’s a problem around where we live, then it should be our problem. Firstly, because it’s where we live. If we aren’t going to care about that, there isn’t much else to care about, and secondly, because there’s a chance we’re contributing to that problem.

Let’s take our (meaning ROB’s) favourite example, of the beach. Specifically, Besant Nagar beach.

There’s a lot of garbage down at besant nagar beach. A lot of it also doesn’t belong there. If you see a ‘surf excel’ packet there, it isn’t likely that people wash clothes there. Someone’s obviously dumped something in the Adyar estuary, which carried down stream, and washed up on the shore.

A solution to this problem? Generate less garbage.

How does one generate less garbage? Instead of buying new pens, buy new refills. Better yet, use a fountain pen and ink. Don’t buy as much packaged items. You might think you really need that packet of Lays right now, but you probably don’t.

It’s quite simple, but we seem to be waiting for some sign from the gods that it’s okay to not pollute.

It just takes some getting-off-our-backsides. Not a lot of it, just a little.

Krishna, ROB

Rabid Optimist

January 8, 2010

The last three days have confirmed that notwithstanding all criticisms that I’m a cynic, I am actually a horribly, hopeless optimist.

Three days ago, a reporter from a Tamil weekly called me to find out if I could speak to him about pollution in Chennai. He came along for the meeting, and we decided to cycle along the beach in front of Urur-Olcott Kuppam, and walk up towards Broken Bridge. I do this all the time. Whenever I want to impress upon people that we’re screwed, or that the Corporation is lying when it says it’s doing its job, or when I want to impress upon my students the magnitude of the problem we face, or when I just want to tell people that in Adyar Estuary and the Besant Nagar beach, we’ve actually inherited an incredibly beautiful, diverse, livelihood-supporting environment that has gone to seed, this is where I come.

Winding down the narrow gullies of the fishing village, where life is played out on the streets, we end up on the beach. Here you’re assaulted by the filth, the raw sewage flowing like a thick black snake along the white beach sand. Plastic confetti festoons just about anything that sticks out of the ground. Children are playing dangerously close to the cesspools. You have to walk carefully to avoid the shit that dots the beach like land-mines.

I talk to the journalist and his photographer about this, about how this is a blindspot for the multinational Neel Metal Fanalca vested with the contract to clean up our neighbourhood and dirty Perungudi, where the garbage is dumped. They come here once in a while, clean up a bit at a time. Not the same diligence they show in the upper-caste areas a few streets away. The photographer says “These slum people are like that only. See what happened when we moved them to Semmencheri. The Government built beautiful Railway quarters style houses. But these people have messed it up. A few years of their living and that place is now flooded in garbage and sewage.”

Strange, how well entrenched the stereotype is of the poor being dirty, even loving the filth. Try this experiment in a well-to-do locality and see if you come up with a different result. Take Gopalapuram or Poes Garden, or our own upper-caste island of Besant Nagar. Tell Neel Metal that they can take the next week off. Tell Metrowater that we’ll make do without their piped water. Disconnect your bore pumps for a week. Despite your Chanel or Yves St Laurent, I think you’ll stink. Your street won’t look a lot different from Semmencheri.

The difference between the middle-class neighbourhood and Urur Kuppam is in the infrastructure. There is all of 16 public toilets each for men and women in all of Urur-Olcott Kuppam. No running water in the beachfront houses. Go figure.

I said as much to the photographer. We then walk up to the Broken Bridge. The tide was just coming in. The edges of the River were littered with trash. The water was black with sewage. What has been lost in terms of biodiversity due to pollution in the river is now more than made up by the diverse kinds of trash that the river and sea bring in.

The most populous visible trash species is perhaps the thermocolus indicus — commonly known as thermocol or styrofoam. Competing with this white, ghost like packaging material that cushions electronic material from the rude shocks of the real world is the chappalia booticus, or the Common Indian slipper that keeps human feet from feeling the earth. The volume of trash is mind-boggling. If all this trash were fish, our fisherfolk would be living in Besant Nagar, right next to the IAS officers, smelling downright pretty.

All this trash is what is brought in by the River with every flushing. After every rain, the river and the sea angrily throw back at us a small portion of what we cast off as post-consumer waste. Last November, after the first rains, the Corporation collected the trash from the stretch of beach between the Broken Bridge and Urur Kuppam. More than 50 bags of trash were collected, neatly bagged and left on the beach. Then, it appears, that the Corporation ran out of will. The meticulously bagged trash was never removed from the sand to the trash cans 200 metres away.

In mid-December, the boys from Urur Kuppam reported sighting penguins on the beach. They were referring to these black bags, flecked with white sand and half-buried. From a distance, the fluttering pieces of white and black did resemble penguins.

Three days ago, when I walked along the beach, the penguins were all dead, gutted and spilling their innards — thermocolus indicuschappalia booticus and a variety of trash species belonging to the genus plasticus abominus — onto the beach, right along the surfline.

Wave after wave of cynicism hit me. How in the hell are we going to leave behind something that vaguely resembles what we inherited for our children? We’re told time is running out, but society, government, people, you and I are behaving as if we are living in a motel, as if we have another planet to go to when we wake up tomorrow.

On January 30, a bunch of youngsters (the same guys that put together this awesome website www.letsrob.org) are sowing some seeds of revolution. They are planning a voluntary, beach clean-up. They are planning to pile up the trash two storeys high in the middle of Besant Nagar beach as a monument to our stupidity, as a statement that we may have sent rockets to moon, but that we’re not potty trained. And they’re planning to celebrate on the beach on 31st. They plan to celebrate a celebration that will leave no trash on the beach after its over. That is some ground for optimism. Actually, I’ll clutch at straws, and youth action may actually be a lot more robust than straws. . .more like floating logs, I think.

I’ll end this rant with a poem by a dear friend from Bhopal. His name is Sathyu, and like me, he is a “rabid optimist.”

YES

Yes,
I am a rabid optimist
For me
Every tree that continues to stand
Every stream that continues to flow
Every child that runs away from home
is an indication
that the battle is not only on
It is being won.

You may tell me about
the nuclear arms race
And all I can tell you
is that an unknown child
held my hand
with love.

You will try to draw me
into the plateau of practical life

Tell me
that not only god
but all the religious
and irreligious leaders are dead
And all I can tell you
is that across the forest
Lives a young man
who calls the earth
his mother.

You will give me the boring details
of the rise of state power
after every revolution
And all I can tell you
is that in our tribe
we still share our bread

You will reason with me
And I will talk nonsense like this
And because
the difference between breathing
and living life
is the difference between
reason and poetry
I will read poems to you
Poems full of optimism
Poems full of dreams
And maybe a poem better than this.

—-

Nityanand Jayaraman, ROB