By RK Ranjan Singh
During the last couple of decades, several global environmental concerns, such as depletion of global protective ozone in the atmosphere, greenhouse effect leading to global warming, acid rains, accumulation of hazardous wastes, desertification and the like, have received increasing attention in all walks of life. chief among these concerns are the rapid destruction of numerous ecosystems, relentless degradation of many others and the consequent loss of genetic diversity. At the same time, it has also been realized that human activities, especially those related to war, industry, modern agriculture and power generation, have been responsible in creating those extremely hazardous situations that threaten not only human life but the existence of all living creatures on Mother Earth, both through slow, regular poisoning and sudden catastrophic calamities.
In such a context, individuals, groups, communities and nations all over the world have expressed their concern by generating debates in respect of local to global issues on the one hand and by initiating definite actions and action programmes on the other. All these have received greater and greater attention of governmental and NGOs, including a much greater coverage by media channels. On the whole, we can notice a greater awareness of the need and importance of taking up programmes for the protection of environment and management of the natural resources.
One can decipher two opposite views in most of these concerns, related fundamentally to our traditional relationship to the world around us. At one extreme was the notion that nature exists to be used by people, to serve humanity and support civilization. At the other extreme are the “Preservationists” who feel that nature is threatened by humanity, and thus see a need to fence it off in protected areas as far from the influence of man as possible. Such extreme views have characterized both nations and individuals/individual communities, in debates as well as actions. However, a new environmental thinking seeks to stake out a middle ground. This thinking sees MAN as the custodian of LIFE on the earth, by pointing toward both past and future. This fresh kind of ecological thinking also attempts to bridge the gap in our minds between nature and humanity, between the protected wilderness area and the exploited landscape. It is in this thinking, one which accepts people’s participation in nature as essential at both the local and global sphere. It also actively seeks out ways in which people’s participation in nature can be deepened and extended, so that the lovely complex network of biosphere, threatened as it is, can be saved by our best talent. The same new thinking also warns us against the discipline of ecology of the preservationist school. For them, ecology is essentially elegiac; their science is postmortem, their myth is of a primal crime of murder of nature. For such preservationists, who are in fact perceptionists, the study of nature is essentially passive and classificatory. For them, action and experiment would be unwarranted. They would, at best and worst, argue to set aside whatever relatively untouched places have remained and to keep human beings out of them. They would see people and nations in general as a sociologically non-stratified whole and nature as a non-dynamic entity to be preserved in its purity.
Keeping the above in mind, it might be possible for us to have glances at global environmental concerns and the Northeast’s people’s participation. One is in fact tempted to argue that because of the new environmental thinking and ethic, there is a growing recognition of the rights of the poor and tribal communities to firewood, fodder, clean and adequate water and supportive eco-systems. those very agencies that had, at the inception of the environmental debate, posed as leaders in conservation, now came to be identified as the leading villains, as they were seen to support, often perpetuate, the inequitable social order that was increasingly being recognized as the root cause of the deepening environmental crisis and the consequent threat of survival. A historically parallel strand of the global environment debate which foretold the sudden and macabre end of the world through a nuclear holocaust. Emerging from the horrors of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, this debate was “fuelled” by the various radiation disasters in nuclear power plants, notably Three Mile Island and more recently, Chernobyl. Stiff and sustained opposition, especially in the West, was organized to nuclear warheads especially against their locations in NATO countries in Europe and to the setting up of nuclear power plants.
Fortunately, the anti-nuclear and peace movements could achieve the momentum with the full participation of different section of the peoples of the world. As a result, the fear psychosis of nuclear holocaust has been tremendously reduced. In the early seventies, there emerged a fresh concern for the future of the earth. This time the critical factor was depletion of “natural resources” and growth of the human population. In 1972, the “Club of Rome” published a report where they concluded: “if the present growth trends in world population, industrialization pollution, food production and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth in this planet will be reached sometime within the next one hundred years.” However, this statement did not sound too alarming for a hundred years was a long time, and anyway beyond the life expectancy of the present world citizens.
Further, the Club of Rome’s report put the total blame for the environment crisis to the growth of population. This evoked sharp responses, especially from those many countries which had large and fast growing populations, but nevertheless consumed very little of the world’s resources. in 1980, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, the UN Environmental Programme and the World Wildlife fund joined hands to bring cut a World Conservation Strategy. It was also graphically shown that one Swiss was equivalent to 40 Somalies in consuming resources. however, in the action plans emanating from the strategy, the thrust remained on “systemic” remedies of better laws, better education, greater awareness, etc. without even a mention of the “affluent” first cutting down their own consumption level.
Major issues on sustainability: Considering human beings are as much creatures of nature as any other animal or any plant, it seems prima facie implausible that they could deplete nature to a point where all life get threatened. Surely, the nature order and the laws of nature must have accounted for human being and their needs. Plausibly, human being as hunter-gatherers of the part, were governed by nature’s rule. Even today, isolated tribal groups having no contact with the present civilization like North Sentinalese and Jarawas of the Andaman Islands, seem to face no crisis of sustainability. However, an inherent part of modernity, as we know it seems to involve changes in our interaction with and use of nature’s elements. It seems to involve the colonization of more and more of the earth, taking it over from other creature and manipulating it to progressively suit our own requirements. Modern civilization has increasingly discovered methods of immunizing itself against the vagaries of nature, of consuming at a growing rate the “resources” that nature with eyes of utility, treating it as nothing more than one more “raw material” for industries and economic models.
Now let us have a glance at two contrasting examples from the Northeast. Hence, ecology exists as a set of tastes and practices, not ideas and precepts. In this ecological tradition, human beings cooperate with nature; by actively participating in it, to produce a richness of ecological variety that would not otherwise exist, while at the same time producing enough for survival. Precisely for this, we have had no beggars in the Northeast. In such a tradition, the landscape and the wild undergo continuous but mild change. Thus, it is adaptable to all sorts of minor ecological alternation; nevertheless, it works to conserve, protect and conserve what is needed and what is good, it maintains itself. A unique example in this regard is the Dzuko Valley, tucked away in the remote northernmost corner of Manipur. We are drawn to Dzuko because they provide a concrete, non-professional example of our new environmental thinking. Dzuko Valley is a rare, unique ecosystem that harbours not only a spectacular ecological variety but also is an example of the local people’s traditional experience and expertise to develop creative solutions to environmental problems. For the people here, conservation in all action is a way of life, but perhaps no debates, no programmes. They practice conservation, in nature, with nature, blissfully free from academic jargon.
At the other end of the spectrum, we have Loktak Lake and the surrounding villages. Loktak as well provides us with a unique example of a wetland ecosystem, unfortunately for the past. In recent years, its ecosystem, and that of the entire valley of Manipur, has deteriorated drastically. The construction of the Loktak Hydroelectric project and Ithai Barrage has contributed almost entirely to its miserable deterioration, to an extent that even a National Part cannot provide any safeguard to Sangai, the only surviving species of the brow-antlered deer.
Lastly, all the global environment problems have their origin in the actions of individuals, communities and nations from all over the world as state above. Therefore, corrective action and initiative taken at individual, community, village, state or national level can result in controlling or reducing these problems. Hence, it may conclude with the phrase “think globally but act locally” so that people’s participation in global environment concerns will be meaningful.