Many global reports (UNEP, IPCC, and WMO) indicate that the world is moving towards a 3 degree temperature rise, which will lead to the extinction of many living species, sea level rise, and frequent climatic disasters. On an average, 3700 deaths occur in India every year for climate reasons, which is deadlier than the cumulative figure recorded on account of terrorism attacks.
Environment, still, is no life and death issue. Just a couple of decades ago a newspaper reporter would have to struggle hard to convince the news editor ‒ his boss ‒ that environment news is worth giving some space. In the bureaucracy, the environment department is still not considered ‘mainstream’ and placing someone there could mean a ‘punishment posting’. Politicians recently invited to Kolkata to discuss how much they have given importance to environment in their manifestos released before the election were embarrassed by the questions raised by the members of the NGOs working on conservation.
Countries, like individuals, differ in their attitude to environment; Recently, Norway banned all efforts to drill for billions of barrels of oil in the Arctic much to the surprise and disappointment of the industry. The annual convention of the Conference of Parties (COP) – the supreme decision making body of the UN on world climate change – have so far blamed the rich nations to be historically responsible for the global warming because of their uncontrolled lifestyle. Each family has several cars, ACs and cooking ranges and other lifestyle amenities that have added to the carbon footprints of the world. This dates back to the industrial revolution. The US, the UK have refused to pay up – mandated by COP – as compensation for the developing countries. In fact, the tables have now been turned and countries like China and India have been identified as the most polluting countries of the world today.
Swachh Bharat is perhaps one of the best policy decisions of the Modi government. But on the implementation part, much remains to be done. The awareness of staying clean has not developed in India. The recently concluded Kumbh mela has left the Ganga so dirty that Prayagraj is on the verge of facing an epidemic. Everybody knows how Kolkata suffers when the pilgrims for Gangasagar assemble every year at the waterfront on Strand Road. A communication professor from the US was appalled a few years ago to find the accumulated waste around Kolkata. Addressing a public relations conference later in the day, the first thing that he asked was why, as a professional, have you failed to create a campaign to keep your city clean?
That is where the importance of a communicator lies. Administration alone can never overcome the huge environmental crisis India faces today. No scheme – Swachh Bharat et al. – can succeed without the participation of the common people. Mahatma Gandhi’s slogan “cleanliness is godliness” has failed in India because of lack of awareness. India is still in the preliminary NIMBY (not in my backyard) stage of the western world campaign against environment. Environment today is a concept, which combines many streams of knowledge. A good communicator or a media person has the power to define the problem of environment (cutting across jargon), identify those who are responsible, and finally suggest solutions. Environmental journalism is a highly ‘constructed’ skill. Sadly, it is a neglected area of study.