Skip to main content

Climatic change 'playing havoc' on lives, livelihood of India's poor, marginalised

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ* 

Come June 5, the world will once again be ‘celebrating’ ‘World Environment Day’! There will be the usual plethora of events, plenty of fanfare and with many competing for ‘photo-ops’ to show how much they are doing for the environment! There will be the ‘mad rush’ to plant saplings, for politicians to take to the broom, on streets which have already been sanitized and cleaned earlier and above all, a slew of speeches on the environment!
Plenty of cosmetic activity and tokenism! This is in no way to denigrate the significance of the day. If there is one clear message of this annual observance, it is the powerful reminder that unless we show unflinching courage to address endemic issues and take on the powerful vested interests who are destroying the environment- we will not be doing enough to save our common home!
World Environment Day is the biggest international day for the environment. Led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and held annually since 1974, it has grown to be the largest global platform for environmental outreach. It is ‘celebrated’ by millions of people across the world. The theme for World Environment Day 2022 is ‘Only One Earth’, and focuses on living sustainably in harmony with nature. This theme actually was the slogan for the 1972 Stockholm Conference. Fifty years down the road, this truth still holds – this planet is our only home.
With nature in an emergency mode, the #OnlyOneEarth campaign advocates for transformative environmental change on a global scale. The campaign shines a spotlight on climate action, nature action and pollution action while encouraging everyone, everywhere to live sustainably. While our individual consumption choices do make a difference, it is collective action that will create the transformative environmental change we need, to advance to a more sustainable and just Earth, where everyone can flourish. Thirty years ago in 1992, the Earth Summit (UN Conference on Environment and Development) in Rio de Janeiro sounded the alarm bells! But is anyone listening?
On May 24, 2015, Pope Francis gave to the world his path-breaking and incisive Encyclical Letter ‘Laudato Si '-On Care for Our Common Home. It was the first major Papal teaching on a subject of critical importance namely ‘the environment’. ‘Laudato Si ' meaning “Praise be to you" are the first words of the celebrated ' Canticle of the Creatures' of St Francis of Assisi.
The Encyclical which came months before the landmark 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, (COP 21) which was held in Paris, in fact set the tone for world leaders, to come to grips with real causes which were responsible for environmental degradation and which ultimately caused climatic changes with disastrous results everywhere. Those who take the encyclical seriously are aware of its significance in addressing key issues which destroy the environment today.
Pope Francis sets the tone of the Encyclical in his opening statement, which is “to address every person living on this planet”. He says “this sister (mother earth) now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life”.
He states, in the first Chapter that “we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation”; he deals here with several ‘aspects of the present ecological crisis’: pollution, waste and the throw-away culture; climate as a common good; displacement and migration caused by environmental degradation; access to safe drinking water as a basic and universal human right; loss of bio-diversity; decline in the quality of human life and break down of society; global inequality. He also denounces unequivocally the use of pesticides and the production of genetically engineered (GE) crops.
Pope Francis strongly notes that “the earth’s resources are also being plundered because of short-sighted approaches to the economy, commerce and production”. In making such statements, in taking a stand for the ‘care of our common home’, Pope Francis has indeed created several enemies among the rich and powerful-who are bent on profiteering; those engaged in the extractive industry by plundering very precious and scarce natural resources.
Pope Francis has been in consistent in his love for the poor and his commitment to the protection of the environment. Throughout the Encyclical, he insists, we have been called to be stewards of the creation which God has entrusted to us. He ensures that ‘Laudato Si’ focuses on human rights violations and injustices. He does not mince words when he says: 
“In the present condition of global society, where injustices abound and growing numbers of people are deprived of basic human rights and considered expendable, committing oneself to the common good means to make choices in solidarity based on a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters”.
What is paramount in the final analysis, says Pope Francis, is a radical commitment to ensure positive change, which is the need of the hour. For this he says, every section of society must play a definite role in a collaborative and concerted manner. The Pope does not spare the priests of the Catholic Church and he calls upon them to engage with the faithful on environmental issues.
Further, he challenges international and national Governments and mechanisms saying: 
“The same mindset which stands in the way of making radical decisions to reverse the trend of global warming also stands in the way of achieving the goal of eliminating poverty. A more responsible overall approach is needed to deal with both problems: the reduction of pollution and the development of poorer countries and regions”
‘Laudato Si’ does make one uncomfortable! Therefore, there is always the danger that many would like to cosmeticize this powerful document: to tinker with bits and parts, to be selective and comfortable in its reading; to do non-threatening acts like growing trees, propagating alternative technologies, not using plastics, to indulge in acts of tokenism like environmental ‘education’, or project work.
Whilst all these acts are surely good and could lead to something more sustainable, ‘Laudato Si’ is path-breaking, radical in nature, it shakes one out of one’s complacency by touching every single dimension of our human existence. The Pope invites all to an ecological conversion, to change directions so that we can truly care for our common home; not to pay heed to Pope Francis’ prophetic words; to rubbish this timely and important message or to relegate it to mere tree-planting and other ‘feel-good’ acts would certainly be a great disservice not to the Pope, but to Planet Earth!
On April 22, 2020, Earth Day, Pope Francis praised the environmental movement, saying it was necessary for young people to “take to the streets to teach us what is obvious, that is, that there will be no future for us if we destroy the environment that sustains us”. Recounting a Spanish proverb that God always forgives, man sometimes forgives but nature never forgives, Francis said:
“If we have deteriorated the Earth, the response will be very ugly. We see these natural tragedies, which are the Earth’s response to our maltreatment. I think that if I ask the Lord now what he thinks about this, I don’t think he would say it is a very good thing. It is we who have ruined the work of God.” 
There is nexus among vested interests: the builders lobby, the mining barons, the timber merchants, corrupt politicians, sections of the corporate sector
Saying the Earth was not an endless deposit of resources to exploit, he said, “We have sinned against the Earth, against our neighbour and, in the end, against the Creator.”
Even a cursory survey of the State of India’s environment will make one realise how serious the situation is. Climatic changes have played havoc on the lives and livelihood of millions of people – particularly the poor and the marginalised. Heat waves have scorched parts of North India and unseasonal rains and floods have destroyed other parts.
Destruction has been wanton. Then there is nexus among vested interests: the builders lobby, the mining barons, the timber merchants, corrupt politicians, sections of the corporate sector who have no qualms of conscience.
They are only interested in their profits, plundering natural resources at will, as we witness in Jharkhand, Orissa and elsewhere; destroying virgin lands rich in biodiversity as we witness in the Talegaon and Panaji areas of Goa (not to forget the Mollem episode). NOIDA has lost almost all its water bodies including its 200-odd ponds. In Bangalore, there were once 412 waterbodies; today the number has been reduced to a scandalous 12! The Aravalli Mountain range in Gurugram harbours a rich variety of biodiversity which is being systematically destroyed.
The Niti Aayog’s 2018 report says that Indians might not have access to drinking water by 2030. The Coal sector is making a windfall of profits in India (Modi’s crony Adani is reaping mind boggling amounts) – so naturally, the Government of India has no intention of reducing the use of fossil fuels till 2070!
In the context and mandate of ‘Laudato Si’ and as Church in India, it is important to reflect and do some serious soul-searching and to respond urgently to some key questions, which include:
  • have we internalised the document, individually and collectively: made it our own?
  • re we proactive in communicating to others the radical content of this document?
  • do we take a stand on human rights violations and injustices (#158)?
  • are we truly concerned about the ‘jal, jungle aur jameen’ of the adivasis? do we take a stand on the way the Government and the powerful are trying to deprive them of the forest lands? do we truly identify them, accompany them in their struggles?
  • do we identify/collaborate with important movements like the National Alliance of Peoples Movement (NAPM) and/or with other environmental groups in the country?
  • do we have the courage to be visible and vocal in taking on the powerful vested interests: be it the Government or even some of our ‘benefactors’ who have no qualms of destroying the environment?
Not being able to say an unequivocal ‘yes’ to any of the above is a clear indicator that we have not (individually and collectively) mainstreamed the spirit, the mandate and the directives of ‘Laudato Si’; in short, we are betraying it! (Pope Francis talks about ‘ecological sins!)
On January 10, 2022, in an address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, Pope Francis said:
“In this regard, in recent years we have seen a growing collective awareness of the urgent need to care for our common home, which is suffering from the constant and indiscriminate exploitation of its resources. Here I think especially of the Philippines, struck in these last weeks by a devastating typhoon, and of other nations in the Pacific, made vulnerable by the negative effects of climate change, which endanger the lives of their inhabitants, most of whom are dependent on agriculture, fishing and natural resources.
“Precisely this realization should impel the international community as a whole to discover and implement common solutions. None may consider themselves exempt from this effort, since all of us are involved and affected in equal measure. At the recent COP26 in Glasgow, several steps were made in the right direction, even though they were rather weak in light of the gravity of the problem to be faced.
“The road to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement is complex and appears to be long, while the time at our disposal is shorter and shorter. Much still remains to be done, and so 2022 will be another fundamental year for verifying to what extent and in what ways the decisions taken in Glasgow can and should be further consolidated in view of COP27, planned for Egypt next November”.

In ‘Laudato Si’, Pope Francis asks an uncomfortable question, “what kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” If we are serious about ensuring ‘Only One Earth’ then we need to muster the courage to answer this question and act responsibly now! Our future, the future of the earth: our common home: is in our hands!
---
*Human rights, reconciliation and peace activist/writer

Comments

TRENDING

North Gujarat gram panchayat bars villagers from dealing with Muslim hawkers, traders

By Our Representative  A gram panchayat in North Gujarat has barred its residents not to buy anything from Muslim traders and hawkers. An order of the Waghasan group gram panchayat of Tharad taluka of Banaskantha district dated June 30 states that the decision has been taken in the wake of beheading of a Hindu tailor after he posted a derogatory writeup on Prophet Mohammad in Udaipur. The gram panchayat resolution says, anyone seen buying or selling any commodity from a Muslim hawker or trader would be fined Rs 5,100. Bringing this to light, Mujahid Nafees, convener, Minority Coordination Committee, in a letter to Gujarat chief minister Bhupendra Patel, says, the state government should take legal action against the panchayat chief who has signed the “unjust” order. The letter says, the act of the sarpanch and other signatories is a violation of rule of law of the state and threat to peace, pointing out, the move is in violation of Article 15 of the Constitution, which says that none

Unlike Soviet Union, Russia is no friend to India: Ukrainian scholar tells 'Indian friends'

Counterview Desk In an open letter to "dear Indian friends", Anastasia Piliavsky, born in Odessa, Ukraine, studied at Boston and Oxford Universities (on a Rhodes Scholarship), and now teaches at King’s College, London, has said that she faces "deep moral dilemma", personally and professionally, over the "astonishingly unified Indian response to the war in Ukraine." Based on her interaction with a "number of thoughtful and caring Indian friends", in this letter, she says, she is "reeling at the ubiquitous silence at, justifications of or outright support for Putin’s terror, which now prevails in India, at the ubiquitous #IStandWithPutin and #istandwithrussia hashtags." She insists, India must understand, "Unlike the Soviet Union, Russia is no friend to India. Soviet leaders, beginning with (the Ukrainian) Nikita Khrushchev – who declared hindi rusi bhai bhai – built up deep political and cultural exchange with India." Text : I

Technocratic globalism, tyranny? Health Ministry warned: bill to 'enslave' Indians

Sandeep Pandey, Tushar Gandhi By Rosamma Thomas*  Union of Concerned Citizens, a group comprising Magsaysay Award winner Prof Sandeep Pandey, human rights activist Tushar Gandhi, former judge of the Bombay High Court BG Kolse Patil, pediatrician Dr Jacob Puliyel and several renowned Indian citizens have written to the Union Health Minister cautioning him against tabling the draft Public Health Bill in the Monsoon Session of Parliament. “The Public Health (Prevention, Control And Management Of Epidemics, Bio-Terrorism And Disasters) Bill, 2017 and a Prospective Bill of 2022 as discussed in news articles, is straightforwardly violative of Fundamental Rights of the citizens of India and therefore, Ultra Vires of the Indian Constitution. It contravenes several International Treaties and Conventions including the Nuremberg Treaty of 1947 which was enacted to ensure that no country would repeat such inhuman medical atrocities on fellow human beings”, the 12-page letter reads. “Strangely, t

Protesters demand release of Teesta Setalvad, Sreekumar, seek review of SC order

By Our Representative  Protests broke out across India on June 27 following Teesta Setalvad’s arrest demanding her immediate release. Sabrang India , a site run by Setalvad, claimed she was “arrested on trumped-up charges after the Supreme Court dismissed the petition moved by Zakia Jafri demanding an investigation into the larger conspiracy behind the 2002 Gujarat violence.” The protesters also demanded release of former DGP Gujarat police RB Sreekumar, also arrested simultaneously. The protests were preceded by over 2,200 people from across the globe signing a statement demanding their immediate release. Leading signatories such as People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) general secretary V Suresh, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) convenor Medha Patkar, former Naval chief Admiral Ramdas. “The state has used the observations made in the judgment to falsely and vindictively prosecute those who had struggled for justice even in the face of state callousness and complicit

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Electoral bonds scheme 'compromises' voluntary nature PM relief fund donations

By Rosamma Thomas*  The Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) is meant to collect voluntary donations from the general public, either individuals or organizations, to enable assistance to people in times of natural disaster, or for expensive medical treatment. That fundamental voluntary character of the fund, however, has changed in recent years.  The gazette notification of January 2018 announcing the Electoral Bond scheme states, in Clause 12 (2): “The amount of bonds not encashed within the validity period of fifteen days shall be deposited by the authorized bank to the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund”. The Union government has, thus, through notification, directed funds to be deposited into what was meant to be purely voluntary. Commodore Lokesh Batra, who has been campaigning for transparency in government functioning, holds that once a gazette notification has been issued directing that funds be deposited into the PMNRF, the character of the whole fund has changed,

'Highly abnormal': AltNews journo's arrest suggests 'deterioration in media freedom'

By Bharat Dogra*  Leading media organizations have come out in strong support of recently arrested journalist Mohammed Zubair. These organizations include, among others, the Editors Guild of India, the Press Club of India, the Delhi Union of Journalists and DIGIPUB, a platform for several important digital media organizations. All these organizations have condemned the recent arrest of the noted journalist and demanded his immediate release. While leading human rights organizations and political parties have also made somewhat similar statements, the strong support of media organizations is particularly important as the effort of the authorities has been to try to present the arrested journalist as someone who has been indulging in irresponsible journalism.  In such a situation the support of those media organizations who are familiar with his work and who are most capable of judging the quality of his work is very important. In this context it is important that some media organization

Majoritarian silence helping Hindutva forces 'handover' national resources to corporates

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak*  The majority of Indian citizens are witnessing the persecution and everyday violence against their fellow citizens who are Muslims and religious minorities. The growing assaults on reason, science, secularism, Indian democracy and constitution are going to be landmarks in Indian history of diminishing democracy and citizenship rights. It is clear that Hindutva ideology is directly promoting sectarian politics of hate which is dangerous for the unity and integrity of India, peace and prosperity of Indians. The majoritarian silence helps in empowering Hindutva and their electoral dividends. From witnessing the persecution in the sidelines to the active participation and cheering loud or silence accelerates violence against our neighbours and our fellow citizens. How and why do majority of Indians stay silent and contribute to the persecution of their fellow citizens who are Muslims and religious minorities? The question baffles me as an Indian because I have gr

Electricity Bill: Centre's reform measures contain 'carrot and stick package' for states

Counterview Desk  The Peoples’ Commission on Public Sector and Public Services (PCPSPS), claiming to be a network of eminent academics, jurists, erstwhile administrators, trade unionists and social activists, seeking consultations with stakeholders with those who are against the government’s decision to monetise, disinvest and privatise public assets/enterprises, has said that the proposed Electricity (Amendment) Bill-2022 will have far-reaching impacts on the finances of states. Insisting that the proposed Bill would lead to “assault on India’s federal structure”, in a statement, it says, it would weaken the finances of states’ power distribution companies, have adverse impact on utility employees, cripple the states' finances, impose a heavy cost burden on the smaller subsidized consumers (especially farmers), and benefit only corporate business houses. “States cannot afford to ignore the far-reaching implications of the Bill on their economy, finances, agricultural and industria

Cops 'refuse to register' complaint after BSF shot landless worker off Bangla border

By Our Representative  Kirity Roy, secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), and national convener, Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity (PACTI), in a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), referring to the incident of “firing and execution” of a poor Muslim youth, has alleged that the 26 year old was was shot at “without giving any warning” one and half kilometers inside the Indian territory from Bangladesh border by an on- duty Border Security Force (BSF) personnel. Stating that the person, Ruhul Mondal, belonged to an Other Backward Class (OBC), and hailed from Ramnarayan Para village under Sagarpara police station in Murshidabad district, West Bengal, Roy in his representation said, the BSF person who shot at him is “attached with Singpara Border Outpost, 141 Battalion”, underlining, the BSF has now floated “self defense theory” to cover up its operation. According to the BSF officials, the incident took place in the jute fields in