‘ATTITUDE COUNTS’: ENVIRONMENT NEEDS EMPATHY
When a young acclaimed environmental activist Greta Thunberg exclaimed, “How dare you?”, questioning world leaders about their inactivity and half measures relating to climate and environmental policies at the United Nations Climate Action Summit 2019, a wave of media coverage followed. A school girl on the podium received appreciation and criticism as well. What we need to extract from it is that there is a need for a voice, an idea and an action. Environmental consciousness is not a single organization’s duty but whole world’s responsibility.
One of the major challenges in present environmental policies is to find a balance between aspirations and sustainability. The seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by United Nations provides for a visionary scheme but a transfusion to the core in each and every person’s mind is needed. While the ancient Indian practice regarded nature with spirituality, the negative impact of industrialization raised many issues. There are numerous approaches to answer these issues like policy making, laws, rules, penalties, punishment etc. Large scale devastation is tackled by punitive measures but trivial acts are ignored. Environmental psychology emerges as a lesser explored field which tries to fulfill the gap of aspiration and sustainability. Every speech, act, objection, criticism and appreciation creates psychological connectivity to the environment in which a person lives. Let us try to examine environmental psychology as a tool to protect the environment.
Sustainability Vis-À-Vis Human Behavior:
There are 17 Sustainable Development Goals undertaken to be fulfilled till 2030 by the United Nations. The Sustainable Development Goals are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the global challenges we face, including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice. They include:
1. No Poverty
2. Zero Hunger
13. Climate Action
14. Life Below Water
15. Life On Land
Environmental attitude is a basic parameter to create sustainability. According to Raymond K. DeYoung:-
“When solving problems that involve human-environment interactions, whether they are global or local, one must have a model of human nature that predicts the environmental conditions under which humans will behave in a decent and creative manner.”
Harold Proshansky is regarded as the Father of Environmental Psychology and his hypothesis, that environment directly influences behavior in a predictable way, is paramount in building human-environment relations. In Re Noise Pollution Case it was held by the Supreme Court of India that Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees right to life and personal liberty to all persons. It is not of mere survival or existence but a life with human dignity. Right to life in itself includes right to live in healthy environment. Environmental psychology extends the definition of environment not only to natural settings but physical, mental and emotional space of a person.
The Bishnoi Community of Rajasthan is regarded as the original environmentalist of India as they infused a connection within their own community towards protecting the environment. Community-led conservation initiatives from northeast India were in the spotlight at 2018 India Biodiversity Awards. The community reserves that were managed by the Singchung Bugun Village Community Reserve Management Committee in Arunachal Pradesh and the Lemsachenlok Organization in Nagaland were recognized for their work in conservation of wild species. A report shows that Aboriginal social-ecological systems in the area have been found to be far more resilient and sustainable than European methods post-colonization.
In the recent Aarey Forest Controversy of Mumbai, a strong public agitation was initiated through press and social media through which petitioners gained moral support to stand against the illicit cutting.
What can be done to create sense of connectivity with the environment?
Here are some points that can be extracted from success of the indigenous community strategy –
Keep a balance of psyche and place – Do not let external forces destroy your inner peace with the nature. An empathetic attachment has led to movements like Chipko in India.
Bring hazards to notice- A small complaint can do wonders! Derive your motivation from public interest attorney MC Mehta who proved that pure intention will lead to success. You can find links to various public department websites here.
Attach purpose rather than excuse – Don’t limit planting a tree on your birthday just for likes and comments, know the purpose behind it. Sensitization can make great impact in a single family to a group at large.
Co-existence – One major lesson that can be learned from the attitude of the indigenous community is their realization of urban and local settings. The forest department established by the British government in India believed that tribal communities only suffer the loss of forests, biodiversity and wildlife. They were not ready to accept the fact that the Vanvasi community had been living on the principle of "coexistence" with the forest, within the forests for thousands of years.
Human behavior is intricate in achieving the sustainable goals enshrined by UN. For instance, Goal 16 deals with securing peace, justice and strong institutions. Environmental psychology will play a dominant role here as the trio is proportional to human behavior. Nothing is achievable, unless humans are intricately connected with the environment. A less polluted place will bear more peaceful minds than the contaminated and diseased ones. All SDGs are directly linked with humans as change makers and not just a single organization. We must start taking Environmental protection as a generous duty under Article 51A of the Constitution. When we can be selfish about destroying environment to gain momentary pleasures, why can’t we be selfish to protect it at any cost? It will take time. Therapeutic ways can be applied. Each individual must be ‘parens patriae’ and vigilant of the hazards to the environment, not for anyone but for themselves.
The author is a fifth year student of B.A. LL.B. (Hons.) from Law College Dehradun faculty of Uttaranchal University. She is the Secretary of Legal Aid Centre of the college and has been an active organizer and volunteer in socio-legal activities including environmental conservation drives. With academia in hands, the author is keen to research in therapeutic jurisprudence with a social perspective. She is also a writer and many of her blogs and poetry is inspired from nature.