26 Mar Welcome, Olive Ridley Turtles to Mumbai, India!
Efforts for Environmental conservation are always mired in controversy. While everyone believes that they should be done, money and necessary support for these are not that forthcoming. For one, the exact science of the working of ecological systems still remains only partially known to us and Mother nature loves to spring surprises on us mere human mortals. And second, is that the fruits or benefits of environmental conservation are often spread over so many years that people fail to recognise its value, really speaking. Conservationists are often working over 2-3 decades, till even a glimmer of hope is seen. On this backdrop, the return of the Olive Ridley to Mumbai’s coast is like a shot in the arm for Environmental conservation.
As per media reports, a clean up of physical garbage of the Versova beach has resulted in this miracle. Further studies should be conducted to see how these turtles cope with the polluted waters of the ocean before reaching the coast. Was it just a matter of removing physical barriers like a garbage heap, for these turtles to return? Ecologists, while rejoicing, should also conduct deeper studies to understand this phenomenon so that we can get a useful insight into our future efforts of environmental conservation.
This phenomenon should also tell conservationists that there is a tremendous power of nature to cope and rebound. As we move in an era of infrastructural development in India, there are bound to be environmental conflicts. My take always has been that unless humans can conduct their own lifestyles comfortably, they will never venture out to conserve environment. It is only when human are fed and clothed and educated that they can think of environmental conservation. And its telling and classic that a city of Mumbai, the richest and probably the most “developed” in our country, could showcase a case for successful environmental conservation than anywhere else in the country.
As India moves forward in her path of bringing most of her people out of poverty, she is going to have to invest in infrastructure. This infrastructure building will mean more and more land comes under development and changes its use. This infrastructure building will mean that more and more areas will urbanize and thus change the natural landscape. We also know that this phenomenon is not something that’s new to India. This shift from natural to urbane, from forests to cities, has happened in all developed countries as populations have shifted from agrarian societies to manufacturing to service oriented societies. In India, it’s impact is going to be felt the most, one, due to a large population dependent on relatively smaller area of land mass and two, since the world has already started measuring environmental damage, any small and large changes in India are going to tip the balance for the world.
In this time and place, India is really not faced with a choice. In a quest to move ahead and bring people out of poverty, she has to invest in infrastructure. Of course, while doing so, there are going to be ways and means to reduce, avoid and mitigate environmental impacts in some cases, while making hard decisions in others. And post construction, there is an opportunity for a massive cleanup. Let’s not discount the “clean up” anymore as it has shown that successful environmental conservation can happen due to a clean up too.
Lastly, India’s commitment to invest in renewable energy generation, reducing its energy demand through LEDs and Green Buildings, shift towards Electric vehicles, investments in public transportation and continuing her efforts for Forestation, amongst others, can bring great results in the near future. I particularly believe that the doomsday forecasts of environmentalists should not be believed. Environmentalists tend to look at environmental impacts of infrastructure development with a single lens, ignoring many other social, environmental and financial benefits. To cite an example, when a stretch of a highway is to be built and if trees are required to be cut, environmentalists highlight the irreplaceable value of trees, choosing to ignore the fact that without the highway, people will expend more fossil fuel to traverse the same route, and generate more air pollution in the process due to congestion. This environmental impact created due to “not building a highway” is conveniently forgotten. The social and economic benefits of having accessibility to remote areas is also ignored in a quest to make an emotional argument for saving trees. While cutting of grown trees is an impact, it is a relatively smaller impact vis a vis other benefits that may be accrued due to the road.
While local impacts of infrastructure building are going to be seen and experienced, these can be addressed and managed by local efforts. The larger benefits of environmental conservation along with infrastructure development, which we, as a country, will duly accrue, are already being put into place by India. At some point, we as a nation, have to accept the reality that true environmental conservation will happen only when human needs are met and not otherwise.
On the anniversary of the greatest Tree Hugging movement, I dare to write that, while the ChipkoMovement raised awareness and invoked emotions, its impact in saving the overall forests of the world has been limited. So while movements like these are necessary to raise awareness and catch peoples’ attention and emotions, what is more impactful are movements of rejuvenation and restoration like the Versova Beach Clean up or the forestation work done by Jadav Payeng in Assam. May India see a whole new tribe of “Action Environmentalists” in the coming future, for us to see and experience the success of Environmental conservation.