The Short-Sightedness of Our Desires

Nupur Gill

Nupur Gill

Co-Founder, Designated Partner at Perennial Publication LLP
Nupur is an environmentalist at heart who enjoys writing & sharing knowledge with people. Having pursued BBM from Christ University & Masters in Environmental Studies from Imperial College, London she had a lucrative corporate career before co-founding 'Perennials'. She believes knowledge can transform lives and in her downtime enjoys travelling and reading.
Nupur Gill

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A research article written while keeping the rampant pollution in our cities and the countryside in perspective. The recent killer-smog of New Delhi and the NCR Region which is being compared to Beijing stirs the crucial question yet again; Are we willing to sacrifice our present and the future for a little comfort and luxury?

Sustainable development as per the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), or popularly known as the Brundtland Commission of 1989, entails social and economic aspects in conjunction with environmental factors and additionally emphasises on intergenerational equity. However, with growing economic capability of humankind globally, the balance is tipping heavily in favour of economic progress. Whilst this one may deem as crucial in alleviating global poverty, alas the real picture is a distant one. A burgeoning

global population is increasing the competition for scarce natural resources, widening the divide between the rich and the poor and simultaneously plundering the Earth. The need for solutions of controlling populations and birth rates through national policies and education of the masses may be apparent, yet their formulation and deployment is of immense vexation to multiple Governments, regulatory regimes and the layperson. However, population alone is not the issue. A white elephant in the room is consumption.

With the aforementioned growing economic capability, an escalating aspect of modern life is consumerism. One may attribute this to be more prevalent in developed nations, however, the middle and upper classes of developing countries like India are fast catching up. An insatiable thirst for the latest mobile phone on the market, a car for each family member, an expanding trove of precious jewellery etc. are increasingly becoming a part of one’s status and measure of success. Yet are these items truly needed? Is the thought of walking to the local store rather than driving that awful? Is purchasing your own goods in brick and mortar stores rather than online that inconvenient that one is willing to inherit ridiculous amounts of packaging that immediately finds its place in the trash? Is carrying one’s own reusable shopping bag so ‘un-cool’?

The ineptitude of local authorities in waste management is often lamented in India, especially Bangalore, for those familiar with the city. But what leads to the garbage build-up evolving into mountains on every other street corner? It is us too of course. It is but common sense that if we generate less trash, there will be less accumulating everywhere. This is no excuse for the local authorities in doing their job, but is food for thought in reducing our footprint on Earth. Many of us fall victim to the environmental folklore of using paper bags being more eco-friendly than plastic. While yes, they are biodegradable, and plastic not, their re-use is limited. This said, plastic bags too have an average lifespan use of only twenty minutes before making way into trash. The lack of proper waste management adds to our woes with all the trash blocking our streets, clogging drains, getting ingested by innocent birds, cows and other ‘street animals’ so common in India, becoming breeding sites and habitats for disease carrying organisms, and the very least, an eyesore. But this is not all. The garbage duly collected and disposed primarily goes to landfills. They are tightly packed, cutting off oxygen supply and thus inhibiting decomposition of even the biodegradable or ‘eco-friendly’ materials we complacently throw. Furthermore, landfills due to their nature release into the environment toxic gases as well as chemical leachates posing grave threats to local ecosystems and communities settled in the vicinity.

Furthermore, despite drives for waste segregation at source, it is not practiced widely; for the sake of convenience or sheer ignorance. Segregating waste not only assists better handling and treatment, but also minimises the requirement of labour to manually do so – a grave health hazard. Kitchen waste may be composted and processed to be manure whilst some elements of dry waste can be recycled. A crucial component of waste is also e-waste; the separate management of which is imperative to save the environment from percolation of its dangerous components.

Waste only addresses the end of life of products. Their ‘birth’ arises from materials extracted from the Earth too. Mobile phones for instance, that typically last in ones ownership for a little more than a year, thanks to planned obsolescence and growing thirst for swanky technology, are made up of several rare earth elements and chemicals. According to a study, it is becoming increasingly easier to harvest gold from disposed phones instead of the ore. While one may dismiss this to be a good thing for the ease, it denotes severely pillaged mines, as well as the extent of waste and contamination on disposal. Extensive exhumation leaves ecosystems destabilised, species habitat-less, the environment polluted, humans diseased and society impaired.

New inventions, upgraded models and shortened lifespans of all electronic devices today are keeping their companies in business, and we are unconsciously extracting Earth’s treasures and dumping it back in forms highly toxic to both the environment as well as humans. This is true of all goods that we choose to indulge in.

Whilst one may endlessly debate the role of developed countries in historical emissions and demand attribution of responsibility and action to them, global environmental and climate change knows no boundaries. It is descending upon all and needs to be stemmed without egoistical war of words and inaction.

Thus, leaving politics of it aside, as citizens of the Earth, we carry a duty to exhume and consume responsibly. Hence, aside from instituting efficient waste disposal systems and waste segregation at source, embodiment of minimal living shall take us a long way. Literally.

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