Thursday, May 22, 2008

All in a day's work...

Last week, someone in my workplace had posted this printed note in our pantry. And today I found this handwritten note at the bottom.

Friday, May 09, 2008


Today morning, I was as usual browsing through the online edition of 'The Hindu' when the following words captured my attention: "Indians are world’s greenest consumers". So, I opened the article which starts like this, "Consumers in India care the most for the environment in terms of their day-to-day behaviour with those in the U.S. coming at the bottom, according to National Geographic.".

National geographic has conducted a survey on how much the consumers care for the environment. 14 countries were studied and 1000 people were surveyed in each country. They've come up with a score called 'Greendex'. Apparently India and Brazil have come out on top, thus earning the reputation of being the "world's" greenest.
I feel that this survey does not give an accurate picture of the reality. It might be true that some of the practices of people in India and China are more environmentally sustainable. But that does not make them more environmentally caring - Actually I feel not many actually understand what all these terms even mean.

First of all, I feel that a sample population of 1000 "internet-enabled" citizens in each country is an extremely miniscule sample size to give any meaningful data especially in countries like China and India with more than a billion people each. Second, in developing countries like India and China, people are forced to go in for smaller homes, rely on public transport and save on water & electricity. In these places, demand outstrips supply and hence consumers are forced to make the best use of whatever is available. This should not be compared with places like US and Canada where most people do not know the meaning of the word 'scarcity'.

NGC specifies the following as some environmentally friendly practices -
  1. Live in smaller residences
  2. Prefer green products and own relatively few appliances or expensive electronic devices
  3. Walk, cycle, or use public transportation, and choose to live close to their most common destination

Do Indians do all these by choice? They have no other choice.

  1. In most areas, housing is in great demand. The real estate sales and rental costs are so high and there are millions of people competing to grab every suqare feet of available space. We simply can't afford to have huge expansive houses.
  2. Same is the case of water and electricity. The majority of the population will have memories of runnig behind tanker lorries or standing in line at the water pump to get a few pots of water.Most states face an energy shortage and there are wide fluctuations in the power supply. so, we have to make th most of what is available.
  3. Similarly, the roads are all clogged and we've not yet reached a stage where each individual can afford their own vehicle. But it remains one of the ultimate aims of the majority.

Now compare this with the scenario in US and Canada. The results for this country are probably more accurate. In most cases, they do not have any resource crunch. Lots and lots of land is available to serve a comparatively small population. There is no problem of water or electricity. All commodities are available in plenty. They have these huge warehouse style supermarkets that usually sell items in bulk. It is very very difficult to find a store that would sell a single pen or a single A-4 size paper. You have to buy a box of pens and a whole bundle of paper. So, if I'm going to have 10 pens lying around the house while I just need one, why am I going to really bother saving them all properly? People really do not see the need to save on anything.

Now, in the recent years, the Indian economy is booming and the country has a huge middle class population. The result - more and more people are opting for personal transport like cars & bikes, buying expensive air-conditioners, video/audio systems etc. I don't see any environmentally caring practices among this rising population. how many people actually care or even know about source segregation? How many care about the dumping of the untreated sewage and garbage in the Pallikaranai marshland in Chennai which continues despite the area being declared as a protected wetland. How many even understand the value of the marshland? Most people just view it as wasteland fit to be filled and built upon.

What is needed is a mass environmental educational program. It should start right from the cradle. Children should be taught to care for their environment and make it a part of their lifestyle, not something that is done outside the everyday life. Above all, a major improvement in the livelihood of the common man is needed in the developing countries. Only if they are economically and socially secure, are they going to think about caring for the environment.

A full report of NGC's greendex survey is available