Being Environmentally Responsible

Kushal Pokharel

Although the practice of observing the World Environment Day on June 5 has now become little more than four and half decades old, the world is witnessing severe environmental problems from bio-diversity losses, land degradation to air pollution, water pollution. Environmental hazards like ice melting, landslide, hurricanes, cyclones, desertification, deforestation among others have created severe economic and health crises in the present century. With increasing desire of humans for material possessions and a decent standard of living, environment has been terribly victimised. In this light, grappling with the challenges of environment is becoming a vexing problem for policymakers, NGOs/INGOs and the larger society.

Recent studies have shown that the rate of deterioration is rapidly outstripping the ability of the planet to absorb the damage. Consequently, the problem of environmental degradation is expected to go from bad to worse with the tripling of the global flooding rate by 2030. Furthermore, oceans are becoming increasingly acidic and there are greenhouse gases in our atmosphere more than any time in human history. Water scarcity continues to be a global threat thereby putting the lives of people in great peril. All the above facts paint a gloomy picture of the future environment.
What remains a million dollar question is how to get rid of this widespread problem. Who is chiefly responsible for creating this mess? Is environment conservation the prime responsibility of the state or the NGOs/ INGOs? What about the role of civil society? And more importantly what can an individual do to create a better environment? Delving into these questions is crucial for finding some solutions and strategies.
Let’s examine each of these questions now. Generally speaking, government on behalf of state is at the apex level of policy formulation and implementation. As a matter of fact, it has the responsibility of formulating policies, acts and regulations, laws among others pertaining to environment and monitor its effectiveness. But what if the laws of the government are blatantly violated by public which is becoming a common phenomenon particularly in the developing countries. Can the government in all cases penalise the public for their offense? It depends on the intention and the capacity of the government which has largely remained weak in the third world countries. In such case, despite the best policies, developing an environment friendly society will be impossible. In our own context, we can cite many examples of government policies that have been ignored by the public. Ranging from the policy of banning plastics to the restriction on smoking in public places have become inoperative primarily in the absence of public co-operation.
Second, the non-state actors whose works involve raising public awareness and mobilising the local community for sustainable use of natural resources have failed to play a transformative role in the promotion of environment. Sad but true, the manner in which the NGOs/ INGOs are working with the exception of few cater to the donor interests rather than address the local needs. Pleasing the donors with well-written reports often come at the cost of harming the daily chore of the rural people. Say for instance, a haphazardly planned NGO discussion in a village to raise awareness on the use of pesticides without cross checking the availability of time slot with the rural farmers will bear no visible fruit. Considering the locals as passive beneficiaries of development and according little respect for the locals is the inherent flaw in the NGO-led approach.
Third, civil society as a liaison between the government and the public is supposed to act as a pressure group for the improvement in the public welfare. However, in reality, the deeply polarised civil society in the case of country like ours has utterly failed to champion the environmental causes of the people and have become more unaccountable and non-transparent. In the name of environmental campaigns, they have primarily served their own vested interests leaving the environmental issues in shadow.

Neither the state, NGOs/ INGOs nor the civil society can in real sense ensure environmental health without public participation. Having said that, an individual can make a big difference in promoting the quality of the environment. By demonstrating environment friendly behaviour- throwing wastes at bins, making the use of the available resources wisely, initiating cleaning campaigns on a regular basis, an individual can be a change agent in his/her surrounding. Leading by action, every individual whether rich or poor, educated or uneducated can immensely contribute in making this planet a better place to live in.
With ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’ the slogan of this year Environment Day, simple actions on the part of every individual to minimise the use of plastic products and switching to plastic alternatives will be the landmark achievement to materialise this goal. But the perennial question is- are we ready to change? Can we act in more responsible manner?


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