Nearly half of India hasn’t heard about global warming

Visvaksen P Chennai | Updated on January 20, 2018 Published on March 06, 2016

The Mumbai skyline covered in a haze in this picture taken on February 3, 2015, due to the fire in the Deonar garbage dumping ground. -- Paul Noronha

Cooperation of industry is vital for fighting climate change, but education of the populace is just as important

A little more than a month ago, the Indian government unveiled a grand campaign to spur innovation among startups. The Startup India programme, a pet project of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, hopes to harness the ‘energy and drive’ of a ‘nation of youngsters’ in order to dramatically boost job creation and kick-start economic growth.

While the grand showcase of new-age Indian industry was underway, in Mumbai, the nation’s financial capital, a fire erupted in the city’s largest landfill which was so large that it could be seen from space. The blaze in the Deonar landfill — which blanketed Mumbai in thick smog for days and temporarily made its air quality even worse than New Delhi’s — is the result of a complete absence of standard waste management procedures at a dump yard that handles nearly 6,000 tonnes of waste every day.

The inferno in Deonar is symptomatic of a malaise that plagues the entire nation. For a country that prides itself on an ancient cultural heritage in which being eco-friendly was an integral and natural part of everyday life, modern India seems to have lost its way almost entirely. Vedic environmentalism is now the stuff of political propaganda and a culture of limitless apathy is its replacement. Despite the launch of the high-profile Swachh Bharat mission aimed at cleaning up Indian public spaces, the country is finding it next to impossible to protect its environment from the excesses of its population. Meanwhile, Japan, a country where public trash cans are almost unheard of, somehow manages to remain free of the plastic blight that India is choking on.

Clearly, the problem has to do with attitudes. Changing the deep-rooted culture of indifference towards the environment will be a complicated, long-drawn out process that will require decades of efforts towards environmental education and awareness. Thankfully, the demographics of this challenge are favourable. According to a United Nations Population Fund report, India has the largest youth population in the world with 356 million people — roughly 28 per cent of the population — in the 10-24 age group. This presents India with a unique opportunity to raise a generation of environmentally conscious citizens at a time when the world finds itself on the cusp of significant climate change due to human actions.

However, India has done little to capitalise on this enviable position. The National Action Plan on Climate Change, put forward by the Congress government in 2008, mentions education as a means for tackling climate change altogether too briefly and avoids specific recommendations entirely. Despite Article 6 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change stressing on the responsibility of signatories in promoting education for sustainable development (ESD), India is yet to incorporate ESD into its education system. Far from the intended vision, which proposes the incorporation of ESD concepts into every relevant subject, the current syllabus prescribed by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), touches on climate change in a perfunctory manner in a single, relatively minor chapter.

The current administration’s climate action programmes — an ambitious clean energy plan foremost among them — also indicate a preference for pushing change exclusively through industry rather than taking a holistic approach that values increased awareness and human resource development. A 2012 report prepared by the Yale Center for Climate Communication reveals the dismal status quo this approach has left India with. The study, which involved a nation-wide survey across rural and urban areas, found that over 40 per cent of respondents had never heard of global warming. However, once provided with a short explanation, 70 per cent of them were able to recognise its effect on their lives and an overwhelming majority saw it as a significant threat.

With coordinated and concerted action, India’s demographic advantage could become a springboard that catalyses climate action and challenges India’s reputation as a nation of people who are apathetic to the state of the environment. However, the government needs to act quickly and decisively if it hopes to reach the next generation in time.

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Published on March 06, 2016
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