Author: Bittu Sahgal
Photo: Agniprava Nath.
“How on Earth do we cope with them?” That’s what the natural world seems to be pondering, as that misfit, Homo sapiens, runs amok through fragile Planet Earth. Meanwhile ‘developers’ respond as developers are wont to: “How shall I kill thee? Let me count the ways.”
And boy do they have their ways!
Drilling for oil in the Arctic. Dumping nuclear waste in the Bikini Islands. Razing Brazilian rainforests to build World Bank-financed roads. Digging up tiger forests in Mahan, Chattisgarh. Squeezing oil from Canada’s Alberta sands. Drowning rainforest diversity under the Subansiri dam in Arunachal Pradesh. Fracking for gas in Scotland. Devastating the food source of millions of olive ridley marine turtles off the Orissa coast for the Dhamra Port. Pillaging the virgin Anjanvel coastline in Guhagar, Maharashtra, to accommodate the now-defunct and discredited Enron. I have been working to protect India and our planet for over 40 years. I know how the marauders work. In the 1990s, India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests asked me to assess the biodiversity values of forests slated to be drowned under the Turial Hydroelectric Project across a tributary of Mizoram’s Barak river. Walking across the crystal mountain flow, along a beautifully hand-crafted rope bridge, I paused to contemplate the natural green cathedral that rose grandly from both banks. That was when I overheard the NEEPCO engineer say to the Chairman of our Expert Committee: “Madam, just divert him for two weeks’ time and we will remove every tree from this valley. After that ask him for his opinion on the wildlife.”
The engineer was one of an ever-expanding tribe that use the terrifying “scorched earth” strategy of retreating armies to destroy anything that might offer an advantage to the enemy (in this case environmentalists!). Like an auto-immune disorder, such dangerous people manipulate corrupt officials against us, and tire the public into apathetic submission by creating fait accompli after fait accompli, destroying forests, rivers, coasts and mountains, while skillfully interlocking opponents in long-drawn consultations through expert committees, courts and the media.
As the arguments drone on, nature responds by sending us consequences, not judgements. Climate change, famines, floods and droughts are Nature’s fait accompli messages. It’s a race to the finish.And my money is on nature, not Homo sapiens.
First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXV No. 2, April 2014.