Earth Day – The Quiet Changemakers

Ordinary people can and will make a difference. In our cover story, we acknowledge the power of people’s movements across the globe... and we bring to you in their own words, the initiatives taken by ordinary citizens to make this planet a better place to live. As a great soul once rightly said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

Photo Courtesy: www.Nasa.Gov

One fine spring morning of April 1970, thousands of citizens across United States came together, united in the wildness of their spirits, to carry out peaceful demonstrations for environmental reform. That day marked the first celebration of Earth Day, a celebration that turned into a massive global people’s movement.

On April 22, every year, millions of people take to the streets, not just for peaceful protests, but to push for political action and civic participation towards a greener future. In 2016, Earth Day served as the backdrop for the landmark Paris Agreement, where 175 countries signed a treaty pledging their support towards decreasing carbon emissions. A historic moment in the fight against climate change, The Paris Agreement, has conferred upon Earth Day, greater commemorative value.

However, while we laud such collaborative victories, the successes of smaller communities are going to be of equal importance across the globe. The common thread that drives any environmental action, no matter its scale, is reverence for our natural world.

Today we celebrate this gentle reverence, in kindred spirits, whose lives serve as examples for sustainable living. Sanctuary has always drawn inspiration from quiet changemakers: the over-worked parent, the curious child, the good-natured grandparent, the sincere celebrity, the conscious millenial and the resilient activist. These are people, who even on the busiest of days, have managed to break human barriers of ease and apathy. Clark Kents of our world, these are our ordinary heroes, leading extraordinary lives. In an attempt to reduce their carbon footprint, their sustainable practices have now become second nature. Though they make it seem easy, in the age of fast food, fashion and faster gratification, these peacemakers point to the joys of slowing down, smelling the flowers, and meeting nature halfway.

Sanctuary met some of these ‘everyday heroes’ and we share with our readers the inspiration inherent in their lives. Leading by example, they try to tread gently on the Earth and they underscore the popular axiom “The change begins with YOU.”

“I don’t like using disposable plastic bottles, so I carry my own water with me, with a water-purifier when I travel. I also carry a cloth bag or backpack, and use those to transport what I purchase. I don’t accept polythene bags from vendors. I avoid supermarkets, as they package everything in plastic. For milk or yogurt, I carry closed vessels. I have never owned a car, and prefer to cycle or walk short distances. For long distances, I use trains, and buses. I eat few branded chocolates, biscuits and savoury snacks because they are sold in plastic or non-biodegradable packaging. I prefer fruits, honey, jaggery, and homemade snacks. I don’t buy new clothes unless I absolutely need to. I get old clothes and shoes repaired, and use them for as long as I possibly can. By and large, I prefer to reuse things and avoid disposables.”

Mallikarjun Singh, Outdoor education coordinator, Mussoorie

“Cycle your way to shorter distances around your residence. It does not matter whether you are a student or a vice principal, an employee or vice president. You will reduce fuel usage as well as pollution. In the process, you will get fitter with real exercises, rather than relying on a simulator in a gym.”

Parvish Pandya, Educator, Mumbai

“I consciously try to own very little, use very little and take up minimal space anywhere I go. My travel bag weighs no more than two kilos and I ensure my showers are no longer than two minutes. I only buy e-books. I try to ensure my written works are published only on the digital medium.”

Pankaj Singh, Writer, Bengaluru

Photo: Jyoti Sharma and Priya Mishra

The Save Aarey initiative has been running for over four years as a long-standing battle to preserve Mumbai’s vanishing green cover. In 2014, the Save Aarey group conducted its first protest against the proposed cutting of 2,298 trees for a metro car shed in the Aarey forests. Despite legal battles with apathetic authorities, more and more citizens are joining forces with the Save Aarey group, which believes that the momentum it gathers will soon unite other citizens’ groups to demonstrate their collective will for a greener city.

“There are many ways to reduce one’s own consumption, so that we take less from the environment and give more back. A simple way to do this is to carry your own bag when you go shopping to the market. I stock a few cloth bags in my car and whenever I buy anything I don’t need a bag from the vendor. I just use my good old sturdy cloth bag.”

Purab Kohli, Actor, Mumbai

“I have been organising environment-friendly Holi workshops at schools in Barpeta, Assam, through a voluntary organisation called Shubham. In 2017, with the help of Aaranyak, we took the campaigns to the educational institutes located in the fringe areas of the Manas National Park. We shared how reds, oranges, violets, yellows, and blues could be obtained from natural ingredients including beet, turmeric, specific herbs and seasonal flowers. These are harmless to living creatures including humans, and just as much fun, I explain to people. And the children agree.”

Kuldeep Das, Environmental activist, Assam

“I have a three-tiered eco-friendly mantra. 1. I have been using the same bottle for the past 14 years and never buy bottled water, not even to refill my trusted bottle, which I carry everywhere and fill from drinking water sources. 2. I use only bio-degradable attire. I buy 100 per cent cotton clothing. 3. I believe in Five-Mug-Madras-Style Bathing. No showers. Just five mugs of water are enough to stay perfectly clean. That makes me feel much better, physically and morally.”

Vipin Ravindranath, Corporate trainer, Bengaluru

“My decision to not have a child is largely because of our already-burgeoning population, and the fact that the deteriorating environment of our planet is not suitable to raise a child. Rather than putting more humans on our already over-populated planet, one can always adopt, and provide love and nourishment to a child in need of a family. A child is a child after all.”

Mugdha Variyar, Journalist, Bengaluru

“Ragpicker is a term we unthinkingly use for waste collectors. By virtue of their work, they ensure millions of kilograms of waste reach the recycling units from our cities every day. For their phenomenal service, we prefer to address them as Paryavaran Mitras (Friends of the Environment).

Paryavaran Mitra is a social enterprise based in the Gandhi Ashram, where we seek to bring holistic improvements in the life of these amazing souls using Solid Waste Management as a tool. On the awareness front, we facilitate and encourage the segregation of waste at source as an article of faith, a value-system in schools, offices and institutions. We also facilitate the recycling of waste including plastic and paper. We advocate upcycling by converting material into planters, curtains, and paper-based products. All this brings dignity to these plucky individuals, whose efforts we estimated last year ended up preventing 2,500 metric tons of CO2 from being emitted into our atmosphere.”

Ashish Agrawal, Social worker, Ahmedabad

Photo Courtesy: Alejandro Alvarez/Public Domain

The People’s Climate March on September 21, 2014, was the largest climate change march in history, with 31,100 diverse people taking over the streets of New York City in an attempt to drive global action against a warming planet.

“In my view, charity begins at home, as does cleanliness. I joined a group called ‘Clean Navi Mumbai, Clean India’ as a volunteer and with others we take to the streets every Sunday morning to keep our public spaces clean. While some may consider this a futile effort, we believe that ‘every bit counts‘ and this conviction has driven our purpose for over two years now.”

Vaishali Paste, Public health professional, Mumbai

“Everyone talks about the importance of saving water and why we ought to save water, but very few people focus on how water can be saved. On day as a barber misted water on my head using a spray bottle the thought occurred to me: “Why not use the same spray bottle to clean vehicles?” I tried it out and it worked. I discovered that just two litres of water used this way could clean a sedan car plus three two-wheelers in just half-an-hour. Normally ten times that amount is used for just one vehicle.”

Shaurya Patel, Urban planner, Ahmedabad

“I invite people to my house and teach them the innovative practice of aquaponics, a system that combines aquaculture with hydroponics. In this, water from a fish tank is fed to a hydroponic system, where plants are grown in nutrient-rich water. This water, once purified by the roots of the plants, is recirculated back to the aquaculture system, thereby reusing water effectively. Every weekend, I teach them how to make this system, in their very homes, with everyday products.

Varun Hemachandran, Entrepreneur, Bengaluru

Nature lovers across the city recently celebrated the appearance of olive Ridley turtles on Versova beach in Mumbai for the first time in 20 years. This miraculous comeback is the result of an ongoing gargantuan cleaning effort, which began in October 2015 at Versova beach, initiated by Afroz Shah, a Mumbai-based lawyer (below). Since then, Afroz and his army of volunteers have together managed to rid the shore of 13 million kg. of marine debris, in what is touted to be the largest beach clean-up in the world.

“The appearance of the olive Ridley turtle, its nest and its hatchlings in an urban setting like Versova beach is an indication that the marine ecosystem around the seas of Versova is regenerating. Constant cleaning of the beach helps marine species. We all will have to do our bit to build our bond with the ocean and the nature,” says Shah.

“Ahalya and I run a bookstore and library in Lower Parel. By its very nature, the library encourages and enables the reuse of books. We give our members non-woven tote bags and carry bags, which last longer than paper bags, and they bring these bags on every visit. We have our own cardboard cartons we reuse for all our outdoor events. Our library has several windows and the light streams in through the day. We’ve designed the bookshelves in such a manner that maximum natural light comes in. We do not need to turn on the lights through the day, and we only turn on the air-conditioners (ACs) when required. The water from the AC goes through a pipe to the trees that surround us. We do not own a car, and rely on public transport to get us from home to work and back. Ahalya is vegan and usually shops from local sellers and farmers’ markets and prefers to buy Indian vegetables, fruits and spices.”

Meethil Momaya, Library owner, Mumbai

“I quit my corporate job with IBM in 2003 and started an organic farm in a village near Mumbai. We grow rice, pulses, spices, oil seeds and vegetables on our own land. Besides, we have lots of trees that provide us with fruits all year round. We have also left some portion of the land wild with many varieties of trees and shrubs. They give us the necessary organic matter for our land and also provide shelter for birds and insects. Though the transition from an urban life to a more rural setting has been difficult, I feel our current life, though tough, is better in the long run for my wife and I, as well as the environment, than the unsustainable life we were living in the city.”

Venkat Iyer, Author, Mumbai

“I am fascinated by hornbills. When I discovered that these unique birds were threatened, I joined the National Conservation Fund’s Hornbill Nest Adoption programme. I wanted to raise enough money to adopt three nests. On my birthday, I asked my friends not to give me any presents, but to help me raise money for the nest adoption program. In fact, hornbills became the theme of my birthday party and starting with the invitation itself, I think I managed to inspire and motivate my friends to get involved with nature conservation. Hopefully, they will do the same when their birthdays come around.”

Sahiti Bulusu, Fifth grade student, Bengaluru

First published in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXVIII No. 4, April 2018.