Around three years ago, I got an opportunity to meet Chandi Prasad Bhat. He was lecturing on how poor villagers in Uttaranchal hugged trees and
prevented them from being cut down. The lecture on the Chipko movement got me thinking on environmental activism in my home state, West
Environmental activism doesn't mean merely raising a debate in the media. But that's what a lot of people, claiming to be environmental activists, do. Their pursuits, however well-meaning, are rendered futile by the inability to tackle problems at the grassroots level. Besides, environmental activism needs expert guidance. A number of movements have been nipped in the bud because they have not taken a proper approach: an issue has been raised in the public domain, it has generated heat, but then the matter has fizzled out.In Kolkata, for example, there have been many debates to protect the city's water bodies from the urban sprawl, but not a single blue patch has been saved.
This author tried contacting the media on the issue. But was told that it's an old issue, and needed no further pursuing. One media representative told me that any further coverage of the issue would result in loss of advertisement revenue from the Emami group--one of the important shareholders of the South City complex.
I did manage to find some print space in a leading Kolkata daily. But all mention about corruption and illegality had been cleverly edited and the story seemed like a nostalgic requiem to a lost lake. But I do not want to rant against the media. My aim in bringing up this personal experience was to highlight the futility of conducting environmental activism through the media.
The casual attitude has pervaded even the teaching of environmental studies. It is not mandatory to have a specialisation in this subject. If someone with a specialisation in history can teach environmental studies, will a specialist in environmental sciences be allowed to teach history? But many stress on the interdisciplinary character of environmental studies. They have a valid argument. I do not dispute that teaching environmental studies requires an understanding of subjects like history, geography, economics and politics. But then the subject also presupposes knowledge about the environment. How many of those who teach the subject can claim to have such knowledge? Of course, 'environment lovers' there are a plenty. But that does not qualify for specialisation in environmental studies. For that a sustained engagement with the environment at the grassroots level or in academia is a must.
It's time the terms, 'environmentalist', 'environment-lover', and 'environmental activist' are clarified.
Kaustuv Basu is a research student at the School of Environmental Sciences in Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi
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