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Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
-- TS Eliot
I am ashamed to confess that I have played my part in encouraging the sarcastic jibes and oh-so-funny memes that followed the Arvind Kejriwal government's decision to control vehicular pollution by enforcing a rule in which vehicles with odd and even numbers must ply on alternate days. There have been plenty of fumes on social media since the announcement, with people taking pot shots at the establishment, twittering and tittering. Opposition parties have also been venomous in their reaction against the infamous odd-even formula, hoping perhaps to gain some political mileage.
However, even as I indulged my smart aleck virtual self and witnessed the plethora of heated discussions, the wisdom and truth of George Carlin's statement, "The planet is fine. The people are f****d," dawned on me.
Why are we being sceptical about something so basic as clean air to breathe? Why are we treating it as a problem of governance and the responsibility of a government alone? Do we need directives from the judiciary to goad us into action? Do we need Arvind Kejriwal to show us how and what to breathe?
Maybe we could begin to believe that using public transport is not "down market" or "tacky" when compared with vrooming in an SUV?
I am questioning the responsibility and duty each of us has in ensuring that our planet stays healthy. For ourselves, yes. But also for our children and future generations. Abdicating this responsibility means we run the risk of leaving behind a planet where we deny them the ability to breathe freely and purely. Just as we now perhaps are waking up to the fact that our children will possibly not see the beauty of earth's fascinating features that we had the opportunity to enjoy (for example, coral reefs that are dying, plant and animal species that are becoming extinct, landscapes that are being transformed).
Joseph Jenkins says in the Humanure Handbook:
"We line up and make a lot of noise about big environmental problems like incinerators, waste dumps, acid rain, global warming and pollution. But we don't understand that when we add up all the tiny environmental problems each of us creates, we end up with those big environmental dilemmas. Humans are content to blame someone else, like government or corporations, for the messes we create, and yet we each continue doing the same things, day in and day out, that have created the problems."
The plan has been in operation since 1 January, and so far the results have been encouraging. To keep up the momentum, perhaps more of the "exempted' people could lead by example. One is reminded of the late Biju Patnaik, former Chief Minister of Odisha, riding a bicycle to the Secretariat in the mid 90s, as a part of austerity measures ushered in by him. Perhaps only truly essential services' government vehicles could be allowed to not participate in the scheme for 15 days? Perhaps we could ditch cheap jugaad options in favour of car-pooling? Walk, where and when we can ? Maybe not immediately, but sometime soon, those of us who are able could think of switching to CNG vehicles? Perhaps we could effect a change in mindset wherein social status is not tied to how many swanky vehicles you own? Maybe we could also begin to believe that using public transport is not "down market" or "tacky" when compared with vrooming in an SUV?
We make choices everyday that can help reduce air pollution. The need of the hour is to drive less and combine driving with alternative modes of transportation. It's as important to drive smart, with driving habits that control the car's emissions.
Let me remind myself and you of the words of Carl Sagan:
"Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves."
Friends, Delhiites, Countrymen! Lend me your ears... let's drive less, let's drive smart!