'We Have More Than 1.2 Billion Pledges To Protect The Earth,' Says Karuna Singh, Regional Director, Earth Day Network

'We Have More Than 1.2 Billion Pledges To Protect The Earth,' Says Karuna Singh, Regional Director, Earth Day Network

The first Earth Day on 22 April 1970 mobilised millions of Americans. Since then, Earth Day has evolved into one of the planet’s largest civic events, activating millions across 192 countries to safeguard the earth. Earth Day Network India regional director Karuna Singh says India has a tradition of protecting nature which we need to revive.

FPJ Web DeskUpdated: Monday, April 22, 2024, 03:44 PM IST
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It has been more than three decades since the idea of Earth Day started. How has the initiative evolved as environmental challenges evolved?
This year marks the 54th year of Earth Day, which began on April 22, 1970. It took 20 years after the founding in the US for it to become an international day. It took a little more time for them to realise that a cookie-cutter approach based on Western thoughts will not bring in the whole world together.
If you look at the universe from space, it's a little blue dot with only natural boundaries like mountains and rivers. The new approach is that we are no longer doing a generic strategy, but have customised and made it locally relevant.
This has been a major skip forward and made it more meaningful. We believe in partnerships and collaborations with those on the grassroots level who understand the sensitivities of local regions. So we have over 150,000 partners in 190 countries that we engage with to take the environmental movement forward.

What kind of people in India are you engaging with, since we have so many different demographics and geographies? What challenges and successes have you encountered with your partner organisations?
India is a subcontinent, people tend to forget that sometimes. It is a multi-ethnic country, so we have different dialects and sensitivities that we have to focus on. And this is best done by reaching out to people with common interests on the grassroots level. From the beginning of the Earth Day Network India, we have had hundreds of partners in India.
The other major problem is that India has so many bio-geographic zones. So, you know, we we realise that global warming may be a common problem, but the way we teach it or the way we explain it, say, in the mountain areas where we talk about the melting of glaciers, that is not going to work in a coastal region who would better understand rising waters and impending inundation. So the subject is common, but the approach is different.
Successes have been both in the corporate world and with municipal corporations, religious groups and in rural areas.
You'd be happy to know that many religious places have gone plastic-free, such as Badrinath, Kedarnath, Sankat Mochan, Jagannath-Puri has just been added, Tirupati, Kamakhya, 34 temples in Himachal Pradesh, Amritsar. These are not just plastic-free precincts but these also give a fantastic message to devotees.  
If I have to praise anyone it would be the people at the grassroots who live in close proximity with nature and are affected by climate change first. In Baramulla district in Kashmir, a group that produces milk has developed a system of using rocks to refrigerate the milk, saving electricity.
In Belur close to Bengaluru, where Siberian cranes come every year, people look after them; they say these are like our daughters coming home. We have scientists who have come forward, youth from IITs and IIMs, with scientific knowledge that villagers can adopt.

In municipal corporations and larger cities is there a movement among stakeholders to be a little more aware about the plastics crisis?
The Delhi Municipal Corporation, one of the largest in the world, has been a partner for two years. They have a fantastic programme where they have cloth bags placed in major market areas. For the sum of Rs 20 you can purchase a cloth bag. And when you return it, you can take your Rs 20 back.
We have produced a toolkit for students of all the academic institutions that they have under them on why we need to get rid of plastic and how we can do it. That was launched in Delhi last month and all the schools are now doing that.
We have put together an ebook of municipal corporations that are doing good work. We see our job as showcasing good efforts.

What do you see as the role of youth in ensuring that environmental education translates into action on the ground?
We use a two-prong approach for this. We have put together a book for rural teachers that help use locally available means to teach in an innovative manner.
Also, students are fantastic. They have the energy, they have the idealism. I see a major shift in what they’re doing today—in our time we were told to just concentrate on our studies.
Today, children are being taught environmental issues in an innovative manner from a very young age. We have programmes for this.
We have something called Morning Assembly. So during the month of April, we ask schools to reserve one morning assembly for children to do something special based on the environment. We now have over one lakh schools who have been part of this, now in its eighth year.
We also have something called Earth Reel, an opportunity for  students to make a short film, public service announcement or a 3-minute film or a GIF or a satire. One year our winner was from Jharkhand, a group that showed that the metal tips of shoe-laces are a recycling challenge. They made something that replaces those.
We also have classes for those who register from financiers, tax experts, industry people showing them how to set up a business, etc.  

What are the efforts we need to undertake as a country to adopt renewable energy and green infrastructure?  
I think that the government has enough policies, which are very good. The problem is implementation. I think Panchayat women leaders, who have now come into their own, need to be trained.
We have reached out to them in Madhya Pradesh, and one Sarpanch went in for solar lights.
There is a disconnect between the government policies and what people need to know. There are a lot of very good government schemes but  nobody knows how to reach the people to get them to do it.
We need loud voices to come in and inspire people. It is very important that we understand that it has to be a win-win situation, it must be economically beneficial. For example if we want to wean away people from plastics there must be an alternative that is economically viable. Otherwise, India by tradition has had a very strong approach of working with the environment, of repairing the environment. Let’s bring that back.

What major events are scheduled for Earth Day 2024?
We’ve just concluded a huge collaboration with Kabadiwallah Connect. They have announced that they will connect kabadiwallahs with those who need to give their waste.
We have a huge webinar with the principal chief conservator of forests and NGOs. We’ll be discussing why our wildlife sanctuaries and forest areas are not yet plastic- free. We have scuba divers that will go underwater with anti plastic messages. One of us scuba divers is a nine-year-old, based in Chennai, who just completed a swim from Sri Lanka to India.
We will have a skydiver with a message to protect the earth.  We have lots and lots of programmes like this going on every day. We have something on anti-plastic indigenous art, comic strips, a tie-up with the National Council of Science Museums, something with women farmers growing organic or naturally farmed produce.  
We have been recording pledges to protect the earth since 2016. This year we crossed 1.2 billion pledges.

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