Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Blue Planet – Wrecked by Modern Lifestyles

Greetings from " MY Right to Safe Food"

I was recently invited by Saint Aloysius College to address the M.S.W students on the above topic Blue Planet – Wrecked by Modern Lifestyles. I felt privileged to have a “birds eye view” of the challenges and opportunities lurking out there on the horizon.

After a long time, i had the pleasure of witnessing perfect co-ordination and communications skills where each teacher, student played a part so crucial that every fine attention to detail made the event even more outstanding. Bat an eyelid and a student emerged out of nowhere to fulfill a request. Deeply touching was the warmth and hospitality for it spoke volumes of an institute operating with a kindred team spirit. This could only happen when the team of faculty and students are steered by the heads who encourage, motivate standards of excellence to make an event a roaring success. Mine was only a small contribution of sharing to the already well defined objectives. Perhaps a lesson or two needs to be drawn from these students on self motivation and understanding the nuances of a guest. Saint Aloysius College did it with much ease, full credits. The first impression was a memorable lasting one. I share the outcome of events as it concerns us all.

The huge damage done by mankind to the assaulted, ailing planet was a shocking eye opener literally jolting me, taking me into the realms of despair. Whilst my visual presentation gave startling revelations unfolding factors that induced climate change from global warming, desertification, deforestation, water scarcity, the impact of green revolution and its erosive farming methods to Genetic manipulation touted as the solution to eradicate hunger. I presented live examples of sustainable integrated farming practices as the solution to the huge mounting concerns on the symptoms of a world that is out of balance and very seriously ill, bringing with it the economic disparity, educational inequities, geopolitical tensions that we are being witnessed today.

When you get into the core problems, whether in Washington, Delhi or Tokyo, you keep seeing the same moral deficiencies: self-indulgence, irresponsibility and imprudence. Consuming less may be the single biggest thing you can do to save carbon emissions, and yet no one dares to mention it. Because if we did, it would threaten economic growth, the very thing that is causing the problem in the first place.

Climate change is affecting people and nature in countless ways, and it often increases existing threats that have already put pressure on the environment. Our districts/villages in North Karnataka are marooned by wrath of floods, small islands around the globe are soon to disappear with sea levels rising at such a fast pace. But it is not a problem which has appeared overnight – it's 40 years since scientists first alerted the world to the dangers of climate change. How much longer are we going to allow it to continue?

The cause of climate change is the unlimited burning of fossil fuels – coal, oil and natural gas to satisfy our hunger for energy. In addition to the almost 1 billion food-insecure people, many more in developing countries are facing food insecurity with deserts spreading, thanks to monocultures of intensive corrosive farming as soils are eroded, our Asian monsoon system is substantively changed, the freshwater supply from melting mountain glaciers such as those in the Himalayas have become increasingly erratic.

Our wrecked lifestyles are our own creations. Recycling and changing our light bulbs is not enough. Climate crisis is a crisis of lifestyle and of character, we truly see the connection between our behavior and the planet’s problems, we are simply deceiving ourselves to go on living as we have been. This crisis is the sum total of every one of our choices, and those choices made in our name. Everything we do, every choice we make, makes a difference –good, bad, or neutral. We have to rethink our lifestyles, to make the changes that will allow us to stop contributing to this problem. The growth-driven path is not viable, and in all likelihood no longer even economic.

Consumption of resources is rising rapidly, biodiversity is plummeting and just about every measure shows humans affecting Earth on a vast scale. The one piece of advice you will not see on a government list is "buy less stuff". Buying an energy-efficient TV is to be applauded; not buying one at all is a crime against society. Nobody is held responsible for the fact that we are spending our natural capital like there is no tomorrow.. When the planet’s life support systems are trashed, no one can bail it out. With vested faulty policies and politicians spending time and throwing trillions of dollars at a solution to the financial crisis, they have yet to truly address the still more serious crisis of a crashing climate system.

Unless this failure is put right at the United Nations Copenhagen Climate Conference, 2009 will come to be seen as the year of one of the greatest political failures the world has ever seen.

And unless, we reduce the amount we consume, and change the sources of the things we use in our daily lives. The issues you will see are not just about the environment or wildlife; these issues are about children, families, and communities. This is about people—the cultural survival of an entire people, which, of course, are connected to the survival of the planet as a whole. For it is our children who will pay the highest price for how we treat the earth. As the ancient Native American proverb says, “the earth does not belong to us; we merely borrow it from our children”. And only when we have learned to walk more lightly on the earth, will we truly come to revere the web of life. And ourselves.

250 years ago Adam Smith warned about the “ endless pursuit of unnecessary things” that can emerge in a growth-focused economy, consumers have to redefine the good life.

8 years ago, i asked myself this question whilst making shifts from the corporate "how much do i need to live sustainably without compromising on standards?" Believe me, its a question we fear asking ourselves. But when you do. You need very little! Provided you are honest without having to appease a society or an ego.

A hundred years ago, there were one and a half billion people on Earth. Now, over six billion crowd our fragile planet. So it is up to us to be conscious of the choices made in every moment shaping our lives. We need to globalize environmental management to protect the planet’s life support system. Thanks to human ingenuity there are now smarter ways to make energy as well strive to revive sustainable farming methods that are low cost, a practice long forgotten. Organic agriculture is an integrated production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic systems can capture more than 420 kg Carbon per acre, or 1 ton per hectare. That means 1700 kg of CO2 per acre per year.

Organic agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved. Together we can shift consciousness by co-creating and restoring ecological balance to nourish all life, and mitigate the effects of climate change.

I could see my talk had the desired impact despite electricity failure, the fiery interactions continued with probing questions hoping to make that difference. Fortunately, i work on solutions of sustainable farming livelihoods, now I am further convinced that many more, including government/policymakers need to adopt and practice such safe methods to combat or overcome this ravaging current crisis. Being an optimist to the core, I live in the hope that together we can salvage and heal our planet to make that difference. A vote of thanks amidst applause and flowers concluded my session. Warm emails poured thereafter expressing gratitude " The life you brought with you is fascinating. Its possible only for a very few people to give life to others" says Ida D' Souza.

Heartening indeed, but my mission will be more rewarding, when a suggestion put forth to Aloysius College given their strength, to make space available and have an inhouse garden to grow varieties of vegetable crops and herbs. This could be an education project on diversity for students as well. The fresh produce all year round could be used in the kitchen for the staff or for canteens if any. If such a lead was taken, it would be unique and refreshing thereby avoid handing out of so many bouquets to guests. You will agree flowers are often wasted and expensive. The kind of pesticides sprayed on these beautiful flowers sap the ground water tables unknown to consumers. If colleges can make conscious choices and handed guests with a biodiversity pack grown in house( yellow, pink, orange and more varieties of tomatoes, peppers, brinjals and more) It revives an ancient tradition of adding value, educating visitors on biodiversity that exists.

The future is not what happens to us, but rather what we create.

To quote an American poet named Louise Bogan whose words speak to me in the work I do.

“In a time lacking in truth and certainty and filled with anguish and despair, no woman should be shamefaced in attempting to give back to the world through her work, a portion of its lost heart”

In solidarity

Sangita Sharma


  1. Hi

    I am new to this blog. I found your comments on our lifestyle choices particularly poignant for an urban dweller that too in a city like Bangalore which is turning more and more vulgar in its consumption patterns.
    I was instantly reminded of what E.F.Schumacher, the famous handpicked student of Keynes who later debunked Keynesian economics, said about the "predatory attitude", about the luxuries of our fathers becoming our necessities (guess mothers never had any luxuries anyway in the first place!). He adds: "The cultivation and expansion of needs is the antithesis of wisdom. It is also the antithesis of freedom and peace. Every increase of needs increases one's dependence on outside forces over which one cannot have control, and therefore increases existential fear. Only by reduction of needs can one promote a genuine reduction in those tensions which are the ultimate causes if strife and war." This appears to make both economic as well as philosophical/spiritual sense, something that you also allude to in your piece. Thanks for that. Nitin

  2. Hello
    Hey I must say that you have given really very nice article and I like it.Some points are really true in its way.Thank you very much for sharing this with us.