World Environment Day 2020

Written by Daphnie Rajavel
Photo by Navaneeth Unnikrishnan

I dislike the concept of having a separate day titled “World Environment Day” because it almost seems as though we have an excuse to not care about our surroundings on the other days. It angers me because we, as humans, do not have the right to declare one single day as World Environment Day when we have been so selfishly and incessantly exploiting it – every single day – for our needs. The environment is not a separate entity in need of recognition; it is a part of us that deserves to be treated with respect and utilized with moderation.

The theme for this year’s World Environment Day is the celebration of biodiversity – an apt topic as so many of Earth’s species are on the verge of extinction. When we tend to think of the environment, I feel us humans fail to realize that we are not the only living creatures in it. We share the environment with countless flora and fauna, and as of 2020, nearly 1 million different species face imminent extinction. Once again, as humans, we fail to fully comprehend the gravity of the situation. The Earth can, and will survive without us – in fact, I believe it would thrive. But without the innumerable other species, the other components of the environment in which we live, humankind will perish.

As I try to write about how humankind must learn to live in harmony with their environment, a platitude preached by several others before me, my mind refuses to stray from the horrific incident in Kerala, where a pregnant elephant was killed. Reports say that the elephant suffered from burns in her mouth, wandered for days, and finally died, weeks later, standing in a river, not having eaten anything else for days.

Instances like this always leave us reeling in shock, and anger floods in as we immediately rise up and call for rigorous punishment for the perpetrators. I am angry too. I’m furious. But my anger is not borne of self-righteousness. The problem with instances like these is that we are almost always the ones to blame, and by “we”, I mean the privileged, city-dwelling parts of society. We are often at the forefront of causes like these but how many of us realize that we are the problem? Villages like the one in question exist purely to provide us with food, electricity, and other needs. If you actually think about it, our seemingly insignificant actions have probably caused more harm to the environment (in terms of pollution, and resource exploitation), than what these humans did to this elephant. In fact, horrific practices used in order to keep wildlife away from crops is done so that the affluent part of society keep getting an uninterrupted flow of resources – the plethora of fruits and vegetables in grocery stores, the bags of grain, and rows upon rows of spices.

Of course, we need to rally up against inhumane practices but firstly, we must acknowledge the place of privilege we come from, the privilege that allows us to fight for justice. And in understanding this, we must realize that in order to actually make a difference, there needs to be a fundamental change in the way we lead our lives. This means we must be prepared to forgo the numerous comforts we enjoy and take for granted. Because, truthfully speaking, that elephant’s blood is on all of our hands.

Humans like us have grown so entitled to our environment that we don’t care about anything as long as our basic comforts and necessities are met. And yet we rage about injustice against animals, conveniently ignoring our own role in it. How can we celebrate World Environment Day when our actions are so despicable? Let this W.E.D be a wake-up call to everyone – we are not alone on this planet, and it is high time we learnt how to share. Unless we are prepared to drastically change our lives, the conservation of nature and wildlife will remain a pipe dream.