Apocalypse when?

Global warming is hitting our planet faster than we can imagine. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest report: "Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability," in Brussels, 6 April 2007 and the findings are alarming and urging everyone to act.

Recent magazines and newspapers have started highlighting the issue with regularity and publishing lists of what can be done. Many websites have come into existence each trying to make us understand the gravity of the situation and suggest remedial actions. Yet there seems to be no urgency in the matter be it on the national level or the individual one. The number of cars and bikes are increasing in quantum leaps, trees are being felled with renewed alacrity, the sales of incandescent bulbs is as healthy as ever and quite frankly none of us seem to care.

Plastic is being used with impunity and water wasted with abandon. In slums with the advent of credit cards and easy loans, there has been an increase in the number of motorcycles that young people use even to go to the next block and rev with glee to impress. The panni or plastic bag is to be seen everywhere from hand to choked drains, and plastic pouches litter the streets flaunting the names of the biggest MNCs. From washing soap, to detergent, to shaving foam, to ketchup, to chewing tobacco, to coffee, to jam, to shampoo every brand has its packaging for the poor.

A recent informal survey showed that each slum dwelling used an average of 10 to 15 pouches a day. We tried over the years to raise awareness on environmental issues but too not much avail. Perhaps we did not do it convincingly enough. One of our projects entitled once is not enough lost momentum. Maybe we ourselves did not see the writing on the wall.

Two years back we even launched a sustainability programme based on raising awareness on bio-diesel. In 2003 - 2004 we gathered one ton of seeds from the pongamia trees that proliferate in Delhi and milled about 300 liters of SVO the crude form of bio-diesel. We organised a meet to introduce slum migrants to this new fuel. Unfortunately because of lack of resources this project had to stop. Today each year, tons of plum pongamia seeds replete with oil are swept away and then burnt by the local municipality sweepers.

I guess we too did not persue the matter with the required passion. However recent events have once again made us face reality and revive all our past efforts. A workshop on global warming and related maters was held with the staff and an action plan drawn. It was decided to revive once is not enough, a simple project that asks each one of us to find one more use of any thing they are about to discard. It could be paper, a plastic bag, a bottle, a box.. The idea is to delay its landing in the garbage dump.

The Okhla children held a rally against plastic and went to many slum clusters explaining how its inordinate use could harm our environment. Teachers are now talking to the children about global warming and how we can help in arresting it.

It is not an easy task as most of the things we need to fight against are the the very ones that spell success and achievement in the lives of the urban poor. Others are the ones hat brig ease and comfort in our lives. But we will carry on as best we can as no education can be complete unless it teaches what is relevant to our day and times.

This is long journey, one we hope will lead to the day when our students will turn into young adults who walk three blocks rather than take a bike ride. We also hope that the day will come when MNCs will look into eco-friendly pouches and the pongamia seeds that go waste every year will yield their liquid gold.