Planting saplings: Does our Environment Day start and end there???

Today, as I entered the main road, a rally of school children welcomed me. They were all having umbrellas decorated with leaves of various trees.  This was how; they celebrated the World Environment Day (WED). Yesterday onwards, there are advertisements in the newspapers regarding the Environment Day celebrations by the Government of Kerala(GoK). GoK has celebrated it from 10.30 am to 11.30 am (named as ‘Haritha Samayam’ or ‘Green Time’???) today, 5th June 2014, by planting ‘a million’ saplings in an hour. Wow!!! ‘One million saplings’ is quite impressive. I became curious of what was done by GoK in the previous years to celebrate WED. I asked my friend Google.

In 2009, on 5th June, GoK launched the ‘Haritha Keralam’ (Green Kerala) project which aimed at planting ’10 million’ sapling in 2 years time. In 2011, again on June 5th, 6 million saplings were planted. In 2012 also, there was planting of saplings (I didn’t get the exact numbers planted). In 2013, at least 3.8 million saplings were planted (3.4 million by school children and 0.4 million by college students). And this year, we have finished planting the whole one million in just an hour.

Are we just planting the saplings alone? Or are there measures to protect the planted saplings and ensure that they survive? How many of the saplings planted in the past 5 years are still there? Is planting the saplings, the only way to observe and celebrate World ‘Environment’ Day? Or are we resorting to the easiest step to catch attention by planting such huge numbers of saplings? Or, we consider only trees and plants as part of environment and believe that just planting saplings every year as a ritual can save our Environment?

I wanted to see what is done world over to celebrate WED. Again Google. WED is the United Nations’ (UN) principal vehicle for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the environment and it started in 1972 and now more than 100 countries participate in this programme. Every year WED has a theme. In 2009, the theme was, ‘Your Planet Needs You – UNite to Combat Climate Change and here in Kerala we planted saplings. In 2010, the theme was ‘Many Species. One Planet. One Future’. In 2011, the theme was ‘Forests-Nature At Your Service’.  Every year, there is a host city and the host city in 2011 was New Delhi. In 2012, the theme was, ‘Green Economy, does it include YOU? .In 2013, the theme was ‘Think. Eat. Save’ and now in 2014, the theme is ‘Raise Your Voice, Not The Sea Level’.

Different themes and different ideas every year to serve as the ‘people’s day’ for doing something positive for the environment, galvanizing individual actions into a collective power that generates an exponential positive impact on the planet; but are we really participating? What right do I have to be critical about the Govt of Kerala for planting saplings only every year when I haven’t planted a single sapling on this day till date? All of us need to plant saplings. We need to think beyond planting saplings.

Why can’t we promise to adopt resource conservation measures such as water conservation, energy conservation, soil conservation, rain water harvesting, composting all the biodegradable waste at home, minimal use of plastics and selling all the recyclable plastics and paper to recyclers, not keeping all the old mobile phones, computers, laptops etc(e-waste) at our store rooms and selling them to authorised dealers etc.

There are still simpler practical steps which I could find on the net. You can avoid wasting food, unplug the electrical appliances when not in use, use cloth bags for shopping, use the clothesline to dry clothes and skip the drying option in washing machine, turn the tap off while you brush, use a real bicycle or walk rather than using electronic exercise equipment, avoid using disposable items such as cups or tea bags or batteries, make small pits on your courtyard for groundwater recharge and many more and most importantly creating awareness among your family and friends and whomever possible.

By the way, by planting a sapling and ensuring its survival can result in soil conservation, rain water harvesting, reduction of air pollution, increase in biodiversity, more carbon dioxide sequestration, more oxygen generation, decreased rate of global warming and delayed effects of climate change.

Before concluding, how many of you are aware that we celebrate and observe every year, World Environment Day (June 5th), Water Day (March 22nd), Earth Day (April 22nd), Ocean Day (June 8th), Animal Day (October 4th), World Wetlands day (February 2nd), Biodiversity Day (May 22nd), International Tiger Day (July 29th), International Day for Climate Action (October 24th), International Mountain Day (December 11th) etc. The list is long and the call is yours; do want to do your bit?

Ananthitha A
Environmental Engineer
ULTRA-TECH Environmental Consultancy

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