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A New Year Wish for Gaia…

Dear Readers, I am sorry for the delayed post. However it's still January, so I guess we can still call it New Year...

Gaia is the Greek goddess of Earth, mother of all life, similar to the Roman Terra Mater (mother Earth) reclining with a cornucopia, or the Andean Pachamama, the Hindu, Prithvi, “the Vast One,” or the Hopi Kokyangwuti, Spider Grandmother, who with Sun god Tawa created Earth and its creatures.

At the stroke of midnight when 31st December 2021 gave way to 1st January 2022, I could hear an endless stream of firecrackers burning from near and afar, which made me think, ‘what are we celebrating the New Year for with such a blithe disregard for everything - the environment, the health of elderly and pets, the noise nuisance and of course the COVID pandemic!’.

For the past few weeks (mainly the last two weeks of December 2021 and the initial weeks of the month of January 2022) as the weather has gotten colder and the atmosphere more stagnant, there has been an increase in pollution levels throughout Kolkata. The AQI (Air Quality Index) levels were way off the charts thus making the air unsafe for anyone to breathe but we, the residents, don’t have a choice but to breathe in the polluted air. Given this situation, how can we be so careless in making choices that affect our lives!

Even a study from the Harvard T.H. School of Public Health states that breathing polluted air for a prolonged period may itself worsen the effects of COVID 19.

If not for the environment, shouldn't we be considerate about our own health?

For a long time, we have been considering the earth as a "vast machine made of inert particles in ceaseless motion" and have exploited its resources, destroyed its pristine environment in the name of progress. We have never given a thought about how our actions could affect the earth until now when it is already showing signs of ecological collapse, climate change, and other environmental challenges throughout the globe. All these are directly or indirectly affecting us in numerous ways which I'll be discussing in separate topics in my upcoming blogs.

Air pollution (caused majorly through various anthropogenic activities viz. industrial emissions, vehicular emissions, burning of agricultural wastes, burning of firecrackers, deforestation, etc.) has brought about global warming and consequent climate changes throughout the world. We are now facing frequent weather extremes viz. extreme summers/winters, excessive rainfall/drought conditions, frequent cyclones, frequent and worse forest fires, thawing of permafrost, melting of polar ice caps thus resulting in rising sea levels, change in El Nino and so on.

Because of these weather changes -

  • Ecosystems are being affected which in turn are affecting numerous aquatic as well as terrestrial species even causing the extinction of many.

  • Countries are incurring huge economic losses from the damages caused by extreme weather events.

  • Since agriculture is weather dependent, food production is being affected by the changes in weather patterns thus leading to food inflation throughout the world.

  • Energy resources are depleting as the energy demands are rising with more industrialization, weather extremes and so on.

  • Climate change exacerbates the factors that cause poverty.

  • According to the UN -

Climate change is the single biggest health threat facing humanity. The impacts are already harming health through air pollution, disease, extreme weather events, forced displacement, food insecurity and pressures on mental health. 

Not only air, but we have also managed to pollute the water and soil as well be it by our ignorance, disregard or mechanistic mindset.

Plastic pollution has taken epidemic proportions with plastics and microplastics reaching the deepest parts of the ocean to the highest altitudes. Even the once pristine air surrounding Pic du Midi in French Pyrenees is not pristine anymore due to microplastic pollution. Plastics found on land as well as water bodies and oceans have been found to choke birds, animals, aquatic organisms to death. Animals and other organisms feeding on microplastics pass on the same to other living beings higher up in the food chain. Chemicals like phthalates, bisphenol A used in the production of plastics have been found to adversely affect human health and may cause asthma, neurological disorders, hormonal imbalances, cancers, fertility issues and other health problems.

The unbridled use of - pesticides to increase crop yields, antibiotics/antimicrobials to increase meat and fish production have not only led to pollution of the environment but also has increased health concerns due to pesticide ingestion and antimicrobial resistance.

Cancer ravages rural Punjab due to chemicals in pesticides and contaminated water from rapid industrialization. (Punjab is often called the cancer capital of India)

Of course, effluents from industries, solid wastes generated due to anthropogenic activities further add to water and soil pollution.

The New Year is celebrated the world over to mark new beginnings, to pledge to become a better version of ourselves for our own sake and for the society as a whole.

I wish we would take a more holistic approach to become a better version of ourselves and resolve to care for the earth which is our Gaia and our home.

I wish we make more environment-friendly choices in our lives, and consider the environment surrounding us as a living entity and not an inert one and care for it more.

Only a united effort of governments and individuals can truly help in bringing changes that slow down the adverse environmental impacts that we have been causing over decades.

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