The global politics around environmental actions faces the paradox of an impending doom and inefficient conservation. The Conference of Parties 26 is an example reflecting the global voice of environmental activism, while the continued destruction of the Amazon Forest and the lack of awareness of battery waste management post the advancing electric vehicles revolution reflects the slow the entire fight against climate change.
The contradiction is often rooted in difference in culture, the socio-economic scenario and other external factors beyond the word “climate” that shapes how we look at our environment. A person living in the Netherlands, cycling to work every day has a completely different outlook to what environmental action means as against a commoner from the city of Chennai, India who is unequipped with the skill of segregating waste at the source. Thus, there is a dire need to build smaller closer-knit activist and action groups to address regional issues that have a global impact with the support of national and state governments.
A Glocal model would ideally provide an informal forum for individuals to make an impact at the community and city level which can overall reduce the carbon footprints. Thoughtfully empathising and resonating with the emotion of the local communities and policymakers will help build stronger, vocal and environmentally conscious cities. These efforts can start from choosing to consume locally produced food that overall reduces the cost of transportation and waste generated in the supply chain to reducing the energy consumption at buildings from minimising the use of air conditioners.
Local initiatives and the path to global mitigation of environmental crisis
- Travel: Logistics and transportation of resources from one place to another is a significant contributor to the carbon footprints generated by individuals. One of the most common modes of travel that generates the maximum amount of pollution is air transport and pollution generated from fossil fuel run vehicles. It is rather ironic that climate policy makers at the international front often commute in an airplane to address climate change conferences. The intention is not to do away with air transport and cars altogether, but to reduce the generation of carbon as best as possible. To encourage surface transport, most cities across the world have a public transport system that can connect regions together alongside providing room for residents to use cycles and other environment friendly modes of commutation.
To assist and strengthen this individual fight, governments can incentive the use of eco-friendly modes of transportation that address a small group of individuals which inevitably impacts the larger goal of climate action. In the Netherlands, the Dutch Government in 2017-18 came up with a national policy for companies to pay employees who cycle to work. According to the European Cyclists Federation, “driving a car emits about 271 g CO2 per passenger-kilometer” while taking the bus or any equivalent public transport will reduce it by half. Contrarily, cycles generate only one-fourth of the greenhouse gas a car produces, making it one of the most eco-friendly commutations. As far as India is concerned, several cities including Chennai have joined hands with the cycles4change initiative as part of the Smart City Mission. This has the potential to bring forth change in the travel sector in India.
- Food: The diet of an individual, an essentially physiological need, is yet another big contributor to carbon footprints. While most diets involve the consumption of dairy products and meat, veganism proposes a plant-based diet. The former diet leads to a loss of millions of gallons of clean water and forested land during the production process while the latter uses relatively less of these resources and emits up to 90% less greenhouse than a meat-based meal. Shifting from an animal-based diet to a plant-based can trigger the restoration of pasture lands to forests and grasslands which has the potential to capture carbon and provide space for the native species to thrive.
In an article titled, “A New Veganism: How Climate Change Has Created More Vegans”, the author concluded that 8 out of 12 vegans cited environmental concerns as one of the major reasons they practice veganism. Thus, taking initial steps of eating a plant-based meal once-a-day or once-a-week can overall bring a balance in the individual and collective net carbon footprint.
- Sustainable consumption: Yet another contributor to environmental damage has been due to the heavy reliance placed on plastic packages and other environmentally unsafe packaging materials. Several local stores address the issue by substituting plastic with bamboo, paper bags and other sustainable materials. This would provide a platform for consumers to choose the more sustainable option instead of purchasing consumer goods sealed in plastic, in turn leading to reduction in disposability.
In Mylapore, Chennai, Ecoindian is a sustainable store that sells consumer goods from toothbrush made from bamboo to coconut shell soup bowl. Similar stores are step-up across the country in small-scale, including Bare Necessities at Bengaluru.
In addition to reusing containers and choosing sustainable alternatives, consumption also extends to the fashion industry. Just wearing clothes longer is a path to sustainability. Sustainable fashion does not necessarily mean spending on expensive fashion brands, but rather wearing clothes one already owns for longer, thrifting, purchasing from sustainable brands, mending, washing with care, turning old clothes into rags and borrowing.
- Education and awareness: The awareness of what climate change has instore for the people is varied across different classes of the society. As far as developing countries are concerned, when the basic needs of food, water, shelter and clothing are a question, the idea of climate change and pollution becomes secondary to many. In order to bridge this informational gap about environmental damage, awareness needs to spread as to how climate change could further impact their socio-economic standards through stories and relatable content.
The bleaching of coral reefs in the Australian coastline may mean nothing to a commoner in Chennai who works day-in and day-out trying to feed a family of five. But for that commoner, if a story of how Chennai faces the impact of climate change in the form of floods in November and drought in May, it could provide sufficient basis to involve more number of people within the ambit of environment protection. In 2021, a climate change campaign was organised in the city of Chennai which gained attention among a few activist groups. The story they shared on climate change was not about what was happening in the USA or UK, but rather very specific to what Chennai was confronted with.