By Yamuna M*
In today’s age, ‘Sustainability’, ‘Green Earth’, ‘Climate Change’ – topics like these have been gaining more importance, and rightly should too. As the humankind slowly realizes the damage that they have been causing to the environment, and how it has been extracting at a larger scale than replenishing, they’re trying to act. Apparently, we can only say ‘trying’, as there has been very less changes that could considerably better the situation of the planet and over exploiting is still very much happening. This article is about one such person who is trying to bust a gut towards this cause.
Mr. Shreekumar an environmental activist, has decided to contribute in his own way towards a more sustainable environment. After getting a chemical engineering degree, he started his career with ONGC. However, with no content with the nature of his work, he quit his job and went ahead to do a master’s degree from IISC Bangalore. This is where he got a chance to participate in the ‘Narmada Bachao Andolan’, and seeing the activists fighting hard to protect natural resources and the livelihoods of the people who would be displaced due to the project, brought a change and meaning to his life. Post his masters, he started teaching for 4 years in NIT where he tried to inculcate the ideas of sustainability in the curriculum. After that, he went ahead to teach a small school called sampoornakranti vidhyalaya in Karnataka. Currently he’s involved with part time teaching for about 9.5 years and has started a commune called ‘Sangatya’ – a sustainable living space in the Nakre village near Karkala in south Karnataka in 2007.
The Sangatya commune is a place for like-minded people who share common ideologies and have come together for experimenting on sustainable spaces and lifestyles. They have shared beliefs about being fair in using the common resources, understanding and taking responsibilities, allocation of work equally, no privileges and consensus. Here, the families live together in harmony with the environment, perform their own organic farming and strive to achieve minimalistic dependence on external products. Their aim is invariably to repair the damage to the environment to the extent possible and by building a cooperation within the neighbourhood by sharing resources and labour. They also conduct workshops about sustainability for the people around to create extensive awareness and promote people to take up such green initiatives.
Shreekumar explained to us that currently, we are part of an unsustainable environment that is addicted to growth and is already too large. His notions on how we need to mitigate this problem is to have a degrowth strategy. Now, one may ask – what is degrowth? Well, it is a deliberate negative growth so that everybody has employment. How employment comes into the picture here is that, currently a lot of industrialization has led to huge loss of employment, and he says that our aim should be to meet the needs of all and not to just blindly increase productivity. One example of this inefficiency is that currently, the world farmers produce 1.5 times the food required to feed the whole population, and still there are millions of people dying due to hunger. He explains that we need to have a limit to mechanization and people should start demanding that. Also, awareness on the current farming techniques that leads to loss of soil, decreasing water tables and diminishing soil fertility needs addressal, and he proposes that government needs to start engaging people into agriculture and engaging does not mean to just produce food but rebuild this water and soil quality.
The other aspect he talks about is – people make huge profit through fossil fuels and cause lots of undesirable impacts which is changing the environment around us, and he presses that there should be stricter penalizing laws for these cases and higher subsidies should be given to companies that are producing products through eco-friendly methods. This way, the competition trend will start moving to towards sustainability and we might finally begin to see some real results in this segment.
Shreekumar says that a change needs to be brought about among people on the benefits of living a simpler life and this needs to be inculcated within the upcoming generations through reformed educational curriculum. He enunciates that currently the education system only prepares people to compete ruthlessly and our government policies are also not one bit deviating from the goals of maximum productivity. Through this idea of degrowth, he wants us to connect our lifestyle, values and aspirations through a cognizant intention and do our little parts to contribute.
*PGP student at Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore