Ranjona Banerji: We need politics of green, not greed

Dramatic as it sounds, unless we figure out how to live without food, clean water or air, the politics of greed will lead us to certain doom

Leonardo DiCaprio used his time on the Oscar stage to talk about climate change and to warn people of the “politics of greed”.

Look around you and try and fathom why politicians will not talk about climate change without as many ifs and buts as they can manage. There’s a heat wave going on in parts of India now. This is early March. Usually, this is when the weather is pleasantly wonderful, when the fan whirrs at a comfortable 3 or even less, if you are the sort of person who wears a monkey cap in Mumbai in December.

Citizens of Dehradun have been fighting to save an over-1,000-acre tea garden in the heart of town, where tea had first arrived in India. The government had proposed to build a ‘smart city’ there instead
Citizens of Dehradun have been fighting to save an over-1,000-acre tea garden in the heart of town, where tea had first arrived in India. The government had proposed to build a ‘smart city’ there instead

Here, in the Himalayan foothills where I live, we started using the fan in February. This is almost unheard of — it’s still rain and snow time. The truth is that there has been almost no rain since last August and precious little snow. Where this summer’s water is going to come from is anyone’s guess.

On the Oscars stage, Leonardo DiCaprio had spoken about climate change and the politics of greed. Pic/AFP
On the Oscars stage, Leonardo DiCaprio had spoken about climate change and the politics of greed. Pic/AFP

Expensive cars have become more expensive in this budget but the price of petrol came down on the same day. But why blame cars alone? Almost everything we do it seems is impacting the planet negatively.

Developing nations quite rightly point to the West and to developed nations for their profligate lifestyles. But all too often they use this as an excuse not to do enough themselves. It’s an easy out — why should I make any changes until you do.

But the suffering is going to be shared. Until we figure out how to live without food, clean air and water, we are looking at doom. Is that too dramatic? Is it fair to talk about an apocalyptic dystopian future when the TV is showing the programme you want to watch and the pizza delivery will arrive in 10 minutes?

And yet, all you have to do if you live in Mumbai, is think back to three weeks ago when nobody could breathe because a dumping ground that is miles away from you caught fire. Even worse, imagine what life is like for those who live close to the dumping ground. And in a nightmarish scenario, try and imagine that wasteland with garbage piled several storeys high. And there was Delhi the month before that, in a similar situation.

Where I live, the oncoming storm is very visible. Thanks to the “politics of greed”, every open space in this once quiet green town is being captured. For two months, the citizens of Dehradun have been fighting to save an over-1,000-acre tea garden in the heart of the town, which was where tea first arrived in India. The state government wanted to build a ‘smart city’ there, which is just official speak for handing green spaces over to developers.

The mind boggles over why, when a town has little infrastructure, no public transport to speak of, very minimal sanitation and healthcare systems, the government would want 250 acres of open area to create a ‘smart city’. Of course, you are right. The mind does not boggle. Every Maharashtra government has tried to grab pieces of the Borivli National Park, and as anyone who goes to that area knows, the borders of Aarey and Powai have been lost to giant buildings over the past two decades.

And yet, it is the environmentalists who are tagged “anti-national” by this and other earlier governments. If you fight for the rights of tribals displaced by mining companies, you are anti-development and anti-national. If you try to save forests and water bodies, you are anti-development and anti-national. So be it.

At the end of the day, we’re living together on this spinning ball. National boundaries are not going to protect us when the planet explodes or implodes. But there is always hope. The hills around me were once painted green so as to disguise the effects of limestone mining from the then prime minister Indira Gandhi, or so the story goes. Luckily, she could tell a tree from a lick of paint and set up an Eco Task Force where the army successfully reforested the hills around Mussourie.

Meanwhile, the Uttarakhand government has decided to give up on encroaching on the tea gardens, for now at least. Maybe the politics of greed doesn’t have to win every time?

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona

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