Environmental Citizenship encompasses one part of responsible citizenship. The other aspects being issues of economic and social justice, harmony and tolerance of cultural identities and values and so on. Incorporating a citizenship angle into the environmental debate assumes a human-centered view of the environment and is a major acknowledgement of the environmental crisis.
Environmental citizenship involves the exercise of environmental rights and duties, as well as the recognition of the underlying systemic causes of environmental degradation and issues. It also involves the development of willingness and skills for essential and active involvement and civic participation in resolving these systemic causes, acting individually and collectively within democratic means and taking into account inter- and intra-generational justice.
Need for Environmental Citizenship
We are facing an ongoing environmental crisis at present. The backdrop of the environmental crisis is a series of current environmental problems (both global and local). Biodiversity depletion, climate change, ice melting, chemical waste, pollution of the seas, acidification of the oceans and desertification are just some of the issues that are responsible for this environmental crisis. In addition, the environmental problem is also taking on other forms at the local level, such as habitat degradation and fragmentation, extreme urban development, overconsumption of natural resources and disposal of waste. New environmental issues, such as climate engineering, genetic pollution and genetic drift, water stress, extended air pollution and environmental health problems, are emerging in addition to the existing environmental problems listed, many of which are contentious topics. Over the next few decades, rising environmental pressures could cause irreversible harm. The ongoing inability to act would have a significant effect on the environment in 2050.
Just for example, cities occupy just about 2% of the total land. Nevertheless, they continue to spend over 60 percent of global energy demand while generating 70 percent of GDP. They are also accountable for 70% of greenhouse gas emissions and 70% of global waste. Too frequently, decision-makers focus only on the technological aspects of sustainable urban planning, such as energy efficiency and reduction, sustainable building materials and compact settlement structures, without considering the value of social capital or social networks.
Ways to be a more responsible citizen for the environment
Sustainable development promotes a sense of responsible citizenship in which we can all learn to do our part. Some few suggestions for an individual concerned about environment would include :-
1. Becoming a conscious consumer– Demand greater action from the brands you buy including issues of ethical sourcing. Do a research on their products. If you do not like what you see then it is better to write to them and ask for better accountability or get together a petition. Look for purpose driven brands and eco-friendly products.
I myself have gone plastic free and use the jute bags made by local street vendors and paper straws for my coffee wherever I can. For buying books I check for environment- friendly paper that is certified to the standards of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Brands include Penguin Random House, Simon and Schuster.
2. Creating a monthly shopping list and sticking to it– Creating a list and being disciplined to follow it so that one can quickly cut out the extra stuff which one does not need but buy anyway because of marketing gimmicks, attractive product packaging and other non-tangible reasons. Having a list will be helpful in order to remove all of the non-useful materials. Plus, it would save a lot of money!3. Recycle and Upcyle– Ideas to upcycle or repurposing your products are only limited by creativity. Just about any product can be transformed and even if you make a non-purposive purchase, you can upcycle it to offset the impact. What you need to do is modify an item’s look and feel and improve it in some way. This sometimes means changing the feature, but sometimes this simply means giving a much needed makeover to a product. Some examples are included below:-
4) Gaining a deeper understanding of the environment-The climate change implications are far reaching and is important to read up and have a deeper understanding of the plaguing environmental issues.
Some books I read this year which provided me with deeper understanding of the climate change include
- The Uninhabitable Earth– A book by David Wallace Wellis which is a meditation on the climate challenges that await us including food shortages, refugee emergencies, and other crises that will reshape the globe.
- The Population Bomb- Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 book, which warned of the catastrophic effects of the spiralling human population on the resources of the earth which are still relevant in today’s times.
- Merchants of Doubt- The book by Erik M. Conway and Naomi Oreskes draw a direct line between the tobacco industry’s initial reaction to second hand smoke and our contemporary way of thinking about science, especially global warming.
- No one is too Small to make a Difference– Greta Thunberg, a young climate activist who has become the voice of a generation, includes her groundbreaking speeches in this book including her landmark address to the United Nations General Assembly.
5) Translating awareness into responsible action for the environment and empowering others– In India organisations like India Climate Collaborative, Indian Youth Climate Network , Indian Environmental Society (IES),WWF(World Wildlife Fund) create a multiplier effect to accentuate the impacts of individuals who want to be become “agents of change”. Researching and engaging in such organisations with the deeper understanding of the environmental issues will make one take effective action against climate change.
Addressing global environmental challenges by endorsing pro-environmental organizations and individuals, and also adding to public pressure for political action (signing petitions, writing to politicians and newspapers) can help in creating the much-needed change in the status quo regarding environmental issues.
Yuval Noah Harari, the author of Sapiens. A Brief History of Humankind, argues that humans dominate the planet because they are the only species that can cooperate flexibly in large numbers which has led to Anthropocene Era. In this time, we are facing the COVID-19 pandemic and because of the impact of the virus and subsequent lockdowns, climate change is making us all considerably poorer, and we can be sure that the poor and vulnerable are suffering its worst effects. However in case of the pandemic, there is still hope for a vaccine, which can mitigate the effects to some extent .However, in case of climate change there is no such panacea for all ills and only extensive human collaboration, large scale behavioural change and accountability of individual actions can reduce some of the more exacerbating effects.
To conclude, it is needed to ensure that global environmental mechanisms need to go hand in hand with individual responsibility aka Environmental Citizenship in the post-COVID 19 Anthropocene.
Author : Arunish Paul
- European Network for Environmental Citizenship – ENEC (2018). Defining “Environmental Citizenship”
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