On civic environmentalism

November 28, 2021

The insufficiency of climate response at the state and civic levels can significantly impact climate conservation efforts

On civic environmentalism

As dense smog blankets cities, it is clear that humans have been guilty of atrocious behaviour towards nature.

Our response to climate change concerns has been inadequate in fixating solely on tree plantations and conservation, although these are necessary.

On one hand, there is insufficiency of policy at the state level, on the other civic responsibility towards sustainability and climate conservation has been lacking. The state has to be the entity that leads meaningful change. However, leaving the entire responsibility to the state is imprudent, for a policy is seldom successful without public engagement and ownership.

Besides, familiar and temperate climate is a common good. This fact places the responsibility on our shoulders too. We must rescue what we can lest we should see even more of wildfires, unhealthy temperatures and devastating hurricanes.

Let us first see what states and governments can do to enhance their climate response.

First and foremost, states can improve the public transport system. An efficient public transport makes the citizens less likely to use private transportation for commute. This includes improving the quality of travel by enhancing seating capacity, comfort and cleanliness, and keeping the fares reasonable. Pink, women-only, buses can also provide secure gendered independence for daily commute.

States can also borrow climate policies from abroad. They can stipulate a minimum ‘green’ standard that each and every vehicle must fulfil to be sold on the market. Such standards can be set in keeping with benchmarks set by international organisations such as those of the European Union (EU) and the United Nations Environment Management Group and the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles (PCFV) programme. This makes it incumbent upon automobile industries throughout the world to reduce air pollution resulting from the operation of their vehicles.

Further, it has been suggested that the government should closely regulate car leasing schemes, for imported as well as local vehicles. An increased number of automobiles on city roads not only causes noise pollution but also substantially degrades air quality. Instead of easing duties to facilitate buying fossil fuel cars, the government should incentivise its citizens to invest in electric vehicles, hybrid automobiles and environment efficient transport.

Administratively, a state can strengthen local governments and enable those to take charge and institute reforms within their jurisdictions. Contiguity makes regulation by local institutions efficacious and evidence-based. This can also reduce the administrative burden on the state. The Ministry of Climate Change can take care of larger issues, such as setting a responsive policy agenda and leave the implementation to local governments. Local governments can achieve their objectives by inducing environment-friendly agricultural practices, setting up green industries, large tree plantation drives and setting up conservatories and promoting green tourism. The local governments can also be used in an ideational as well as data providing capacity.

This covers about half of the big picture.

We, the citizens, need to rethink our ways for greater sustainability. This might not yield immediate results but will be worthwhile in the future.

First, let us be resource-efficient. We should be mindful of our exploitation of scarce resources. Most of us waste a lot of water while cooking, bathing, washing and even brushing out teeth. The tap keeps running unnecessarily. Most of us are also guilty of taking cars to places we can easily walk to.

We also need to do away with the plastic culture. The government has instituted a ban on plastic bags in some parts of the country, yet our groceries often come packed in plastic bags. So do our clothes and our food. Why not revert to the old practice of carrying a grocery bag? We can also play a meaningful part by promoting the use of environment-friendly or recycled products instead of those that might be slightly cheaper.

Schools can facilitate help by including mandatory environment awareness courses in the curriculum. This should equip pupils with basic skills and knowledge.

All businesses must have a meaningful corporate social responsibility (CSR) agenda where environment is a top priority. This can be conceived as a necessary survival strategy that must be rationalised to the extent that it becomes embedded in our sociological consciousness.

We need to check our population growth. The population has a direct impact on equitable distribution of resources. The higher the population, the scarcer the resources become. It is on us to normalise the institution of family planning and be more consciously responsible since more individuals add to the constraints of the household and have a significant spill-over cost on society and the climate.

Idowu Koyenikan once said, “when you do the things in the present that you can see, you are shaping the future that you are yet to see.”

The least we can do is act in a responsible way.

The writer is affiliated with the Centre for Governance and Policy at Information Technology   University, Lahore

On civic environmentalism