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The polluting air we breathe: How long before we wake up
By Anit Singh
Have you tried looking outside your window recently? Don't bother if you are in India, you'd probably see a lot of obfuscation, particles suspended indefinitely, death lingering over the selfish denizens of an insecure world, where each one of us prays to the common god for individual salvation.

Pollution won't go away through prayers. I've tried it several times and was dealt with a sore throat, asphyxiated lungs, broken heart. No, don't even try preaching about it to everyone else around you. It's a touchy subject, that invades into the hallowed personal freedom of an individual to pollute as much as he can afford. Everyone is protected by the constitution to be able to throw their undifferentiated waste on the roads, to use packaged water bottles, to travel in SUVs, to use thousand star explosives, in short to do whatever it is that they want to; to hell with everyone else.

Tragedy of Commons

Somewhere in each one of the oceans, there are huge swathes of plastic wastes, a veritable soup of our consumerist excess, left to boil and disintegrate, to enter into the food chain so that in the end the top predator in our food chain stores the toxins in its burgeoning fat reserves, humans giving cancer to humans in a very roundabout way.

Howsoever well intentioned, the programmes for recycling and waste management haven't really been able to penetrate beneath the thick skin on value-attitude system that we have grown up with. In developing countries, the value system of the old are no longer able to cope up with the dizzying boons of modernity, the end products of which are left untreated, beached between the realms of the old and new.

Whereas in countries like Japan the waste products are segregated into as many as seven categories and completely recycled, the newly emerging middle class of India continues to throw toxic waste into their local water bodies like it was the 1860's and everything was organic and recyclable. Government apathy to garbage is insignificant compared to its apathy to the citizens, however it is to be realised that sooner or later, the pollution and the waste would kill us.

Breathing in, Breathing stops

In the previous three weeks, there have been three deaths in my own colony. All of them were old people whose frail internal organs couldn't handle the sudden spike in pollution. I am sure that the doctors wouldn't put the cause of death to pollution. A better metric is failure of internal organs, blood toxicity, heart failure and so on. In my mind, there is no doubt as to the root of apparent causes.

So the question is that how many people need to die, how many of them need to actually cry out, "Help, this air is killing me", before we collectively move to strike and the government forms a committee on this aspect and then after three years dumps the report?

Great London Smog of 1952 led to the Clean air Act in 1956. In Delhi, there was only an oscillation between odd-even measures. In smaller cities, the situation is worse. Jammu hasn't seen a major protest on the issue of Air Quality, even though you can no longer see the Bawe temple from the Tawi bridge. People are supremely conscious about the imagined insults to deities, gods, celebrities, but then when it comes to their health and living standards, there is no one left.

Jobs will be lost if polluting industries close. In an overpopulated country, the presence of polluting industries can bring more jobs and more mortality, a double positive! Triple, if you consider the bribes to be made by corrupt public officials who allow the whole thing to go on. Change cannot come from above, it has to come necessarily from each one of us.

Tiny Changes

My grandfather once told me that people would drink water directly from Tawi in his time. I thought he was joking. I've gone down to the river bed and saw mounds of plastic, shit, chemicals, ashes. Would anyone drink that even after filtration?

Who had thrown all that waste? It was me, you and everyone else who lives in this tiny city. The garbage collector of my colony simply dumps the waste in the nearest Nullah. I am sure that the same thing happens in lots of other colonies. How much of Jammu's waste is being treated? How sanitised are the landfills that dot the city? If even the toxic biomedical waste from our hospitals doesn't get treated, then how can we expect anything at all?

People have great capacity for change if they realise the implications of their tiniest actions. Every tiny wrapper, every used pen, every extra drop of petrol, every extra wasted wattage of power, every chemical shampoo, every glittering cloth, balloon and package are like pernicious germs that are eating up my city, your city. When your waste is left to rot in huge open dumps, where canine, bovine, avian agents of diseases linger, they act as a danger to the lives of every one of us.

When the toxic waste from untreated batteries, CFL bulbs, electronics seeps down into the ground water supply, then the very water that we drink becomes poison. All of this doesn't happen immediately, all of this is happening slowly to everyone of us. When the Dal lake gets inundated with fertilisers, waste, shit, then it would turn into a toxic swamp. When the glaciers in Leh melt then waters would stop flowing for all of us.

Will anything change if I stop using plastic bottles, pens, stop eating out of thermocol plates, stop using my private car? Not by much! But my own values won't allow me to keep on contributing to this problem. Our lives would be meaningless if we don't consider even our tiniest action important. Can our collective actions add up to something? Is our destiny ours to make? I think it always has been.

How many people need to die, how many of them need to actually cry out, "Help, this air is killing me", before we collectively move to strike and the government forms a committee on this aspect and then after three years dumps the report?


News Updated at : Monday, November 13, 2017
 
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