In 2022, Listen To And Watch What Nature Is Telling Us
The last bubblegum-pink blossoms hung like chandeliers from the leafless tree, and a glowing Purple Sunbird visited each flower like on a pilgrimage.
I was late.
The silk floss tree had flowered more than a month ago. In a tough, Covid-19 beleaguered year, I ended up being late for most things. But an extended rainfall period—along with surprising bouts of December rain—also meant the tree was still flowering.
Flowers, nature, and wildlife have fortified many through the traumatic first and second waves of the pandemic.
Being late at recovery, and early to celebrations (the third wave may be upon us, and our public celebrations should wait) potentially summarises 2021 for most of us.
It is fitting that the year of the second wave was also the year of the COP 26 - Glasgow Climate Summit. The pandemic exposed tenuous pressure points of health, acceptance of science and our immediate environment — all things that find resonance in climate change and action. This column is a roundup of the top environmental developments of one of the toughest years in our generation’s history. But it also offers hope for 2022.
The Glasgow Pact
India was lambasted by many international media outlets for being obstructionist on coal energy, but India’s commitment on phasing-down coal is an important one. It is the first time that the country has declared timelines that are within our reach internationally – cutting down 1 billion tonnes of projected carbon emissions by 2030, reduction of energy intensity by 45%, and 50% of energy requirements made renewable by then. The Glasgow Pact also makes important commitments on restoring, conserving, and protecting ecosystems. Ideally, this should mean the strengthening of domestic laws. Instead, domestic laws are being diluted to under the guise of ease of doing business.
Environment As ‘Inconvenience’
Earlier this year, the government circulated a draft for changing the Forest Conservation Act.
The discussion paper elaborated how government agencies like highways, railways, etc. have complained about the so-called inconvenience caused by the process of obtaining clearances for clearing forest land. The paper suggests creating a ‘Right of Way’ for these agencies for projects planned before the 1980s.
Forest loss in India is rampant, and agencies like railways are huge landowners. What appears as a small concession masks a hard ground reality – we should be discussing forest protection and creating the right of way for forests. In a similar spirit, that environmental concerns are expendable, the government has proposed changing the Coastal Regulation Zone notifications. Claiming that it has received representations from the petroleum ministry, the new CRZ wants to do away with any environmental clearances for exploratory oil drilling.
Wetlands Get A Spotlight
This was the year when a long movement by citizens has helped secure India’s oldest bird sanctuary: Vedanthangal in Tamil Nadu – declared back in 1936.
Situated close to Chennai, the sanctuary already has pharmaceutical establishments inside it, which wanted to expand. The state had proposed what is often done when faced by land pressure – making the sanctuary smaller. However, a people’s movement has helped in spotlighting the relevance of the area, and Tamil Nadu has now said proposals for cutting down the sanctuary are ‘withdrawn forever.’ It seems a poetic and fitting finish to a movement that saw children and adults both coming together in saying that our oldest sanctuary should not become history.
This is also the year India has added four new wetlands as ‘Ramsar sites’ which designate them as wetlands of global importance. At least one of them, Sultanpur, is near a major city, Gurugram, so conserving this wetland well will mean a host of ecosystem services like micro-climate regulation and flood control for the urban populace.
The Rise Of Paying Attention
What started as a passing interest in the environment, a need for distraction maybe, during the first pandemic wave seems to have lasted – around the world, birdwatching is enjoying new popularity.
Birdwatching, spending time outdoors or gardening all have one thing in common – paying attention to nature around us, and being in tune with meaningful things like shifts in seasons, or wildlife raising young in our gardens.
Some of my happiest memories from this otherwise unbearably tough year are those of wings, fur and feathers around me.
The images in this stories are embedded in my mind like a colour photo-collage in a sepia year.
Painted storks, their bottoms daubed a hot pink, raising their chicks in Bharatpur, Rajasthan.
A pond heron standing comically on one leg in a park in Delhi, right next to a family eating lunch.
A monkey smartly opening a tap to drink water in Rajasthan.
Plum-headed parakeets whistling sweetly in honeyed morning light in Delhi.
On polluted days, the emergence of a daily butterfly in my garden – choosing gaudy Passionflowers to sit on, very much a queen taking her throne.
The last flowers of the silk floss tree, resolute like O Henry’s ‘The Last Leaf’.
A Snakebird spreading its wings after a meal – very much like we yawn and stretch in the winter sunshine.
Small though these moments may be, they are also what connects us to the rest of the wider, wilder world. These sights better our mental health and assert the place of the Glasgow Pact’s commitment to conserving ecosystems in a warming world.
While our proposed legislation paints environmental protection as an afterthought, citizens are increasingly asking for their share of nature and blue sky. And even as the climate changes around us, I hope our environmental policy predicament changes too.
Neha Sinha is a conservation biologist. She is the author of ‘Wild and Wilful - Tales of 15 iconic Indian species’ (HarperCollins India).
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.