For too long, the human race has taken the planet for granted, exploiting resources and depleting its biodiversity to feed our unsustainable ways, writes industrialist Pankaj M Munjal Chairman & Managing Director, HMC, a Hero Motors Company
The coronavirus epidemic has overwhelmed the healthcare systems of the world in an unprecedented way and brought a major part of the world to a virtual standstill. It has also put renewed focus on how unsustainable human activity has brought about destruction of the planet’s biodiversity, erosion of forests and melting of glaciers, unleashing a series of zoonotic diseases on us, be it SARS, MERS, Ebola, bird flu or Covid-19. A report from the UN body Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), found that the health of the planet’s ecosystems is deteriorating faster than ever and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating.
With industrial activity and human travel halted, clear skies returned over many parts of the world and the sight of fish swimming in crystal clear waters in Venice’s canals gave us a glimpse of what could have been if we treated Mother Earth in a better way. This positive byproduct of a global epidemic reminds us of the need to push a reverse button, re-plan the human development path, restructure our cities, change our ways of living and reconfigure our modes of transport to reduce our carbon emissions.
Creating sustainable living
With thousands of lives and millions of livelihoods lost, the world will not be the same again even after the Covid-19 outbreak has run its course. With profound health and economic impacts in rich and poor countries alike, regenerating the post-crisis world will require a rethinking and a fresh discipline that keeps planetary health among its key priorities, even above economic growth. It is imperative therefore that we start building a course towards more sustainable lifestyles right away. We need to go back and create a new future. Conserving resources, containing our greed and changing our lifestyles must be the centre of this effort. Greater focus needs to be imposed on increasing recycling, reducing usage of non-renewable energy and shifting en masse to eco-friendly transports.
Re-planning our cities
Wastage of precious resources such as water and energy, excessive use of non-renewal resources as well too much dependence on private motorized transport are elements inseparable from our cities. Our cities and urban transport is built intrinsically to encourage people using cars and other personal vehicles even as green travelers — pedestrians and cyclists – find themselves given a step treatment. This entire concept of “cities for cars” needs to be changed towards building more sustainable and eco-friendly cities. Similarly, it is equally important to adopt other environmentally sustainable practices such as compulsory rainwater harvesting for every household to replenish depleting groundwater, compulsory solar panels on all buildings to generate our own energy and effective waste disposal practices that allow proper segregation of waste. It is also important to re-plan our cities in such a way that we create self-sufficient and safe communities.
Cutting global emissions requires reducing the use of personal motorized vehicles to a bare minimum. The focus should be to discourage the use of personalized motorized transport as much as possible and encourage emission freeways of travelling. Walking, Cycling and Public Transport (WCPT) is the way forward. In a country like India where the pollution levels are becoming unmanageable, promoting walking and cycling has to be on the agenda of the government. There are countries in Europe that can act as global role models in this regard. Nordic countries such as Netherlands and Sweden have set major benchmarks through urban planning that makes walking and cycling the main source of daily transport for millions of people. There have been studies which have highlighted the need for making cycling more popular to effectively decongest cities, especially metros. For example, a committee set up in 2014 by the Urban Development Ministry to look at decongesting Delhi observed that 60 percent of the passengers trips were below 4 kilometers and 80 percent were below 6 kilometers which was suitable and as well as viable for non-motorized transport like cycling. This requires urban planning to have dedicated and safe cycling lanes, public cycle sharing systems, as well as public transport systems with last-mile connectivity.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.