Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Would you kill yourself for the environment?

This is the first post I have made which has both Environment and Religion as category tags. I read in The Guardian today that a young man in southern India has become perhaps the first voluntary martyr to the cause of environmentalism. Many people have died over the centuries due to environmental degradation, and others have been killed as a result of their environmental beliefs. But this is the first time I am aware of where someone has taken their own life in the cause of the environment. It is a disturbing development.
Jawahar Kumara, a 19-year old from the small town of Thanjavir in Tamil Nadu, was found drowned in the local canal, having left a suicide video on his phone, explaining his actions, thus:
"I am sacrificing my life in the hope that it will trigger serious concern about plastic use in India. Since all of my peaceful means of protest failed, I’m forced to choose suicide. To save the lives of millions of people affected by toxic plastic, I don’t think it’s wrong to kill myself."
The young man was an ardent environmentalist, as well as a deeply religious person, and he had already gone on a hunger strike and threatened to throw himself off a building if his environmental grievances were not addressed by his local government. His grievances were to do with the excessive and polluting use of plastic, and particularly of plastic bags, in India. Basically, he killed himself over plastic bags
Now, India does have a plastic bag problem. Having arrived late on the plastics scene, with the economic liberalization of the 1990s, its use of plastic since then has been increasing dramatically, by about 10% a year. National and state-level actions to control the problem have been less than robust and policing of new policies is almost non-existent. Perhaps the most effective activity has been to rope in India's informal army of waste-pickers or "rag-pickers", who salvage items from landfill sites for recycling (as a result, India's recycling rate is around 60% compared to 22% worldwide). But, in the scheme of things, the country is still not a big plastics consumer, using less than 10kg per person annually, as compared to 45kg in China and a whopping 109kg in the USA.
So, yes, this is indeed a fight worth fighting, but not something that should be inspiring people to kill themselves over. These kinds of extreme religious tactics are just not appropriate for environmental protests.

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