By: Fr Paul Lelen Haokip
Humans have to be consciously aware that life is ebbing away. Destruction of one species has adverse effects on the remaining species. While material affluence may pose a good option, excessive greed affects humanity. The North-East states of India do not enjoy infrastructural prosperity but are very rich in biodiversity and can be considered a “carbon sink” of the country. The Himalayan ranges are a natural paradise with rich forest cover, of course not exonerating selfish human-environmental activities. Environmental conservation is every person’s duty. This mammoth duty cannot be left to Government officials, clubs or NGOs. Effective conservation requires thinking beyond forests (Berg, 2021) inviting each one to reframe our minds towards communitarian survival and social responsibility. Human-centric development is strongly detested in favour of a sustainable biocentric model of progress.
Past mass extinctions
The planet earth has had five mass extinctions in the last 450 million years. These extinctions have led to the elimination of 70-95 per cent of the species of animals, plants, and microorganisms. The five mass extinctions were triggered by catastrophic alterations to the environment, such as massive volcanic eruptions, depletion of oceanic oxygen or collision with an asteroid.The Center for Biological Diversity, Tucson has observed that when species go extinct, the impact can be tangible such as in the form of a loss in crop pollination and water purification. It further stated, if a species has a specific function in an ecosystem, the loss can lead to impacting the food chain between various species. We explore biology as the missing link in our understanding of extinction scenarios and suggest ways in which the earth and biological sciences might be integrated in future to solve the riddles of mass extinctions and inform our understanding of earth’s future (Bond & Grasby, 2016).
At present, the Anthropocene extinction or the sixth mass extinction is an ongoing progression where species get extinct from the face of the earth – all caused by toxic human activities. This is primarily due to the paradigm shift of considering the forests as sacred to seeing forests as a mere resource (sacrilege of environment). The erstwhile respect accorded to forests has been violated. Symbiosis of human and non-humans have been exploited. Human beings are now preying on nature causing rapid Holocene extinction. This extinction is the most serious of all extinctions as whatever gets extinct will be a permanent loss. Eldredge (2001) states that phase two of the Sixth Extinction began around 10,000 years ago with the invention of agriculture, perhaps first in the Natufian culture of the Middle East. Further, he states, “with its invention: humans did not have to interact with other species for survival, and so could manipulate other species for their own use, humans did not have to adhere to the ecosystem’s carrying capacity, and so could overpopulate.” Humans continue to have exponential population growth while species around them deplete. The first cause of biodiversity loss is habitat destruction and its near-synonym “land-use change” and the second cause of biodiversity destruction is harvesting renewable natural resources like plant and animal populations at rates that exceed their regenerative capacity (Dasgupta & Ehrlich, 2019). These destructive human behaviours have been influenced by capitalistic ethics ultimately causing a catastrophe in nature.
Saving what is left
Who can save the little we have? Who could be at the frontline to save what is left? Forest protection and ecological concerns are not about Government schemes and provisions. It is about life or death. It is an option between climate disaster or a conducive environment for the survival of species. Forests have been at the frontier of progress since human history began (Kohli & Menon, 2014). Forest conservation and management existed in the traditional ways before the democratization of forest Governance in India. For successful conservation of the environment, the forest dwellers are primary stakeholders who could work with governmental agencies enabling a cohesion of Western Scientific Ecological Knowledge (WSEK) and Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK). Renewability has been the primary management objective (Shiva & Bandyopadhyay, 1990) of indigenous people which is a conservationist approach, the need of the time. Cultural beliefs and practices of indigenous societies create an evaluation of ecologically destructive development and provide an alternative vision of a sustainable human-nature relationship (Baviskar, 1999). Indigenous people are endowed with extrapolating centuries of empirical knowledge that is in tune with resource management. Many tribal communities have unique ways of conserving the environment. For the indigenous people, forests are sacred and used only for sustenance. Forest is not “the other” but considered “part of human life”. Thearanyasanskiri (forest culture) is found with the indigenous people based on the creative interdependence between human evolution and the protection of forests (Parajuli, 1991). In contrast to the “anthropocentric” principle of the West, indigenous people subordinate themselves to the integrity of the biotic universe they inhabit through their material and spiritual practices (Baviskar, 1999) leading to “biocentrism”. This forms the philosophical foundation for sustainable survival strategies (Redclift, 1987). What is left is little, and if this little is not saved on time, the consequential path is mass species extinction. This saving mission can be greatly enhanced in various parts of the country with indigenous innate ecological wisdom gained over the centuries.
The people in various states of India have been reduced to depend on the Government – even for environmental conservation. This is new self-induced slavery without bars. Indigenous people have varied ecological wisdom to deal with environmental issues. This knowledge bank has to be explored for good. The not yet articulated indigenous wisdom need to be put into a body of knowledge for a wider readership. Ecologically wise cultural and environmental alternatives need respectful acknowledgment for common good. Instead of fighting on ethnic or cultural lines, ecological wisdom from various cultures could be collected as a resource for sustainable livelihood paving a way for indigenous ways to conserve the environment.
(The author is a PhD research scholar, Department of Sociology and Social Work, CHRIST (Deemed to be University), Bangalore, Karnataka, India. Email: [email protected])