'Practise Indian values, save environment'

Last Updated: Tue, Jun 07, 2011 08:22 hrs

Scientists and environment experts may have serious theories and tips on reducing carbon footprint. But the goal can be achieved easily if you practise simple Indian values, says Arun Krishnamurthy, who is the founder of the environmental initiative called Roots & Shoots.

Roots & Shoots is a youth volunteering programme spread across many states in India. Volunteers of the group take time out from their personal lives to resolve eco-problems in their neighborhood.

In an interview with Lakshmi Krishnamoorthy, Arun talks at length about the challenges his group faces, the role of the educated class towards conservation and about the need to work with passion to save the environment.


When most of your peers are considering lucrative jobs in the software industry, what made you turn towards conservation and eco culture?

My school has had a major impact on my choices. I am lucky to be in the company of trend setters like Dr. Supraja, Col. Yogesh Arya and others. They have influenced the way I look at the world.  
I stay very close to the Arignar Anna Zoological Park in Chennai. The colony where we live was home to many reptiles and birds a few years ago. However, most of them disappeared over the years due to rampant urbanization. This made me sad.

I started visiting the zoo frequently, and spent considerable time there. I was shocked by people's insensitivity to animals.

At this juncture, I met sea turtle conservationist Dr. Supraja, who inspired me and helped me find solutions to the most complex situations in conservation.

Thus began my journey as someone who observes, enjoys and guards the environment. I find satisfaction and fulfillment in my conservation efforts.

Your aim for this year's World Environment Day is to bring maximum awareness, participation and change. How do you propose to do this?

Over the last seven years, I have noticed pseudo celebrations in the name of World Environment Day.

We at Roots & Shoots don’t hesitate to point out when things go wrong. We do not believe in sugar-coating the words because it is not going to help anybody. Hence, this year we decided to take the message: "More than a celebration, it is a realisation. Participate and protect to celebrate in the future."
We realise that we have very little valuable wildlife and natural resources left which need to be protected with action on a war footing.

Education has made no difference in responsible living. This year, we are trying to target and rope in those who wish to live responsibly.

How would you draw the connection between EVS taught at schools and that put into practice?

A proactive teacher is capable of inspiring thousands of students into green living. However, not many do that.

There are a few teachers who are willing to incorporate key conservation and green living techniques in the curriculum. The current EVS books serve as a good beginning, but they are way below standard compared to the exposure the children get through other means outside school.

The EVS textbooks need to be upgraded to current social standards. We can even do away with these textbooks and implement interactive green living methods among students by which they will learn more.

What is the greatest challenge you face when you try to garner support for the conservation activities?
Dealing with the so-called educated class and convincing them to make lifestyle changes is the biggest challenge.

Another challenge is to rope in genuine volunteers who are ready to bring in a positive change to the environment.

We are trying really hard to infuse the practice of volunteering, in which we are making very little inroads. People find some reason or the other to skip any sort of volunteering but still claim that they are concerned about the environment.

There is a lot of talk about reducing the carbon footprint. Do you have any suggestion to practice it in our daily lives?

Climate change and carbon footprint are vast topics and subject to lengthy arguments. We at Roots & Shoots believe that by practising simple Indian values, we can keep our C-footprint low.
Things that Roots & Shoots volunteers practise but never preach are:
  • We avoid non-vegetarian Food (meat industry produces more carbon and also kills animals)
  • We carpool in a big way or just use public transport.
  • We do not use air conditioning (yes, in Chennai...)
  • We use recycled paper and cloth.
  • We turn off every single electrical appliance after use.
What are the key conservation measures the corporates can take?

The big business establishments are success stories and so they can inspire many. If they showed interest in protecting the environment, things would be better.  

They should seriously consider green office practices.
For example, a number of business establishments have come up near the Pallikaranai marsh land in Chennai. They can adopt lakes and ponds in their respective localities and maintain them as water sources.

Corporate offices can send in their staff to volunteer at zoos, animal rescue and rehabilitation efforts, beach clean ups, etc. All this can be done over the weekend. But the sad thing is that there is only a lukewarm response whenever such events are organised.

There are groups like Roots & Shoots and many others who are happy to support the proactive corporate initiatives in conservation.
Tell us about the lake cleaning activity you've planned as part of the World Environment Day.

Roots & Shoots has 18 conservation projects in different cities in the country. The cities include Chennai, Hyderabad, Delhi and a few others.

We aim at restoring our urban lakes and ponds as biodiversity hot spots so that all life forms which dependent on it will benefit.

We clean a lake of its physical garbage and then desilt it. We then strengthen the lake bund and plant native saplings along the bund. Following this, we screen and curtail the inlet and outlet from the lake.

As I said above, our aim is to create water bodies which can support terrestrial animals, aquatic organisms and birds. Most often, we forget that we share this planet with many other life forms.

We should realise one thing: We don’t have the right to control all of nature's wealth just because we can walk straight and talk aloud.

Now, some tips for our readers. How can they contribute to conservation?
The next time when you get an invite or a message calling for volunteers for an environment-related activity, step out and participate.

Marching or participating in marathons is not volunteering. Pledging support is great. But if you can change the way things are, it will be better than anything else.

Readers should consider volunteering. If they do not find good opportunities to volunteer, they can contact us (arunoogle@gmail.com). We have projects all over the country. Our projects do not need money. They just need manpower and passion towards the environment.


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