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Issue 44
, 2013
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TERI survey reveals people’s ignorance of ecological issues

Toxics Link
Source: The Sunday Guardian, Date: , 2013

limate change is no longer a contested phenomenon — rising temperatures, errant rainfall, dirtier rivers and streets and ever-growing mountains of garbage are all obvious manifestations and causes of this phenomenon. But having acknowledged that our actions in the name of development are irreversibly damaging the planet, how far are we willing and able to actually do something to contain the situation?

On the occasion of World Environment Day, The Energy and Resources Institute TERI) unveiled their first environmental survey this week. Conducted on a sample of 4039 respondents across six cities — Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Mumbai — this revealing survey covered air and water quality, waste management, climate change and green cover. It aimed at gauging people's behaviour, perception and public opinion about environmental changes over the past five years.

The findings are quite stark. For instance, 70-80% of the respondents are unaware of government policies on air and water pollution, water availability, waste management, forest conservation and climate change. A majority of the respondents in Delhi felt that availability of water is suffering due to overconsumption. In all cities apart from Kolkata, the survey revealed an unwillingness to segregate waste at source.

In Chennai, a significant 38% of the respondents felt that there was no change in climate. In Delhi, 90% said that they'd never participated in the management of parks and that a large number of them had never even planted a tree. But as Ravi Agarwal, founder-director of Toxics Link, pointed out at the release of the survey, a lot of this apparent indifference to climate change has roots in institutional support — or the lack of it.

"I know for a fact that people had started segregating waste at their homes in Delhi, but they stopped because when the MCD trucks came around to collect it, they dumped it all in the same place. When you're talking of planting trees, there has to be some space demarcated for the purpose. What incentive is the government creating when they cut down thousands of trees for things like the Commonwealth Games or new malls all the time?" observed Agarwal during the panel discussion at the launch.

Yet, not all is as dismal as it may seem — the survey did point out some heartening statistics. A majority of the respondents in Delhi (59%) felt that environment concerns and development have to go hand-in-hand. 61% of the respondents in Kolkata noted that the water quality available to them had improved. About a fourth of the sample in all cities suggested improved public transport infrastructure as the best way to reduce air pollution.

"We underestimate the public as far as their understanding of environment-related issues is concerned. They do get what climate change is all about and also consider it to affect them personally. What we need to do is to trash the technocratic attitude and undertake ecosystem approaches," noted Ligia Noronha, executive director, TERI.