In 2008, the realization that our Earth was in deeper crisis than we thought assaulted us amidst an avalanche of reports of melting ice caps and dying species. But, as Sunita Narain, director of the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment, states,'2009 is the year of promise'. And to prove this, Down To Earth brings to us some wonderful good news. All the features in the 'good news' section show the efforts of people who used environmentally-sustainable methods on a small scale. These stories have effectively dispelled the myth that being eco-friendly means lesser profits. On the contrary, these innovations will go a long way in inspiring others to follow suit.
The positive effects of community effort are detailed in the cover story, 'The Town Farmers Built'. Satish Magar, chairman and managing director of the Pune-based 'Magarpatta', did not succumb to the temptation of skipping steps to get government approval, and his patience finally bore fruit in Magarpatta, a 'walk-to-all-destinations' township. This township, created by farmers who pooled their land, places a huge emphasis on working positively for the environment. Services like solar-water heating systems, sewage treatment plants and biogas plants have been incorporated by this self-reliant community, and shown to be, not only successful, but extremely popular. People don't mind paying extra for the benefits they get, such as customers who pay a little more to get fresh, pesticide-free vegetables. This method is non-pesticidal management (NPM) which does away with the use of synthetic pesticide in agriculture. The story covers the enthusiasm and exuberance of the farmers who have found that it is actually more profitable to do away with pesticides. Amidst the sad news of increasing farmer suicide rates, the growth and progress of these villages gives immense hope that sustainable reforms can be successfully incorporated. As profits abound for those farmers who have converted to organic farming, others are increasingly convinced of the benefits of these methods.
Another equally inspiring story is of the Gutter Association. This Gujarat community, which was displaced by the earthquake in 2001, has effectively tackled its sewage problem with DEWATS, - Decentralized Wastewater Treatment Systems- a non-polluting treatment system. Most of the 250 households did not need much persuasion to agree to this system, as they knew that the alternative was that their sewage would run in open drains as it does in neighbouring localities. The success of this project has encouraged Hunnar Shaala, the non-profit Foundation for Building Technology and Innovations, based in Bhuj, to try to emulate the success on a much larger scale.
There is the good news too of Fazilka, a small town in Punjab, becoming pedestrian friendly by creating vehicle-free zones in certain markets. Initially, the concept of restricting cars in markets was met with much resistance by traders who feared their business would be severely affected. But the success of this venture assuaged their fears.
Apart from community initiatives, DTE also reveals the story of those people who fought against what was wrong, and won. 'Earth Quake' deals with the basic issue of whether or not forest dwellers should be entrusted with the responsibility of taking care of forests. The feature provides a glimmer of hope; a small tribe, the Lodha in West Bengal, successfully struggled against the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests to reclaim their land, taken by the forest department to develop a Eucalyptus plantation. It documents the diligence and tenacity of the tribals, who fought for what they believed was rightfully theirs, even though the odds seemed against them, and did everything to get their land back.
The concept of having an issue dedicated to good news is refreshing. Once in a while, it is a pleasant change to be acquainted with what is going right. All the stories are positive, encouraging and full of hope. And very importantly, the stories inspire. Even small efforts and innovations can snowball into larger initiatives to make the Earth a little cleaner.
The 400th anniversary issue gives an insight into how treading a slightly different path can trigger a revolution of sorts. It would be good if DTE brings out more such issues which celebrate good news; this would motivate others to take that extra initiative.