Myth of the Environmentally Irresponsible Indian

I often find myself being the unofficial optimist for India. And why not? When everyone’s bitching about how uncouth we are, how we’re so poor, how we have no civic sense, and how we’re the biggest hypocrites etc, I feel it’s only fair to give credit where it’s due.

Indians are the greenest!My latest bit of sunshine refers to the fact that we Indians have been ranked as the greenest people in the world for the third year running! This study is conducted annually by National Geographic in conjunction with GlobeScan and is a measure of how environmentally friendly the people of a country are – not the government or corporations.

Now hold the screaming! Don’t be so eager to crash the party – I know the objections. “It’s only because so many Indians live in poverty” and “It’s because so many Indians are veggies.” These facts are true of course.

But here’s the kicker. We’ve actually increased our Greendex for the third year in a row! While more and more Indians are being lifted out of poverty at a breakneck pace, and we’re eating more and more meat, the fact that we’ve constantly increased our “green” scores really deserves some applause don’t you think?

Not only that, Indians have registered the biggest increase from last year compared to all the 17 countries after polling 17,000 people. The survey is pretty damn comprehensive and looks at a whole range of things such as housing, transportation, citizen attitudes, citizen knowledge etc. Strong growth with better environment friendliness.

Now isn’t that something that’s worth being optimistic over? So the next time someone tells you that Indians are good for nothing, you know what to say :)

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Comments

  1. I can believe that we still do have many beautiful birds around… but the other day in Gurgaon we were being shown some upcoming development project and I saw a frightened mongoose run wildly to hide somewhere… the work had just begun and that was the first time I realised how much we change when we develop some more.

    Single houses with gardens are environment friendly, high rise buildings though cost effective and convenient are not how nature meant humans to live.

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    • In reply to Indian Homemaker

      I can relate to the feeling that apartments are not natural. Environmentally though, I would guess they're better than the same number of people living in separate houses with individual gas and water connections and using up land that other creatures can live in etc.

      Here in the US, there are hardly any apartments! The low density of people makes everything very far away and this lead to more cars being used too. So given a choice between living in a high density area or a low density area, I will almost always choose the high density area.

      Of course, this is a matter of preference. But until one arrives in the suburbs of the US, you don't know how much we Indians have got used to crowds all around :)

      But I guess I've strayed from the point!

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  2. We also rank first on the recycling list. It is said that Indians recycle about 80% of the things that they use while the Americans only 45%. So we are the 'GREEN KNIGHTS'. In India we have those 'kabadiwalas' who go to every house to collect papers, bottles and other things which they then recycle.

    One more thing to note is that in India we have the 'Use and Preserve' system that we all follow. We do not buy a new car because our car is more than 10 years old. But in the US and other countries they have a 'Use and Throw' system. Thus we are actually doing our bit to make the world better. Hopefully, the others will follow.

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    • In reply to Dhruva Mathur

      Hi Dhruv! Thanks for stopping by.

      You're right. Recycling and preserving is a big part of Indian culture. It also gives rise to the perception that we're misers! But who cares na?

      Reply

  3. The other day, the CEO of a European energy company said in an interview with Charlie Rose that India and China were doing much more to go green than Europe and USA…For instance, India has committed to converting 90% of it's electricity production to nuclear by 2050…

    Are you back in the US?

    Reply

    • In reply to Sraboney

      We have a leg up on many countries because of the attitudes of the people. And attitudes don't change quickly. Our khap panchayats etc are proof of that! Luckily, this is a good attitude and it seems to be getting better :)

      Yeah – came here in May. Visa expires in 2011 June so I'm sure I'll be back by then at least.

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  4. Was talking to a friend who runs an NGO on waste management. Schools that pride in teaching children about recycling, reducing waste et al do not want to pay the Rs. 1,000 it will cost to transport their waste to a responsible waste manager. In my opinion, real tasks like composting will give kids the best understanding of how recycle, reduce, reuse can work.

    I think a lot of us being green is not true. We need to compare to ideal, not to the US! By the way, a lot of the waste we give to raddiwalas is recycled, the rest (a good 20% is estimated) is burned or sits in landfills. Who said we deserve to have any credit given for civic sense!

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    • In reply to Sangitha

      We all shine by comparison :D

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    • In reply to Sangitha

      “We need to compare to ideal, not to the US!”
      I second that. This is something I’ve noticed both among Indians in real life and online – every standard or practice in India is held up against the same in the US, when it comes to a cultural comparison. Having lived in Europe and Central Asia, I’ve found that the culture of preserving and recycling things is not particularly Indian – it is kind of universal. My Polish or Russian friends for example, would always have a huge repertoire of pickles, meats and other stuff in their homes – most of them homemade and most of them preserved in used jars. Thats not unlike how *we* used to do it.

      The US culture of ‘use-and-throw’ disposability in this regard, is an aberration. Their lifestyle is consumerist and extremely Machiavellian – thanks to rabid corporatism. Using those countries and their cultures as a standard and patting yourself on the back is a step backwards and very foolish.

      Also, sub-urban living in very much Indian, unless your idea of ‘Indian’ are the overpopulated cities of Northern states. Take a trip to Shillong or Dibrugarh – most people live in sprawling estates, not cramped apartment blocks. It has all to do with population density, price of real estate and the cost of living. Living in Delhi for example, is considerably more expensive than living in cities like Warsaw, Tallinn or Bangkok – for equal standards of living. It is no surprise that houses tend to be cramped.

      Reply

      • In reply to Akhim Lyngdoh

        We should take the good things wherever we find them. While the US has the best free speech laws in the world and has an extremely egalitarian and polite society, there are obviously many things to be desired – like being green for example.

        Reply

      • In reply to bhagwad

        “While the US has the best free speech laws in the world and has an extremely egalitarian and polite society, there are obviously many things to be desired – like being green for example.”
        Anyone who is familiar with social science research and the pop-culture in the United States, understands that the concept of free speech in the US is very Orwellian, a myth. Britain, in comparison, is far more ‘free’ although its far from being an ideal.

        Extremely egalitarian and polite? Okay, lets not get there. Here, background of the person proposing something like that, obviously matters. As someone who is not from the feudal, primitive and casteist bastion of Hindustan – I might have a perspective to disagree.

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      • In reply to Akhim Lyngdoh

        The US has no hate speech laws, no laws against “blasphemy”, no law against insulting other religions etc like are present in most of the world. Ergo, the US laws are the best. Why do you say it’s a myth?

        Having lived for five years in the US, I can say with some authority that people are far more polite and egalitarian. It has nothing to do with the background of the person and more to do with experience.

        Reply

      • In reply to bhagwad

        “The US has no hate speech laws, no laws against “blasphemy”, no law against insulting other religions etc like are present in most of the world. Ergo, the US laws are the best. ”
        Indeed. And the Genesis is the word of god because it ‘sounds’ divine to the faithful. Case closed.
         
        “Why do you say it’s a myth?”
        Because I am a lawyer. When it comes to laws, I have not only a far better understanding and awareness of laws than the ordinary layman, BUT also the professional training to compare legal systems.
         
        “Having lived for five years in the US, I can say with some authority that people are far more polite and egalitarian. ”
        Well, you have my sympathies for growing up in such an impolite and unegalitarian society. Rest assured, the rest of us who grew up in *more* polite and egalitarian societies than yours – are far less impressed by the so called ‘politeness’ and ‘egalitarianism’ of Americans.
         
        “It has nothing to do with the background of the person and more to do with experience.”
        Your experience with foreign people is strongly shaped by some basic fundamentals:
        1) the way you perceive and interact with people
        2) the way other people percieve and interact with you
        3) the social prejudices that you hold against each other
         
        Hence, your background is fundamentally essential to determine the legitimacy of your empirical observations (colloquially termed as ‘experiences’).

        Reply

      • In reply to Akhim Lyngdoh

        “And the Genesis is the word of god because it ‘sounds’ divine to the faithful. Case closed.”

        I’m sorry, what?

        “Because I am a lawyer.”

        Nah uh. That’s not enough. This is the Internet. Arguments from authority are valid only when backed up. So again…why do you say it’s a myth?

        Hence, your background is fundamentally essential to determine the legitimacy of your empirical observations (colloquially termed as ‘experiences’).

        Except that my background is the same whether I’m in India or the US. So all things being equal, I find one society more polite than the other.

        Reply

  5. Nice post. Our ranking would have been further improved if they would have consider the ancient and traditional practices being adopted by Indians specially those related to conservation and protection of Natural Resources be it Water, land , or Forests.

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  6. Many of our practices are very sustainable in the long run.Water conservative practices, recycling have(rather had) been inherent in our lifestyle. We use buckets to take bath,Sharpen the knives/blades and use it for a long time, fix old stuff and reuse/re-purpose it,biodegradable products like products from coconut tree- coir(in mattresses, mats, etc),coconut stick broom,banana leaves.I remember days when flowers sold, used to be wrapped up and tied in a big leaf or in a newspaper.These days plastic is everywhere! :( Same methods of disposal for plastic as those that we used in the past has been a big contributor to the litter, i feel.If stuff were thrown away, there was an ecosystem that could break it down or put it back in place in the natural cycle.As we moved towards bigger cities, development (read destruction) , we ignored practices that supported the ecosystem , so eventually it wasn’t sustainable. Like there would be birds that would eat only grains and worms – very good for agriculture and good to be around homes…The changed architecture of buildings too don’t allow nesting places for such birds.These days there are more scavenger birds than birds like the house sparrow.

    Reply

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