We all live on this planet. From coast to coast, from Asia to Europe to Africa, we all share this environment, and we are all going to be affected by changes to it. The Covid pandemic made our interconnectedness even clearer. No matter where you were, no matter if you lived in a mansion or a shack, no matter if you were rich or poor—everyone was affected.
We are all just as affected by changes to our planet, whether we realize it or not. When I lived in Peoria, in Midwest Illinois, which has a huge farming community, I heard someone say, “Farming is everybody’s business.” That really struck a chord with me. If farms fail, people don’t get to eat—whether they consider themselves connected to farming or not. And if the environment is damaged, farms will fail.
I grew up with a keen sense of this, thanks to my father’s farm. Our land was in a part of the country known as the Granary of South India—a small stretch of the country that produced a disproportionate amount of India’s grains, which was mainly rice. On our farm, that water came from the river, and the river was fed by the rain. If we didn’t have a good monsoon season, the rivers would run dry; if there was no water in the river, the wells dried up—and so did our land.
Out in the community where the farm was located, in the south of India, we had a big festival specifically honoring Mother Earth called Pongal. Over the course of this festival, you thank the sun and earth and cows for all the sustenance they give us. As a child, I quickly picked up how these elements constitute a complete ecosystem. The sun, water, and earth enable our rice paddies in our fields. That rice and the hay feeds us and our cows. The cows produce milk and butter, which also feeds us. And the cow dung fertilizes the rice paddies. Nothing is wasted.
All of these experiences in my childhood gave me a strong connection to the planet and the environment and an understanding of how we are all connected to the earth, air, water, and each other—and that we must protect our planet in order to survive.
We are already at a level of damage to our air and water beyond which lies a point of no return. Renowned environmentalist David Suzuki illustrates this crisis by asking us to imagine the earth as a test tube filled with nutrients, and human beings as bacteria in that test tube, living off the nutrients. When you start with a very tiny quantity of bacteria, there will be plenty of nutrients in the tube. Let’s say that the bacteria doubles every minute. If the test tube were half full at the 59th minute and you talked to the bacteria about an impending crisis, they would say, “What are you worried about? We have been around for 59 minutes and still have half a test tube full of food.” Of course, within a minute, at the 60th minute mark, the bacteria doubles again and fills the entire test tube, consuming all its resources.
We are around that point with the resources on this planet. We have passed the 59th minute. The population has grown exponentially, and with the way we waste water and energy and pollute the atmosphere, the situation is dire. It is, without exaggeration, the most pressing problem of our time and for humanity—and, interconnected as we are, we must all be part of the solution.
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