OPINION: Only One Earth—As Assam continues to suffer, why did we stop caring? Lessons for World Environment Day 2022

OPINION: Only One Earth—As Assam continues to suffer, why did we stop caring? Lessons for World Environment Day 2022
File photo of Assam floods
The campaign slogan for this year’s World Environment Day (June 5) is “Only One Earth: Living Sustainably in Harmony with Nature”. As we celebrate the day, let's not forget the destruction caused by the Assam floods again this year!
The floods of May 2022 affected more than 1.7 million lives in Assam, which witnesses immense destruction and displacement by the floods every year. Following the repeated news of the Assam floods, we, as a nation, have now become numb to the suffering of the state's people.
Perhaps some may think that the environmental disaster in Assam does not affect the rest of India. Herein lies a big concern. We can pretend to detach ourselves from one small part of the world, but such extreme weather events have consequences for everyone, everywhere!
Let us ask ourselves if the environment and disasters have any causative links. The answer is an emphatic ‘yes’. Our nature is delicately balanced. Through our reckless and unsustainable consumption and production patterns, we are adversely impacting that balance. Our home—the Earth—is extensively facing the crisis of Climate Change, biodiversity loss and pollution.
Beyond a certain point, the effect of this crisis becomes highly pronounced and irreversible. If allowed unchecked, these will interfere with the natural processes and aggravate the shock and stresses of natural hazards.
Our natural ecosystems provide food, fodder, firewood, medicinal herbs, and livelihoods to the communities. Degradation of the environment directly impacts the ability of communities to obtain these from nature. These are some of the more manifest benefits and services obtained from the ecosystem.
However, we often fail to recognise other important aspects of the ecosystem because they are not tangible. For example, our ecosystem’s ability to sequester carbon in forests, soil and grasslands is a natural process of capturing atmospheric carbon dioxide in sinks and thereby a bulwark against climate change.
If biodiversity loss goes unchecked, the processes of carbon sequestration will be forever altered. Not only this, but it is also important to know that our ecosystems have in-built capacities to provide protection from natural hazards. If these capacities are continually diminished, it clearly means that people everywhere would have less and less resilience and coping mechanisms to withstand the shocks of natural disasters.
It is worth emphatically repeating that Climate Change is a vast planetary crisis which will spare no one, no matter how high and mighty!
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently presented a grim picture about the challenges India will face because of climate change. The report said India would face extreme scenarios emerging from climate change on almost all fronts—from rising sea levels to groundwater scarcity, from extreme weather patterns to a fall in crop production, besides a rise in health hazards.

One question that begs an answer is whose responsibility it is to protect the environment. Given the gigantic scale and complexity of the problem, everybody has a stake in it. The governments, corporates, citizen groups, academia, media, NGOs, women, and youth groups will have to do their bit. Governments will need to listen to science and fully resource climate action in imaginative ways.
If we all are part of the problem, we will all have to be an integral part of the solution as well. World Environment Day reminds us that there is no other recourse than respecting and living in harmony with nature. After all, it is about our Mother Earth – our only dwelling!
Fifty years ago, on this day, the world’s first gathering on the environment, Stockholm Conference, took place in Sweden. The participants adopted a series of principles for managing the environment around the world. Life has now come a full circle. The World Environment Day 2022 theme, #OnlyOneEarth, will be hosted again by Sweden, and we will have the same slogan, essentially driving home the point that earth is the only home for humankind.
So, be it the people of Assam or the rest of us anywhere in the world, we all share the same home! We can pretend to detach ourselves from a tiny part of the world but not without consequences for everyone.
Pankaj Anand is Director, Programmes and Advocacy, Oxfam India.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are of the author/interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of Business Insider India. The article has been partly edited for length and clarity.
This column is part of June 2022’s month-long awareness campaign on the theme “ Only One Earth: Sustaining People, Planet and Prosperity ” by Business Insider India’s Sustainability Insider .