Roli Mahajan – Making the Case for Mandatory Environmental Service

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Nov 03, 2017
by Roli Mahajan
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Roli Mahajan – Making the Case for Mandatory Environmental Service

Journalist urges Asia to engage more closely with nature for their own well-being – and economic prosperity Mahajan imagines a future where it is mandated that one serves the state through environmental service

Mahajan will be the rapporteur at the upcoming session in the series The Asia We Want: Building Community Through Regional Cooperation. All participants were invited to share their own vision for “the Asia we want.”

Let us take a few minutes off our busy lives and imagine a world where conscription is mandatory in all countries but with a slight twist. Instead of a military conscription, what if it is mandated that one serves the state through environmental service. During this mandated period, one is asked to take time off to bond with and serve nature by choosing sustainable practices, living a minimalistic life-style and working on solutions which can be implemented by them as professionals. The idea might sound bizarre but it has its own merits.

As more and more people move to the cities in search of better economic opportunities, the green cover shrinks, infrastructural demands overtax cities, while cities struggle to provide quality living standards to their constantly increasing population. It is but natural that people will no longer be at one with nature. What one does not see or touch is automatically just an exotic pleasure and not something you know how to connect with.

Some cities are exploring greener and cleaner options like vertical gardens and zero emission buildings, but these initiatives are outnumbered by irresponsible ventures which solely concentrate on moolah and not well-being. City-planners are not mindful of green infrastructure and often concentrate on short-term benefits like finding opportunities to earn a quick buck or nurture nepotism.

Organic food seems to have become a trend but farmers are struggling to produce more by using an abundance of chemical fertilizers, and ordinary people do not have a green thumb, time or space to try their hand at growing their own food. Even if they could, one wonders how they would get access to clean water and air. To top it all, green and clean spaces seem to be a privilege that only the rich can afford. The poorer parts of the city are left with filth, potholes and shrubs (if any) as growth there is “unplanned.”

If you think that wanting a green Asia where people value nature is an unrealistic and intangible measure of the well-being of the continent or its people, then let us touch upon the economics of human capital and growth.

Asian cities are growing because they are hailed as the engines of economic growth. For example: Xingtai in China, 400km from Beijing, generates its pollution from coal production – a bane to China’s environment but an unshakable source of energy for economic growth.

But polluted cities are not conducive to productive human behavior. An OECD report states that air pollution is not only one of the most serious environmental risks but also the cause of 5.5 million premature deaths globally in 2013. A 2014 working paper finds that labor productivity falls when air pollution rises. On the other hand, the researchers at the University of Michigan say that after just an hour interacting with nature, memory performance and attention spans improved by 20 percent. In workplaces designed with nature in mind, employees are more productive and take less sick time.

So mandated bonding time with nature makes perfect sense. It would inspire us to concentrate on well-being, live minimally and sustainably. It might help us envision an Asia that might not be growing like tiger or a dragon but at such a pace that it can sustain a minimalistic lifestyle for all its people.

All in all, the idea should incite us to question systems and help them adapt. After all, a clean and green region/country/locality will not become a reality unless we innovate, pick on unconventional solutions that focus on collective well-being, and include the environmental pillar too.

Roli Mahajan is a freelance journalist and communications consultant. She has worked as an assistant producer, blogger, journalist, social media consultant, and analyst for organizations like WSPA, DFID, Love Matters and the World Bank.


Session 591 - The Asia We Want: Building Community Through Regional Cooperation I - A Clean and Green Asia- is the first session of a new multi-year series held in partnership with the Japan Foundation. For more information on the Session, please click here. To keep up to date with the conversations taking place during the session on social media, follow #SGSasia.

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