Thursday, September 11, 2008

Goa Going Green

'Environment' just seems to be the latest buzzword. Pick up any newspaper, and I can promise you that there will be at least three or four news or info articles on the environment with at least one of them focusing on a garbage disposal problem. And this welcome trend seems to be only increasing. Unfortunately, most of what you learn about is the one sided negative side. Starting today, I plan a weekly interactive forum where you and I discuss environmental issues. To get a balanced view, lets talk about the good, the bad and the in-between's too. Besides just reading this series, I'd suggest that you cut and archive it for yourself, as I'll give out useful tips, detailed instructions, and local information for you to go green too.

Goans, living in a smaller state, with higher than national education levels, are already aware about the biggest environmental problems facing Goa today. Thanks to higher awareness levels of emerging problems, we now see Goan's immediately reporting, stopping further degradation, dumping or pollution. This has often been noticed by others in India looking at Goa when finding solutions to their own state problems. We are fortunate to have cleaner cities and countryside's, (only when compared to the rest of India) however, the question is, will we follow the rest of India as we seem to be doing today, or can we collectively set our state as an example for the rest of India and beyond?

Back in 1999, I was just an engineering student when I started to notice stirrings of environmentalism in Goa. There were a handful of NGOs and problems were beginning to be noticed. Today, almost 10 years later, those very same environmental problems have only grown to almost unmanageable proportions and led to other imbalances, which will result in further environmental degradation. While some now claim that we are at the tipping point, a few like me believe that we've already gone beyond.

When confronted with such problems, we blame, condemn and point at people we think that are responsible such as the local authorities, builders, industrialists, and the Government. But rarely do we include ourselves as society in this responsibility failure.

While most of these environmental problems crept up, due to apathy by the concerned authorities and stakeholders, it was also worsened by the failure of collective society such as you and me that passed by, and did nothing to make things better or report any violations. In certain situations, such as garbage problems, we don't realize that we are the ones that generate garbage, and therefore should share some of the blame, but more importantly some of the responsibility in managing the same.

In June-July 2008, I was attending an international conference on Climate Change in Sweden when
I was told by a fellow delegate that we humans as a collective species really do care about the environment, but it's our lack of awareness that causes these problems. An aware citizen he told me, would do as much as he could to save the environment. The key to change therefore is combination of mindset change as well as proper awareness. Take the very relevant subject of Garbage as an example: Very few Goans know that we already have the potential to reduce our own garbage going to disposal by 85% or more by simple waste reduction techniques such as waste separation, organic waste disposal, recycling and changing our purchase patterns. Imagine, if Panjim and Margao's waste (together estimated to be 90-100 Metric Tonnes per day) was reduced by 85%, we'd just have to worry about disposing 10-15 Tonnes per day.

Instable governments, red tape, and misguided decisions are the main reasons that nothing seems to happen in Goa. Past and present politicians, irrespective of their political parties have proved to be ineffective in choosing the right technology for managing of waste. This has been seen by the failure of a lot of waste treatment facilities that were either improperly selected or chosen by the amount of monetary kickbacks. Projects or plants selected in the past have often utilized foreign technology that's highly mechanized which is good in the west but not necessarily here, or not localized to Goan climate and waste characteristics. Worldwide, most waste management technologies came into being after the 1960s, and continue to improve with experimental plants set up at various places in the world even today. However, history has proved that the ideal solutions for managing waste in Goa are tried and tested technology that's low cost, low tech, and localized to treat waste with Goan waste characteristics. It appears that civic authorities and politicians only look at environmental problems as ways to obtain money, rather than find solutions, and until then, working with the government is difficult.

There is light at the end of the tunnel however. Concerned citizens need not wait for civic authorities or the Government to put infrastructure and systems in place to make a difference as we already have solutions in Goa for waste reduction that function without Government assistance. Infrastructure as well as expertise is available locally, and next week, we shall discuss practical aspects to be taken into account of waste management in Goa, and even how YOU can begin putting a waste management system in place at your own home.

Do let me know your own opinions about local environmental problems in Goa. As mentioned earlier, this series hopes to be interactive, with do-it-yourself projects, informal workshops at a few locations in Goa and even an odd environmental crossword or quiz. You can join some 170+ GreenGoans on a free online forum called GreenGoa
similar discussions and information.

Let's hear from you! Email or You can even post a letter to us at 'Goa Going Green' C/o Arati Das, Gomanatak Times, Gomantak Bhavan, St. Inez, Panjim, Goa

Photocredit: Clinton Vaz for 1&2 and GBA for 3. This is the 1st article in the eco-talk series that appears on a weekly column on Gomantak Times. This article appeared on GT, 11th September, 2008 Pg. A10

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