Normally I grin and bear with greening that my planet saving friends force upon me, but lately it is getting a bit unbearable because our great Guru who must have just returned from saving our rivers with his 5.5 lt. Mercedes G63 AGM painted with special shade called “alien green” (for which I am tempted to admire German sense of humour) has now found it to be groove to roll into.
As he is fighting against single-use plastic, I am in reasonable agreement with him mainly because his audience is global, but I am forced to point out that we are India, a poor nation with really low sanitation levels, and that poses a serious issue my green do-gooder friends are missing.
I would not get too critical of Sadhguru’s way of spreading his wisdom, because obviously he is a great guru who must be blessed with yogic ability to hold his breath, and hence he has taken a selfie with a plastic bag covering his face. But, as he has also requested normal mortals like us to try and do the same as part of a campaign he is proposing, I sincerely hope that it is not attempted by anyone, as getting suffocated by a plastic bag is a real possibility for non-gurus like us.
While the great guru may have a yogic agenda of communicating through empirical experience of suffocation, I am tempted to use the plastic bag to get wiser about the ways of life and of Indian gurus.
Whenever an environmental issues comes up, the real problem is always in comprehending its scale and context. As drama of life is played over billions of years, most of its wisdom is completely counterintuitive for us.
So, if we hope to understand role of plastic beyond the knee-jerk wisdom that only gurus can afford, we need to dig deep and see if plastic is a threat or not by looking at a bigger picture.
If plastic is a threat, it is a threat to who?
While the guru and other experts, probably using their third eye, can see a future that there will be more plastic in the sea than fish in 2050, is that a threat for life on earth?
I am sorry to say that life on earth operates in millions and not tens.
More-plastic-than-fish, even if proven true in next thirty years means little to life. It may just mean that plastic will create a new kind of ecological niche with some microbes gaining from decomposing it in next hundred, thousand or even million years. Life is absolutely fine with waiting.
So, life is cool with plastic, toxic waste or any kind of poison we make. It has survived highly toxic oxygen’s entry into atmosphere, so life on earth should be fine with few oddly attached carbonic molecules.
But, even if plastic is not a threat to life on earth, it should still be a cause of concern if it is a threat to humans in particular.
To work this out, we need to do some cost-benefit analysis of what we gained from introducing plastic and what we have lost.
The biggest transformation that plastic brought to human life is in our exposure to pathogens, especially from food and water. While plastic is getting maligned today, it may have played a crucial role in increasing food and water safety, and in turn helped humanity escape a lot of pain and diseases.
As we live in a modern era where epidemics are not regular enough for us to grasp the power they once had on human race, so we are failing to appreciate the enormity of the change brought by plastic in spread of diseases, especially the single-use type.
If we add the Indian context of nearly 90 % of people living in unhygienic conditions with no access to cleanliness, the role played by plastic may not be easy to disregard. Plastic may be a killer of storks and turtles right now, but it must also have been a saviour of many human lives.
The beauty of Indian environmental thinkers is that most of them have access to elitist comforts matching to the first world citizens. So, what Europe or America is saving (while making completely wasteful million dollar purses and perfumes) is what they want to save in India too.
First world, the real polluter of the planet sitting pretty on a high horse of prosperity is busy looking for planet-saving agendas, probably to provide a purpose to its wasteful life-style, but Indian do-gooder is keen and quick to follow them without applying an iota of local contextualisation.
If West cries water, it is water, if HIV, it is HIV and if plastic, it is plastic for our local planet saviours. But, they refuse to recognise that we are as different as cake and Rasmalai. We can’t have their cake and eat it too.
We need to understand that we are a nation too full of wise people. And one of the greatest Indian businesses of the wise is to press emotional buttons and get empowerment by fooling people. They are quick to take up emotive issues that are floating around and encash them under the guise of doing good.
What Indians need to understand it, just as every Whatsapp message needs a pinch of salt of reason to test it, a lot of guru-wisdom needs a bushel full of salt, to bury it deep for decomposition.
For years, we have feared wisdom of the West, but today we have wisdom of West rehashed by gurus of East with equally damaging power.
Plastic could be an enemy, but we need to check if we have a better replacement in terms of hygienic packaging of food and water for us in India. Discarding it overnight without scientific due diligence can be more disastrous for poor Indians than plastic pollution.