At some level, humanity is afraid to lose the environment gifted to us by nature. This may be because we, as humans are scared of change or that we all know deep inside that we cannot live without this ecosystem. We have different ways of handling it. Some people don’t care, and pretend global warming is a lie fabricated by the UN to spread panic. Others do their little bit by taking cloth bags to the grocery store to avoid using plastic bags and check if their deodorant contains CFCs before purchasing it. There is another group of people who make sure their homes have rainwater harvesting, solar water heaters and cookers and battery operated cars. And there are the motivated individuals who lead people along the road to ecological conservation. They are the members of nongovernmental organisations that exist for preserving the environment. There is a stigma attached in society with respect to people who do not work in well paying corporate, engineering or professional jobs. These people, however, work for long hours with the knowledge that salary or wages is minimal or nonexistent and yet toil for the sake of the environment. These NGO workers are the real heroes in our battle to restore ecological balance.
What is the impact of these NGOs on society and individuals?
The NGOs bring to the notice of people the atrocities being committed towards the environment and bridge the knowledge gap by bringing to their attention on what exactly is happening, and how the community can help. An example is the Narmada Bachao Andolan that started as a social movement to save the River Narmada from the proposed construction of a dam over it, was a collection of environmentalists, authors and other organisations. They conducted street plays to increase awareness about the hazards of the dam, as the people affected were tribals who were mostly illiterate and hence needed a medium of communication which did not involve language in the written form. Awareness was spread among the communities living by the Narmada river through these street plays that were on displacement of people from their homes, and songs were sung to bring to light the effects that the construction of the dam could have on the inhabitants of villages in and around the Narmada
- Perfect candidate to work alongside a government department
When a government department starts a campaign or new policy, a NGO is a viable partner, as the NGO has the support of the people and the expertise that comes from being involved with the relevant issues for a long time. Also, they are less likely to get influenced by bribes or threats as they are not individuals but an entire organisation with the backing of the community and the law. The ‘Save Ganga, Save Dolphin’ campaign that was carried out to save the critically endangered Gangetic Dolphin involved 14 NGOs working with the Uttar Pradesh Government in a 3 day campaign. It involved 18 boats and covered around 2,800 kms of the Ganga in UP. The NGOs involved included the World Wildlife Federations which aided in supplementing information regarding dolphin mortality and the need to preserve the dolphin, also known as the Tiger of the Ganges. The NGOs alongside the government were able to create change as the passion and expertise of the NGO was aided by government resources and support, and the campaign was a success.
- International ties and funding
Some of the NGOs that are present have branches all over the world. This helps immensely, as the NGOs have an international standard and not only are they knowledgeable about the domestic situation of their country, they are aware of what is happening around the world. In the case of Palm Oil extraction which is a problem in Malaysia and Indonesia as the producers of palm oil indulge in large scale destruction of forests to ensure that there is a constant supply of oil, Greenpeace India has taken this issue as India is the largest importer of palm oil from Malaysia and Indonesia. They indulged palm oil importers in roundtable talks and Hindustan Unilever and Godrej decided to deal in sustainable palm oil as a result of this. The fact that Greenpeace is an international organization helped exceedingly in this issue as they were able to stand up against environmental abuse in more than one country at the same time.
Let us take a look at some well-known environmental NGOs in India and their contributions.
- World Wildlife Fund
This is an international organization founded in 1961 with its presence felt around the globe. WWF India in particular have started many campaigns to protect animals, like the Snow Leopard, tiger, elephant, rhinos and other endangered animals. They have also come up with schemes such as ‘Adopt a Tree’ which is an attempt to make the nation a greener place. WWF also is involved in corporate social responsibility partnerships with many companies, to merge corporate resources and their initiate to create a better place for animals, plants and people of this country.
- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
PETA was founded in the USA in 1980. Their slogan is – ‘Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment or abuse in any way’. PETA is against the use of fur, leather or animal skin for clothing, they propagate vegan and vegetarian farming and are also against animal testing (drugs tested on animals in scientific labs and cosmetic industries) among other things. They are well known for media campaigns which involve celebrities, and they believe in aggressive advertising. In India, famous actors have posed for PETA campaigns. These not only bring to light the issues the NGO focuses on, but also takes the campaign to mainstream media, where people from all walks of life can see what the NGO stands for.
Greenpeace is a NGO with branches around the world. They are against genetic engineering, deforestation and take a hard stance on global warming and whaling. They have started campaigns such as ‘Go Beyond Oil’ that focus on sustainable energy and less polluting ways to generate energy. In fact, there was a case in England against Greenpeace activists who climbed on top of a power station, painting the name of the then president of the UK on a chimney. During the trial, when they were being tried for damaging property, they stated that they were trying to prevent large-scale damage to global property at large due to global warming. This defense was accepted by the court, which made it a landmark judgement with regard to environmental law in the UK.
In India, Green Peace activists have protested against genetically modified brinjals (Better known as Bt Brinjal) as they consider it to be a threat to biosafety and disruption of ecological balance as it is unnatural to modify genetically a vegetable.
They were also sued by Essar Group, (a mining company) when activists climbed on an Essar building in Bombay and unfurled a banner to protest Essar’s coal mining activities in Madhya Pradesh. This is one of the many campaigns undertaken by Greenpeace, which people consider as extreme. However, the NGO asserts that its activities are performed to ensure the ability of the Earth to nurture life in all its diversity.
These are some well-known NGOs in India, and their contribution to the environment protection movement has been immense. The next part of this article will focus on their lesser known counterparts who are no less important to the preservation of our biodiversity and ecosystem.