Rivers Are Dying. What Can I Do?
--Swara Pandya
4 minute read
Jul 6, 2017


In a recent email thread, we saw an inspiring film around river going dry. (Coming soon to Karmatube.)

It really raises the question, what can we do? How do we not lose hope?

Of course, you hear good news like 66 million trees planted in 12 hours in Madhya Pradesh this week. But the problem seems so much bigger:

  • India has been losing its forests (in spite of many tree planting efforts) for a long time.
  • Tamil Nadu was hit by a drought last and this year of such severity not seen in 140 years.
  • Most important rivers of the country have been in a bad shape for a long time. Yamuna being the worst example.
  • Water bodies in almost every state of the country have been disappearing
  • Not just in India, but around the world, farmers and farming itself have been dying
  • For most people in the world, Nature has lost its meaning
These aren't just environmental issues, of course. They span so many domains of society, and individual effort feels so ineffective in comparison to the larger systems.

In that thread, Ragu shared his inspiring approach ...
I sense that "What should we do about this crisis? How do we implement our responses?" are no longer skillful. Instead what I find myself asking is, "Am I living my life every day in a way that I do not have any internal crisis?" If I allow my every day existence to be misaligned with my values, then day after day it accumulates leading to an internal crisis which takes away my ability to be equanimous. Without that balance, no level of external work can be a solution but will only create newer and worse problems.

Most people don't have to consciously do anything to create misalignment with their values. The very environment and systems they live in is fundamentally misaligned with human values. So mere existence is misaligned. From the house a person lives in to the nature of the work he does to just about every product and service he consumes are glaring examples of misalignment. But one has got to survive and keep a family. All questions and discussions about responding to the crises of the planet comes down to this fundamental problem: How do I survive in a fully misaligned world and yet keep my values, stand on firm ground and respond to human and planetary suffering?

What is a place of leverage, place of firm ground not affected by imbalances on which we can stand and respond to the crises?

Archimedes once said, "Give me a place to stand and I shall move the earth." In terms of physics, to move the earth, that place must necessarily be outside of earth. In terms of moving the "consciousness" of the earth and not its physical self, there is no outside to jump over and stand on. We need carve out a space within our consciousness where we allow no misalignment. If that space becomes strong and firm enough, it will have a leverage far greater any other space no matter how much resource and power is available from that other space.

So what would I do save Kaveri? Plant trees on the Kaveri riverbed, alone, for a whole day, praying and bowing to the river before planting every sapling. That will probably invite a different energy, a different kind of leverage.

On that thread, we also referenced the idea of finding systemic levers. What if Google Earth actually started to heal Mother Earth? Certainly that would create great immediate change, but it's hard to say if that change would be sustainable. It brought up a conversation between Alfred (former exec at Google) and Astro Teller (founder of Google X): "I'm selling ads to help Walmart grow, and you're trying to create moonshots to solve global warming, and we're both with Google. Isn't that awkward?" At such a massive scale, it's hard to not to externalize costs. That is to say, perhaps we can find better points of systemic acupuncture points?

Nipun also shared the four stages from his experience of community building -- be-the-change, ladder, search and amplify. "It points to building out a matrix of engagement -- virtual and local, short-term and long-term (as Khush wrote in the latest MBL update). Otherwise, we can end up with small change -- as Gladwell points out." He also pointed to connecting with wisdom of elders, like Mark Dubois (who has saved thousands of miles of rivers through his courageous personal example) and then exploring innovative intersections of ancient wisdom with modern applications.

The whole discussion left me feeling a bit more empowered, in an otherwise bleak scenario.

Posted by Swara Pandya on Jul 6, 2017