‘Let’s start working with nature’

Friday, 10 September 2021 | Team Viva

Actor Dia Mirza believes that everything that we claim to own comes from the planet and we must respect that fact. By Team Viva

Actor, producer, a champion for nature and its preservation, Dia Mirza recently elaborated on her initiation into environmental issues and the importance of raising climate-sensitive citizens. She recalled how her love for nature was born from the engagement she had with it right through her childhood and shared, “I had a beautiful school, we did a lot of our classes under big trees and spent a lot of time in neighbouring villages working with grass-root communities. I also had the privilege of growing up in a home that had a front yard, back yard and many fruit-bearing trees. A lot of my time was spent watching sparrows and squirrels building their nests.”

When the first scientific reports about climate change were published, her school discussed them and initiated conversations about consumerism, the way people were producing and how that impacted the planet. “My attention was drawn consistently to our own choices and patterns of consumptions so much so that we would feel almost virtuous about saving a pencil right till the end. I became increasingly aware of the fact that everything we use and throw comes from the earth and should go back to the earth in a manner that doesn’t harm it. I learnt that human activity is changing the temperatures of the planet. That was the beginning of learning about the planet and our place in it. A very big shift was also created in my consciousness when I watched the documentary, ‘The inconvenient truth’,” recalled Mirza

In a chat with environmentalist Abhiir Bhalla for the Candid Climate Conversations podcast, she also shared how visiting a tiger forest in Madhya Pradesh made her understand the challenges of ecology conservation. Mirza expressed, “I learnt about the compulsions of the forest rangers, how dangerous it is for them to face the threats of the wild, poachers and encroachers. Associating with people like Bittu Sehgal who runs the Sanctuary Nature Foundation and Vivek Menon who is the CEO of the Wildlife Trust Of India made me realise the huge gap that exists between what climate scientists were talking about and what children were learning in schools. Such issues are also completely ignored by the mainstream media and it is around this time that I decided that I could be a bridge between science, policy and the general public. This is how, over 15 years ago, I started working for the environment.”

Five years ago, while shooting the series Ganga, The Soul Of India, Mirza saw how polluted some of the most eco-sensitive environments are with plastic waste. Thinking back, she said, “I was using this great opportunity to not just highlight the cultural or environmental aspect of the river but also the fact that it supports the lives and livelihood of over four million people. And then I saw millions of pieces of plastic in the most pristine environments and I wondered where all this was going to go because these areas had no waste management systems, and when the locals burn the waste, it ends up contaminating the air, the soil and also entering our food chain. That was a huge trigger and I felt a deeper sense of urgency about doing something about this. I remember when I had my first meeting with UNEP (UN Environment Programme) in South Africa just after I was appointed the national goodwill ambassador, I suggested a really strong powerful global campaign addressing plastic pollution and I was told that this was exactly what we were going to be working on next!”

Mirza believes her education played a big part in shaping her as a sensitive individual and feels it is very important that the youth are sensitised early to climate change. “We are consumed by capitalism and material success because we are trained to think that way. But all of that adds up to nothing because what transcends everything is our identity as citizens of this planet. Everything that we have or claim to own comes from the planet. And we must respect that,” she underlined.

Mirza also believes that the synergy between individuals, civil society, policymakers and grassroots organisations is critical in creating a groundswell of change. She remarked, “Kids for Tiger programme was launched after a giant push was made to include and involve young people. Today we have the power of social media and some people are willing to invest in the environment and wildlife campaigns. I think PETA has also played a very big part in helping people understand how bad testing on animals is. There’s a very big part that organisations play in increasing people’s awareness about issues. For instance, just the gesture of carrying my own water bottle all over the world has spread the message of sustainability and I feel so grateful that so many people have followed suit. I also don’t think we would have had the win with the Aarey forest in Mumbai if it wasn’t for the participation and incredibly consistent efforts of the local NGOs, civil society and also celebrity supporters.”

Mirza has also been looking at data and statistics and is encouraged by the level of participation by young people who are in turn mounting more pressure on governments, policymakers and industry than, perhaps, ever before. However, she added, “Still, our gains are so few in contrast to the larger picture. We have a very long way to go. Climate change is still not an electoral issue and only those platforms that are independent have been asking the right questions and have been linking natural disasters with climate change. Climate change needs to become a political issue. Only then will people start talking about it. The media also needs to mainstream this conversation. There is enough data to show how much we would gain if we work with nature rather than against it.”

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