Thursday 6 September 2012

a green travel fling : india

Advance apologies for any errors/incomplete thoughts in this post, I'm currently battling internet issues and wanted to get something uploaded before I'm offline for a couple weeks.

I've just departed incredible India - what an amazing experience!

Truth-be-told, it took me a few days to remember to pay attention to sustainability issues on this leg of my journey. As anyone who has visited India can attest, one's first visit to this spectacular country threatens to overwhelm your senses. The terrific combination of sights, sounds and smells are at once utterly foreign and completely familiar, and at times a little too much for this Aussie-American gal who was a popular target for sales pitches.

Of course it only took a couple days for me to start processing my environmentalist thoughts, and I found my mind trying to wrap itself around the many conflicting issues I was witnessing.

Some quick stats to get you up to speed:
  • 1.2 billion current population
  • 33% of Indians live below the poverty line
  • 580 million expected middle class population by 2025 after a growth spurt of 12 times the 2005 levels
  • Ranks 4th in global carbon emissions at 5.83% of global emissions. China is first (23.5%), followed by the USA (18.27%) and the European Union (13.98%)
  • Ranks 145th in global carbon emissions per capita. Carbon emissions per capita at 1.4 metric tonnes. In comparison, Qatar 53.5 (ranked 1st), Australia 18.9 (11th), USA 17.5 (12th)
  • Energy sources 42% coal, 24% oil, 24% biofuels and waste, 7% natural gas, 2% other renewables, 1% nuclear
In short, it's a large country using a lot of energy, but not much per capita. There is a poverty problem and at the same time a rapidly growing middle class, destined to be a huge consumer group.  Yet while the environmental impact of the rising middle class is a concern for environmentalists, when you begin to understand the depth of the poverty problem in this country, and see it firsthand, it makes it hard to really focus on the environmental concerns. I am not an expert in this area, so I don't want to comment too much on the topic (though I welcome feedback and thoughts, it's a lot to think about), but even as a diehard greenie I found billboards about 'greening your city' to be particularly in poor taste when placed directly above a large slum (I'm afraid I don't have a photo of this, but I'm not making it up, I saw it in Mumbai).

This doesn't mean we can ignore environmental concerns in this country. As discussed with some fabulous guests at a homestay in Wayanad (they were avid travels, and he was an environmental law professor among other impressive eco-credentials), it's so imperative for the government and communities to put in place sustainability initiatives and systems that take care of environmental issues. So many people are just striving to eat and stay safe and healthy, it shouldn't be their responsibility to 'green' their lives.

And if I could send one message to the growing middle class - please make your consumption choices sustainable ones!  I'm so happy that more people in India are becoming educated and have stable jobs and greater financial security, and I hope that you can be a good influence on the rest of us middle class consumers to think sustainably in our choices. Don't follow the lead of the past consumers from America, Australia and Europe, start a new trend in sustainable consumption!

Maybe a eco-themed Bollywood flick or soap opera with a stylish and sustainable star is just the ticket - what do you think?

Here are a few of the eco-things I managed to do or see while in India - it wasn't easy to find these options, so I hope next time I come to India there is an increase in availability of these types of activities and shops, though it's great to see they are making an appearance.
  • Green Palm certified houseboat on Kerala's backwaters c/o EcoTours Kerala
  • Self-canoe around the backwaters (as opposed to a motor boat)
  • Ecoutree Fair Trade shop in Fort Cochin
  • Plastic Ban at Edakal Caves
  • Eco-initiatives at Tranquil Resort (refillable shampoo bottles, refillable water bottles, many opportunities to get in touch with nature on 12 trails around the coffee plantation)
  • Eco-shops or eco-aware shops in Mumbai shopping centre
Lovely backwaters . . .

Welcome-aboard coconut!
I got a fab wrap/scarf and two bangles in this shop in Fort Cochin

Beautiful arcenut plantation near our homestay in Wayanad

Plastic ban area in a cave parkland area - love it!

Eco-aware beauty shop in Mumbai

Meditation/yoga shop in Mumbai encouraging recycling and composting.
On a side note, while I was in India researching and holidaying, my fellow eco-fashionista Carlie from Indigo Bazaar has been sourcing suppliers for the next season of goodies for the online shop. Check out the store now if you haven't already, and I can't wait to see what goodies Carlie comes back with!

Next stop: Africa. I'll be on safari and taking in an eco-island restreat, and I'm sure I'll have much to discuss.

And watch for my mini-blog on the Angry Elephant coming soon . . .