We have 8 years and 6 months in our Carbon Budget. That means if we keep going on at the rate we are right now, we will finish up all our carbon within 8 years and 6 months. July 31 was our Carbon Offshoot day. That means on the 31st of July this year, we used up all the Carbon we were supposed to use this year. We only have 4 months left, and the fact that it just took us 8 was admirable. That is not true. We have 8 and a half years before everything starts slowing down and it sets off the cycle that will probably end up in the Third World War. Worried about the Immigrants now? You’re in luck — as more and more countries literally go under the ocean and become inhabitable, we’ll have more and more people piling up at the border, trying to survive, trying to find their luck in nations that are already struggling, literally because our previous generations, our own parents, finished up most of the resources we had. But in this moment, everything feels alright because the March update of Windows 10 lets your file explorer be black in colour.
As far as I remember, Jamia is a Central University and Fidel Castro was a die-hard pro poor Communist, at least he was supposed to be. With that historical precedent set, let me set the scene for you here: it is a hot afternoon in late July, in what is probably the hottest year the Earth has seen ever — for a few days, it got so hot in France that the cores of Nuclear Plants couldn’t be cooled and they had to shut the reactors down; and in this heat I was sitting inside the Castro Café — or, Uth Café, depending upon how big of a nerd you are — with a friend. She had to take her medicines after her meal, and I, being a true keyboard warrior for Environmental Causes, was carrying my faithful Borosil flask (you’ll be missed, Ludwig) with me. She decided to use the water in my flask to take her medicine, and when I took it out I realised it was empty. The next course of action, despite her insistence upon buying a bottle of water, was to get my flask filled. I find the inherent premise of buying water bottles flawed due to its simple economics: the more you buy bottles of water, the more you increase the demand for plastics in the larger market and the more the demand is, the more the supply is. Therefore, I prefer to carry a bottle everywhere, which is not recommendable when you walk into the almost five-star restaurant in Haveli Dharampura in Jama Masjid because they will look at you like you’re some hippy who refuses to understand how “normal society” works.
Once I came across a backpack on the internet that was made completely out of Jute. It was a Woodland bag, and it’s USP was that it was ‘environment friendly’ which was obviously them trying to get privileged nerds like me to come to their website, and the moment the link opened I was not disappointed. The price tag read 2000. And for the next hour, my roommates saw me launch into a rant and unravel like a horse that has been let loose somewhere in the high plains of Mongolia, or in other words, I lost my [word redacted]. They’d seen me smugly complain, but they hadn’t seen me be this; this is the part of me that throbs with anxiety whenever I take an auto and try to calculate how much Carbon I’m going to use up and how I’m going to be the messenger of the doomsday. On that day they realised how much a human being can biologically smugly complain. Capitalism, I said in a haze, was appropriating the Environmental cause. It has bought the whole conservationism thing and made it so inaccessible to people they would not even be interested. A leather backpack in today’s day and age 1500 ki aati hai and it’s stylish and mature (it’s actually a 1000, that guy was robbing you or something) and you have to pay 2000 rupees, a good 2.5% of my father’s monthly income to be environmentally conscious. The cost of production wouldn’t even be 300 rupees. It’s Jute. I’ve been around enough Jute. I know how it works. The fact that this bag, or even organic products in the market are so expensive ends up damaging the conservation cause. If it’s so expensive people are forced to eat and breathe and wear what is being produced on Henry Ford’s beloved conveyor belt and that comes at the cost, and that cost is that forests the size of Great Britain have been cut off the Amazon Rainforest and a cloud the size of the whole European Union is hovering over Russia because there are wildfires in Siberia. It makes it interesting, arguing in favour of the Environment in Public, because that’s when you see people around you unravel, because none of us are willing to let go of our privileges — our Olas and our Ubers and our Air Conditioning because it’s going to kill the Earth. When people around you unravel, you see for yourself how they’re willing to sacrifice everything because they have to hold on to their privilege. It’s like seeing the orchestra still playing while the Titanic plunges into the cold waters of the Atlantic; people are aboard a planet that’s going to be all water in a few years and they still find an hour under an Air Conditioner more convenient. There’s something really unsettling about this, and people all around are too ignorant to even care.
Anyway, enough with the moral preaching and back to the story, because you’ve probably skipped the last paragraph because it was too long.
So, I went to the water cooler at the backside to fill it up and I found the taps on the water cooler in disuse, and I tried pressing them till the base of my palm hurt to no avail. So the next option was to ask them to fill the bottle, which they have multiple times beforehand. I went to the counter, and I was refused flat out. They said they didn’t have water to fill my bottle up with.
I have been refused in this manner by many people in Delhi, mostly shopkeepers; but I didn’t expect this in a Canteen inside the premises of a Public University. Drinking water is a universal right and not even a Five-Star Hotel can deny you this right for free. The question of morality doesn’t arise here, because it’s a question of legality. They couldn’t refuse me. So, out of all options and with a friend who needed to have their medicine immediately, I had no option but to buy a 10 rupee bottle of water and take it to her. I was enraged in that moment. I didn’t know what to do. If they didn’t have drinking water in that moment, there are two possibilities that arise here:
1. They actually didn’t have water, which means everything we eat or drink at Castro that requires water is made out of water that cannot be consumed.
2. They refused to give me water because they wanted me to buy it from them.
Both the arguments here are problematic, the first one more openly so. If they didn’t have potable water, what did they do when they were thirsty or what water is my Fresh Lime being made in? The second one here, works in a more skewed since because our privilege allows us to buy a 10 rupee bottle of water, but it becomes problematic when you look at it from the Environmental point of view: by buying that one bottle of water, you’re increasing your own consumption of plastic, and as a consequence, your own carbon footprint. Now you might be making an exception, but in the macroeconomic sense, you’re another blip on the graph. For the seller, you are one sale, and for the company you’re another bottle sold and so on and so forth. Upon these numbers the demand for a certain commodity, in this case a bottle of water, will be evaluated and the budget given to bottles will be decided accordingly; which means you’re one bottle more, and consequently, a little more plastic. It’s simple economic behaviour, which becomes problematic because the agenda is being pushed, and there is more pressure on governments to accept plastic and that plastic ends up inside, say, the Porto Cervo whale, who had 22 lb. plastic inside her when she washed up and died, pregnant. Coca Cola and Pepsico have officially left the Plastics lobby, but they didn’t let go of plastics. Companies like Exxon and Shell knew about the damage they were doing to the Earth in 1980, which amounts to 40 years now. And still, for a positive figure at the end of the economic year, they decide to push forward their agenda, completely ignorant, to this date, about what they are doing to the resources of the Earth and other species that have a right as equal as ours to exist.
What worries me even more is what it means for the ideological space of the University: capitalism, is on the rise. All of our canteens, JMI bakers excluded, keep bottles of Kinley, which is directly under Coca-Cola. It is just to increase one more bottle sale that the man at the counter refused to fill my flask up. Remember the paragraph I wasted talking about the Woodland bag? That’s where that steps in. The cause ultimately has its roots in capitalism. It is blatant capitalism in a space that is supposed to be equal in its treatment to everyone; a space where the poorest of the poor can get an education, and a good one at that. My privilege allowed me to buy the bottle, somebody might not be able to do that.
Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.
-Srajit M Kumar
Department of History and Culture, JMI