06/20/2008, 00.00
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Healthier planet requires better quality of life for people

by Nirmala Carvalho
During the international Tunza 2008 congress, which gathers students and teachers from 105 countries, the spokesman of the Indian "Tarumitra" delegation stresses the close connection between "people and environment". CO2 emissions must be reduced, and alternative sources of energy sought.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) - Drastically reducing CO2 emissions, abandoning the use of carbon and emphasising alternative energy sources, returning to a simpler lifestyle close to nature, guaranteeing a better quality of life for people, especially in the Third World: these are some of the topics addressed during the summit organised by the United Nations and now underway in Satavanger, Norway, assembling students, parents, and teachers from 105 different countries.

A delegation of 21 Indian young people of the association "Tarumitra" - "Friends of the Trees", founded in Patna in 1988, and present today in thousands of schools and institutes in the country - is participating in the international Tunza 2008 congress.  The group is led by Fr Robert Athickal, a Jesuit and an expert in ecology, founder and director of the pro-environment student movement Tarumitra.

Speaking by telephone to AsiaNews, Fr Athickal, given an honorary degree in May by Holy Cross College in the United States for his commitment to the environment, illustrated the salient topics of the congress with special reference to India:

How much can the summit contribute to publicising environmental issues?

Conferences like this are held to sensitise children who will be the decision makers tomorrow. My perspective is that the contribution of the conference is to sustain what the kids are doing all over the world by giving them a sense of fellowship and support. For children from the third world, a conference like this is an eye opener to the lifestyle and world views of the people who live here.

What impact will this have on India?

Because there are only 21 participants from India, I think the conference will have limited impact. However, these children belong to Tarumitra, a network of over 1,200 schools and colleges in India. The messages will be passed around  though newsletters and interactions. The UN has given a special status to the children from Tarumitra, since their track record is as good as anybody's, if not better.

What is the situation with the environment in India today?

India is pursuing a development agenda, and it has no concern for what is happening to poor people, for environmental factors such as the forests, biodiversity, water use, etc. We are on a CO2-intensive development spree. The cry is for wider roads, even if one has to mow down all the trees in a city.

What are the possible initiatives for improving the situation?

The saving factor has been a tiny articulate minority of concerned people across the country. There is a direct connection between poverty and the deterioration of the environment: in order to improve the health of the planet, a better quality of life must at the same time be guaranteed for people.  Initiatives of this kind must be recognised, because they bring to the table young people from all of the world to talk about ecology, analysing the lifestyles in the various countries and the environmental aspects of these, the most pressing problems, the social imbalances and inequities.

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