THE report “New Zealand river recognised as ‘legal person’” (The Star Online, March 16) strikes a chord with me although I am neither a naturalist nor an environmentalist. In this day and age when nature has suffered grave damage due to extensive commercial and leisure activities, it is heartening to know that major headway is still possible when it comes to protecting the environment.
The local Maori tribe in New Zealand’s North Island finally won their hard-fought battle of 140 years to have the Whanganui River, or Te Awa Tupua, recognised legally as a living entity, which, according to Attorney-General Chris Finlayson “will have its own legal identity with all the corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a legal person.”
Revering Te Awa Tupua as their ancestor, the Whanganui people see themselves and Te Awa Tupua as one and the same. Their tenacity in fighting tooth and nail to protect their “ancestor” stems from their spiritual connection to the river that stretches back to the 1870s.
While that level of environmental activism and victory (a world first) may not happen on our shores (at least not in our lifetime), we can take a leaf from the Maori’s book and treat every single element from the natural environment as a living being. We may not feel the spiritual connection to nature but everything in nature is infinitesimally connected. Any transgression against nature will come back to haunt humans eventually.
The use of plastic microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products is just one example of these interconnections. These tiny, man-made beads have been around for more than a decade and numerous environmental advocacy organisations worldwide have been lobbying to ban their use. The non-biodegradable beads, as many as 300,000 of them in a container of facial cleanser, get washed down drains. Barely visible to the naked eye and with water treatment plants not designed to filter them, these beads end up in rivers, lakes and oceans worldwide.
According to Beat the Microbead, a campaign run by the Plastic Soup Foundation (an NGO accredited by the United Nations Environment Programme) which works for change on a global level to stop the increasing pollution of the oceans and seas by plastics, once these microbeads enter the marine environment, they are impossible to remove. Attracting and releasing toxins, they are passed along the marine food chain, ingested by sea creatures and, ultimately, likely absorbed by humans since we are at the top of the food chain.
From the products we use to the ways we manage waste, what we do individually on a daily basis collectively affects the environment and us, being part of that equation called nature. It goes beyond not leaving our plastic waste on the beach, adhering to “no plastic bags on Saturdays” or not using polystyrene boxes for takeaways.
If we would just take it upon ourselves to be more informed about what we put into our shopping bags and ultimately discard to the environment, each and every one of us in our own ways can do our concrete bit to collectively take care of Mother Nature.
Perhaps it’s time we took further the saying “Do unto other others as you would have others do unto you” and turn it to “Do unto nature as you would have nature do unto you”. We are, after all, one and the same.