The following conversation comes from this Free Thoughts on Iran;
I very much liked your article and see your point in how each of us can help. But in practice, I find it really difficult to talk about these issues with people living in Iran. Many people have this attitude that talking about the environment is a luxuary in Iran, where there are so many other unsolved concurrent problems, and it’s really hard to convince them that they can work for different things at the same time.
Yasaman at March 23, 2004 04:40 PM [permalink]:
Unfortunately, as Somayeh pointed out many Iranians believe that saving the environment is a luxuary but the fact is that real victims of degradation of nature are peasants. Conisder a woman working up to her knees in paddy fields for hours, struggling with rheumatism. A flood can ruin all her crop over night, leaving her family destitute. There were such people who started the CHIPKO movement in India. Despite the heavy rain during monsoon in India average victims of flood per million people is about 1 every year, which is half the similar number in Iran. I hope by discussing the experience of other nations, the attitude of Iranians towards protecting the nature will change.
Thanks a lot for bringing up this important issue. I very much agree with you, that saving the environement is not a luxuary thing, that people in Iran can not afford. As you mentioned there are already real issues that concern the lives of everyone. And in near future these problems will be more serious. It is very unfortunate, while a lot of people in the world have realized the criticallity of this issue, some governments (Like Iran’s and US) neglect protection of environment for their immediate interest. A friend once told me, destroying the environment is the biggest crime of all, since you are destroying something that belongs to everyone in all the generations to come.
I believe no one has any doubts about the validity of the point that Yasaman has made. I have a comment on the luxuriance issue though. In principle, everybody from every social/economical background can be/live environment-friendly. However, one cannot deny the fact that thinking about the environment is luxirious for average Iranian. I want to give an example that does not fit here completely, but may give you some idea. If you have seen Rakhshan Banietemad’s documentary “Our Times”, you certainly noticed the contrast she tried to accentuate between the demands of poor and rich classes in society. She makes this observation that freedom (which I believe is more important than enivronmental issues) is a luxurious demand of the rich people as oppose to poor people who are fighting for survival every minute. Although I do not fully agree with the point of view, there is a sad truth to it if you try to look from a different angle. When I reflect on the matter, I can not help but acknowledge the similarities.
Actually, there is a website designed by “saazmaane mohite zist” (www.irandoe.org). In this website, they claim they are implementing some basic projects to protect the nature. I do not want to be naive and believe that since they have set up this fancy website, they are right. On the other hand, I do not want to be cynical and say whatever “these people” say is a lie (the fact is that there are counterexamples like the mass vaccination or the literacy movement). The media has to investigate the issue to find out whether they are doing their the job or not. This is what reporters do in the US and I hope someday they will do in Iran. 40 years ago, such discussions were considered a luxury even in the US. A group of dedicated environmentalists changed their attitude.
I think the ones that finally can make a diference are NGO’s and a strong governmental organization who can prevent destructive projects nationwide.People may talk in grass-root level as you said but they can’t come up with the correct setting of the problems and solutions.It needs a huge amount of professional work and dediacation of time and money to figure out the big picture of how things affect each other in different eco-systems of Iran and what could be the possible solutions. This is a great project that needs financial and human resources. Of course alert and well-informed people can always show good resistant against destructive projects and probably even donate for environmental studies!!
One of my family members in Esfahan, just made a contract with a company to destroy her house with it’s beautiful old garden including an old walnut tree, to build a tall apartment complex. The idea is that they can live in one of the units and each of their children will also have their own, it will also pay off the expenses and they can have an extra one to rent so they can retire and live happily ever after. Sounds familiar? How many times have you heard of such stories? Almost everybody I know has gone through similar experiences. I really can not stop my sorrow when I think how our cities are transformed in to these ugly, polluted, populated places. I can not blame ordinary people when it is almost impossible for young couples to afford their own housing not to think of a broader picture but honestly not all these cases are out of demand or even the only way out, I think it is more the mindset of people that is pushing in this direction. For example a person who pays to have a luxurious apartment in towers of northern Tehran where lots of trees are cut and gardens are destroyed, is definitely not a poor person.
Some gardens are destroyed to be replaced with apartments, some pieces of forest are cleared to be converted to farms. We cannot do much about it. But there are other cases that trees are broken for no good reason. I have seen many kids and even grown-ups that shake young trees and break them just because “they feel like it.” Talking and discussing about such issues can put an end to this kind of behaviour.
Start with yourself and look around you, try to improve your own direct environment. Then talk to your neighbours and tell them what they can improve in their environment. As i travelled through the north off iran last october i saw little awareness of cleaning things up, and that is where it starts not at NGO`S or other instances. As I walked on the beach in chalus,it was only rubbish that i saw,and maybe the sea was polluted but it sure wasn`t the only thing. Consumption may be relatively low in Iran, but with this attitude i wouldn`t like to imagine how things look like with a higher consumption as things go beter in Iran. Of course this is not an unique problem of iran it happens in many developping country`s, but it is such a pity they all make the same mistakes. Off course there are a lot of things that can not be solved by individuals but if nobody cares, it will not be solved by anyone. So the first thing is awareness, and that starts in your own backyard.
I had some comments on what ref Lexxo has mentioned. First, I think that NGO’s are built to organize the activities of people pursuing similar goals and certainly increasing public awareness at any level about any issue, of course including the environmental issues, can be among such goals. Second, I think environmental activities can be (and should be) followed at many different layers, family, neighbourhood, city, country and even the whole globe, and at different levels, social, cultural and if possible policital (and governing bodies). Such activities are not exclusive and often times they are complementary. Unfortunately it seems that developed countries have not so better records on large scale pollutions which, to my mind (morally) is worse than dropping rubbish on the streets of the city that you yourself live in. Of course the latter in any way does not justify the former and vice versa.