World Environment Day 2011: First Impressions & Second Chances in India


All Photos: Ximena Prugue
This guest post is by Ximena Prugue, winner of the 2011 UNEP/TreeHugger World Environment Day blogging contest.

My first day in India for World Environment Day felt like my first day in high school--minus the braces and far less acne. Today felt something like an orientation about deforestation specifically in India and what's being done to stop it, or at least what should be done. The UN General Assembly declared 2011as the International Year of Forests (IYF). The declaration serves as a call to action to preserve and protect our forests as well as a rise of awareness of the importance of forests in our economy. With the advance in technology today, many of us forget how so many of our mundane everyday decisions directly affect the health of our forests. Technology, however, does not excuse us from our relationship to nature. I don't care how single you are!During a luncheon with the Ministry of Environment and Forests in India and the United Nations Environmental Programme, I couldn't help but feel like I was in the cafeteria scene from Mean Girls as I was learning who's sitting in the UNEP and MoEF table. In a whirlwind running from event to event, I've been trying to soak in every name and detail (and wipe every plate clean!).

At the UNEP table, there's Achim Steiner, the Executive Director at UNEP, or a much nicer Oxford-educated Regina George.

Steiner has been ED at UNEP since 2006 and launched the Billion Tree Campaign that same year, planting over 600 million trees thus far.

He's a man with a mission to get India on the renewable energy bandwagon, giving leading countries such as Germany, Denmark, and Spain a run for their money. In the early 80s, India reined the solar-powered sector. Somehow along the way, however, India slipped from their solar-power throne, leaving them behind in the renewable revolution. With India as this year's host for WED, it's a second chance to be crowned again as the world's leader in solar power. Seeing how much Germany has accomplished for a green economy in just 10 years, Steiner hopes to implement the same steps to get India back on track.

At the MoEF table, there's Minister Jairam Ramesh, the spitting image of Indian-cool, or what I like to call, confidence in a kurta.

Constantly swarmed by paparazzi, it's evident how much the Indian people want to hear what he has to say. Alongside Minister Ramesh is Secretary T. Chatterjee, an unassuming tall fellow who literally called me crazy for coming to India and starting my initiative, Giving the Green Light, completely on my own, but good crazy he says. Giving the Green Light is a non-profit organization I founded about a year ago that implements solar-powered lighting in rural India to replace kerosene lamps in an effort to relieve energy poverty. You can find out more information here about what we do.

If the Ministry of Environment and Forests in India was an international touring rock band, Ramesh would be the charismatic lead singer with a stage presence that mirrors that of Mick Jagger, and Chatterjee would be the brilliant low-key Jimmy Page equivalent guitarist.

Other attendees for World Environment Day 2011 events were Rahul Bose, a respected Bollywood actor with a knack for inspiring change and progress in India with an impressive track record of social activism. So much so that he challenged Don Cheadle and Giselle Bundchen that he can get more people from India to register events under his name for World Environment Day than both of them combined, appropriately naming it Bollywood vs. Hollywood. Gul Panag is another Bollywood actress and former Miss India involved in World Environment Day, planting trees alongside Bose at the Madiwala Lake forest inauguration.

The list of celebrities and honorable attendees grows as the days go by, and according to the schedule, today's nothing but a warm up for what's to come for World Environment Day in Incredible India. Stay tuned!

More on World Environment Day
World Environment Day Festivities Kick Off In Delhi: Reforestation Projects & A Great Green Haat
Whither Ecological Limits? Jairam Ramesh, Economic Growth & Energy Expansion

Tags: India

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