On getting back our sense of kinship and intimacy with the environment

On Earth Day (April 22), Saswati Paik highlights the need to strike a balance between development and moving towards a sustainable environment.

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One of the first conditions of happiness is that the link between man and nature shall not be broken.”

Leo Tolstoy

Image credit: Saswati Paik

On January 28, 1969, a shocking environmental disaster unfolded. An oil pipeline burst off the coast of California, releasing over 3 million gallons of oil into the ocean near Santa Barbara. The devastating Santa Barbara oil spill resulted in the deaths of thousands of birds, fish, and intertidal invertebrates. Additionally, many dolphins, elephant seals, and sea lions were affected.

President Nixon visited Santa Barbara on March 21, 1969, witnessing the spill and the ongoing cleanup efforts. Around the same time, Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin, known as the Conservation Governor,” observed the 800 square-mile oil slick from an airplane. This experience inspired him to propose a national day dedicated to environmental education: Earth Day in 1970.

On April 22, 1970, more than 20 million Americans participated in Earth Day events, emphasizing the importance of environmental awareness and action. In 2008, Indian poet and diplomat Abhay Kumar penned the Earth Anthem.” Rooted in the Indian philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (meaning The World is One Family”), this anthem celebrates our interconnectedness and shared responsibility for our planet.

Meanwhile, last year, during Deepawali, a concern was highlighted in the media regarding air pollution across India, especially in metro cities like New Delhi.

Around that time, during an interaction, some people in Bengaluru said that air pollution is a concern for New Delhi, not Bengaluru, and did not bother about the consequences of bursting crackers in Bengaluru. But does air recognize political boundaries? And why do we sometimes ignore environmental pollution?

A few days back, at a beach in Puri, Odisha, I noticed a mother encouraging her kid to throw plastic bottles into the water. The kid seemingly enjoyed the sight of the bottles floating along the waves. After a while, both the mother and kid left the beach, leaving behind those plastic bottles. I collected those and threw them into the nearby dustbin.

This experience prompted more questions: How are we educated about our environment? Do we truly prioritize learning about environmental issues through school curricula, especially in subjects like Environmental Studies or Geography?

The culture of kinship with other creatures on Earth has perhaps become subdued through societal transformation, industrial development, and rapid urbanisation. The sense of kinship and intimacy with our environment has been largely blurred due to the material developments around us. 

However, there are glimmers of hope. During a field visit in Karnataka, I encountered an enthusiastic Head Teacher in a government school. This teacher allocated plants to students of different grades. Each student was responsible for maintaining and nurturing their assigned plant. Through this process, students gained an understanding of the stages and factors associated with a plant’s growth. This initiative could easily evolve into a broader environmental education activity, engaging local communities in caring for our shared environment.

The culture of kinship with other creatures on Earth has perhaps become subdued through societal transformation, industrial development, and rapid urbanisation. The sense of kinship and intimacy with our environment has been largely blurred due to the material developments around us.

Image Credit: Saswati Paik

The children of today are our future citizens. Their learning and practices will impact the future of this planet. When children start formal education in school, from their primary classes they are introduced to planet Earth and human interactions with the immediate environment on this planet. They learn about scientific innovations and modern technology, the occurrence of large-scale exploitation because of increased demand for resources which further influences the environmental ecological structure.

They also learn about the deterioration of the environment and the fever of planet Earth. Some of the symptoms of planetary fever include shrinking glaciers, shifting plant and animal ranges, sea level rise, more intense heat waves, and stronger hurricanes. 

All such issues are associated with human interaction with the environment leading to unplanned development and over-exploitation of all resources. At this point, various confusions emerge. What is the right aspect to choose — development or sustainable environment? How do we balance these two aspects and change the situation towards a better future? These are questions that occupy us at Azim Premji University too! See some of our initiatives listed at the end of this post.

We need to get our kinship with the environment back, which may help us make a better environment on a better planet with better education. Happy Earth Day!

About the Author

Saswati Paik teaches educational policies and school systems as part of the MA in Education programme at Azim Premji University. She is a geographer and has a keen interest in practicing interdisciplinary approaches in teaching and research.

Featured image — earth​day​.org


  1. 20 Earth Day Facts You Should Know, Readers’ Digest
  2. www​.earth​anthem​.net
  3. sbearth​day​.org

Our University’s Initiatives