Photographer: Jahid Apu


Reimagining Our Ecological Future:
Eliminating Pollution for a Thriving Planet

The Bengal deltaic ecosystem used to be one of the richest biodiversity hotspots on the globe. It is the home of famous poets and writers who have described the enchanted beauty of this place in numerous poems and novels. Even emperor Aurangzeb described Bengal as the ‘Abde Jannat’, the Nations of Paradise, in all its gazettes. Even during the 1970s, the capital city of Dhaka was serene and surrounded by marshlands, forests, and mighty rivers. The social metabolism of this place, the way the society produced materials and goods to fulfil its physical, cultural and communitarian needs, was localised entirely. Society had a complex network of ecologically sustainable production systems that helped reproduce human life and the rich biodiversity—the strong bonding of humans with nature defined Bangladeshi’s lifestyle in the past. 

This serene landscape of Dhaka started to transform rapidly into an urban sprawl with an onslaught of destruction of forests, marshlands and small riverlets. Dhaka was a small metropolis surrounded by rivers, and new land was developed, devouring the river ecosystems. The river ecosystem was destroyed by establishing highly pollutive industries such as leather, brick kilns, used lead-acid battery recycling facilities, and shipbreaking industries around the banks of the river. Moreover, due to the limited sewage system in Dhaka, the entire river ecosystem was turned into a dumping site. Moreover, with the emergence of plastics and polythenes in the 1980s, agricultural lands and rivers were pervaded by plastic waste. Recently, there has been widespread adoption of electronics and the use of lead-acid batteries in systems such as electric vehicles (three-wheelers), but their unsafe and informal recycling facilities are causing the presence of heavy metals in our water bodies, soil, air, and foods. In addition, the use of lead in consumer products like aluminium and ceramic cookware, paint, toys, spices, etc. is causing lead poisoning and putting human health at risk. The social metabolism of this place, that is, the production activity to sustain life, changed from a bonding with nature and the communities to a bonding with the industrial production system and their profit-oriented agendas. The nuclear families with extremely high throughput of materials without sharing commons are the result of a profit-oriented societal worldview and the materialist development paradigm. 

The human-to-human bond has been entirely replaced by a highly competitive and aggressive thrust for material acquisition. This inhuman development process has led to violent ecocide (the destruction of natural ecosystems), the destruction of communitarian values (sharing a common resource pool), and the pollution of our environment (air, soil, and water) with highly toxic heavy metals such as lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, etc. The entire food system, which used to be dependent on nature to produce abundant and diverse vegetation, fowl, and livestock, has changed into a highly pollutive industrial agriculture system.

A new development paradigm will require transitioning to a sustainable social metabolism system. This transformation is not possible through false technological solutions but through a societal shift towards a simpler lifestyle in harmony with nature and the community. Our entire production system that reproduces human life, such as our production of food, clothes, housing, transport and entertainment, needs to be transformed into a circular economic path. A circular economic path replaces our linear modes of production, from raw materials to production to waste to sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible. 

This new mode of life will require intellectual, political and social efforts, and if you are interested in taking leadership in this process of transformation, join the National Earth Olympiad (NEO) 2024 to challenge you to reimagine a zero-waste, zero-pollution, clean Bangladesh. Be a part of the 2000+ NEO alumni network and win the opportunity to internationally represent Bangladesh in the International Earth Science Olympiad (IESO) 2024.