A collective gasp could be heard around the planet as millions watched live images of the fire at Notre-Dame on their television sets and social media. There was a widespread sense of dismay at the loss of an invaluable work of history and art. Rightly so. It seems everyone had an opinion, a memory or a piece of information to share even if they had never set foot in Paris. Politicians and the super rich went into a competitive frenzy, pledging over a billion dollars for its restoration much to the delight of their PR teams. If only the firefighters could be sent out with the same sense of urgency to douse a much bigger fire: the one ravaging the planet.
Notre-Dame de Paris, a medieval Catholic cathedral, is one of the most visited attractions on the planet, with an estimated footfall of over 13 million annually. We can rebuild this 13th century structure, and will get by even if we can’t. The Virgin Mary has many other buildings she can call home. But human beings, and all other life forms, have only one to call their own: the planet Earth. If we let it burn, we will have no other to live in. And then all history will cease to be written. For we will not exist.
We are at a moment in time when urgent collective action was the need of the hour decades ago. The problem is so huge that it is incomprehensible to most of us – the eye cannot fathom it and the brain cannot process it. Alarm calls by those who have analysed the problem are often drowned by either the ignorant or the self-serving interests of politicians, despots, big businesses and even certain media. These are the same people who have rushed to television studios to make themselves heard, promising to rebuild the iconic structure with their flashy cheque books. Millions of individuals were falling over themselves to be seen talking about Notre-Dame first on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp. The media themselves could not get enough of breaking the news.
Why can’t they do the same for the cause of the environment? Why don’t we headline the rapid decline of insect life so vital to all vegetation and the resulting food chain? Why don’t unnatural rates of melting of polar ice make it to the front pages? Why can’t the world be shown how this affects sea levels, salinity and currents across the five oceans putting survival of many a species at risk? Why isn’t there a call to cut consumption of everything – reduce is the only option. Recycle and reuse are only placebos; they do not make a significant dent on pollution levels. Why don’t we rage a war against use of plastic like we have against drugs? Why isn’t there a call to arms to restore populations of bees, butterflies and birds in our backyards to restore a sense of balance in Nature? Why aren’t we extending physical, moral and monetary support to activists and scientists who are voluntarily and selflessly trying to save the planet for all of us?
Can Notre-Dame become a symbol to restore all that we have lost? And to take better care of the planet for our own sakes?