The many scientists who for long have been rigorously working on climate change have now shouted from the hilltop — “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land” and that the world is heading towards a disaster if the current ways of the humankind continue unabated.
The IPCC report minced no words in telling us that climate change is real, with its effects showing up in real-time — flash floods, droughts, glaciers melting, intense heat waves and wildfires. But if only 1.07°c (estimated) of temperature increase from pre-industrial levels has opened the Pandora’s box, we can only imagine what else might be in store for us. The Paris Agreement target of keeping the temperature under check and presumably to 1.5°c will most likely be impossible to maintain with the current greenhouse gas (GHG) levels.
Effect on India
For India, which is already reeling under the impact of coronavirus, the stress of an impending unstable climate will become an additional burden if global warming continues. The economy which is trying to pick up the pace will be pushed back with each new tide of natural disaster. The changes in the monsoon and precipitation levels will hugely affect the agrarian sector that is still largely dependent on the annual rain cycle. India with its unique geophysical configuration is susceptible to most of the other effects too like intense heatwaves, humid stress, droughts, and coastal area flooding.
Carbon sinks, which are the natural carbon sequesters like forests and oceans, would soon become inefficient in slowing down the atmospheric CO2. This means that we need to have more afforestation, revisit our agricultural practices and have government policies that actively work towards reduction of CO2.
While it has been said that climate change is an equaliser as it affects all, it is important to note that its intensity varies. While some landlocked States might feel increased heat, some tiny island nations like Tuvalu will cease to exist in its present form with the rising sea level. Some of the Pacific nations, which are bearing the brunt of climate change with sinking topography and recurring cyclones are also combating challenges like freshwater scarcity and population relocation.
The continuously rising number of wildfires in the world that burned down human belongings have also engulfed many animals in its flames and killed birds with its smoke.
The delicate balance of the riverine ecosystem has been affected by the recurring floods. With the impact that it will have on the lives and livelihood of the human population surrounding it, it will also spell disaster for vulnerable species of flora and fauna that depend upon climate stability. What we need to understand is that life and environment are the facets of the same coin and that with environmental degradation comes poverty tagging along epidemics and the start of the civilisational downfall.
While the historically biggest polluters have achieved high standards of living, their expectation of having the developing countries adhere to the global protocols of sustainability makes for an uneven bargain. But, we should look at it as an opportunity to innovate and make new inroads in the way development can be done without the associated environmental degradation. We should also be wary of the extravagant approach of the West, which seems to be seeping down into a utilitarian nation like India. In the quest to reach the high table, we must not forget our roots.
If we look at the collective cultural aspects of Indians, we’ll find that almost all of the religious beliefs, traditions and folklore point us to having a balanced relationship with our environment. We keep Earth on the same pedestal as our mothers, because we know it is bountiful and sustains life. It is the reverential treatment of nature that most of our cultural practices still pertain to, that sets us apart from the world.
Be it mythology where Krishna asks the villagers to pray to Mount Govardhan (which was the provider of life for their village) or myths of forest spirits or the folklore of local deities assigned for elements of nature, the focus was always on respecting the environment and passing down the practices for generations to come. Festivals like the Baisakhi, Sankranti, etc, showed the folks to pay obeisance to the changing seasons and understand the importance of it.
India’s many forest dwellers and indigenous tribes show their ardent respect for their surroundings. Mountains and rivers are deemed sacred. The fauna also enjoys reverential status with many trees and plants revered as sacred and important. The concept of Ahimsa, further promulgated by Jainism and Buddhism, showed how important it is to know our place in nature and avoid harming any living creatures that are a part of it.
The relationship that humans enjoyed with other aspects of nature is seen in the various cave paintings, where the canvas is filled with the fauna. What the present generation encounters is usually conveyed in the limited number of emojis on the phone. With technology disrupting even social aspects of life, we see that the main aspect of the Indian culture, that is to uphold nature, is being lost, and the festivals and the lore, with each generation, are becoming a social obligation and bedtime stories taken at face value.
With the divide between forests and cities increasing, we have become strangers with the spirit of nature. The old folklore has started to make less sense and the mythologies that were the drivers of propagating the psyche of nature-worshipping have been turned down in lieu of unabated mindless development.
What we need is a going back to our roots, practising what has been passed down and providing it as a case study to the rest of the world to learn. The governments will do the high table talk, but it is also on us, as individuals, to be part of the solution. We need our own kind of Chipko movement in our daily life where we hold onto practices that will help in our fight against climate change. A movement as small as not using single-use plastic, understanding our carbon footprint or shifting to electric vehicles might go a long way in this uphill battle. Now when we know that every tonne of CO2 adds to global warming it becomes imperative that we are conscious of our impact on the world.
Once we raise our bowed heads away from our phone and look at the birds above, we’ll know we aren’t just responsible for ourselves, but a whole lot more.
(The author is pursuing MBA in Sustainable Development and Management, Nalanda University)
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