Consider a hypothetical situation, if a part of your house catches fire, would you douse off the flame or wait for it to consume your entire house? The answer seems pretty evident, right? Well, as it turns out it’s not hypothetical anymore. The Earth has caught the flame, and we have at most 7 years to prevent a full-scale extermination. About forty-eight years have passed since Climate Change became news, with little or no reaction from the species causing it.
The UNFCCC defines “climate change” as a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.
The Earth’s climate has changed throughout history. In the last 650,000 years there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat, with the abrupt end of the last ice age about 11,700 years ago marking the beginning of the modern climate era — and of human civilization. Most of these climate changes are attributed to very small variations in Earth’s orbit that change the amount of solar energy our planet receives. What makes the current wave of change significant is that this one is caused by human activities, and has drastic consequences for the planet, posing similarities to that of the end of the Cretaceous Period which caused the dinosaurs to go extinct.
The impact of the current phase of climate change impacts us on two levels- Direct and Indirect.
The Direct can be studied as Causes:
Rising maximum and minimum temperatures( upto 4 degrees Centigrade at the present rate), Rising sea levels, loss of 427 Gigatonnes of glacial sheets per year, Increase in Carbon Dioxide concentration up to 414 parts per million, Distorted and unpredictable precipitation patterns (heavy or no rain), Thawing permafrost, and so on.
The Indirect can be analyzed in the form of Consequences:
Increased magnitude of hunger and water crises, especially in developing countries, Multiple health hazards due to increased temperature, skin cancer, Economic implications of dealing with secondary catastrophes, Increasing spread of pests and pathogens, Loss of biodiversity, Ocean acidification due to increased HCO3 concentrations in the water as a consequence of increased CO₂ concentrations.
Since the first Environment Day in 1972, every decade a new Treaty/Action Plan is signed by the countries of the World, the last two being the Convention on Biological Diversity Plan(2010) and The Paris Agreement(2015). The list of signatories of the aforementioned pacts goes to an astounding 197 countries, including war-torn Syria. About CBDP, the UN confirms that not one of the 20 goals set by the countries are on their path to fruition as of 2020, which was kept as a deadline. The same can be said about the Paris Agreement, with disappointing yet unsurprising developments like the United States’ withdrawal from it.
Considering the specific case of India, despite being an active member of the Environment Sustainability Forum, and having a vigilant NGT(National Green Tribunal), the movement for climate change finds almost no firm ground in its policies. Rampant environmental exploitation by leading industrialists, corruption within the system, inefficient and outdated policies, present the ultimate hindrance to any progress. Rather than scaling progress, the situation is worsening. For instance, EIA(2006) notification, which served as a protective shield between the environment and the severe impairment done to it by industrialists in the name of development was shattered through the recent EIA draft Act(2020).
Ignorance on the part of the citizens also acts a catalyst to the damage. A large chunk of the population remains either unaware of the shortcomings of the present or are blissfully indifferent to it. Environmental studies is limited to textbooks wherein mentions of daily challenges, ideas, and movements are left out as it doesn’t contribute to the evaluation system.
Environmentalists such as Anadish Pal, Licipriya Kangujam, Medha Patkar, Sunita Narain, Chandi Prasad Bhatt, Vandana Shiva, Sunder Lal Bahuguna, Amrita Devi, Rajendra Singh, Jadav Payeng, and many more remain unheard of, and at times prosecuted for standing up for all of us. Fridays for Future, has undoubtedly found international repute and voice, thanks to Greta Thunberg, and the voice of a coming generation has been conveyed. However, even in our gratitude, we have to extend that same support to our Indian environmentalists, and join them in the cause. It’s a fight for our collective existence, a fight where our unity must reign supreme, and yet, we’re scattered by petty distinctions created by ourselves and goaded on by those who benefit from them.
For a long time, it was difficult to make people believe in science, as if it were not the reality we lived in. The advent of Covid-19 has somewhat made people conscious. Since we believe in Virology now, it’s time to believe Environmental Science as well; because we may run out of that option in a matter of years. All said and done, we have to undertake the responsibility to ensure we have a tomorrow. If that means we have to rise up for it individually, so be it. If 1 billion humans believe “I will make a difference regardless of what the others do”, we still have 1/8th of the world fighting for a singular cause.
It brings us to a valid question: What can we do?
At an Individual level, we can work towards, Passive reduction of indoor temperatures, Reduction in food and water wastage, Expansion of walking, Bicycling as a mode of transport.
At Community levels, we can pool for, Water conservation and rainwater harvesting, Reversing land degradation, Waste segregation and recycling, Forest conservation and proactive afforestation, Increased electrification replacing conventional sources.
Nationally, we must push for, Low impact urban development, Better Environment Control Laws, Expansion of urban green spaces and urban farming, Pollution control, Increasing the area under irrigation and improving the efficiency of agricultural water use, Construction of coastal embankments and mangrove restoration, Improvement in disaster response, Phasing out fossil fuels and transition to renewables, Improvement in public transport infrastructure, Groundwater regulation, and Carbon taxation.
This Climate week, let us resolve to unite and fix our collective present and future. For in the words of Antoine de St. Exupéry,
“We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”