“DHARTI – MA”, or “MOTHER EARTH” are words that our generation grew up with and got so used to that we seldom look back to wonder about the wisdom of our forefathers to akin earth to the closest person we have in our lives. Coined in an era where farmer’s livelihood depended on his crop and weather, when every day he felt just as vulnerable and as much at ease with nature as any small child did with his mother. Since then we took a few generations to create our concrete jungles and the current disconnect with mother and mother nature. Today, it’s not that we love our mothers any less than previous generations, it’s just that our own apartment in the concrete jungle has got too small to accommodate a mother to stay with us or a plant bigger than bonsai tree inside our homes. So mother’s cease to be part of our daily lives and trees are more often seen on TV’s. Lives reduced to occasional token visits to our mother or nature reserves. Reduced to the superficials….
Therein lies the genesis of the malaise that afflicts us today. Mahatma Gandhi once said “there is enough to feed the world but not enough to feed the greed in us”. And so the path we have chosen is slowly cutting away our oxygen supplies by depleting our forests, contaminating our rivers and oceans, melting the poles and polluting our environment. The impact ? Quite possibly, extinction of between a third and three quarter of all species within next 3 to 4 decades !! Low lying islands are expected to get drowned with rising sea levels just like desertification and extreme climatic conditions will wipe off number of villages around the world. Without children around our mothers are known to get old quicker, but mother nature is dying by having us too much of us around and our murderous ways.
I find it ironical that COP17 (the 17th meet of Conference of Parties) for climate change should be taking place in Durban – a city that promotes itself as “the warmest place to be”!! Living in Durban today is to have hundreds of words from the media and bill boards pouring in every day. In all this deluge, you start distinguishing two kinds of stories and the realization of this pattern shocks you enough to leave you dumbfounded. First are the stories of doom and gloom about a world gradually being pushed to the edge of extinct with an ever-increasing speed. Heart rending stories are being told of ordinary people whose lives are being destroyed on a daily basis due to climate changes. The second type of stories delve into the progress of the talks at this conference, where governments are negotiating to extend the Kyoto protocol beyond 2012, when it expires, (Kyoto Protocol is the only legally binding agreement among nations to keep control over the levels of greenhouse gas emissions to acceptable levels). As I write these lines, the conference is still in progress but there appears very little hope of the world agreeing on this one crucial issue that can literally save us all. The negotiations appear more like bickering of small children than mature people whom we elected to save our world. So we have USA – world’s biggest emitter refusing to sign unless China and India does. India and China, in turn wouldn’t sign unless US agrees to the revised per capita emission limits before they committed themselves. And so the “finger pointing” and blame game goes on and it is “climate politics” as usual. A chill runs down the spine as I realize what I am doing with my own finger. Are we all, like Mr Nero far too busy fiddling while Rome is getting burnt ?
A few years back there used to be a contrasting theory that global warming is a nature’s phenomenon and all this talk about putting limits on gas emission is a ruse by the developed country to keep other countries from developing. Thankfully, science has debunked this theory and there is a universal agreement and overwhelming evidence that our actions are directly impacting environment in a negative manner. The second myth that needs to be debunked is that climate change will impact some time in future and so we can isolate ourselves from this issue for now. Not so, it’s impacting our lives on our daily basis, once you get more aware. I am giving below a very short list of its impact on Africa and India.
1. Effects of climate change in Africa:
Perhaps the cruellest aspect of impact of climate change is that it affects poor nations far more than it does the rich nations who have caused this problem in the first place. This is so since:
1) large proportion of our population have low resilience to extreme climate events (flooding, fire, storms and drought) due to poverty; inadequate housing infrastructure and location.
2) poor countries can ill afford the huge damage costs due to extreme weather-related events and this will just keep increasing as the frequency and severity of these extreme weather events becomes worse.
3) due to poor health profile, Africans are specifically vulnerable to new or exacerbated health threats resulting from climate change. For example, some effects of climate change may already be occurring due to changes in rainfall (droughts and floods) and temperature extremes and Cholera outbreaks have been associated with extreme weather events, especially in poor, high density settlements.
4) Farming especially – small scale farming – will be deeply impacted with reduction of water due to significant changes in rainfall pattern. On the other hand, rising sea levels and extreme weather patterns will impact people living in coastal areas. As the situation worsens in the rural and coastal areas migration will increase towards the cities – and from other countries of Africa into the more opulent South Africa.
There are far too many other areas of impact to be listed here. Some examples of its impact in South Africa are : maize production in summer rainfall areas and fruit and cereal production in winter rainfall areas may be badly affected pushing up prices further. Our biodiversity will be severely impacted, especially the grasslands, fynbos and succulent Karoo where a high level of extinction is predicted. And the list goes on…
2. Effects of climate changes in India:
Like Africa, 27.5% of the population in India still below the poverty line, who have extreme vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. With India already housing a third of the world’s poor and set to become the most populous nation in the world by 2045, the economic, social and ecological price of climate change will be massive.
Impacts are already being seen in the unprecedented heat waves, cyclones, floods, salinisation of coastline and effects on agriculture, fisheries and health.
Erratic monsoon will seriously effect rain-fed agriculture, peninsular rivers, water and power supply. Decreased snow cover, affecting snow-fed and glacial systems such as the Ganges and Bramhaputra since 70% of the summer flow of these rivers comes from melt water.
Rising sea levels causing displacement along one of the most densely populated coastlines in the world, threatened freshwater sources and mangrove ecosystems.
Studies indicate that over 50% of India’s forests are likely to experience shift in forest types, adversely impacting associated biodiversity, regional climate dynamics as well as livelihoods based on forest products.
Growing at an almost breakneck pace, and guzzling coal, gas and oil in large quantities, India is today, the fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases worldwide and poised to just make things worse in the days to come. India’s stand is that the climate change is due to cumulative impact of accumulated green house gases and not due to the current levels of emission – because of which the developed countries should compensate for their historical responsibility, and should make deeper cut in emissions. India has agreed for a voluntary reduction of green house gases up to 25% by 2020. Whether such stance is sufficient remains to be seen in the coming days.
3. What can we do?
Is it possible to “keep the coal in the hole and oil in the soil” without sacrificing imperatives of developments? The answer lies in alternate technologies be it solar, wind, tidal waves etc. Faced with extinction, we can hope humanity will come together (unlike the warring politicians) to pool in their creativity and find cleaner, cheaper source of energy that is accessible to all. It’s happening as we can see the dramatic reduction in cost of photo voltaic cells and other technologies. However the moot question is –is it happening fast enough? Time will tell if we succeed, but in the mean time we can all do few other things.
1. Become conscious of impact of climate changes taking place around you. Think about your habits compared to the tips we are bombarded on daily basis e.g. save water, electricity, recycle paper etc.
2. Talk about human stories that is coming out of climate change with your children and friends as way of creating consciousness. They are as dramatic and as heart rending as any block buster.
3. Become aware of your carbon foot print. Visit www.trees.co.za, they have a CARBON CALCULATOR that works out the impact your activity is having on climate and also gives the number of trees you need to plant to compensate. Website also facilitates you to plant those trees without dirtying our own hand.
4. Place a CARBON CALCULATOR on your company website (it is an open source program and your website developer should be able to get it done easily)and spread the message.
Remember the quote we heard as childrens & have forgotten long back “we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children”. Let’s not forget again. Our grand children and great grand children are watching us from where they are now, to see what we do with the world that we have borrowed from them. Let’s make them proud.
Wishing all our readers a happy & safe December vacation.
by Mohan Nair