Posts Tagged ‘copenhagen summit’

Hurricane Highway

December 11, 2009 Leave a comment

Driving down streets of India one notices a peculiar behaviour of pedestrians. A majority of them cross the road, with eyes averted from traffic. Sometimes it is a mad dash with eyes fixed on the opposite side. Sometimes it is a leisurely saunter with scarcely a glance at the oncoming traffic. There could be several reasons for the reckless behaviour – road congestion, dearth of zebra crossings and footpaths, a culture of jay walking, rash driving patterns and poor enforcement of traffic rules among them. The behaviour is extremely risky, based as it is on ‘blind’ faith in the eyesight and driving skills of motorists. One could get run over anytime….
Our attitude towards climate change is similar.

Climate Change – Initially we could only hear its rumble. Later it became visible like a speck on the horizon. Now that it has come closer, its speed and ominous proportions have become clearly discernible. Yet, many among us prefer to keep our eyes turned away, hoping that it will pass us by. Some hate it. Some are overeager to denigrate the supporting scientific evidence. Some refuse to acknowledge it. Among those who recognize the threat, many are reluctant to admit the role played by humans. However, if the ‘flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil can set off a Tornado in Texas’ (see Butterfly Effect Edward Lorenz), what unpredictable and catastrophic outcomes can result from our uninhibited and destructive exploitation of the environment? Unlike motorists watching out for pedestrians, climate change is a blind force and could run us over, unless we pay attention.

If we change ways, adopt environment friendly lifestyles, reduce dependence on conventional fuels and embrace renewable sources of energy, we can probably save ourselves. But “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is insanity” as Albert Einstein put it. Harbouring a false hope and continuing our present course could have disastrous consequences.

Rabindranath Tagore, in his poem “Where the Mind is Without Fear” hoped that India would “rediscover the clear stream of reason and awake into a heaven of freedom”. As the Copenhagen summit to reach an agreement on emission cuts is underway, I too wish that “nations broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls” would overcome their differences and galvanize into positive action.

Where The Mind is Without Fear

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
 – Rabindranath Tagore

Categories: Planetwatch

Planetwatch series – Ominous Convergence

November 17, 2009 Leave a comment

Although what follows is the description of an apocalyptic scenario, it is pure conjecture. Nostradamus, The Bible or Mayan calendar has little to do with it. It is not a prophesy. It may or may not come to pass. However, our current trajectory could bring us closer to the catastrophic situation presented here rather than lead away from it. Right now, a course correction is possible. Once this window of opportunity is gone, all we can do is sit back and watch a diabolic story of the planet unfold before our eyes. It might be futile to chronicle it since there might be no one left alive to read it.Climate change reports appear with increasing frequency in news papers and websites, often making headlines. Year 2009 which witnessed a series of cataclysmic climate change events is drawing to a close. Post year 2004 tsunami, there have been a spate of extreme weather events, particularly cyclones and flash floods across the world. The deleterious effects of climate change/ global warming such as sea level rise, flash floods, heat waves, droughts, glacier retreat, sea acidification, cyclonic storms, temperature rise, epidemics and loss of biodiversity are familiar to all. (Click here for the ipcc report summary). People who are dependent directly on the environment for a living, especially the poor, are the most afflicted. Ironically, they are the ones least responsible for the mess. Cities account for 75% of green house gas emissions, but are immune to the ill effects to a large extent. While debate and negotiations rage, livelihood of many are threatened, be it fishermen of Dharavi Island where mangrove forests are making way to Special Economic Zones or farmers in the Gangetic Delta whose land is eroding away. Climate change and global warming cannot be stopped now; at best it can be slowed down. The opportunity to arrest climate change was gone even before we fully realized its import. The infernal ticking of climate change clock is getting louder by the hour.

Another crisis, no less damaging, is gradually looming on the horizon – oil crisis. Recent reports indicate that world oil reserve estimates are grossly inflated. Hubbert’s peak, long rubbished as fantasy, after all might have had a grain of truth. However, oil hungry nations chose to underplay the hypothesis to keep prices at bay. Crude oil reserves are depleting. Cost of exploration and production has increased. The age of low hanging fruits, the easily accessible oil deposits is over. Today, new crude discoveries have to be extracted from remote, inhospitable terrain or leached out of tar sands. Stringent environmental and safety regulations have also increased the cost of production, refining and distribution. Oil prices have been steadily climbing and hover around $80.00 today. Countries forewarned of an impending crisis are scouting the globe to strike oil deals. Hedge funds and venture capitalists are moving in to exploit the scarcity. A recent web article (Link) cited knowledge of impending oil crisis as the logic behind Warren Buffett’s acquisition of an US Railway company. Right now the hype is focused on climate change and Copenhagen negotiations. It won’t be long before skyrocketing oil prices push climate change concerns to the background.

Human civilization across the globe, in cities and villages alike, is heavily dependent on crude oil and fossil fuels. Declining availability will force oil producing nations to drastically cut down production in order to safeguard themselves. Oil prices would soar, purchasing power of nations would plummet and global economy would nosedive. Credit will vanish. Countries will go bankrupt unable to raise money through taxes.

Imagine the sledgehammer power with which world would be battered when these mutually reinforcing forces, climate change, oil crisis and economic meltdown, converge. It would tremendously strain the dwindling natural resources and tapering oil reserves. Agriculture and food production would decline. Instead of the calamitous, earth shattering forces shown in the movie 2012, it would be hunger, epidemics and natural disasters that decimate humanity. Consequences for a relatively poor and overpopulated country like India are indescribable. With politicians and bureaucrats are still bickering over emission cuts, it is virtually impossible to avert disaster.

When societies undergo intense stress, the survival struggle could rapidly escalate into war. Many countries have large nuclear arsenal under their disposal presumably as a deterrent. It is not difficult to envisage a situation where unscrupulous politicians or military decide to use nuclear weapons to resolve differences.

End of the world have been predicted many times over in the course of human history. But now, more than ever, circumstances and catalysts exist which could realize our worst fears. My fervent hope is that when world leaders meet to negotiate, the welfare of humanity would be their prime concern rather than short term political gain.


Categories: Planetwatch

Planetwatch series – Ice Man of Ladakh

November 9, 2009 Leave a comment

Climate change. Till yesterday it was merely scientific jargon, today it has reached our doorsteps. Yesterday it was a matter of debate, a controversial topic, today it is concrete reality. Each organism, be it man, animal, bird, insect or plant is experiencing the effects of climate change, directly or indirectly. At times we are consciously aware of it, most times we are oblivious. But in recent years there have been times when it intruded into our consciousness, making its presence felt, reminding us to do something about it. We are still waiting for the curtain to rise.But there are a few who has risen up to face the challenge, to mitigate the disastrous effects within the extent of their power. Chewang Norphel and the Leh Nutrition Project is one such initiative. Norphel is a retired government civil servant and has built 11 artificial glaciers so far since 1987. He is still enthusiastic about the project despite inadequate funds and lukewarm cooperation from villagers.

Ladakh in northern India, is a cold desert. It is also a major tourist destination. People of Ladakh depend on glacial melt water for irrigation and domestic use. However, glaciers have been receding at an alarming pace in recent years leading to severe water shortages. It is in this context that Chewang Norphel’s initiative gains significance. In a pioneering effort, he has made embankments on mountainsides to collect water which freezes during the winter months into an artificial glacier. During summer the ice melts providing water to nearby villages. It is a venture astounding in its simplicity and practicality, well adapted to the necessities of the region. Such conservation methods are infinitely more preferable to digging bore wells which deplete ground water resources.

Ladakh have been experiencing higher average temperatures, unusual rainfall patterns, reduced snow cover and other associated fallouts apart from deterioration of glaciers in the past few years. Despite experiencing these problems firsthand and understanding the antecedent causes, attitude and behaviour have remained unchanged. It is business as usual. Vehicular pollution is still relatively high and littering continues to be problem. It looks like we find it easy to relegate long term effects of climate change to the background in favour of the immediate occupation of survival and comfort.

The Copenhagen summit to frame legally binding treaties to address climate change issues have already hit a road block. US, the world’s biggest cumulative greenhouse gas emitter has declined to submit to emission cut targets and timetables. Developing nations are not willing to jeopardize their economic agenda by subscribing to restrictive environmental regulations. When the world at large is engaged in acrimonious debate over such a critical issue, it is a relief to find that a few have chosen to act instead. My heart goes out to Chewang Norphel.

Inspired by: Op-Ed article in The Hindu by Meena Menon, 7-Nov-09



Categories: Planetwatch