On a hot day in late July, I sat at home near the window expecting rains brought in by the South-West monsoon to Northern India. That day, the temperature was going off the roof. My mother told me that it didn’t use to be like this back in the 1980s. The monsoon was timely and brought much needed relief for all- the city dwellers, farmers, industries etc.. While day dreaming of those days, I was sweating profoundly. So, I simply turned on the air-conditioning and continued with my work.
The next day, the headlines shook me to the core. The heatwaves in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh alone had resulted in the death of seven people. Despite scorching heat, the poor cannot refuse to go to work because they have a family to feed. Sadly, their good intentions prove fatal for them. Ironically, the ones that contribute the least towards global warming, are the first ones to bear its brunt. Similarly, in winters, the erratic patterns of western disturbances prolongs the snowfall and cold weather. It results in the death of the urban dwellers who are forced to sleep on the roads, this time, due to the cold weather.
Climate change is an effect of our behaviour here on Earth. An effect of our consumption of what we buy. Of how we travel and how we use our planet’s resources. Unfortunately, we don’t use them efficiently. We are very, very wasteful. And the direct product of our ways is our carbon footprint. The more we consume and the more irresponsibly we consume, the more carbon dioxide we produce. We have already faced disasters like cyclones, floods, land-slides etc due to India’s geographical location. Their intensity, however, has drastically increased due to climate change.
The urban centres which are seen as the growth poles, are hit hard by a warmer climate. Cities have grown, often without planning, stamping over waterbodies and stretching wherever they can. Air pollution and the land-use change result in the urban heat island phenomenon. Chennai floods are a case in point. The city came under seige in December 2015 when it received more than 290mm of rain in 24 hours. The wetlands and drainage were all clogged due to encrochment leading to the upheaval.
Recently, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development’s (ICIMOD) “Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment” revealed that more than one-third of the glaciers in the region could retreat by 2100, even if the global climate rise is capped at 1.5 degrees Celsius. Melting glaciers will increase river flow, pushing the risk of high-altitude lakes burst causing floods and subsequent sea-level rise. It puts 14.2% of our population staying at coasts at risk.
Nature’s fury hits the North- Eastern states during every monsoon. This year, the number of affected people was nearly 88,000 in 10 districts in Assam. The threat of epidemics like Malaria, Dengue looms large. Kids miss out on schools. The post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety at losing one’s home grips the people. A sense of despair and panic is seen. The biodiversity is profoundly impacted. We saw the heartbreaking news of 2,400 rhinos fleeing for their lives in Kaziranga National Park.
A little west of Assam lie the great Sunderbans, home to rare species in West Bengal. It is under severe strain due to climate change. The increased inflow of freshwater from the Himalayan glaciers is disturbing the fine balance of this sensitive ecotone, putting the threatened species at a risk of extinction. Similarly, the coral reefs which prevail under extreme niche conditions is increasing getting bleached. The entire ecosystem, which is called a marine rainforest, is under existential crisis.
While some parts of the country reel under floods, others are facing drought-like conditions. It is like death by a thousand paper cuts. With increasing over-exploitation of groundwater, it seems people are ‘mining for water’. It is common to see reports stating that by 2020, Delhi and Bengaluru will face severe water crisis. Albert Einstein had predicted that the third world war will be for water. It seems to be coming true. The community clashes will increase and social unrest will peak in India.
In rural areas, the social evil of child marriage will see a higher prevalence as people try to hoard women at an early age to collect water. These are called the ‘paani-wali bais’. A study by Sekhri and Storeygard looked at data from 500 districts in India over the past decade, found that whenever rains fall, dowry deaths in the particular district rise by 8%. This is because the groom’s family sees killing of the wife and marrying a fresh wife as a means of bringing new income. Thus, a warming climate poses many risks to this vulnerable group.
Half of India lives and works on its farm. They are extremely vulnerable to climate change because to this day, 55% farm lands are rain-fed. The El-Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) during 2014-16 has resulted in the death of over 12,000 farmers suicides since. This shows how utterly hopeless Indian farmers, often lauded as our ‘Ann Data’, feel. No government insurance policy talks of climate change-related extreme events.
Only those with no other choice should pursue farming, farmers say. This can be backed with statistical evidence from the Economic Survey 2017-18 which stated that extreme weather conditions and droughts reduce farmers income to the tune of 4%-14% and thus, results in rural to urban migration. We frequently see new articles on rallies organised by farmers organisation asking for more government support. Also, climate change has pushed earlier well-off communities like Jats to ask for resrvations.
India lost $80 billions due to disasters in last 20 years, says a UN report. It further mentioned that India is among the top five countries in the world when ranked for disaster vulnerability. Keeping this imminent challenge in mind, the government of India as well as the states had opted for a unified approach to climate change, the greatest disruptor of our times.
National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) and its states counterparts were launched in 2008 to deal with climate change. The clean energy cess was introduced for funding research projects in clean energy technologies. Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAMPA) was formed to ensure expeditious utilization of amounts released in lieu of forest land diverted for non-forest purpose.
According to Climate Action Tracker, India has emerged as a global leader in renewable energy, with investments in renewable energy topping fossil fuel investments. After adopting its National Electricity Plan (NEP) in 2018, India remains on track to overachieve its 2°C compatible rated Paris Agreement NDC (Nationally Determined) climate action targets. Estimates show India could achieve the more ambitious part of its NDC —a 40% non-fossil-based power capacity by 2030 more than a decade earlier than targeted.
Anand Mahindra, chairman of the Mahindra group, has called climate change ‘the next century’s biggest financial and business opportunity’. This is a call for all start-ups to grab this opportunity. We can see climate warriors from the fields of Punjab and thriving eco start-ups in Bengaluru to a forest guardian in Assam and the johns of Rajasthan, have employed ingenuity and initiative to adapt to the changing conditions and sometimes reverse their shattering effects.
Despite all these measures, commitments, and innovation, the war on climate change has failed to resonate among the Indians. We don’t see breaking news or enough time given by news channels to this global issue of climate change. I don’t hear politicians discussing it with enough seriousness or intellectuals bringing in the much-needed spotlight on the biggest challenge of our century. We continue to talk about economy and GDP as if the climate change time bomb isn’t ticking. As if our very own survival isn’t at stake!
Sure, quality education is majorly lacking in our country which is a roadblock in our fight against climate change. Moving beyond this, we have failed at a foundational level. I don’t see civic nationalism in India. We have developed a bad habit of blaming everything on our political leaders, conveniently forgetting that we are a part of this country. Each and every citizen must owe upto his/her responsibility.
There is absolutely no denying that India must grow and that till the end of our 1.31 billion population, each has the right to develop. Our journey to attain our final goals under the Constitution must be fine tuned to sync with environment conservation. These two are not mutually exclusive. In this context, the Supreme Court of India rightly stated that the health of the environment is key to preserving the right of life under Article 21. And onlt then, we will successfully be able to create India of our dreams.
We must remember our culture which talks of preserving the environment. The Hindu Mythology talks of ‘Rita’ which means balance. We together need to tread the path ro restore the ‘Rita’ of Earth. We must re-connected with our inner self and see the world feelingly.
‘On this Earth do I stand, Unvanquished, unslain, unhurt.
Set me, O Earth, amidst the nourishing strength
That emanates from thy body.
The Earth is my mother, her child am I!’– Atharva Veda