Climate change is real. It has always been since the formation of the earth. Earth had a very turbulent, inhabitable conditions at the beginning. It was climate change over hundreds of millions of years, that made earth habitable for unicellular organisms to evolve. Over a few billion years, life evolved along with the changing climate and in fact, living organisms also played a part in driving climate change. There was a time in the earth’s history when Greenland was completely covered in forests. And then, there was a time when over 50% of the land was blanketed in ice. Life on earth has faced extreme climates before. Last ice age ended some 12000 years ago. Since then, homo sapiens have progressed leaps and bounds. Mother nature has been kind and favourable to us for the most part. However, after the industrial revolution, ways and means to exploit natural resources grew exponentially. While it led to a tremendous rise in comfort level, income, prosperity, it also led to selfish, unchecked exploitation of nature. Fossil fuels became the backbone of our energy needs. And that led to an alarming rise in levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. If fossil-fuel burning continues at a business-as-usual rate, such that humanity exhausts the reserves over the next few centuries, CO2 will continue to rise to levels of the order of 1500 ppm. The atmosphere would then not return to pre-industrial levels even tens of thousands of years into the future. This graph not only conveys the scientific measurements, but it also underscores the fact that humans have a great capacity to change the climate and planet.
Carbon dioxide is one of the major greenhouse gas and is often held responsible for rising global temperatures and extreme climate changes across the globe. This rising rate of climate change is a big threat to humanity. Some of these threats are:
- Submerging of coastal countries, cities. Bangladesh is projected to lose a chunk of its coastal land to the sea in the next few decades that will drive large scale migrations and possible illegal immigration and local conflicts in the region.
- Erratic rainfall. Monsoons have already shifted by around 10 days in South East Asia compared to 1950s. Rainfalls have become unpredictable, leading to lower agriculture productivity.
- Drying of rivers, falling levels of groundwater leading to acute water scarcity (already happening but would be even more severe because of climate change).
- A rise in the frequency and severity of natural disasters such as floods, droughts, cyclones, forest fires. Recent forest fires in Australia has already claimed 18 human lives and over 480 million lives of animals such as reptiles, mammals, etc. This doesn’t even include the loss of vegetation and tremendous release of carbon into the atmosphere which was stored in forests, thus further increasing concentration of greenhouse gases.
- Increasing global average temperatures. This is already happening and Paris agreement, in fact, is targeting to contain this rise in temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius (preferably 1.5 degrees) compared to pre-industrial levels by 2100. However, reviews of the actual performance of the Paris agreement have revealed that we are way behind in our efforts and with current attitude, these efforts will most likely fail.
Why these efforts will fail and why the right attitude is lacking? To understand this, let us first dissect the narrative in the mainstream media and masses regarding climate change.
Awareness for climate change has started creeping into the masses quite recently with the advent of social media & the internet. However, there are major flaws in a number of narratives that are popular in the mainstream and social media regarding climate change. I will address those flaws first.
Firstly, the narrative that we have to save our planet is an arrogant statement. Humans do think too highly of themselves. Of course, we have developed technologically advanced weapons of mass destruction, we are dumping tons of plastic into the ocean, our selfishness and encroachment have led to large scale loss of biodiversity but that doesn’t in any way endanger the earth. Earth and life have seen far worse. Even if we detonate all the nukes in the world at the same time, life and planet would still survive such a catastrophe. So, NO: we aren’t in any way saving the planet. The correct statement would be “we have to save ourselves from the rising rate of climate change”.
The second narrative, which is wrong on so many levels is exclusively blaming governments across the world for climate change i.e. Greta Thunberg’s narrative with a sense of entitlement. There is some strength to her argument that kids are entitled to the pollution-free environment and earth which should be in decent shape than before for humans, but her own attitude and conviction for action and responsibility is lacking. I am not going to criticise Greta as she is a kid. But so many people have joined her ‘activism’ with this flawed narrative. Firstly, governments are representative of people. Second, the biggest driver of climate change is not the government but people and their never-ending needs for consumption. Of course, governments and greedy corporations have been guilty of going for cheaper sources for energy in fossil fuels for such a long time. But one has to understand that, at the end of the day, its all a game of demand and supply. Demand for energy, comfort, ACs, heaters, oil, vehicles, cosmetics, plastics, non-veg food, etc. is ultimately driven by people. Also, protests and creating anarchy in the grab of activism is the most useless way for fighting about any cause.
The cause being to slow down the rate of climate change by decreasing human contributions which are driving these global changes. This is a collective cause. CO2 emissions from China will affect the climate of Australia and vice-versa.
How big is the human contribution?
Earth overshoot day is the day when humans exhaust biological resources which can renew in a whole year. In 2019, it fell on July 29. Meaning, by July 29, we exhausted all the biological resources which would be renewed by the end of the year. What this means is we are exhausting more resources than Earth can renew. Our demands have exceeded the supply of this planet. We are actually exhausting reserves which have accumulated over millions of years. What this means is we are releasing more carbon into the atmosphere than the earth could absorb (by the vegetation of soils, oceans). Ideally, earth overshoot day should be over 31st December i.e. collective needs of humans have to be contained below the capacity up to which earth can renew those resources within a year. Now you can imagine how far off we are!
So, what’s the solution?
Meet, Salumarada Timmakka.
She is one of many such stories from India. It’s very admirable that these people are not only planting trees but nurturing them continuously for years. Of course, a few hundred or even a few thousand of such people won’t make significant changes in bringing down the rate of climate change. But, the important point is to make people like these and not Greta, the face of fighting climate change. People try to replicate their leaders and their ideals. If Thimmakka is made an idol for people, they will nurture, plant trees themselves and will also bring down their own contribution to pollutants and greenhouse gases. They will try to embody the great qualities of a lady who has done something great herself for the planet.
Human greed, laziness, seeking comfort at the cheapest price and wrong attitude: the real cause.
The biggest reason which has led to such a rise in human contribution to climate change which I have already touched upon is unchecked human desire and greed. The consumer-centric market where individual’s unchecked needs are fulfilled quite easily coupled with large scale supply of products have led to a cycle of “exploit, produce, buy, throw (and occasionally recycle)”. The solution to this problem along with a range of problems faced by mankind today is Yoga.
पतंजलि: “योगः चित्त वृत्ति निरोधः”।
Yoga means union, ultimately of atman and brahman. I will not go into the philosophical aspect of yoga but the point is this. People have to realise themselves, the universal nature of the climate problem and their own role in being a part of the problem (and solution). This is not an easy task. To take responsibility and to have a deep sense of understanding that my action of burning plastic is harming the planet is something that cannot be taught easily especially to the adults. Yoga, if practised in a proper manner can bring about such positive transitions in the attitude of people. Such attitudes will drive the market to bring eco-friendly goods, products. They will be forced to innovate. Consumption of fossil fuels will come down. Large scale killing of animals for food will be controlled. The role and attitude of governments should be to bring about such attitudinal changes. Also, a revolution in agriculture is needed in countries such as India where agriculture alone is responsible for more than 85% consumption of freshwater. Technology will also be driven more towards this in solving problems associated with renewables and bringing down their costs.
But at the moment, I don’t see such a wide degree of self-awareness developing into the masses. Masses are being easily fooled by useless activism, protests. With such attitude, our current hope is that some genius would come up with a technological solution and philanthropists and few governments would scale it up to replace fossil fuel consumption with the consumption of power based on renewables. Will it solve the problem? Probably but who knows what kind of problems, renewables might bring in (shortage of land for solar, environmental issues with battery production). So, the best way to bring down the human contribution of climate change is to start with yourself.
Featured image credits: Rachel Mounsey