Sunday, 15 July 2012

Are we serious about climate change apropos the 2012 Rio+20 Summit?

As an educationist, a teacher and a human being, I ask myself why should I be concerned about climate change? A lesson in English that I taught to class eleventh students in  titled: The Ailing Planet:the Green Movement’s Role by Nani Palkhivala describes the deteriorating “health of the earth” it traces the beginning of the Green Movement. Nani Palkhivala goes on to describe the shift from, “the mechanistic view to a Holistic and ecological view of the world.” The lesson describes how the concept of “sustainable development” was popularised in 1987 by the World Commission on Environment. Sustainable development is defined as, "Development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs."  Climate change is the result of the uncontrolled exploitation of natural resources, uncontrolled cutting of trees, unplanned construction of dams, population explosion, filling up of wetlands, water bodies for construction of buildings and settlements, and of course pollution resulting from burning of fossil fuels. While no doubt, introduction of green fuels like C.N.G. and L.P.G. might have reduced the amount of pollution in Delhi, the question remains whether it has not come too late? The phasing out of C.F.Cs. in refrigerants might have come too late as the damage has already been done to the Ozone layer! Unmitigated cutting of trees has lead to a shrinking forest cover. The Ridge Forest area in Delhi, the so called lungs of the capital is now denuded and not what it once was! In the NCR region, unsustainable development is taking place in real estate, with the result that infrastructure is not able to keep pace! Frequent instances of water shortage and power failure have become common. Today, whenever I journey out of the old Gurgaon City, I am surprised to see that instead of  streams, ponds, trees, and forests there are only shells of new multi-story buildings coming up. Trees have the ability of a sponge to soak up the excess carbon in the environment but then we have cut them down to make way for high-rises to accommodate a burgeoning population! The Algae in ponds and lakes too have the ability to soak up the excess carbon, but then we have dried them up too!
Climate Change has become a run away train sliding down-hill without any brakes! A documentary film titled, “An Inconvenient Truth”  portrays a grim scenario of what would happen if climate change is not arrested! The melting of the polar Ice-caps, receding glaciers  means that low-lying islands and coastal areas will be inundated with water from high tides  and a rising  seawater level. Imagine losing the valuable Mangroves in the Sundarbans of India or perhaps even the disappearance of the Islands of Kiribati, Maldives and Seychelles! Yet another extract from the lesson in the class twelve supplementary reader of the C.B.S.E.Titled: Journey to the End of the Earth by Tishani Doshi reads, “ Climate change is one of the most hotly contested environmental debates of our time. Will the West Antarctic ice sheet melt entirely? Will the Gulf Stream ocean current be disrupted? Will it be the end of the world as we know it?” One possible answer to these queries is provided by the English movie titled, “Water-World”. In this movie, the only dry land is situated at the North Pole,and the rest of the world has become submerged under water, and people have taken up to living on floating platforms, and boats, and people fight for a handful of dry soil!
The recent climate summit which concluded in Rio in the month of June was dubbed the Rio+20 Climate summit because it came twenty years after the the first United Nations Earth Summit which had taken place in the Brazilian Capital. The recently concluded climate however has been termed a hopeless failure by various organisations especially Non-Governmental organisations. The goals of the first Earth Summit to control Greenhouse gas emissions,  protection of eco-systems and biodiversity, and the prevention of desertification have not been achieved in the past two decades. This is perhaps what has made the Rio+20 Summit a damp squib! The 58 page document titled: “The Future We Want” focuses on the concepts of “sustainable development” and “green economy” but then fails short of the ideals ideas and goals enshrined in the final document of the first Earth Summit which took place twenty years ago! There seems, however to be an implied sense of helplessness in the document which  suggests that the onus of conserving and protecting the climate rests on the shoulders of not just Governments, but also on Non-Governmental Organisations, and the Private Sector. The lack of the will to make specific commitments by heads of various countries at the summit has meant that the Rio+20 was just a token display of concern for climate change by various Governments all over the world! Someone I know who works in the petroleum industry once told me that the amount of crude oil consumed was an indicator of a Nation’s  economic progress! It means that industrial progress or development is retrogressive in terms of the health of the Environment because more industries and more vehicles results in the burning of even more fossil fuel. This in turn results in more green house gases results in greater global warming! The Rio+20 Summit seems to have highlighted the ironical situation where any effort to address environmental issues, pollution and climate change depends on the wishes of the Corporate Elite! Ultimately, it all boils down to the harsh fact that  steps to control pollution will not be undertaken if they are costly!

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