Climate Change Comes Calling

Suddenly, scattered rain has arrived with torrential magic in the east and north of India, the first terrain longing for more, and the latter parched, hopeless and tragic, now soaked with incomplete hope. Across the Hindi heartland the relief moves like a respite, but real optimism is still far away, because the water falling from the sky is too little and too late, especially in Purvanchal, where the earth is not green, there are no natural water resources, and no canal system either, as it is in the green revolution belt of fertile Western UP, Haryana and Punjab.

Indeed, this summer has been cruel after the end of the condemnation, sorrow and isolation of the pandemic; if there was a rainbow in the horizon, it was all in the mind.

The farmers in the deep of the Hindi heartland are thirsty and in despair. The migrant labourers who are also landless labourers during the agricultural season are in eternal sorrow; they too are thirsty and in despair. With tens of thousands jobless, the economy in a relentless slump, and no light at the end of the tunnel, they look up at the sky with empty eyes, knowing so well that this tryst with destiny is becoming more tragic than ever. And there is no respite.

From the rural interiors of Sasaram and Mughalsarai and beyond to Allahabad and Kanpur Dehat, across the Eastern UP terrain of parched earth, the farmers are expecting rain with a hopeless longing which no government seems to notice. In a country where multi-billionaires are being celebrated, who cares for the farmers and landless labourers anyway?

Even green and beautiful rural Bengal, surprisingly, is crying for rain. Unlike last year, trapped in the interiors of the same home day after day, Kal Boishaki arrived with its theatrical thunder, bereft of nuance or subtlety, and filled the air with lightning, thunderbolts, roaring clouds, and  all the drama and spectacle which only this Bengal phenomena can generate.

The sky would suddenly become dark like black ink, and turn into a mystical night of great mystery and romance, the sound and fury of the season would overwhelm and overpower all forms of softer narratives, and if you would whistle in the dark, it would simply vanish into the blue. Then rain would arrive in slanted, unfinished and diagonal sentences, like a symmetrical symphony of  Bach printed in the atmosphere, amidst the clouds and the sunshine, in the paddy fields and on the streets, playing hide and seek. The spectacle itself would heal the pandemic soul, and a damned and meaningless life would suddenly seem more precious once again.

This year, this phenomenon did not happen: the theatrics, the spectacle and the sound and fury. Instead, it was day after day of suffocating heat and humidity, with not a whiff of cool winds to soothe the soul, with huge deficiency of rainfall for the current paddy crop, and torrential rain just refusing to arrive.

ALSO READ: Can Glasgow Summit COPe With Climate Crisis?

An old woman who sells fish in South 24 Paragana in Bengal went to Canning near Sunderbans to check if there is water in her fields. There was none. Or, not enough for the young crop.

A woman farmer in Sunderbans called up her daughter in Kolkata. “There is water everywhere in the rivers of Sunderbans, but it is full of salt. And the paddy fields are dying for water.”

A young school teacher in an adivasi village in district Birbhum told this reporter: “This year we can just about manage. If the crop fails again in the next season, we are doomed.”

Across Birbhum, either the land is barren, or the young plants are waiting for rain: the paddy needs more and more water. Across Malda and Murshidabad, even in Burdwan, etc, it is the same story. In this green expanse, hides a story of great expectations, and hidden sorrow.

Contrast this with the ritualistic and incessant floods in Assam and Bangladesh, with villages disappearing from the map, along with the documents of the citizens, and scores of people dead. The sight of flooded landscapes with people struggling to survive has become so routine every monsoon, that the media has almost stopped covering it, routine rhetoric of reaching out to the lakhs of marooned people is not even used anymore, it seems, and if there are aerial surveys, they don’t seem to bring in any tangible relief. The army, as always, gets into action, and effective rescue operations are undertaken. It seems, thereby, all is normal.

In Europe, America and the West, the heat wave is incomprehensible and intolerable, even as the poor in London who live in poor housing, cold in winter and hot in the summer, watch their homes burning, while cars move on the highway as if all is well and happy in Tory Britain. A train moves in Spain surrounded by raging fires on both sides, and passengers huddle inside the compartment, and the Al Jazeera news clip looks look like a tense Hollywood movie. Even while the forests, whatever little is left, are crackling with the jungle fires, moving like a bad dream across the urban landscape.

Writes George Monbiot (The Guardian, July 18, 2022): “Can we talk about it now? I mean the subject most of the media and most of the political class has been avoiding for so long. You know, the only subject that ultimately counts — the survival of life on Earth. Everyone knows, however carefully they avoid the topic, that, beside it, all the topics filling the front pages and obsessing the pundits are dust. Even the Times editors still publishing columns denying climate science know it. Even the candidates for the Tory leadership, ignoring or downplaying the issue, know it. Never has a silence been so loud or so resonant….

“…This is not a passive silence. It is an active silence, a fierce commitment to distraction and irrelevance in the face of an existential crisis. It is a void assiduously filled with trivia and amusement, gossip and spectacle. Talk about anything, but not about this. But while the people who dominate the means of communication frantically avoid the subject, the planet speaks, in a roar becoming impossible to ignore. These days of atmospheric rage, these heat-shocks and wildfires ignore the angry shushing and burst rudely into our silent retreat….”

And Africa, what about Africa, the infinite dark continent? Well, in India, this darkness is never reflected in the media, as is the darkness in our rural and tribal hinterland. For the mainline media, Africa simply does not exist.

The Guardian reports from Senegal: “There’s no water, there’s no grass near our homes so we have travelled now for a month,” says Sow, 18, who is heading for Tambacounda, a town that has long been on the route for Fulani herders. “We don’t have a choice. Our goats and cows need to eat and drink so we follow the road to wherever is greener. We don’t know where we will end up.”

The Indian farmer in many parts of the country, might be saying the same thing.

‘I Am A Pollution Refugee, Forced To Migrate From Delhi’

A Delhi citizen all her life, Priyanka Gera was forced to leave a well-settled living due to worsening air quality in the city. Gera says she has lost hope of seeing any improvement

I grew up in Delhi. I was a pure Delhiite until the birth of my daughter when I could no longer ignore the air pollution in Delhi. My husband was perpetually anxious about her wellbeing. We bought an AQI monitor and put air purifiers at every room in our house.

During winters we didn’t send her to pre-school on most of the days because the AQI used to be severe. We would escape to a hill station around Diwali. Then came a point when we no longer wanted to adjust our lifestyle according to pollution levels.

We started wearing N95 masks in 2018-19 while venturing out. Now masks are mandatory due to the pandemic and I find it funny that people still won’t wear masks despite the Covid guidelines, leave alone the poor air quality.

As the situation got worse by each passing year, in 2019, we took the tough call to leave our families, social circle and well-set careers and move to Bangalore for the sake of a better environment. Most people can’t do that or won’t do that – leave their well settled lives because of a danger that they don’t think is clear and present. So, they tell themselves various things to live with it, most vague of these reasoning is that somehow, you’ll develop strength or a kind of immunity in your body to adapt to pollution as if it were some ordinary flu germs. Yes, it’s true, I have heard this from so many people in Delhi!

ALSO READ: ‘NCR Air Is Worse Than Smoke From A Coal Mine’

Having lived in Bangalore for two years have done just the opposite. Now, every time we come to Delhi to visit our families, we get unwell. I wake up coughing every single day. No, it’s not Covid-19, it’s another lung killer that we choose to ignore – pollution!

I don’t know why most people are not anxious about the pollution affecting quality of their life. People like us are exceptions, who are willing to uproot themselves because we’ve lost hope that it can ever improve here.

Surely the government and agencies have been aware of the potential crisis since decades, that’s why CNG was introduced and Metro was planned. All industries have been sent out of Delhi. The problem is not just Delhi, it’s very much there in the neighbouring states too.

Government action is but all ‘reaction’ – nothing much is being done proactively. It takes the Supreme Court to give ultimatums to Delhi Government to take steps, now construction has been halted, schools are shut etc.

Hope From COP

Despite general frustration with COP 26, there are some milestones achieved, some targets that are worth looking forward to and some hope that future COPs will moving in the right direction. To have expected an exceptionally ambitious plan to address climate change would have been naïve particularly as it would have meant considerable disruption to normal life.

Perhaps the four developments that are worth considering are the commitment to deforestation, the setting up of a fund for developing countries to mitigate climate change, India’s commitment to source half of its energy from non-fossil fuel sources and China offering to work with USA to deal with climate crises.

India is one of the main countries along with China and USA leading the world pollution table. Both China and India are continuing to rely on coal significantly. Both have also signalled to change from coal and other fossil fuels to non-fossil sources. India has a growing population and its middle class base in expanding with needs such as cars, refrigerators, mobile phones and other high tech equipment. It is also developing economically. India has a significant challenge to balance the needs and appetite of its population for energy hungry technology and reduce carbon and methane emissions on the other hand.

Unlike western countries where energy needs have reached near peak point, India’s needs are on the up. Developed countries have to change their energy needs from carbon dependency to non-carbon fuels. India cannot just ditch all fossil sourced energy and invest in non-Carbon energy sources. The expense would mean giving up on development or delaying it significantly.

Hence Prime Minister Modi’s commitment to ensure that half of India’s energy will be sourced from non-Carbon fuel by 2030 is significant. This will be around 500 gigawatts. The sheer scale of this new energy sources will make it cheaper all around for the world. It is quite possible that as this alternative fuel sources become cheaper, India will reach its target much sooner and commit to a greater percentage of non-carbon energy by 2030. Cheaper non carbon energy will encourage other countries, including developed countries to invest in non-fossil sourced energy. Currently it is still expensive. It needs exponential increase in numbers.

India has further committed to reduce its total carbon emissions by 1 Billion tones. This is a significant target. Although PM Modi also said that India will reach net zero by 2070 which disappointed many. There is hope that once the escalation to renewable energy takes place, the 2070 target will be reviewed.

India however refused to agree to the para to phase out coal. India along with Russia and China are still dependent on coal. The para was weakened to read ‘phase down’. Nevertheless it is moving in the right direction.

Similarly the setting up of a larger fund for developing countries to change to non-fossil fuels and a fund for small Islands is a step towards the start of a serious drive to assist countries highly dependent on fossil fuels to transfer to other energy sources and become self-sufficient. The Fund is likely to grow as more countries chip in and current developed countries reach deeper into their pockets.

Small Islands facing extinction with rising oceans and temperatures however came out with a punitive lifeline. A mere 2 million has been pledged to them. It is likely to increase.

As significant is the commitment to deforestation. Deforestation has been a major cause of carbon emissions and climate change. Countries such as Brazil and Russia have significant forests. There are many smaller countries in South America, Africa and South East Asia who have large forests but also need land for farming as well as living space for their population. In a competitive world they try and balance their budgets with developing whatever resources they can. A commitment to stop deforestation with appropriate compensation will encourage many countries to scale down encroaching on forests.

ALSO READ: Can Glasgow Summit COPe With Climate Crisis?

The hand of friendship by China to work with USA is another welcome development. Both countries have faced significant consequences of the climate change. China has put the United States in a spot to some extent by this offer. Instead of accusing China of damaging the climate, the USA can cooperate to set achievable targets.

Critics say that the agreements fall far short of efforts needed to keep temperature rise to 1.5° C by end of century. Based on the current agreement, the temperature will probably rise by 2.4 leading the world towards disaster. Critics say that the solutions agreed do not rise to the challenge. This may well be, but the agreements in themselves are a step in the right direction.

The world economy has been dependent on fossil fuel for over a century if not more. The corporations in control of production cannot change overnight without significant damage to economy and jobs. However they feel the heat of public opinion and know that they cannot carry on as usual. COP26 has shown that the tide is beginning to change and both developed countries and Transnationals are beginning to give undertakings to be responsive to reduce Carbon and Methane emissions.

If the pressure continues and the damaging consequences of climate change keep on recurring, within a year or two, the atmosphere will change. More dramatic commitments will be made either in COP27 or by COP28. It also gives enough time for countries and the corporate sector to begin restructure their investments, productions, sourcing etc to be compliant with change to reduce temperature rises. Both developed countries and corporations know that the mood of the public has changed and will not tolerate their intransigence.

A subtext of COP26 was that the Britain under the current Prime Minister is not much trusted around the world. UK itself is investing in a new coal mine. It has cut overseas aid thus depriving poorer countries even further of means to cope with climate change. Britain further failed to join an alliance to phase out oil and gas. To many it seemed the United Kingdom was asking others to commit to targets that it wasn’t interested itself to adopt. Not surprisingly, the largest emitters have postponed their commitment to another day. Its politics.

Nevertheless COP26 gives hope. It has shown that unlike the Paris Agreement where grand gestures and ambitions were made, the mood now is to get down to business. The polluters know they cannot ignore public opinion or media cacophony on climate. They know the science is against them and they have no answers to the growing evidence that has been finding its way into headlines. They know that the Paris Agreement is not something they can ignore. If the Paris Agreement set targets, the Glasgow COP26 has started the journey on the path.

‘NCR Air Is Worse Than Smoke From Dhanbad Coal Mines’

Rajesh Kumar, 48, a construction engineer in Faridabad, says he shudders to think how people with respiratory issues cope with NCR air pollution in winter

I grew up in Dhanbad, one of the most polluted places in the country, but trust me the air quality in Delhi-NCR is even poorer than the simmering smoke from coal mines. I live in Faridabad, and while a lot of people are focusing on how polluted Delhi is, the entire NCR is equally bad, if not worse.

I had shifted to Delhi-NCR in 2005 from Manipur and the difference in air quality between the two places was palpable. I begun having difficulty in breathing while driving, and the pollution has shot to such alarming levels in the last five years, that it has become unmanageable. Every day is an ordeal.

Owing to the nature of my work as an engineer, I have to drive every day to my workplace that is often a dusty mass of construction land. I’m not asthmatic, but still if a normally young and healthy person like me can find the situation so troublesome, imagine what it can do to senior citizens, kids and those fighting respiratory illnesses.

My mother, 67, spends her time between Dhanbad and Faridabad. She is asthmatic and with each passing year that she spends in Faridabad, she has been complaining of breathing issues. She stays put inside the house when she comes here to avoid the “heavy, pungent air”. My younger son also finds it difficult to navigate winter months because of the pollution levels. He is allergic to dust and keeps sniffling continuously.

There are factories upon factories in NCR and a never ending series of construction work going on, adding to the pollution. Many of these factories don’t follow the pollution control norms adding to the misery of people. I have even stopped going for my morning and evening walks owing to the pollution. I tried for a few days, but then I begun facing difficulty in breathing (one cannot even think of jogging) and my eyes also started burning.

Kumar says climate crisis is for real

Last year was so different: there was the spectre of Covid looming large over our heads, but the lockdown meant lesser vehicles, lesser factories open and thus very low levels of pollution. It was like we had moved to a different world. Even post-Diwali, the air quality hadn’t deteriorated like every year, the visibility wasn’t low. But we are back to square one again this year. Seems like we have squandered away all the gains made last year.

Climate change is real and a solution is required urgently. Not only are dialogues between nations important, it is prudent for governments across the world to hold dialogues with their citizens. In India, we need to really take a quick, hard look at the problem. As a government employee, my team and I ensure that we don’t compromise the Earth and its people’s health in the name of development. If we have to cut a particular number of trees for construction, we ensure that we plant double the number of trees.

Unless we give the Earth back more than we take from it, we are going to keep facing difficulties. As we have noticed, each year is getting more difficult climate change wise and the weather is getting more and more unpredictable. We cannot ignore the problem of pollution anymore. The parali burning in Punjab also needs to be addressed. Rather than just blaming the farmers, we need to work together in helping them find a solution as well. We all need to come together to save the Earth.

Can Glasgow Summit COPe With Climate Crisis?

A UN-sponsored marathon conference to tackle the global climate crisis is due to being the British city of Glasgow, the coming Sunday (31 October) and will continue till 12 November. The world leaders will meet in the so-called last-ditch effort to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius this century, besides considering plans to how to stop burning fossil fuels, stabilise global temperatures and share money to adapt to increasingly extreme weather.

The global leaders signed up the Paris Agreement in 2015 — with a supposedly non-binding target to keep warming well below 2 C above pre-industrial temperatures, and ideally 1.5 C — yet most of the participating countries continue to burn fossil fuels and chop down trees at rates incompatible with that goal.

With the effects of climate change visible in both rich and poor countries alike, the leaders are meeting for what analysts expect to be the most meaningful conference since that pledge. Climate change has shot up the political agenda amid deadly weather extremes and mass public protest, and leaders of several polluting countries have pledged to decarbonise their economies by the middle of the century.

Summit’s Agenda

The world leaders got to choose how fast their country will cut emissions Under the Paris Agreement, besides agreeing to update their action plans for doing so every five years. But in reality just weeks before the summit, big emitters like China, India and Saudi Arabia are yet to submit new plans.

Reportedly UK, which is co-hosting the summit with Italy, has pressured countries to submit new plans and is pushing for concrete deals that would help reach those targets. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called on world leaders to deliver bold commitments on “coal, cars, cash and trees.”

The UK is pushing for a treaty that would “consign coal to history” and has proposed a deadline of 2040 to stop selling combustion engine cars. It also wants to put more money into stopping deforestation.

According to the United Nations Climate Change Framework Convention (UNFCCC) COP26 will work towards four goals: Secure global net-zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach, adapt to protect communities and natural habitats, mobilise assured finance to help developing and under-developed countries to attain emission cuts, and work together to deliver to frame a list of detailed rules that will help fulfil the Paris Agreement.

On the really big question of keeping the 1.5C temperature threshold within reach, the likelihood is that a significant gap will remain even after Glasgow. Under the terms of the Paris Agreement, those countries that have used fossil fuels the most over the past two centuries – the US and from Europe – accept they will make the bigger cuts in the short term. The larger developing nations that are now the biggest source of CO2 – chiefly China – accept they will make the bigger cuts in the longer term.

The environmentalist and experts say that we can very easily understand the colossal and disastrous results of the climate change, if we can observe the following four weather changes, which have been caused by the increasing global temperature due to the emission of CO2 and other poisonous gases like methane into the atmosphere: Hotter and longer heat waves, more persistent droughts, more fuel for wildfires, and more extreme rainfall events are the resultant climate change vagaries.

Meanwhile, an interesting report by the US intelligence agency’s assessment of climate change has come out and as per the report, India and Pakistan are among the 11 highly vulnerable countries in terms of their ability to prepare for as well as respond to the environmental and social impact of climate change. The first-ever US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on the issue of climate change has been published, and it adds that India along with China will be crucial in determining the trajectory at which there is a rise in global temperatures. On the other hand, the report has downplayed the role that the Western world has played in the problem of climate change. Further the report has warned that the possibility of geopolitical tensions and the risk to US national security are present due to global warming in the run up to 2040.

Expectations From Summit

In another development before the summit, India has said that it will raise the topic of compensation to developing nations for the losses caused by climate disasters. The Indian environment ministry said that India stands with other low-income and developing nations on the matter and the compensation clause will be negotiated at the upcoming climate summit.

India has reiterated that the countries responsible for climate change should finance what they have committed to and make technology available at an affordable cost. It is also confirmed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will put forward the Indian stand at the summit

Meanwhile, reports say that Jennifer Morgan, the executive director of Greenpeace International has warned against efforts by countries and corporations at the forthcoming talks in Glasgow to “green wash” their on-going pollution of the planet.

By doing so, governments would “give that kind of hope and confidence to their people that they got this and that they’re willing to do things that their corporate interests don’t want them to do,” she added.

Morgan pointed to leaked documents showing how countries such as Australia, Brazil and Saudi Arabia are apparently trying to water down an upcoming UN science panel report on global warming as evidence of the way in which some governments’ public support for climate action is undermined by their efforts behind closed doors.

Documents obtained by Greenpeace indicate how those countries wanted the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to remove references to the need to shut down coal-fired power stations, reduce meat consumption and focus on actual emissions cuts rather than ways to capture carbon already released into the atmosphere.

Various outcomes of the Glasgow Summit in view of the non-adherence to the goals of the Paris Agreement are being predicted. Yet, barring a complete collapse in the talks, there are likely to be a range of tangible outcomes. It’s expected that more countries will announce they are moving away from using coal for energy, and more nations may probably sign up to curb methane emissions.

There is only a moral pressure to improve your offer, and a degree of embarrassment if a country doesn’t step up to the mark. Glasgow will reveal whether this approach actually works.

As Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Haseena has put it succinctly and wisely in a recent speech, tackling climate requires a great deal of fortitude, imagination, hope and leadership. If western leaders listen, engage and act decisively on what science demands of them, there is still time to make COP26 the success it desperately needs to be.

(Asad Mirza is a political commentator based in New Delhi. He writes on issues related to Muslims, education, geopolitics and interfaith)

Use editorial freedom wisely, says Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday said that editorial freedom should be used in public interest and urged the newspapers to devote space to increase awareness about climate change. Speaking at the 75th anniversary celebrations of Tamil newspaper Daily Thanthi at the Madras University Centenary Auditorium, Modi said lot of things happen around the world and the editors decide what is important to be published in their newspapers. He said: “Editorial freedom should be used wisely and in public interest.” Pointing out the natural calamities occurring around the world at regular intervals, Modi urged newspapers to allocate space to increase awareness about climate change. He said the freedom to write does not in anyway reduce the importance to be accurate and correct, adding that though media outlets may be owned by the private sector, they serve a public purpose, have much social accountability and their conduct should be above board. He said technological advancement enables citizens to compare, discuss and analyse the credibility of news and the media should take extra caution to maintain its credibility. According to him, reform in media can come from within and through introspection. Observing most of the media discourse revolves around politics, Modi said the nation is made of over a billion people and the media should focus on the people and their achievements. Citing the spread of mobile phones, Modi said citizen reporting is important in showcasing individual achievements and also helping in the aftermath of natural disasters. Modi also released a souvenir. Governor Banwarilal Purohit, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Union Minister of State for Finance and Shipping Pon Radhakrishnan, Chief Minister K. Palaniswami and his deputy O.Pannerselvam also participated in the function. Paying encomiums to the founder of Daily Thanthi S.P. Adithanar and his son Sivanthi Adithan, Palaniswami said the daily would certainly see centenary celebrations. Leaders of several political parties, law makers, industrialists, movie actors and diplomats attended the function. Earlier on his arrival Modi was received by Purohit, Palaniswami and others at the airport. From the airport Modi reached the INS Adyar naval base here in a helicopter. At INS Adyar, Modi had a meeting with Palaniswami and discussed about the rain and relief situation in Chennai and neighbouring districts.

(IANS) // ]]>