Environment could be called the paradox of our lives. We live in houses made of cement and mortar amidst vast expanses of crude roads. But most of us seem to be exceptionally fond of nature and the bliss that it offers, and yet not many of us go to great lengths to take care of it. Given a choice, we would prefer hills to buildings, stones to bricks, streams to bridges and natural abundance to anthropogenic marvels. Yet, most of us would not toil to preserve nature’s bounties. The same story would apply to me too, till sometime back, not today.
Sometime back, a farmer in South Western Bangladesh complained of hot dry spells, lack of rains and inordinate drought conditions having ruined his crops. Rightly so! But seems like he didn’t know half of it, because exactly a month later, the same man was standing chest deep in water, while his family, his community and his village had been swept away by sudden floods. Ladies and Gentlemen, presenting to you the story of climate change. It’s not a myth, its reality and it’s the reality of today. It’s not even a question of ‘whether’, it’s only a question of ‘how much’ because climate change IS happening and it’s as undeniably factual as any other thing under the blue of the sky; and if we continue at the current pace, in the next 25 years, US, China and India alone would have produced as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as has been done by all the nations put together ever since the beginning of the industrial revolution.
Mankind is facing one of the ugliest impending disasters and yet I don’t see anyone marching in the streets, or holding dharnas as is usually done as a mark of protest in our country and in the world at large. The response is slow, passive or none at all. Honestly, more often than not, I feel a sense of disconnect when I speak/write of climate change. It probably stems from the fact that most people are somehow not able to map it onto their lives. Maybe they assume that since it is not happening in their vicinity, it’s not happening at all, or that if we close our eyes and wake up after a while, things will be alright– most of us fail to notice that climate change jeopardizes the lives of many who live in low lying regions such as the Sundarbans, Bangladesh, Maldives and so on. Out of the 108 islands that constitute the Sundarbans, only 54 are above the sea level- the rest of them are submerged owing to a rise in the sea level which in turn is attributed to the melting of glaciers. It is more the fear of salinity than death caused by floods that plagues people here, though.
Beyond the existential vulnerability, the possibility of soil salinity endangers food output in Bangladesh. The brackish water from the Bay of Bengal is inundating the fresh water rivers of Bangladesh, pervading the soil, begriming the ponds and the underground water supply, which most people from the nation depend on, for drinking and agricultural purposes. When the soil becomes saline, it becomes infertile for the next three years. What is exceptionally heart breaking is that the people of these regions have been drinking saline water for the last four years. How many of us would ever be able to do that, if at all? To add insult to injury, intense storms threaten to lash out every now and then, like the one that pillaged the country in November 2007, killing around 3500 people and displacing around 2 million. Making it all extremely unfair is the fact that the poor of these countries that are facing the repercussions haven’t even contributed as much as the rest of us in generating the greenhouse gases that cause climate change. They are being punished for being poor, which is a punishment enough in the first place.
However, amidst all the devastation and negativity, there is hope and there are solutions. There is a stratum of society that is working hard to save this planet but it is not good enough; and how can it be? When around 7 billion people are polluting the planet, how can only a few thousand be expected to redeem it? From COP 15 in Copenhagen to COP 16 in Cancun to COP 17 in Durban to the RIO +20 Earth Summit, the Kyoto Protocol has been revised and then re-revised and then some more, policies have been drafted and scratched, the developed have continued arguing with the developing, and we are yet to reach a consensus that is universally binding in a manner that could truly avoid further harm and mitigate the effects of the harm done thus far.
So, while the Government agencies and the Ministries will go on making newer policies that will be put to lesser use than earlier, why not do what we can while we can? How many policies does it really take to plant a tree or to not use plastic? None, I say. Plant trees. Use jute. Avoid plastic. Car pool. Paint your roofs white. Use vermicompost. Harvest rain water. They might sound like clichÃ©s but clichÃ©s that are becoming increasingly important by the day. To not take cue even now will not only be inconsiderate and injudicious, but foolish also.
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