This post is part of the Climate Action Fellowship, a 10-week integrated bootcamp to work on stories that highlight the impact of climate change on India’s most marginalized. Click here to find out more and apply.
During quieter moments, my mind travels back to the 1990s, to my childhood days in Kolkata. I think of the summer months. My forehead and back would be covered with prickly heat. After coming back from school in the afternoon, my grandmother would dust me with prickly heat powder and make a bed for me on the cool tiled floor. We would doze off peacefully under the ceiling fan, rotating at full speed, circulating cool air throughout the room.
During the winter months, she covered me with a thick blanket and held me tightly to negate the effects of the chilly weather. My grandmother has passed away. Also gone are the distinct weather patterns which are imprinted in my consciousness.
At present, the summer months are unbearable. Only switching on an AC gives some degree of respite. I have held out against the insidious trap of installing an air conditioning unit and adding more greenhouse gases to our deteriorating environment. Still, I can make do with two fans – on the ceiling and one on the table. How do the homeless survive out in the open amidst melting asphalt roads?
The diminished winters offer some respite and are the only time I look forward to.
Temperature records for Kolkata show that there has been a robust long-term rise in temperature around the city by about 1.2 degrees Celsius in the past 170 years. A study led by Climate Central found that by 2050, Kolkata may be submerged due to rising sea levels. So far, the prediction seems to be on point. Scores of people have migrated from the Sundarbans region to cities all over India because their homes have been either ravaged by super cyclones or washed away by the rising sea levels. In the cities they reside in cramped quarters, eking out a living as climate refugees.
Kolkata is one such city where people have come seeking refuge. But Kolkata itself is moving towards a breaking point. The city’s natural defences are being eroded to accommodate its burgeoning aspirations. When I was a teenager, there was a park with trees and a pond opposite my residence. A tall building has replaced the park. A thick layer of algae covers the pond which has now become a dump. Kolkata was once a city of ponds. These water bodies can help absorb the shock of climate change, but they are facing threats from real estate development, and apathy.
Last year, cyclone Amphan wreaked havoc in the city. It uprooted large trees and destroyed the homes and livelihoods of the poorest. Owing to my privilege, I did not have to experience the wrath of this extreme weather event. But that will change soon. There will come a time when no amount of privilege can save me or my progeny from what humans are doing to the earth.