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Global Warming: A Terrible Reminder

By Sukumaran C. V.

26 May, 2014

Humanity’s determination to transform the planet for its own material benefit is now backfiring on us in the most spectacular way, so that the climate crisis is for the human species now an existential one…We will be powerless to stop the jump to a new climate on Earth, one much less sympathetic to life. The kind of climate that has allowed civilization to flourish will be gone and humans will enter a long struggle just to survive.—Clive Hamilton

Another World Environment Day is around the corner and it is high time the humans, who have triggered the dangerous phenomenon called Climate Change or Global Warming, earnestly switched over to a sustainable way of living in order to reverse the process of Global Warming, if we want to sustain an inhabitable earth and if we don’t want to be wiped out by the Wrath of the Elements.

In May 2013, the atmospheric CO2 levels crossed 400 ppm (parts per million). ‘It is a level unseen for three million years,’ says Chris Tackett. The news bothered us little and we went back to business, as usual, that further contributes to increase the CO2 levels. We are killing the planet on which we live, and we find nothing wrong in this killing. The facts about Climate Change or Global Warming are too terrible for us to maintain our complacency. In his ominous book, ‘Requiem for a Species: Why we resist the truth about climate change’, Clive Hamilton says that for nearly three million years, the natural carbon cycle has ensured the atmosphere has contained less than 300 ppm of CO2, the right amount to keep the planet at a temperature suited to the flourishing of a rich variety of life. This balance has been disturbed long since due to our industrial activities.

Hamilton writes: “Antarctic icesheet started to form once atmospheric CO2 levels fell below about 500 ppm, and the Greenland and West Antarctic icesheets formed when levels fell below about 400 ppm.”

It means that we have created a climate in which the Greenland and West Antarctic icesheets can’t remain as they have been remaining for millions of years.

James Hansen, one of the foremost climate experts, is quoted to have said that ‘if humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed, CO2 will need to be reduced from its current (in 2008) 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm.’

Instead of reducing it to 350 ppm, within four years, we increased it to 400ppm!

Arctic ice is in its death spiral, says Mark Serreze, director of the US National Snow and Ice data Center. ‘The dark water surface that will replace the reflective white one in summer will absorb more solar radiation’ and it will further exacerbate the global warming. “This is expected to initiate a cascade of effects as the patch of warmth over the Arctic spreads in all directions, melting the Siberian permafrost and destabilising the Greenland icesheet. Melting of the Greenland icesheet would eventually result in the world’s oceans rising by around seven metres, dramatically redrawing the geography of the Earth.’

Over the period 1990-2100, the average global surface temperatures are projected to increase by anywhere between 1.4 °C and 5.8 °C; and only an increment of the temperature between 1°C and 3°C is needed to melt the Greenland icesheet! Global warming occurs as a result of more and more CO2 emissions and deforestation. Destruction of Nature’s green cover which works as carbon sink, and burning of fossil fuels increase the CO2 levels contributing to global warming. And the ‘warming is expected to cause more deforestation through droughts, fires and high temperatures inhibiting plant growth.’ It is said that a 4 °C rise in the earth’s average temperature would kill off 85% of the Amazon rainforests! What a vicious cycle of destruction we have unleashed with our ‘progress’!

Global warming has not still reached the stage in which it causes deforestation and ‘redrawing the geography of the Earth’, but the policies of our governments, which safeguard the interests of the corporate (mining) business, are contributing heavily to the catastrophe. Still deforestation is only man-made; we can stop it by simply discarding our unsustainable way of living. But if and when it goes out of our control and the forests start to wilt away due to climate warming, there will be no way to go back.

The U. S. environmentalist Derrick Jensen says that ‘global warming has caused phytoplankton to decrease 6 percent in the last twenty years. That is very bad. That is unspeakably bad. When phytoplankton goes, it is all over.’ (Endgame)

Phytoplankton are photosynthesizing microscopic organisms that inhabit the upper sunlit layer of almost all oceans and fresh water bodies. They are agents for primary production, the creation of organic compounds from CO2 dissolved in water, a process that sustains the aquatic food web. Phytoplankton accounts for half of all photosynthetic activity on Earth. Thus they are responsible for much of the oxygen present in the atmosphere —half of the total amount produced by all plant life.

Oxygen is the prime necessity for Life to sustain on Earth. Plants, trees and phytoplankton produce it; and humans and their unsustainable way of living implacably destroy plants and trees and phytoplankton!

In his article titled ‘Ticking Time Bomb’, published in ‘Baltimore Sun’( Dec. 15, 2004), geologist John Atcheson says:

“The Arctic Council's recent report on the effects of global warming in the far north paints a grim picture: global floods, extinction of polar bears and other marine mammals, collapsed fisheries. But it ignored a ticking time bomb buried in the Arctic tundra.

There are enormous quantities of naturally occurring greenhouse gases trapped in ice-like structures in the cold northern muds and at the bottom of the seas. These ices, called clathrates, contain 3,000 times as much methane as is in the atmosphere. Methane is more than 20 times as strong a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide.

A temperature increase of merely a few degrees would cause these gases to volatilize and "burp" into the atmosphere, which would further raise temperatures, which would release yet more methane, heating the Earth and seas further, and so on. Once triggered, this cycle could result in runaway global warming the likes of which even the most pessimistic doomsayers aren't talking about.

Strong geologic evidence suggests something similar has happened at least twice before.

The most recent of these catastrophes occurred about 55 million years ago in what geologists call the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), when methane burps caused rapid warming and massive die-offs, disrupting the climate for more than 100,000 years.

The granddaddy of these catastrophes occurred 251 million years ago, at the end of the Permian period, when a series of methane burps came close to wiping out all life on Earth. More than 94 percent of the marine species present in the fossil record disappeared suddenly as oxygen levels plummeted and life teetered on the verge of extinction. Over the ensuing 500,000 years, a few species struggled to gain a foothold in the hostile environment. It took more than 100 million years for ecosystems to reach their former healthy diversity.”

And the terrible fact is that the world today is controlled by the U. S. ‘democracy’ and the U. S. democracy is controlled by the corporate giants like the Ford Motor Company, Freeport McMoRan, Pacific Lumber, Boise Cascade, Weyerhaeuser, Monsanto, ExxonMobil, Enron etc. When the executive of the Ford Motor Company, John Schiller, was asked (during negotiations over the ‘Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’) how opponents of the Convention believe there is no problem with burning all the oil and gas available on the planet, he told that scientists get it all wrong when they say fossil fuels have been underground for millions of years. He said that the Earth is only ten thousand years old, because (in his own words): “You know, the more I look, the more it is just as it says in the Bible.” (Quoted from Derrick Jensen’s ‘Endgame’). Jensen says that one hundred and seventy-eight members of the U. S. House of Representatives and forty-four members of the U. S. Senate are Christian fundamentalists, or are otherwise allied with the Christian right.

It should be remembered that in the U. S. alone ‘about 30,000 people die each year from respiratory illness caused by auto-related airborne toxins’, and cancer is spreading like wildfire as the atmosphere is filled with carcinogens. (97% of North America's natural forests have been cut and even the breast milk of mothers in the U. S. is filled with toxins!)

Hamilton concludes his book by stating: “… the time has come for us to ask whether our obligations to our fellow humans and the wider natural world entitle us to break laws that protect those who continue to pollute the atmosphere in a way that threatens our survival. Despair, Accept, Act. …Only by acting, and acting ethically, can we redeem our humanity.”

In the preface of the Report of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP), Prof. Madhav Gadgil, Chairman of the Panel, says: “The Western Ghats are naturally an important focus of sustainable development efforts. The protector of the Indian peninsula, the mother of the Godavari, Krishna, Netravathi, Kaveri, Kunthi, Vaigai and a myriad other rivers, Kalidasa likens the Western Ghats to a charming maiden; Agastyamalai is her head, Annamalai and Nilgiri the breasts, her hips the broad ranges of Kanara and Goa, her legs the northern Sahyadris. Once the lady was adorned by a sari of rich green hues; today her mantle lies in shreds and tatters. It has been torn asunder by the greed of the elite and gnawed at by the poor, striving to eke out a subsistence. This is a great tragedy, for this hill range is the backbone of the ecology and economy of south India.”

WGEEP report says that “we are today stuck in a system that forcibly divorces conservation from development. It ends up creating a dichotomy so that our policies at once promote reckless development in certain areas, and thoughtless conservation in other areas. In the process we constitute islands of biodiversity (and social exclusion) – the so-called Protected Areas (PAs) – in an ocean of ecological devastation outside of these PAs. …our insistence on “not a blade of grass shall be removed from PAs” is as inappropriate as complete disregard for pollution control laws outside of PAs. WGEEP would like to propose that we should instead attempt to develop a model of conservation and development compatible with each other encompassing the whole of the Western Ghats region, to replace the prevailing “Develop recklessly – conserve thoughtlessly” pattern with one of “Develop sustainably – conserve thoughtfully”.

No wonder that the MoEF has appointed the High Level Working Group (HLWG) on Western Ghats under the chairmanship of K. Kasturirangan to promote the accepted norm of the Indian State: ‘Develop recklessly – conserve thoughtlessly’.

While WGEEP categorically recommends that the Ministry of Environment and Forestry refuse Environmental Clearance to Athirappally (Kerala) and Gundia (Karnataka) hydel power projects as both the dams come under ESZ1 and they will damage the biodiversity and ecology of the regions; report of the HLWG says that ‘the (Athirappally) project must be revaluated in terms of the generation of energy and whether the plant load factor expected in the project makes it viable against the loss of local populations of some species. Based on this revaluation and collection of data on ecological flow, the Government of Kerala, could take forward the proposal, if it so desires with the Ministry of Environment and Forests.’ And in the case of Gundia ‘HLWG recommends that the Government of Karnataka should reassess the ecological flow in the downstream areas, based on a thorough evaluation of hydrological regimes in the area. … The HWLG has not proposed a complete ban on the construction of hydropower projects in the ESA.’

While WGEEP argues for a Western Ghats Ecology Authority to look into such issues, HWLG asks the state governments that are adamant on building the dams at the cost of the biodiversity to ‘reassess’ or ‘revaluate’ the ecological flow and forward the proposal to MoEF. It is like entrusting the security of the cock in the hands of the fox.

Gerald Durrell, who dedicated his whole life to the preservation of wildlife, has written in his book ‘Ark on the Move’:

“As I traveled all over the world I could see how animal life was becoming more and more endangered by the encroachment of man. Ecologically speaking, man is killing Madagascar, and so himself, as he is doing in so many parts of the world.”

We have been doing the same in India. WGEEP says that a study in the southern region, comprising the states of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, showed that between 1920–1990 about 40% of the original vegetation cover was lost or converted to another form of land use. It is estimated that not more than about 7% of the area of the Western Ghats is presently under primary vegetation cover. If we are not ready to heed the recommendations of the eminent ecologists like Prof. Gadgil, by 2060 we will devastate the whole of the Western Ghats. And the following fate of the island called Rodrigues (described heart-rendingly by Gerald Durrell) will be the fate of India also:

“To begin with, the island (Rodrigues) was thickly forested with hundreds of species of tree and shrub. Fruits and vegetables grew everywhere in profusion. The settlers made wine and spirits from the palm trees. The vast, frothy apron of the reef, exposed for miles at low tide, teemed with thousands of fish, oysters, lobsters and crabs. In the lagoons, feeding on seaweeds, were herds of massive, placid and easily killed dugong, the huge marine mammal rather like a seal, whose flesh was delicious and whose carcass yielded valuable oil. Nor was the interior of the island any less bountiful. Birdlife was abundant and, having no enemies, the birds were tame and easy to kill. Especially easy in this respect was a turkey-sized flightless bird called the solitaire, which like the dodo was soon to become extinct. The island was also full of a species of giant tortoise, each one the size of a large armchair, that ambled in their thousands through the forests.”

“Alas, the arrival of the settlers was the death knell for this wonderful island. (Rodrigues lies 360 miles from Mauritius and the flight to its tiny airport takes you over the vast blue carpet of the Indian Ocean). As man has always done, the island was raped ruthlessly and unmercifully. The forests were felled for timber. The birds and the dugongs were harried to extinction, as were the tortoises. Ships would call in and take thousands of tortoises on board as living meat supplies, such as a modern vessel may take on tinned hams. Very shortly the animal life dwindled and was gone. The forest vanished and this ‘Garden of Eden’ lay an eroded husk after the locust like attack of man. Thus in three hundred years, man, through thoughtless greed, had turned a rich and beautiful place into what is today, almost a desert.”

Mother Earth is being killed. Everything we the humans (especially those in power) do in the name of ‘progress’ contributes to the killing. Let’s accept the truth and act to STOP THE KILLING.

Sukumaran C. V. is a former JNU student and his articles on gender, communalism and environmental degradation are published in The Hindu. Email: [email protected]


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