World Environment Day has been celebrated since 1972. On June 5 this year we shall observe this day with the theme “Celebrate Biodiversity”. This year Columbia which has about 10% of the world biodiversity and is a part of Amazon rainforest will host this UN program. Every year a new theme helps to make the people aware of various challenges that we face in preserving our environment. In 2018 India had hosted this event with the theme “Beat Plastic Pollution“.
World environment is mainly affected by the climate change which is a byproduct of technological progress. Use of fossil fuels like coal and oil, as well as, rampant deforestation to make space for cultivation and industry precipitates climate change. The exponential growth in population gives rise to never ending demands that adds to the need for more natural resources. Fumes from the industries and transportation vehicles add carbon dioxide to the air. This in turn heats up the atmosphere because carbon dioxide absorbs heat from the Sun. Any increase of carbon dioxide percentage in the air will increase the temperature. It will also make the seas and oceans more acidic by absorption of carbon dioxide in water. Though there are many other gases that are more dangerous than CO2, like methane, CFC etc, yet the sheer volume of carbon dioxide makes it more threatening.
The warming planet puts the mankind at risk not only through heat related sickness but also through rising water levels due to melting glaciers and polar ice sheets. Rising temperatures has helped the spread of diseases like Lyme, Dengue, West Nile Virus. It is estimated that 800 million people would suffer from heat related diseases in South Asia. In India 1 in 8 people would die of pollution related diseases. Latest Global estimate is about 4 million people die annually due to air pollution.
Climatic hazards like cyclones, droughts and scarcity of water, heavy rains in wetlands, are some of the other fall out of our warming planet. It is also alarming that there could be an extinction of a number of species due to climate change, thereby threatening the already fragile biodiversity of our world. By 2100 we would have lost almost 50% of our biodiversity because of climate change. We may lose the Asian elephants, giraffes and the South Asian apes to the climate change on land. We would lose the corals to the acidic waters of the oceans, and fishes like sharks and whales to the warm waters of the seas. Apart from losing the oceanic birds who would vanish having lost their costal nests and eggs to the rising sea, we would also lose a number of insects, especially bumblebees, affecting pollination in plants. Monarch butterflies, Kola bears, leather back sea turtles, Colombia spotted frogs, ringed seals, penguins, polar bears are a few others that may get extinct.
The challenge before humanity is to control the environment. The biggest challenge before governments today is to device a structured policy that will prevent random exploitation of the natural resources and preserve the world for our future generations. Our problem is compounded by the fact that the Earth is slow to to react to any assault on its resources. It takes hundreds and thousands of years to feel the effects of human exploitation on climate. Similarly to revert the damage done would take another hundred year to reset it. So the damage done today can prove be fatal for mankind in the future. Once the temperature starts rising there is no way to stop it in the short run, neither is there a way to stop the rising sea levels once it starts climbing. Although we are expecting a rise of two feet of sea level by 2100 it may rise up to 6 feet depending on other circumstances, nothing definitive can be predicted about the future.
Climate change would not only affect the environment but also affect the quality of human life by increasing food prices, availability of housing and arrival of other challenges, like disease outbreaks. The poor will become poorer and the rich will also face economic challenges due to human induced climatic change. Though it is impossible to predict what the future will look like a few hundred years from now but it is certain that at the current rate of change we would lose the ice sheets and burn up a substantial portion of the remaining forests in forest fires. Natural calamity will become a routine.
It is not enough for countries to blame each other over climate change. Together we need to find a solution to prevent further deterioration of the environment by the industries. Tragedy of the Commons is the root cause of environmental problems, like air and water pollution. Everybody’s problem is Nobody’s problem. Is international climate change agreement a solution, or should each country act in their own self interest to start a policy like carbon taxation or implement a cap and trade format to allow for a limited amount of industrial pollution? Of course any regulation on limiting use of fossil fuels for industrial purposes is a burden on technological progress. The developed country and the developing country obviously will be at loggerheads to quantify who should bear the brunt of the pollution already affected. So the only possible solution is to provide the developing countries with a clean energy source by the developed countries, this can be clean technology transfer or direct transfer of electricity. The catch is convincing the industries to adopt electricity instead of the already functional mecanism of fossil fuels. Solar energy, hydroelectricity, windmills, and nuclear energy are a few of the available options.
The challenge is further aggravated due to human nature, even today having invented advanced artificial intelligence and intellectuals thinking of singleton government, developed countries fight over having economic control over another, a form of dominion expansion. India with its matured philosophy of life can lead the world out of this crisis. “Sarvey Bhavantu Sukhinah” (may all beings be happy) and ” Vasudaiva Kutumbakam” (the world is family) are a few of the adages of our ancient Hindu civilisation that reminds us of a lesson on shared and balanced approach to progress. The importance given to our environment with all its nature, plants and animals can be seen from the many slokas in Hindu scriptures that praise nature and maintenance of its balance. In Sukla Yajur Veda the verses 5.43 states,
dyaammaa lekheerantarikshammaa himseeh prithivyaa sambhava |
ayam hi tvaa svadhitistetijaanah praninaaya mahate saubhaagaaya |
atastvandeva vanaspate shatavalsho viroha sahasravalshaa vi vayam ruhema |
Graze not the sky and harm not the air. Be in accordance with the earth.
For this well-sharpened axe hath led thee forth to great felicity.
With a hundred branches, O Lord of the Forest may thou grow. May we grow spreading with a hundred branches.
The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) in India has introduced a number of Central Financial Assistance (CFA) schemes that promote solar energy in India. It endeavours to achieve an ambitious target of 100 GW by 2020. Prime Minister Narendra Modi installed and inaugurated the solar panels on roof of UN headquarters on September 23, 2019. India has also funded solar project at UN Headquarters to reduce carbon footprint and promote sustainable energy taking steps in the right direction. The world needs to enable India, rich with its philanthropic and pragmatic approach, to tide over this crisis.
Arghya Jyoti Ganguly