A Flood Of Apathy: We're In The Middle Of A Climate Catastrophe Of Our Own Making

India is a land of vibrant landscapes and rich biodiversity that is being torn apart by the vagaries of climate change
India is a land of vibrant landscapes and rich biodiversity that is being torn apart by the vagaries of climate changePTI

For eons, Mother Nature has been cradling and nourishing us, paving the way for the prosperity of human civilization. Without McCartney, there is no Beatles, and without nature, there is no history of humanity. But what have we done in return? Behaved like ungrateful children and exploited the bounties of nature. What began as a struggle for sustenance has now become a war against nature perpetrated by us in the name of scientific advancement and innovation whereas it is nothing but a disguise for our greed and need for luxury. After centuries of this one-sided war, we couldn’t have possibly expected the all-powerful forces of nature to stay mum. The recent rise in recurring devastating natural disasters not just in our beloved country but across the globe is proof of the fact that we're in the middle of a full-fledged climate catastrophe.

India is a land of vibrant landscapes and rich biodiversity that is being torn apart by the vagaries of climate change, which are a direct consequence of our actions. If we take into account only the last couple of years, we witnessed severe loss of life in India alone due to Nature’s fury. From scorching heatwaves to devastating floods, the very fabric of our environment is being stretched to its breaking point.

These ordeals arrive in extremes. Several states have been battling relentless heatwaves, with temperatures soaring past 45°C, and in some places like Rajasthan, it has even soared to a blistering 50 degrees Celsius. This scorching phenomenon has claimed hundreds of lives and disrupted livelihoods. As we sit in privileged bubbles of air-conditioned rooms, these burning realities might elude us but unfortunately, that is not an option for the daily wage laborer or the farmer who has to toil in the fields, even at the risk of heatstrokes.

On the other hand, heavy and erratic monsoon rains have been causing widespread flooding, displacing millions and wreaking havoc on infrastructure. Places like Assam, Kerala, and Nagpur faced the brunt of this fury, with entire villages submerged and agricultural fields destroyed. Similarly, heavy rainfall in mountainous regions like Himachal Pradesh has been causing several landslides, resulting in rising death tolls.

Or take the example of Joshimath, where, due to land subsidence, people are witnessing their houses crumbling down as large cracks form on the ground, forcing their displacement. You could even take the example of a more recent and direct man-made tragedy that occurred — the caving in of the Silkyara Bend-Barkot tunnel in the Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand, while under construction, simply because proper environmental studies had not been implemented.

India is a land of vibrant landscapes and rich biodiversity that is being torn apart by the vagaries of climate change
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These aren't isolated events. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has repeatedly warned about extreme weather patterns' intensified frequency and severity due to human-induced climate change. Rising sea levels threaten our coastal communities while melting Himalayan glaciers jeopardize our water security. Only last month, we witnessed the coastal regions of West Bengal and Bangladesh suffering major losses of property and life due to cyclone Remal, which originated in the Bay of Bengal.

India is a land of vibrant landscapes and rich biodiversity that is being torn apart by the vagaries of climate change
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The blame for these predicaments lies not just with our fossil fuel dependence, but also with the greed of big corporations. Industries, particularly those in the manufacturing and energy sectors, are significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Their relentless pursuit of profit often comes at the expense of environmental sustainability. Among the 250 biggest polluters globally, a state-owned Indian company, Coal India, ranked number one for greenhouse gas emissions, releasing a staggering 2,076.2 million tonnes. India's presence on this list is significant, with Coal India leading the pack and three other Indian companies also placing themselves among the top 100 global emitters.

India is a land of vibrant landscapes and rich biodiversity that is being torn apart by the vagaries of climate change
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"The Weather Channel argues that India faces the gravest challenge: Climate change-induced health vulnerability. This is an issue often neglected. Prolonged summers, unpredictable rains, floods, droughts, and rising sea levels are the harsh realities of climate change in the country. These factors increase the frequency and severity of illnesses, pushing people into poverty, and forcing migration."

Claude Arpi, excerpt from an Indian Defence Review article titled '2024 May Witness More Natural Disasters'

Even though the doomsday clock is ticking steadily, despair is not the answer. We, the people of India, have the power to turn the tide through collective action, and in order, to encourage collective action, we must build a collective eco-consciousness. Grassroots movements demanding environmental accountability from corporations and the government are crucial. Public awareness campaigns on climate change can foster a sense of responsibility and inspire individual action. Stricter environmental regulations and the promotion of renewable energy sources are essential steps. We need policies that incentivize sustainable practices and penalize environmental degradation. Individuals can and have to hold their elected officials accountable for enacting climate-positive legislation.

Individual responsibility is also paramount. Greta Thunberg can’t be doing all the work for us. A collective shift towards sustainable living is vital. Promoting energy-efficient buildings with features like rainwater harvesting, solar panels, and natural ventilation can significantly reduce environmental impact. Shifting towards eco-friendly products, reducing waste generation, and adopting a more minimalist lifestyle are all steps in the right direction. Look for products made with recycled materials, choose reusable options over disposables, and mend clothes instead of discarding them. Reducing meat consumption and opting for plant-based alternatives is another simple yet impactful dietary choice. You can also support local farmers' markets and choose organic options whenever possible.

One may argue that some sustainable lifestyle choices can be economically impossible for most people in our country and that’s a fact. However, we should focus on the smallest individual actions within our capability. Primarily the onus is on the government and the corporations. If they can spend thousands of crores of rupees on election campaigns and family weddings they can absolutely set aside funds for building an economic and business model that focuses on sustainable and regenerative practices. A multi-pronged approach is essential in the fight against climate change. The recent natural calamities serve as a stark reminder – the time for inaction is over. Let's rise to the occasion, for the sake of India's future, the world’s, our own, and for future generations.