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The Financial Express

Scrambling to save the planet


Scrambling to save the planet

Human ingenuity has caused wonders throughout the long --- and lengthening --- course of civilization. An instance of it is the incredible journey of the James Webb Space Telescope into a discovery of the beginnings of time and space.

And yet as we imagine the moment of Creation, the joy which religions have constantly upheld through the ages, we cannot but reflect on the gigantic damage people have done to Earth. It is the only planet we call home. And home has been under assault because of the predatory instincts which have consistently guided us. We have wounded Earth beyond measure.

Imagine this situation. Ah, but there is little to be imagined here, for it is the rude reality in our times. In certain areas of the United Kingdom, the government has officially announced a drought in regions that have been going through the intense heat wave of the past many weeks. Lakes have shrunk, the water level has gone down, the green grass is burnt out and crop fields have begun to resemble the desolation we have generally associated with the planet Mars.

Of course, we keep speaking of carbon emissions, of summits like COP-26 --- and COP-27 is on the way --- of what global leaders need to do to ensure that civilization survives by rolling back the damage that has already been caused to the climate. Forests have vanished, a reality we experience in our very own Bangladesh.

And if you take a look at Brazil, where someone like Jair Bolsonaro has held sway as President, the picture gets more depressing. In the Amazon, trees have been cut down with impunity, on the watch of a government which brazenly ignores climate change as it has ignored the terrible malady known as the coronavirus.

And that is but one small example of the human condition degenerating to human predatory behaviour in undermining the very place we call home --- this planet we inhabit. There are few people around us who can emulate the late Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan politician whose Nobel Prize for Peace came on the back of her achievement in planting thousands of trees in her country.

The desperation we feel, all around the globe, of a whole world moving rather inexorably toward self-destruction, is palpable. You tend to ask yourself: How is it that when Earth's resources were being exploited, especially in the aftermath of the industrial revolution in the West, no one ever imagined that there would come a time when we would be up against the danger we now confront?

The ice on the mountains --- and we speak of mountains all around --- has been melting at a rate that frightens us. Now consider this: the way in which we have struck down nature, have squeezed every ounce of energy from within the core of the planet, has now translated into this new threat of ice caps melting, of icebergs sinking to the bottom of the sea.

Volcanoes, some of them long dormant, have exploded in fury, carrying homes and lives in their heat. When mountains go through a depletion of ice and snow, the same we have traditionally celebrated down the generations, it is the next worry which assails us. The rivers that owe their origins to that natural bounty on the mountain-tops will in course of time run dry.

When a river loses its way or ceases to exist, it is human civilization which is threatened with extinction. Could similar circumstances not have been the cause behind the end of life, assuming life was ever there on the planets in our neighbourhood, those in the solar system we study all the time? Observe Bangladesh again. A land historically known for the charming ubiquity of its rivers, it is now faced with the dire possibility of a goodly number of those rivers simply running out of life.

Indeed, there are places in the country where bridges once built across rivers to facilitate people's movements are now a stark image of the rivers having gone dry, of people simply walking across the beds of rivers that once were, of bridges that remain a mockery of human folly. Besides, the unbridled commandeering of rivers by unscrupulous elements continues to threaten the future of other rivers in the country. And if climate change is not reversed, it our coastal regions that could be swallowed by the Bay of Bengal.

The damage we have done to the climate shines in dark brilliance in the floods which have ravaged South Korea, in the forest fires which have repeatedly engulfed the legendary woodlands of California. In these past many weeks, the flames that have leapt out of forests in France and Spain and Italy and Greece are a back-handed tribute to ourselves for the contributions we have made in the exploitation of the planet's resources.

Factories go on emitting smoke. Those countries which have been the biggest contributors to the making of the climate crisis pretend that the malady is the responsibility of all nations. The ravaging of nature has not been the work of the world's underdeveloped societies and yet now we are all condemned to dealing with a situation where every nation needs to pitch in with help in rolling back the tide of destruction. Can we do it? A simple question, but one the answer to which could end up being ambivalent.

It is all so very unfair, but then again, we cannot go on arguing back and forth over which nations have given us a world which we could lose sooner than we know it. In such traditionally cold regions as Pakistan's Balochistan province, the degree of snowfall which once defined it is no more there. Snowfalls are as good as being a tale of the past. But observe how in the past week torrential rains in Balochistan have caused unprecedented floods in the province and claimed the lives of no fewer than 130 people. Homes were simply washed away.

The Glasgow Climate Pact set out four objectives on the implementation of which the future of the planet rests. A net-zero target to be achieved by the middle of the century and ensuring that the global temperature does not go beyond 1.5 degree Celsius, adaptation toward protecting communities and natural habitats and coughing up the finance needed for the job are all there.

Are these goals good enough? Rainforests are vanishing, animal populations are in steep decline, fishes are hardly in adequate supply any more. We are scrambling to stave off disaster. What if disaster gets the better of us?

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