Clueless on climate change as another year ends

A fisherman swims to shore after his boat capsized due to high waves ahead of the expected landfall of Cyclone Vayu at Veraval, India, June 12, 2019. REUTERS/Amit Dave

Amisha’s eyes are as large as a ten-rupee coin as she asks, “Miss, it is raining back in the village…oley….hailstones too...why? My father can't farm....” I stare at her and wonder how to best explain the disaster unfolding on the climate change front.

The Madrid climate talks or the 25th edition of the parties to the UN framework convention on climate change (COP 25) have broken down or dwindled to an inconclusive end depending on how you want to look at it. No action agendas were set, no tally of past commitments taken, much sound and fury. Much ado about nothing. The US, once the world's largest carbon footprint generator, has announced withdrawal from the forthcoming Paris agreement. It has done this to avoid committing to any further cuts in carbon emissions.

The chaos theory gently reminds us of the far-flung impacts of even a distant butterfly wing flapping. What kind of world will these 10-year-olds inherit?

Researchers put together paper after paper and connect data sets that seem obvious: Effect of heat on worker productivity, suicide rate surges after repeated crop failure, weather change and epidemics, increase in crime rates after such burn outs at the margins of society. The increase in crime rates is logical — if you don't have much to lose, if you have less at stake, you'd have less incentive to follow the law.

Sab theek hoga…All will be well,” I fumble, but my words sound fake, hollow. I look away.

Climate change by whatever name has been creeping closer home. Mumbai welcomed December with a climate change bonanza – unseasonal rain, sky-high onion prices, and temperatures that can best be called bipolar – cold one day, warm the other. NASA says the North Indian Ocean basin witnessed nine cyclones in 2019. The Arabian sea, has otherwise been fortunate so far to avoid cyclones, if you look at data over almost two centuries. What changed in a year to attract as many freak cyclones, and what happens next?

When the wind blows like a banshee as it is sure to, if it affects glass-clad high rises, it affects shanties lining the shore much more. Maha, Kyarr, Fani, Hikka, Vayu, Pabuk ....Will our efforts be limited to thinking up pretty names for cyclones?

Unseasonal rain and hailstorms, wailing banshee winds, quick melting icecaps – in all these instances the bottom of the pyramid hurts the first, nor does it have the luxury of a safety net to bail out. How do I tell this child that the crowded-but-clean slum her home is in, expensive real estate per square foot, sits on what was not so long ago a swamp, a dal-dal in local parlance? Or that large swathes of these tony suburbs used to be marshy not so long ago?

In 2005 when the deluge-of-the-century hit Mumbai, long-forgotten rivers and ignored river beds sprung to life and forged their ways through overbuilt areas. What will happen if the sea rises and makes inroads into coastal regions, as reports suggest it will by 2050? Reports say Mumbai, Surat, Kolkata, Chennai will be the worst affected, and it is only a question of when, not if anymore.

Add to this man-made damage inflicted by building roads in far-flung mountain areas for defence and tourism; or allowing industry in areas that ought to be left alone. What happens when nature reclaims what is hers? Didn’t Newton teach us that action and reaction are equal and opposite?

We may not have any answers for the environment, but we seem to be experts at creating imminent disasters that would make it to the front pages.

I still don’t have a good enough reply for Amisha.

(Mira Desai is a Mumbai-based writer)

The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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