Published on :-3 Apr 2008,
Beyond Tibet and John McCain's nimble-footed signals to White House, there is something that must concern us all.
Our daily doses of air and water are going to be affected in the most serious manner in next decade. I was recently in Ladakh, known as the driest snow desert with naked mountains and miles of plains without a single green leaf. Now the Indus gets flooded and last year more than 22 villages faced the wrath of the river which has always been soft and placid in this region, though it turns ferocious and oceanic after reaching Gilgit and Bahawalpur. Ladakhi monks were not amused to see how climate change had resulted in huge glaciers across the border in Tibet melting at a faster pace. Down north not only is the Ganga, the life and identity of India, changing course more rapidly but the source of it, the mighty Gaumukh, is shrinking and receding at an astounding rate.
Last week returning from Kolkata, I realised we have almost forgotten the habit of drinking tap water. Each glass of water now cost us three rupees, half an hour's of work for a labourer in my village. Normal water, which used to be available so freely at railway stations and city corners and which the city municipalities and water boards were known to supply after heavy chlorine treatment, has almost vanished and even the water supplied to our homes is not regarded as safe. We are bulldozed through aggressive TV ads (“Use it otherwise you will get sick”) to install a pretty, sleek gadget that purifies tap water. It’s no more fashionable to cover the nose with that band aid-type white piece to show how bad the city's air has become; hence, the air scanner is a necessity.
The biggest catastrophe staring us since man began to walk and the Neanderthal inhabited the universe is global warming which is going to change the way we live, eat and die. Our agitations, aspirations and fulminations will come to naught if the politics of green management is not immediately taken away from the fashionable catwalkers who eye the dollars they get in huge grants and do nothing at the ground level.
We are discussing Mahendra Singh Tikait and the price rise while Europe is debating measures for clean energy. Get me any party which has a line in its election manifesto underlining green energy targets or a commitment to renewable energy plans. Wind farms, hydroelectric and solar energy initiatives attract less attention than aids grants from the Melinda Gates Foundation and criticising novices for their kindergarten politics.
Our priority should have been life. But we are stuck discussing death and the darker sides of it.
Try to hold your breath for a mere 20 seconds and see how the lungs clamour to get a whiff of fresh air. We die if breathable air is not immediately available. It's so simple. Billions are being spent on bottling and purifying plants to get good, fresh, safe water while the naturally available sources are being contaminated in a planed manner spending billions. We make environmental laws for quoting at international seminars but keep polluting the freely available gift of nature – fresh and pure oxygen. Green acres, golf courses and the Lutyen's Bungalows Zone are meant for the rich and the powerful. What about those who live on the outskirts and populate shanty townships? How much do we spend on providing safe water to the commoners and ensure breathable air for all? If air and water are going to be scarce in the next generation, it's going to affect all and the rich can't survive on beer and carbon ‘die-oxide’.
Air pollution, in the form of particulate matter or sulphur dioxide, ozone or nitrogen dioxide, has a serious impact on health. For example, in the European Union, the smallest particulate matter alone (PM2.5) causes an estimated loss of life expectancy of 8.6 months for the average European. Air pollution is estimated to cause approximately two million premature deaths worldwide per year. More than half of this burden is borne by people in developing countries. "By reducing particulate matter pollution from 70 to 20 micrograms per cubic metre death rate due to pollution can be reduced by around 15 per cent," says Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director of Public Health and the Environment. "By reducing air pollution levels, we can help countries to reduce the global burden of disease from respiratory infections, heart disease, and lung cancer which they otherwise would be facing. Moreover, action to reduce the direct impact of air pollution will also cut emissions of gases which contribute to climate change and provide other health benefits."
Not only are earth's water reserves getting contaminated and air levels getting dangerously affected by global warming, the political powers of the western hemisphere are driving the world to another world war over water and possession of Antarctica. When Nicolas Sarkozy's party was defeated in local elections, he pushed the button to commission a fourth generation nuclear submarine Le Terrible (The Fearsome) and described the French force de frappe as a weapon of self-defence. "The security of Europe is at stake," he said. "Countries in Asia and the Middle East are rapidly developing ballistic capacities," he added.
Le Terrible is to be equipped with a new, nuclear-tipped missile, the M-51, whose range is secret but is understood, according to Le Monde newspaper, to be some 4,970 miles – able to reach Asia. From a high of 65,000 active weapons in 1985, there are about 20,000 active nuclear weapons in the world and many of the "decommissioned" weapons were simply stored or partially dismantled, not destroyed. Though the total number was expected to continue to decline by 30-50 per cent over the next decade, the threat will remain even if a single nuclear weapon is kept active. The West would like to keep these weapons but wants the others to keep off, in a brazen show of hypocrisy. That furthers the race of mutually agreed mass destruction rather than reduce the threat.
Even if one tries to understand the mad race for weapons of mass destruction, basically fuelled by the western powers, the logic given to raise effective deterrence is always against nature's laws and mass happiness. The Guardian screamed in a headline recently that 'Climate change may spark conflict with Russia' and 'disclosed’ that 'European governments have been told to plan for an era of conflict over energy resources, with global warming likely to trigger a dangerous contest between Russia and the west for the vast mineral riches of the Arctic'.
Since 1938, when Nazi Germany sent an expedition to Antarctica with a mission to investigate sites for a possible base and to make formal claims in the name of the Third Reich, a crazy race to claim Antarctica has been going on furiously. Apart from creating and maintaining conflict zones in our region like Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran and jihad factories of Pakistan and Bangladesh, Tibet and Antarctica are going to be new war zones. Antarctica is a beautiful garden of ice created by nature. Researchers say it is 58 times the area of Britain and doubles its size each winter; it contains 90 per cent of the world's ice The coldest place on Earth and, at an average of 2,300 metres above sea level, it supports a population of only around 4,000 people (a mere 1,000 in winter), none of them indigenous (penguins apart).
There are, however, the children of Chilean and Argentine women who have given birth in air bases so that the two countries, locked in rivalry for control of huge sectors of Antarctica, can reinforce their claims to sovereignty. Once again, the race is on to unlock the riches beneath the ice. By international treaty, Antarctica is neutral territory, belonging to no one. The 1959 treaty, in force since 1961 and signed by 46 countries, set aside the frozen continent as a scientific preserve and established freedom of scientific investigation (there are now more than 50 polar stations). If this region too gets into a bloody war of control, think about how the rest of the world's natural resources are being devastated by blind cravings for more consumption and luxurious life.
Here comes the role India can play in saving the planet from mass destruction – the natural way. Co-existence and respect for nature is ingrained in the psyche of an average Hindu. When Bachendri Pal reached Sagarmatha (arrogantly renamed to by the west as Mt. Everest), she didn't put her foot on the peak first but offered vermillion and the sacred red thread as her mark of respect for Mother Nature and then put the Tricolour over there. We never say “conquered the peak'” We scale newer heights with humility. A culture that feeds the ants, offers milk to serpents and worships trees and stones finds god manifested in every creation: Wind, Himalayas, Ocean and Banyan, Mount Kailas (Meru), Ganga and Cow. That's what Lord Krishna is to the devout Hindus. He is manifest in nature and good karma. The Lord has said in Gita's chapter 10 that –
Among the trees, I am the holy banyan tree,
Among the cows, I am the wish giving Kama Dhenu,
And among the water bodies, I am the sea
And among the immovable, I am the Himalayas.
Among the peaks, I am the divine Meru
Among the shining objects, I am the Sun God,
And among the stars, I am the moon
Among those who move fast, I am the wind
And among the rivers, I am the Ganga
And among the seasons, I am the flowering spring
Among the animals, I am the lion,
And among the birds, I am the eagle.
Among the great elephants, I am Iravatha,
Among the cows, I am the wish giving Kama Dhenu,
And I am Vasuki among serpents,
Hinduism is a charter of respect to the nature and living in the perfect spirit of togetherness.
Togetherness is the key word for a Hindu who can't think to destroy the creation for making a living. Let them write a new charter of mutually agreed principles of mass happiness and long life, crossing ideological boundaries and ways of worshipping gods. That should define the saffron way to worship greens of our gods – all collectively.
Sometime back the RSS chief K S Sudarshan met leaders of diametrically opposed ideologies like Mulayam Singh Yadav, Sheila Dikshit and Kapil Sibbal with just two requests: to save water and propagate Hindi. He says unless you are sure to drink the full glass of water, don't fill it to the top to save waste. Most of us drink less than half the glass of water and the rest is thrown away. Change habit to give a message of energy conservation. Simple mantras. There are more than a hundred globally influential Hindu leaders and equal would be the number of Christian and Muslim clergymen who hold great sway over their flock. Can't they all come together, may be eve half of them, for two point common minimum agenda - save water and air from pollution. I am sure it won't be against Koran or Bible or Gita. Let one religious leader take a lead to save nation from pollution and environmental destruction propelled by wrong state policies, may be their awakened followers can persuade them to take up such issues. It saves lives of humans and all creatures and should be deemed as the best offerings to the gods.