Confront the wrath of the climate crisis, now - Hindustan Times

Confront the wrath of the climate crisis, now

Dec 11, 2023 06:32 PM IST

Is there still room to entertain the belief that the climate crisis will organically resolve itself?

I have a routine of drawing back the curtains at dawn to let the morning light mop up the remnants of night. But lately, that simple ritual has become impossible. Instead of the gentle rays of sunlight, what fills my view through the window is a thick shroud of smog. This unsettling change has transformed what were once hopeful mornings into those of despair — a sentiment shared by many.

2023 is on track to become the hottest year in human civilisation spanning over 125,000 years. (HT Archive) PREMIUM
2023 is on track to become the hottest year in human civilisation spanning over 125,000 years. (HT Archive)

The issue isn’t confined to Delhi or the National Capital Region; regions across our country are grappling with this. Research shows that a staggering 2.1 million individuals in India face premature deaths annually due to illnesses directly linked to air pollution. While China appears to be leading in this distressing statistic, the global outlook is equally grim. The repercussions of polluted air claim the lives of 5.1 million people worldwide, a number that has witnessed a surge in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to reports, 2023 is on track to become the hottest year in human civilisation spanning over 125,000 years, as identified by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). Projections indicate a potential surge in Earth’s temperature by 2.5–3 degrees Celsius by the close of this century. While this might take some time to unfold, the repercussions of extreme heat are already distressing, evidenced by an 85% increase in death among the elderly during the last three decades.

This intensifying heat wave is triggering mass migrations. If the situation worsens, it could spark a substantial surge in global refugee populations. The impacts extend beyond just air quality and rising temperatures. Our nation has endured daily anomalies in weather patterns for the initial nine months of the year. About 80% of India’s populace faces repercussions of climate imbalances. In the past year, cities such as Bengaluru, Visakhapatnam, and Thane, once renowned for their pleasant climates, have witnessed drastic shifts, leading to a significant surge in diseases either triggered or exacerbated by climate-related issues.

The impact of this transition goes beyond our health — it touches the core of our financial stability. The previous year witnessed staggering global losses totalling $360 billion due to adverse weather conditions. Unless prompt measures are taken, the global GDP may witness a distressing annual decline of 4.4% over the upcoming 25 to 30 years. Such an economic downturn has the potential to sow fear, hunger, and poverty, ravaging the lives of millions. Regrettably, South Asia might bear a three times greater burden than the rest of the world. The pivotal role of farmers in nourishing the world cannot be overstated, and water stands as a crucial asset for agriculture. A substantial 70% of the water extracted from the earth is dedicated solely to agriculture. If this trend persists, the world is barrelling towards an unprecedented groundwater crisis, which could materialise in the next two years.

Perennial rivers are slowly becoming relics of the past. There’s a global trend showcasing a reduction in river flows, coupled with rapid alterations in their courses. Within the past year alone, over half of the world’s rivers experienced a noticeable deviation from their typical flow patterns. Additionally, about 60% of reservoirs recorded either low or standard water levels. Is there still room to entertain the belief that this crisis will organically resolve itself?

Furthermore, along with the widening economic disparities on a global scale, there’s a surge in carbon emissions from the wealthy. Extensive studies indicate that to equate just 1% of the annual carbon output from the world’s wealthy, and the underprivileged across the globe would require an astonishing 1,500 years’ worth of emissions. Paradoxically, the very nations that are advocating restrictions on developing countries bear the primary responsibility for this global catastrophe.

Nevertheless, this juncture demands action on a war footing over assigning blame. If you’re sceptical of the gravity of the situation, consider a simple exercise: When you wake up in the morning, step outside, and inhale deeply. The stark reality will unveil itself before you. As entities intricately woven into the fabric of nature, we have been bestowed with its invaluable offerings: Water, air, light, trees, and crops — essentials indispensable for our protection and sustenance. When these fundamental elements face threats, it’s imperative to acknowledge that we are confronting the most profound perils.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal

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