Friday, November 30, 2018

Looming Crisis

A decaying dead sperm whale washed ashore at a national park in Indonesia this month. Inside its belly were found, 19 pieces of hard plastic, 4 plastic bottles, 24 plastic bags, 2 flip-flops, 3.26 kilograms of string and 115 plastic cups.

145 long finned pilot whales were found stranded on a remote beach in New Zealand. By the time rescuers reached the struggling whales, nearly half were already dead. The other half were in such pain that they needed to be euthanized. The hiker who spotted them and alerted the authorities said, their screams were unbearable.

The Great Barrier Reef is rapidly losing its coral glory. Rising ocean temperatures are said to be the cause. Scientists are desperately trying to artificially fertilize and regenerate new life on the reef. But if temperatures keep rising, even a fraction change will spell death to one of the great wonders of the planet.

The white marble on Taj Mahal's dome is cracking and its sheen is being dulled beyond repair. Sustained industrial pollution over decades is said to be the cause. The river Yamuna that hugs its banks is a cesspool of filth and disease.

2018 has seen the worst forest fires ravage California on record. 1,667,855 acres have burned, the largest amount recorded in any any given year. A fire this month claimed 88 people and almost 25  are still unaccounted for. It destroyed more than 18,000 structures, becoming both California's deadliest and most destructive wildfire on record.

This month, the US government released its Fourth National Climate Assessment report. 13 federal agencies presented the starkest warnings to date of the consequences of climate change for the United States. The report predicted that if significant steps are not taken to rein in global warming, the damage will knock as much as 10 percent off the size of the American economy by century’s end.

According to the World Meteorological Organization, The year 2018 is on course to be the fourth warmest on record. It says that the global average temperature for the first 10 months of the year was nearly 1C above the levels between 1850-1900. The State of the Climate report says that the 20 warmest years on record have been in the past 22 years, with the 2015-2018 making up the top four. If the trend continues, the WMO says temperatures may rise by 3-5C by 2100.

Americans celebrated Thanksgiving on November 22nd. At the stroke of midnight stores across the nation and online, opened their doors to hordes of shoppers. The Black Friday sale as its called, has become as much a symbol of Thanksgiving as the oversized shiny dead Turkey on the dinner table. As Americans indulged in this excess, buying things they do not need, and as a consequence producing more trash, the state of the environment was farthest from their minds.

And the president of the United States, blatantly ignored his own government's climate report, and refused to act, thus neglecting his prime directive: to protect all Americans from harm.

Alarm bells are ringing all around the planet. The looming crisis is real. Irrefutable scientific data shows over and over again that humans are causing catastrophic harm to the fragile ecosystem. And yet people in power refuse to act decisively, too afraid and corrupted by oil and big business. In their pigheadedness they choose to defy overwhelming consensus, and deliberately endanger the planet and its inhabitants by continuing to resist change. Economic growth and a hunger for more and more material conveniences seems to be the only benchmark to achieve. Most of the nations who signed on to the Paris Accords, are behind in meeting their targets. America is the only nation that is no longer a signatory.

So what does one do when a problem is of planetary proportion?

Mahatma Gandhi, famously said "Be the change you want to see in the world". I think it is too late for that. There is little time to educate the young about what this exactly means. Transformative people who can embody change and influence people en-mass are few. In an era of glamor worship, movie stars and pop stars are more influential, and a use and throw culture of conspicuous consumption is a driving force. Respect for the environment is only an after thought. The toxic nature of humanity is so far reaching, it feels impossible to pull back from the brink. Even the last remaining havens harboring tribes untouched by the toxicity of modernity, are being tested by overzealous encroachment.

This month, another NASA rover successfully landed on the surface of Mars, sending back images of a barren planet, covered in rock and dust. While the images of Mars are breathtaking and the human effort to be able to capture them commendable, the stark contrast is inescapable. The blue spec humanity calls home is infinitely more beautiful and fascinating. And yet it seems we are willing to squander it all away blinded by our contemptible shortsightedness.

It is what it is.