Climate Change

Embrace disruption and keep walking the green way

Too much time has been wasted in looking for answers that are convenient, not real

By Sunita Narain
Published: Wednesday 02 March 2022
Illustration: Ritika Bohra / CSE__

As I write this, the world is busy with its usual shenanigans. On the one hand, the omicron wave is ebbing but we still cannot breathe; nobody is clear what new variant will emerge next and how soon. On the other hand, big nations are on to their usual war games — flexing their muscles and showing off military might. And amid all these, the news on weather disasters have been pushed to small columns in the last pages.

This is despite the fact that 2021 was the year of climate change impacts. It was the hottest on record; it was the year when tropical cyclones got more unpredictable, more intense and devastating. We also know that next year will be worse. We in India find that our lifeline — the monsoon — is becoming so erratic and so extreme that we do not know if we should rejoice or cry at its arrival.

The extreme weather events are becoming so frequent that there is no way people can cope — it is breaking their backs. Down To Earth in this past year has reported on these frequent weather disasters and has found that farmers are losing not one but all of their crops; households are faced with financial ruin brought on by multiple crises rolled into one — the loss of livelihood, health and assets. This is a cycle of devastation that is spiralling out of control. And fast. In a way, 2021 held the mirror up to our misdeeds — our inability to work with nature.

I know it is human nature — we are all the same — to look for convenient answers. We avoid the hard changes. But what this continued and systemic disruption should teach us is that “disruption” has to be the way ahead. The only question is if we are willing to embrace it; find the road ahead that will work for all; or keep our heads buried in the sand of meaningless drivel thinking that it will pass off as a solution.

Too much time has been “wasted” discussing the need for Net Zero emissions, when it is clear that countries do not even have plans to achieve this. It is based on the premise that some disruptive technologies will emerge that will sequester our emissions and make them go away. Now that the veil has been lifted, another so-called easy answer is being peddled — nature-based solutions, it is called.

What it means is that the world will be able to grow enough forests so that its muck can be soaked up. The inconvenient question that nobody wants to talk about is where will these forests be grown? On whose lands? And indeed, even if planting trees is important for the environment and livelihoods of communities who live on these forest lands, will it be even half the answer to the galloping emissions from fossil fuels that are filling up the atmosphere, tipping the scales of nature against us?

Then there is another buzzword in the climate corridors — market instrument. It will allow us to use finance to buy our way out of this mess. But once again, we do not want to bite the bullet — it is too inconvenient; too disruptive. We do not want to speak about how markets are the problem and that to be a part of the solution they must work under public policy.

Instead of funding high-cost options that will take us to a more secure future, we are working to find the cheapest solution.

This is the same strategy that my city uses to handle toxic air pollution. The only effort is to derail action — either by diluting and distracting from the real issue or by blaming somebody else.

So, now in Delhi, we are only obsessed with handling dust; construction sites are shut down when pollution goes up. This when we know that dust per se is not a pollutant, but it becomes toxic when coated with combustion particles. So, action should be focused on shutting down the use of coal in the city and its vicinity and on shifting to cleaner fuels; action should be focused on alternatives to vehicles so that we can move people and not cars.

But these are inconvenient; difficult to accept, particularly for the middle-class environmentalists who call for “tough” steps on combating air pollution. So, the burden of change has been shifted to dust or to farmers or to somebody who cannot shout out against the loss of their “lifestyle”.

We have squandered away time finding answers that did not exist, implementing strategies that do not work, or simply burying our heads in the sand. If we do not mend our ways now, let us be clear, nature will keep reminding us that tomorrow will be worse than yesterday.

This was first published in Down To Earth’s print edition (dated 1-15 March, 2022)

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