Winter is coming: Unusual chill is a reminder we urgently need to combat climate change

My cat ran away a few days ago. I was terrified that my poor kid, who has always been a house cat, would not be able to fend for itself in the big, bad world. My fear was compounded by the insane drop in temperature this January. I have been reading reports of the mercury plunging to 12 degrees Celsius. That’s when it struck me that maybe my cat was probably hiding in the warmest spot it could find. Luckily, we found him in a cozy storage room wrapped up in old gunny sacks. But my mind went back to the very obvious and undeniable change in climate that we have all personally witnessed over our own lifetime.

When I was a little boy, we’d know winter was upon us when the coconut oil would solidify in its tin can. I would invariably chance upon this when my mother would pin me down for my weekly oil massage. Excited at finding a tiny oil-berg instead of liquid oil, I’d excitedly grab the can and run around the house and sometimes even outside yelling, “Tel freeze ho gaya, tel freeze ho gaya” to no one in particular. Embarrassed at my silliness, my mother would run after me, and my dog would in turn chase after her so she wouldn’t miss out on the fun!

That doesn’t happen anymore. Not because I’m a mature adult now (who am I kidding), but because oil has stopped solidifying. I don’t know if that is because of climate change or anti-coagulators and additives, but I miss my little oil-bergs. Sigh!

Other winter memories include getting together in a huddle with friends to secretly peel away flakes of dry skin from our hands. Grown-ups find it gross, but kids love doing it! Don’t worry, I discovered moisturisers. I also remember my mother wrapping me up in layers of thermal wear, especially around my head, neck and chest as I was asthmatic and my condition always worsened with the cold. This is one winter memory I’d like to forget, but my asthma has only worsened with the smog. While I’m not a climate change alarmist, it does lend credibility to the theory that environmental degradation is a result of human activity.

But these are all examples of possible warming. I wonder what is causing the cooling. Is it a proportionate natural response to warming? How do we deal with this obvious and evident climate change?

 Winter is coming: Unusual chill is a reminder we urgently need to combat climate change

Representational image. File Photo/AP

And that brings me to Donald Trump, the President of United States Of America.  The man is a climate change denier. He claims it is hoax perpetuated by China (what?) and had declared that if elected President, he would scrap the Paris Accord. Now, in a worse turn of events (if that is even possible these days), he named Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general who is suing the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) on climate change as the new chief of the EPA!

The climate change debate elicits a particularly interesting response among my Indian friends. Many feel that if western powers have achieved success by consuming fossil fuels (and endangered the environment in the process), we are entitled to using the same means of becoming a “superpower” (I hate that word). This "woh usne bhi toh kiya tha” mentality that we have started using to justify every wrong fails to convince me. Life isn’t mathematics. Two negatives don’t make a negative. In fact, they double negativity. First they polluted the planet, now we feel entitled to do the same. But we forget that it is the planet that loses. I make this point and am told off for being “anti-national”.

Isn’t conservation and eco-friendly living a part of our culture? Indians have lived in harmony with nature for thousands of years. We are not poor because we didn’t burn enough coal. We are poor because wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few. The rich get richer at the expense of the poor and this widening gap between the haves and the have nots is only increasing. We are poor because our growth is not inclusive. We are poor because we rarely ask the right questions, let alone demand a redress of our rights. We are poor because we oppress people based on their caste, gender and skin colour. We mock women who top competitive exams by saying she took away a deserving boy’s seat, after all she will end up making chappatis in the kitchen. We are poor because Indians reading this will say that doesn’t happen in India and give examples of Indira Gandhi, Chanda Kochar and Priyanka Chopra. We are poor because India refuses to acknowledge the existence of Bharat.

Ergo, we are not poor because of limited use of fossil fuels. We are poor, because in our blind lust for wealth and power, we have failed to empower the disadvantaged sections of society.  Climate, poverty, health, economy, food supply… it’s all connected. So it’s high time we got our act together and stopped playing the victim card in the international community.

We achieved independence in 1947. What have we done since then? Did we encourage organic farming by making it into a national movement? No. Instead, we poisoned our fields with fertilisers that have been proven to contain carcinogens that then find their way into our bodies. Did we take any clean energy initiatives? Very few and very late. I must admit though that I’m wildly optimistic about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s mission to generate 100 GW of solar power by 2022. I’m also terrified that with the US unlikely to encourage/pressurise us into adopting more clean energy initiatives, this mission could just end up in a dusty old file in a musty basement office of a non-functional government department.

This is where the wealthy can play a part. About a decade ago, the city of Thane made it mandatory to install solar panels in all new buildings being constructed. The result is that today all such buildings have at least one tap in the house that provides hot water using solar energy, thereby reducing the burden on the geyser and cutting the electricity budget. It turned out to be a win-win situation. Such initiatives can be extended to other parts of the country too and it will be the builder’s responsibility to provide this facility if he wants to get a certificate from the local municipal authority stating that his construction is fit for inhabiting.

I’m sure if we put our minds together, we can come up with many such truly innovative ideas. In fact, why don’t you leave your ideas to make India more environment friendly in the comments section below? I’ll give a shout out to the best suggestions in my next post.

Updated Date: Jan 22, 2017 09:54:21 IST