Even as the world celebrated the 48th Earth Day on Saturday, over a hundred farmers from drought-hit Tamil Nadu were seen protesting in the national capital along with the skulls of their kin, who chose to kill themselves as deficit rains for the fourth year in a row spelt doom for them.
While many would dismiss it as “just a political issue”, environment and climate experts call it a grim reminder of what went wrong in the past and a sign of caution for what the future has in store for us. Since the Earth Day in 2016 — the day over 120 countries signed the landmark Paris Agreement — to this April 22, much has changed.
Since 2016, which turned out to be the warmest year ever, recording a rise of over 1.6 degrees Celsius temperature, a polar ice chunk about the size of India is on verge of vanishing, about 26 million lives had been pushed into poverty due to Climate Change and UNESCO declared 31 natural and cultural world heritage sites as vulnerable to global warming. Prior to 2016, the preceding 2015 and 2014 were the warmest years and in the same order.
According to National Geographic, the Syrian civil war was ignited by a “historic drought” that pushed farmers to cities, implying that it’s the climate change which ignited one of the worst conflicts of our times, forcing hundreds of thousands out of Syria.
To make the situation worse, a day after the Paris Agreement was ratified at the Marrakech Climate Conference in Morocco, on November 9, 2016, a vocal opponent of climate change Donald Trump was declared elected as the United States President.
This year, the Earth Day themed “Environmental and Climate Literacy” marks the first anniversary of Paris Climate Agreement that bounds over 200 parties, including the US, to work for bringing down the global temperature by 1.5 degrees.
“As an Indian, I feel that unfortunately we are losing our emotional connect with the environment. We have so many festivals related to environment and agriculture, it’s so deep rooted… yet, whatever environmental education we are getting is being treated like just another subject,” said Harjeet Singh, global lead on climate change at Action Aid.
“I feel that somewhere our development models are killing nature,” said Singh, who is among many who foresee a grim situation in the near future — especially when hundreds of farmers demonstrate in New Delhi, as climate change forced them to wear skulls of the dead farmers.
“Those farmers are the victims of climate change. Since 2000, 16 out of 17 years have been warmer than those in the per-industrial era. Erratic rains, depleting underground water, vanishing natural streams… All because we have become so greedy,” Singh added.
According to Rajendra Singh, known as India’s Water Man, about 73 per cent of the ground water aquifers are in “overdraft”, which means we have extracted more water than the recharge. A recent WaterAid report said that 75,777,997 people, or about six per cent of India’s population, do not have access to clean water.
According to Dr S.K. Sarkar, Director of Water Division at The Energy and Resources Institute (Teri), by 2050, India will become water-scarce country. As for this year’s theme, climate literacy, many experts believe that it is already too late to realise that “climate change is a reality”; the world should instead be preparing to work on climate change adaptations.
“Climate education has increased but there is more emphasis on the adverse effects of climate change, while the need of the hour is to know how to deal with the climate change and how to adapt to it and lessen its effects,” said Professor C.R. Babu, whose brainchild Delhi’s Yamuna Bio-diversity Park is helping in revival of the wildlife around the national capital.
According to Suruchi Bhadwal, Associate Director, Earth Science and Climate Change Division, Teri, “the global action, negotiations and talks on climate change should have started at least a decade back and the awareness part even before that”. Is that a grim caution or the last chance for self-assessment and improving the policies remains a question.
Meanwhile, the Earth Day Network (EDN), a global environmental movement, brings a ray of hope. “EDN has set a target to bring environmental literacy among 10 million youths and one million women in India in the next one decade,” Karuna Singh, Director — Earth Day Network (EDN), India, told IANS.