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The one inconvenience currently affecting everyone is the unprecedented heat prevailing over the whole of north India this summer season – Global warming? The mercury has been hovering around 45 degrees. The oppressive heat has deranged life as never before.

Media-print and electronic- and above all the social media, are flooded with information and misinformation about this unusually hot summer. 

Is it Apocalypse?

One newspaper referring to experts and meteorologists claims that the global temperature has already risen over 2 degrees. There was a fear that if global temperature rises by 1.5 to 2 degrees, the apocalypse will take place. These days the earth is receiving 2 watts of solar energy per square meter, turning the earth into an inferno. The apocalypse is around the corner.

India is the most affected. The intensity of heatwave in India is the highest, the ozone layer over her skies the thinnest and the most fragile. The Himalayan glaciers that were covered with snow till April of the year ten years ago, have no snow in March now. India is likely to be the epicentre of an impending apocalypse.

The same newspaper just a day before claimed that according to a study, the Himalayan glaciers are not melting because of global warming. Negating the 2007 IPCC warning that Himalayan glaciers will simply vanish by 2035, the report claims that glaciers will be intact and the flow in the Ganga and other Himalayan rivers will remain full of water. It asserts that the melting of glaciers is not a recent phenomenon but has been happening for over 10,000 years. The study also claims that the share of glacial waters in the flow of Ganga is merely 1%, the remaining waters coming from rains and snowfall.

What is the truth then? The experts have a field day while the earth and her denizens roast under the sweltering sun.

They all, however, unanimously lament and warn against the depletion of natural resources, shrinking forests, diminishing tree cover, of overuse of finite bounties of Elements.

Environment Vs. Comfort

But one truth is pushed under the carpet. The truth of faulty development strategies and policies. No one talks about the flaws of development strategies that may be responsible for the excessive use of the earth’s resources. No one talks about reducing our requirements of energy, fuel, timber, water and air to ease pressure on these resources by ensuring their equitable distribution. Because it serves the interests of the wealthy, the powerful, the arbiters of earth’s fate, the large businesses, and even the state.

The per capita consumption of earth’s resources by the rich and powerful seen against the poor should let the penny drop. Paradoxically, they in the same vein, also talk about reducing poverty because that will ensure the increasing demands for goods and services that will make the rich richer. That development means more and more consumption and therefore greater depletion of resources; something everyone knows but is unwilling to talk about it. Because it will upset the world order and will upset the comfort levels that the developed in the world have become used to and which they are most unwilling to give up.

Even the notion of generational equity does not find favour. While a lot of lip service is paid to conserving resources for future generations, reducing consumption by the present generation is not on offer. The strategies are better technologies, the better harnessing of resources but unmitigated consumption of resources. If the resources are finite, which they are, how would a better harnessing solve the issue of depletion, particularly when their demand is ever on increase? Containing the greed, in excess of our needs is never an argument, much less our objective.

ACs are exacerbating global warming

Take for example the Air Conditioners. In India alone, the number of Air Conditioners has exploded to over 300 million, and given its two-digit annual growth in last 10 years, this number may exceed 1 billion in next 15 to 20 years. making us the planet’s top user of electricity for cooling. The projected increase in the number of ACs will also result in tripling our energy requirement. With two-thirds of energy being produced from fossil fuels, imagine the additional volumes of greenhouse gas emissions, thanks to our craze for ACs. Not to forget that India is already the number-three spewer of greenhouse gases, burning through 800 million tonnes of coal every year.

The irony is that as humans try to stay cool, the refrigerants inside AC units and the generation of electricity needed to power the appliances are exacerbating global warming. Studies — including by the World Health Organisation and UN-Habitat — show that the heat-generating motors inside AC units can themselves push up temperatures in urban areas, where the appliances are widely used, by a degree or more.

The increasing demand for ACs, therefore, causes greater demand for power, and frequent breakdowns, and while individuals enjoy the coolness of the confined space of the house or office, the surrounding environment is bearing the brunt of hot air coming out of millions of vents of ACs simultaneously.

Finding an alternative

Absence of research on having an alternative to a cooling system that does not consume energy and does not release heat and noxious gases, as compared to making more and more affordable ACs will explain the basic flaw in our thinking. And this will continue because the producers and traders of AC have disproportionately more clout economically, financially, and politically. One fifth of the population does not mind pushing the remaining four fifth to unbearable discomfort merely to perpetuate their comfort, even accentuate it.

A more efficient cooler can substantially replace the demand for ACs with much less consumption of power and a fraction of damage to the environment. Another alternative is the age-old khas curtains (Chrysopogon zizanioides – a grass native to tropical Asia) that once adorned all government offices, even private mansions in summer, offering a cool fragrant draft of air without any additional demand on electricity. Besides, it offered employment to millions across India. Alas! this traditional technology completely lost out to the western influence as also to our increasing pursuit of comfort.

Give Up to Gain

The concern for future demands moderating the craze for comforts, an increasing obsession with the rich and the aspiring masses. Sustainable Development may be a term, trumpeted about but there is no evidence that we really mean it. Because it does not espouse sacrifice or lowering of luxuries of life, not even slowing the race for more. Sacrifice, if any is expected from those who are still aspiring to level with the haves of the world. The prevailing development paradigm may be aiming at the race for welfare and well-being of all, but in terms of the future of the resources of the world, it is without the least doubt, a race for the bottom being pursued relentlessly.

I would argue that in the context of exacerbating environmental challenges, the favoured developmental policies and strategies demand a serious rethink, as the race for more and more consumption, the core of such strategies, runs contrary to the very idea of protection and conservation of the environment and natural resources. The current paradigm of creating endless demands ensures the perpetuation of the privileged position of predators of earth’s resources, and in turn, pushes the rest into crises- one more serious and threatening than the preceding. The brunt, though, is borne by the majority who have scant say in devising and dictating such policies.

This must change.

Post Script

This summer, the sun has been roasting us relentlessly, or at least most of us. The prospect of a let-up seems unlikely in the next many days. This exacerbating environmental challenge demands a serious rethink on our favoured developmental policies and strategies, as the race for more and more consumption, the core of such strategies, runs contrary to the very idea of protection and conservation of the environment and natural resources. The prevalent paradigm of pushing endless demand ensures the perpetuation of the privileged position of predators of earth’s resources, pushing the rest into crises- more serious and
threatening than the one before. The brunt, though, is borne by the majority who have scant say in devising and dictating such policies.

Views are personal.  The author, Uday Kumar Varma an IAS officer, former secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and Ministry of MSME was also an esteemed jury member through SABERA 2021  You may also like his articles Have you and I learnt our lessons post COVID 19, New World OrderWho will Watch the WatchDog and  Digital Age: Future of Democracy

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