Rice University : Dominic Boyer / Cymene Howe
This text is in no way is supposed to be a comprehensive update on global climate developments. Frankly, it is overwhelming to digest the enormity of the situation as an individual and the problem becomes intangible on the overarching anthropological and ecological scale.
Nonetheless, I take a significant amount of time to educate myself about global natural and ecological developments. I’m fortunate that my education has given me the ability to understand some natural aspects of the complex phenomena underpinning the ecological crisis. The transdisciplinary nature of the problem of climate justice leads to geopolitical discussions. These discussions provide perspectives, which are important for us all to know in order to comprehend the future and societies that we are participating in building. In order to engage in such discourse in earnestness, we need to step outside our growingly insular lifestyles. Acknowledging privilege is not where the road ends, it is where the road to understanding and activism begins. I think most of my friends on this platform are almost as privileged as I am and might not be feeling the literal heat.
Here are a few things I would like to share with everyone, and if incessant climate discourse is annoying for any of you, please feel free to unfollow, I really wouldn't mind. I also don't mind any criticism as I am new to this and might be doing this imperfectly. Kindly excuse my writing, as it leaves a lot to be desired. I don't read half as much as I should to be improving it and neither do I receive as much feedback as I would like. Most of it is a summary of the important scientific findings and the relevance of what it means for us.
We need to know that the Arctic is on fire. As are parts of Siberia and Greenland. These regions were historically some of the coldest places on the planet and had significant ice-cover and have been known to be part of the Northern Tundra. A lot of these are 'Peat fires'. Peat refers to accumulated decaying and decayed organic matter (especially plant based matter), which holds a high content of moisture, while being rich in carbon. This particular form of matter is prone to burning in low humidity conditions. Peat fires smoulder and that is partially, if not completely responsible for the persistent fires in the Tundra. Ice in these regions, once it has melted raises sea levels, causes flooding, while contributing indirectly to further heating. This happens because ice is a better reflector of incoming radiation than water and loss of the reflecting ice leads to the planet absorbing more heat. You do not want to know the emission of greenhouse gases from these fires, but in the rare chance your curiousity has been piqued, a quick google search of popular science articles will be informative.
We should also consider the disrupted ecosystems in these areas, and think about the flora and fauna which are severely impacted by the ecological disruption. Plants and animals live on the planet as it has been given to us, and they face the strongest impact of human-activity caused climate disruption. This will spiral into so many consequences that we are not prepared for.
Rivers and lakes, for instance, the Aral Sea and the Barwon-Darling are natural ecosystems that are on their path to catastrophic collapse, and even unwitting scientists didn't think it would be possible. As an Indian, I think about the intimate relationship our subcontinent shares with the environment. If not for anything, then simply our strong dependence on the monsoon is an indicator. Farmer suicides have been part of our dark history and I am afraid to think that in the future, it wouldn't be failed crops, failed artificial irrigation and mounting debts which will lead to severe steps taken by those that base their livelihood on crops, but the fact that basic drinking water, will not be accessible to them.
We have watched the impact of failed monsoons for the past several decades but the situation will only get worse as things progress, especially if strong measures are not taken. Global crops and food sources will be affected, and more likely than not, we will need to rethink ways of seeking nutrition.
We will need to prepare and accommodate for possible mass migrations that might happen as parts of the world will become uninhabitable due to extreme heat, lack of food, water. We also have to consider that our global population is projected to increase and that only further goes on to prove how complex the problem will get. There will be need for social co-operation and divisive societal behaviour will require strong checks. Honestly, I don't want to sound like a conspiracy-theorist, but humanity would be put at stake (if it hasn't been already- I am referring to water denied to 'low caste' individuals in parched Indian states.) This is humiliating to know and I feel very sad about our inhumane behaviour.
An alarming number of species are dying every single day, and soon enough, at some point in the future, as will humans, especially the poor. In some ways, they are at the lowest rung of the top of the food chain, and that is scary.
I might face some flak for this, but there has been some discussion on the growth of developing nations and their need for a higher carbon budget in order for us to catch up with the living standards across the rest of the world. Undoubtedly, there is so much room for development in countries like India. We have the incredible benefit of information of how other nations developed, and what was the impact on climate. We now know that some ways of development were absolutely, undoubtedly deleterious to the planet's health, and we have the responsibility to not make the same mistakes that were made 50 years ago when the climate crisis was not as unforgiving and unavoidable as it is today. We also have technologies, ecological suggestions on what are the alternatives and how to go about them. We need to be growing sustainably, and this sustainability includes the rest of the species we forget we share our planet with. They are all part of an almost surrealistic balance that the planet has struck since ages, and the importance of conserving as much of it as we possibly can, can not be overlooked.
We need to be making conscious efforts towards conserving as much of the green cover around us and restoring as many trees and forests as possible. This is a catch-22 situation as growing population and many green technologies will require land space. However, scientists have published that the most promising potential of efficient carbon capture technology we have present today, unsurprisingly, are trees!
I kinda want to end this on a note giving some sense of hope, even though it is incredibly hard. But as Sir David Attenborough said, optimism is an obligation.
We have a lot of solutions from science and research, and the scientific community is willing to engage with local communities. Admittedly, we have earned an infamous reputation about being socially awkward, but what most of you might not know, we are also a warm, inviting, fantastically collaborative and accommodating community. As an individual of utmost privilege, I have had the opportunity to be educated in 5 countries of the world in the past half a decade. I will boast with utmost pride about being part of the best communities in all these years, owing it all to science and academia. In all these places, I was made to feel comfortable as a foreigner, and I had no problem integrating into local communities either. I have made countless number of friends from all over the world, and each of them has taught me something. The community encourages you to try things you might be otherwise afraid to do, and not be afraid of failures. It is this encouragement that has allowed me to start being vocal about issues that I feel are important, and I feel that my acquaintances who might not be aware of these issues should know about. The community has taught me to be sensitive about the distinct needs of all individuals and how one must not give up on a problem. The climate crisis is a global problem, and there are no common fix-its which are globally applicable (okay there are some common solutions). The planet has developed itself so beautifully in local ways. Ecosystems and their needs are local, and communities in the past have shared symbiotic relationships with them. This challenge ahead of us will need several small solutions from local communities that will need to take action, as only they might know what is it that their surroundings were like in the past, and what might it need. This is a time for togetherness, on part of our communities, this is a time for us all to do whatever we can, or facilitate and support those who do.
If you are thinking of simple steps you can take: conserve water, electricity, maybe plant some trees, gift others plants, refrain from using single-use plastic, recycle, minimize food and general waste, utilize public transport (if possible), consider carrying tupperware with you if you get a lot of take-out, carry a personal mug.
And this might sound irrelevant, but be kind, be hopeful, be positive.