As we enter the last nine days of first month of 2015 and settle into new paradigms based on resolutions and goals for another twelve month period, it may not be out of place to reflect on some of the most defining features of 2014. According to weather scientists, 2014 was the warmest year ever in planet earth’s history, with average temperature staying 1.24 degrees Celsius over the mean level in twentieth century, and with December 2014 registering as the hottest December on record since 1880.
The signs are ominous and bode ill for our times, and, unless remedial measures swing into an aggressive course on a war footing, it may well be that every year in the current century ends up progressively adding to the list of twenty warmest years ahead. The safeguards that were reinforced as Kyoto Protocol (KP) in 2005, its applications of carbon credits and subsequent progressions thereof, do not quite seem to be delivering given that the risks of runaway emissions are continuing unabated. Extreme heat blanketed Alaska and much of western USA last year. Several European countries set temperature records, and the ocean surface was unusually warm virtually everywhere except Antarctica and its environs, triggering violent storms across the Pacific. 2014 now holds the dubious distinction of having surpassed 2010 as the warmest year on a record stretching back to 1880. The ten warmest years hitherto have all occurred post 1997, a deadly indication of relentless global warming, apparently caused by emissions and environmentally destructive practices jeopardizing civilization and the natural world. The distinctive characteristic of 2014 warming is that it has occurred in a year sans the disruptive El Nino, in which the ocean releases unusually high levels of heat into the atmosphere, accompanied by changes in air pressures and temperatures, disrupting marine life and upsetting rainfall patterns. I recall the sustained discourse in the media on the El Nino phenomenon in 1998 when I was in the Middle East; it was as if all the heat and disruptive weather pattern in 1998, and in the two to seven year intervals that followed, was due to this phenomenon that was beyond human control, and the world was otherwise regulating itself into lower emission levels and disciplined production norms to control global warming. The alarming fact, however, is that 1998 is being surpassed every four or five years, establishing a pattern of warm years in 2005, 2010, and the recent 2014 even without an El Nino.
What is the way forward? The first KP commitment period was from 2008 to 2012, where 192 countries were signatories, discounting drop-outs like Canada and the non-ratifying USA; success rate was only marginal as strong performers were largely the deeply committed European countries. A second commitment period, known as the Doha Amendment, was proposed in 2012 with binding targets on 37 countries. Further negotiations were held in Paris in 2014 to agree on a post-Kyoto legal framework obligating all major polluting candidates to pay for carbon emissions but China, India and USA have refused to ratify any treaty involving legal commitment on carbon emissions. The latest indication from IMF is that India’s rate of growth appears set to surpass that of China in next couple of years. What is, however, not being highlighted is that India has already marched ahead of China in pollution levels. While Chinese cities are notoriously polluted, a recent WHO study observed thirteen Indian cities among the twenty with the worst air quality in the world; many of these thirteen cities are in northern India, including the national capital of Delhi, presently dubbed as the world’s pollution capital. The toll extracted by pollution on public health and country’s economy is heavy and beyond repair if corrective measures do not kick in on time. The smog enveloping Delhi during December to February peak winter months is one of the most readily manifesting harmful phenomena, rendering visibility down to near zero factor, trapping polluted air,disrupting air traffic and delaying flights. Adding to it the adverse impact on public health in the form of respiratory and cardio-vascular diseases completes the picture of gloom and doom.
While depleting ozone layer, increasing global temperatures and rising ocean levels continued to wreak its damage on global climate in 2014, it was more than matched on the social plane by cult of radicalism and narrow dogma spreading its treacherous tentacles in various parts of the world, leaving over hundred school children massacred in one region, thousands of humans mercilessly done away with and media personnel rounded up as hostages and subsequently finished off in other regions. In this context, the telling observation of a cosmonaut comes readily to mind. On being asked what her predominant feeling was once the shuttle blasted off and hit the stratosphere, she commented that all distinctions of nationalities, religion, language, culture, sex and other divisive barriers holding disproportionate value on planet earth ceased to exist as it simply vanished into a subsuming sentiment, and the only thing relevant in all that mattered was that she was a human, representing, not any gender, group or her country, but the entire human race in the grand infinity of outer space. What a tragic irony that such a glorious outlook does not sustain on terra-firma…!
Were there any bright spots in a steadily warming planet that reached a high point in 2014 or in a scenario of mindless greed and consumerism, misplaced faith and erroneously driven belief systems rapidly plunging into alarming depths of chaos and depravity? Taking an overview, there is a semblance of growth in few of the European economies and close to five percent growth in the US economy after several flat years. The counterpoint of subdued and flat growth in Asian economies, specially China and Japan, coupled with resultant erosion in oil prices, renders the situation highly unclear to hazard even a rough forecast of how global commerce is going to trend in 2015; it may well be a continuing recession that may see a recovery only after 2017. The next G20 (group of 18 major economies including countries collectively falling under European Union, plus the UK and USA totaling twenty, together accounting for around eighty percent of world trade and two-thirds of global population) summit is scheduled during mid November 2015 at Antalya, Turkey. Prior to that, it is critically important for the US, China and India to arrive at clear actionable guidelines on emission controls with due regard to historical factors and also taking on board the interests of other countries. Whereas Americas and Europe had access to resources and enjoyed unbridled growth across few centuries, starting from eighteenth century, the balance of growth has tilted to Asia only in the beginning of this century; it goes without saying that the entire burden of following sustainable production norms and controlling emissions cannot be borne exclusively by Asia while concurrently striving for growth, as it will indirectly amount to slowing down growth. Transition to cleaner fuels, non-conventional and renewable sources of energy, instituting green practices in construction and production, restoration of earth’s green cover are all capital intensive projects that may require contribution of and participation by resource rich countries in the West. In so doing, West will apparently enjoy the benefit of cost control by encouraging bulk production to shift to lower cost countries in the East so that energies of the west can be diverted to R&D and switching to higher-tech products of finer features, capable of commanding premium prices in the market place. Asian countries led the global recovery following recession of the late 2000s. These countries are geared for a bigger presence on the global stage, shaping the G20’s agenda for balanced and sustainable growth by ramping up intra-regional trade and stimulating domestic demand.
It is heartening to note that 2014 witnessed India’s successful foray into Mars orbit riding purely on indigenous technology and in the most cost-efficient manner possible, setting the stage for manned space shuttles in the near future. In the field of conservation, the latest census of elephants and tigers reveals estimate-busting growth numbers. The count of big cats shot up by 30% over 2010 and the increase in pachyderm numbers also indicate a similar trend, gladdening the hearts of conservationists and wild life enthusiasts. Due to heavy poaching, the tiger population had dwindled to abysmally low levels and was close to extinction where from, the situation presently stands restored in the tiger reserves of Rajasthan, western ghats, shivalik-gangetic plains and north-eastern ranges. The challenge now is to preserve the tiger corridors used by animals to migrate from one habitat to the other, together with other conservation measures.
If one can draw from the few but significant success stories as enumerated above of the year just gone by, the pointers are that purpose driven and closely coordinated efforts will deliver mega results, like the mission fired wild life conservationists or the rocket scientists at ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization). These models can be appropriately rigged up to encompass the bigger challenges in global environment conservation, to deliver desired results through pooled resources of countries in east, west, north and south working in consortium. The fruits of development must extend to all sections of society to avoid disgruntled groups of people uniting under the umbrella of extremist and radical outfits. The genuinely secular and centrist formations in societies worldwide must take it up as part of bounden duty to build up awareness and understanding among people to promptly foil negative and divisive forces from taking roots. There is no religion or belief system that can claim supremacy over others as these have sprung up in diverse regions of the world in different periods to signify the multiple dimensions of the Creator. We need to preserve that diversity because beauty of the divine resides in it. The Quran states “La Ill aaha Ill Allah” to mean there is no God except Allah, and there is a Jihad to be fought, not against any external enemy as erroneously believed to be, but against the Satanic evils endeavouring to gain ascendancy within every human being. We ought to be fighting that war within for any chance of getting anywhere near divinity. In true universal spirit, Krishna enunciated in the Bhagavad Geeta that ‘regardless of whomsoever is worshipped in whatever form in the name of Almighty, I am the ultimate object of that worship’. When Jesus said that ‘the kingdom of God is within you’, it is the same when I chant the vedic prayer “Om Namah Sivaaya”, as it translates to ‘I salute and honour the grand infinity, the divinity within myself and may the greatest that can be in this world be created within myself, within others, and within the world’.