Time to take ecology seriously | BY Khalid Saleem


Time to take ecology seriously

IT is heart-warming that in a world, in which human values – what to talk of human life – have lost all sanctity; there exist people who still worry about such causes as global warming. It tends to restore whatever little faith one had in human nature. One had been hearing about the menace of global warming off and on for quite some time, without taking it too seriously. Most people tend to behave in this lackadaisical fashion until a hazard rears its ugly head. Very few in this unheeding world of ours had taken it all that seriously until the tsunami and earthquake disasters turned everything upside down.

In several Multilateral Conferences in the past, when the subject of global warming came up it was brushed aside by the developed world as a Third World worry. Why bother, they appear to have argued, if merely a few measly poor nations were in danger of being submerged by the rising sea? It was hardly worth sacrificing the First World’s prerogative to burn fossil fuel to its heart’s content! Besides, it was always expedient to fob off the responsibility on those Third World states that were eking out a measly living through the clandestine sale of their rain-forest timber. The developed world was never expected to be on the receiving end of things. Nature is a great leveller. It somehow refuses to give special preference to the rich and prosperous. Man-made disasters may target the poor and the deprived, but nature shows no such bias. It was interesting, therefore, to come across, some years back, a series of four articles by a Barry James in the International Herald Tribune each on one of “Four Battlefronts” in, what was termed as the “war against effects of climate change”. The four “Battle Fronts” selected by the author were, understandably all in the Developed World.

The first of the series, relating to Venice – the much-heralded city of “romantic canals and splendid palaces”- is of direct relevance to the Third World. It appears that Venice had already sunk a good depth of a step due to the indiscriminate drainage of the underground water table during industrialization. This had had the effect of leaving several Venetians in ankle deep water in their homes and work places. Now that the spectre of the aftermath of global warming is sending shivers down the spines of residents of low-lying areas around the globe, Venetians are faced with the horrifying prospect of large parts of their city being submerged much of the time. This is hardly a happy prospect for a city that derives most of its revenue from the gawking tourists. Venice, one learns, has been taking the problem seriously for more than three decades now.

Regrettably, the same can hardly be said about the Third World countries that are projected to be on the “hit list” of global warming. Tens of millions of hapless people, mainly in Bangladesh and Southeast Asia, face serious or permanent flooding of their lands if the climate change predictions become a reality.

The World Metrological Organization (WMO) has termed the past decade as the warmest since accurate records began to be maintained in the mid 19th century. The collapse of a huge ice shelf in the eastern Antarctic was reported a couple of years ago. This was apparently due to rise in the temperatures in the region. Scientists have surmised that, if the present trends continue unabated, the Arctic could well turn into a navigable ocean by the middle of this century. This is not a phenomenon to be taken lightly. The ecological disaster that such a change could bring in its wake should make all mankind sit up and take notice.

The tragedy is that the world is still engaged in playing ducks and drakes with the issue as it is with several other issues of far reaching import. Multilateral diplomacy, which has progressively become the bane of what we euphemistically refer to as “our civilization”, has once again been let loose in the world’s arena. The multilateral diplomatists are more interested in their paid jaunts to far off exotic resorts than in the well being of the populace at risk. They are bound to sell their sponsors short, as evidently their selfish priorities hardly square in with the anxieties of the struggling millions of the Third World.The Kyoto protocol came into effect, though the powers that be, in their mighty wisdom, chose to stay out and defy the fury of nature. These powers continue to cling to the belief – as is their wont – that whenever calamity falls it will affect only the weak and that they would emerge unscathed. Be that as it may, they will be doing so at their own peril! Nature, as one mentioned earlier, is a great leveller.

Meanwhile, several other ecological upheavals are visible on the horizon. The melting of huge chunks of ice near the North Pole is already the cause of serious concern. Not only will the loose chunks of ice pose an avoidable hazard to the shipping in the region, the consequential rise in the level of the ocean will be a danger for the low-lying landmasses in the area.

Nearer home, there is an ecological disaster waiting to happen in the Siachin region, where the glacier is in imminent danger of melting. Experts have already warned that unless the military operations in the area are terminated and the forces withdrawn an ecological catastrophe is waiting round the corner. The moot question is: will the two sides take time off from their inane sparring sessions to pay some serious attention to the ecological disasters waiting to happen?

Global warming is not a phenomenon to be taken lightly. The future of millions of human beings is at stake. The sooner the powers that be realize the impending danger, the better it will be for all concerned. What is more, the world would need to act before it is too late.

— The writer is a former Ambassador and former

Assistant Secretary General of OIC.

Email: [email protected]