June 2007: The year is 2050. Or is it 2030?
You can wade across the Ganges and the Brahmaputra rivers whose glaciers have virtually vanished. The plains of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, and the Assam valley have turned into toxic dust bowls. Farmers’ wells are dry and their soils are drier still.
Famines are the order of the day. Mob rule prevails. Water supplies are contaminated. Diseases are rampant. In West Bengal, more than one million refugees are camped in Kolkata after fleeing from 24 Parganas District to escape the rising waters of the Bay of Bengal. Twice that number stream into India from Bangladesh. Tigers are extinct in the Sundarbans. Lawlessness rules and people are willing to kill for a morsel of food. India‘s dream of out-pacing the United States as a global economic power died decades ago.
These are only some of the projected scenarios that scientists and demographers discuss behind closed doors today. A virtual flood of published data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has blown away the fig leaves behind which George Bush and Dr. Manmohan Singh operated with impunity for many years.
Nicholas Stern, Head of the United Kingdom’s Economic Service (and former Chief Economist of the World Bank) adds: “If we carry on emitting (carbon) on this basis, temperature increases by 2035 could well take us outside of human experience, and the costs for disruption to economic and social activity could rise to 20 per cent of global GDP… the costs of action are much less than the costs of inaction.”
Building on the now-famous Stern Report, the Global Canopy Programme (GCP), an alliance of leading rainforest scientists, suggests that deforestation probably accounts for up to 25 per cent of global emissions of heat-trapping gases (transport and industry account for 14 per cent each).
It is in this light that this bizzarre image of slash and burn agriculture (taken in Mizoram, India) should be considered. A similar fate awaits a significant chunk of forest lands in India that will vanish in a puff of carbon smoke as millions claim ownership over our wildernesses when the ill-conceived Forest Rights Act takes effect.
The winds of change are blowing. Millions of children are sharing the ecological connections , which they have made with their parents. One day soon, India’s electorate will give her politicians a stern warning: “protect the ‘gift’ – our environmental legacy – or you’re out.”
Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary Asia, Vol XXVII No. 3, June 2007