'India's climate change policies are mere bad showpiece'
"The global ecological crisis has multiple dimensions. To view it only from ‘carbon centric’ prism is unjustified. We have done enough damage to land in the name of 'development'"
Extreme weather conditions being witnessed around the world does not surprise Nityanand Jayaraman. The flooding at Chiplun in Maharashtra or train passengers in China stranded in waist-deep water inside the coach, he suggests, were inevitable. The engineer-turned-journalist, Jayaraman describes himself as an advocate for ‘climate justice’. A writer and researcher, he also teaches Ecology in Chennai at the Asian College of Journalism. Excerpts from a conversation:
Can we return from all the climate damage that we’ve already done?
Coming back from the damage that is done to the environment is not possible. It's very difficult to restore the environment to its original state, though I doubt there's anything called the original state. But the question we should be asking is whether are we going into uncharted territory. In terms of human life on Earth, I think we are doing precisely that.
We don't know how the planet will behave and how its ecosystems will behave when global average temperatures are about 2 degrees Celsius. We don't know how food production will fare when we have a mass extinction, taking all the pollinating insects down with it. These are all unknown and potentially dangerous possibilities in the future. If we try, we might however be able to repair habitats and ecosystems, so that they offer us support, nutrition and protection from extreme events like cyclones, floods and droughts.
The cover story this month in National Geographic says, “Too Hot To Live”. Countries in Europe and North America, used to temperate climate, experienced unprecedented heat waves. How do you see the future?
We are likely to see many more unpredictable weather patterns. We are likely to see more intense droughts; the crisis might vary from place to place so that it might be drought for one area and heavy rainfall for another. It might be heatwaves somewhere else. It might be the sea level rising; it might be vector borne diseases or, you know, pandemics or epidemics in other places. So, these are all calamities that are predicted for the future.
We know it's going to get worse and we will need to prepare for that. We need to prepare for that primarily by adjusting habitats we occupy, which means the places that we live in. By places, I do not mean the house but I'm talking about the land around it. So, if we want to fortify the land around us, it means that we have to make the land healthy, and for that we have to change our relationship with the land, and for that we would need to have a different economic system.
For decades now, we have put in place laws to manage climate change and reduce the damage to the environment. Haven’t they worked?
I am very sceptical about the old climate rhetoric, primarily because it is mostly preoccupied with carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and much less concerned about what is happening on land. So, it has been a very ‘carbon centric’ way of looking at the global ecological crisis. The global ecological crisis has multiple dimensions. We are actually witnessing mass extinctions.
We have done enough damage to land in the name of development by building wide roads, large ports, harbours and airports, by mining for all kinds of minerals and these things are not being looked at. When we talk about climate change, the only thing we are looking at is changing the source of electricity from fossil to renewable. I don't think that alone is going to protect us adequately.
What about India’s climate change policies?
I don't think India has any. What we have is just a showpiece; and it's a very bad showpiece. What is even worse is even that bad showpiece is not enforced. We have an extremely corrupt environment ministry. I don't know how the new environment minister will fare but the previous environment minister was worse than a climate disaster.
What can individuals do?
The only thing that individuals can do is to get political and get organized. As an individual, whether you change the light bulb or you stop eating meat or whether you ride a bicycle, it doesn't matter at all. That doesn't change the world. The world has more than seven billion people and everybody is not going to be doing that.
What we need to do is to change our economic system; we need to change the people who take decisions. Right now, we have a small and an elitist minority that is in power in the government and in corporations and they call the shots.
What is more, they want to remain rich and that is something that is not compatible with a healthy future for all of us. And so, if individuals are not engaged in challenging the status quo, it doesn't matter how responsible an individual is.