Of Consumerism, Mammoth Ivory and Human Inaction
With the imposition of lockdowns worldwide, many actively took to social media sites; they serve up myriad snippets of information such as ‘keep calm, the Earth is healing’. Well, with the NO2 component down by over 30 percent from pre-lockdown levels, the air we breathe is certainly a less deadly cocktail.
Even rivers are cleaner than they were only a few months ago. The planet is indeed healing but the question on top of mind is how long will this period of inactivity last? Will it be the same for some time to come or will it be all the same, all too soon?
Making up for lost time
The consecutive lockdowns resulted in a major global economic slowdown but once the lockdowns are eased, industries will likely fire on all cylinders to make up for lost time. Subsequently, pollution levels could well be worse than before. While most countries continue to grapple with the pandemic, China is poised to assume global leadership in the post-coronavirus world. Meanwhile, its air pollution levels are already poorer than pre-coronavirus levels.
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on global warming was clear about the unprecedented dangers of surpassing the 1.5 degree Celsius mark. Scientists in 2018 predicted that if this rapid rate of climate change goes unchecked, the sustenance of human life will be gravely threatened.
Climate change as a business opportunity
Despite these warnings, climate change is often perceived as a business opportunity to be capitalised upon. This threat is really not considered an emergency that demands immediate action. Only last year, the Amazon was burning uncontrollably but in a bizarre turn of events, Brazil’s Environment Minister Ricardo Salles wants to push ahead with environmental deregulations. He possibly believes the media spotlight is still firmly cast on COVID-19. Salles’ proposal is a fine example of how certain nations are prioritising on economic growth while risking catastrophic consequences.
Furthermore, environmentalists unanimously suggest that consumerism really is the catalyst for increasingly large ecological footprints. There is much lip-service paid to reducing individual consumption but then again, economic growth comes in the way all too soon. The GDP numbers must consistently increase, per capita incomes must rise but strangely, these lofty ideals can almost always be met only by treading a consumerist path. Are there really no alternatives?
The sixth mass extinction is around the corner
The Earth is now entering its sixth mass extinction phase, with species disappearing 100 times faster than has ever been witnessed. This analysis was based on documented extinction of vertebrates or animals with internal skeleton systems. Not since the age of the dinosaurs that went extinct some 66 million years ago has the planet begun losing species at this rapid a rate, said a study led by experts at Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley.
The Indian sub-continent has registered steady increases in temperature. This comes as no surprise in view of the recent heat wave. Ever since record keeping began in 1901, 11 of India’s 15 warmest years have been experienced since 2004. On 26 May, 2020, 10 out of the world’s 15 hottest places were recorded in India. The ramifications will be far reaching – more so in the days to come.
Prehistoric remains are now a treasure trove
Global warming is accelerating the pace of glacier melts. In 2019, Iceland performed a ‘funeral’ for the Okjokull glacier. Melting glaciers release large amounts of methane, which is even more harmful than carbon dioxide. They are also leading to rising sea levels, and very soon, there will be climate change refugees who will be displaced from coastal areas.
An interesting digression here cannot be resisted. Melting glaciers have actually spurred a rather unusual trade in the Siberian region. Warmer temperatures have led to melting permafrost. This, in turn, has exposed millennia old mammoth carcasses with their tusks intact. Ivory hunters have been quick to spot the economic opportunity because although the ivory trade is prohibited, the fine print is easy to miss. Only elephant sourced ivory is illegal; mammoth ivory isn’t.
Where are we headed?
It is imperative to absorb the enormity of the situation at hand and more importantly to realise the consequences of mankind’s actions – or the lack of it. There is even awareness around these perils but an air of complacency abounds. Individuals must assume small steps to contribute towards the cause and take initiative. For starts, one could become more conscious about their water usage, using plastic sparingly and opting for biodegradable products. It will be considered an effort in futility if the very planet that sustains all life forms is beaten to pulp and left to die. If timely action is not assumed, nature will revolt, and pandemics and their ilk could become all too common.