The Western World and Causa Ignorantia

Before this piece of writing gets discarded as the ranting of someone who is still in the colonial era, I would like to present my stance on the issue in a manner that is not very commonly reported in the mainstream media. Not much of what I shall be writing shall come under the definition of being politically correct. Sadly being politically correct will never address the real issues and the devastating impact it shall have on the people who have been made party to a problem the roots of which lie elsewhere.


Nevertheless has this question really struck a lot many people that why is the western world so high on rhetoric when it comes to global warming but which translates into little action at the ground level? Why is it that the emission cuts mandated by the Kyoto protocol have not been met by even one of the European nations, whatever decrease that has resulted has been the result of transition economies in Eastern Europe that has been highlighted by the mouthpieces of the western world? These cuts had nothing to do with better practises that are so much talked about.


There is one more dimension that needs to be understood, a lot many European nations have reported cuts in emissions but these have been primarily because they have been able to outsource their pollution to the developing world whose lack of strict environment regulations is being leveraged upon. So while bauxite mining is no longer practised in the west as is asbestos mining, where does the asbestos and the aluminium that the west needs actually end up there… guessed it right…we, the developing world have been doing it for them.


The record and ambiguity is not more pronounced than the case of Canada which promotes chryosotile mining despite documented evidence of it causing lung cancer. For instance The Asbestos Institute (re-named the Chrysotile Institute in 2004) is funded by the Canadian government, the Quebec government and the asbestos industry. The Economic Development Agency of Canada and the Department of Natural Resources have given the Chrysotile Institute more than $20 million over the past 25 years. In February 2008, the Canadian government announced another grant of $750,000 to the Chrysotile Institute for the next three years.


Canada has single handedly been responsible for the misery of several workers in Vietnam, India and Pakistan where workers don’t have access to safety gears which is so much talked of. The point that gets forgotten here is that it is the notion of comparative advantage that brings these industries to the developing world and leverages on the lack of regulations, proper working gear and the like.


While we may all feel good about sending the French carrier Clemenceau back, we tend to forget that if not for India it would end up in some other developing nation. Annually about 600-700 large sea-vessels are brought to Asian countries like India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, China and Turkey for breaking them into scrap affecting the workers and polluting the soil, sea and marine organisms of the area. These and several others are issues that smash the holier than thou attitude of the western world when it comes to preserving the environment.


Why is it so that while the popular opinion of environment activists is that nuclear energy should not be seen as a viable option, yet the developed world is bent on pursuing it. France has been the leader anyway in this, followed closely by USA which has amended the Libermann Werner report to an extent that it now appears like a subsidy bill for the nuclear industry rather than one that talks of cutting green house gas emissions.


What we understand but fail to realise that whatever the western world does from now on is going to decide the future of the Indian subcontinent. It has already been estimated by the IPCC that at the current rate Bangladesh will be submerged by 2030 as the water level has been climbing at 10mm every year and the rate has seen a gradual increment.


It needs to be seen that the Indian subcontinent is home to one sixth of the humanity of the world, global warming shall cascade disaster on a scale that will be unprecedented. India no doubt shall be at the receiving end of this as in the event of Bangladeshi immigrants coming to the mainland, it will be impossible to seal the borders on humanitarian grounds.


Well here I am not even talking of the inhabitants of our 7,500 km coast line that is home for millions, the question which we don’t want to address is where will all these people go in the event of sea levels rising further which they will do so as currently we are at a point of no return as stated by George Monbiot in an article that came in the Hindu dated 18th march,2009 .


Recent work by scientists at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, for instance, suggests that even global cuts of 3 per cent a year, starting in 2020, could leave us with 4{+0}C of warming by the end of the century. At the moment, emissions are heading in the opposite direction at roughly the same rate. If this continues, what does it mean? Six? Eight? Ten degrees? Who knows?, the problem point however is people are doing too little and assuming that this is a distortion that will get addressed by itself….we seem to be obsessed with the market mechanism for self correction…..problem is even that has failed, so our belief is unfounded….


I always wonder what could be done at our individual levels. The sad fact is that the time for small pieces of action is over; we don’t have the leisure of small steps any more.


It is imperative that governments and major polluters put their houses in order and the developed world goes in for the following measures in a manner that could be seen as the beginning of the end of the energy intensive models that are no longer sustainable without causing perennial irreversible damage to the only life bearing system in our galaxy.


The following needs to be done without fail and shall be a test of the commitment of the world leaders:-


  • cleaner fuel and put a ban on fuel guzzling automobiles

  • major banks stop funding coal fired plants

  • a moratorium is put on biofuels coming at the cost of rainforests

  • create mechanisms for effective technology transfers for the developing world

  • put into place effective mechanisms to incentivise the use of alternate sources of energy

  • develop effective public transport systems to reduce per capita green house gas emissions

    Let me also quote the discussions at the Working Group II meetings in Geneva (13-16 February), where government representatives participated, for drawing up a summary for policy-makers and formulating the scientific message in clear terms.


    The stated projected impacts include:


  • a general reduction in potential crop yields in most tropical and sub-tropical regions for most projected increases in temperature;


  • a general reduction in potential crop yields in most regions in mid-latitudes for increases in annual average temperature of more than a few degrees Celsius;


  • decreased water availability for populations in many water scarce regions, particularly in sub-tropics;


  • increase in number of people exposed to vector-borne diseases like malaria, and water-borne diseases like cholera and increase in heat stress mortality;


  • widespread increase in risk of flooding for many human settlements (tens of millions of inhabitants in settlements studied) from both increased heavy precipitation events and sea level rise;


  • increased energy demand for space cooling due to higher summer temperatures.


    The common feature underlining the above listed impacts is that almost all of this is for countries in the tropics. The irony however is that most of the countries in this belt fall in the developing and underdeveloped category where vast majorities of the population are slipping into chronic poverty, malnourishment and are torn by civil wars.


    The price for complacency on part of the developed world is thus being paid by the developing world. I submit my arguments and state that this is not a problem that will get solved in one generation, this shall require generations of unwavering commitment on our part, else we are anyway sitting on a ticking bomb……..
    The choice is act now or never…..


    Sainath Sunil

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