In the first week of May 2009, Kolkata experienced a heat wave, unheard of and unnatural for this part of the country. The temperature peaked at 43◦ Celsius, with the humidity level soaring at 95%. The last time the city had experience such uncomfortable weather was in 1957. Other parts of the country too recorded such new highs and summers have never been as horrible before. It is not an exaggeration to say that we are on the brink of an environmental catastrophe!
Global warming, today, has become an issue of major concern, and rightly so. But what is often overlooked is how urban pollution is a great causative factor; and something that if not immediately checked, it will make living in cities extremely difficult and unhealthy.
It refers to the pollution created in the cities and urban agglomerates, because of the lifestyle that is urban and increasingly apathetic to all environmental concerns. Reducing the green area to make space for high blocks and complete dependence on smoke-emitting motor vehicles for commuting are only some of the symptoms of urban pollution. There is an intricate link between our fast-paced, competitive urban lifestyle and the pollution we create around us. We cannot make do without an air-conditioner, thus dumping CFCs around us. We must make a statement by owning our own cars, and look down upon any suggestion of a pool-in arrangement. Walking a short distance is simply out of the question and exercise is something that is identified with the cool interiors of a high-end gym. Smoking endless packets of cigarettes demonstrates our level of “coolness” and we will, in no case, get our emission levels checked and make any necessary changes. We would rather pay a bribe of a few hundred rupees and get a certificate of approval from the authorities. We criticize and complain against the autos and cabs emitting smoke that is choking and black, but do nothing about it. We do not hesitate to use our roads as dustbins; extravagance and consumerism have defeated all concepts of saving or reusing. We wear our nature-club badges and after a boring afternoon session pledge to “save the environment”, “hang out” at the indispensable roll shop that disposes onion peels and leftover rotten meat right on the streets we tread on. Notwithstanding the smoke emanating from the roll-shop’s chimney that pollutes the air we breathe, this is our idea of environmental activism.
And the temperature keeps on soaring, the air of the city; we love so much, keeps getting darker, smokier and dirtier. We take off to the hills to escape reality, or are content within the cool confines of the multiplexes or the shopping malls, waiting for the season to pass by. But unless we change ourselves and our lifestyle, and act with a little more sensitivity, nobody will be able to save our cities from becoming gigantic gas and smoke chambers. Urban pollution needs to be checked on immediately, at the level of the individual, at every stage of this so-called high-living.
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