Sunday, December 20, 2009

Copenhagen quibbles as Planet Earth sizzles

The Environmental News Network of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in one of its recent newsletters cited a report of the Telegraph of UK that polar bears of the Arctic have turned cannibals. According to the report, new photographs show that polar bears are beginning to cannibalise each other as global warming destroys their hunting grounds. The images taken in Hudson Bay, Canada, show a male polar bear carrying the head of a cub that it had killed for food.

Living in the frozen Arctic, polar bears, a beautiful but highly endangered species, mostly subsist on seals, hunting them from platforms of sea ice. The melting of sea ice, warmed by rising global temperature, has deprived them of the platforms, particularly in their southern range, the Hudson Bay being a part of it. Now, mostly land-bound, hunting seals have become difficult for them leading to malnourishment and starvation. Cases of drowning are also being frequently reported as the bears, though excellent swimmers, have to swim far out into the sea in search of food. If this is what is happening in December, which is well into the Arctic winter, one can imagine what's going to happen during the summer. Already the sea ice in the southern range of the Arctic is melting earlier in the spring and forming later in the autumn reducing the time available for the bears on the ice, adversely impacting their energy stock to survive through the summer.

The entire Arctic region, which is the habitat of polar bear, is increasingly showing signs of the effects of global warming. As recently as on 14th December 2009 Al Gore, Nobel Laureate and former Vice President of United States, told the UN Climate Conference being held in Copenhagen that new data suggests that the Arctic polar ice cap may disappear in the summers as early as five to seven years from now. Polar scientist had told him only on the previous day that the latest data suggest a 75% chance of the entire polar ice cap melting in summer within the next five to seven years. Arctic Ocean sea ice has shrunk to record low levels during the past several summers. Global warming has raised temperatures twice as fast in the north as elsewhere, say the scientists.

While the Hudson Bay habitat of the polar bear is in the process of disappearing, their habitat elsewhere in the Arctic is also under threat. Melting ice is making the Arctic more and more accessible for exploitation of its vast natural resources, threatening and degrading their habitat. Global warming seems to have got its first major victim. Large carnivores being sensitive indicators of the health of their ecosystems, cannibalism setting in among the polar bears is a matter of great concern. Soon it may lead to disaster for the species, even to its extinction.
With the unmistakable signs of habitat loss for other species gradually a similar fate is likely to overtake them all ...yes, even us, humans!

One wonders whether this is really it – the shape of things to come!

Whether bells are, after all, tolling for life on earth!

Are we slowly but surely approaching apocalypse?

And, what are we, humans, doing about it? Only quibbling – over steps for mitigating carbon concentration from the atmosphere! Sitting at Copenhagen, pretty close to the melting Arctic, leaders of humanity do not seem to see eye to eye even now for taking effective measures to save the earth! When life on the planet is in peril, we, the humans, having divided ourselves among several nation-states – few rich, many poor and some surviving on the very edge and highly vulnerable – are bickering over who will do what and how much to cool the planet to make it hospitable for life.

Time seems to be running out fast. Global warming, which only a few years back was like a distant clap of thunder, suddenly looks very real and far too ominous. It is time each one of us gets our act together to fight it and do our utmost to prevent it from engulfing the entire humanity. The signals are loud and clear and there is hardly any time to be lost. No longer can it be "business as usual". Copenhagen or no Copenhagen, all of us – governments, organisations and individuals – have to chip in. Everyone has to take well-measured determined steps, whatever the costs, for mitigating carbon from the atmosphere – the root cause of global warming.

It is a long and hard battle that we have to fight – the battle that will eventually decide whether we survive or perish!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The devastated Afghani

I came across an article recently on Afghanistan by Hugh Sykes who works for the BBC News. While describing the politics relating to the country “stranger than fiction”, he narrated the miserable conditions that prevail in it today. According to him, even after a lapse of more than 8 years of the launch of “War on terror” and billions of dollars poured into the country to prop up Hamid Karzai, life in Afghanistan has not improved. He quoted a passage from a novel Blood Meridian, a one-time best-seller, (by Cormac McCarthy the famous American novelist and playwright) which was about Mexico around 150 years ago but, he said, fits the present-day Kabul so snugly. The passage was: “Old alms seekers, with their seamy palms out-held and maimed beggars, sad-eyed in rags and children asleep in the shadows with flies walking their dreamless eyes... Naked dogs that seem composed of bone entirely and small orphans abroad like irate dwarfs”. To complete the Kabul picture, Sykes said, one had only to add, “children in rags tug at your coat and you fish out a battered Afghan note...Then there are 10 small children grabbing at your hand and you cannot get away as the children are blocking the pavement...A woman with a baby under her burka sees you giving money to the children and begs for some herself... The daylight thickens into night and there are no street lights. A young man, desperate for work, weeps...and through his accusing tears says: you have been here eight years now, and what have you done?” (Lyrical but very distressing!)

That is precisely what I ask too. For eight long years Afghanistan has been kind of “killing fields”. Before that the murderous Taliban who did the Soviets in but, later, did likewise with the Afghanis – their own kind. It wasn’t like that when I spent two summer months in 1983 in Kabul (doing a consultancy on behalf of the Universal Postal Union). Back then, under the occupation of the now-defunct Soviet Union, Kalashnikov-toting Red Army men used to be ubiquitous. They had pickets around every hundred metres on the arterial roads (perhaps, now substituted by the men of the “Coalition of the willing”). One could feel the Mujahideen activity up and beyond the surrounding hills. Blasts and rat-tat-tat of gunfire could be heard almost every night. During the day, however, life was normal – yes, far too normal for the prevailing conditions. Importantly, no child would ever tug at your jacket for the stapled-together Afghani currency notes. Nor would a burqua-clad woman – generally seen in the Old Town across the Kabul River – would ever think of asking you for alms. (The newer areas had signs of once-having-been plush where women were mostly westernised) Most of them were in dire straits, but, clearly, their pride would not permit them to beg. A dangerous place then, with death lurking at every corner, many must have been shot out resisting the Red Army, yet in the midst of the ongoing fireworks all around, Kabul was hospitable and apparently well-fed.

That was then! It is so sad now – more so when one sees what man can do to man and ruin a people in a matter of few years – the saga of post Zaheer Shah Afghanistan. Currently, a lethal mix of bigoted murderers and western forces is ravishing the country and devastating its beautiful people. So down and out now that it will be a miracle if Afghanis are ever able to pull themselves out of the depths they have been dragged down to. Obama’s proposed pull-out by 2011 will leave behind ghosts or, at best, zombies.