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Quench a Thirsty Environment – Now!

Fifty years ago, little would the UNGA led UN Environment Conference in Stockholm, Sweden envisage what would be the current magnitude of a global crisis looming over the planet. Dismissed at times as an activist led passion and seen for decades to curb development, today at Stockholm + 50 we may be grateful that there is some degree of awareness of the climate crisis. Through my own school years in the 1970s and later as a young seafarer there was scarce attention in mainstream education to the perils that humankind has inflicted on this cosmic body whose name itself has been questioned.

How inappropriate to call this planet Earth, when clearly it is OceanArthur C Clarke

[Reference : 1979, Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth by James E. Lovelock, Chapter 6: The Sea, Page 84]

With millions of articles, blogs, videos, speeches set to crowd the print and digital space on #WorldEnvironmentDay2022, my basic appeal is to draw attention to a deeply disturbed balance of the planet that threatens the environment. I refer to the subtle and yet critical twists in the “Water Cycle” that sustains the planet. However, let us first look at the usual perspective on the environment.

Extreme weather events have killed or displaced thousands and in monetary terms have resulted in economic losses of the magnitude of trillions of dollars. These disastrous consequences are pushing humanity towards a change of a different kind: a change in our priorities. We need a world where policy makers care more about the environmental aspects of any given project over the monetary viability. With constant reminders with emphasis on events or days dedicated to causes help amplify the need of the hour. Each year World Environment Day has a theme which is stressed upon to take up the pressing issues faced by the world. The 2022 theme of Only One Earth, calls for "collective, transformative action on a global scale to celebrate, protect and restore our planet," encouraging everyone, everywhere, to live sustainably and address the climate catastrophe.

With rising temperatures, frequency of disasters such as droughts, floods etc have been frequent leading to disruption of life on earth. India has been prompting for fast action towards climate change. The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his statement at the COP26 global climate summit in Glasgow committed India to net-zero emissions by 2070. Among the commitments made was that India will raise its non-fossil energy capacity to 500 GW by 2030 while meeting 50 per cent of its energy demand through renewables. India has also committed to reducing 1 billion tonnes of projected emissions from now till 2030 and achieving carbon intensity reduction of 45 per cent over 2005 levels by 2030. Additionally, India along with Britain launched the Infrastructure for Resilient Island States initiative to develop the infrastructure of small island nations, which are extremely vulnerable to climate change.

Our handling of garbage, sewage and polluting effluents have led to criminal scale of harm to the environment including on the silent domain of the oceans. It pains me to note that though 1978 MARPOL Convention has laid stringent norms of compliance the implementation was slow. The practice of unmanaged dumping of garbage directly by ships and crafts and indirectly in multiple ways through ocean destined water bodies have made the oceans a huge trash stink! Accumulated waste conglomerate and move around in the sea disrupting life under sea. As mentioned in an article by the WWF Australia, the garbage patches found afloat create an island of floating plastic trash, which as of 2018 spans roughly around 1.6 million square km, bears witness to today's throwaway culture. It highlights the lack of understanding of how seriously our daily habits can affect the environmental balance. This eventually leads to loss of marine life and directly affects life on land. The need to become conscious towards garbage disposal and especially plastic disposal is imperative to reduce the load put on the environment.

It is heartening to share two minor but significant segments of consciousness that I am proud of. During Navika Sagar Parikrama, the first all-women Indian crew to successfully circumnavigate Indian Naval Sail Vessel Tarini around the globe, a key objective of its passage - environment conservation, was executed with elan and finesse. Tarinin completed the expedition without littering the sea and also learned to become self-sufficient and appreciated the value of water. I saw first hand the efforts to buy non-polluting and waste reducing provisions and the sail powered vessel undertake excellent practices to not spill any pollutant into the oceans. Bravo Team Tarini of 2017-18!

The second account is from India’s commercial capital and maximum cum maritime city of Mumbai. The Brihan Mumbai Corporation (BMC) has prepared in consultation with the World Resource Institute (WRI), India the Mumbai Climate Action Plan (MCAP). The inspirational guardian minister of Mumbai, Shri Aaditya Thackeray was heard recently confirming that with improved waste segregation, Mumbai has reduced daily solid waste generation already by 30% plus! The Mumbai plan has an ambitious target of reaching complete carbon neutrality by 2050, two decades ahead of the country’s target of 2070, which was committed in COP-26 in Glasgow. The plan has focused on six key areas – energy efficiency, air quality and sustainable mobility, sustainable waste management, urban greening and biodiversity, urban flooding and water resource management which would help to make the city climate-resilient and set a target of zero emission of greenhouse gases.

Apart from essential policy initiatives, community based action is needed to combat climate change. Traditional practices in India have their own essence to cope with changing weather conditions. Going back to incorporating those habits alone can help in bringing in a significant change in climate change by focus on local food and encouraging lifestyles from our historic legacy and not always from instant or quick fixes. As the monsoons arrive, Indian fisher folk willfully take a break to let fish stock replenish. As we move towards an understanding of the need to act now, it is necessary to start at every level for being climate change resilient. Individuals, communities, governments at all levels, private organisations and NGOs all equally need to find a synergy to work together and get better results. The idea can even begin with incorporating more value to an environment studies curriculum. From being an optional subject to it being a subject taught through local tours to get an idea of our surroundings.

Allow me to bring us back to the starting focus of this appeal. The oceans and its ecosystem operate on movement and cycles ranging from a diurnal tidal flow of twice in around 25 hours to a long period vertical motion cycle of 1000 year amplitude in the Atlantic Ocean. Mapping and reviewing oceanic data revel a complex harmonics from the multiple mini cycles of warm and cold currents, salinity based gradients and historic ocean flows. The outcomes emerge into critical annual cycles like the two monsoon weather in the Indian Sub-Continent. In this environment driven by these water cycles, an infinitesimal change in carbonification causes many changes. The common global message is reflected as rise in sea level or temperature. The actual variations are far too many and under continual interpretations world wide.

On this fiftieth World Environment Day I appeal to the current inheritors of this planet to note that human life sustaining water is known to exist in this quantity and balance only here. We do not have a spare OCEAN! Every casual handling of waste management or an entitled pollution causing habit adds up in a cumulative manner to kill our environment. The turnaround is in our hands!

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