GLOBAL WARMING AND SIGHT
(From the Trustees of SAI Sanctuary Trust)
‘Hindsight is 20/20,’ so the saying goes. But what we need to develop now is ‘20/20 Foresight’ to see clearly the choice staring each one of us in the face—the vision of two futures, and the urgency of making the right choice NOW.
During the past few weeks, the eyes of the world have been focused on two very different points on the globe, those points representing opposites in many ways—Oslo, Norway and Bali, Indonesia. In chilly Oslo, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded jointly to former US Vice President Al Gore and Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman of the IPCC, for their efforts in focusing world attention on the perils of Global Warming. Conversely in balmy Bali, heated discussions between representatives from 190 nations underscored the volatility of the subject, with consensus for the truly dramatic concerted global action that is needed to avert climate catastrophe and planetary ecosystem collapse being as far away as ever, reminding one of a scene from history—Emperor Nero fiddling away as Rome burned.
Global Warming is a reality—a scientifically proven fact. And its consequences are being seen and felt around the world:
- Storms around the world are more powerful and destructive than ever before, occurring more frequently and in places never visited by such storms in the past.
- Thousands of acres of crops have been lost and millions have been displaced by massive flooding in South Asia, China, Mexico, and 18 countries in Africa, with up to 60% of Bangladesh under water during the 2007 monsoon season.
- In India, half of Assam, 40% of both Bihar and UP, at least 30% of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Kerala experienced massive flooding, with Sikkim being cut off from the rest of the country as floodwaters submerged highways, while Rajasthan’s desert became an inland sea and the largest downpour any Indian city has ever received—37 inches in 24 hours—brought ‘the city that never sleeps’—Mumbai—to a screeching halt.
- Bizarre weather patterns with extreme temperatures both high and low have killed thousands around the globe while destroying crops and reducing food production worldwide.
- Massive forest fires have forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes in parts of the US, Europe, Indonesia, and Australia, with high temperatures and relentless droughts turning soil to sand, melting glaciers, and drying up vital water sources.
- The Himalayan Glacier Field is expected to disappear completely within the next 10 to 15 years, putting at risk the water supplies of over 70% of the population of North India and over 40% of the entire population of the Earth.
- One billion people already suffer from lack of fresh water, that figure projected to jump to two-thirds of the world’s population in less than 20 years, compelling many to take drastic steps, such as the residents of Queensland, Australia—now forced to drink recycled sewage.
- The speed of the melting of the polar ice caps leaving even scientists stunned, the Arctic ice cap is expected to disappear completely in less than 7 years, the melt-water coupled with warmer temperatures already raising sea levels worldwide, contaminating coastal fresh water wells, and forcing the permanent evacuation of the Pacific island nations of Carteret and Tuvalu, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon warning that the continued breaking up of Larsen B ice shelf in the Antarctic will raise oceans even more—a full 6 metres (20 feet)—inundating major cities like Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Shanghai, New York, San Francisco and even London.
All of these events have been caused by Global Warming. And Global Warming is caused by our activities—we are responsible. Every day we continue to pump millions upon millions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) into our atmosphere through our burning of fossil fuels for energy, transportation and industry, factory farming and the building of large dams (responsible for the release of massive amounts of methane gas—200 times more powerful than carbon dioxide/CO2 in its heat-capturing capacity), and deforestation—accounting for more than 30% of all GHG emissions.
These emissions are thickening our atmosphere, trapping in too much of the Sun’s heat, blocking it from radiating back into space, just like a pane of glass in a greenhouse. This, in turn, is causing global temperatures to rise, throwing off the life cycles of plants and animals alike, thereby upsetting the Balance of Nature.
Simply put, the Balance of Nature is the balance of life cycles, and all life cycles are determined by temperature. It is temperature that triggers plants to blossom and to die and determines the migratory and reproductive cycles of animals as well, and it is temperature that determines our own cycles of life on Earth—from planting and sowing to harvesting and reaping, it is all based on temperature.
It has been this delicate balance of life cycles based on temperature that has given rise to the rich Tapestry of Life that is the hallmark of our planet—a bounty of biodiversity that is the source of all of our own food and sustenance, medicines and shelter—each specie a thread woven together through the synchronistic symbiotic relationships we see in Nature between plant and animal, predator and prey.
But now, due to Global Warming and our other recklessly destructive activities (principally over-exploitation/poaching, deforestation, and pollution), this Tapestry is falling apart. As the Earth warms unnaturally, many species are unable to adapt quickly enough to the environmental changes the higher temperatures are causing in ecosystems around the world. Species extinction is the result, with some scientific estimates putting up to 90% of all plant and animal species at risk as the cascading effect of ecosystem collapse accelerates.
This is especially true of more complex-celled, longer-lived plants and animals, whereas simple-celled organisms (insects, viruses, etc.) adjust more quickly due to their shorter life cycle. Hence, the life cycle synchronicity that has kept Nature in balance and the Tapestry of Life intact for millennia is being thrown off.
This has dangerous implications for both our food security and health as plagues of insects with no predators to keep their numbers in check devour our crops and spread deadly diseases—diseases that have themselves evolved to more virulent forms in response to changes in the environment. As a recent WHO report pointed out, SARS, Nipah Virus, Avian Flu, and the spread of malaria and other diseases are a direct result of environmental degradation, one study showing a 200% increase in bites from malarial-carrying mosquitoes in areas that have been deforested. As the effects of Global Warming intensify, increases in diseases across the spectrum—including those affecting eyes/sight—are inevitable.
So what do we do? How do we stem the tide of destruction our activities have unleashed and ‘right the balance’ once again?
Promoting organic agriculture and family farms, cutting waste and inefficiency, decentralizing our electricity grid, moving away from fossil fuels, nuclear, hydro or biofuels and instead embracing cleaner, greener renewable technologies that are already available for use—solar, wind, geo and ocean thermal, tidal and wave power—all are steps that must be taken. But their implementation will take time, and we have no time to spare.
The single most important and effective action we can and must take NOW is to protect what remains of our existing forest cover. As stated in the UK Stern Report on Global Warming, “Forests offer the single largest opportunity for cost-effective and immediate reductions in CO2 emissions.”
Forests are Nature’s own technological ‘wonder.’ They are ‘carbon sinks,’ with each tree in the forest sucking up as much as 1000 kgs. of CO2 from the atmosphere per year while releasing life-giving oxygen during the process of photosynthesis. The trees of old growth forests lower temperatures as their leaves transpire, releasing water vapour into the air, cooling it in much the same way as our body is cooled when we perspire. The shade from the broad canopy of old growth forests also helps lower temperatures further, shielding the ground from the sun, helping to prevent desertification and rejuvenating the soil with essential nutrients from its dead leaves.
The extensive root systems of primary forests perform the dual tasks of raising both the water table and minerals to the surface. Acting as a net, they prevent erosion of precious topsoil during monsoon while soaking up excess water, holding it in the ground and slowly releasing it during the dry season, thus assuring water supply year-round.
While massive afforestation programs of native tree saplings in both urban and degraded forest areas are essential as well, it will take years—decades—for these new saplings to have the same amount of cooling and carbon sink effects, not to mention water retention capabilities that are being provided by existing forests.
Therefore, it is clear that our first line of defense against Global Warming is the same as that of protecting our vital water sources, and that is: protecting and preserving our forests—the watersheds and moderators of climate for the entire globe.
We of SAI Sanctuary Trust (SST) are doing just that here in India through the promotion of two programs aimed at protecting and expanding our forest cover:
- 'Purchase-to-protect’—purchasing private forested lands from willing sellers that border wildlife sanctuaries, national parks or reserve forests and preserving them in their natural state; and
- ‘Payment for Environmental Services/PES’—payments to individuals and community groups in rural areas to preserve and protect trees on their lands and in nearby forest areas.
Both of these programs have shown dramatic results in countries abroad. Their further expansion here in India will help lessen the effects of Global Warming even more, while protecting our most precious natural resource—water. For water is the very base of Life. For drinking, cooking, bathing, agriculture, business, education, healthcare—for virtually every aspect of life and living, fresh water is essential. But without forests, there is no water; and without water, there is no life.
Hence, we are looking for ‘Partners’ from all sectors of society to help fund and support these programs. So please send your tax-deductible donations to: ‘SAI Sanctuary Trust’, Theralu Village & Post, South Kodagu/Coorg District, 571249 Karnataka.
As practitioners of the healing arts, we have a duty to use whatever means we can to help heal the ill patients who come to us, to restore their sight. As children of Mother Earth, we have a similar duty—to use whatever means we can to heal our planet, for the Earth is gravely ill. The question is, what vision of the Earth will our patients see with their restored sight? One of chaos and warfare caused by scarcity of water and food, where even survival is in question? Or will we finally choose to remove the cataracts that have clouded our mind’s eye to the truth. Will we finally have the foresight with our restored vision to work together, to act NOW to restore the balance we have disrupted, to renew the Earth and create a New Vision we can share with our children—one of peace, plenty, and harmony, surrounded by the beauty and wonders of Mother Nature—and live to see the joy and happiness on their faces at the New Earth we have created.
The choice is ours, as is the future. As pointed out by Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize winning IPCC, when releasing its final report, termed ‘Humanity’s Final Warning:’ “What we do in the next two or three years will define our future.” The choices we make will determine the future of the planet.
And in the words of Nobel Laureate Al Gore: “We, the human species, are confronting a planetary emergency. For now, we still have the power to choose our fate, and the remaining question is only this: Have we the will to act vigorously and in time, or will we remain imprisoned by a dangerous illusion? This is a moral, ethical and spiritual challenge. At stake is the survival of our civilization and the habitability of the Earth.”
This article was written for an international seminar of ophthalmologists held in India in Jan 2008