ON GLOBAL WARMING
(From the Trustees of SAI Sanctuary Trust)
Recognition of the problems we face must not mean giving up in despair. There are things we can do to help save the planet and ourselves. First and foremost is protecting what remains of our forest cover.
How will this help? Trees absorb CO2 from the atmosphere while releasing oxygen during the process of photosynthesis. The average small tree sucks up more than 1000 kgs. of CO2 per year, their roots performing the dual tasks of raising both the water table and minerals to the soil surface, with essential nutrients from their dead leaves further rejuvenating the soil.
Old growth forests of native tree species are especially important in all of these areas. Plus, the shade from their broad canopy lowers temperatures throughout the year. This in turn helps to moderate climate, preventing droughts and encouraging seasonal rainfall while lessening the severity of storms.
In addition, the extensive root systems of old growth native forests act as a net, preventing erosion of precious topsoil during monsoon, while soaking up excess water, holding it in the soil and slowly releasing it during the dry season, thus assuring water supply year-round.
Hence, 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.
The Water Crisis
The industrialization of the planet has coincided with the decimation of our forests, with deforestation still escalating at phenomenal rates worldwide. Right here in Kodagu, our forest cover has decreased by over 43% in the last 20 years, losing 60,000 acres of forest in just two years. The systematic destruction of these forests has led to a severe drop in rainfall and subsequent droughts in some areas, with catastrophic storms and massive flooding hitting others.
Over one billion people around the globe already suffer from lack of fresh water, with this figure expected to rise to two-thirds of the population of the Earth within 10 to 15 years, according to the report just released by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)—the UN-sponsored panel made up of 2500 scientists from over 130 nations, chaired by the ‘Padma Bhushan’ winning Indian scientist Dr. R.K. Pachauri, the panel warning that the Earth is entering a climate realm that has not been seen for over 800,000 years.
Over 70% of the population of Northern India depends on water from rivers whose origin is in the Himalayan glacier field—second only to the Polar Regions for its storage of fresh water on the planet. And yet, these glaciers are expected to vanish within the next 15 years as they are melting faster than almost all other glaciers around the globe. Over 400 million people will be affected in the delta region of the Ganges River alone. Here in Karnataka, severe water rationing in cities like Bangalore, Hassan, and Mysore, as well as right here in Madikeri has already become the ‘norm,’ with some areas receiving water only once in several weeks.
The overexploitation of groundwater has reached 100%, with existing bore wells drying up and new ones producing nothing but dust. Lack of fresh water has hampered plans for further development in and around Bangalore, too, as can be seen with the suspension and likely cancellation of plans for world class satellite towns around Doddalaballapur, Yelahanka and Devanhalli.
Right here in Madikeri, our infant ecotourism/home stay industry may well be ‘nipped in the bud’ if we do not conscientiously protect our forests because tourists certainly won’t come if they are going to be inconvenienced by lack of water. And tourists won’t come if they are going to end up baking in the same sweltering heat of the plains they want to escape because there are no trees, no forests and no wildlife to be seen.
We must take note of what is happening in Kodagu right now. When was the last time that our district experienced no rainfall at all since monsoon’s end? How are our planters going to cope with this lack of water? How are we going to save our crops? Are we going to end up having to drink recycled sewage water like the residents of Queensland, Australia are now being forced to do because of lack of fresh water?
A Grassroots Effort
In view of these facts, further destruction of our forests must be stopped NOW.
This will require a grassroots effort on our part to stop the implementation of destructive projects not only in our forest areas, but on private lands as well—projects like the construction of dams or the drawing of electrical cables through the forest cover in our district. With 70% of the district’s land in private hands, relying on the few trees left in government forests to protect us from Global Warming and ensure fresh water for all is not going to be enough. We must expand that forest cover by protecting trees on private lands as well.
All of us contribute to Global Warming to a lesser or greater degree. Each time we use a car, or ride in a rickshaw or bus, each time we burn wood to heat water or cook our food, each time we switch on lights or burn kerosene for lamps, each time we eat food that we haven’t grown ourselves—having been brought by transport from outside our district—we are contributing to Global Warming.
All of us need fresh water to live as well. For drinking, cooking, bathing, agriculture, business, education, healthcare—for virtually every aspect of life and living, fresh water is essential. Recognition of these facts should inspire us to act—individually and collectively—to seek solutions and implement them.
Purposeful Actions—Practical Solutions
In order to mitigate the effects of Global Warming and protect our vital water sources at the same time, we at SST are promoting two programs to further expand and protect India’s rapidly vanishing forest cover, starting right here in the Kodagu District:
- 'Purchase-for-protection’—the purchasing of private lands from willing sellers that are still forested that border wildlife sanctuaries, national parks or reserve forests in order to preserve them in their natural state;
- 'Forest credits' or 'Tree supports'—giving an annual payment to landowners to protect rather than cut down the native trees on their property, stopping the concept of 'short-term gain' (cutting of trees for timber) that inevitably leads to 'long-term pain' (drop in rainfall, erosion of topsoil, sun-damaged crops, etc.), thus insulating landowners with this annual payment from the vagaries of both climate and market changes.
Implementation of these two programs will go a long way in lessening the effects of Global Warming, while protecting our most precious natural resource—water. And since the loss of our vital water sources, coupled with global warming and its consequences, are already affecting us individually and collectively, physically and financially, it is essential that all sectors of society cooperate in supporting these programs.
Hence, we must look for 'Partners' from the business/corporate sector—private industries, business people, corporations—to support these programs financially. The business sector here in India must abandon its obsession with ‘short-term profits’ and broaden its vision to embrace ‘long-term stability and sustainability.’ It must recognize the connection between protection of the environment and overall financial gains in the economy. As Jeffrey Immelt, Chairman and CEO of General Electric (GE) has stated: “This is a time period where environmental improvement is going to lead toward profitability.”
Further, we must encourage our elected officials to take action NOW in introducing legislation supporting these programs in both the Karnataka State Legislature as well as in Parliament. Funding for these programs can easily be raised through various means. One such way is to phase out supports for cancer-causing tobacco, helping tobacco farmers change over to planting other crops, and transfer that money to these programs.
Another source of funding is through a ‘resources tax’ that can be levied on businesses and industries in cities. Another way is to implement the suggestion from the Supreme Court in this regard—i.e., for our state legislators to negotiate with states like Tamil Nadu to compensate landowners in Kodagu who protect native trees on their lands, thus ensuring water for Tamil Nadu. After all, why should the ‘User Pay Principle’—the concept that those who use the resources should pay to help support those who protect the resources—not be applied here?
If the government can earmark over Rs.3000 crores for an environmentally destructive project like the Upper Bhadra, or a smaller dam in the Karike Panchayat of Rs.38 crores, or waste more crores on other smaller proposed dam projects like the one at Abby Falls, can they not spend Rs.10 crores for Forest Credits/Tree Supports for private landowners to protect their native trees, and another Rs.20 crores for acquiring forested lands from willing sellers?
Both of these programs cost less than this small dam in Karike Panchayat—a dam that will destroy over 3000 trees and cause depletion in rainfall in our district, our state and our country. Imagine if the funds for the cost of just one large dam like the Upper Bhadra—i.e., Rs.3000 crores—were diverted for these two programs instead, the programs would be funded for the next 100 years. Once again, it’s not that there isn’t enough money for these programs. It’s a question of the ‘political will’ to do so, to do ‘the right thing’—to protect our forests to protect our water sources and help mitigate the effects of Global Warming.
‘Power to the People’
In this country, we have come to believe that ‘power’ is concentrated in the hands of a few individuals, often calling them ‘the powers that be’ when referring to our elected officials and government bureaucracy, as well as the business/corporate sector of society. But ‘power’ really rests with ‘the people.’ The general public is a sleeping giant that needs to be awakened. We have two sources of power that we can wield—the ballot box/polling booth and the power of purchasing/boycotting.
We must take our cue from India’s own freedom struggle, when Indians throughout the country boycotted imported British cloth, purchasing only Indian homespun cloth instead. Similarly, through the systematic boycotting of products produced by companies that ignore/violate environmental laws—both domestic and international—we can force them to change to more eco-friendly manufacturing practices.
We must stop companies—whether Indian or international—from seeing our country as the ‘dumping ground’ for toxic chemicals, as a country whose environmental laws may be on the books, but not enforced, as a country where ‘development at any cost’ means they can do what they like, destroy what they will, and put our lives and the lives of future generations at risk. This is the power of purchasing—the power to boycott—the power to force companies to change or face bankruptcy as a result.
Success of this type of unified cooperative public agitation has been witnessed very recently when soft drink and mineral water manufacturers were forced to ‘clean up their act’ environmentally when high chemical contaminants were found in their products. Further investigation unearthed that their irresponsible manufacturing practices had also contaminated the ground water near their plants. Through public pressure and boycott of their products, they were forced to change their manufacturing practices, while the government was forced to pass strict pollution standards for soft drink, mineral water and even fruit juice products—standards that even went beyond what was currently in force by the European Union. This example once again proves that we CAN make a difference IF we work together.
Similarly, we must stop companies from seeing India as a country where a few thousand rupees/dollars placed in the ‘right hands’ can ‘buy’ them the license to rape our country and destroy its natural wealth. This is where the power of the judiciary, coupled with the power of the ballot box/polling booth comes in. We have an independent judiciary in this country, which, for the most part, is independent of graft and influence. Through the filing of PILs (People’s Interest Litigation) cases with the courts, both elected and bureaucratic officials who accept bribes to ‘look the other way’ when violations of environmental laws occur can be prosecuted for their crimes of complicity and removed from their positions.
Further, elected officials can be removed from office by voting them out at the polls, replacing them with individuals who, through their actions, prove their commitment to protect the environment, thereby protecting the future health and welfare of our country.
As the largest democracy on Earth, we not only have the right but the duty to force our elected officials to be accountable to the public for their policies and their actions, including their lack of actions in the area of protecting and preserving our vital water sources—the forests. Stopping environmentally disastrous projects like large dams and mining in forested areas—whether on public or private lands—is again our right and duty.
We also have the right to demand that those who are using water from the rivers that have their origin in this district help pay for the protection and preservation of the forests that are their source. And we have the right to demand proper compensation for those who, for the sake of the community and country at large, protect trees (especially native trees) on their private property. For a tree is not just a ‘simple tree.’ It is the ‘key’ to providing and protecting the essential elements of life on this planet—food, soil fertility, shade, fresh air, and the most precious element of all—water. Without trees, all of these will vanish, and humanity as a species will vanish as well.
People of Kodagu, it is once again time for us to stand together, to work together, to speak as one voice and make that voice heard. Write to your elected officials demanding cessation of all environmentally destructive projects in the district, for we are the ones who will suffer the most from their implementation. Demand that these programs for Forest Credits/Tree Supports—i.e., compensation for protection of trees on private lands—be introduced as legislation and passed, and hold all those who do not listen accountable for their failure to listen, heed the demands, and act.
We do still have a ‘window of opportunity’ in which we can act. But WE MUST ACT NOW! For, there is no ‘tomorrow’—we must act TODAY! As Martin Luther King, Jr. said:
“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of NOW. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words ‘Too late.’”
Let this not be the epithet of our district, our country, our civilization. Let us join hands and work together to stem the tide of destruction and annihilation that is starting to sweep over the Earth. Let us work together to protect our district, preserve our remaining life-sustaining forests, to save our planet and ourselves. For without trees, there are no forests; without forests, there is no rain; without rain, there is no water; and without water, there is no life. As stated by former Vice President of the USA Al Gore—this year’s nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize and India’s own Mahatma Gandhi Award for Peace:
“This is a moral, ethical and spiritual challenge. At stake is the survival of our civilization and the habitability of the Earth.”