Which way will we walk?
Third and final story on IYCN’s Agents of Change project.
During school days, of which I have endearing memories, my mother used to teach me mathematics during evenings. This primarily dealt with basics of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. This ‘rough-work’ as it was then referred to, used to take place, on most occasions, on envelopes. Reverse of envelopes that had brought in letters, news-papers and magazines; after scraping them open with foot-rulers. White and colourful, large and small, it used to be fun to tear and get them ready for use. Mother’s point was (and still is), to use a thing – big or small, expensive or otherwise – optimally and explore alternate use after the article was rendered unfit for its primary usage. Added to this was the dictum of only buying items that one needed.
These values I somehow imbibed. Years later when I was part of teams in Saiha (Mizoram) and Baghmara (Meghalaya), we used to regularly get Sanctuary Asia, Down to Earth, Seminar India and other engrossing reading companions to these endearing places. Envelopes that brought in these were put to use as ‘sorters’ in the office files. Mother’s reasoning, then, was guided more from the point of saving money (a scarce resource itself!) than others. This could be, without much difficulty, today shrugged off as a miserly approach to life. But is not this facet the same as espousing a lifestyle that is low on ecological foot-print and climate friendly?
Evidence of climate change and its impact can be already observed today in daily life, at a time when we are still able to make a change. Most farmers in multiple states across the country observe changes in rainfall patterns, a decrease in duration of the winter season, uncertainty of arrival of seasons and other issues that impact farming. They may have never heard of terms like climate change or global warming, but they understand the associated phenomena well.
For instance, a researcher working on the impacts of climate change on agriculture shared that farmers lamented that their festivals have lost their bearings during recent years due to changes in climate. These changes lead to alteration in cultivation cycles and most of their festivals revolved around these cultivation cycles. It is heartening, she said, that farmers, in different regions, have designed and implemented strategies to adapt to climate change. Many farmers in Odisha, in areas affected by soil salinity owing to the Super Cyclone in 1999, had switched from paddy to crab cultivation and betel leaf plantation. Apple cultivators of Himachal Pradesh had shifted to higher altitudes owing to the rise in temperatures; apple requires a cooler climate for a certain period.
After dwelling in my childhood memories and recognizing the challenges of climate change the earth faces these days, I moved to imagining the world 50 years down the line. How would India look like some time in 2065? Where and how would people live? I closed my eyes and I flew over the country in an imaginary hot air balloon – and I was surprised:
Before my mind’s eye, there appears a green and lovely landscape. Forests, containing a broad biodiversity of trees and plants and hosting a manifold of animals, are spread over the entire country. Beautiful, emerald green lakes and rivers holding clear, almost turquoise blue water are emerging at the horizon. Up in the sky, 2000 m above the ground level, everything seems to be so small, tiny and… clean! Even the huge cities which, in my memories, used to be crowded monsters, packed with air-polluting traffic, smoking chimneys, and tons of waste, are nice and liveable places. Is this the country where I grew up? Whose nature I have seen crumbling down and being exploited during the last centuries?
As the balloon lowers, I notice that most of the cities had shrunk. And even the so called megacities seem to consist of smaller agglomerations, letting the whole scene resemble a jigsaw puzzle. My excitement rises and I want to learn more about this strange concept of building communities. As I bring down the balloon to the ground, I hear the happy ringing of bells- bells of cycles that people travelled on…
After a rough landing on a huge vegetable patch, I step onto the streets, ready to fight against the usual honking and exhaust gases of the thousands of cars occupying India’s roads. But all I see are people walking around, riding their bicycles or other vehicles fuelled by sole “manpower”. Strolling through the peaceful streets, I get to know a friendly young guy who is willing to answer all my curious questions: He starts to explain that, when the impact of climate change got worse and worse in the first quarter of the 21st century, people finally woke up and took action by displaying innovation and leadership. Over the course of time, they noticed that it is imperative to fight against climate change. Experiencing it as more climate-friendly to live in decentralized structures in terms of energy- and food-supply, (emissions from fossil fuel could be reduced tremendously), they started to create more autonomous communities, within and outside the city.
Thus, the inhabitants of his hometown began to grow and produce their own organic food. Also known as urban agriculture, this way to produce food saves a lot of fuel and emissions due to decreased transportation, and even functions as carbon sink. The city’s energy is produced by decentralized renewable energies, such as photovoltaic and wind power. Continuing our walk, I am astonished to see buildings with green facades spread all over the city. It emerges that this is an additional energy source: people attach huge, flat tanks filled with seaweed – so called bioreactors – to the buildings surfaces. On the basis of photosynthesis which only requires sunlight, CO2 and nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphor, these algae reproduce very quickly. This biomass can be used to produce heat, warm water and electricity. Hence, the bioreactors function as carbon sinks and energy-producers at the same time. I am fascinated that today the inhabitants of this well functioning city are able to manage their natural resources for their people. Here, people had formed communes, lived off their lands and adhered to the dictum ‘small is beautiful’.
Waking up and leaving behind my daydreams, I ask myself, should we not do something about this scenario now, in the decisive 2015 climate year?
A wide-spread opinion states that – and despite being amongst the larger emitters – the Indian population is not in a position to commit to decreasing emissions as a significant proportion of the population was yet to meet its basic needs. Growth during recent years in our country had not led to the development of the lower strata of our country and even today more than one third of our population lived without toilets in and permanent roofs over their homes! Equity thus remains a critical issue. We first need to ensure that all our basic needs are met. One would agree whole heartedly, if it were not for the fact that the upper crust of our country has a lifestyle similar to that of their western counterparts or beyond. We are a nation of extreme inequities – the richest ten per cent holds nearly three quarters of the total wealth! Are we, one wonders then, a country where the rich are hiding behind the poor in the Climate dialogue?
There are no grey areas though, where we stand. The IPCC report released in November 2014 too confirmed that the situation is only getting worse and that our emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history. It, however, also stated that we have the answers we need to tackle the climate change. What we need is the will to act. One saw the motto ‘We have the power to change’ of thousands of people who marched in cities across the world, from New Delhi to New York, earlier this year demanding action on climate change. People across the world are pushing the politicians to take climate friendly decisions and gearing up for the climate talks to be held at Paris during 2015. Youth here play a major role. Why? Because ‘we are the first generation to feel the impacts of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it’.
Which way would we go, I wondered as I climbed in that imaginary balloon again to start another journey into the future.
This story was written in the context of the Agents of Change project supported by the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH.
Thanks are due to IYCN, Supriya and GIZ.
The original piece appeared under the title ‘Which way will we walk? A story from mother’s tales and imaginary hot air balloons‘
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