Murari Sharma: Climate Change — Do Not Throw Under Bus

When I was growing up, we had several tangerine trees in our garden; we had a thick forest around our village; we had no mosquitos in our house; and the Makalu Mountain range, which we could see from our house, was covered with snow down to a much lower elevation. Now, the tangerine trees have died, the forest is gone, mosquitos are in full force, and the snow cover has receded to near the top only.

Similar changes have occurred in Kathmandu, where I have lived for several decades. Until 15/20 years ago, a thick sheet of fog used to envelope the valley every morning in winter. Mosquitos did not exist in downtown. Tropical fruits did not grow in the valley. Air was cool and crisp. Now, the fog does not rise from the valley’s rivers and fields; mosquitos are as ubiquitous as flies; tropical fruit trees have begun to flourish; and Kathmandu has become one of the most polluted cities in the world.

I know the changes in my village and in Kathmandu first hand. Secondary sources of information make it clear that such changes are occurring as rapidly elsewhere too.

For instance, scientists from the University of California, Berkeley, have found that global warming has forced alpine chipmunks to move to higher elevations in the Yosemite Park. European wasp spiders found in southern Europe until 1930s have now moved to north. Due to the steadily shrinking ice habitat, two-thirds of the polar bears, the US Geological Survey predicts, will disappear by 2050. In Tosa Bay near Japan, the once lush kelp forest has been stripped bare and replaced by coral.

Most people do not need reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to convince them about these changes. They remember how the enforcement of new rules in the United State to reduce toxic emission from its factories has stopped acid rains in Canada. However, we have a small number of powerful people amongst us who deny climate change and block measures to stop it.

Who are they and why do they deny climate change? These are otherwise normal and intelligent people just like everyone else; however, they are blinded by their vested interest. They deny climate change because their paymasters — energy companies — ask them to do or lose their financial contributions. These are the same people who to win votes and power insist on replacing evolution with creation in schools.

Most of these climate change deniers are concentrated in the United States, and to a smaller extent, in the United Kingdom. They are politically conservatives, economically tied to or dependent on big energy firms, and relatively wealthy. For them, profit for such energy companies which contribute generously for their election is more important than public safety and welfare. They oppose, therefore, any measure that hurts the profit of such companies, though they may say they are trying to protect businesses and jobs.

These are the same people who demand the abolition of the US Environmental Protection Agency or remove its teeth. They are the one who have prevented the United States, the second largest polluter and largest economy in the world, from taking far-reaching international measures to arrest climate change. They are the ones who trashed President Barack Obama when he agreed recently with his Chinese counterpart to cut greenhouse gases that cause global warming and climate change.

Occurred on the eve of the Lima conference on climate change, the agreement is very important. Obama committed to reducing greenhouse gases up to 28 percent by 2025, while China, the largest polluter and second largest economy in the world, agreed to slow down and stop emissions by 2030. In the past, China and other developing countries had argued that controlling climate change would reduce their growth. The US-China agreement helped the recent Lima conference to find a common ground.

Well, it did not happen quickly or smoothly. International conferences are notorious for procrastination until the 11th hour. Often the delegates seriously engage only when the clock is stopped once the conference time has run out and they are in a hurry to head home. The Lima conference on climate change was no different. On the last day, nonetheless, there was agreement on most issues, though several pending issues will have to be sorted out in the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris in 2015, which will seek to improve on the Kyoto Protocol.

In 1997, the international community had adopted the Kyoto Protocol, a part of the Framework Convention on Climate Change, which became effective in 2005. It provided for the trade in emission credit — those countries that produced less emission than they were allotted could sell the excess credit to those countries which went above their allotment or could invest in greener technology in low emission countries so they could buy the excess credit.

The problems with the Protocol were several. For instance, nearly one-third countries, mostly from the developing world, did not support it; the United States flatly refuse to abide by the protocol until large greenhouse gas producing developing countries also did not promise to reduce it; Canada did not pay for the credit when the time to do came up; Russia set its own allotment. The Paris conference will review and strengthen the carbon trade regime stipulated in the Kyoto Protocol.

This will not be possible without the willing and active commitment of developed as well as developing countries. While the high-income countries produce around 45 percent of world greenhouse gases which contribute to climate change, the rest comes from the developing countries, a large portion of it from the big manufacturing nations like China, India, Brazil and Russia.

Even though the Lima conference was able to sort out many of the differences between the developed and developing countries as well as within those groups themselves, there is no guarantee that the Paris Conference will find consensus on the remaining issues for three reasons. First, the major producers of greenhouse gases would not want to reduce the emission swiftly to protect their economies from a major shock. Second, low-emission countries may find the price on offer for their emission credit is too low to sell. Third, the climate change deniers may block the consensus or its implementation.

The first two reasons are relatively easy to address, if there is the acknowledgement of the problem and the need to address it. It may take some time to find common ground, but it will be found sooner than later. However, the third obstacle will be more problematic, because you cannot work on any solution as long as you do not admit that there is a problem. How do you convince those people to change their mind who refuse to see evidence right before their eyes?

While I know that the climate change in my village and in Kathmandu is for real, let me confess that I do not understand whether it is a natural or man-made phenomenon; neither do I understand whether we can arrest it if it is part of nature’s spontaneous cycle. Yet there is no doubt that denying something that is happening before your eyes is delusional, and not trying to do anything to prevent it is stupidity. If you try your best and still cannot deter it, then you will have the satisfaction that you did not throw yourself under a running bus.




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