wildfire outbreak in California is a grim reminder of how human actions have caused immense and irreparable damage to the environment. According to the IPCC Report, temperatures have already risen to more than 1 degree Celsius as compared to the pre-industrial era and will rise to more than 2 degree Celsius unabatedly in the near future if industrial activities are carried out in the existing manner, least sensitive to the environmental impacts that follow.
Anthropocene era, that time period which has seen marked changes in the climatic conditions due to human induced pollution, causes of which include heavy industrialization and life style changes dictated by consumerism, is the present. If not for ethical interventions, we shall be witness to exponential degradation rates of environment and thereby an unprecedented climate crisis. We are responsible for what awaits us
The increasing CO2 emissions have resulted in global warming, further impacting the health of land, air and water. A study published in Nature Communications estimates that land which is currently home to 300 million people will flood at least once a year by 2050 if carbon emissions are not cut significantly. Sea levels are estimated to rise by at least 1m by 2100, according to IPCC Report, due to water expansion as oceans absorb more than 90% of the atmospheric heat. Melting glaciers will further aggravate the situation. Additionally, the reduction in ice expanses will reduce the albedo effect, (the reflection of sun rays by surfaces) which symbolizes increase in sunlight absorption in the higher latitudes.
Not only the abiotic components are impacted, the harm to the biotic components include reduced oxygen levels for the aquatic animals and migration of fishes to higher latitudes impacting the availability of marine catches for coastal communities for survival.
We have witnessed in the last few decades extreme variation in monsoon patterns leading to droughts in a few regions and flooding in others. As a result, urban flooding also leading to spread of diseases, submergence of agricultural lands and so on have become frequent occurrences. It saddens one to see the animals drowning and looking for safe zones during floods in Kaziranga National Park.
Further evidence of climate change includes the hot and cold waves. For instance, the shifting of the polar vortex caused frigid conditions in Northeast America. The heat waves in various countries including Japan and South Korea and the rise in average temperatures in western countries, are alarm bells to the doom that awaits us. The frequency of forest fires is increasing and we have definitely invited God’s fury to have led sweet Koalas to death in Australian wildfires caused by the rise in average global temperatures and drought conditions.
Climate change has also resulted in food insecurity since increasing temperatures have made soil infertile, increased pest attacks and caused depletion of water resources. There are increased conflicts over water and food resources which have added to the existing security issues. Fallouts of these are increased mortality rates, migration and excess burden on the resources of a few countries. Amend or be annihilated: Let moral responses lead the way
Global agreements and national policies hold no weight without a strong moral foundation. There is a need for human to human ethical conduct and at the same time a response driven by moral reasoning and purpose towards serving the biotic and abiotic components of nature effectively.
A few examples of the above could aim at addressing the following aspects. The rights of climate change refugees find no mention in any of the global conventions. It is the moral responsibility of the world governments, civil society and fellow citizens to provide for their safe and sustainable rehabilitation and ensure a robust economical and social structure.
The other communities at risk include the coastal inhabitants and farmers. They need to be insulated from the harmful impacts of climate change such as droughts, sea level rise causing floods, etc. We may not be able to directly help these communities but can indirectly do so through various endeavours which focus on mitigation strategies which involve controlling increase in atmospheric temperatures such as shifting to renewable energy, lesser burning of fuels, using energy efficient appliances, etc, we can attempt to contain the threats faced by them .
Environmental ethics is a major area of work in this age of climate crisis staring in the face of humanity. This includes accounting for environmental health and that of its components while catering for one’s own needs. This is all inclusive of safeguarding the lives of terrestrial, aerial and aquatic life. Lets begin by recognising our inter-dependence on them and not be ignorant of the fact that destruction of one is bound to have a domino effect on all others.
The idea of sustainable development as given by the Brundtland Report to conserve the environment for the future generations stands as a strong moral and ethical framework. Similarly, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13 which imposes a moral obligation on the global community to combat climate change and its impacts lays a moral high ground by emphasizing that attention needs to be paid to the Least developing countries, small Island States and also women, youth and the marginalized communities.
The concept of Common but Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR) is a right step in establishing the accountability of the developed and industrialized countries and holding them morally responsible for their share of damage. Through financial and technological contribution, these countries have a chance to redeem themselves and prove their seriousness towards making the world a better place to live.
Our responsibility towards the environment doesn’t finish by merely acknowledging that damage has been done. It involves a continuous process of developing mitigation strategies, amending our callous attitude towards nature and adapting to the already caused damage by paying more attention towards those who have and will suffer the most. It has to be an inclusive effort and all the participants, i.e governments, civil society and citizenry have to necessarily be on board. If the right direction and pace are not adopted immediately, doomsday will not be far and the generations to come will reap what we sow in the form of man-made disasters, disappearance of islands thereby decrease in landmass and resources for sustenance, to name a few.
- Writer is a Post Graduate in Economics from Warwick University, UK