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HomeEyeLunar Lessons: Climate change solution needs more brainstorming, less politicking

Lunar Lessons: Climate change solution needs more brainstorming, less politicking

There was much-justified celebration when Chandrayaan 3 gently let go of the Vikram lander, which touched down softly on the moon’s surface and then sent its Pryagyan rover off exploring. That too, where no spacecraft had dared to go before. This was a poke in the eye for the sceptical West, but for me, the message coming across was different.

The previous Chandrayaan mission had crashed, and ISRO’s spirits then must have been as crushed and devastated as it was. But thanks to sheer dedication, relentless hard work, and a steely determination, the scientists working on the project produced a flawless mission, which cost less than what some European footballers are paid to kick a ball into a net.

Now if we could only apply the same mindset to some of the major problems beleaguering us these days, the primary amongst them being climate change, global warming and deforestation, we could make miraculous progress towards self-sustainability, an equitable climate and a pleasant planet to live in. One way towards achieving these goals is to let those who are at the cutting edge of their technologies, do their job, without interfering. Which basically means taking politicians out of the equation as far as possible.

Every news bulletin these days has a story — often a lead story — regarding climate change and global warming, whether it is about wildfires in world-famous tourist resorts, flash floods in deserts, world record temperatures being broken, avalanches that take down entire villages and cloudbursts that dump a year’s quota of rain in four hours. We’ve had our fill of them. And repeatedly scientists and environmentalists have been warning us of the perils that lie ahead if we continue in a ‘business as usual’ fashion. There’s a line from the Bob Dylan ballad, Boots of Spanish Leather, which made me smile when I heard them out of context here perhaps as far as the song’s theme goes, but very apt: Take heed, take heed of Western ways/ Take heed of stormy weather…

This is where we need to take heed, to get into a huddle and focus as hard as those ISRO scientists must have done to ensure that their next mission went off flawlessly. Many solutions have been provided, but few have been put into place on the ground — the usual lament being, that at the moment they are too expensive to be feasible.

All the big businesswallahs and industrialists keep trotting out the excuse that they have to keep the interests of their stockholders and shareholders in mind and must therefore focus on maximising their profits (as though this was a charitable exercise) but as environmentalist Vandana Shiva was once reported saying, “Ecology is economy.” Quite simply, what use are your stocks and shares going to be if your Bentley gets taken down by an avalanche, while you are on your way to your vacation villa in the mountains? Stocks and shares are not going to protect you from bad air, bad (and often furious) water and bad food. You can’t eat a five-hundred rupee note: it’s got cellulose, which you can’t digest (unless you are a termite!).

Many scientists, ecologists, environmentalists and ordinary citizens (sometimes even working in cooperation with governments) have wrought miracles on the ground, but in the larger scheme of things, they are like fireflies of hope winking on a dark, foggy night.

Here, in Delhi, the success of its six biodiversity parks provides one such example. In north Delhi’s Wazirabad, close to the Yamuna, a tract of land that seemed eminently suitable for battle-testing tanks, was over a period of years (2002 to the present) turned into a riparian habitat and ecosystem to which even the leopard graced with its presence, to say nothing of large flocks of migratory birds. The Aravalli Biodiversity Park, with a totally different landscape, has achieved similar success. Largely because, they let scientists and field biologists do their job, without interfering — at least not too much!

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We have an advantage over so-called ‘developed’ societies because we have a genius for jugaad. In her wonderful book, Marginlands Arati Kumar-Rao tells the story of how Ramon-Magsaysay Award Winner, Sonam Wangchuk, got his idea of creating ice stupas in Ladakh, in order to ensure a steady supply of water through the increasingly dry summer months. Global warming and climate change have caused ice to melt earlier and earlier each spring, out of tune with the production of crops. By the time the crops needed the water, the ice had all melted, and the water had long gone down the mountain. It was an ingeniously simple solution, sparked off by observing how ice under a bridge, (and so in the shade) did not melt nearly as fast as ice exposed to the sun did. Squirting water through fine nozzles at night through tall pipes caused it to freeze into tall cones as the spray descended, layer upon layer forming a tall stupa, which because of its shape, melted gradually, providing water when it was most needed. From ice stupas, the ante has been upped to ‘artificial’ glaciers, which would, store and release even more water.

And along with the sublime came the ridiculous! This morning I read about an IIT Director no less, (from Mandi), who specialises in artificial intelligence and robotics, claiming that the cause of the recent disastrous landslips in Himachal was “meat eating”!

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Building ice stupas and artificial glaciers is a neat solution, but the basic problem remains: to halt what’s causing the need for those: global warming and climate change. And it’s time we put our heads together like those ISRO scientists did or, perforce, we may just have to go and live on the moon!

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