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Cooling Down India, Saving the World


By: Dr. Pankaj Jain, Head of the Department of Humanities & Languages and Chair of the India Centre at FLAME University.

These are some of the news headlines over the past few weeks, even as India continues to reel under scorching summer. From an intense and extended winter right into a scorching summer, we are witnessing the unkindest effects of a climatic crisis. Weather extremities are getting to be a familiar feature over the past few years, affecting urban and rural India. The usage of fossil fuels, rapidly diminishing green cover, compounded by unplanned urbanization causing the rise in temperatures, air, noise pollution, and fast depleting water levels are current realities that represent the intensifying, adverse effects of the climate crisis in India and the world.
Increased usage of fossil fuels remains a determining factor for releasing greenhouse gases, destroying natural resources, affecting human lives, and escalating the climate crisis globally.  According to a US study of greenhouse gas releases conducted from 1990 to 2020, transportation accounted for around 6000 million metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions, followed by electricity generation with 4000 million metric tonnes and industry with 2000 million metric tonnes.  This is alarming, yet we have not addressed the issue on priority. The World Air Quality Index 2022 states that 15 of the 20 most polluted cities globally are in India. According to the World Health Organization, such pollution levels are under-recorded in many of the worst-affected towns due to a lack of resources or situations of conflict.
 The most recent World Bank report states that India has 18 % of the world’s population, but it has only 4 % of the world’s water resources. Increased urbanization, population influx, and concretization have caused groundwater levels to decline in cities, placing them in a risky situation. Rural areas are also experiencing severe water shortages interspersed with drought conditions.  The rural areas are also witnessing a water crisis with floods interspersed with drought-like conditions. As a result, the agricultural sector has been facing tough times, with small-scale farmers and farm labourers giving up farming and moving to cities searching for livelihood Continuous pumping of water for irrigation and construction and daily living is fast propelling India into a water crisis zone. The decreased levels have resulted in highly polluted water unsafe for drinking and exposing people to multiple health hazards.
Technology was meant to better our lives and not damage our future. However, blind reverence for technology and its rampant use and advancements have become a significant source of accelerating climate change worldwide.  This has to stop at the policymaking level and the community level.  Any new technology needs to be used with the utmost caution, responsibility, and care.
 In summary, we have forgotten that this planet needs to be protected and sustained for the future use of humankind, flora, and fauna. Decidedly, all the earth’s resources are meant to be shared by other species, and humans enjoy no monopoly over them. In harmony with the planet dharma, human dharma can protect and conserve the earth’s energy resources rather than ruin or exploit them. Our nature treatment and energy usage directly affect our karma and determine our future. We can decide to protect energy resources for the present and future, even if we may have misused them in the past, replacing destructive karmic patterns with good ones.
What can we do?
A shift from fossil fuels to solar and other renewable energy sources can directly have a beneficial impact within a few decades.  Hence, we must move away from fossil fuels to renewable energy and call for an end to fossil fuel subsidies. For example, a shift to air conditioning without hydrofluorocarbons has the potential for enormous climate benefits. At a country level, support of the Green Climate Fund advances the implementation of these technologies at the necessary scale and immediate time frame. Furthermore, local and national leadership can advocate for an end to exploiting the earth through polluting extractive processes.
The latest press release headline from the  United Nations on climate change read ‘50:50 Chance of Global Temperature Temporarily Reaching 1.5°C Threshold in Next 5 Years’. Another  UN report states that greenhouse gas emissions, rising sea levels, and ocean heat have set new records.  Further, the IPCC 2022 world climate change report states, “With just 1.5 degrees C of global warming, many glaciers around the world will either disappear completely or lose most of their mass; an additional 350 million people will experience water scarcity by 2030; as much as 14% of terrestrial species will face high risks of extinction.
In this background, the group of elite nations must take the lead to act on climate protection and sustainability policymaking before it’s too late. They must enlist the support of others and have clarity on goals and implementation, with penalties for non-adherence. In my earlier article, I mentioned climate change’s cause and effect scenario, where the root of problems is among the wealthy nations. However, the effects are felt more by those not in positions of power in the global south.
 We can dramatically advance the goal of clean, healthy energy access for the bottom three billion people by shifting investments to sustainable energy. And providing clean fuel through modern cookstoves and solar lighting. If divided by 1.1 billion, this may cost as little as $22. Promoting eco-friendly, simple living is also an effective model for developing sustainable economies. A cap of about 10 tons/year per capita is estimated to achieve the target emissions that will keep warming below 2’C.  This cap will only affect the upper 1.1 billion people in the top four billion, as the bottom three billion currently emit just 5% of total fossil CO2.
 Livestock farming and the meat industry also account for a significant percentage of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. An effective counter to reducing this would be to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle.  The 12th of May was the International Day of Plant Health! The latest IPCC Climate Report shows that “balanced, sustainable healthy diets such as those that include plant-based foods can help reduce emissions that contribute to global warming.” Defining precise policy measures to enhance agriculture production and incomes by incentivizing farmers to raise the crop yield and insulate them from losses of any kind should be a requisite step by the government.  Failure to do so will result in food security problems.
In conclusion, it is also true that several solutions exist within the age-old traditions of India that are directly connected to the well-being of the world and all its communities. They have the potential to inspire environmental leaders and contemporary policymakers in India and elsewhere in their efforts toward mitigating climate change and other ecological threats. Now is the most suitable time for us to promote eco-friendly energy choices that will allow us to breathe freely, live a healthy life, and create a clean, sustainable future. Otherwise, we may soon destroy our own home– the Earth.
Views of the author are personal and do not necessarily represent the website’s views.
Dr Pankaj jainProfessor Pankaj Jain is an internationally recognized academic leader in Sustainability, Jain Studies, Film Studies, and Diaspora Studies. He is the Head of the Department of Humanities & Languages and the Chair of The India Centre at FLAME University. Earlier, he was the founding co-chair of India Initiatives Group and Associate Professor in the Departments of Philosophy & Religion and Anthropology at the University of North Texas, a tier-1 American university. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa and an M.A. from Columbia University (both in Religious Studies). His B.E. was in Computer Science from Karnatak University, India. Prof. Jain has over twenty-five years of work experience in both academia and industry.
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