Global Warming Warning: India Needs To Take Measures For Carbon Emissions

Keep carving into mountains and then wail, ‘Landslide, Cloudburst’!


Himachal experience

On August 11, there was a severe landslide in Kinnaur region of Himachal Pradesh burying numerous vehicles, including a Himachal Pradesh Road Transport bus, that had 40 people on board. 11 people died and nearly 30 are still reported missing. This is one reality that landslides are now a daily feature in this state.


In July, I had taken off on my own to Himachal Pradesh, in the season of rains and some chill. All along, I was asked to prepare for the rains and cold and I packed a lot of woollies. As I drove with the host family from Chandigarh to Kinnaur, the first thing I noticed was the increasing number of hydropower projects and dams. A similar pattern had been observed by all of us regulars in Uttaranchal in the 90s and early 2000. I even said aloud to my hosts that the state seemed to be headed in the same direction as Uttarakhand. I was asked by some influential people, why shouldn’t the locals have their own houses and why should they lag behind in infrastructure and development just because they are in a mountainous region. Firstly, my observation was based on the rampant construction that one sees immediately on arriving in Shimla and other smaller towns. Moreover, to say the locals are building houses is to put it mildly; locals prefer building villas and mansions. Today, in most of these places, one can’t see the terrain as it is completely covered in concrete. Moreover, the HP government is giving a lot of benefits and sops to home stay owners especially in Kinnaur and Kalpa region. There obviously is a construction season going on even in the monsoons.


Concrete constructions in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh.


This was the time there were landslides, cloudbursts and devastation caused by floods in Dharamshala, Shimla and other parts of Himachal. That particular day, up in the Greater Himalayas, we only witnessed a daylong drizzle, while worried friends called, messaged and sent the horror-filled videos of devastation. The weather bureau officials were clear there were more acts of god expected. That day I walked up the mountain in the light drizzle, far away from the horrors below and saw mild snowfall on top of the mountains.

A few days later, on my journey from one place to another via Jaloti Jyot, we encountered four roadblocks, three of which made us gasp and gulp. Huge boulders were stationed precariously, which I’m sure, would have rolled down by now. Landslides and bridge collapses are par for the course in this region. Mountain lore is full of stories of huge trees, the size of the raintrees in Cadell Road, Shivaji Park, Mumbai, falling regularly in this season. Yes, this is a fact and that is why most locals were livid with the woke, smartphone city tourists who had made the videos of the landslides and cloudburst viral. Now, there is truth on both sides. While the rubble falling (which we witness at two spots to this day on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway) is taken by all in their stride, the fact is, the situation has worsened. The gusto with which infrastructure projects are being given a push in this state should actually make those living in higher altitudes skip several heartbeats. In the recent landslides in Kinnaur, a bridge collapsed in a landslide, cutting off the areas from rest of the region, obviously impacting normal life. This is the grim reality of our Himalayan region.


The landslides triggered a bridge collapse at Batseri in Sangla valley of Kinnaur. (Credit: The Indian Express)


Prior to the cloudburst and landslide incidents, there were talks of hydropower projects impacting lives, culture, rivers and forests here. Local residents have been protesting the construction of Jangi Thopan Powari hydroelectric project over the Sutlej since April 2021. In fact, in 2017, the villagers of Lippa had begun equipping themselves with information, legal knowledge and coming together to fight against the construction of the 130MW Integrated Kashang Stages II and III Hydroelectricity Project, 2011. However, the reality is immediately evident — in the last 10 years or more, there has beenincreased construction activity in the Himalayan region, and the terrain has been impacted. This has caused severe degradation of land and the environment and worse, the loss of lives, which feels like a scary sacrificial ritual every monsoon. The truth of the matter is: these projects have negatively impacted naural ecosystem of this region.

The natural disaster brought back horror memories of July 26, 2005, when the cloudburst over Mumbai snatched away the lives of over 1,094 people and caused extensive property damage. Again, the reason was major infrastructure projects in which the Mithi river was rechannelised, mangroves destroyed and with it, the ecosystem of the city. After all this, our politicians continue to behave as though they are wet behind the ears and have gone ahead with the coastal road and Mumbai metro projects, which have resulted in ghastly missteps like cutting down parts of the forest in the city, mangroves along the coast and thousands of trees that were ‘in the way’.


Cloudburst in Mumbai caused heavy flooding in 2005.


Global warming

Scientists have been warning about the climate change being observed in every region. On August 9, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report, which states, “The emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are responsible for approximately 1.1°C of warming since 1850-1900, and finds that averaged over the next 20 years, global temperature is expected to reach or exceed 1.5°C of warming. This assessment is based on improved observational datasets to assess historical warming, as well progress in scientific understanding of the response of the climate system to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.” The key message is the emanation of greenhouse gases from human activity. The construction, destruction of the ecosystem apart, the number of vehicles purchased in the last one year of lockdown has risen. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, lakhs of people have lost their jobs, but one would be shocked to read, that passenger vehicle retail sales saw a 63 per cent growth in one year, when assessed in July 2021. The report shows that total vehicle registrations at the RTOs registered a hike by 34.12 per cent over the July 2020 period, compared to the previous year (2019), when vehicle sales were down by 13 per cent.

All of this has added to increased global heating, whereby the temperatures have increased by 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Till now, with only 1.1 degrees C of warming, we are seeing unprecedented weather disasters, say experts. The impact is being felt across the globe, with heatwaves in Canada, London, storms in China, cloudbursts and floods in India, wildfires in California, Greece and Siberia. But the ball of disaster we have set rolling does not stop here. Global warming and weather changes have also led to increasing global hunger. A report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Program said more than half-million people are experiencing acute food insecurity and 41 million are at risk of facing famine. While conflict is the prime reason, the other is, “Weather extremes and climate variability are likely to affect several parts of the world during the outlook period.” Among the worst affected are sub-Saharan Africa, Central America, Asia and the Middle East, that have the 23 ‘hunger spots’. Moreover, Covid-19 has exacerbated hunger and poverty in India. With job loss and lack of employment, there has been growing hunger and we saw that in 2020, when lakhs of migrant workers waked back to their villages, risking the heat and distance, only to ward off hunger.

In the face of all this, our Union government has been playing politics over all these issues. The Bharatiya Janata party-led government has flatly denied there were any hunger deaths in India during the sudden shutdown announced by the Prime Minister on March 24, 2020. Since then, we have heard PM Narendra Modi only make loud proclamations of India having defeated the virus. However, India has goofed and really badly, be it carbon emissions, mitigating the virus or even having a basic health policy in place. India, China, Mexico, Indonesia, Brazil and Central American countries have till now, not put forward their plans for emission cuts prior to the Cop26 meeting in Geneva. The Copc26 President and cabinet minister of UK, Alok Sharma, has said the worst polluting countries must make drastic carbon cuts.

It is time even citizens realised their role in creating a climate crisis, definitely one wouldn’t want to leave this world in a worse shape than it already is, considering that it is our kids who will be inheriting it.


Neeta Kolhatkar is a senior journalist with over 30 years of work experience across different media platforms. She is currently a freelancer and media consultant.

(Views Expressed Are Personal)


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