As the mercury rises, it’s not hard to see how weather can impact our mood and our feelings, hardening us into just those people we’d hate to be.
2014 was officially the warmest year on record. Looking at the last three months of 2015, this year doesn’t seem to be too promising, especially with summer holding sway. Of course, it’s easy to complain about the sweltering heat while escaping into the cold comforts of an air-conditioned room or welcoming the unprecedented, unseasonal rainfall with joyous Facebook messages, blissfully unaware of how it damages crops and subsequently farmer livelihoods, or squinting through the morning haze without realising how it adversely affects your health.
Some 97 per cent of climate scientists are in consensus that human activity is influencing climate change – maybe it’s time to start understanding the implications for us human beings. The global phenomena affects all of us in different ways – from plummeting and rising temperatures to unpredictable weather patterns and complicated health issues and threatening food security and livelihoods. And ultimately, the planet will adapt. We, as a species, may not be so lucky.
And what’s worse is what Naomi Klein touches upon her newest book, This Changes Everything – climate change is lowering our empathy levels. She quotes a 2007 report “on the security implications of climate change co-published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies”, where “former CIA director R James Woolsey predicted that on a much warmer planet ‘altruism and generosity would likely to be blunted'”. Klein writes how climate change “is changing us, coarsening us. Each massive disaster seems to inspire less horror… as if empathy, and not fossil fuels, was the finite resource”.
Think about it – the heat makes you cantankerous, and flooded, jam-packed roads make you tetchy. And that’s at a miniscule scale. As temperatures rise, it’s not hard to see how weather can impact our mood and our feelings, hardening us into just those people we’d hate to be. The signs are already there, and add them up at a global level, and that’s one cranky planet. Gradually, we have begun drawing borders around us, marginalising the poor, polarising minorities, and drawing blinds to hide the decrepit reality outside.
Further, climate change is fast becoming a security issue, with countries realising that as people lose their land to rising sea levels, they will have to make space for environmental refugees. And since we are turning into a less generous species, border walls will go up, higher than ever before.
In Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Arthur Dent is forced to lie down in front of a bulldozer to stop contractors from demolishing his house to make way for a bypass. Meanwhile, ironically, planet Earth is also slated to be destroyed to make way for a hyperspatial express route. If you are wondering what brought about the mention of this iconic book, it’s because of an alarming piece of news that popped up on my Twitter feed a few days ago. According to an article in Business Standard, “India has told the World Bank that it is not ‘comfortable’ with mandatory need for free, informed and prior consent of tribals who are displaced for projects funded by the Bank.”
In some ways, this looks like the classic case of “It’s not my problem” or “A few people can’t come in the way of development for the greater good”or “India needs to feed its many starving people”. Before shrugging your shoulders, I recommend seeing Sun Come Up, a documentary film about the relocation of a community living on a chain of remote islands in the South Pacific Ocean, talks about the world’s first environmental refugees. The movie which was nominated for Best Documentary Short in the Academy Award in 2011 follows the islanders’ quest for a new home. Sun Come Up drives in the point, that displacement is not merely a loss of land or vocation, it is a parting of ways with one’s own sense of history, traditions, culture and identity. And that is hard to put a compensation tag on.
I don’t know what it’s like to lose my house. I do know what it’s like to bid goodbye to friends and families and street dogs when I moved houses, cities and countries, but for someone like me, it’s always been voluntary, or because my family was moving or because education or work beckoned. But to lose your home and your livelihood in exchange of a vague promise of development is incomprehensible. After all, growth can’t be selective, neither is it for an elite handful. In the same way, development that is not participatory or sustainable is senseless. Dismissing these voices seems like yet another example of how our empathy levels are slowly eroding away, being washed away by rising sea levels and melting away in this ferocious heat.
In a recent blog post, environmental campaigner Robin Webster puts forth an idea while quoting from George Marshall’s book on the communication of climate change – “I have become convinced the real battle climate change will not be won through enemy narratives and that we need to find narratives based on cooperation, mutual interests and our common humanity”. Websterexplains that The Climate Coalition, a group of climate action NGOs, are focusing their “for the love of…” campaign “on encouraging people to highlight the things they care about that are threatened by climate change – from football pitches to frozen lakes to fry-ups”. Maybe that’s what we need – a common humanity that brings us together, rather than divides us even further.