Climate Change

Whose Problem Is It?

Whose Problem Is It?

The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.

Global warming and climate change are adversities facing the world today, threatening the survival of future generations and of our planet itself. This ‘Inconvenient Truth’ is manifest in the Himalayas through glacial melting, landslides, soil erosion, uprooted livelihoods and deaths every year in tiny villages nestled in the Himalayan mountain range from Arunachal Pradesh to the Tibetan plateau in Ladakh. Disaster is waiting to happen with insurmountable impact cascading from the mountains to the plains below.

The changes in our ecosystem impact our urban lives every day, and most often, we brush them aside as a one- off event and someone else’s problem!

Greta Thunberg, the 16-year old Swedish activist, shook the world’s consciousness with these prescient words at Davos in January 2019. “Our world is on fire!”

The official fire brigade isn't working!

From the outset, global agencies and Governments have been addressing climate change from the top down. Their efforts are largely ineffective, mired in denial, driven by politics and, where coherent, mostly focused on policy and monetary frameworks aimed at reducing carbon emission. In the meanwhile, temperatures have risen and are racing towards the tipping point of 2 degrees. From there on, there is no coming back.

We have out-sourced the problem: someone else must douse the flames!

Global warming is framed in our minds as other peoples' problem. Caused by big business and big Government and therefore to be solved by them. But that is simply denial of another kind: as a consequence, we have lost a sense of personal responsibility and belief in our ability to do anything.

Calls to action are caught between the worst of both worlds: neither the top-down effectiveness of Government nor the bottom-up impact of individual and community action are working effectively. Reversal will still need strong state support and well-financed global initiatives. We must push our Governments and businesses to act; we must hold them accountable and we must make our voices heard. And we must do our bit – however we can. It's a race against time!

“Whilst we do all we can to galvanize others, the best antidote to the prospect of global catastrophe is local action owned and sustained by strong, empowered and confident local communities, supported by fast acting global networks.”

His Holiness Chetsang Rinpoche

Founder, Go Green Go Organic

Fragile Himalayan Ecosystem

Fragile Himalayan Ecosystem

The Himalayas are the world's youngest mountains, stretching uninterruptedly for about 2,500 km from West to East and between 200 and 400 km from North to South. They cover a total area of about 595,000 square km, with the third largest deposit of ice and snow in the world (after Antarctica and the Arctic). Approximately 1.65 billion people depend on Himalayan glaciers for irrigation, hydropower, and drinking water. It is easy to be awed and inspired by the serenity and majesty of the Himalayas, but they are, in fact, one of the most fragile ecosystems on Earth.

The fragility of the Himalayas is disguised by their grandeur. In reality, the Himalayan ecosystem is in poor health, impacted by the consequences of rapid and uncontrolled change. The threat arises from multiple sources – natural and man-made.

Being a young eco-system, the Himalayan belt is seismically active: earthquakes, land-slides, flash-floods and the resultant damage are a natural outcome of this dynamic condition. Given the precarious bio-physical balance, even small disturbances precipitate changes that, over time, assume vast proportions.

Like much of the biodiversity-rich areas across the world, the Himalayas are constantly under threat from both external influxes of climate change and local socio-economic changes that lead to unwarranted development. While, for centuries, the indigenous people of the region lived in harmony with their pristine environment, recent population pressures and rampant urbanization have accelerated de-forestation, turning mountain slopes into rocky wastelands and exposing the rivers to large-scale soil erosion. As much as a quarter of the region's ice has been lost over the last 40 years. According to data collected from ground stations, temperatures in the region have risen 1 degree Celsius higher than those from 1975 to 2000.

While tourism has had an impact, the environmental degradation on its account is minor in comparison to the devastation wrought by locals and migrants clearing out woodlands for farming and firewood. Damage to crop yield, pasture, water, soil and habitat because of inappropriate land use is an increasingly visible trend. Most of those living in the plains / foothills are not seized with the precarious condition of the seemingly impregnable peaks that provide them food and water and influence their weather. With climate change, the ice holding back glacial lakes is melting faster in the Himalayan plateau, threatening downstream communities. The ecological fragility of the Himalayas will, in due course, have a cascading effect on the social fragility of the region.

It is no longer a matter of choice. To survive (and reverse) an otherwise bleak future, we must strike a delicate balance with the environment, being mindful not to add new stresses that further upset the ecosystem. The need is for a sustainable methodology of change – one that recreates and gives back even while it utilises and destroys. The mountain gods are no longer sanguine about the human interference in their abode!

This is an urgent Call to Action - need for checks and balances to better appreciate the core principles of sustainable development that 'meet the needs of the present without compromising the right of future generations to meet their own needs.' It's a wake-up call to Indian and the world to protect the Himalayan ecosystem for our own survival.

Climate Crisis In Ladakh

Climate Crisis In Ladakh

Ladakh is India's youngest Union Territory, located in remote part of the Tibetan plateau in the Himalayas. Much of Ladakh lies over 10,000 feet above sea-level. This breathtakingly picturesque region evokes mental imagery of Buddhist architecture, permanent snow-clad peaks and elusive snow leopards. Unfortunately, all of them have begun to disappear.

Ladakh is characterized as a high-altitude desert, with excessive aridity and year-round moisture deficit. Climatic changes are extreme, with large temperature swings between summer and winter. The rugged terrain has meagre natural vegetation, a short agricultural season (May–September) and remains landlocked during winters. Ladakh is one of those places where the effects of climate change are more evident than elsewhere: it is warming 3 times faster than the rest of the world!

Rainfall patterns have been changing, small glaciers and permanent snow fields are melting, and the temperature rise has affected water runoff in the rivers. Reduced snowfall has led to dwindling water resources and has impacted agriculture. Ladakh and its water sources are almost entirely dependent on glaciers and snow-melts and changes in water systems can be directly attributed to receding glaciers.

Climate change is stripping Ladakh of its identity in more ways than one. Traditional architecture which comprised mud structures and wooden-roofed buildings is making way for concrete ones to withstand unseasonal rainfall. Paintings and carvings in Buddhist monasteries that dot the region have been ruined because of seepage due to incessant rains over the last few years.

Apart from climate change, tourism is the other factor that the local community has to contend with as they struggle to stabilise their livelihood. Until the early 2000's, Ladakh was largely an isolated, indigenous community of shepherds and nomads, the outside visitors mainly being military convoys on their way to the international border. Things changed drastically in 2009 with Ladakh's turquoise-blue Pangong Tso Lake capturing India's imagination after being featured in a major Bollywood movie. Since then, Ladakh has become a must-visit destination for India's youth. Tourism has led to an increase in plastic waste, fuel emissions and human waste, steadily degrading the thin air, pristine water and fragile plant life.

While Ladakhis understand little about climate science, they are attempting to re-align their lives around a new reality — less snow, receding glaciers and an arid landscape. Abandoning their lands and way of life in pursuit of modernity and livelihood, about 12% of residents move out to Leh (the capital city) and other urbanised areas in search of jobs. The most critical impacts of ecological and social change in Ladakh come from temperature change (leading to glacier retreat and expansion of glacial lakes), unseasonal rainfall and increase in tourism. Temperature change and snowfall are fundamental to water availability; this may increase melt water runoff, while decreasing water supply in the long term. The uncertainty around water makes Ladakh highly vulnerable and leaves its people pondering their future.