earth nature

At the turn of the 20th Century, the astonishing advances in science emboldened humanity, giving rise to confidence that science could, at last, as the fountainhead of truth provide the wherewithal for a stable and equitable social order for a sustainable future. In such a world, God was dead and religion regarded as a bundle of superstitions and blind faith. Many brazen experiments were shaped by this perspective. Yet, from the certainty of modernity to the stark nihilism of postmodern doubt, as the Century unfolded right up to the opening decades of the new Century entire populations have been buffeted by wave after wave of massive disillusionment and man-made catastrophes in the backdrop of natural disasters.

Top scientists responsible for the “Doomsday Clock” have issued a stark warning, for the third straight year–humanity is just 100 seconds away from a global catastrophe due to the climate emergency, nuclear weapons, and “disruptive technologies in other domains.”

The recent COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, has plunged the world into uncharted territory with renewed pledges by countries to fight the climate emergency. India’s commitments are Net Zero by 2070 and increasing its installed renewable energy generation capacity to 500 GW by the year 2030. On the last day of the debate India tweaked a crucial clause on phasing out the use of coal for energy generation that was not appreciated by Western nations. It was countered by the continuing failure of the developed world to fulfil its financial commitments promised at the earlier COP Summits. Technology transfer is another crucial issue. Because transition from fossil fuels to renewables can only come through a quantum leap in technology.

It is now or never when those preach the dogmas of materialism, whether of the east or the west, whether capitalism or socialism, to give account of the moral stewardship they have presumed to exercise. Where is the stable and just world promised by science? Where is the promised heaven on earth prophesied in the Sacred Scriptures of religions? Why is there a resurgence of fanatical religious fervor occurring in many lands? Indeed, one of the strangest and saddest features of the current outbreak of religious fanaticism is the extent to which, in each case, it is undermining not only the spiritual values which are conducive to the unity of humankind but also fueling greater skepticism and pessimism worldwide, particularly among the younger generations.

Every member of the human family has not only the right to benefit from a materially and spiritually prosperous civilization but also the capacity to contribute towards its construction through the fundamentally humanitarian idea of committed and selfless service to other.  All share the same atmosphere. All readily accept that this planet is our only home; a pale blue dot of earth, water, air, clouds, floating around in the vast incomprehensible universe. All readily acknowledge that cooperation among all nations is needed in order to address the pressing, existential questions that we are now facing.

The planet’s climate is driven by heat and the energy it carries, influencing its weather, causing rainfall, droughts, intense tropical cyclones and more. The anthropogenic nature of crises has resulted in several extreme examples of how excess heat in the ocean and atmosphere have caused, often devastating, sometimes unexpected, disasters in different parts of the world.  The year just past, 2021, was tied for the 6th warmest year since the time data on temperature rise began to be recorded. This can be correlated to human activities, like burning fossil fuels which adds to greenhouse gasses, such as carbon dioxide to the atmosphere where they trap more heat. Since about 1850, humans have raised atmospheric CO2 by nearly 50%.  Current mechanisms to coordinate aspects of humanity’s relationship with the natural world appear to be inadequate in dealing with the climate emergency as seen from the results of COP26 with its antecedents in the Paris Accord of 2015.

Covid-19 pandemic has shown the power of local action by individuals. The spirit of altruism manifested in action by families, friends, neighbours, working in tandem with the government agencies has saved thousands of lives and provided succour to millions of suffering people. Such transformation of consciousness requires a new mindset in how we view humanity itself. A global ethic cannot be fully realized until we adopt and are imbued by a consciousness of oneness based on the truth that humanity is one.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) India has appointed Prajakta Koli @Mostly Sane, a celebrity on YouTube, as the first UNDP India Youth Climate Champion. She will interact with young minds to create awareness on the adverse impact of climate change, global warming and biodiversity loss. Through videos, campaigns and on-ground events, she will address the need for collective action by sharing inspirational stories of how governments, communities and individuals are taking steps to make a difference. Prajakta joins the international stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Gisele Bündchen, Don Cheadle, Adrian Grenier and Ellie Goulding in their fight against climate crisis and believes it is up to the youth to take actionable measures for a better tomorrow. “The youth need to be the torchbearers of this revolution who will work towards the common goal of an enriched and empowered future where the human species doesn’t become endangered. We have created this problem, but we can solve it too,” she asserts.

As an optimist, a member of the Bahá’í Faith, and a practitioner of inter-faith values, I believe that humanity regardless of one’s religion, caste, creed, class, nationality and race, and wherever one resides, whatever may be one’s educational background, whether scientist or religionist, must strive to reverse the sweeping tides of consumerism, unfettered consumption, extreme poverty and marginalization and demonstrate the human capacity for compassion, justice, reciprocity and happiness. Let these questions raised by a famous ecologist, Richard St. Barbe Baker, Man of the Trees, and the answers he provides define our humanity: “… Are we fit to exist on the earth? Can we unite to stem the oncoming tide of destruction, which, by our folly, we have let loose on ourselves?” “The answer to these questions will decide the future of our race—the human race.  The tasks which confront us are sufficiently great in themselves to need the thoughtful and concerted action of every country on this globe. Erosion must be checked; oncoming deserts must be stopped. Air and water pollution must be stopped. Land must be made fertile again with the help of trees of mixed species, and the earth once again be clothed in a green mantle of trees.  The balance of nature must be restored.  Paradise must be regained.”

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Dr. A. K. Merchant is a social worker and an independent researcher providing voluntary services to a number of non-governmental organizations such as the Temple of Understanding India Foundation; National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of India; Global Warming Reduction Centre; Sarvodaya International Trust; Mintra Foundation.


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