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Updated: April 29, 2013 16:21 IST

Can we change the face?

MADHULIKA GAUTAMA
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Dire straits: The melting ice caps. Photo: AP
Dire straits: The melting ice caps. Photo: AP

April 22 was celebrated as Earth Day in countries around the world. This year the theme was The Face of Climate Change.

On April 22, 1970, Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, the U.S., proposed the first Earth Day. It was a time when student protests were the order of the day and the anti-war sentiment ran high. Senator Nelson was on his way back from touring a devastating oil spill on the coast of Santa Barbara, California when he read about teach-ins on college campuses. In the late 60s, teach-ins — participatory discussions oriented towards action — were highly popular and Senator Nelson used the format to tap into the environmental concerns of the general public. The Senator wanted to infuse the student anti-war energy into the cause and force the issue to become a national political agenda.

That year one in 10 Americans participated in the first Earth Day. The day marked the beginning of a grassroots movement for the environment, meaning individuals and groups across the U.S. took part in their own community activities. It also helped in the promotion of the idea of ecology, which is the study of the interaction of people with their natural environment.

In its 43 year, Earth Day 2013 there was participation from more than one billion people in 192 countries across the globe. The day was coordinated by the Earth Day Network, a non-profit organisation that has declared ‘The Face of Climate Change’ as the theme for this year.

From the haze of debate and denial, climate change emerges as a reality that is affecting people, animals and natural habitats. Climate change is the lasting and significant change in weather patterns brought on by human actions. One of its effects is global warming that has caused a rise in the Earth’s average temperature. As a result sea levels have risen and patterns of precipitation have changed to cause extreme weather conditions such as heat waves, heavy rainfall and drought. This upsetting of the natural balance has made species extinction a very real possibility.

Effects

Melting ice caps

Scientists and conservationists are watching the Arctic closely as the ice is getting thinner, melting and shrinking. Average temperatures in the Arctic are rising twice as fast as anywhere else in the world. In fact the changes in the Arctic are seen as an indication of the things to come. The melting of the ice cap, that was once permanent, is affecting not just the wildlife in the region but the lives of the native inhabitants as well. The animals in the region — polar bears, whales, walrus and seals, have been changing their migration and feeding patterns making it difficult for the people who rely on them. The settlements of these people along the Arctic coastline are under threat of being submerged! 

Habitat destruction

Indonesia’s orangutans are the last of Asia’s great apes and their population is confined to the forests in Borneo and Sumatra. They are already under threat because of human activities such as illegal logging and rampant conversion of forest spaces into plantations. But conservationists warn that climate change will see a destruction of the species if effective steps are not taken immediately. Longer dry seasons will reduce the availability of fruits that will directly affect the orang-utan population.

Moreover forest fires brought on by climate change will destroy these fruit-bearing trees that take years to mature. With their food stock significantly reduced, orangutan populations will struggle to survive as females conceive only during periods when food stock is not short.

Erratic weather systems

Scientists believe the decline in the period of the southwest monsoon in our own country, extended dry spells and the exponential increase in the number of cyclones around the world are signs of human induced climate change. Hurricanes like Sandy, Ivan and Katrina wreaked havoc in the U.S, and countries like Australia have experienced droughts, wild fires in the ‘hottest decade ever’.

If considered just a rock swirling in space around a nuclear fireball, earth hardly requires a day. But if considered a living, breathing system, like the goddess Gaia, every day would be Earth’s day.

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