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Overcoming the global warming obsession

CHINMAYA S RATHORE

There are other environmental issues which are equally compelling in their scope and consequence

THE RECENT high profile release of the IPCC reports on climate change has resulted in considerable media focus on global warming and its detrimental consequences. While media attention on this ominous environmental problem is both necessary and welcome, there is hidden jeopardy in over-reporting on just one issue as it may eclipse other equally important issues. People might inadvertently equate environmental problems with global warming. This is a dangerous perception for people to get fixated upon as it may lopsidedly limit people's affirmative action towards environmental protection mostly to those activities that reduce carbon emissions. It is important for people to understand that while global warming is a very serious environmental issue that needs urgent attention, it is by no means the only one that requires affirmative action. There are a number of environmental issues which have not received protracted media coverage but are equally compelling in their scope and consequence. The Asiatic Lion for example which is found only in the Gir forests in Gujarat is fighting its last battle for survival. Only around 200 individuals of this most magnificent species are alive today. Such is the threat to this species that in the last three months, around 25 of these have been killed by poachers or in accidents. Few might be aware of a highly endangered animal called the Ganga river dolphin which inhabits parts of the Ganga and its tributaries. About 1200-1800 individuals of this species are currently alive and are fighting a battle for survival from fishing nets, water pollution, siltation and river water fragmentation.

A grim reminder

The booming trade in rhino horns, elephant tusks, tiger parts, soft shell turtles and many more species is a grim reminder of the immense perils that wildlife and their habitats are facing today. Our growing urban centres are producing millions of tonnes of solid waste. According to a recent Assocham study, Indian cities annually produce 95 million tonnes of solid wastes, which is likely to increase to 150 million tonnes in the next seven years. A large part of this waste is dumped on land and contains potentially hazardous material that contaminates ground water. Most urban centres have antiquated sewer systems that capture a small part of sewage material which is largely dumped untreated in natural water bodies. Add to this the very dangerous situation pertaining to electronic waste or e-waste. India is fast becoming a dumping ground for huge numbers of used computers and other obsolete electronic equipment, which can release extremely hazardous substances into the environment if not disposed properly. In a recent book Fighting Body Pollution by Paul Kramer it is stated that only 5 per cent of pesticides reach target weeds while the rest flow into water or remain in the air. Kramer mentions that out of 2,700 chemicals that are marketed in quantities above 1,000 tonnes a year, there is little or no toxicity data on 86 per cent of them and over one billion people (mostly women and children) are exposed to levels of indoor air pollution that exceed the World Health Organisation standards by 100 times. Paul Kramer calls this "Body Pollution" which has become a significant cause of disease. We are losing productive land at a very alarming rate due to desertification. By conservative estimates, about 300 million people in India are directly or indirectly impacted by desertification. The earth has been polluted more in the last hundred years than it had ever been before. The coming 50 years will probably mark a defining period in human history vis-à-vis environmental protection. It is very important that people remain informed about the big picture and provide as much support to the less publicised but equally important environmental issues as they may give to the more publicised ones. The media has a critical role to play in informing people by widening their environmental reporting canvas.
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