Stopping the sea
MAN-made climate change didn't begin last summer. Its apocalyptic journey started with the first smoke belching chimneys of the industrial revolution in the UK several centuries ago. Climatologists say that it's the UK which has contributed most greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and not the popular villain, the US with its shorter industrial history.
So we are at the final lap, if one will, of a long history of nature ravaging, first out of ignorance, then denial, and finally at this latest stage, of deliberate selfishness. It has taken several hundred years not only to pile up the gases but also set up the socio-economic infrastructure and mindset that resists effective solution to what many think rings the bells of an impending global disaster. A few years to find solutions is probably an impossible task.
Having said that, let's also confirm that we are all tired of hearing dire predictions, especially about Bangladesh, which has become a major techno-media business of selling shock. For example, saying that one-third of Bangladesh will be wiped out is actually no more shocking than saying half of Bangladesh will drown.
Whether IPCC says that such catastrophes will generate 20 million refugees or dissenting experts suggest that the number will be closer to fifty million doesn't have an impact because the audience has shut their ears to serial bad news of the climate variety. Our senses are numbed so we can't register the disaster that is already upon us and therefore also can't act. But suppose we did want to act, what would we do? I am afraid that is where the real bad news is -- because not much time has been spent thinking about that topic.
Some reports have been prepared and discussed at seminars and all that, but as anyone will notice, climate change is one of the lesser priority topics -- and apart from demanding more foreign aid, little has been done. We are in effect waiting for the same West to tell us what we are supposed to do. And we can't make them give us resources either, although it was decided at the 2007 UN Bali summit that several funds would be placed at the disposal of the highly affected countries.
Global warming is only one problem among many
We know that global warming and sea level rise are only part of the problem because we live in a highly environment degraded area that is Bangladesh. Mention of just a few disasters will suffice. We have floods, river erosion, salinity, drought, soil depletion, arsenic contamination of water, deforestation -- and this is just for starters. A potentially massive disaster is vulnerability to large-scale earthquakes.
None of these are global warming related, but what will happen is that all of these will be heightened and each, coupled with climate change, will be capable of choking us to death. So to talk of sea level rise in Bangladesh is actually to describe the crisis in somewhat "Western crisis" terms, because even if the sea didn't rise at all, we would still drown in our massive environmental problems.
When one talks of solutions, some think of building dams to stop the rising sea, but it seems that warming and water shortage, largely as a result of the drying of the Himalayas caused by ice melts, will cut food production by large proportions, perhaps as much as 30% -- and could be more destructive than rising waters. It will be the largest ever assassination of livelihoods.