After us, the deluge

Imagine the City of Joy submerged in water. Don’t scoff — for environmentalists are seriously concerned. Calcutta submerged under the sea may now seem wildly far-fetched, but experts who feature in the Oscar-winning documentary film, An Inconvenient Truth, are not so sure.


The fourth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, due to be released shortly, may be a harbinger of bad news for all. The IPCC, set up by the World Meteorological Organisation and the United Nations Environment Programme, works towards the assessment of scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation. Already, there is bad news in its report, “Mitigation of Climate Change,” released in May in Bangkok. Based on 75 individual studies that looked into as many as 29,000 data sets, this unprecedented scientific effort has found that all continents have been affected by climate change.

The report warns that if we do not change our consumptive lifestyles soon, the drowning of several islands and cities within the next two decades is a very real possibility. The scientists predict extreme weather, heavy floods, typhoons and cyclones would be some of the ways in which humans would be affected.

With the mitigation report being released just ahead of World Environment Day, June 5, nothing could be a more appropriate topic of discussion than global warming. The West Bengal Pollution Control Board and the Indian Chamber of Commerce, in association with Jadavpur University, organised a day-long event, complete with technical sessions to mark the occasion. The participants agreed that if necessary steps are not taken to maintain the earth’s ecological balance, nature will strike back — a message the film highlights.

“We will ensure that auto-rickshaws start plying on gas. A control cell shall also be set up to check rules are implemented,” promised West Bengal environment minister Sailen Sarkar, who took part in the discussions.

Highlighting the prospective disasters threatening people all over the world, the American Center held a screening of Davis Guggenheim’s 2006 film, An Inconvenient Truth, on the same day. Presented by former US Vice President Al Gore, this Academy award-winning film about climate change — specifically global warming — was shown for the first time in the country.

The event was organised by the United States Information Service (USIS) and the Centre for Social Markets (CSM), an NGO working in the areas of sustainable development and human rights. “The aim of screening the film here is to draw attention to the problems Calcutta would face because of climate change,” said Malini Mehra, CSM director. According to the film, if the process of global warming continues, Calcutta would be submerged under the sea in the next 20 years and 14 million people would be drastically affected.

The film has already made an impact. The British government has announced that it will distribute a copy of the film and further reading material to every secondary school in the United Kingdom to create awareness on the issues raised in it.

The film mentions several potent examples of the effects of global warming, including the hastened extinction of species, the difficulties birds face in rearing their young in Eastern Europe due to “enforced” ecological changes, and the increased levels of carbon dioxide in ice in the Antarctica. No less alarming is the fact that the 10 hottest years ever measured on the planet have all occurred in the last 14 years. The film also criticises the US government’s refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

The USIS-CSM conference was part of a special programme called Climate Challenge India, aimed at generating consciousness among Indians on these issues in the wake of the recent scientific findings. At a roundtable conference also, organised by CSM, Calcutta mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya and senior Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) officials discussed strategies for a greener and cleaner city.

“A plan is being drawn to identify and remove hazardous industries from the city, and the public works monitored towards adoption of pollution-free methodologies,” said Dipankar Sinha, Director General (town planning), KMC.

Coming back to Guggenheim’s film, although it has been generally well received, some of its findings have been challenged. “A general characteristic of Gore’s approach is to assiduously ignore the fact that the earth and its climate are dynamic; they are always changing even without any external forcing,” said Richard S. Lindzen, an atmospheric physicist and the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “To treat all change as something to fear is bad enough; to do so in order to exploit that fear is much worse.”

But Malini Mehra differed. She stressed that the critics of global warming have had their day, and it was imperative that politicians — especially those in India — gave the issue the importance it deserved. “The overwhelming consensus of scientific opinion shows that the dangers of global warming are in the here and now, as is evident in the retreat of many glaciers since 1850,” she said.

Source:The Telegraph (Kolkata,India)

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