No Clinic for Earth

How dare you — these audacious words spoken by Greta Thunberg in her famous speech in 2019, challenging world leaders, resonated in every corner of the globe. People marveled at the passion that this 16-year-old possessed. She was admired for her courage and deep concern and understanding of the climate crisis. But once the applause wore off, what happened? What always happens — people went about business as usual.

Time and again, the world has faced catastrophes that compel us to reflect on the way we live our lives. The 20th and 21st centuries have brought about dramatic shifts in lifestyles all over the world, and we keep pushing this change ‘forward’. This ‘forward,’ as seen by ecological and development anthropologists as progress at the expense of the health of the planet, is definitely not what we should be aiming for. The big shots, the developed nations, or even the developing ones are actively indulging in increased privatization. Corporate giants in any and all sectors, with their capitalist approach, place profit above all else. Considering crucial aspects and consequences of their actions such as environmental impact, displacement of population, and the likes are almost always disregarded.

This unchecked exploitation of resources is something we have learned about since middle school. As students, we’d be encouraged to practice a ‘judicious use’ of the resources that are available to us, especially because most of them are exhaustive. And so, at the rate that these are being plundered by rapid industrial growth and globalization, it only calls for us to switch to sustainable methods as much as possible. This is exactly what climate activists have been aiming to convey to the world, that we need to be conscious of the long-lasting impacts of our actions. A simple theoretical understanding of the problem just won’t do. We need to examine how our use of the planet will affect future generations. We cannot live in the here and now when it comes to a matter as grave as climate change. 

There’s only a minutiae of problems that we have seen countries all over the world come together against. The Aichi Biodiversity Targets of 2010 set twenty goals to be achieved by 2020, goals we have clearly failed to meet. A mere six of these were only partially accomplished, and in the last decade, the situation has only grown more dire. The famous and more recent Paris Agreement of December 2015 along similar lines, saw the participation of 196 countries like the Aichi Targets. It has been widely discussed in climate circles, repeatedly brought up by experts, and yet the Trump administration, governing a so-called superpower was bold enough to pull out of the accords. The impact that countries like the United States have on the world is immense, and climate change being taken lightly by its leadership only sets a bad example for all those watching. 

The average global temperature saw a rise of 0.7° Celsius over the 20th century, and the post-industrial levels suggest a best-case scenario of double this increase over the next century! Yet, many major world leaders have repeatedly made controversial statements regarding the ‘reality’ of climate change. Some simply do not believe in it. Bolsanaro’s presidency, for example, has put the already plundered planet's lungs, the Amazon and its indigenous inhabitants, under great duress. To have people in power harbor such levels of ignorance poses a grave threat to the planet. It undermines the efforts of those fighting for change, whether at an individual or community level. The masses are led to believe that minor lifestyle changes like turning off their fans or not throwing away plastic bags are what will heal the land they live on, the air they breathe, the water they cannot live without. These actions, however noble, are of no use unless major industries and corporate houses take the onus of cutting down on their reckless exploitation of resources.

A horrifying incident in the Chamoli district in the Indian state of Uttarakhand resulted in what’s approximated to be over 170 casualties. A glacial burst is not something that should occur so casually. The coverage of this catastrophe focuses largely on the numbers and the rescue missions being conducted. However, it is equally important, if not more, for the story to cover why something as egregious as a glacial outburst happened. It was not simply the result of the rapid climate change but the incessant human-induced factors that govern it. The construction of a tunnel in an area as fragile, especially, contributed to the death toll being as high as it was. Blasting of mountains, stone quarrying, building two dams back to back — all point to how far we push nature for ‘development,’ and this time it decided to push back. 

This example is only a drop in the ocean of a myriad of man-made calamities. Even during times as exceptional as the Covid era which saw phenomenal media coverage paid little attention to the implications it held for our planet’s health. The number of masks and gloves and medical waste skyrocketed, ending up where it always does — our precious rivers and seas. While the pandemic did restrict people to their homes, little changed in terms of the carbon emissions that the world experienced, reaffirming that individual impact is not enough. Experts have repeatedly asserted that the plunge in carbon emissions due to the lockdowns has little to no effect on climate change. 

It is, therefore, important for mainstream media and big leaders to address the urgency of the climate crises now more than ever. Diverting attention to sensationalize minor issues, petty politics and crime only undermines our true criminal behavior towards nature and our incessant disruption of the ecological balance. With the world returning to its ‘normal’ self, a post-Covid era poses an even greater threat to the environment, with an alarming rebound. To cope with the growing uncertainty, we have to actively challenge those in power in order to bring about change. For we might be able to see a doctor when our health declines, but there is no clinic for Earth.