17 July 2012

Tragedy of the Commons

I was reading about the Western Ghats declared a 'Natural heritage by UNESCO' around the same time The Economist wrote a brilliant 14 page article on the 'The Melting Arctic' last week, and felt there was so much in common between the two. A decision on comparing the two started forming.

So, despite the fact that we are heading towards an unavoidable 2 degree rise, our Himalayan glaciers will soon stop manufacturing our water, not to mention parts of Greenland crashing in 2005 and raising the water level etc. there is still no action happening. Wake up calls have come and gone, but business-as-usual and politics carries on.

Our Western Ghats are the oldest ecosystem in India extending 1,50,000 km (almost) snake-like from Maharashtra upto Kerala ending at Kanyakumari; a treasure trove of wildlife, plants, water, providing valuable services like water, food, carbon sequestration and climate stabilisation. Yet, the state governments of the south choose to reject the UNESCO tag because it will come in the way of their 'treasure hunting'.
Environmentalists, experts, grassroots individuals rejoiced when UNESCO announced the good news a week ago, only left baffled when Karnataka and Kerala governments announced they want the tag off. The Western Ghats is an extraordinary natural heritage of the world, occupying only 6% of India's land surface and holds more than 30% of wildlife species hundreds of endemic medicinal plants. Most importantly it is the birthplace of the river Cauvery which provides water for Karnataka, Kerala and forms catchment areas for a large number of smaller rivers to settlements. Home to over 200 million people who depend upon this biodiversity rich resource for their livelihood and home.

The Arctic region today is probably one of the biggest goldmine's in the 21st century. The presence of hydrocarbons provides huge oil reservoirs in the ocean and experts have found rock deposits on the sea bed which contain precious metals like gold. This is bad, bad news for the Arctic region. With greedy western nations already depleting their own oil reserves and creating much of the global warming, no part of the world seems likely to be spared. The north cap has been largely undiscovered and little knowledge is known being an extremely cold region and virtually inhospitable to access. However, with the ice melt in recent years this land of unknown is slowly transforming without adequate knowledge of what is going to happen. With melting ice, and rising sea levels who knows what is in store for us over the years if this continues.

I was asked recently that development cannot take place without the environment being sacrificed, but if we continue to dig up our Western Ghats and Arctic ice forever the environment will have nothing left for us, and the lasting effect it can have on our ecosystems will be devastating. Wildlife species, depletion of water reserves, and complete and total disregard of the planet will put us in grave future. 

The Western Ghats have faced a lot of destruction which have led to increase in temperatures, man-animal conflict and community dispute. The Arctic is home to many endemic species like the Western Ghats and these creatures will suffer with their food and natural habitat depleting because of two reasons - Ice melt and human interference. Many species in the Western Ghats have not been discovered as yet owing to high density, and many fear are extinct due to mining activities. In the Arctic permafrost in some areas go upto a depth of hundred kilometres, this solid ice contains stored methane and carbon twice the amount already present in the atmosphere. Scientists fear that activities are already stirring this sleeping giant and can prove catastrophic if let loose. The Western Ghats and Arctic region play a huge ecological role in terms of weather and climate control as well, the Arctic is 14,056,000 square km big and melting at a fast pace since warming takes place twice as fast as the rest of the world.

With an uncertain future of our natural reserves and unique wildlife systems, the greatest tragedy of our commons is already taking place if immediate action is not taken to protect ourselves and generations after us to enjoy what we have today.   

By Kavya Chandra


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