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17th January '2010
Climate Change,
Myth or Reality?
 

These days the hottest topic of discussion is the “Climate Change”. It dominates media, intellectual debates, and even high political discourses. The problem can be summed up in the latest quote from IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), “The world is facing a global extinction crisis which threatens not only the natural environment but mankind itself. All life on earth depends upon species, ecosystems, and natural resources. This must be safeguarded before it’s too late, as we are destroying the very natural infrastructure that supports us, at an ever increasing rate.” The Copenhagen conference was not able to achieve much as the western countries are not prepared to sacrifice their unrestricted use of environment destroying energy especially petrol and gas. A nasty sample of the “Change” is being tasted by the Europeans and even Americans these days. The amount of snowfall in some European countries is unprecedented. Some say it is the highest in the last century or so. The temperatures in some cities in Scotland have gone 27 degrees Celsius below zero. There is a general “Freeze”! In contrast, Melbourne had recently the hottest night at 37 degrees Celsius in 100 years. Back home, Ladakh has been experiencing unusually cold and freezing weather. Leh night temperatures had gone 24 degrees below zero. The whole region seems to be in deep freeze. The famous “Chaddar Road” which usually comes up in January on the frozen Zanskar River was freezing in November itself. Once famous Drass touted by us as the second coldest inhabited place in the world after Siberia may become the first place! For the first time, Jammu in winter has lower day temperature than Srinagar! Is it a fore runner of the real “Climate Change” or a bout of freak weather? Time only will decide. I am not an expert on climate and its behaviour but even as a layman one definitely perceives a change which has been coming gradually for a long time. Without going into the details of percentage increase in emissions and other related criteria, there are certain vivid changes which anyone can observe.

 
 
 

A number of articles have appeared in press recently which claim the whole business of “Climate Change” to be a hoax. Well, we may go on debating whether it is a Myth or Reality but practically it is on our heads. It is said that the massive carbon emissions and destruction of forest cover are two important factors for this drastic change in climate. As regards Kashmir, these seem to be true. If one compares the situation of last couple of decades with childhood memories, there is a stark contrast.

During our childhood when we were young kids in school, the winters used to be very severe. I remember spending part of my holidays in the maternal home in Safakadal where the snow would fall up to first floor windows and we would go out of the window on to the road. There used to be huge icicles hanging from the roofs which those days were mostly wooden with either shingle or in some cases earth with all kinds of flowers growing over it. I remember sometimes the snow would be so heavy and fast that total darkness would descend in the day. One could see nothing except falling snowflakes. Those days sometimes migratory birds such as flying geese would fall in our lawns as these would be blinded by the heavy snowfall. There were also many incidents of wild animals descending into some localities of the city especially in those ones which were on the periphery next to forests. Now there are no forests in the vicinity of the city. The winters in Gulmarg where I spent ten years were like something out of the famous fairy tale of the Snow-white. This was not in a too distant past. I am talking of late seventies. We used to get more than 15 feet of snow. The hut in which I used to stay would many times get buried and I would have to make a passage to go down into the hut. The snow on the roof and the sides would be almost joined and we would ski over the hut! It was a huge task for the snow clearance machines to keep Tangmarg-Gulmarg road clear and the people manning these would be working throughout the night to ensure through traffic. There used to be multicolour poles on the two sides of the road to allow the clearance people to know the extent of the road usually buried under 8 to 10 feet of snow. All that seems like a dream now. These days Gulmarg has just few inches of snow and cars are driving up. All the skiing plans have gone awry. Srinagar itself has not experienced heavy snowfalls for a long time. At the most we have been getting couple of feet of snow. This has resulted in our engineers not planning for the snows of good old days. If ever such a freak fall occurs, every thing goes into a mess. The wires fall, the drains choke and roads get blocked. If only we had one of those early falls, we will have to declare a total emergency.

The change in our part has been coming very gradually and we have also got used to the change. It is only when something unusual happens that we take notice of the change. The River Jhelum used to remain full even in winter. Now, it appears like a small stream and fills up only with a heavy rain in the catchment area. The main sources of perennial rivers are the mountain glaciers. The condition of some of our mountain glaciers like the one below Mount Kolahoi is pathetic. It has receded more than a kilometre in last 20 years or so. Thajwas glaciers in Sonamarg have virtually disappeared. In Jammu, the roaring Tawi these days looks like a drain strewn with garbage. Even the flow in mighty Chenab has noticeably reduced.

What has brought about some of these drastic changes? No doubt there are global factors responsible for this phenomenon but we too have generously contributed in hastening the destruction of our environment. We have mercilessly cut down our lush green forests. In some of the places young trees have been cut like a field of maize leaving only the stalks. There are no forests in the vicinity of urban areas as the urbanisation has gone up like a mad race. Hundreds of thousands of houses have been constructed at the cost of losing paddy fields and forests. The increase in the number of vehicles has gone up in geometric progression. Compared to 45 or so vehicles in Srinagar in late forties, we now have over two hundred thousand vehicles. The whole valley has over one million vehicles of all types. Imagine the amount of emissions from these. Add to this the smoke and gases from hundreds of brick kilns running round the clock to cater for the mad construction activity. In rude language we are practically “raping” our own fragile and delicate environment. We do not have to look for causes globally but internally within our own state. What could be the repercussion of this change? Firstly, an acute shortage of water both for drinking and irrigation. There would be drastic effect on our crops. We may have to change our often quoted slogan of “Paradise on Earth”. No one will like to visit a highly polluted place which Kashmir may turn into, unless we wake up and take remedial measures. Both the Civil Society and the leaders of all hues and shades; political, religious, and social have to mobilize to initiate preventive measures to protect the environment. Global “Climate Change” may be a “Myth” or a “Hoax” for some but for us it is a stark reality unfolding itself slowly but destructively. The most unfortunate part is that the change is irreversible. I am reminded of an Urdu short story written by well known author Krishan Chander of which I have forgotten the title but had read it in my school days. It describes the future landscape of our beautiful valley and portrays camels moving in the great desert of Kashmir where farmers were growing dates! One never knows that such a dream vision of the past may turn out to be a tragic prophecy unless we move?

 
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