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human activity and the destruction of the planet


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Devinder Sharma writes about droughts in India

This is taken from a piece written by Devinder for Ground Reality on 13th June 2019:

Drought getting more pronounced in India, while cities in drought affected regions remain like an oasis.

The struggle for getting water
pic courtesy Livemint
As drought looms large in many parts of the country, more than 50,000 farmers from Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra have moved to nearly 500 makeshift cattle camps that the district administrated has built across eight talukas. “This has been our home since March this year. Problems galore at these cattle camps but we have little choice,” Dagru, a farmer told the media. They cook their meals at the camp and during the day go out looking for job.
At present, there are 1,501 cattle camps across Maharashtra.
As parts of Maharashtra faces its worst drought since 1972, another news report warns of fodder supplies running out for an estimated 10 lakh cattle housed in these camps. While the state government is thinking of setting up more cattle camps, this time for sheep and goats as well, I shudder to think how the farming families are surviving in these cattle camps. And yet I marvel the sensitivity and compassion some well know economic writers have demonstrated by saying there is no visible farm crisis !
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devender Fadnavis has allocated Rs 1,300-crore for these cattle camps. With the prices of cattle feed soaring, the government has raised the daily allowance for cattle contractors to Rs 100 per cattle per day and Rs 50 for each calf. The cattle are milked twice daily, but over the weeks the milk yield is coming down. Obviously, with the fodder supplies getting scarce in a worsening drought situation is beginning to take its toll. Water is supplied regularly by tankers.
Writing in The Wire, journalist Sukanya Shantha brings out the pain and agony that hapless families, including women who carry their children along, are undergoing: “What can we do, anyway? We would also like for our children to continue going to school but there is no one to feed them in the village right now,” Lalitabai Jhimmal was quoted. Her three children, in Classes VII, V and III, have been squatting at the camp along with her, intermittently attending their school. “There is no water in the village. Here, at least, we have water to drink,” says the eldest one.
With the houses locked, many nearby villages have become empty as the villagers have moved along with their cattle to the cattle camps. This is despite the fact Maharashtra had vowed to become drought free by 2019.  Instead, with 72 per cent Maharashtra hit by drought, and approximately 43.4 per cent of the country reeling under drought, an estimated 600 million people have been hit hard by an acute water crisis in the country. As crop land become parched, most of the land lying fallow, crops wither and fail, the soaring temperature has made life difficult in the drought-affected villages.
But the biggest tragedy is the appalling disconnect that such a devastating drought has with the city dwellers. People living in Ahmednagar in Maharashtra, which has 500 cattle camps in the district, are by and large oblivious of the severity of the drought only a few kilometres outside the city premises. Life goes on as usual, as if everything is normal in the rest of the district. Not only in Ahmednagar, every time I go to Bangalore I have never even remotely felt that people in the city even realise that Karnataka too has been reeling under a severe drought. In 2017, a severe drought prevailed, and as many as 139 of the 176 taluks were declared drought hit. And this year too, nearly 82 per cent of Karnataka is reeling under a drought. But go to Bangalore, you will not even get a hint of a terrible human suffering that continues to be inflicted year after year. Karnataka has suffered drought for 12 out of the past 18 years. But life in Bangalore has never been affected.
Such is the disconnect that life in any mega city does not even give an inkling of a severe drought prevailing just 10 kms away. I find it too strange. After all, have you ever pondered why is it that while drought hits the region as a whole it is only people living in the villages who bear the brunt? Why is that drought rarely, if at all, strikes the cities and towns? For instance, I travel to Bangalore very often, at least four times a year, and never have I returned with a feel of an acute water-stress that the people are faced with.
But how long will the cities continue to be like an oasis in an otherwise dry and parched landscape? That’s a big question. But a recent report by Niti Aayog warns that 21 cities – including the four metropolis Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad and Delhi — will run out of ground water by 2020, just a year away. Since ground water provides for 40 per cent of the water needs, about 100 million people are expected to be hit. I am not sure whether water availability will be down to a trickle in these cities, but for sure the emphasis will shift to farmers advising them not to waste water.
Farmers have always been a soft target. I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire blame shifts to farmers. In Punjab, free power and water guzzling crop like paddy have always been the target. They are now being advised to go in for drip irrigation for which the government is being asked to provide 80 per cent subsidy. But a fact no one wants to acknowledge is that the consumption of water in the cities is no less a culprit. At a price of about 4 paise a kg, water supply is almost free for the urban consumers. While the farmers are being asked to go in for drip irrigation to reduce water wastage when was the last time you heard urban consumers being asked to do away with showers in their bathroom?

Every time someone uses the shower for about eight minutes roughly 65 litres of water goes down the drain. A typical bathtub, of the size 30 inches wide and 60 inches long, can contain 300 litres of water. If a luxury hotel has on an average 100 rooms, imagine 30,000 litres of water being drained simply for bathing every day. This is not fair. We can’t force the poor farmers alone to make sacrifices while we allow the rich to bathe in luxury.

 



And another piece in The Tribune by Devinder Sharma:

https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/comment/india-is-drying-up-fast/789376.html

India is drying up, fast

Devinder Sharma

Devinder Sharma, Food and Agriculture Specialist

Traditional water bodies and harvesting systems need urgent revival

“Congratulations to all… we have achieved 50 degree temperature this year. Let’s cut more trees to achieve 60 degrees the next year,’ a sarcastic tweet the other day came as a jolt. It was, however, hard to tell whether the quiet sarcasm was lost on a majority of the readers who are following Twitter or had made more and more people sit up and think.

Whatever had been the impact, the fact remains that while 2018 was the fourth hottest year on record in the past 140 years since the world began to keep a track on temperatures, NASA expects 2019 to be still hotter. The heat is therefore on. In India, a 22 per cent deficit has been recorded in pre-monsoon showers in the months of March, April and May — the second lowest in the past 65 years — and with monsoons delayed by a fortnight or so, daily temperatures have been sizzling. Churu in Rajasthan has already crossed 50°C thrice this season, and even Delhi burnt at an all-time high of 48°C.

With nearly 43 per cent of the country engulfed in a drought, an estimated 600 million people are reeling under its fury. With temperatures soaring, water sources going dry, parched lands staring as far as one can see, ‘hundreds of villages have been evacuated as historic drought forces families to abandon their homes in search of water’, reports The Guardian. In Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district, such is the wrath of a continuing drought that over 50,000 farmers have shifted to 500 camps meant for cattle. There are 1,501 cattle camps in Maharashtra, where 72 per cent of the area is faced with a drought. Reports say village after village around the capital city of Mumbai has been deserted. More than 88 per cent of Karnataka is somehow surviving under a severe drought. With 156 of the 176 talukas declared drought hit, Karnataka has faced 12 years of drought in the past 18 years. 

Karnataka’s economic survey for 2018-19 projects a growth rate of minus 4.8 per cent in agriculture.  Therefore, while drought has taken a heavy toll on standing crops and also crippled the farming-led economic activity, not only in Karnataka, but also in nearly half the country, adequate attention is finally coming to the declining groundwater levels. With the conundrums of water conflicts between states, between communities within a state, and as well as individuals standing in queues increasing over the years, policy makers are now realising the importance of conservation. Already the alarm has been raised with a recent report by Niti Aayog warning that 21 cities — including the four metropolises — Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad and Delhi — will run out of groundwater by 2020. Since groundwater provides for 40 per cent of the water needs, about 600 million people may be hit.
 

But the problem of groundwater depletion is not only confined to the cities. In fact, it is because of the unbridled exploitation of groundwater that even a short dry spell turns into a more destructive drought. At most places across the country the rate of depletion exceeds 0.5 metre a year and often touches 1 metre. Add to it the reduced availability of water from shrinking rivers; the resulting water crisis has reached worrying levels. Reports say the water availability from the mighty Narmada has declined, from 30.84 million-acre ft in 2007-18 to 14.80 million-acre ft in 2017-18. The Ministry of Water Resources estimates water levels in 91 reservoirs falling to 18 per cent of their capacity. Moreover, water from numerous dams is being diverted from agriculture to meet the needs of the urban areas, including drinking water. This has added to farmer protests, leading to rural-urban conflicts.  

Over the years, the emphasis shifted from water conservation, water harvesting and groundwater recharge. Revival of traditional water bodies, which could have played a major role in drought-proofing, received lip service. Restoration of ponds and measures for recharging groundwater remained incomplete, abandoned or preceded at a slow pace. There still exist close to 2 lakh traditional water bodies, ponds and tanks across the country which need to be revived. In Punjab, where 110 of the 138 blocks are in the ‘dark zone’ (over exploited), the revival of the 15,000 ponds and traditional water bodies could not only help in recharging groundwater, but also providing irrigation. So far, only 54 such ponds have been rejuvenated. Strangely, even in Rajasthan, instead of reviving the excellent water conservation structures perfected over the ages, the emphasis is on drip irrigation. Not even a drop of rainwater was allowed to go waste in these baoris. In Karnataka, an estimated 39,000 traditional ponds and tanks existed. While nearly three-quarters of them have dried up, encroached upon or turned into sewage dumps, there is still a sizeable number that can be revived. Meanwhile, Karnataka has launched a jalamrutha scheme under which the traditional water bodies would be rejuvenated. But the pace needs to be hastened.

Although Karnataka is trying to preserve the kalyanis, and Odisha has the kutta and munda water systems, the traditional wisdom association with water harvesting has been more or less lost. Several years back, travelling to Texas A&M University, I was surprised to see the traditional water harvesting structures of Tamil Nadu being followed. The Centre for Science and Environment had published a book, Dying Wisdom, listing all traditional harvesting systems.

In the age of borewells, the emphasis has to revert to traditional harvesting. Recharging the depleting groundwater in a sustainable manner is urgently required. But this cannot be in isolation. Destroying forests, water bodies, catchment areas in the name of development must cease. Otherwise, crossing the Rubicon may turn out to be catastrophic.”



 


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Media Lens new article states the reality of the problem

…… Click here to view it online
30 January 2017

Deranged And Deluded: The Media’s Complicity In The Climate Crisis

 

In an important recent book, the Indian writer Amitav Ghosh refers to the present era of corporate-driven climate crisis as ‘The Great Derangement’. For almost 12,000 years, since the last Ice Age, humanity has lived through a period of relative climate stability known as the Holocene. When Homo sapiens shifted, for the most part, from a nomadic hunter-gatherer existence to an agriculture-based life, towns and cities grew, humans went into space and the global population shot up to over seven billion people.

Today, many scientists believe that we have effectively entered a new geological era called the Anthropocene during which human activities have ‘started to have a significant global impact on Earth’s geology and ecosystems’. Indeed, we are now faced with severe, human-induced climate instability and catastrophic loss of species: the sixth mass extinction in four-and-a-half billion years of geological history, but the only one to have been caused by us.

Last Thursday, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved their symbolic Doomsday Clock forward thirty seconds, towards apocalypse. It is now two and a half minutes to midnight, the closest since 1953. Historically, the Doomsday Clock represented the threat of nuclear annihilation. But global climate change is now also recognised as an ‘extreme danger’.

Future generations, warns Ghosh, may well look back on this time and wonder whether humanity was deranged to continue on a course of business-as-usual. In fact, many people alive today already think so. It has become abundantly clear that governments largely pay only lip service to the urgent need to address global warming (or dismiss it altogether), while they pursue policies that deepen climate chaos. As climate writer and activist Bill McKibben points out, President Trump has granted senior energy and environment positions in his administration to men who:

‘know nothing about science, but they love coal and oil and gas – they come from big carbon states like Oklahoma and Texas, and their careers have been lubed and greased with oil money.’

Rex Tillerson, Trump’s US Secretary of State, is the former chairman and CEO of oil giant, ExxonMobil. He once told his shareholders that cutting oil production is ‘not acceptable for humanity’, adding: ‘What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?’

As for Obama’s ‘legacy’ on climate, renowned climate scientist James Hansen only gives him a ‘D’ grade. Obama had had a ‘golden opportunity’. But while he had said ‘the right words’, he had avoided ‘the fundamental approach that’s needed’. Contrast this with the Guardian view on Obama’s legacy that he had ‘allowed America to be a world leader on climate change’. Writer Ian Sinclair noted the stark discrepancy between Obama’s actual record on climate and fawning media comment, notably by the BBC and the Guardian:

‘Despite the liberal media’s veneration of the former US president, Obama did very little indeed to protect the environment.’

And so while political ‘leaders’ refuse to change course to avoid disaster, bankers and financial speculators continue to risk humanity’s future for the sake of making money; fossil fuel industries go on burning the planet; Big Business consumes and pollutes ecosystems; wars, ‘interventions’ and arms deals push the strategic aims of geopolitical power, all wrapped in newspeak about ‘peace’, ‘security’ and ‘democracy’; and corporate media promote and enable it all, deeply embedded and complicit as they are. The ‘Great Derangement’ indeed.

Consider, for example, the notorious US-based Koch Brothers who, as The Real News Network notes, ‘have used their vast wealth to ensure the American political system takes no action on climate change.’ Climate scientist Michael Mann is outspoken:

‘They have polluted our public discourse. They have skewed media coverage of the science of climate change. They have paid off politicians.’

He continues:

‘The number of lives that will be lost because of the damaging impacts of climate change – in the hundreds of millions. […] To me, it’s not just a crime against humanity, it’s a crime against the planet.’

But the Koch Brothers are just the tip of a state-corporate system that is on course to drive Homo sapiens towards a terminal catastrophe.

Earlier this month, the world’s major climate agencies confirmed 2016 as the hottest since modern records began. The global temperature is now 1C higher than preindustrial times, and the last three years have seen the record broken successively – the first time this has happened.

Towards the end of 2016, scientists reported ‘extraordinarily hot’ Arctic conditions. Danish and US researchers were ‘surprised and alarmed by air temperatures peaking at what they say is an unheard-of 20C higher than normal for the time of year.’ One of the scientists said:

‘These temperatures are literally off the charts for where they should be at this time of year. It is pretty shocking.’

Another researcher emphasised:

‘This is faster than the models. It is alarming because it has consequences.’

These ‘consequences’ will be terrible. Scientists have warned that increasingly rapid Arctic ice melt ‘could trigger uncontrollable climate change at global level’.

It gets worse. A new study suggests that global warming is on course to raise global sea level by between six and nine metres, wiping out coastal cities and settlements around the world. Mann describes the finding, with classic scientific understatement, as ‘sobering’ and adds that:

‘we may very well already be committed to several more metres of sea level rise when the climate system catches up with the carbon dioxide we’ve already pumped into the atmosphere’.

It gets worse still.

The Paris Climate Accord of 2015 repeated the international commitment to keep global warming below 2C. Even this limited rise would threaten life as we know it. When around a dozen climate scientists were asked for their honest opinion as to whether this target could be met, not one of them thought it likely. Bill McGuire, professor emeritus of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, was most adamant:

‘there is not a cat in hell’s chance [of keeping below 2C].’

But wait, because there’s even worse news. Global warming could well be happening so fast that it’s ‘game over’. The Earth’s climate could be so sensitive to greenhouse gases that we may be headed for a temperature rise of more than 7C within a lifetime. Mark Lynas, author of the award-winning book, Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, was ‘shocked’ by the researchers’ study, describing it as ‘the apocalyptic side of bad’.

 

 

Burying The Climate Issue

Given all of the above, what does it say about the British government that it should bury an alarming report about the likely impacts of climate change on the UK? These impacts include:

‘the doubling of the deaths during heatwaves, a “significant risk” to supplies of food and the prospect of infrastructure damage from flooding.’

At a time of manufactured fear by ‘mainstream’ media about ‘fake news’ and ‘post-truth’ politics, how divorced from reality is the government when it would rather ignore such an important report, far less address seriously the urgent truth of climate chaos?

An exclusive article in the Independent noted that the climate report made virtually no impact when it was published on the government website of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on 18 January:

‘despite its undoubted importance, Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom made no speech and did not issue her own statement, and even the Defra Twitter account was silent. No mainstream media organisation covered the report.’

The government said in the ignored report that climate change meant that ‘urgent priorities’ needed to be addressed, including a dramatic rise in heat-related deaths, coastal flooding and ‘significant risks to the availability and supply of food in the UK’. So, lip service at least. But Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment in London, said he was ‘astonished’ that the government had done so little to publicise the report:

‘It’s almost as if they were trying to sneak it out without people realising.’

Leading politicians, intelligence chiefs and their media allies are forever warning the British public of ‘security threats’ which are so often blowback from Western foreign policy; or the warnings are overhyped claims to justify their own fearmongering agendas. But when it comes to the greatest threat of all – climate change – they are remarkably silent. This exposes as a lie the rhetoric from government and security services that they are motivated by genuine concern for the well-being of the population. The truth is that powerful forces are always driven primarily by the desire to preserve and boost their own interests, their own profits, their own dominance.

Amitav Ghosh rightly notes that the most powerful states derive their privileged position in large part by sitting atop a world-threatening carbon economy:

‘The fact is that we live in a world that has been profoundly shaped by empire and its disparities. Differentials of power between and within nations are probably greater today than they have ever been. These differentials are, in turn, closely related to carbon emissions. The distribution of power in the world therefore lies at the core of the climate crisis.’ (Ghosh, ‘The Great Derangement’, University of Chicago Press, 2016, p. 146; our emphasis)

Tackling climate change thus means tackling global inequity. This requires a deep-rooted commitment to not just ‘a redistribution of wealth but also to a recalibration of global power’. He makes the crucial point that:

‘from the point of view of a security establishment that is oriented towards the maintenance of global dominance, this is precisely the scenario that is most greatly to be feared; from this perspective the continuance of the status quo is the most desirable of outcomes.’ (Ibid., p. 143; our emphasis)

 

The Myth Of ‘Fearless and Free Journalism’

The ‘mainstream’ media is not somehow separate from this state-corporate status quo, selflessly and valiantly providing a neutral window into what powerful sectors in society are doing. Instead, the major news media are an intrinsic component of this system run for the benefit of elites. The media are, in effect, the public relations wing of a planetary-wide network of exploitation, abuse and destruction. The climate crisis is the gravest symptom of this dysfunctional global apparatus.

News reporting on the economy, for instance, is typically divorced from reporting on the climate crisis. Judging by the lack of attention given to climate in last year’s Autumn Statement, whether by Chancellor Philip Hammond himself or the media dutifully reporting on it, the global warming emergency had miraculously gone away. It is as if there are two separate planets: one where ‘the economy’ happens; and another one, the real world, which is beset by catastrophic climate change.

Some readers will say: ‘But surely the best media – the likes of the BBC, the Guardian and Channel 4 News – report climate science honestly and accurately?’ Yes, to a large extent, they do a good job in reporting the science (though the BBC has often been guilty of ‘false balance’ on climate). But they rarely touch the serious, radical measures needed to address the climate crisis, or the nature and extent of the climate denial ‘Beast’. This is taboo; not least because it would raise awkward questions about rampant neoliberalism addressed, for example, by Naomi Klein in her books The Shock Doctrine and This Changes Everything.

As Ghosh also observes, capitalism and imperialism are intertwined as primary drivers of the climate crisis. But when did a BBC environment, economics or business correspondent ever report this truth? Their silence is shameful; all the more so for their avowed responsibility to the public who funds them. Even the very fact ‘that we live in a world that has been profoundly shaped by empire and its disparities… remains largely unacknowledged.’ (Ibid., p. 146). It is certainly not acknowledged by the BBC and the rest of the major news media for which the public is supposed to be grateful. The BBC still reflects its origins in empire and the establishment while proclaiming falsely its ‘independence’ and ‘impartiality’. Consider, for example, that Sir David Clementi, former deputy governor of Bank of England, has just been confirmed as the new BBC chair. This, in a nutshell, is how the state-corporate media system operates. A former banker will become the new chair of the ‘independent’ BBC, appointed by the government. This is all part of the fiction of ‘media plurality’, ‘impartiality’ and ‘freedom’ from ‘political interference’.

Even when the Guardian recently ran a live page on climate change on the day that President Trump took office, with a follow-up titled, ‘So you want to be a climate campaigner? Here’s how’, the paper’s compromised worldview was all too apparent. The top of the Guardian‘s website proudly proclaimed:

‘With climate sceptics moving into the White House, the Guardian will spend the next 24 hours focusing on the climate change happening right now, and what we can do to help protect the planet.’

But you would have searched in vain for any in-depth analysis of how Big Business, together with co-opted governments, have hurled massive resources at stifling any real progress towards tackling climate change, and ‘what we can do’ about that. In particular, there was no Guardian commitment to drop any – never mind all – fossil-fuel advertising revenue. The proposal to reject ads from ‘environmental villains’ had been put to the paper by its own columnist George Monbiot in 2009, following a challenge from Media Lens. It got nowhere. Significantly, the Guardian‘s ‘focused’ climate coverage once again steered clear of its own questionable behaviour and its structural ties to elite money and power. Meanwhile, the paper continues to be riddled with ads promoting carbon emissions – notably short-haul flights and cars – ironically appearing right beside articles about dangerous global warming.

Even as such glaring contradictions, omissions and silences become ever more apparent to Guardian readers, the paper is ramping up its appeals for readers to dip into their pockets. When Trump triumphed in the US election last November, Lee Glendinning, the editor of Guardian US, pleaded:

‘Never has the world needed independent journalism more. […] Now is the time to support journalism that is both fearless and free.’

She deployed standard, self-serving Guardian rhetoric:

‘Because the Guardian is not beholden to profit-seeking shareholders or a billionaire owner, we can pursue stories without fear of where they might take us, free from commercial and political influence.’

In repeatedly churning out the myth about the Guardian being ‘free from commercial and political influence’, any public doubts about its pure nature are supposed to be dispelled. But there comes a point where the readers know their intelligence is being insulted. And we are now well past that point.

The Guardian‘s complicit role as a liberal gatekeeper of truth will not – cannot – be honestly addressed by the Guardian itself; nor by the well-rewarded journalists and commentators who appear regularly in its pages.

The current era of ‘great derangement’ will last as long as the public allows news and debate to be manipulated by a state-corporate media system that is complicit in killing the planet. We urgently need to consider alternatives for the sake of humanity.

DC

This Alert is Archived here:

Deranged And Deluded: The Media’s Complicity In The Climate Crisis

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