Kerala has been badly hit by the disastrous floods. Many have died and numerous properties have been damaged across the state. As expected, the rest of India has stood with Kerala during the calamity, but it is imperative for Keralites to understand that the proverbial writing is on the wall for the southern state when it comes to the dangers posed by climate change.
Earlier this year an assessment by HSBC revealed that India is the most vulnerable country to climate change. One of the most vulnerable regions in the country is Kerala, which has been facing the impact of global environmental degradation for years. Dealing with a major onslaught from human beings, Mother Nature has finally decided to strike back.
Tsunami as well as regular outbreaks of infectious diseases play havoc on Kerala. When a global leader dubs climate change as hoax, some in Kerala claimed that the recent Nipah outbreak was a sort of conspiracy to kill the state’s tourism industry. Large sections of the Indian media unfortunately classify all environmentalists as paid agents of the West looking to halt India’s economic development. It is really easy for city dwellers, who have rarely stepped into rural India, to criticise those devoting their lives to secure the planet. But what we do in the name of development will have far-reaching consequences. If we don’t treat climate change as an emergency that can cause massive destruction and untold human suffering, the recent crises are going to pale in comparison to what awaits us.
What we can do
There is obviously a powerful and influential lobby behind projects that pollute and destroy our environment; these people have many politicians and bureaucrats in their pockets. It is unreasonable to expect ordinary citizens to take on these polluters. However, Kerala, which stands to lose a lot from climate change, needs to take a leadership role in fighting climate change. I can’t think of a single Malayali who wasn’t proud to hear the news that the Cochin airport became the world’s first completely solar-powered airport. We need several such initiatives in the state, but the fight against climate change and for a cleaner planet has to be the initiative of the common man.
A few summers ago I spent a weekend on a beautiful island in Stockholm Archipelago, a mass of about 30,000 islands. As is the tradition in Sweden, many people stay in their summer houses in the warmer months only to abandon the island in the colder months. The cottage I stayed in did not have electricity so I was quite surprised when my host offered me a cold beer on a day the temperatures touched 30-degrees plus. The house had a fridge that was entirely powered by solar energy! This was in Sweden, a country that gets a small fraction of the amount of sun that Indian states get. Apparently, many other cottages on the island used solar power for their basic needs in the summer. Those of us in India living in apartments would find it very difficult to do something similar! But surely in a place like Kerala, which has an abundance of warm sunlight for at least six months a year, such initiatives are possible, given the fact that an overwhelmingly large percentage of the population lives in independent houses.
Kerala has about 100 MW of commissioned and grid-connected solar power. This is ridiculously low! The state government offers loans up to Rs 10 lakh for solar power installations for individuals under priority sector lending programmes. It is up to the citizens to take advantage of these and other schemes that help bring about eco-friendly solutions in Kerala. It has been proven just about everywhere that initial expenses in solar energy are recovered within a matter of a few years. And yes, the government can be a bit more persuasive with businesses to use eco-friendly solutions.
Citizens groups also need to brainstorm and look at other ways to reduce our carbon footprint. While Kerala cannot become the lone torchbearer in environment-friendly solutions, it can assume a leadership role the way it has with literacy and other human development indicators.
Climate change is no hoax and unless strong action is taken, not even God will be able to save his own country!