Ignorance, which in matters of morals extenuates the crime, is itself, in intellectual matters, a crime of the first order: Joubert
As we anticipate snowfall in the coming days, let’s reflect before the snow blankets everything, burying our worries and prayers made with tears and supplications. Allow me to share a private message from my family’s WhatsApp group, consisting of two couplets of Kashmiri poetry:
Aechan Shahlath, Dilan Taskeen Kot Gov
Dapeomas Rood Kot Gov Sheen Kot Gov
Dopun Sorui Wanai God-E Wan Che Akh Kath
Yiman Tunhdyan Garan Munz Deen Kot Gov
‘Sight for sore eyes, peace of heart lost
O’ where the snow and rain are lost?
Everything will be clear
But tell me where your devotion is lost?’
While the message and couplets capture a sentiment, they lack context and the will to act. They provide a simplistic view of larger issues at play, carelessly brushing grave consequences under the carpet of ignorance and attempting to give it a religious colour. This denies human agency; it’s humans and their actions responsible for bringing this catastrophe home. The solution must naturally come from humans. Giving it a religious colour without taking action on our part can lead to a disaster worse than this. If we choose to give it a religious colour, let’s do so with proper wisdom.
A well-known Hadith outlines the story of a man leaving his camel without tying it. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) asked him, ‘Why don’t you tie down your camel?’ The man answered, ‘I put my trust in God.’ The Prophet (PBUH) then replied, ‘Tie your camel first, and then put your trust in God.’ The message has been effectively delivered. Now the question that arises is, have we ‘tied the camel?’ Can God help us without doing our part? The question is not about God’s ability but our understanding of things, or rather the lack of understanding, and our unwillingness to act.
How far can our mere, hollow protestations and prayers go without the propulsion of will and action? Won’t they lose and scatter away in the ether before consolidating to bring down snow or rain? Even if we receive any form of precipitation by the end of this month, which we are predicting and expecting, would that suffice given the damage and destruction we have inflicted on our climate?
Year after year, we hear distressing news about the degradation of our environment and climate. For instance, the Forest Survey of India (FSI) report of 2022 revealed that Jammu and Kashmir lost Very Dense Forests. The UT, which had 4,270 sq. Km of Very Dense Forest area in 2019, had 4,155 sq. Km of the same forest category in 2021. This is the highest loss of the Very Dense Forest category anywhere in India. The Drung glacier has been receding at the rate of 50m per year from 2017.
Back in 2022, SKIMS director Dr Parvaiz Koul, on the sidelines of the launch of Doctors for Clean Air and Climate Action, Jammu and Kashmir Chapter, attributed 10,000 deaths in J and K to air pollution annually. Kolahoi glacier, the largest glacier in Kashmir Himalayas, which feeds two major tributaries of the river Jhelum (the lifeline of Srinagar), Lidder and Sindh, has rapidly receded due to climate change prevalent over the Kashmir region. The glacier has lost 23% area since 1962 and has fragmented into smaller parts.
Equilibrium, according to Benthan Davies, is when glaciers gain and lose approximately the same amount of snow and ice and will neither recede nor advance. The distressing list of disasters goes on, but I will stop here to give you some space to breathe before the degrading AQI level of our air suffocates you.
Günther Anders, a German philosopher associated with techno-totalitarianism, whose work focuses on the self-destruction of humans, says that we are in “the age of the inability to be afraid.” The climate crisis is here, and its effects are widely felt. Heatwaves, forest fires, and extreme weather patterns are in front of us. Instead of responding to the real issues seriously, we continue to provide mere lip service to the issue, taking refuge in ignorance and hypocrisy. We are, if anything, brave, ignorant hypocrites.
This brings me to the next issue: a personal incident I would like to share with the esteemed readers. When I, along with my college friends, back in November 2023, went to Gulmarg, the snow started to fall when we were midway. By the time we reached there, an inch-thick layer of snow had already formed on the ground. Ski vendors were busy bargaining with tourists for a ski ride, for which actually a good amount of 1-2 feet of snow is required. We knew what they were doing, what we all do, to everything, even to our climate – mere lip service.
Some of my friends started to make a snowman, driven by the thrill of seeing the snow for the first time ever or for the first time in a year, I believe. As the process went on, they rolled snowballs over the thin layer of snow, exposing the ground, both literally and metaphorically. The vendors were unhappy and rebuked us, as the pain and efforts of making a strong snowman exposed the hollowness of making a straw man.
It was hilarious and equally haunting given the way a natural phenomenon like snowfall was being commodified and commercialized. By extension, the whole environment was being exploited for profit without concern about the possible harrowing consequences it can or already is displaying. Currently, when the meadows of Gulmarg, in fact, the whole of Kashmir and Ladakh, are short of snow accompanied by a record-breaking rise in temperatures, with the potential to further destabilize and melt the glaciers, it poses a threat to other rivers and water bodies getting dried up, which have not already dried up due to the current crisis.
The news about tourists cancelling flights and bookings for Kashmir, currently snowless, is carried out in different media outlets, predicting negative consequences on the local economy without much worrying about the disaster that is unfolding due to global warming and the climate crisis in the form of glaciers melting and forming glacial lakes, which have the potential to cause GLOFs (Glacial Lake Outburst Floods), the cause of the Kedarnath June 2013 flash floods which wreaked havoc in the ‘abode of God,’ leaving 5,000 dead.
A 2019 study indicates that parts of the Hindu Kush, Karakoram, and Western Himalaya sub-regions contain 2,420 glacier lakes, of which 52 are potentially dangerous. Out of many causes for melting glaciers, the two major ones are unregulated over-tourism and air pollution. A report by ETV Bharat English quoted Secretary Tourism Syed Abid, stating that by the 7th of December 2023, tourist arrivals had already crossed the figure of 2 crores. Over 4.5 lakh pilgrims visited the ecologically sensitive area of Amarnath Cave. The particular area has a carrying capacity of only 4,300 people on a single day. However, reports indicate that the average daily number of allowed pilgrims exceeds its carrying capacity.
The other reason for melting glaciers is air pollution; black carbon emitted by different sources like biomass burning, brick kilns, vehicular emissions, etc., contributes to warming by being very effective at absorbing light and heating its surroundings. When deposited on ice and snow, black carbon particles reduce surface albedo (the ability to reflect sunlight) and heat the surface, resulting in the melting of glaciers.
“Do we,” Anders challenges us, “have the right to sit idly by? Is the mortal gravity of our future… a carte blanche to laziness?” The story of a hen that laid golden eggs has been told for ages, yet the world has not learned anything. The world is driving mad; it is not only like the foolish cottager and his wife, who killed the hen to get rich at once, but it’s also selling the bricks and doors of its only home in a maddening frenzy of wealth and riches. On top of that, it is acting innocent and pretending to act for the solution. It’s the responsibility of every person to think critically and not get trapped in hypocritical and insincere words that lack the force of action.
The writer is a student of English Literature and an environmental activist working with an environmental conservation group, Sonth, run by students. He can be reached at [email protected]