Category Archives: Learn from Past

UTTER SADNESS: Not only because a boy went missing….

Ujwal was merrily returning from school on the ill-fated day playing in the rain as it had started pouring at around 3:00pm that day. “He was jumping on the water-logged road and moving towards the ditch,” said an eyewitness. The eyewitness noticed that the boy was unaware of the ditch filled with water. “I shouted at him to stop, but the ecstatic boy did not listen to me and he fell into the ditch in no time,” said the eyewitness, who works at a bakery shop. “Other people who noticed my shouting gathered around the ditch, but the young boy disappeared within a fraction of seconds.” The boy had fallen into the drain on the evening of September 21. Five days later, the body of Ujwal Vishwakarma, 10, was found many kilometres downstream of the Bagmati River at the border of Lalitpur and Makawanpur district. – The Himalayan Times; 26 Sep 2021

This is an utter sadness, not only because a boy went missing under there, but more so because the accident (and many similar road-side incidents around the country) could have been prevented (even avoided with appropriate preventive measures in place) to begin with.

Photo (Screen Shot) Source: RONB, Viber, Nepal; Date: 23 September 2021

According to the police records, three people have died after falling into uncovered ditches and manholes inside Kathmandu valley in the last five years. Let’s face it, they had to give up their lives because the relevant authorities, politicians and the government repeatedly failed to act.

We need to be more careful around potholes, ditches and exposed manholes which could remain hidden (even in plain sight) under flooded conditions; especially when relevant authorities conveniently forget to put out warnings for ongoing traffic/pedestrians and fail to barricade/cordon such hazards.

How “Personal Responsibility” Part Plays Pivotal Role in Preventing Rapid Climate change

Human activities over the past couple of centuries are responsible for causing excessive Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, thereby influencing climate system of the planet.

Some people think GHG emissions can be tackled by simply focusing on coal plants, automobiles, air conditioning, airplanes and cow burps. Therefore, they mostly tend to limit themselves within simplistic solutions, such as arrays of solar panels, large wind farms, hydropower, electric cars, organic farming, sustainability blah-blah, and not to forget your “personal responsibility”.

One of the popular narratives of our time is that every individual of this planet is responsible for the accelerating climate change and thus everyone needs to act responsibly. So, people started doing their bits by using electric stoves, riding electric cars, switching off lights, avoiding meat, eating organic, saving water, stopping to use plastic-bags, recycling, bicycling, etc.     

The narrative is so effective (also true to some extent) that people even feel bad when they are unable to carry out their so-called “personal responsibility” to reduce GHG emissions. This sentiment presents business opportunity for companies which take advantage of your guilt and make profit by selling you yet another product which is labeled “green” and leaves less “carbon footprint”, so they say.

In the meantime, what we don’t realize is that the “responsibility” was cunningly shifted from giant oil industries and carbon emitters to an ordinary layman. The emotional buy-in strategy is effective for businesses and corporates, but switching “responsibility” to a common person is not likely to solve the actual problem on hand.

CO2 emissions could be cut down drastically if rich population favored climate over wealth and comfort. In fact, both rich and poor came quite close to doing the same in the year 2020. We all voluntarily became part of a global experiment in which we behaved responsibly by staying home, travelling less, entertaining less and shopping less. However, we were able to reduce CO2 emission by only 7% throughout the year 2020.            

Nearly 20 years ago when British Petroleum (BP) rebranded itself as “Beyond Petroleum”, it cleverly popularized the term “carbon footprint”. The propaganda was a plain distraction as well as a clever deception in the sense that it indirectly held people personally responsible for environmental pollutions.

The narrative subtly indicates that the pollution is your problem (so, you choose your actions to solve it) and not the problem of the oil and gas giants, such as BP; the notion is far from reality.         

If we look at the massive scale of the problem, asking average people to solve rapid climate change may get us nowhere. Owning the problem and taking personal responsibility to reduce your carbon footprint is great; Bravo! Nonetheless, let’s face it; these efforts can only take us so far. They can easily be overshadowed by systemic reality of corporate greed and ever-growing global GHG emissions as well as the lack of political will and consensus over how to quickly stop them.

We spent over three decades in pep talks and we know that it didn’t work. Had it worked, the GHG emissions would have significantly decreased by now. Moving forward, we will face more and more extreme environmental and ecological challenges which will be unavoidable as well as irreversible to a large extent.

Of course we need to be hopeful, but one thing we desperately need more than hope is real action on the ground. I have to agree with Greta Thunberg when she says “Hope is not passive. Hope is not blah, blah, blah. Hope is telling the truth. Hope is taking action. And hope always comes from the people.” We must actively correct our past mistakes by immediately coming up with strict measures to reduce GHG emissions in all fronts.

Politicians, global leaders, and governments must coordinate and collaborate before it is too late. But, it is very unlikely as long as their thinking is limited by national interests and geographical separations. It is even worse when their motivations are influenced by ideals, personal gain, corruption and sheer indulgence of big tax payers, mighty corporates, campaign contributors, etc.

Nevertheless, people can make politicians think, understand and feel differently by making them realize that the voters really care and that their career or political success depends on honestly tackling GHG emissions; starting with energy, transportation, agriculture, food, forestry and waste management sectors. Every world citizen must feel personally responsible to make their politicians accountable at local, regional and global levels.

We already have technologies to capture industrial CO2 emission before it gets released into the atmosphere. CO2 thus captured can be permanently stored underground or used in the production of fuels, chemicals, building materials, etc.

Implementing such technology to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere would cost factories and power plants trillions of dollars per year. This would inevitably skyrocket their product cost or even increase the possibility of their bankruptcy, impacting billons of people around the world.

As a result, it will be expensive for power plants, factories and industries to suddenly implement carbon capture technologies. Therefore, the global need for reduced carbon emissions has to be compensated (even after generous government subsidies) by increased prices of their products having minimum carbon footprint. In the short term, prices of specific products and services will increase for sure, but the important question to ask ourselves is, are we prepared for such price hikes?

In addition to holding politicians accountable, this is one place where “personal responsibility” part can add sustainable value to bring about systemic change we all strive for.

Not everybody can afford to buy low-carbon products, but if you are well-off enough, you can contribute to the systemic change by purchasing or investing on such relatively expensive goods and services today and help grow demands for tomorrow. This will help drive down prices hence more and more affordable for larger populations.

Another meaningful way to add significant value to the cause is to just talk, spread awareness and speak about the impending climate crisis on as many platforms as possible. In the meantime, you can also keep recycling your waste, taking shorter showers, riding bicycles to work, eating less meat, planting trees, avoiding air travels, building bamboo houses, buying electric cars, and indulging less in consumerism, etc.

Although you can share love, joy and sadness with each other, unfortunately, in this case, you cannot share your personal responsibility, nor can you digitize it.

So, we have to do what humans are best at; i.e. cooperate and participate as responsible individuals of respective communities to achieve the common goal. Both people and politicians must work together towards climate change mitigation and adaptation activities committed by their NDCs.        

Your behavior and actions should reflect in your day-to-day priorities, not because you feel guilty to have ruined the planet or you naively think that you alone can fix it, but because you are an integral part of the systemic change you so desperately seek. Remember that if you are not part of the solution, you must be part of the problem.

Global efforts to stop rapid climate change might share the fate of inequitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccine

Climate change is, without doubt, the most challenging issue of our time; a crisis hovering over our heads, right now. It is, in fact, threatening our entire existence in this planet we call home.

Rapid climate change, like the COVID-19, knows no boundaries and respects no nationality. Its dire consequences are evident everywhere; from glacial lakes of the Himalayas down to the sea levels.

Since the problem is a global one, it clearly can’t be solved by a group of activists, organizations, leaders, politicians or even countries, for that matter.

Some critiques end up blaming capitalism and ever-increasing demand for economic growth for the climate change crisis. They suggest economic “degrowth” to be the solution. The proponents push for ecologically sustainable society with socio-environmental wellbeing as the indicator of prosperity. All that sounds good, but it seems a bit far-fetched argument, if not unrealistic.

The truth is every group of people and politicians on the left-right political spectrum has some idealistic view to stop rapid climate change; however, no political system has been able to demonstrate a sustainable model in true sense.

We spent over three decades in pep talks and we know that it didn’t work. Had it worked, the GHG emissions would have significantly decreased by now.

Moving forward, we will face more and more extreme environmental and ecological challenges which will be unavoidable as well as irreversible to a large extent.

And we are already running out of time! We don’t have time for more experiments, more political promises, more empty rhetoric, and more sustainability blah, blah, blah.

In a recent Youth4Climate summit (28-30 Sep 2021, Milan, Italy), Greta Thunberg rightfully said: “Build Back Better – blah, blah, blah. Green Economy – blah, blah, blah. Net Zero by 2050 – blah, blah, blah”.

Of course we need to be hopeful, but one thing we desperately need more than hope is real action on the ground. I have to agree with Greta when she says “Hope is not passive. Hope is not blah, blah, blah. Hope is telling the truth. Hope is taking action. And hope always comes from the people.” We must actively correct our past mistakes by immediately coming up with strictest actions to reduce GHG emissions in all fronts.

Politicians, global leaders, and governments play a pivotal role in bringing about the change that is necessary. And they can do this only if they coordinate and collaborate before it is too late. However, this seems very unlikely as long as their thinking is limited by national interests and geographical separations.

It is even worse when their motivations are influenced by ideals, personal gain, corruption and sheer indulgence of big tax payers, mighty corporates, campaign contributors, etc.

The ongoing inequitable COVID-19 vaccine distribution serves a pertinent scenario here.

These days, affluent countries are being blamed for holding supplies or even stockpiling more vaccines than they need for their entire population. They are planning for the third-jab or a booster dose for their population at a time when an entire continent of Africa is still struggling to vaccinate even 5 percent of its population.

Such restricted thought is allowing even more deadly variants of COVID-19 to emerge and spread across the globe, because an infectious disease like COVID-19 will remain a threat globally, as long as it exists anywhere in the world.

If things don’t change soon enough and so-called global leaders fail to see the bigger picture, it will be impossible to meet the global target set by the WHO; vaccinating 70 percent of the population of all countries by mid-2022.

I just wish that this would not be the case with the efforts to prevent rapid climate change, as more or less the same countries and politicians are involved to change our collective fate in this planet.