New Internationalist

Climate change first hand

It rained last week. That’s normal for India. March, April, May and June are our summer months. They are mostly unbearably hot, and dry and dusty or hot, sticky and humid. Temperatures soar. There's no respite from the heat.

April showers, as anyone who's ever lived here will tell you, are a longed for, much awaited event. We actually pray for the rain to bring the mercury down. So when the rain gods smile and it finally arrives, it’s a joyous event. Children dance in the rain, adults run outside to catch the first glorious drops on their faces. The parched earth drinks the water greedily and everyone heaves a sigh of relief. Every year.

This year, however, the April showers went on and on. The first day, we were delighted. There were huge hail stones, which is fairly normal. But last week, it was not just the normal few. We had an unprecedented hail storm. The next day’s paper had a picture on the front page of a place in Ooty with huge ice rocks piled high. It looked like (to the average Indian) an exotic European winter destination, not our little hill station.

Of course, temperatures dropped, the pathetic, dried up plants perked up and everything’s getting green again. But now we're worried. It’s been a week of heavy rain, rolling mist, proper monsoon weather. Does this mean the monsoon will be delayed, washed out by too much rain too soon? Local farmers are devastated. The flowers have all fallen off the bitter gourd vines, mangoes have been knocked down by the hail stones, fruit trees damaged, crops lost, tea badly damaged too, chaos all around Ooty.

We are experiencing climate change first hand. Not from books, journals, or dire warnings from prophets of doom. Ordinary people know that something’s going wrong with our world. The weather’s not normal and this can spell disaster for farmers, the food chain and the world in general.

If ordinary people are beginning to get the fact that the climate is changing drastically and that this spells disaster, I wonder why our governments don't go into disaster management mode. I think people will change their behaviour if they get clear instructions on what’s good for the earth. At least in small ways like using less water, banning plastics, encouraging organic gardening. Wherever folks start small initiatives, people respond. People respond when they see how they or their grandchildren will be affected. So pesticides cause cancer. Plastics are choking our ground water systems. The whole earth is going into water crisis.

I know environmental groups are doing their best, and doing a good job in many places. But it’s too little mostly. More people need to spread the word in small, simple messages, start neighbourhood groups, encourage small efforts. Even as I write this, I know I sound simplistic. But I'm convinced that making a start however small is important and crucial and will draw in a lot of people. I dont think we have a choice anymore.

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