We are choking the earth

Last Updated: Mon, Aug 26, 2019 15:47 hrs
Amazon fire

The Amazon rainforest fire, which has been burning for over three weeks now, has caused widespread outrage against Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro.

Since the beginning of this year, everyone who doesn’t identify as a staunch right-wing hardliner has acknowledged that Bolsonaro is among the worst things to have happened to Brazil. His election is in line with the trend across the world – the conservatives are coming to power. During his campaign, Bolsonaro was vocal about his opposition to LGBT rights, abortion, secularism, immigration, affirmative action, gun control legislation, and environmental regulation.

A proponent of “free market policies”, Bolsonaro has accelerated deforestation of the Amazon over the last months, one of the primary causes of the fires. The conviction of people for environmental crimes has reduced considerably during his term as president. His government has also made constant efforts to evict the tribal communities living in the forest.

The Amazon houses about a tenth of all species of plants and animals on the planet, and scientists have warned that it could lose a quarter of its trees by 2030.

In response to the anger against him over the forest fire, Bolsonaro has charged that environmental organisations must have started the blaze in order to bring him disgrace. The paranoia, the craze for “development” over all else, and the refusal to be accountable are also in line with the trend across the world.

This year has seen the highest number of recorded fires in the Amazon since 2010, and has drawn more attention than the average environmental disaster because of its extent and appearance.

But the effects of anthropogenic climate change and environmental devastation have come home to us in various ways over the last few weeks.

On August 17, a baby dugong named Mariam, who had become a media sensation, died from a blood infection and pus caused by plastic she had ingested. Mariam was found on shallow waters in south-western Thailand months ago, and was being raised by marine experts. The little sea cow had won hearts after photographs of her cuddling with her rescuers went viral. Her short life ended in a painful death, caused by tourism and the callousness of tourists.

Also in mid-August, The Wall Street Journal reported that President Trump wants to buy Greenland, currently a semi-autonomous territory of Denmark.

The news was met with memes and jokes about Trump.

Whether Trump does buy Greenland or not, his interest in the territory should raise concerns. Alaska was bought for $7.2 million from Russia in 1867 by American president Andrew Johnson, after speculation that it could be a source of mineral wealth. A century and a half later, salmon off its shores are dying from increased temperatures, courtesy of “development”.

As the ice sheets around Greenland melt, there has been much interest in economic opportunities in the island.

The receding ice has reduced the forbidding costs of mining off its coast. There are indications that Greenland could be rich in oil, natural gas, and rare earth minerals. Russia, China, and the US have all expressed interest in exploring – or exploiting – these resources. In a territory as sparsely populated and as economically weak as Greenland, foreign investment will be welcomed. It is not just our business interests that have been destroying the planet.

For decades, even centuries, we have prioritised exploration over conservation. We pursue scientific knowledge even at the cost of destroying ecosystems.

Various missions have been mapping the Arctic sea floor and studying marine life. All the environmental safeguards in the world cannot nullify the effects of a carbon footprint where none previously existed.

Our conquest of the planet, for economic reasons as well as science, is choking it.

Perhaps this is the greatest indicator of our speciesist outlook. We believe that humans are superior to all others, and that the flora, fauna, and mineral resources of the earth exist to serve us.

We also believe that expeditions to unchartered territories are somehow heroic, with no regard for the delicate ecosystems that may already be in place in these regions. We forget that they are simply unchartered by humans, not uninhabited by other species.

These missions need not necessarily be large-scale projects. The record number of deaths of climbers attempting to summit Mount Everest this year should have served as a warning. Inexperienced guides and inexperienced climbers have been blamed for trying to economise by compromising on safety. Meanwhile, experienced climbers are moving on to the even more dangerous K2, as a personal challenge to themselves.

The planet has been fighting us for centuries. Perhaps the day is not far off when it will simply grow too tired to resist our onslaught.

More Columns by Nandini Krishnan:

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When Kamal Haasan endorsed harassment

The Dalai Lama and the death of humour

The delusionary Indian intellectual

India's culture of worship has to end




Nandini is the author of Invisible Men: Inside India's Transmasculine Networks (2018) and Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage (2013). She tweets @k_nandini. Her website is: www.nandinikrishnan.com