Winter in Manipur has been severe this year. It would have been a lot harsher for the poor, for indeed, as it is, winter months are cruel even for temperate climes as ours, when much of life hibernate, expending the least energy so as to last out till the nourishing showers of spring herald nature its wake-up call. Imagine how miserable life would be if winter temperature were to drop a few more degrees Celsius, and extended a few more months. But the disturbing fact is, such projections of a changed climate scenario are no longer remote or restricted to science fiction writing. Seeing what has been happening even in the past few years, climate change seems now almost an inevitable future the world is heading into. There are scientific evidences that there have been radical shifts in climates in the history of the earth, almost at regular intervals. The Ice Age for instance is supposed to follow a cyclic pattern, the last minor one having retreated 12,000 years or so ago, but in between these cycles, there have also been many sudden freak shifts, as scientist now claim there had been an unexplained cooling of the globe 5,200 years ago, not because of anything anybody did, but out of changes in solar activities. In 1991, hikers found the preserved body of a man trapped in an Alpine glacier and freed as it retreated. Later tests showed that the human – dubbed Oetzi – became trapped and died around 5,200 years ago. Scientific evidences elsewhere in the world corroborate the theory of a sudden chill wave at about the same period. In prehistoric times, 245 million years ago, the collision of continents to form a single land mass known as Pangaea caused one of the biggest extinction of life from earth, with 96 percent of marine life going extinct in about 3 million years span.
The point is, earth’s climate has changed in the past and probably will change again in the future. While there is nothing very much we possibly can do to alter the meta-narratives of the cosmos, what is also certain is, man can hasten these changes locally on earth, all to his own detriment. To look at it more positively, this also means man can delay or even avert some of these climate shifts by controlling the factors that disturb the earth’s climate system. At this moment, man seems to be doing very little to this effect. Hence, if this year’s winter has been harsh, scientist are now predicting a hotter than usual summer to follow. Being warm-blooded creatures, all mammals, to which category of living things humans belong, can tolerate a wide range of temperature conditions. But the danger is not so much about how weather resilient the human body is, but of how life would cope with a radically changed living environment. If winters get harsher, summers more scorching, monsoons unpredictable, the first casualties would be crops. We all know the kind of human misery a year of crop failure can cause, but imagine a scenario in which this happens in a stretch for a couple, or even many years. Life would be put at great peril then. It is such thoughts that make one realize, inspite of all its strengths and resilience, life is extremely vulnerable. Human life is no exception. It is also not a surprise that in life’s history of over 500 million years (so says scientists), whole species have routinely gone extinct for unfathomable reasons.
There are many cosmic factors behind climate changes that we can do nothing about and only God can explain why. But there are also an equal number of factors that we can do a lot about. Likewise there are a number of overwhelming environmental issues that must have to be tackled at the global level. But there are also again localized ones that all individuals, regardless of where they are, must put in their mite in tackling. Hence, while those of us in the developing world can contribute little towards controlling automobile fume emissions that induce greenhouse effect in the earth’s atmosphere, precisely because the number of automobiles we own is minuscule, we can help in the global effort by retaining green covers of our forests etc. Let us not ever forget the slogan of the global environmental campaign “Think Globally, Act Locally.” After all it is also our own lives, together with that of the rest of the world that we are called upon to protect.