It is already nearing the edge of March. The birdsongs in the air are already heralding the onset of Spring, marked on the Meitei lunar calendar as the first day of the lunar month of Sajibu. And yet, there is a sense of something weird all around. For one, it does seem winter is still around, and those of us in professions that call for night duties know best that warm clothes are still essential. A thin blanket likewise is still not enough to make sleep comfortable. For another, the famous April showers which Geoffrey Chaucer made immortal in the Canterbury Tales, are missing. The refreshing rains that are to awaken the hibernating roots and bring them forth to life again, or to prompt the vegetative world to begin sprouting new leaves, are also somewhat late already. Climate change it seems is happening and although its gravity would not have sunk in as yet amongst many, the implications are scary. A delayed summer or a delayed rain may not have a direct impact on the human body, as a matter of fact many may even be thinking that the extended winter that we are experiencing is actually pleasant and desirable. Think again. The human body may have acquired the resilience to accommodate a greater degree of climate variations, or may have surrounded itself with technology to beat severe weather conditions, but not so the plant world, especially the domesticated variety. If the hibernating roots do not awaken in time, or there are no April showers to trigger the sprouting of leaves, in the worst case scenario, crops would fail. And if freak unpredictable climate conditions continue for a couple or more years, the disaster can only be imagined.
Life’s food chain is delicate. Break it at any point, and the rest of the chain would be useless. Life is beautiful. Life is resilient. Life is precious. But let us remember, life is vulnerable too, and one other thing that seems a certainty about all life forms is, as Bill Bryson says in his celebrated book, A Brief History of Nearly Everything, they do go extinct periodically. The more immediate point is, unpredictable Spring showers will ultimately tell on the quality of human life, or even its survival prospects in the long run – very long run indeed for in evolutionary terms, the scale is millions of years. There are certain cosmological determinants to climate change which we can do nothing to control, but there are also down to earth causes for climate disaster that we can either hasten or delay, so why hasten it? Our time starts now to set things on the right track. We can begin by being more sensitive about what we do to our environment, in our context this will have mostly to do with preserving our forest covers, even as the developed world tackles issues of greenhouse gas and ozone layer etc.
There are more reasons to make the agenda of forest protection, and for that matter, rivers and lakes, everybody’s enlightened vested interest. For a traditional society like Manipur, the health of its forests and water bodies has been its most reliable guarantee against dehumanising absolute poverty. A lot many in rural Manipur are “income poor”, but not so when it comes to nutritional intake because of the forest and natural water bodies, and the people’s intimate knowledge of these resources. They may not have the money to buy a new pair of slippers, but they can always depend on the forest, rivers and lakes to sustain them nutritionally. But if the forests go, or lakes dry, poverty is going to be grinding. Imagine the number of people whose livelihood would be destroyed if the Loktak lake dies. The same can be said of the forest covers in the hills. Hence, fighting poverty, and indeed the definition of poverty itself, will have to take these factors into consideration. The one-size-fit-all definition of poverty, accepted internationally as a “dollar a day” income, may be misleading in this sense. And when the definition of the subject is misleading, the prescription for the object – that of poverty alleviation – is also as likely to be off the mark. Therefore, our contention is, along with the effort to alleviate the general income standard, environment protection must be made a part of this vital campaign. In this, the government’s leadership as well as the people’s willing participation are essential.