I was giving a talk to a group of A level students at a Tertiary College last week, and was surprised to hear that they seemed unaware of the critical situation that humanity finds itself in. The six ‘runaway trains’ of mass species extinction, resource depletion, overpopulation, climate change, pollution, and habitat destruction that threaten not only our survival, but many other species’ survival too, had not yet – or so they said – appeared on the horizon of their awareness. I was surprised, but knew that after all, however much we might read about these things, we can still nip down to the supermarket and pick up some smoked salmon and a bottle of wine, so what’s changed?
Go to India and there the impact of what has changed hits you in the face and it’s very unpleasant. You realize that they are on the front line of the impact of these trains, whereas we are currently behind the lines so we don’t hear the shells exploding. I hope our Indian friends forgive me for this rant. Before I write of the wonders and beauties and deep spirituality I found there, there’s something I need to get off my chest – literally.
We talk about ‘the elephant in the room’ when there is obviously a problem but the assembled company assiduously avoid discussing it, until the atmosphere is almost unbearable. Someone might then say ‘Can we talk about the elephant in the room?’ Tears or anger might follow, but like a cloudburst clearing the air, in the end we are relieved ‘the unmentionable’ was mentioned.
And clearing the air is what I want to talk about. What is the most obvious thing that whacks you in the face and chest when you fly into India, which no-one seems to talks about? The filthy air that hangs over every city, that claws the back of your throat, that means I feel as if I’ve been smoking 40 cigarettes a day for the last two weeks. A pall of smoke hangs over Delhi, and I understand every city in India, and even on making our way up to the gateway to the Himalayas, Haridwar, the black smoke from hundreds of brick kilns succeeded in maintaining the awful atmosphere.
You exaggerate surely? I can hear someone saying. Our Indian friends are naturally proud of their country and want us to see only its best points. ‘It’s just a morning mist’ or ‘It’s the dust today’ was a common response to my tentative questioning of the situation. Back in Sussex, I am walking every day up on the hills, breathing in the fresh air, and sadly thinking about beautiful Mother India, her lovely people and great culture, and remaining astonished at the way we can adapt to appalling situations to such an extent that we no longer question them. I’ve just checked the web to see if I’m over-reacting to a bit of smog. Sadly not. Just read these sobering facts (emphases mine):
‘India has the worst air pollution in the entire world, beating China, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh, according to a study released during this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos. Of 132 countries whose environments were surveyed, India ranks dead last in the ‘Air (effects on human health)’ ranking. The annual study, the Environmental Performance Index, is conducted and written by environmental research centers at Yale and Columbia universities with assistance from dozens of outside scientists. The study uses satellite data to measure air pollution concentrations.
The World Health Organization estimates that about two million people die prematurely every year as a result of Air pollution, while many more suffer from breathing ailments, heart disease, lung infections and even cancer. Fine particles or microscopic dust from coal or wood fires and unfiltered diesel engines are rated as one of the most lethal forms or air pollution caused by industry, transport, household heating, cooking and ageing coal or oil-fired power stations.
Brick kilns are noxious sources of pollution: India’s 100,000 brick kilns are noxious sources of pollution, particularly soot, and working them means a life that is always nasty, frequently brutish and often short. But on top of this social evil is an environmental one. The exhaust from the kilns mixes with diesel emissions and other fumes to form a vast brown smog, known as an atmospheric brown cloud, which is up to 3km thick and thousands of kilometres long. Two of its main ingredients, the small carbon particles which the soot is composed of, and ozone, a triatomic form of oxygen, are important contributors to the greenhouse effect, and thus to climate change. Among other negative effects, the cloud is therefore thought to be accelerating the retreat of Himalayan glaciers, which are found at a similar altitude.
The air pollution in Mumbai is so high that Mumbai authorities have purchased 42,000 litres of perfume to spray on the city’s enormous waste dumps at Deonar and Mulund landfill sites after people living near the landfill sites complained of the stench. The Deonar landfill site, one of India’s largest, was first used by the British in 1927. Today, the festering pile covers more than 120 hectares and is eight storeys high. Over 700 million people in India suffer from high levels of indoor air pollution affecting women and young children as 75 per cent homes use biomass fuel like wood, crop residue and dung cakes.’ From http://www.gits4u.com/envo/envo4.htm
India has led the world in attempting to disseminate philosophies and disciplines designed to bring clarity to the mind. Let’s support initiatives like Greenpeace India who are attempting to bring clarity to India’s environment, including its air and water.