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The Pandemic may have no end in sight, but human existence does

Updated: Sep 26

Mridula Kumar

23rd September 2020


Climate Action Clock in Union Square (Source: Jeenah Moon for The New York Times)

On September 21, a ‘clock’ was unveiled in Union Square in New York City that read “7 years, 101 days, 17 hours, 29 minutes and 22 seconds.” This was an indicator of how long humankind had left to bring out measures and combat climate change before the carbon budget of the earth would run out and have disastrous consequences on human life as we know it. This clock is the latest attempt at bringing awareness to the urgent need for climate action. 

In the last ten years, climate change has become the most fundamental concern of the world. Every action political or scientific or social somehow connects to the earth and our existence in it. The earth’s average temperature is increasing every day. Scientists warn us repeatedly about what would ensue if we don’t take steps necessary to prevent an irreversible increase in average temperature by 1.5 degree Celsius. Humankind would be thrust into severe weather, extreme flooding, fatal heat waves, and more wildfires.

Unfortunately, despite the many pleas of climate activists and the real consequences of our unsustainable and harmful living, little has been done to prevent the near-apocalyptic future that awaits us. The amount of pollution increased only because of the pandemic masks and Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) that have been dumped in landfills or disposed of in oceans carelessly have already found their way to the ocean bed. As the coronavirus cases started reducing in various countries, the opening of industries and production has led to carbon-di-oxide and other toxic gas emissions reaching pre-pandemic levels at a striking pace due to a frenzy to catch up with the lost profits due to lockdown. In China, even though GDP targets were reduced for the first time in 30 years, production and manufacturing restarted in full swing, and carbon emission levels are already back to the figure they were last year.

Thoughtless action by people has caused unprecedented events to occur in the last few years. While the pandemic is itself one of them, it is imperative to not forget the horrifying images of the Australian bushfires that wiped out entire ecosystems there, the floods that ravaged Bengal, Orissa, and Assam in India and drowned the Sundarbans which is one of the most crucial forests in the world, the Californian wildfires that spread to neighbouring states and led to citizens of San Francisco and of many small towns in Oregon waking up to dystopian red and yellow smoke-filled skies, and the Arctic wildfires in Russia that have left the landscape ice-less and barren.

Other disasters, though slow, are ever-unfurling. With the rising oceans, many cities are drowning every day. It is predicted that oceans could flood over 17 per cent of Bangladesh and displace millions. In India, extreme weather changes are already a reality. In South India, where rivers are mostly seasonal, harsh summers are leading to an onslaught of drought. With the reducing amount of water in these rivers, the wars between states for water have already become frequent and prevalent. 

Artists Gan Golan and Andrew Boyd came up with the concept of the ‘Climate Clock’ with the aim of driving in a simple message: For Earth to survive, carbon emissions must be reduced — and time is running out. The next decade will prove crucial to the state of human existence. As the world reels from the coronavirus crisis, one must recollect Pablo Neruda and his call for silence, and take a step back. We need to fundamentally change how we think about progress and start measuring our worth not in terms of the profits we make or the resources we extract. We need to perceive development as a direct measure of sustainability. Rather than patting one’s back for everything taken from the earth, it is time to consider whether we wish to have an earth conducive to our existence in a decade or two.

Sources: Washington Post, Carbon Brief, Insider, The Quint

Edited by Varun Paleli Vasudevan

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