A minuscule group of Crazy Rich Earthlings still do fantasize that they will be able to escape on a space shuttle to a hypothetical Planet B, or a Super-Earth, to construct an exclusive life of high-class luxury there. But for the rest of humanity, the question is 'What koppu' ('big deal' in Malayalam slang) is going to come out of COP26 anyway?' The latest edition of the Conference of Parties is currently underway at Glasgow after 25 such COPs have failed in their climate mitigation measures.
Decadal mappings of the earth's green cover, as well as our oceans' marine life, have revealed an alarming rate of depletion of biodiversity, natural habitats and ecosystems. Restoring the earth's glaciers, rainforests, Arctic ice caps etc to set back the phenomenon of global warming seems to be a very tall, an almost impossible order, from our current vantage point.
Droughts and forest fires, cloud bursts and hurricanes, flooding and landslides, seawater rising are all happening apace now as the cumulative result of anthropogenic interventions in the past decades.
Despite the grim foreboding of another mass extinction, will countries participating in COP26 be willing to calibrate their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) towards achieving carbon neutrality or negativity?
Right now, we face the finality of a 3-degree Celsius rise in global temperature by the end of the century when all of the planet's systems will fail. At COP 26, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Motley spotlighted the death sentence that hung over island nations such as hers.
The simple truth is if Barbados and Maldives are feeling the heat right now, can the rest of us be far behind? Worldwide, sea coasts are eroding. The beaches that are the buffer zones between the sea waters and coastal settlements are narrowing everywhere.
Imminent mass extinction
By the time Sir David Attenborough released his film 'A Life On Our Planet' in 2020 - his "witness statement" on "how humanity came to make its biggest mistake" – it was ironic that we were in the throes of a zoonotic disease, the origins of which go back to the trading of 'protected' wild species in the Wuhan wet market.
After decades of watching natural history documentaries from the comfort of their urban homes, finally, humanity is veering around to appreciating how ecosystems in biological hotspots of the world do great service in maintaining the safety, security and predictability of human lives and activities in urban, industrial centres. Humans should rethink their ownership rights over other species as well as our finite natural resources.
Humanity has now more or less collectively come to acknowledge that Mother Earth will react in unpredictable ways. In the blink of a lifetime of documenting the natural world, Sir David Attenborough began sounding the alarm bell, warning us that the sixth mass extinction of the earth's species was imminent. The planet's climate acts above considerations of international boundaries, racism and other phobias.
Shift to an ecosystem-based approach:
The trends of extortionist profiteering and corporate greed have reached a dead end. Letting go of the creed of individualism, we have to act collectively.
It can be said that even our national wildlife conservation legislations have been myopic, not appreciating the role played by less charismatic flora or fauna species in our ecosystems.
Let's take the following example. A seagrass variety called Syringodiumisoetifolium has now disappeared from the atolls of the Lakshadweep islands. This is due to the overgrazing by marine turtles, an iconic species that enjoyed full protection under Schedule 1 of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972. The diverse mixture and co-existence of plant and animal species in an ecosystem are very important. Seagrass patches are important as fingerling nurseries; they also offer vital protection against coastal erosion.
At long last, scientists have now started looking at an ecosystem-based approach to conservation rather than a species-based approach. The loss of one vital species in the food chain often leads to the eventual collapse of the entire ecosystem.
The annual monetary worth of goods and services provided by ecosystems is estimated at nearly 3 trillion dollars, almost double the global production resulting from human activities. The current species extinction rate due to anthropogenic interventions and climate change factors is estimated to be between 1000 to 10,000 times higher than the natural rate.
Overhaul in systems of thought:
It's a climate emergency. India, the world's third-largest carbon emitter, was the first country at COP26 to make the promise of net-zero emissions by 2070. Many other countries have stated similar lofty intents. But how far will governments across the world be able to keep the bogey of national 'development' as well as the compulsions of populist electioneering in check for the sake of the planet?
However, to honour the effective transition from dirty to clean energy and to provide universal and affordable access to clean and sustainable energy, we need a total overhaul of existing systems of thought– our philosophy, politics, economics and sense of social justice.
The climate catastrophes show us that humans either survive along with the other species, or we shall all perish together. In our natural world, the monoculture of self-aggrandizement of a minuscule iconic minority over all of earth's terrestrial/marine and freshwater ecosystems is a sure recipe for disaster.
We can't escape our Earth. We have no Planet B.
(Leena Mariam Koshy is an independent writer based in Kozhikode, Kerala)