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Fire on the Mountain

This is a cross post from Climate Himalaya .

The gentleman in the payment kiosk swiped the card and gave it back to me. Then he asked my wife for the carry bag to pack the month’s provision. Carry bags? What?? You are not packing this into plastic bags? My wife looked puzzled. No ma’am, we are not giving away plastic bags with effect from 1 st August, sorry, Government Regulations, said the gentleman. For once we can help you with carry bags…let’s see, it will be 10 jumbo bags at Rs. 8 each…so that will be Rs. 80. Should I do that ma’am?

That was the longest face I ever saw of my wife. We had a long environmental discussion as I drove back. Life is full of sudden twists and not necessarily every changing necessity of it come gift wrapped.

Between the objective reality and common life there lies a wide field of perception. The news of worsening air quality all over the world to the effect that half of world population breaths air below WHO standards may suddenly be irrelevant if there is news of carbon tax. Just a couple of days ago a colleague of mine who owns a diesel car spoke very unkindly about the possible decision of government to differentially price domestic consumption of diesel. Whether or not you want to admit it, the noose is getting tighter. No amount of Bollywood flicks or Cricketing pride can hide it anymore.

I am sure that my friends in the mountains know about the general worsening trend in climatic conditions. I am sure they also know about the forest and biodiversity loss, health threats, draughts and cloud bursts with increasing frequencies. I am sure they discuss about those issues and papers, reports, data and graphs buzz all over the world. But common life reacts quite differently when it becomes news that by 2030, apples may vanish from our daily diets. Or say, in Srinagar, your son or daughter will need a shot for Malaria in 2030, just like it is common in the coasts of India today. Common life in the hills may also react in uncertain ways if it is known that by 2030, their woolens may become largely unnecessary and they may require carrying umbrella for at least a week longer than they are doing now. Life style changes happen slower than Climate Change these days.

Ironically, it is the common life and not the scientific literati that will need the adaptation more. That adaptation will require a change in whole life stances, a basic change in how we see life in the Himalayas. If we take too long to see why there is fire in our own backyards, the market will sell enough fire extinguishers. The market will not encourage us to know why the fire started.

Talking about fire, common life will not likely read the Smog Blog and it may react indifferently if it is known that there is soot in the supposedly pristine air of the world’s highest air quality observation station run by NASA and International Center for Integrated Mountain Development. This soot comes from forest fires, agricultural fires and small scale fires from the hills. It may not be an important perception for our common folk that this soot can in effect reduce the reflection of light by the ice and increase glacier melt. However, flash floods will be cruel wake up calls. Common life will react to that more readily.

We have to be seriously gullible to believe, even by common life standards, that we will continue to pollute and flaunt our poverty and developing country aspirations as excuses and the world of the affluent that spend on average 2.6% of GDP on Military will provide Fast Start Finance .

Adaptation or mitigation will remain in talks, plans and blogs unless we can somehow bridge the gap between the objective reality and common perception urgently. In more ways than we care to admit, there is a fire on the mountain and nobody is running.

Picture Credit: Undiscovered Earth

Music Credit: with thanks to montmarthe

Post Written by
Pabitra is an Honors graduate in Civil Engineering from Jadavpur University, Kolkata. He has specialized in the field of River Hydraulics working for more than two decades training rivers, protecting banks and beaches and fighting erosion of the river banks/beds. He has worked with Bio-Engineering models involving mangroves using them as tools for cost effective and natural means of anti-erosion technology.His work is mostly concerning the extremely morpho-dynamic Hugly estuary with Bay of Bengal In course of his work, he got exposed to indigenous people of the Sunderban wetlands, who are fighting a losing battle against aggressive Industrialization. Pabitra loves to read and write and he is full of crazy ideas. He is a Youth Leader and Adviser to Climate Himalaya. He is also a contributor member of THINK ABOUT IT platform of European Journalism Center and a winner of the recently concluded competitive blogging on Water. Pabitra believes that he has a tryst with the strange river-country south of Bengal.


  1. Jaylan says:

    Knowelgde wants to be free, just like these articles!

  2. Somnath Chaudhuri says:

    Very interesting post.

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