Environmental Crises

India choking, reduce Co2

By Dr. Oishee Mukherjee

Over the last week India is choking. Thanks to the dangerously poisonous air we breathe as most cities are over populated and polluted. A recent Geological Survey of India study found life threatening conditions in Kolkata, Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi or Hyderabad, wherein people face lead concentration in food, far higher than permitted limits.
Further, raw food sold in streets contain 8.78mg to a high of 43.35 mg per kg of lead concentration, higher than the threshold value of 2.5 mg per kg specified by the Food Safety & Standards Regulation (2011).
Importantly, about 75% of this lead contamination is contributed by atmospheric lead produced by incomplete diesel combustion. The implications of this alarming situation are devastating as every 10 mg of lead in a deciliter, one tenth of a litre of blood in 11 year olds to 4.25 points lower IQ at the age of 38, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Worse, high toxicity might lead to cancer.
Another example: Vast waste dumps in cities pollute the entire neighbourhood. The increasing incidence of dengue witnessed in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra etc is a direct result of a dirty environment with municipalities refusing to take action. Pertinently, the Supreme Court is hearing a PIL about Mamata’s State Government trying to hush up dengue cases in West Bengal.
Sadly, pollution is not only crippling urban centres but also rural areas. The recent death of farmers due to pesticide poisoning in Maharashtra’s Yavatmal and elsewhere is a case in point. Alongside, experts have questioned the rationale of using pesticides here which are either banned or restricted globally due to their high toxicity.
Interestingly, the Centre for Science & Environment came out with a list of seven highly hazardous pesticides that continue to be used in the country despite being banned in many countries. It questioned the IARI Central Committee which had reviewed the use of these pesticides in 2015 but preferred not to ban them indefinitely.
Notably, these seven are in the list of Class-I extremely hazardous pesticides which account for nearly 30% of the total pesticides used in India in 2015-16.  Though the Central Committee had reviewed the use of 66 pesticides and recommended banning 13 from 2018, phasing out six from 2020 and allowing use of others listed till the next review, is a matter of concern for researchers, environmentalists and doctors.
Shockingly, even now the Government has taken no initiative instead the Central team has blamed the wrong combination of pesticides for standing cotton crops without taking adequate protection like use of safety gear. Sadly, not only pesticides the story is the same vis-à-vis control of various pollutants wherein the Government remains a silent spectator.
Undeniably, the need for curbing such pollutants remains a big challenge as these are affecting people across the board specially low income groups leading to wanton increase in diseases. True, infrastructure development and road building activities are ongoing however there is need to give urgent attention to human health, the cornerstone of a nation’s progress.
Raising a moot point: How should this be done? If the Government is serious environmental rules and regulations have to be strictly implemented and monitored. Recall, the Supreme Court recently directed the Centre to furnish a report to implement the much-hyped Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in view of various vector borne diseases, including dengue.
An action plan also needs to be formulated immediately to identify specific areas where pollution is directly related to health hazards and the implementation methodology. Unless the whole issue is examined by experts, including scientists and environmentalists and a time frame proposed for each action, pollutants would continue to be a dangerous threat to human life.
Undoubtedly, the Niti Aayog has taken the correct decision in proposing a law providing for an increase in the existing penalty from Rs 1 lakh to a minimum Rs 5 crores and imprisonment up to 7 years for causing ‘substantial’ environmental damage. But what is necessary is strict enforcement, which unfortunately is lacking in the country.
This proposed legislation which received the nod of the Law Ministry would result in amending the existing Environment Protection Act and the National Green Tribunal (NGT) Act. Once amended, the law would have separate categorization of green violations in terms of ‘minor’, ‘non-substantial’ and ‘substantial’ on the basis of extent of damage and imposing fines on them accordingly.
But all these small measures may not be substantial for the country in the long run unless a pragmatic and judicious strategy with specific time frame is formulated. Towards that end, the 23rd round of climate change talks (COP23) are ongoing in Bonn to discuss the alarming rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
In a startling revelation by 20 German institutions under the network Bioacid (Biological Impacts of Ocean Acidification) found the cumulative effects of pollution on increasing acidity in food chains and the marine ecosystems. Be it India or other developing countries all should be harping on a qualified goal for financial support, of over $ 100 billion by 2020.
The negotiating group, China and G-77 should highlight the disastrous impact of climate change along-with the flow of finance, technology and building capacities in developing countries to deal with it. This is imperative when the flow of funds is declining. In fact, G-77 stressed that countering climate change could not wait till 2020, when the Paris Agreement with its national action plans comes into effect.
Obviously the changing climate with increasing pollution is a serious cause of concern. Recently the World Meteorological Organization underscored concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere surged at a record breaking speed in 2016, to the highest level in 800,000 years. Stating, “globally averaged concentrations of CO2 reached 403.3 parts per million in 2016 up from 400 ppm in 2015 due to a combination of human activities and a strong El Nino event”.
Adding, CO2 in the atmosphere was up by 145% over pre-industrial levels, methane (CH4) by 257% and nitrous oxide (N2O) by 122%. The steady increase of these gases from 1970 till date has been consistent with increase in global average temperatures. Obviously, with rapid cuts in these gases specially carbon dioxide dangerous temperature increase is expected by the end of this century or even earlier.
Clearly, the situation is going from bad to worse in India and other Third World countries whereby restricting the global warming limit to around 20 C is mere jargon. Extreme weather events are occurring globally, already a large part of coral reefs have been destroyed or seriously damaged.
Time now to drastically reduce global CO2emissions, an impossible task, but could save half the world’s tropical reefs. It only requires transfer of financial and technological support to developing countries which would save lives and help counter the looming environmental crises. —— INFA