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Climate Catastrophe

The unprecedented environmental destruction that the world has witnessed during the past century, and more especially during the last few decades, is already having disastrous effects on our life. We can no longer talk about ‘Climate Change’ as something that will happen in the future; rather, it is ‘Climate Changed’. What we thought were prophecies for the future are now reports in our daily newspapers.

Take the recent ‘onion crisis’, for example. The unbelievable and almost vulgar price of Rs. 100 for a mere kilo of ordinary onions may have set a new Guinness record, but it was not an achievement that called for a celebration. Rather, as the tweet going around said, ‘sky rocketing onion prices have literally brought tears to the eyes’. So why are we paying a kingly price for this poor man’s food? ‘Unseasonal rains have caused havoc across the nation. Onion crop being sensitive to water has been damaged leading to the shortfall in supply and resulting in high prices,’ explained Changdev Holkar, an onion farmer from Nashik in Maharashtra, who is also a director at the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India. This year the monsoon extended well into November and this was not conducive to harvesting of the onion crop. Unseasonal rains, damaged crops, rising prices. Simple logic.

And talking about the rains, the monsoon pattern has drastically changed over these past few years. While in 2009 the monsoon played truant and the country was subjected to long dry spells during the traditionally wet season, in 2010 it was a swing to the next extreme – the rains held the country in their soggy embrace well beyond the normal monsoon period. But if India was bad, Pakistan was worse! While we grumbled about the incessant rains, Pakistan literally struggled to keep afloat as it was battered by torrential downpours. One fifth of the country was submerged underwater and its famous Indus River reached its highest water level ever recorded in the 110 years since regular record keeping began.

So what brought on this deluge? Scientists from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), a specialized agency of the United Nations, were categorical in their assertion that rising global temperatures were behind the floods. ‘There is no doubt that clearly the climate change is contributing, it is a major contributing factor’, said Ghassem Asrar, Director of the World Climate Research Programme. He also pointed out that the atmospheric anomalies that had led to the floods in Pakistan were also directly related to the same weather phenomena that caused the record heat wave in Russia and flooding and mudslides in western China. Speaking on the same issue, R K Pachauri, the Chief of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that won the 2007 Nobel Prize, warned that there is ample evidence to show an increase in the frequency and intensity of floods, droughts and extreme precipitation events worldwide. He further cautioned that, ‘The floods of the kind that hit Pakistan may become more frequent and more intense in the future in this and other parts of the world’. That prophecy has just come true in Australia, where over 20 towns have been submerged by the December floods in the state of Queensland.

The writing is clearly on the wall. And if we are not convinced by reading ‘the signs of the times’, there are several well researched documents that we should begin reading.

A recent report, ‘Climate Vulnerability Monitor 2010: The State of the Climate Crisis’, that was released simultaneously at London and Cancun on 3rd December 2010 paints a bleak scenario. It states: ‘The artificial heating of our planet fuelled by human activities already interferes with earth’s delicate climate leading to effects that are dangerous for people and nature. The alarming rate of change and spiralling effects of heat, wind, rain, deserts, sea levels, and other impacts on the world’s populations leave a human toll of 350,000 deaths every single year’.

Weather disasters will lead to sever adverse impacts on habitat, livelihoods and health. According to this report: ‘An estimated 350,000 people die each year due to major diseases and health disorders related to climate change. Unless measures are taken, by 2030 climate change will increase its toll to more than 800,000 deaths per year.’ India is one of the countries that will be badly affected by climate change related health problems. The report states that: ‘In absolute terms, India is the country that will face the highest number of excess deaths due to the health impacts of climate change. It alone will carry more than a third of the total global health burden.’

However, this report also reminds us that: ‘Climate change is the most urgent challenge of our time. The future of the environment and the life it supports rests on the decisions we take over the coming years. This represents an enormous responsibility on our shoulders, which is not only a burden – but also a tremendous opportunity for us all.’

Our Response: GreenLine

The Mumbai Salesian Province is keenly aware of this ‘enormous responsibility’ and ‘tremendous opportunity’ that climate change poses to us. Traditionally, we have been involved in a host of environment conservation and enhancement projects. But the present crisis demands a more focused and resolute response. Hence, our Provincial Chapter 2010 decided that we would begin a new ‘Grey to Green Initiative’ as one of the priorities of the province. Accordingly, in October 2010, the Development Office launched a new initiative called GreenLine to take forward different environmental projects.

GreenLine works on the premise of ‘Greener People, Greener World’. The focus is not so much on launching ‘green projects’, but rather on increasing the Green Quotient (GQ) of people. GQ is defined as the degree of environmental consciousness within a person which determines how much one cares, understands and is determined to do something favourable for the environment. Most often people are just not aware of the environmental crisis the world is facing, or at the most they have a superficial idea about the same. Or even if they are conscious of the gravity of the situation, they are at a loss on how to contribute towards the solution. GreenLine seeks to address this gap – it aims at providing comprehensive information on environmental issues and practical ideas for involvement. It is a platform that brings together individuals, institutions and organizations to share possibilities and plans. It is movement that creates ‘greener people’ who in turn will create a ‘greener world’.

Green Schools Campaign

As its first project, GreenLine has launched the ‘Green Schools Campaign’. This campaign aims at educating children on their responsibility towards the environment and to offer them the opportunity to actually be involved in ‘greening’ projects. The participating schools are being assisted to enhance the green projects which they may have already begun, or to launch a new green initiative that would be relevant and beneficial to the school and its neighbourhood (example: Waste Management, Water Recycling, Organic Gardens, Eco Club, etc). This campaign is being held from October 2010 to March 2011, and is open to all schools, for students up to Std. X, within the Mumbai metro area. The performance of the participating schools will be judged on the following criteria: Relevance of the project being implemented by the school; Creativity of ideas used in this project; Participation of teachers and students; Impact of the project on the school and neighbourhood environment; Sustainability measures woven into the project to ensure its continuity. At the close of the campaign, the ‘greenest school’ will receive the ‘Maschio Foundation GreenLine Award’.

Zegarb Campaign

Next on the anvil is the Zegarb (Zero Garbage) Campaign. This campaign will be launched in June 2011 and will involve various schools in the Mumbai metro area. Mumbai generates close to 7,000 tonnes of waste per day; of this approximately 5,000 tonnes is mixed waste (biodegradable and recyclable), while 2,000 tonnes are construction debris and silt. Unfortunately, since we neither have good personal habits of waste disposal, nor does the municipality have an efficient system of waste management, the entire city has degenerated into a garbage cesspool. ‘We are 50 or 60 years behind the US and European nations in treating garbage and implementing waste technologies. Mumbai is even behind Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka,’ declares Almitra Patel, a garbologist who was on the Supreme Court committee that framed the Municipal Solid Waste Rules for the country, and a person who has spent the last 12 years studying garbage disposal.

The Zegarb Campaign aims at training students in proficient and professional methods of managing the waste they produce – be it paper, plastic, glass, e-waste or other biodegradable materials. The end result will not only be that zero garbage goes out of the school, but the school will also earn revenue from the waste it produces. Recycling garbage has another critical benefit; it reduces the wasteful use of resources, since the same materials get reused. Enlarging the impact, we hope to then take the campaign to the homes and housing colonies of the students. Organizations like the Centre for Environmental Research and Education, Daily Dump and Stree Mukti Sangatna that have the expertise in waste management will be consultants to this campaign.


Beyond campaigns with schools, GreenLine is looking at an involvement with corporate bodies and civil society organizations. Creating a greener world requires the active commitment of all the stakeholders. Eliciting this commitment and translating it into relevant action, that’s the mission of GreenLine.

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