Interview with the Hindu…

What are your views on India’s role and contribution at the Copenhagen conference?

India has a unique global role straddling the industrialized nations and the developing world and could potentially be the bridge builder between these two groups at Copenhagen. I view Copenhagen as part of an ongoing process that has taken on a sense of urgency as our past actions to mitigate climate change through the Kyoto protocol have been an abysmal failure. While anthropogenic carbon emissions have been rising at an ever faster rate despite the Kyoto protocol, the summer ice in the Arctic ocean has been melting at an alarming clip, potentially triggering runaway climate change through the release of seabed and permafrost methane. Dr. Michael McCracken, an IPCC reviewer, was quoted in the Washington Post recently saying, “We face a situation where basically everybody has to do everything they can.” In a June 2009 Interim Scientific Report submitted to the European Union, the scientist, Dr. David Wasdell put it bluntly:
“Effective organizational response involves transformation of culture from defending business-as-usual from minor risks to the global mobilization of all available resources in a must-win battle for collective survival.”
Thus, climate change is no longer a question of just temperature increases, sea-level rise or water shortages, all of which could perhaps be addressed through technological solutions, given sufficient resources. It has now become a question of mass extinction and the survival of species, i.e., about the continued existence of Life as we know it. India can and must play a vital role in fashioning an effective organizational response for such an existential threat at the Copenhagen conference.

What is Climate Healers doing to mitigate the crisis of climate change gripping the planet?

Climate Healers is implementing a holistic, grassroots solution to mitigate climate change by encouraging stewardship of forest resources through incentives. It is based on the observation that if one-sixth of the land area of planet is reforested, then we can rebalance the carbon cycle temporarily while mitigating the species extinction crisis. One of the primary sources of deforestation is fuel wood use for cooking. It is estimated that around 2 billion people in the world use fuel wood for cooking and together, they burn 1.5 billion tons of wood each year for cooking alone. This is equivalent to the amount of wood that would regenerate on about a billion acres of land if that land were left alone.

Climate Healers goal is to provide these 2 billion people with metered solar cookstoves free of charge and to pay them the equivalent of Rs. 2 per hour as they use the stoves. Such a project can be self-financed through the use of carbon credits, assuming that such credits survive the Copenhagen conference, since for each hour that the stove gets used, it is saving an estimated 9kgs of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere.

In addition to reducing CO2 emissions, the use of the solar cookstove would mitigate Black Carbon (soot) emissions. Black Carbon is now estimated to be the second most important greenhouse gas behind CO2 and reducing Black Carbon is a much more effective way to tackle climate change in the short run. In addition, the use of the solar cookstove would reduce bio-mass removal from forests which would allow the forest to regenerate and thus mitigate the species extinction crisis.

How can India play a role in averting the potential disasters which are the result of global warming?

Beyond governmental responses, solving climate change requires nothing less than a fundamental transformation of culture at the individual level. For both governmental and individual responses to climate change, India and ancient Indian culture has much to contribute to the world.

Just as the gravest threat from climate change occurs due to its impact on Life, the most effective solution to climate change appears to be through Life itself, since it is a vast planetary scale process that effectively sequesters carbon. It will take time for humanity to overhaul its energy infrastructure away from fossil fuel based technologies and regenerating Life on a massive scale will buy time for humanity to achieve that overhaul. This should be an immediate governmental response to climate change and India has a major role to play in this respect, both because India has 23% of her land area designated as state/national forests and because a majority of her vast population depends on fuel wood for cooking. Minimizing that latter dependence will release pressure on India forests allowing them to regenerate and thus help mitigate climate change.

On an individual level, the most effective response to climate change is to minimize our consumption, especially of the planet’s biological resources. This is best accomplished by stepping down in the food chain and using plant-based substitutes for all the animal products that we currently consume, mainly for food and for clothing. Currently, nearly one-third of the land area of the planet has been appropriated for livestock production. If most of that land can be returned to the earth as human demand for animal products decrease, then the resulting carbon sequestration from forest regeneration can offset 2-3 decades of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, buying time for overhauling our energy infrastructure.

Philip Wollen has called those who lead lifestyles free of animal products, “Ahimsans”, after the Sanskrit word, “Ahimsa”, meaning non-violence to any living being. The concept of “Ahimsa” was expounded in the Upanishads and was rooted in Jainism by Mahavira more than 3000 years ago. More recently, Ahimsa was the basis of the Gandhi’s non-violent movement to free India from British rule. It is truly astounding that this ancient Indian concept of Ahimsa is the best response to climate change from an individual standpoint.

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