Somebody posted more than a 100-year-old photograph of Tangmarg — a small town on the way to Gulmarg — on Facebook recently. In the grainy black and white photograph, a few tonga-wallahs are sitting on the edge of a cart road nonchalantly, horses are grazing freely and carts are parked in a line — it seems to be an eternal wait for tourists.
Fascinating is the scenery of the lush green cart-road with rows of trees on both sides; clearly, the photograph illustrates the pristine beauty of the valley in the past.
Describing the mesmerizing scene to my friend, a resident of the area and international Skier, I nostalgically tried to compare the present Tangmarg, overcrowded with tourists and hundreds of lorries of different dimensions passing through the town each day, with the idle and apparently perfect view of the yore. In a sombre tone, I wondered whether it’s possible to restore the idleness of the cart road! The desire for a pollution-free Kashmir invoked a terse response from my otherwise cool-like-cucumber friend Shabir: “Why are you cursing us a miserable life as a cart road is only a reminiscent of the stone age?”
Even without a debate, we found ourselves caught in a conflict between the never-ending desire for development and the environmental disasters looming large.
A few decades ago, the entire area around Tangmarg was reeling under utter poverty. The people of this area have slowly but steadily succeeded in breaking the fetters of backwardness. Against this backdrop, a wish for the return of the cart-road era obviously sounds like a curse. The ongoing process of progress and prosperity has radically altered the entire outlook of Kashmir; the overall conditions are not as harsh as it used to be five decades ago. Nevertheless, the ecological costs are quite high, the development process has caused irrespirable loss to the Mother Nature. The greenery has given way to a concrete jungle and streams of water stand fully polluted. The erratic weather patterns need no further scientific evaluation that nature is angry with man.
The fury of ‘hybrid’ hurrciane Sandy has stunned the ‘climate scientists’ in America. Even though experts caution that it is too early to believe that “the bizarre storm” is a “product, in whole or in part, of human-induced climate change”; it will take scientists years of rigorous research to offer a conclusive explanation. Still experts consider global warming as one of the contributory factors for the nature’s fury; ‘surface temperatures in the western Atlantic Ocean were remarkably high just ahead of the hurricane — in some places, about five degrees Fahrenheit higher than the average for this time of year. In fact, a part of the ocean was warmer than it would normally be in September, when accumulated summer heat tends to peak’. Climate change is an established fact; ‘human-induced global warming has been raising the overall temperature of the surface ocean by about one degree Fahrenheit since the 1970s’. As reported by the American media, the ferocity of weather is only going to intensify in the future: ‘Scientists don’t need fancy computer modeling to know that the biggest problem seen during Hurricane Sandy will become worse in the future: Storm surge’.
Ever since the industrial revolution, “humans have warmed the planet by about 0.8°C” and as a result the “ocean rose about eight inches in the last century”. The more the ‘ecological footprint’, the more the chances of global warming. On an average, an American citizen uses “8.35 TOE (tonnes of oil equivalent) per person” per annum; the next three countries are Canada 8.16 TOE per person; Finland 6.4 and Belgium 5.78.
Likewise, the average electricity consumption in America in 2011 was 1,363 watts per person, while in India it was as little as 85 watts. Understandably, advanced nations have adverse ‘ecological footprint’. While higher energy consumption ensures high-end comfort for citizens of rich nations, it can be assumed with a certain degree of assurance now that the massive craving for energy is the reason for global warming.
Yet ironically, the high energy consuming countries are the least happy societies. In the list of so-called ‘Happy Planet Index 2012’, none of the G8 countries figures in the top 40: America is placed at No. 53. Post industrial revolution, inequalities caused by human greed have been removed and humanity has been able to overcome the challenges of poverty, disease and backwardness. However, the success story of development is the chronicle of wanton destruction also. Despite tremendous scientific outreach, man has fully failed to find a fine balance between development and nature.