Massive floods devastated parts of Germany and Belgium, and caused damages in the Netherlands. Heatwave in Northern America which, by some estimates, killed a billion sea creatures. Massive fires gutted at least a million acres of land in the western parts of the United States. As an activist commented, this was the turn of the Global North to experience extreme weather events that have become part of the Global South’s everyday life.
The increasing and intensifying incidents make it no longer sensible or even viable to consider climate change as something that awaits future generations decades down the line. It is not just about sea level or temperatures rising a fraction at a time. As experts have warned, these changes happen incrementally. And as with everything that increases incrementally, it is unnoticed by all except the experts, till it crosses that threshold. After that, it would be unstoppable.
It would be a mistake to consider the situation to be one of climate alone. As devastating as they are, floods and droughts, heat and cold waves, etc. are only the direct effects.
Two discoveries in recent weeks indicate the associated dangers. Last month, a group of researchers found a class of rotifers (a microscopic multicellular organism) that was revivable despite being trapped inside Siberian permafrost for 24,000 years. A few days ago, another group of scientists published findings from their study of ice core samples taken from the Tibetan plateau, embedded in which they found genetic codes for 33 viruses – 28 of them ‘novel’ or previously unknown.
Coming as it does when the world is on its knees because of one novel coronavirus, despite coronaviruses being a family of viruses that is among the most researched, these findings should make us concerned about the dangers of unknown pathogens that could come back to life when the ice melts.
It is in this context that many are arguing that climate change is a dangerously deceptive misnomer. It implies a change that is gradual, almost glacial. This perhaps is the reason why the intergovernmental discussions are proceeding at an even slower pace, as if they are not dealing with a clear and present danger, but instead a mere plausibility like what language should humans use to communicate if an alien civilisation ever decides to reach out.
Many experts believe that what we are facing is not merely a change, but a climate catastrophe. In that context, tragic as it is, it perhaps helps that it was the Global North’s turn to experience the devastations. Because, as with every other crisis, redressal efforts are more earnest when the issue affects the influential. This was the moment of a rude awakening for the rich and the mighty countries of the world to realise that being financially and technologically advanced means precious little when facing the planet’s wrath.