Our comfort, our crisis: How modern conveniences are heating up our planet

We often talk about sustainability and environmental protection, but our actions frequently contradict these ideals. When we engage in intrapersonal communication to understand the scenario, can we honestly say we’ve contributed positively?

| Updated: 30 May, 2024 6:34 pm IST

Can one step change the world? Consider this: why is the heat wave increasing? Why is climate change becoming an extreme concern for today and the future? We often talk about sustainability and environmental protection, but our actions frequently contradict these ideals. When we engage in intrapersonal communication to understand the scenario, can we honestly say we’ve contributed positively? How many trees have you planted? One, two, three, or perhaps none? You know the answer very well.

Imagine a world devoid of trees, a barren landscape where the air is thick with pollutants and the temperature is constantly unbearable. Trees are not only a source of beauty but vital for maintaining the balance of our ecosystem.

In India, the ownership of air conditioners has tripled since 2010, reaching 24 units per 100 households due to rising heat and increased incomes. Consequently, electricity consumption for space cooling surged by 21% between 2019 and 2022. Nearly 10% of electricity demand in India now stems from cooling requirements. In the current scenario, living without air conditioning seems unimaginable. Additionally, we use air-conditioned cars for travel, fully aware of the environmental harm but unwilling to compromise on comfort.

Gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles emit significant amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other harmful pollutants, contributing to air pollution, global warming, and climate change. The consequences of these emissions are evident in rising sea levels, extreme weather events, and ecological imbalances.

The human cost of environmental neglect

I want to share a personal experience that highlights the disparity in our treatment of those who contribute to environmental cleanliness. On a scorching afternoon, I witnessed an air conditioner user berating a ragpicker from her balcony. The ragpicker was working in extreme temperatures, picking up trash from the road. The woman yelled, “Can’t you see, boy? Who will pick up this bottle and trash? Do your job properly.” At that moment, I was struck by how someone could be so rude to a person working for our cleanliness and environment. I offered the ragpicker a cold drink, which he gratefully accepted, thanking me sincerely.

Today, more than 80% of us use mobile phones, increasing the radiation around us and contributing to heat. Additionally, we travel by car, use plastic instead of paper, and the number of air conditioning consumers rises daily. We waste water unnecessarily by washing our cars and bikes daily and splashing water in front of our houses. Climate change, predominantly caused by burning fossil fuels and exacerbated by human interference, is making heatwaves hotter and more frequent worldwide.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), heatwaves that once occurred every ten years without human-caused warming are now likely to occur 2.8 times more often (or once every 3.6 years) and are 1.5 ºC warmer due to climate change caused by burning fossil fuels. A 2021 report reveals that more than 99.9% of peer-reviewed scientific papers agree that climate change is mainly human-caused, based on a survey of 88,125 climate-related studies.

“We are virtually certain that the consensus is well over 99% now and that it’s pretty much closed for any meaningful public conversation about the reality of human-caused climate change,” says Mark Lynas, a visiting fellow at the Alliance for Science and the paper’s first author. “It’s critical to acknowledge the principal role of greenhouse gas emissions so that we can rapidly mobilize new solutions, since we are already witnessing in real time the devastating impacts of climate-related disasters on businesses, people, and the economy,” said Benjamin Houlton, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Heatwaves have become increasingly frequent in India due to climate change. The recent heatwave in North India, with temperatures nearing 50 degrees Celsius in some areas, is a stark example. The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) issued a red alert for several states, including Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarat. Climate researchers explain that heat waves occur when high pressure in the atmosphere forces hot air downward and traps it near the ground, preventing it from rising and causing temperatures to soar further.

And who suffers the most? Our street vendors who sell vegetables and fruits from morning till noon, our farmers who provide our food, traffic police officers, and the economically weaker sectors who cannot afford air conditioners or even coolers to make their environment bearable, do you think about them? Earlier data clearly indicates that our actions are harming ourselves and others by using items that damage our environment.

Children living on the streets smile, unaware that those from whom they seek help are the ones contributing to environmental harm, making life harder for them. It is time to seriously think about this issue, take it seriously, and stop using products that harm our environment and cause heat waves. People are suffering and dying because of this.

Let’s take an oath to “sacrifice our comfort for our environment.” Let’s promise each other to plant at least five trees on the upcoming Environment Day on June 5th. “Happy Environment, Happy Us.”

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