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Melting ice sheets, climate change and hermit crabs

By OP Rana | China Daily | Updated: 2020-09-21 07:22
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A group of chinstrap penguins huddle on top of an iceberg floating near Lemaire Channel in Antarctica. UESLEI MARCELINO/REUTERS

Development, by its very nature, comes with challenges. And economic development, since it is based on exploitation of resources, particularly natural resources, comes with its varied sets and subsets of major and minor challenges. In the history of the human pursuit of economic development, the world has faced a world of challenges, many gigantic in scale. Indeed, the novel coronavirus pandemic is one such challenge.

Yet the ongoing pandemic may not be the worst challenge we face despite its devastating impact over the past seven odd months, not least because the world community, together or separately, is working furiously to find a cure or a vaccine to subdue it, if not altogether bring it to heel.

By nature, humans are overwhelmed by events that have immediate impacts and are more often than not fail to process a slow developing reality that could have a catastrophic effect on their lives in the long term. Climate change is one such reality, although it has started having immediate impacts.

Apart from the frequent droughts, dry rainy seasons, unusually heavy rainfall, and increasing heat and cold waves, climate change is becoming increasingly visible in retreating glaciers and melting ice sheets. The breaking off of a 115-square-kilometer chunk of ice, about twice the size of Manhattan, in Greenland, the Arctic's largest remaining sheet of ice, earlier this week is the latest in what has sadly become a regular feature at the two poles.

As usual, scientists and environmentalists have again voiced fears over the rapid disintegration of the ice sheets, and they have enough reasons to do so because the Arctic's melt has been contributing more than 1 millimeter rise to sea levels every year.

The last few years have been exceptionally damaging for the Arctic and Antarctic. This year, with the world struggling to cope with the pandemic, the unbearable summer heat escaped most people's attention, especially because many places including Beijing saw unusually frequent and at times heavy rainfall.

Yet the Northern Hemisphere just had its hottest summer on record, with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration saying that it was not only the hottest summer, but also the third-hottest three-month season on record with August being the second-hottest month ever.

For the rising temperatures look no further than the usual suspects-burning of fossil fuels and deforestation to meet artificially created demand and consumption.

What could have contributed to the rising temperatures are the fires raging at very high levels through the Amazon in Brazil for the second consecutive year, which have raised concerns that the destruction of world's largest rainforest could reach a point of no return. Especially because the Brazilian government's measures to check illegal fires have had little or no impact in a country where most of the fires in the Amazon are set by land-grabbers and wildcat ranchers to transform parts the forest into lucrative agricultural enterprises. And August was particularly destructive for the Amazon as the National Spatial Research Institute's incomplete data showed 29,307 fires in the Brazilian Amazon.

Add to that the destructive wildfires in the United States, and last year's forest fires in Australia and we have a recipe for climate cataclysm.

In such circumstances, the painstaking efforts of countries like China to expand their green cover will be of little avail to mitigate climate effects.

Indeed, with a whopping 25 percent contribution to global green cover in the recent past, China has done much more than the developed nations to combat climate change.

Extreme temperatures are calamitous when it comes to environmental impact. As CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller said, "the impacts (of climate change) are particularly dangerous in the Northern Hemisphere during its summer". It is no coincidence, Miller, said, that California, Oregon and Washington are having record-shattering fire years in the year that the Northern Hemisphere temperatures are at their hottest.

Notably, the Southern Hemisphere's winter was the third-warmest in the entire 141-year record.

But all this is of little import to the big businesses and irresponsible governments catering to those big businesses that are fuelling global warming.

And why not? Those leading the planet toward another mass extinction live in their self-created world, hopping from one air-conditioned, climate change-denying bubble to another, where they are immune to rising heat, deaf to the call of the world, blind to the devastation they are causing.

Maybe they believe that by the time the Earth implodes, they or their progenies would be safe in the cocoons they would have built by then on another planet. Maybe they believe themselves to be hermit crabs-which need the empty shells of other humans to survive.

The author is a senior editor with China Daily.

If you have a specific expertise and would like to contribute to China Daily, please contact us at opinion@chinadaily.com.cn , and comment@chinadaily.com.cn

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