Saturday, 2 March, 2024

Saving Himalayas From Global Warming

Shrawan Sharma

It is obvious that nature can't speak. It, however, reacts. The magnitude of its reaction largely depends on how severely it has been exploited. For instance, Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest) is melting fast. A recent study published in the Nature Portfolio Journal Climate and Atmospheric Science states South Col glacier, one of the sunniest spots on the earth, has turned from snowpack to ice, resulting in rapid melting and increased sublimation. It has lost its ability to reflect solar radiation. An assessment of the ice core drilled from the glacier at an altitude of 8,000 metres showed that the ice that took 2,000 years to form has melted in 30 years, with the rise in temperature. 

 Scientists have proved that human encroachment upon Sagarmatha and the pollution there is beyond control. Nepal has responsibility to conserve the Himalayas as they are crucial to lessen global warming. Nepal’s two prominent ethnic groups - Kirat and Hindus revere the Himalayas as abodes of the Lord Shiva. For the Buddhist Sherpas, the mountain is sacred and deserves respect and dignity. The indigenous communities venerate the nature as God. 

 Salman Rushdie hails the Himalaya as “land’s attempt to metamorphose into sky.” Scientific studies show that the Himalayas were formed 50 million years ago, thus they have been considered infant, fragile and weak.

The Glory
Generally, the Himalayas are the highest peak of mountains. Great ancient poet Kalidasha described the Himalayas in metaphysical sense, terming them as devatma (guardian-angel). He was of the view that the Himalayas have spirit though they look rocky. The Hindu mythologies have presented the Himalayas as conscious living creatures. The Western world perceives the Himalayas as a place of optimum adventure. Now, the Westerners see the mountains in terms of climatic variant, precipitation and temperature determinants.

Mountains create different climatic and ecological zones. The climate ranges from tropical at the base to snow at the highest elevation. The dearth of information on the paleoclimate, scientists have been unable to trace the climate change impact on the Himalayas in ancient times. The cryosphere study is yet to undertake to find the volume of snow on Himalayas. An isotopic method of research can find out several mysteries associated with mountains.
Before the ascent of Sagaramatha by Tenzing Norgay Sherpa and Edmund Hillary, the Himalayas remained absolutely unscathed from human interferences. To date, more than 4,000 climbers have stood atop the world’s highest peak. As of 2019, over 300 people have breathed their last on the mountain. Nowadays more and more people want to conquer the roof of the world but this trend has polluted the mountain beyond repair, drawing the attention of national and international media. The National Geographic has made a satirical comment: "Everest is so overcrowded and full of trash that it has been called the “world’s highest garbage dump.”  

Each climber produces some eight kg of waste. During the peak season, around 500 climbers scale Mt. Everest daily. As the climbers relieve openly on the mountain, the entire watershed system of the mountain has remained polluted with human waste and other litter. Thousands of tons of garbage such as plastics, oxygen cylinders, cans, food wrappers, tents, unattended bodies of climbers, batteries and human waste are scattered here and there. Owing to unfavourable weather, the trash collection is very difficult and tricky. This environmental pollution has further fuelled temperature in the heated mountains. 

Although Nepal's contribution to carbon dioxide production is almost zero, the country is bearing the brunt of global warming caused by developed countries and the newly emerged industrialised nations like India and China. A person from the Himalayan region said: “If Nepal fails to protect mountains, we should display a tablet with an epitaph that here once stood Mt. Everest". In this backdrop, Nepal government has to proactively set the agenda of Himalayas in international climate change negotiations.

Effective strategy
To protect Sagarmatha from the impact of climate change, Nepal should formulate proper guidelines to permit only selected climbers to scale it. Only a limited number of expedition teams should be granted permit so as to reduce the unnecessary crowd on the mountain. Similarly, effective mechanism and strategy should be in place to clean up the peak. Nonetheless, a strong political decision is imperative to unveil policies and implement them in an effective manner.

 Similarly, people’s right to Himalayas should be guaranteed through incorporating a provision in the constitution. Constitutional right of the Himalayas recognises that the ecosystem has the right to exist, flourish, regenerate and evolve. The constitution obliges both the government and the people to respect this provision lest the Himalayas will be confined to history and science books. 

The Himalayas have been vital source of water for big and small rivers in South Asia. The pristine Himalayan glaciers feed the rivers, floras and faunas and serve as lifeline to biodiversity, animals and microorganisms. As Nepal’s constitution has ensured the right to environment, the people have the right to get fresh water, air and food. If the environment itself is not healthy and the primary form of the nature is disturbed and damaged, how can the people exercise their ecological right? Therefore, the provision of the right of Himalayas should be incorporated in the statute.

Famous political scientist Karl W Deutsch says: "The water we drink, the air we breathe, the safety of our streets… all these are bound up with the political decisions." Eventually, our pride in the Himalayan ranges is waiting for a relevant and rational political spirit to let the mountains exist and keep up their image of creature for eternity where our progeny feel proud that their ancestors saved the nature. Patrick Henry says: "Give me liberty, or give me death." So is the nature that crying for survival. It is up to us whether to give it life or death.

(Sharma is associated with right of nature campaign)