A cyclone battered Odisha last week, killing at least 38 people. It was one of only three summer cyclones that have battered the region over the last 150 years. But as the process of climate change accelerates and the Bay of Bengal gets warmer, more extreme weather events are expected.
There were other warning signs too. In Andhra Pradesh, temperatures crossed the 46-degree mark, with three dead and hundreds suffering from heat stroke. All around India, water is running out. In addition, a new report that paints a distressing picture of the impact humans have had on our planet says that climate change is not just hurting nature but also threatening genetic diversity.
Yet, as more than a few people have pointed out, India’s one-and-a-half month long election has not seen much attention devoted to climate change, even though – or perhaps because – it is one of the most urgent problems of our time.
As writer Omair Ahmad notes, it is possible to view almost all the main issues being discussed during the elections, from poverty to extremism to employment, as being a function or outcome of climate change. Yet no politician speaks its name.
Of course, the manifestos of both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress have dedicated some space to the issue. The BJP document focuses on renewable energy and a “green bonus” to states for forest conversation, while the Congress promises to restore the country’s water bodies.
But much of this seemed perfunctory and does not take into account the wide-ranging effects of climate change. One report, for example, estimates that climate change has slowed the growth of India’s Gross Domestic Product by 30% over the last 50 years. As practically every study points out, the poor are hit the hardest.
This is not some unnamed threat, like nuclear war, that Indians cannot see. Already, the effects of climate change are all around and are ruining millions of lives.
It now falls on politicians and others in public office to help Indians understand that seemingly disparate indicators, from increased extreme weather events to deteriorating soil to the declining water table, all stem from the same phenomenon.
The United Kingdom attempted an exercise of this sort this month when it declared a “climate emergency”. While some believe efforts of this sort are mere tokenism, any official mandate that forces government to outline its efforts to mitigate climate change and to stick to these aims will assist in altering outcomes.
India undoubtedly has a huge number of problems to address, not least among them widespread poverty and unemployment. But the painfully obvious intrusion of Cyclone Fani on the election season should remind politicians and voters that climate change is too important a concern to be drowned out by communal politics and distracting discussions about the record of prime ministers from decades ago.