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The Countdown Clock is Ticking


by Subroto Mukerji

The imminent demise of a species, of an entire


eco-system, indeed of an entire planet is not funny. It is no
laughing matter, with or without the excessive nitrous oxide
present in the atmosphere. Having failed to unearth any logic
that adequately explains our acceptance of the catastrophe,
we resort to a macabre sense of humour.
“That’s odd!” we observe. “The whole world knows
it’s going to pieces, but no one’s willing to do anything about
it!” Under such circumstances, (let us commiserate among
ourselves) black humour is the only way out. For having tried
—and failed miserably—to see any acceptable reason that
could serve to explain why we are deliberately committing
planetary hara kiri, we apparently feel we have no recourse
but to laugh our way to extinction.
It is a pathetic response, of course, unworthy of a
species that is blessed with so much potential. We don’t see
any real attempts at trying to divine some pattern behind the
madness, as we collectively sleepwalk to oblivion. ‘Cosmic
Darwinism’, murmur some wise soothsayers, who subscribe to
the theory that the process of natural selection and survival of
the fittest is universally applicable. The ‘Lemming Effect’,
mutter others, equally lost for answers. The truth may lie
somewhere in between. Or could it just be sheer laziness,
coupled with a feeling of individual impotence when
confronted with the choice of taking an active—and individual
—responsibility in creating a society that better serves our
ends?
There can be no doubt in my mind that earthmen
are still primitives, if ‘primitive’ means a lack of reverence for
one’s environment. To an interplanetary visitor, innocent to
our ways, the dominant species of the planet would appear to
be barbarians who were tired of living, sick of the twisted
values that they had created in their terminally-ill society, and
were now too dispirited, too apathetic, too anguished and too
shell-shocked to pull themselves together and embark on the
urgent task of repairing the environment they had
hedonistically sullied.
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None can deny that men are individually aware of
the near-irreparable damage that they have collectively
caused (and continue to cause) to their home planet, and of
the very real danger of human annihilation. For decades,
dozens of vociferous environmentalists such as Rachel Carson
and Gerald Durrell—to name but two—have been shouting
from the rooftops that the earth is moribund.
Environmentalists have mapped the areas that
need immediate remedial action, and have even sketched out
solutions. But selectivity, alas, appears to be the bane of the
human condition. We have selective memories, say the
shrinks. Now it appears we also an insanely lethal selectivity
of vision. Nothing else can explain why no one seems
particularly inclined to initiate stringent action at an apex
level to save the global ecosystem, the only approach by
which the process can now be reversed!
It seems we are so preoccupied with our silly
parochial priorities—it’s the territorially-oriented cave-man in
us—that we refuse to see what is staring us in the face: the
earth is dying. It is—and always was—our joint dominion, and
even if we despoil just a small section of it, we desecrate all of
it. Yet we wantonly insist on creating radioactive nuclear
waste with half-lives of thousands of years, and we see no
harm in then burying it in each other’s backyards.
We insist on unduly prolonging the lifespan of
geriatric internal combustion engines that burn fossil fuels
inefficiently, thereby releasing thousands of tons of toxic
hydrocarbons daily into the atmosphere, while the equivalent
of trillions of tons of petroleum goes waste in the form of solar
energy. Meanwhile, ice-caps are melting and oceans levels are
rising dangerously.
Then, as if to make things even more exciting,
every year we chop down thousands of square miles of
pristine equatorial rain forest that not only support medicinal
herbs capable of miracle cures, but are, in fact, vast oxygen
factories that are now losing the battle to counterbalance the
worst of the after-effects of industrial and automobile exhaust
pollution. It’s akin to a demoniacally-inspired overkill to excise
a man’s lungs, blithely fill his room with poisonous gases,
inject toxins into him and dispassionately videograph his
death throes, knowing all the while—at some subconscious
level—that the dying creature is Man himself!
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We are galactic litterbugs. From the heights of the
Himalayas to the depths of the oceans to light-years into outer
space, there could be few places in our ambit that are free
from human litter, much of it non-biodegradable. For example,
we have the threat from the innocuous plastic bag. Children
asphyxiate, cows in India choke, rivers get clogged, garbage
dumps overflow...but the cascade of plastic continues. Paper
bags are a fine solution...but what of the additional number of
trees felled to provide the paper for these bags? The key
word, again, is ‘bio-degradable’; shopping bags being
apparently indispensable, we need to find a better substitute
for paper.
Why not divert some funding from defense and
genetic research to this very real priority area? Biodegradable
plastic is a laboratory reality now; why not fund research into
processes that can commercialize this innovation? Similarly,
solar power needs to be widely commercialized now!
Want to bet that none of these areas get the
research funding they deserve? No? I thought as much.
What’s that you say...colossal conspiracy? Too much at stake,
eh? The gazillions of euros and greenbacks sunk into defense
systems and munitions works, petroleum refineries,
automobile plants, plastic factories, mega pharmaceutical
corporations...it could all go down the tube? They produce
specious arguments, do they? Global unemployment, social
upheaval...economic fallout. Heck, at the rate we’re going,
very soon there won’t be anyone left on the planet to cope
with the after-effects of such imaginative disaster scenarios.
But think: what if men returned—by common
consensus—to a saner way of life that championed basic
human values and promoted traditional medicare systems
that allow Nature to take a hand in the process by invoking
the curative power that lies untapped within the human mind?
What if disease itself became an aberration, and ripe old age
and death—when finally approached—were accepted with
reverence, instead of calamities to be avoided at all costs?
What if advertising stopped creating an inexhaustible appetite
for ‘luxuries’ we don’t need?
Couldn’t we return to the cleaner, saner way of life
of our remote ancestors who venerated the earth and lived in
harmony with it? What if surplus wealth thus unlocked was
redistributed so as to guarantee everyone an equal quantum
of human dignity, and freedom from hunger, ill-health, and
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fear? What if such a society preferred to think of itself as an
organic whole, seeing the welfare of one as the welfare of all?
This begs the question, why do we do it? Why do
we tolerate corrupt world leaders who see war as a means of
propping up an ailing economy? What kind of warped society
attacks another just to annex, by force of arms, that which is
mankind’s common heritage, to be used for the benefit of all?
Why do we tolerate the criminal mindset that oversees the
ruthless exploitation of the environment, ruins our health, and
then makes us pay through our noses for medical attention?
Why do we allow obsolete machinery to power our vehicles,
while alternate technologies that offer cleaner options are
often marginalized?
When will we stand up for ourselves, opt to share
equitably, and live happily and tolerantly with all inhabitants
of the planet? When will we stop taking the earth for granted?
When will we see it happen? When??
The time to act is Now! It’s now or never, as Elvis
Presley sang (although in another — albeit just as worthy —
context). No one needs to be reminded that the Hippies — the
flower children — had the right slant on things. ‘Make love,
not war,’ they sang. ‘Give Peace a chance,’ they chanted. I
have a hunch that had we handed over the earth to these
beautiful and simple people, it might have been a much better
place to live in than what it is now, despite those who would
shudder delicately at the (purely academic) social or
economic consequences of such a decision. I’d say that it just
goes to show how blind we have chosen to become. What
makes us think that things are any better now?
The countdown clock is ticking away. Do
something, earthlings! Quickly. Before everything you value
blows up in your faces. Tomorrow may be too late...

Subroto Mukerji 

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