A few years back when an expat living in Delhi named Gardiner Harris wrote an article critiquing the dismal quality of Delhi’s air, it enraged many Indians. The New York Times correspondent’s article delineating his son’s struggle to take a breath of life in the country’s capital, personified a problem that is largely ignored by most of us. His article offended many Indians who took to Facebook and Twitter to register their frustration. But this incident begs the answer to the questions: Why are we less outraged by the deplorable quality of the air in our cities that extract a very personal cost for living? Are we really that imperceptive that we cannot see the thick cloud of smog hanging over our cities like doom? Are we that unaware of the cost we pay to live in cities ravaged by air pollution?
The ever rising temperatures, the drastic change in the cycle of seasons, the bone-shaking cold, and the rising sea levels are all alarming consequences of the excessive accumulation of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) in our atmosphere that should be enough to jerk us awake from our slumber. These greenhouse gases contribute to global warming and thus, air pollution and climate change are inseparable phenomenon with each leading to the other. Ejected by cars, power plants, planes and other means of burning fossil fuels, the greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, methane and CFCs are warming the surface of the earth with significant ramifications for rainfall, retreat of glaciers and sea ice to name a few.
The damaging effects of extreme climate change can be seen in the boost of deadly diseases that has put the health of millions of people around the world at risk. Heatwaves, floods, and biting cold kill thousands every year. New mutated forms of viruses and bacterias like zika virus and swine flu that have devoured many lives over the years are a harrowing consequence of changing climate. Furthermore, the thick blanket of polluted air is one of the nation’s largest killer after high blood pressure, smoking and malnutrition. We are not just breathing bad air but there is a host of diseases born from it- like respiratory infections, cardiovascular diseases and lung cancer that take millions of lives annually.
Changes in climate are also affecting the intensity and frequency of forest fires thereby adding to the pollution of the air and simultaneously destroying ecological communities. Moreover, the combined effects of air pollution and climate change are adversely affecting ecosystems including agriculture. The damage to crops because of extreme weather conditions threatens hunger for millions. And if that’s not enough to enrage us and drive us to action then perhaps we ought to prepare ourselves for a post-apocalyptic world of George Miller’s Mad Max and Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, only there is going to be no hero saving us from our downfall.
Our inaction in halting and reducing the causes of emission and avoiding the approaching crisis results from our materialist zeal for development. For example, the demand for reduction in thermal power plants across the country is often met with the dilemma of causing a roadblock in the economic growth of the country. The ever-increasing number of cars and other vehicles on our roads are a result of us prioritising comfort over safeguarding our atmosphere. Hence, we keep falling deeper and deeper into the spiral of inactivity and continue to harm the very planet that is our home. However, it’s high time we choose because the air that sustains us is getting poisoned with every passing second and soon time will slip from our hands like the dust we see everywhere today.
Are we that unaware of the cost we pay to live in cities ravaged by air pollution?