ABP News, the popular Hindi news channel, recently published Devinder Sharma’s searing condemnation of conventional thinking on environmentally unsustainable economic growth. It is reproduced in full here. Devinder writes:
Sizzling at 51 degrees celsius, Phalodi, a small town in Rajasthan, has set the country’s new all-time record for hottest temperature. In any case April turns out to be the hottest month ever, the 7th month in a row when temperatures have exceeded what had been the highest recorded so far. This is not a record to be proud of but is an indication of how economic growth has created an atmosphere where chopping a tree does not evoke any concern.
The rise in temperatures is indirectly proportionate to the decimation of green cover. The more the chopping of trees, the higher is the temperature. I have never felt what it is like to be in 51 degrees but have lived in northwest areas which have often exceeded temperature hikes of 47 degrees. Even in such temperature extremes, the moment I pass through a cluster of trees a wave of relatively cold breeze is such a great feeling. The temperature difference is striking. At least, a difference of 2 to 3 degrees between a dense tree shade and what you feel when you are on a highway.
Even in a concrete jungle like New Delhi, where the scorching temperature exceeding 47 degrees is biting enough, imagine the soothing effect if an increased green cover had brought the average temperature down by 3 to 4 degrees.
In a desperate race to achieve a higher growth rate, chopping a tree does not anymore evoke any reaction. It is considered an inevitable price that has to be paid for development. Ruthless chopping of trees in metros and elsewhere to pave way for infrastructure projects, expansion of highways from two-lane to four lane, and from four-lane to six-lane, and the disappearing of water bodies and cutting down of trees for residential complexes has led to what is called as urban ‘heat island’ effect. Cities and towns are increasingly becoming ‘heat islands’. The higher the concentration of concrete buildings/structures, the more is the ability to absorb solar radiation.
The National Green Tribunal has recently served a notice to Punjab government for the axing of 96,000 trees to widen a 200-km long road stretch between Zirakpur and Bathinda. But to my dismay I haven’t seen any form of public protests or citizens’ outrage over such a large scale felling of trees. We have quietly accepted that trees have to be axed for the sake of development.
As I have often said that if a tree is standing, the GDP does not go up but if you chop down a tree, the GDP goes up. Now it is our choice whether you want a higher GDP by cutting down trees or you want a kind of development where trees become part of sustainable living.
The Neem Foundation tells us that temperature below a fully grown neem tree is often 10 degrees less. I read an interesting article in The New Indian Express (April 24, 2016) where the author tells us the difference in temperature between green patches and the city centre in several cities. In Bangalore for instance the difference in temperature prevailing at the GKVK Agricultural University and just outside the campus is four degrees. Even when the temperature in the Majestic bus stand was 35 to 36 degrees, it was around 32 degrees in a nearby park.
According to a study by Prof T V Ramchandra and his team of the Energy & Wetlands Research Group Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore city has seen a rapid expansion in urban growth. In 2012, the researchers estimated that the built-up area had grown by a whopping 584 per cent over the preceding four decades. This obviously came at a heavy price. Vegetation cover declined by 66 per cent and 74 per cent of the water bodies disappeared. Bangalore no longer carries the same charm as it used to earlier. I have heard many residents complain of the haphazard growth. But then who cares. After all, it is urbanization that the mainline economists and planners are always pushing for. People are being made to believe that concrete jungles are the future, if they have to develop.
IndiaSpend, a data-driven and public-interest journalism group, has analysed the IISc study in a form that can be easily understood. Accordingly, four major cities in the country have seen a rapid decimation of its green cover. Bhopal tree cover fell from 66 per cent to 22 per cent in the past 22 years. Now this is something too serious to worry about. Instead, by 2018, which means another three years, the green cover in Bhopal will come down to 11 per cent. You can surely call it a sign of growth but don’t complain when the temperatures soar to record breaking levels. Ahmedabad has only 24 per cent of its green cover left, coming down from 46 per cent in the past two decades. But hold your breath. If you are living in Ahmedabad or plan to translocate to this city, think again. By 2030, Ahmedabad will be left with only 3 per cent of its green cover. Kolkata too will be left with a green cover of 3.7 per cent by the year 2030, and Hyderabad will have only 1.84 per cent of its tree cover left by the year 2024, which is not far away. The rate of speedy urbanization is clearly leading to a massive erosion of what is called as green lungs of a city. The rise in temperature is therefore a natural outcome.
The combined effect of urbanization is what is leading to soaring temperatures. Considering that urbanization is the easiest way to enhance GDP growth, I see no reason why people should be complaining. You asked for it.