If 4.5 billion years of the earth's creation is reduced to a 24-hour clock frame, we get a real sense of the history of life of earth as we know it. If midnight is taken as 0 hour, or formation of our planet, up until 3 am, there are just meteorite bombardments. Then between 3am and 4 am, we get the magic that leads to the origin of life. A little after noon, we get greater magic, and by 2.08 pm, we get single-celled algae. By 8.28 pm, we get seaweeds. We hit dinosaurs, which in our time is over 65 million years ago, only at 10.56 pm. Mammals arrive at 11.39 pm and humans at 11:58:43, by our time about 2 million years for hominids and about 100,000 years for homo-sapiens. So we did not even need an hour to ruin things; for a 4.5 billion-year-old planet, we took roughly a minute and 17 seconds.
We are in the middle of the sixth mass extinction. WWF has warned that at this rate of species die-outs, we are set to lose close to 75% of all species in the coming decade. Climate change is here, while we fight in the sand box over whether we humans are responsible or not. Really?
Fine, put aside climate change for a moment and all the brilliant evidence many hundreds of brilliant scientists have collected over the years to tell us we are the problem (after all, they only have years of studying and degrees and knowledge, but what do they know?) Let us look at straight facts that affect us every day. Are your cities polluted? Yes. Water bodies drying up, dying, dead, polluted, toxic? Yes. Forests vanishing? Yes. Species dying? Yes. Raise hands, you lot in the sand box, if you agree we are responsible at least for all of this. Because if you are going to sit around like Mr Trump who insists that the Endangered Species Act is a failure because it has not stopped the number of endangered species from increasing, and wants to get rid of it, you can aspire to become President of the United States.
Back in reality, however, while switching off the lights this evening, think of some major horrible decisions happening all around the world.
In India, the government wants more forests open for coal exploration. Summer is charging down towards us, and there is already severe water shortage, but no plan in sight. Several huge elections just took place, two of them in two really large important states, Punjab, where the overuse of pesticides has pretty much poisoned everything from food to water sources, where the annual burning of the fields causes an airpocalypse in Delhi every winter. Years of agriculture expansion has swallowed most wetlands, grasslands and forests, ruining water security and enabling species die-outs. In UP, India's most populous state, the river Ganga is dying, been declared a cancer- causing river, while over 200 million people need clean air and water, or at least the constitution says they do. Bundelkhand will once more be a hell on earth with no water, and hence no food, and the hard-parched earth will literally burn. Here, too, wetlands and grasslands have vanished and wildlife habitat is sinking. But in all the election rallies, everyone was busy figuring out who was what caste and who followed which God.
In my other home, South Africa, it's been a horrible three/year drought. Where I live, Cape Town, they have declared a water emergency and severe water restrictions are in place. Wild fires invariably set by human stupidity, greed or down-right evil have ravaged huge swathes of wilderness, literally cooking animals that could not get away alive. Rhinos are dying every day as are elephants. Killed by poachers. In the United States, Congress has just passed a bill that will allow absolutely venal hunting practices including killing bears and wolves in their dens with their cubs and pups while they hibernate.
But I guess a world that actually swallows the concept of "collateral damage" in war can't be too engaged with nature, can it?
They say it's darkest before dawn, so let us hope that when we switch of our lights at least in a symbolic moment in which to remember that this planet is our only home, the lights come back on in more ways than one.
(Swati Thiyagarajan is an Environment Editor with NDTV. She is at present writing a book "Born Wild", her show on NDTV, on her experiences with conservation and wildlife both in India and Africa, to be published by Bloomsbury.)
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