Monday, June 08, 2009

World environment day: a late contribution.

On the evening we spent in the Himlayan Homestay houses the four of us in our house had a long discussion with our hosts and translator/guide from the Snow Leopard Conservancy. Somewhat unexpectedly we found ourselves discussing global environmental problems and climate change. The Ladakhi people in rural areas live on the whole in very small villages, largely dependent on their livestock for wool, dairy products and fuel, plus the small amount of barley and potatoes that they cultivate during the short summer, apples, apricots and a few other goods traditionally traded for but now mostly bought in Leh town. They remain self-sufficient to an impressive level, and an unusual one in this globalised era, which I suppose is an essential survival technique if you live in a place cut off by snow for 6 months of the year.

Or at least it was. Now, in Ulley village at least, the roads open a full 2 months earlier than previously. Good on the one front, as it allows them better access to town and the facilities therein, but bad - very bad in fact - in that it represents a much smaller annual snowfall. The snow is their only source of water; as it melts it irrigates their fields and feeds the grass that feeds their livestock. The glacier above the village, a fail-safe source of water for time immemorial, is visibly shrinking. Our guide, Jigmet, was seriously concerned.

Do I have to spell out why the glacier is melting? Do I have to point out that it has very little to do with the way of life of the people to whom it represents their entire livelihood? Do I have to add that it has everything to do with our lifestyle? Do I have to remind us that there is no emergency exit on this particular spacecraft and that sooner or later this is going to catch up with us when we find we can no longer buy our way out of trouble?

I acknowledge my part in this problem. Our summer holiday involves a trans-continental flight from which our share of carbon emissions are over 6 tonnes. For our trip to Portugal, I have checked out ferries and trains as an alternative to flying: they are so much more expensive that I cannot justify the extra expense. It was the same last summer. Please, I would like an alternative.

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