We all know that crisis is looming on us and we need to have more environmental literacy. These are 4 books that can help you get some sense of what’s happening around.
Excreta Matters by Sunita Narain (Centre for Science & Environment): Published in 2012, this report, which is also available as a Student’s special edition book, details out the race to the bottom for Indian cities – the bottom of the water table. The report has detailed surveys for 71 Indian cities, of which 11 are completely dependent on groundwater. A chilling sentence from the book reminds us “We all live downstream” and then reminds us that 33% of the total riverine length in India is unfit for bathing and drinking, primarily due to man-made reasons. This book is your go-to source for some hard hitting data about the looming water crisis in India.
The Great Derangement by Amitav Ghosh (Penguin): “Are we deranged?” is the opening premise of this latest in non-fiction from one of the finest writers in India. Clinically dissecting the global warming issue across three lenses-literature, history and politics, Ghosh lays bare the flaws in our ‘modern thinking’ that encourages humanity to believe that living closer to the sea is a sign of prosperity. The book explores the history behind how human settlements, ignoring centuries of wisdom, migrated closer to the coast, under the false security of industrial development. The Fukushima nuclear disaster due to a tsunami in 2011 is an ugly reminder of what can go wrong when we ignore the warning of our ancestors.
The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert (Bloomsbury): The earth has seen five mass extinctions in its history. These five extinctions were caused due to natural cause (glaciation, meteor crash, and so on). The Pulitzer winning author argues that we are in the midst of the Sixth (mass) Extinction-and this time it is man-made! A deeply researched book that looks into what evolution experts like Darwin & Cuvier discovered and then links to present day Anthropocene data points, the book presents a realistic dooms day picture that our kids will likely face in their life time. Consider this – the CO2 content in the air today is the highest in the past 800,000 years and by the end of this century, the CO2 level in Antarctica will be the same as it was 50 million years ago-when there was no ice in Antarctica! For kids born this week, they will be a little above 80 years of age when this happens.
An Eye at the Top of the World by Pete Takeda (Basic Books): A book with such a bizarre plot that it is difficult to believe that this happened in India, and, in its wake, left behind a catastrophe that is waiting to happen. Pete Takeda, an American mountaineer, traces the path that a joint India-America secret mission took in 1965-66 to install a spying device on Nanda Devi to keep an eye on China. With satellite surveillance still not developed, the unlikely allies decided that a team of mountaineers would climb the Nanda Devi and install the spying device. A small detail that is important for us to note is that the spying device named SNAP was powered by 2 Kg of radioactive nuclear grade Plutonium. The team, led by Capt. M.S. Kohli, could not reach the peak due to inclement weather and on Oct 16th 1965, decided to abort the mission. They, however, left the Plutonium powered SNAP behind, so that they could install it when the team climbs again in the summer of 1966. In the spring of 1966, when a team went back, the SNAP had disappeared! 2 kg of radioactive Plutonium had disappeared somewhere in the icy depths of the Nanda Devi-whose glaciers from a source of the Ganga. In 1978, the then Prime Minister Morarji Desai made it public in the Parliament that the SNAP had indeed disappeared in 1966, and carries risk of contaminating the Ganga. It is yet to be discovered. With global warming melting our glaciers, is that day far when the SNAP will disintegrate into the mouth of the Ganga, contaminating the river forever. Remember, we all live downstream!