The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the first instalment of the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) on August 9th, 2021. The report findings conclude that the entirety of the climate change experienced since the late-1800s has been caused by human activity. Well, I’m sure you are reminded of climate change and global warming from at least 10 different media outlets a week, and sometimes by your own guilty conscience. And I am just like you. 

Don’t you sometimes wish you could live your life to the fullest and leave the future generations to fend for themselves? It’s a disgusting thought, but you can’t entirely blame me for it. The immensity of these problems is incapacitating. Their complexity is just as crippling. We are all products of this ruined earth and have been engines of its degradation. And when it comes around to fixing it, it’s an understatement when I say I don’t know where to begin.  

So, let’s start small. With one tree. Sorry to remind you of pre-pandemic freedom, but when you took road trips, do you remember seeing this thin, pale, candlestick-like tree on the sides of highways? I clearly remember, on the road from Dehradun to Delhi, they were planted in boulevard-style, but on the way from Chennai to Masinagudi, they were clustered awkwardly in the midst of flat rice fields. This one species is probably the biggest reminder of the British colonization of Indian forests. Centuries-old biodiversity of our sub-continent’s rich natural vegetation was destroyed to make room for its plantations.

It is a puzzle to me, the eucalyptus. I’ll try to explain why.

First, it is popularly conceived to be a water guzzler, i.e., a tree that takes a lot of water and leaves nothing for surrounding vegetation. So much so that in 2017 Karnataka enforced a ban on its plantation, a step that Tamil Nadu and Kerala followed soon.

But in reality, research has found the trees’ water consumption is lowest if compared to many other trees and agricultural crops. Eucalyptus is xerophytic in nature, i.e., suited and adapted to dry climates. This is the reason why the tree remains green and healthy, while other vegetation dries during seasons of low rainfall.

So, it makes sense to grow more of this tree (afforestation is the way to go). After all, with every hectare of eucalyptus planted, land productivity rises exponentially, farmers get increased returns, employment opportunities are opened and the wood and pulp industry is supported. Eucalyptus is a livelihood for the rural population, something that would be very difficult to replace elsewhere.

But we must not forget that at the end of the day, we are only planting one tree. This plantation would be homogenous, lacking in the diversity of a full-fledged ecosystem. Heterogeneity of any natural forest is what contributes to the mitigation of global warming, and it is very hard to replicate artificially once destroyed.

See? Just when you think you’ve solved one problem, you’re faced with another one. Raise this cycle of contradictions to the power of infinity, and you’ve got the global crisis we face today.

The solution is complicated as well.

In an ideal world, all nations, irrespective of their economic or developmental status, would work together in reducing further damage to the earth. But we have not reached the ‘dance around the fire and sing Kumbaya’ stage yet. In the real world, allegations are thrown around, responsibility is avoided, and time is wasted.

A developed country is far too comfortable to care for change; the developing ones are so close to their American dreams that they might as well ignore the environment for a few more years (more like decades, but shhh!), and the underdeveloped nations cannot be bothered by CO2 emissions while their populations are starving.

Nobody stops for a second to revisit the documents they signed to fully understand the meaning of Sustainable Development.

And during all this, I stand, painfully aware that I am the future generation that the one before mine has left to fend for itself. I oscillate between activism and resignation, ready to make a change and realising that I am barely leaving a dent. But in those times, I remind myself that individual change when put together is still more impactful than inactive governments. With that, I leave you to make your own understanding of the problem and take those small steps, even if it is to safeguard your own sanity. 

Aru Shukla, Chettinad Harishree Vidyalayam, Chennai


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