Monday, December 2, 2013
There is a tiny beetle that furniture makers dread because it severely damages old wood. It is called Death-watch Beetle because it makes a sound, like a clock ticking. This is actually a mating call, made by the creature knocking its head against the wood. But people in olden days believed that the unseen clock of life was ticking to announce impending death in the family. That superstition may have gone, but not the ticking of time. With continuous activities that threaten the entire planet, humans have become death-watch beetles, knocking our heads against Nature to announce our own impending end.
Look at the visible death of our rivers at the hands of the sand mafia. This lobby is so powerful that officials who occasionally try to stop illegal sand lorries are run over by the lorries. In no state has the sand mafia been controlled yet. Look also at the Western Ghats that stretch from Gujarat to Kerala. This is the lifeline of the south. The mother of rivers, this majestic mountain range tames the monsoon clouds and makes them drop the rains that keep the region lush and productive.
But the Ghats have been under attack and the consequences are grim. Rain patterns have changed, so have the seasons. Temperatures have been rising and winds that used to blow with clocklike precision have turned erratic. But those who attack the Ghats are undeterred. Forest trees, minerals, granite, resorts and land-grabbing are all that matter to them. A sumptuous mountain on the Malabar side is being surveyed by a Karnataka company preliminary to starting mining operations. According to published reports in Kerala, a former CPM minister gave rights to the company for a 5-crore bribe. If the company goes ahead with its plans, the mountain will disappear in no time.
Astonishingly, when two committees recently produced reports aimed at saving the Western Ghats, Kerala, alone among the six affected states, exploded into violence. A Christian priest went so far as to publicly warn of a Jallianwalla Baug massacre in Kerala. The protests were in the name of saving farmers from being evicted from their lands. No committee has proposed any eviction. Proposals only aim at stopping large-scale industries and businesses from opening afresh in the Ghats. So the aggrieved parties are miners, resort developers and the like. Obviously the "farmers" and their champions are fighting someone else's battle.
They may well succeed and the Western Ghats may soon become a barren stretch. The death-watch beetle is ticking away. Man, the only animal with the ability to make choices, is making choices that will lead only to one outcome: His doom. There are other intelligent animals around, the elephant for example. Why is it that only human intelligence developed to the point where Right could be distinguished from Wrong and the individual would consciously choose the Wrong?
A rather radical answer is provided in a new book, Denial: Self-Deception, Fake Beliefs and the Origins of the Human Mind (Hachette, New York). It is written by Ajit Varki, a medical doctor who went on to become a specialist researcher in Anthropogeny, and biologist-geneticist Danny Brower who postulated a theory but died before he could expound on it.
Denial asserts that man went beyond elephant by developing the ability to deny reality. This gave him optimism and the confidence to face problems. But it also emboldened him to take on unnecessary risks. "We smoke cigarette, eat unhealthy foods and avoid exercise, knowing these habits are a prescription to an early death...... We continue to deny the consequences of unrealistic approaches to everything, from personal health to financial risk-taking to climate change". In short we put mind over reality. This may be all right, to some extent, with smoking and eating junk which are reversible. But "once we have set major climate destabilisation in motion, there is no margin of error. [For] there is only one planet, one biosphere and one Anthropocene epoch..."
Narrow it down and we will see there is only one Western Ghats. Lose it and the death-watch beetle wins.