Are We There Yet?

Are We There Yet?

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bhagveetaAre we there yet? I am sure many of you remember this childhood question posed to your father or mother. Remember? You were tired walking with them hanging on to their hand, or bag or purse and wondering how long this walk is going to take before you reach home-sweet-home.
Later, while studying at the university, I saw a very thoughtful cartoon in ‘Punch’ magazine. The cartoon showed a vast desert scorching sun and a couple of Mongolian nomads walking along with camels loaded with “nomadic essentials”. A small child on camel, asks his walking mother, “Are we there yet?” and his mother replies, “No, my child, we are all nomads!” That cartoon made a great impact on my mind at that time.

‘Bhagvatgeeta”, an epic written in Sanskrit some 5,000 years ago considered to be an anchor of Hindu philosophy states that : ‘keep working without expecting the fruits of your work’ . Its similarity with nomadic philosophy i.e. ‘keep walking, do not expect to reach your destination!’ is evident. We all talk about much publicized phenomenon of globalization, but the philosophies were globalised even at that time, I thought.
On 17 October 2007, exactly one month after the 20th Anniversary celebration of the Montreal Protocol, I read an update from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). It says, “The 2007 Antarctic Ozone hole is relatively small both in terms of the ozone hole area and in the amount of destroyed ozone. For the last 10 years, only during 2002 and 2004 the ozone holes were smaller than the 2007 ozone hole.” A ‘feel-good’ sense prevails my thoughts, till I read the next sentence of the bulletin, “It should be pointed out that this is not a sign of ozone recovery.” Well, I ask Mother Earth, “Are we NOT there yet?”
Interestingly the reason given by WMO for such an observation is related to global warming! It says that the chlorine loading (represented by the ozone depleting gases) in the stratosphere is depleting 1% per year since the year 2000 due to measures under the Montreal Protocol. But there is enough chlorine there for ozone holes to appear for another 10 – 20 years.
Due to global warming the stratospheric temperatures will be lowered as more heat is trapped in the earth’s atmosphere. Such lowering of temperatures shall further increase the severity of the ozone depletion due to forecasts of polar stratospheric clouds. The clouds consist of microscopic ice particles which act as catalyst and provide the surface needed to accelerate the chemical reaction leading to breaking of the ozone molecule. Mr Gerhard Ertl won the 2007 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his studies of chemical processes on solid surfaces that include the accelerated reactions due to polar stratospheric clouds. Then WHY the smaller ozone hole in 2007? Well, the WMO bulletin continues, “There will always be inter-annual variability in the meteorological conditions, so we can experience less severe ozone holes.”
I recall my mother telling me, “Ok, my child, I know you are tired. Look, see that bus coming there. We will take that bus, no more walking for you.” I indeed saw a bus coming and I thought the walk was over. Unfortunately, the bus was full; it stopped momentarily, nobody got down and it went on. I could see the bus disappearing in a cloud -not polar stratospheric-but of rural road dust. Mother looked at me and said, “Let’s go, keep walking!”
© UNEP DTIE 2007 | updated 13-nov-07

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