Scaling mountains to protect climate -Special Feature

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Scaling mountain to protect climate

Disturbed over the fast receding glaciers and destruction of high-altitude forests, India’s professional mountaineer Arjun Vajpai had initiated a campaign known as ‘Climb for Climate Change’ with a view to spread awareness among the youth on the need to protect the deteriorating environment.

The 24-year-old professional highaltitude mountaineer has been inviting youth to join him in scaling the untouched peaks of India and spread a message to save our precious mountains.

Arjun’s campaign is an action plan towards a cleaner ecosystem and a sustainable living in the mountains. With this initiative, Arjun wishes to ensure that everyone should become responsible citizens to protect the nation’s environment.

Global statistics reveal that about 800 million people live on mountains across the world and at least half of the humankind survives on the freshwater located on the mountainous regions.

The mountains across the world also maintain the eco-balance for the benefit of people. Being the centres of biological diversity, important tourist destinations and key sources of raw materials, mountain regions are especially sensitive to the impacts of a changing climate.

With devastating consequences, both for mountain communities and the rest of the world, mountains are under threat from climate change, land degradation, over exploitation and natural disasters. They are early indicators of climate change and as global climate continues to warm; the people in mountain regions face even greater struggles to survive.

The increase in temperatures is the cause for melting glaciers at unprecedented rates, affecting freshwater supplies. According to a recent report by Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, about 39 per cent of the mountain population is estimated to be vulnerable to food insecurity.

• International Mountain Day is observed on December 11 every year to bring awareness to the world’s mountain eco-systems and the people and cultures that inhabit them

• This year, the theme ‘Mountains under pressure: climate, hunger, migration’ is also linked to the Mountain Partnership Global Meeting, to be held from December 11 to 13 at the FAO headquarters in Rome, Italy

This year, International Mountain Day provides an occasion to highlight how climate, hunger and migration are affecting highlands. It will also ensure that sustainable mountain development is integrated into the 2030 UN Agenda and in the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

Mountain climbing should not be only considered as a sport, but the climbers need to protect the environment as well.

Brainfeed interacted with some prominent mountaineers. Excerpts from the interviews:

During my childhood, we used to have snowfall in my village in Nakuri (Uttarkashi District) at 4,000 ft. Now, the snowfall takes place at over 8,000 ft. There was lot of greenery around and to see a vehicle on the road was an event. I remember, as children we used to run behind a truck clinging on to it to take a ride. During the British era, in case of mountain fires, one member from each family had to go to douse the fire otherwise punishment was meted out to the family. My father would also go along with others in the village. This was a practical lesson taught by the white rulers not to meddle with the mountains. They ensured that everyone was tied to the mountain and took responsibility for its protection. This ownership is not there nowadays. – Bachendri Pal, the first Indian woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

bachendripal Scaling mountains to protect climate brianfeedhighWhat do the mountains teach us?
Mountain is as fierce as it is beautiful. It is a great teacher, a great purifier, a great healer and a great leveler.

A great teacher: One who has courage, risk taking ability, wants to know and explore new terrains, and is a seeker of knowledge climbs a mountain.

A great purifier: We get to know our true self, our strengths and weaknesses, our patience and tolerance, our stretching capacity.

A great healer: Mountain has the capacity to nurture and heal us.

A great leveler: Mountains do not discriminate between caste, creed, rich or poor. It brings down everyone to the same level.

Climate change in mountains is a global concern: Comment.
The melting of snow in the Arctic and Antarctic due to global warming and climate change is reported frequently. However, the melting of the Himalayan glaciers goes largely unreported. The glaciers of the Himalaya are the Third Pole. They feed the giant rivers of Asia, and support half of humanity. For centuries snow has supported human survival. Climate change is changing this. As there is less snow fall, there is less moisture for growing crops. We are witnessing the end of farming in the mountainous region. Reduced snowfall also means less snow in glaciers, and less stream flow. The shorter period of snowfall prevents the snow from turning into hard ice crystals. Therefore, the glacier is liable to melt during the summer. Climate change has also led to rain, rather than snow, falling even at higher altitudes. This also accelerates the melting of glaciers and causing devastation through floods in unexpected places eg. Leh / Ladakh region.

What has changed on the mountains over years?
First and foremost is deforestation, as the road network has increased. Rampant corruption has seen trees being felled illegally. Construction of hotels and houses increase manifold particularly near the rivers. With more influx of people than the carrying capacity of the mountain in a particular region, the greenery has disappeared at a faster pace affecting the environment around. Glaciers are receding, streams feeding the rivers are drying up, floods and landslides have become an annual feature. The effect is felt in the Gangetic plains with rivers getting silted, thereby flooding the places on its path.

What are the most successful strategies for the protection of mountains at national and international levels?
• Climate Change should become a part of the curricula in school education. Parents and teachers both should educate the child on the importance of care for the environment. The annual educational tours should include places where children can get to see and learn about the need for protecting the environment

• The government departments concerned should proactively work on the ground to not only protect plants, but animals as well. There are enough policies and programmes, but work on the ground has to be implemented for ensuring the health of the mountains e.g. disposal system of Bio degradable and non degradable waste, planting trees to give strength to the mountain face, stopping the illegal felling of trees, restricting people to certain limits in sensitive areas to avoid destroying the ecology of the place completely.

• Effort must be made to safeguard on traditional knowledge and the rights of indigenous people and local communities, which is in fact an essential component of good governance of natural resources.

• Mountain guards should be fit to go to the higher reaches to discourage illegal work.

• There must be planned development of mountain villages. Cooking gas at cheap rates must be ensured to persuade villagers not to cut trees.

How has global warming affected the mountainous regions?
Global warming has a crucial impact on the mountain regions. Many accidents have occurred during the expeditions as snow began melting at a faster rate. Every mountain’s geography changes for every climber who goes for a climb during the season. As many adventurous tourists visit the mountains they miss to see the beauty of the mountains and do not have a chance to see its originality.

What actions are you taking to support initiatives against climatic changes in the mountain regions?
We, as responsible mountaineers, spread awareness to the people who go to the mountain for vacation or expedition. Moreover, rather than spreading awareness on the mountains, we start awareness of protecting our environment first, because, the main problem starts with us as a citizen. People say charity begins from home, so start planting sapling, stop littering in the locality. Every year we plant saplings at Rohtang Pass with the support of the local authority and other organisations. This awareness should spread to other areas of the Himalayas.

How well are we measuring the progress of environmental changes on the mountains and their impact on daily lives?
To be honest, we are not taking any consistent measures in the progress of environmental change and that is really affecting our daily lives. You would have seen in the last few years in Kedarnath and other places; they were washed out in the mountain floods. Regularly landslides destroy the human habitats of India.

As we travel in the mountains regularly, we see that apart from the professional mountaineers, who already know the impact of the changes, we take proper measures to protect our mountains, but the amateur and tourists who visit only for fun are destroying not only the nature’s beauty but also creating a ecological imbalance. This has to be strictly monitored by the local authority and a protocol has to be implemented for safe guarding our mountains.