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Carbon neutral squirrels; negligent policy makers

Carbon neutral squirrels; negligent policy makers

It’s a rodent, the smallest of the Indian giant squirrels and next to impossible to sight – largely because it spends most of its life up in the canopy of thick forests, far from human eyes. Also because it is very rare, and getting rarer.

Little wonder the grizzled giant squirrel Ratufa macroura figures nowhere on Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh’s priority list of things to do – unlike, say, the construction of nuclear reactors, expansion of India’s coal-fired thermal plant capacity, the construction of large dams that drown tropical forests, highways that cut through tiger reserves, mines that disrupt elephant corridors and monoculture plantations that exacerbate our looming climate crisis. 

Based on figures published by the Forest Survey of India, the Green Indian States Trust (GIST) estimates that the carbon footprint of deforestation (directly caused by policies driven by the Prime Minister’s office) in India in one year (2002-2003) was 280 million tons of CO2. Using the same formula, GIST suggests that the potential carbon footprint of the The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 could be an astronomic 4,800 to 7,400 millions tons. India’s food, water, economic and internal security are all being compromised, yet our Prime Minister has not thought it fit to address the nation on the issue of climate change, nor warn farmers and fisherfolk, possibly the first victims of climate change, of their impending fate.

The squirrel, which spends mid-mornings asleep, often spread-eagled on a thick branch, cares even less about Dr. Singh than Dr. Singh cares about the squirrel. Not for R. macroura such lofty pursuits as saving the world or fighting climate change. Instead from birth to death, in its search for forest fruits, nuts, barks, insects or bird’s eggs, it traipses along ‘highways’ comprising branches in the dense tree canopy of riverine forests in peninsular India and Sri Lanka, scattering seeds destined to become tomorrow’s forests.

Every species of plant and animal on Earth, R. macroura included, is part of a magnificent ‘conspiracy’ to maintain our planet’s carbon balance. Since politicians seem not to understand this, perhaps our only course of action in the days ahead must be to approach India’s Supreme Court to point out that – like cigarette and asbestos companies – polluters and ecosystem destroyers should pay victims of floods, droughts and climate change for placing them in harm’s way.

Bittu Sahgal

VOL. XXVII. No. 5. October 2007


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