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Monday, July 02, 2007

Global Warming - Ganges receding


A Sacred River Endangered by Global Warming Glacial Source of Ganges Is Receding



By Emily Wax
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, June 17, 2007; A14

VARANASI, India -- With her eyes sealed, Ramedi cupped the murky water of
the Ganges River in her hands, lifted them toward the sun, and prayed for
her husband, her 15 grandchildren and her bad hip. She, like the rest of
India's 800 million Hindus, has absolute faith that the river she calls
Ganga Ma can heal.

Around Ramedi, who like some Indians has only one name, people converged on
the riverbank in the early morning, before the day's heat set in. Women
floated necklaces of marigolds on a boat of leaves, a dozen skinny boys
soaped their hair as they bathed in their underwear, and a somber group of
men carried a body to the banks of the river, a common ritual before the
dead are cremated on wooden funeral pyres. To be cremated beside the Ganges,
most here believe, brings salvation from the cycle of rebirth.

"Ganga Ma is everything to Hindus. It's our chance to attain nirvana,"
Ramedi said, emerging from the river, her peach-colored sari dripping along
the shoreline.

But the prayer rituals carried out at the water's edge may not last
forever -- or even another generation, according to scientists and
meteorologists. The Himalayan source of Hinduism's holiest river, they say,
is drying up.

In this 3,000-year-old city known as the Jerusalem of India for its intense
religious devotion, climate change could throw into turmoil something many
devout Hindus thought was immutable: their most intimate religious
traditions. The Gangotri glacier, which provides up to 70 percent of the
water of the Ganges during the dry summer months, is shrinking at a rate of
40 yards a year, nearly twice as fast as two decades ago, scientists say.

"This may be the first place on Earth where global warming could hurt our
very religion. We are becoming an endangered species of Hindus," said Veer
Bhadra Mishra, an engineer and director of the Varanasi-based Sankat Mochan
Foundation, an organization that advocates for the preservation of the
Ganges. "The melting glaciers are a terrible thing. We have to ask
ourselves, who are the custodians of our culture if we can't even help our
beloved Ganga?"

Environmental groups such as Mishra's have long focused on pollution of the
Ganges. More than 100 cities and countless villages are situated along the
1,568-mile river, which stretches from the foothills of the Himalayas to the
Bay of Bengal, and few of them have sewage treatment plants.

But recent reports by scientists say the Ganges is under even greater threat
from global warming. According to a U.N. climate report, the Himalayan
glaciers that are the sources of the Ganges could disappear by 2030 as
temperatures rise.

The shrinking glaciers also threaten Asia's supply of fresh water. The World
Wildlife Fund in March listed the Ganges among the world's 10 most
endangered rivers. In India, the river provides more than 500 million people
with water for drinking and farming.

The immediate effect of glacier recession is a short-lived surplus of water.
But eventually the supply runs out, and experts predict that the Ganges
eventually will become a seasonal river, largely dependent on monsoon rains.

"There has never been a greater threat for the Ganges," said Mahesh Mehta,
an environmental lawyer who has been filing lawsuits against corporations
dumping toxins in the Ganges. He is now redirecting his energies toward the
melting glaciers. "If humans don't change their interference, our very
religion, our livelihoods are under threat."

Mehta and other environmentalists want to see the Indian government here
enforce strict reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, the primary cause of
climate change.

But during this month's Group of Eight conference of the major
industrialized nations, both India and China, eager to protect their market
growth, joined the United States in refusing to support mandatory limits on
greenhouse gas emissions. President Bush has instead pushed a plan for
nonbinding goals to reduce emissions.

"It is a fact that more and not less development is the best way for
developing countries to address themselves to the issues of preserving the
environment, " Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a public
statement before leaving for the G-8 summit in Germany.

While India is one of the world's top producers of greenhouse gas
emissions -- along with the United States, China, Russia and Japan -- it
argues that the United States and other developed countries should reduce
their own emissions before expecting developing nations to follow suit.

Environmentalists call that kind of thinking shortsighted and say India
desperately needs strong laws in place at a time when the country is growing
so quickly.

"Economic growth is important, but can you imagine a billion cars in India?"
Mehta asked. "As people become affluent, they want cars and air conditioners
and refrigerators. What effect is that going to have on the environment? "

About 1 million pilgrims a year visit this ancient, hardscrabble city, many
traveling hundreds of miles on foot. Many of them leave with vials of Ganges
water to wear around their necks or display in their homes, sometimes
sprinkling droplets of water into their town's wells, spiritually purifying
their drinking water.

On the stone steps leading up to the Ganges' famous temple ghats, graffiti
reads: "Happy is the person who lives by Ganga, Ma" and "I love my India."

"The government should realize that climate change will hurt not just
communities, but also businesses and even the Ganga itself, our most sacred
river," said Srinivas Krishnaswamy, a climate and energy expert for
Greenpeace in India.

"When the Ganga River is threatened, Indians will have to wake up the
government to this crisis."

Let my every word be a prayer to Thee, Every movement of my hands a ritual gesture to Thee, Every step I take a circumambulation of Thy image, Every morsel I eat a rite of sacrifice to Thee, Every time I lay down a prostration at Thy feet; Every act of personal pleasure and all else that I do, Let it all be a form of worshiping Thee."

From Verse 27 of Shri Aadi Shankara's Saundaryalahari

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This blog is an offshoot of a website that I had conceived as a result of the spiritual grace and resultant inspiration during Shivaratri Y2K (http://www.jyotirlinga.com) on the joy of Shiva Bhakti and my quest for spiritual progress. Not finding the time (yep, bad excuse!), this blog suits me fine in quickly adding content... my spiritual forays and thoughts - helps log them too. My spiritual journey started with Hinduism and it's simple stories/ teachings as far back as when I was a 2nd grader, with Lord Shiva and has now found convergence with Advaitism / Duality. The Advaitism gurus like Bhagwan Ramana Maharishi, Nisargadatta Maharaj; they have provided that spiritual boost of energy in many lagging moments and have tremendously influenced me ... little baby steps at a time... that will hopefully all lead upto a final crescendo. The merits of satsangh are many!

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