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?Environment be damned?

Indians okay with progress at cost of global warming, reports Sushmita Bose.

india Updated: Nov 12, 2006 02:53 IST

Economic progress at the cost of environmental hazards is absolutely okay, feel Indians who are ‘aware’ of the implications of climate change and global warming, says a Greenpeace study carried out by the Social and Environmental Research Centre division of Synovate. The findings of the study have been given exclusively to HT.

Conducted across six Indian urban centres — Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore and Hyderabad — the survey took the opinion of 969 Indians: college students, corporate executives, professionals (doctors, lawyers etc) and housewives. Of these, an overwhelming 88 per cent were aware of environmental hazards, and 68 per cent felt that economic growth had to be priority number one and environment has to, therefore, take a backseat.

The survey is part of Greenpeace’s project on saving the Gangotri glacier that has been retreating at an alarming rate. Glaciologist Dr Jagdish Bahadur, a former advisor to the Department of Science and Technology, says, worldwide, glaciers retreat at a rate of .66 degrees per 100 years.

“The Gangotri glacier has both retreated and shrunk —and people migrating upwards with the advent of tourism and adventure sports like camping are adding to degradation. We need to be more proactive about taking pre-emptive measures — before it is too late,” he says.

Dr SC Biala, who has authored the only Hindi book on adventure sports, Himalaya Ki Ore, and who has been trekking down the glacier’s path since 1983, agrees that the region has seen a lot “tear and wear” over the years. “Increasing tourism and pilgrimages, coupled with Indians’ apathy to preservation of environment has led to this scare scenario.”

Srinivas Krishnaswamy, Greenpeace’s climate and energy campaigner, points out that till 1971, the glacier was shrinking by 24 metres per year; since 1971, it increased to 34 metres. “It’s getting worse now as the melt rate has gone up while ice formation has slowed down.”

According to the survey, the government — and not the people themselves — should take the onus in combating climate change: 72 per cent respondents agreed on that. And only 9 per cent of respondents perceived environmental degradation is the most serious problem India is facing today; unemployment came at number one (35 per cent) and population growth was number two (31 per cent).

However, Indians are in company. Last year, MIT's Laboratory for Energy and the Environment surveyed 1,200 Americans; environment came out 13th out of a list of 22 “most important issues facing the US today”.