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An urgent call to protect the world’s “Third Pole”

When the president of the Maldives and the prime minister of Nepal held cabinet meetings under water and on Mount Everest, respectively, to raise awareness of global warming, environmentalist and politician Tshering Tobgay perceived the acts as mere political stunts. But when Tobgay learned of the devastation the climate crisis was wreaking on his native Bhutan, he took note.

Therein lies the nub of the issue: People lack the will to mitigate the climate crisis until it begins to affect them personally. In a powerful TED Talk, Tobgay appeals to nations to abandon the think-globally-act-locally paradigm in favor of a think-globally-act-regionally model. Tobgay’s analysis paints a bleak picture. His depiction of the climate crisis portrays a lost cause, and his proposal for more focused intergovernmental dialogue may instigate much talk but little action.

Nevertheless, his message is critical, and the world’s inhabitants must act with urgency.

Notes from the TED Talk

The globe’s third-largest reserve of glacial ice, located in the Hindu Kush Himalaya mountains, is melting rapidly.

In February 2019, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) issued a report projecting that a rise in global temperature of 1.5°C [2.7°F] over preindustrial levels would melt a full third of the glacial ice in the Hindu Kush, the world’s “third pole,” by 2100.

“The Hindu Kush…is like the pulse of the planet. If the region falls sick, the entire planet will eventually suffer. And right now, with our glaciers melting rapidly, the region is not just sick; it is crying out for help.”

Such a massive retreat of the glacial ice would have devastating consequences for South and Southeast Asia, causing flash flooding across the region. However, a 1.5°C change is a best-case scenario and it’s likely that the globe will heat up significantly more than that, melting even more of the ice more rapidly.

Rising temperatures and pollution generate a positive feedback loop that accelerates the melting.

According to ICIMOD, the glacial ice in the Hindu Kush has been melting for a some time, and even the glaciers on Mount Everest are retreating. If temperatures rise to 2°C above preindustrial levels, the Hindu Kush will lose half of its glacial ice, and if global warming increases unabated at the same rate as in recent years, a full two-thirds of the glacial ice in the region will melt.

Warmer temperatures will prompt rainfall rather than snowfall, and rain melts ice, speeding glacial degradation. Moreover, air pollution deposits black carbon in glaciers, which absorbs heat and melts the ice even faster.

Retreating glaciers in the Hindu Kush will wreak havoc for 20% of all humans on Earth.

Some 240 million people living in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan will be directly affected by melting glacial ice. However, 1.6 billion people or one in five of the human population which depend on the 10 major rivers that rise in the Hindu Kush Himalaya mountains for drinking and agricultural water.

Melting glacial ice means people in these areas will experience violent deluges of rain, the overflowing of glacial lakes, an increase in flash floods and more landslides. An excess of water during monsoon season could also lead to droughts when water is most needed.

When the “water towers of Asia” break, the entire planet will suffer the fallout.

Tens of millions of climate refugees will flee the region in search of stable water supplies and livelihoods. Conflict over water security may erupt among three of the region’s nuclear powers – China, India and Pakistan.

To address climate change, the world ought to shift from a think-globally-act-locally mind-set to a think-globally-act-regionally mind-set.

The situation is sufficiently momentous to justify the creation of an intergovernmental agency – the Third Pole Council – tasked with protecting the Hindu Kush glaciers. Representatives of all eight countries that stand to suffer directly due to the melting glaciers, each with an equal voice in the discourse, ought to monitor the progress of the melting and create policy to safeguard the glaciers.

“When glaciers melt, when there’s more rain and less snow, there will be…more extremes: more intense rain, more flash floods, more landslides, more glacial lake outburst floods.”

“Thinking globally and acting locally” is no longer work. To combat climate change, society must shift to a think-globally-act-regionally. Particularly, China and India, the world’s two most populous nations, must take responsibility for their carbon footprints and pioneer solutions to tackling the climate crisis.

“Thinking globally [and] acting locally…does not work…While individual localized efforts will continue to be important, they cannot stand up to the onslaught of climate change. To stand up to climate change, we must work together. We must think globally and act regionally.”

Unless we do something, our future generation might curse our ignorance which lead to the destruction of the world.


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