Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come

Every Christmas in Colorado, I go to the Denver Performing Arts Complex and watch a stage production of the popular story by Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol. The main character in this story, Ebenezer Scrooge, is a miserly old man who gets a visit from three ghosts: The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come. This third ghost, who can peer into the future, shows Scrooge the dire consequences of his greed – that he will die alone and unloved. Terrified, Scrooge changes his ways and becomes loving and kind.

Traveling to India is like getting a visit from this third ghost, The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

India -- at least, PARTS of India -- represent a nightmare vision of what the world could become if it doesn’t strengthen its environmental standards, curb its population growth, cut bureaucracy, cut corruption, increase transparency and accountability, and strengthen law enforcement.

The beaches in Tamil Nadu, the southern Indian state where we now are, are naturally beautiful. This state’s shoreline is blessed with and sapphire waters and smooth sand. But no one goes to the beaches, which are covered in filth and flies. Undeveloped beachfront property is piled with bottles, cardboard, and broken furniture. Green fields bloom with the colors of plastic bags instead of flowers. Discarded mattresses lay by the side of the shore. Human feces is piled on the rocks. Most Indians just stand on the sidewalk and look appreciatively at the water. No one dares to go in.

This is all the more tragic because of the climate. Even in December, the weather is swelteringly hot. Sweat beads on your forehead as you sit at a restaurant, batting a swarm of flies away from your food.

Due to the heat, everyone tries to cool down their rooms. Most can’t afford air conditioning, so they power ceiling fans. Unfortunately, this is India, and it’s bursting at the seams with people. Not a single inch of the country has breathing space. The streets are packed with foot traffic at 6 in the morning. From pre-dawn until past midnight, everyplace you look -- the rocks, the rooftops, the restaurants – are covered with literally hundreds of people.

When this large of a population tries to turn on their ceiling fans, the demand for energy becomes unsustainable. All electricity shuts off. At the peak of the heat, when you’re raked with sweat and flies are swarming all around you, you can’t even sit by a ceiling fan or refrigerate your water.

And this is what its like in December – the winter season. Just imagine southern India in the summer. I can’t imagine what diseases sprout when you combine this degree of streetside trash with monsoon waters and mosquitos.