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Planetwatch series – Are climate change theories overestimated

November 12, 2009 Leave a comment

Planetwatch IV

Climate Change Theories Over-estimated?
Recent research by a team of scientists at Bristol, UK has established that atmospheric CO2 levels have not changed substantially since 1850 even though emissions have increased 17 fold. This indicates that nature’s capacity to soak up atmospheric CO2 have not diminished contrary to previous projections which signalled a reduction in the capacity of oceans to absorb CO2 as temperatures rise. The study also concluded that green house gas emission figures currently attributed to deforestation is grossly overestimated.
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Dalai Lama on climate change
During a speech delivered at Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh the Dalai Lama exhorted people to protect environment and be mindful of the risks of global warming. Good to see that religious leaders are taking cognizance of climate change. Also brings to mind Al Gore’s efforts to introduce a religious twist to his future documentaries to gain wider audience.
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Climate change impact on small glaciers
While Antarctic ice melts and retreat of large glaciers have been in the spotlight, effects of climate change on small glaciers have been largely ignored. Recently a team led by glaciologist Prof. Syed Iqbal Hasnain from TERI has undertaken a study to establish benchmark data and measure the recessionary trends of small glaciers across the Himalayas. The team shall also examine the effects of black carbon deposition on glacier melt. Initial results from the study indicate that small glaciers and their tributaries are retreating at a faster rate. Large glaciers like Gangotri are also receding. Since the region is dependent on glacial melt water, the adverse impact of glacial retreat on the environment could be significant.
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Jute Geotextiles
Geotextiles are permeable fabrics used to strengthen the soil or protect soil against erosion. Geotextiles were typically made from polypropylene and polyester. Eco-friendly geotextiles made of jute and coir are becoming more popular. The new materials are “earth-friendly” and bio-degradable and have a life span of 3 – 5 years.
Read more on this topic here: Link
 

Plasticki
 

Plastiki logoThe Plastiki is a catamaran made of reclaimed plastic bottles and recycled material getting ready to set sail from San Fransisco, USA on its way Sydney, Australia. En Route the vessel shall visit 12 ecologically susceptible locations, including the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. On board shall be a team of scientists and artists led by David de Rothschild, a prominent ecologist. The purpose of the journey is to bring to attention the enormous amount of garbage being disposed in the sea.

 

Categories: Planetwatch

Planetwatch series – Ice Man of Ladakh

November 9, 2009 Leave a comment

Climate change. Till yesterday it was merely scientific jargon, today it has reached our doorsteps. Yesterday it was a matter of debate, a controversial topic, today it is concrete reality. Each organism, be it man, animal, bird, insect or plant is experiencing the effects of climate change, directly or indirectly. At times we are consciously aware of it, most times we are oblivious. But in recent years there have been times when it intruded into our consciousness, making its presence felt, reminding us to do something about it. We are still waiting for the curtain to rise.But there are a few who has risen up to face the challenge, to mitigate the disastrous effects within the extent of their power. Chewang Norphel and the Leh Nutrition Project is one such initiative. Norphel is a retired government civil servant and has built 11 artificial glaciers so far since 1987. He is still enthusiastic about the project despite inadequate funds and lukewarm cooperation from villagers.

Ladakh in northern India, is a cold desert. It is also a major tourist destination. People of Ladakh depend on glacial melt water for irrigation and domestic use. However, glaciers have been receding at an alarming pace in recent years leading to severe water shortages. It is in this context that Chewang Norphel’s initiative gains significance. In a pioneering effort, he has made embankments on mountainsides to collect water which freezes during the winter months into an artificial glacier. During summer the ice melts providing water to nearby villages. It is a venture astounding in its simplicity and practicality, well adapted to the necessities of the region. Such conservation methods are infinitely more preferable to digging bore wells which deplete ground water resources.

Ladakh have been experiencing higher average temperatures, unusual rainfall patterns, reduced snow cover and other associated fallouts apart from deterioration of glaciers in the past few years. Despite experiencing these problems firsthand and understanding the antecedent causes, attitude and behaviour have remained unchanged. It is business as usual. Vehicular pollution is still relatively high and littering continues to be problem. It looks like we find it easy to relegate long term effects of climate change to the background in favour of the immediate occupation of survival and comfort.

The Copenhagen summit to frame legally binding treaties to address climate change issues have already hit a road block. US, the world’s biggest cumulative greenhouse gas emitter has declined to submit to emission cut targets and timetables. Developing nations are not willing to jeopardize their economic agenda by subscribing to restrictive environmental regulations. When the world at large is engaged in acrimonious debate over such a critical issue, it is a relief to find that a few have chosen to act instead. My heart goes out to Chewang Norphel.

Inspired by: Op-Ed article in The Hindu by Meena Menon, 7-Nov-09

 

 

Categories: Planetwatch

Quo Vadis

September 29, 2009 Leave a comment

I am surprised that climate change issue is still debatable. Over the past few years, we have witnessed many effects of climate change first hand. This year has been one of the hottest here at Gurgaon, with mercury hovering at 46 °C during summer. It is the end of September and still the average temperature is around 38 °C. There has been a huge shortfall of rain across the country. Many states have been declared drought hit. Open any newspaper or turn on the TV and we are overwhlemed with news of diasters across the globe, many of which are related to climate change.

Until recently, we shrugged off climate change as mere scientific speculation. Temperature rise, rise in sea levels, sea acidification, melting of glaciers – all these were considered remote events, no way impacting our lives. Not anymore. Today, we are experiencing the effects closer to home, jolting us out of our complacency.

In “An Inconvenient Truth“, Al Gore compared our attitute to that of a frog kept in water which is being gradually brought to boil. If the frog is thrown in hot water, it would immediately jump out. However, if the temperature rises gradually, the frog does not realize the danger until it is too late. A large proportion of us are still under a similar spell, lulled by the gradual rise in temperature. In a recent New York Times article, Paul Krugman called climate change scientists Cassandras of climate – “gifted with the ability to prophesy future disasters, but cursed with the inability to get anyone to believe them”. Even though scientists have warned us of the clear and present danger, we continue to vacillate between denial and affirmation. The polemic of climate change detractors have also added to the confusion. But, probably, it is less a matter of confusion than consious denial because the truth is too “inconvenient”, as Al Gore put it.

We cannot shutdown our refineries or power plants tomorrow. Neither can we stop driving to work or stop running the air conditioners. Currently we depend on fossil fuels, be it coal, oil or gas for our energy needs. But we cannot survive unless we drastically reduce pollution, cut back energy consuption and embrace green energy. This would mean adopting technologies which are nascent and more expensive. It would also mean changing our lifestyle, giving up the SUV’s, installing solar heaters, harvesting rain water and conserving energy. Without sufficient appreciation of danger by all, no one would be willing to make such sacrifices, fearing themselves open to exploitation.

It would need universal awareness, cooperation, commitment and joint affirmative action to save the planet. Being the purportedly rational animals, can we achieve such a consensus? Otherwise, our nemesis would not be asteriods or aliens, but ourselves. We have nowhere to go from here, the planet is our only home. It is time for us to define our future on planet earth. It is time to choose our path. Quo Vadis?

Categories: Planetwatch