Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

Price of Procrastination

December 23, 2009 Leave a comment

With the failure of Copenhagen talks, greenhouse gas emissions are likely to continue unabated spawning disastrous consequences, temperature rise being the most obvious.

Science Museum of London has launched an interactive map in consulation with leading climate change scientists showing the impact of a 4 deg C  temperature rise across the globe. Buttons at the bottom of the map provide details of various types of consequences and geographical location of impact.

Click on the map to go to interactive website

Categories: Planetwatch

Hurricane Highway

December 11, 2009 Leave a comment

Driving down streets of India one notices a peculiar behaviour of pedestrians. A majority of them cross the road, with eyes averted from traffic. Sometimes it is a mad dash with eyes fixed on the opposite side. Sometimes it is a leisurely saunter with scarcely a glance at the oncoming traffic. There could be several reasons for the reckless behaviour – road congestion, dearth of zebra crossings and footpaths, a culture of jay walking, rash driving patterns and poor enforcement of traffic rules among them. The behaviour is extremely risky, based as it is on ‘blind’ faith in the eyesight and driving skills of motorists. One could get run over anytime….
Our attitude towards climate change is similar.

Climate Change – Initially we could only hear its rumble. Later it became visible like a speck on the horizon. Now that it has come closer, its speed and ominous proportions have become clearly discernible. Yet, many among us prefer to keep our eyes turned away, hoping that it will pass us by. Some hate it. Some are overeager to denigrate the supporting scientific evidence. Some refuse to acknowledge it. Among those who recognize the threat, many are reluctant to admit the role played by humans. However, if the ‘flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil can set off a Tornado in Texas’ (see Butterfly Effect Edward Lorenz), what unpredictable and catastrophic outcomes can result from our uninhibited and destructive exploitation of the environment? Unlike motorists watching out for pedestrians, climate change is a blind force and could run us over, unless we pay attention.

If we change ways, adopt environment friendly lifestyles, reduce dependence on conventional fuels and embrace renewable sources of energy, we can probably save ourselves. But “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is insanity” as Albert Einstein put it. Harbouring a false hope and continuing our present course could have disastrous consequences.

Rabindranath Tagore, in his poem “Where the Mind is Without Fear” hoped that India would “rediscover the clear stream of reason and awake into a heaven of freedom”. As the Copenhagen summit to reach an agreement on emission cuts is underway, I too wish that “nations broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls” would overcome their differences and galvanize into positive action.

Where The Mind is Without Fear

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
 – Rabindranath Tagore

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

End of recession?

September 19, 2009 Leave a comment

Looks like we are stumbling out of the specter of recession. Ben Bernanke has announced it, Paul Krugman has admitted to a technical end of recession, whatever that means. Over here in India, we too felt the tremors, but the effects were milder in comparison with US and Europe. The US engineering firm I worked for retrenched close to 700 employees, the one I’m currently with has substantially scaled down its expansion plans. Garment and diamond exports declined with consequent job losses.

I really have no clue what I could have done if handed a pink slip. Burdened with home loan, house rent, vehicle loan and a high cost of living, it would have been a nightmare to make ends meet. And I’m not an exception, it is the same for the majority of middle class Indians. So it is with much relief and anticipation that I welcomed the news.

However, it is difficult to banish a tinge of skepticism. The underlying causes of the current crisis still linger. The much touted banking reforms in the US have not been implemented. Hedge funds are surging back infused with humongous bailouts. Indian share-market has turned bullish and speculation is on the rise. Finance gurus are on the prowl again, forking out advice based more on fancy and less on evidence. Real estate costs are on the rise. Looks like we are getting back on the intoxicating freeway, again.

Then there is the rising cost of coping with climate change. We still continue to indiscriminately pollute. It is the middle of September and the mercury is soaring here in Gurgaon. Drought has been declared in many Indian states. Going by today’s meteorological reports, the south west monsoon is all but over. Farming in the north western states and the Gangetic plain which supply food grains to most of India have been severely affected by the lack of rain fall. I guess, we can expect commodity prices to soar by the beginning of next year.

As it is, Gurgaon does not have electricity most of the time. The city survives on diesel generators. During summer months the air conditioners drain the grid causing frequent blackouts. Power thefts and transmission losses also add to the woe. I wonder what it would be like in 2020 summer. Besides, summers are becoming longer too.

Guess I have digressed a bit into climate change, but it is a matter of concern. We have been ostrich like for long, but we can no longer deny it. It is affecting our lives and soon it would be – adapt or perish.

So I have decided to welcome the beginning of the end of recession with less euphoria and more caution.

Categories: Musings