Direct effects of climate change

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Rising temperatures cannot be allowed to create a Martian climate on our planet Earth; the gradual warming up of our seasons is an early warning. The winter going by in the country, has been one of the mildest in years

Close on the heels of a feeble winter, this year is expected to have a much harsher summer, with above normal heat wave conditions that will in all probability register higher than ever temperatures across India. These predictions, released recently by the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), also mentioned that the average temperatures in the season would not only be more than one degree Celsius above normal but also that the northwest region of the country would be the worst affected with the higher temperatures. If the IMD forecast comes true, the summer of 2017 would become the second consecutive year after 2016 to record severely high temperatures.

The summer of 2016 broke records of sorts when it was registered as the hottest year since 1901 — in fact, parts of Rajasthan recorded 51 degrees Celsius on a sustained basis, resulting in the region recording the highest ever temperatures in the country. These grueling heat wave conditions caused more than 1,600 casualties last year. The build-up to a hotter than ever summer for 2017 seems to have already begun, as the month of January has been warmest since 1901. The averaged monthly mean temperature during January 2017 was significantly above normal with anomalies of 0.67 degree Celsius. This situation is indicative of rapidly changing climate conditions that should sound the alarm bells for the Indian environmental institutions and the Government authorities as well.

With every year becoming worse than the previous year in terms of rising temperatures, India is faced with the multiple challenges of human casualties, drought conditions, crop failure and rising pollution levels. This 360-degree challenge now surrounds the population which is falling prey to the climatic conditions created due to severe pollution levels that have now reached such proportions that they are dictating the temperatures of our seasons. The Government, in the coming years, will exceedingly find itself in the unenviable position of stemming the temperatures amid its efforts to provide relief and succour to its climate-embattled population.

The mild winter that went by, was a major indication by itself of what was in store for summer months ahead. A research study published by the National Academies Press, the US, confirmed that the increased role of anthropogenic activities has steadily contributed to climate change that in turn has led to the spike in ambient temperatures. This situation is slowly but surely becoming the new normal along with permanent changes occurring in the ecology resulting in either some species of flora and fauna unable to survive in their original habitat causing a migration or in some worse cases leading to extinction.

The low and frigid temperatures during the winters have a purpose to serve, as they inhibit the growth of certain organisms and pests such as mosquitoes and soil pathogens that are detrimental to the flora in general and crops in particular. Due to the decided shift in the temperature patterns, the pests and pathogens may now thrive all round the year resulting in crop loss and irrecoverable environmental damage. Additionally, the climatic change, especially on the temperature front, is causing the Himalayan snows to melt resulting in flash floods such as the one in Uttarakhand in 2013.

This problem is not India-specific. Glacial meltdown in the Arctic is now expected to accelerate, thanks to rising temperatures, leading to estimates that there may be no ice left in the Arctic as early as 2030. This glacial meltdown is going to be specifically hard for coastal areas around the world, as sea levels are expected to rise sharply.Though sea walls and dykes can be built to protect coastal areas, it is not practical and viable to build them everywhere, as the cost will be tremendous.

India, on its part, needs to take firm steps that will actually check climbing temperatures. To do this, energy efficiency needs to be the main initiative since polluting energy generation from coal-based thermal power plants and fossil fuel based transport system contribute majorly to the rising pollution and temperature levels.

In order to bring about a revolution in energy efficiency, India must reduce its reliance on biofuels such as wood, dung and charcoal. These fuels contribute to health problems; besides, they leave a pollution trail. Hydropower too may not be a long-term solution due to its ruinous effect on river ecosystems. Nuclear power is green but is not strictly renewable. That leaves us with wind turbines, solar farms, tidal barriers and geothermal power stations that are not only renewable and green but also do not leave a collateral damage on the health of people nor the environment. These sources of energy must be scaled up while simultaneously reducing the carbon footprint.

Rising temperatures cannot be allowed to create a Martian climate on our planet Earth; the gradual warming up of our seasons is an early warning.


(The writer is an environmental journalist)

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