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Sunday, October 4, 2009

Caring for our environment

Is this article for you? If you have heard a lot of global warming and wondering if it needs real attention, read on. Often there are many articles, videos which depict the bad effects of industrialization, release of carbon oxides etc. If you don’t know how to understand this deeply serious topic, read on to know facts. If you are a person who doesn’t like to think about future and plan for life day by day, stop here!

As a prelude to reading this article, I request my readers to watch the documentary video An Inconvenient truth. It is an absorbing presentation of facts from former US vice president Mr. Al Gore. The documentary aims to check effects of global warming by educating people in a methodical manner to this ever-increasing sensitive topic which is affecting everybody across the globe directly. This move is worth repeating in run-up to 12 day international climate change summit at Copenhagen in December 09 where decision makers will spend crucial days together.

Scientists have established that if global temperatures rise by more than 2° C, the resultant changes will irretrievably endanger life on this planet. Other environmentalists, climate scientists have observed that current reductions in emission of green house gases are not enough. At this level of emission, we will push global temperatures beyond tipping point by 2050. There are few grieve some probable scenarios which could visit us during our lifetime. It is now recorded that most affected lot will be ones who contributed to it in least manner i.e. poorer people, living mostly in developing parts of Asia and Africa. As I write this line, I hear of 200 people dead in floods affecting south India and about 1000 people dead in quake. Floods and quakes are not a recent phenomenon, however untimely and intensity of damage is increasing alarmingly. In this background, it is not surprising to hear people say “weather was never like this before…” “We could grow twice as much crop 5 years back…” “This is record rain in this part of the world…”. A rise in global temperature will see increase in sea levels, as polar ice caps melt faster in response to warmer air. Islands and low lying areas will be first to face threat of inundation as sea water level rises. Back in India, Sunderbans islands face risk of being submerged… one inhabited island is already lost! Other low lying close islands of Bangladesh could similarly go under water. Millions of people will lose homes and livelihood. The downside of such disasters is that when it hits such densely populated areas, the government can hardly act substantially and rescue lives. This is evident today in Andra Pradesh and Karnataka. After all, what can a chief minister armed with 20 odd helicopters do when floods have damaged thousands of homes other than announcing relief money for kin of the dead? Such reactive helplessness can be much avoided with proactive caring for environment. It needs a more systemic thought process at broader political level.

Maldives is under severe threat – and is taking insurance. As soon as Mohammed Nasheer was elected as prime minister last year, he announced to British media that he would set aside some of tourism revenues to buy homeland for his people (in case island is inundated). This is a strong statement of intent by a politician. I hope others will take cue and strengthen their commitment to reduce emissions.

Back in India, glaciologist studies have revealed that glaciers which feed rivers have been fast depleting. This is true even of Gangotri, which is considered as mother of all glaciers. It doesn’t take intelligence to realize sequence of events… As glaciers grow less in size, rivers like Ganga will recede… thousands of farmers who are dependent on steady inflow of water will have no crops. This will make life more and more untenable; ironically even on historically rich plains of the Ganga. This is not a fantastical projection; watch famous BBC documentary movie Future of Food, where global warming is seen as the root cause of degradation of food quality and quantity over past few decades. While this has led to starvation in developing countries, it has caused health problems and obesity in developed countries.

That’s just one part of the story. Scientists have predicted now that agriculture will be threatened in other ways also. They predict that patterns of rainfall will change. While absolute volume of rainwater will remain constant, it will be spread over fewer days and therefore will be more intense than before. This prediction is well corroborated by current floods affecting Karnool and Mantralaya. The world’s supply of food will shrink. With population growth outpacing growth of food production, more and more agricultural land is taken for industrial purpose. The present crisis is likely to deepen with food riots becoming part of life in developing countries. A change in rainfall patterns and melting glaciers will affect availability of water. Supply constraints will intensify competition for a diminished resource and could trigger water wars. Those who have tracked Cauvery waters conflict will not find it difficult to predict more animosity with neighbors. Another fallout is increase in frequency of freak weather events – storms, hurricanes, floods and drought. If America was battered by hurricane Katrina, so have Bangladesh and Bengal by cyclones in close succession. Parts of Rajasthan and Bihar have recorded untimely rains leading to serious flooding and are now in grip of drought.

There are ways to avoid a catastrophe – only if developed world acts responsibly. The developing world, although contributes only 1/10th will need to do follow soon. The World economic and social survey report 2009 re-affirms that the developed countries need to work on more stringent emission and green house related targets. The developed world has been sending up harmful emission over past 200 years in form of automobiles and industry. They must implement stringent emission norms for developed countries to follow. This principle was agreed in Kyoto protocol, which runs out in 2012. This is reason why meeting at Copenhagen is all the more important to firm up Kyoto regime. If developed world refuses to cut down on emissions until India and China sign up, the resultant stalemate will be disastrous. While US emits 20.4 tonnes per capita, UK and Germany emit 9.7; China emits 3.8 and India 1.2!

The report reveals some of world’s most populous cities at risk. Just want to list them down here, maybe your city is in this list!

Manila – 16 million

Perth – 16 million

Mumbai – 14 million

Shanghai – 14 million

Karachi – 13 million

Sao Paulo – 11 million

Istanbul – 11 million

Jakarta – 8 million

New york – 8 million

Kolkata – 5 million

I will close with tales of couple of cities.

Tell tale of Mumbai – The inter government panel for climate change says that by turn of this century, large parts of this metropolis will be under water. Even now, the sea level is just few feet away from buildings during high tide. Mumbai is commercial and entertainment centre of India, generating 5% of country’s GDP, accounting for 25% of country’s industrial output, 40% of maritime trade and 70% of capital transactions to India’s economy. If city is inundated, billions of dollars worth real estate will be lost. Rising sea levels will make it unusable as a port.

Tell tale of Shanghai – The largest city in china is slowly sinking into the sea. Over exploitation of ground water, underground construction of subways, basements below skyscrapers and overpasses have led to ground sinkage. A study in China has revealed that caving in of bedrock is also contributing heavily to sinkage. The rising sea levels will just be a double whammy which will disrupt world’s fastest growing economy, the tremors of which will be felt across the world.

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