Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment
General Studies 2
Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
Understanding the terms
Climate change takes place over decades and centuries. It means there is permanent shift in climate conditions like rainfall patterns, temperature patterns, cyclones, droughts, hailstorms etc. There is not increase in temperature or rainfall or delayed winter every year.
At this point of time, there is climate variability and not climate change. For ex. December 2016 was warmest in eight years at 25 degrees, 6 degrees above recorded temperatures because of 90% deficit in the rains. 2015 and 2016 were also warm. Normally, the coldest part of the year is first week of January but it was delayed in 2016. January 2016 had 9.2 degrees which is higher than the 7.6 degree, the 70 year average. So, last year, January 2016 was very warm and this year December 2016 was very warm. In 2014, summers were the warmest since 1880. So it is the erratic behaviour which is being witnessed at this point of time. It cannot be said that henceforth every winter will be delayed or every Decembers will be warm. It is likely to happen after 50-60 years if present trends continue.
Climate change cannot be reversed but climate variability can be
When the temperatures rise, the Pacific Ocean being the largest water body on earth, absorbs lot of heat. Due to this, there is change in the ocean currents and the winds that blow over it. That change affects the global temperature, global weather including India’s monsoon patterns. Though there is shift in Pacific Ocean, but it is not in one direction. In some years there is El Nino and in some years there is la Nina, and these are also not showing a consistent trend.
The key issue is that it is known that human activity (energy used) is leading to carbon dioxide. It is creating certain chemical reaction in atmosphere which is leading to increase in temperature. Inspite of this problems, the heat exchange between land mass and ocean is not very well understood. For example, while the Arctic ice is melting, the Antarctic ice is expanding. But it is not known why such is happening.
Energy, infrastructure development, food consumption and other growth patterns have given the by-product of climate variability. Throughout civilisations, as long as world was an agricultural society, nature was in balance as there was shifting cultivation where trees were cut down to grow vegetation and trees grew back again. When world started using energy to produce manufactured goods and moved to cities, some things happened like
Loss of balance with nature that was present due to and with agriculture.
Loss of link with nature
There is no cultivation of own food but buying of food. Thus became consumers instead of producers.
Lot of demand for infrastructure- cement, steel, electricity- all produce C02
Once shifted in city, there is heavy reliance on personal transport which is hugely polluting with C02.
Lot of food wastage- biodegradable, generates methane and creates climate change problem.
Thus, in urban civilisation, the middle class lifestyle is leading to more problems of climate variability.
Solution is also by the middle class if it is changed by changing the lifestyle such as more public transport, less food wastage, smaller houses, energy efficiency are things that can be improved.
Two thirds of population is in Asia which is yet to develop. So if Asia is developed differently than the way west developed, then there will not be similar trends in consumption patterns, and hence the impact on climate is likely to be less. This is the reason why there is no major disturbance and the variability is within bounds.
First impact of climate variability
The immediate impact is temperature. But the more significant impact is the shift in the monsoon patterns. India is an agrarian country whose prosperity throughout the 2000 year old civilisation has been due to monsoon. No other country in the world had two crops without irrigation. Even in Deccan plateau there was large scale conservation of water from the monsoons. So it is the shift in monsoon that will have largest impact not only in drinking water or agriculture but also snowfall in Himalaya. Now, two thirds of water in Ganga is dependent on snow melting. So when it is said that glaciers are melting because of climate change, what is really happening is that glaciers are receding.
However, because of monsoon and snowfall in Himalayas, the water supply is not getting reduced. The estimate at the moment is that western Himalayas will have more rainfall than historical average. So river melt is going to increase and there is going to be almost no problem in western Himalayas. In eastern Himalayas there will be some decrease but as Brahmaputra doesn’t travel through lot of countries and volume of water is high, it will not make any drastic change. So according to present evidence, the impact of climate variability is not going to be severe in near future.
Hence, now there is a need to change the cropping practices and change timing of sowing. If the monsoon is delayed, the flowering and the grain formation also gets delayed and thus adjusting according to the nature is the key. Small impacts will be there but not of serious kind.
Danger of diseases
Change in temperature shows increasing diseases danger. There is a balance between vector borne diseases and temperature and moisture. Thus, if the temperature increases or moisture regime shifts then there is shift in disease pattern also.
For this to be prevented, there needs to be a greater focus on drainage. Presently, some of the patterns of living were ignored like drainage infrastructure. This is getting highlighted with increase in disease cases. For example, Delhi did not have disease like chikungunya like it has now. The localities where chikungunya is more prevalent are the areas where there is drainage problem.
Part of this is also related to urbanisation as when the roads and habitats were built, the traditional waterways were ignored. Only when there is stagnated water, there is a disease problem.
Ecosystems means there is interrelationship between many organisms in a particular area. They have evolved over centuries by responding to the climate changes around them. If the change is gradual, they will adapt as they have greater resilience and adaptability than humans. For example in Himalayas, if there is temperature increase, the key line shifts, the flora and fauna shifts but they don’t get extinct.
The solution is that there has to be lesser reliance on road transport, personal commutation, more focus on energy efficiency, tax breaks or benefits to the builders who use energy efficient means such as double glazing on doors and windows. This can reduce energy consumption drastically because air conditioning is more energy intensive than heating. This technology has more relevance in tropical countries and there are baby steps in the direction.
Greater importance to solar energy and lesser reliance on coal, boost to public transport is being extended to many cities, eg the metros, opting for rail travel than road travel as they are less polluting and not wasting food are some measures which can be adopted. This will have huge impact on climate change.
Thus, the behaviour change aspect of using the resources is a critical factor in mitigating climate change. Climate variability patterns can be corrected if people and government work together.
Connecting the dots:
What is climate variability and how is it different from climate change? Explain