Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Climate Change-A Myth or a Reality?

Just today while browsing through some tweets, an Article appearing in Huffington Post Green, dated July 31st caught my attention. The article titled, “ Kivalina’s Climate Change Problem - Why The Small Alaskan Village Is Disappearing”, described how climate change and  rising sea levels are threatening the very existence of the village! The opening lines read, “ It is already difficult to find Kivalina on a map, but soon it may be impossible. Not only does the Alaskan village only cover 1.9 square miles of land (while being) home to less than 400 residents, but it is disappearing. Fast. As one of the most apparent and shocking examples of coastal erosion, Kivalina could be uninhabitable by 2025 -- all thanks to climate change.” A summary of a five minutes video clip in the  Huffington post reads, “Narrated in the Inuits’ native tongue, the 5-minute clip shows a quick, tragic peek into the residents’ plight. “It’s just global warming,” one villager says in the video. “I mean, it’s a lot warmer today than it used to be before.”
How then could the fate of Kivalina affect those of us who live many thousands of miles away in India? Well I guess whatever is happening in  a distant land is a warning of what everyone in the world can expect in times to come. Nations and people closest to the polar ice packs are affected sooner than those that are more removed from them in terms of distance. But then, can we afford to be complacent in the knowledge that we still have borrowed time?
Another story about Global warming revolves around the island nation of Kiribati. This is a low-lying Island Nation located in the central tropical  Pacific Ocean. With a population of over 100,000, its very existence is threatened by rising ocean levels caused by a meltdown of polar ice. The whole populace of Kiribati is looking for an alternate settlement in Australia, the nearest landmass. The Government of Kiribati would have to purchase land in Australia, which I believe is under way!
Popular tourist destinations like the Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles located in the Indian Ocean, are also threatened by rising ocean levels. It would however, be wrong to conclude that it is  only island nations that are affected by rising ocean levels, in fact countries with coastlines too are vulnerable to rising sea-levels!
Countries that have an extensive coastline will be most affected by rising ocean levels - imagine the strain of resettling the whole population of people living in coastal areas. India’s coastline  stretches over 5700 kilometres on the mainland and about 7500 kms including the two island territories. The impact of global warming-induced sea level rise due to thermal expansion of near - surface ocean water has great significance for India due to its extensive low-lying densely populated coastal zone. “Sea level rise is likely to result in loss of land due to submergence of coastal areas, inland extension of saline intrusion and ground water contamination which may in turn have wide economic, cultural and ecological repercussions. Observations suggest that the sea level has risen at a rate of 2.5 mm  a year along the Indian coastline since 1950s. A mean sea level rise of between 15 and 38 cm is projected by the mid- 21 st century along India’s coast. Added to this, a 15% projected increase in intensity of tropical cyclones would significantly enhance the vulnerability of populations living in cyclone prone coastal regions of India. Other sectors vulnerable to the climate change include freshwater resources, industry, agriculture, fisheries, tourism and human settlements. Given that many climate change impacts on India’s coastal zone feature irreversible effects, the appropriate national policy response should enhance the resilience and adaptation potential of these areas.India has been identified as one amongst 27 countries which are most vulnerable to the impacts of global warming related accelerated sea level rise (UNEP, 1989). The high degree of vulnerability of Indian coasts can be mainly attributed to extensive low-lying coastal area, high population density, frequent occurrence of cyclones and storms, high rate of coastal environmental degradation on account of pollution and non-sustainable development. Most of the people residing in coastal zones are directly dependent on natural resource bases of coastal ecosystems. (Any global warming-induced climatic change”
Can we then sit complacently in our living rooms, secure in the knowledge of the fact that we are far away from the coastline and perhaps less likely to be affected by a deluge of ocean water? The answer is perhaps a  strong no! The pressure caused by shifting a large population living in coastal areas both in monetary terms and the physical impact can only be guessed! The cost of moving the 400 residents of Kivalini is about $400 million, an amount the government has yet to offer! How much more would it cost the Indian Government to shift millions of residents from coastal areas to higher ground? The figures would surely be staggeringly prohibitive!
The global impact of rehabilitating populations of people affected by rising ocean levels would lead to a global economic melt down! In an age where the ecosystem is already challenged by an increasing population, increased population density caused by the relocation of coastal populations would create havoc at levels beyond comprehension. Added to the burden of looking after a displaced population is the burden it would put on natural resources. Imagine a city like  Delhi having to accommodate an influx of people from coastal areas. A city reeling under the scourge of jammed roads, water shortage, power shortage and law and order problems would crumble at the very outset! Imagine what would happen to other cities which have fewer resources than the capital city!
Can we, therefore, afford to sit back relaxed in our living rooms watching happenings taking place in far away places like Tuvalu, or Mauritius or Seychelles or even a little known village called Kivalina? The answer is a clear no! We all need to get our act together and Governments need to work towards fighting the common cause of Global Warming. Developed countries need to contribute more towards the fight to contain Global Warming, both in terms of financial support to the developing countries for the intorduction of green technology and in terms of a sincere intent of doing more to protect the world from a serious crisis! In a world that is energy hungry, it is clear that dependence on crude oil and the resulting impact on the environment are the main culprits for global warming. Global warming in return is the result of a very sick  environment!. Someone once told me that the measure of a country’s economic prowess lies in the amount of crude oil consumed by it. This is something that we need to change. An immediate reduction of dependence on crude oil, research in alternative energy sources and popularisation of a green philosophy of life can perhaps stem the uncontrolled descent into a chaotic situation! India has been largely impacted by global warming. We have witnessed an increase in the occurrence of natural disasters caused by global warming. The recent cloud burst that took place in Uttarakhand resulting in a destructive deluge has caused massive destruction to life and property. While no doubt it was caused by nature, one can never ignore the fact that massive deforestation coupled with building of hydroelectric power stations, building on river beds, and overexploitation of natural resources might have exacerbated the situation. It has been known that global warming has been responsible for excessive melting of glaciers in the Himalayan mountains. This has resulted in a series of flash flood resulting in immense loss to life and property. Global Warming is not a Myth, it is a Reality; many would argue that global warming has always been around, and there is no way we can doubt this. A better and more effective term would be, Climate Change. While few will argue against the claim that human industrial activity is indeed one of the reasons for frequent shifts in weather patterns which includes rainfall patterns, perceptible shifting of seasons and so on.
One of the indicators of a shift in seasons is the shortening of the winters as compared to the lengthening of summer seasons in India. June and July used to be two months where there would be heavy rainfall, and by September the weather would mellow down so that it became pleasant in Septmeber. Today, after a period of twenty five years one can see how the rainfalls have failed, and winters have become really short. 

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