Climate change – snapshot of all that is happening right now and what we can expect going forward

Seems like yesterday but it has been few years since I watched the famous documentary by Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth. When I first watched it, I had this unexplainable strange feeling in my gut. Was there a moment of panic? May be there was. Did I feel disgusted at what we has humans have done to this plant? I sure did. And that was back in 2006. 

In July this year, between 19th and 23rd to be precise, specific regions in South Asia received unprecedented rainfall. How much does ‘unprecedented’ mean? In Henan province of China, rains dumped a year’s quota of waters in just three days, bursting dams, collapsing bridges and drowning people, some even in their cars, subways and homes. 201.9 mm per hour of rain meant it was the worst in centuries. It rained 552.5 mm in Zhengzhou. Millions were left stranded in their homes and offices, and several others lost everything they had- loved ones, livelihood, cattle, crop and belongings. 

In Chiplun, a small city in India, which lies on the western edge of the tapering Western Ghats, the mountains that run across India’s western shore before turning east, it rained 98 mm on 19th July,  110mm on the 20th and 164mm on the 21st. On 22 July, the area received rains of 480mm. And on 23 July, 594mm of rain was dumped over the Western Ghats. This heavy rainfall was not just unprecedented, it was cataclysmic. The entire city was drowned, at some places even up to the first floors of concrete houses. People lost their businesses, belongings and loved ones. 

In both places (China and India), the water just refused to subside even after days, leaving behind a swathe of slush and debris in its wake. 

On several occasions in August 2021, Singapore also saw flash floods in several areas. I’ve been living in Singapore for almost a decade and I had not seen this amount of rainfall since. At the start of 2021, the very first few days of January 2021, rains lasted for over a week bringing the usual hot and humid weather to just around 20 degrees. We all called it as the ‘Sweater Weather’. 

Last week of August 2021 and early September saw floods in New York which also resulted in multiple deaths. 

Across the world, such incidents are now becoming a common sight. Just a few days ago, Germany witnessed the same fate, though the rainfall was nothing as compared to Asia, bordering round 115 mm per day. Bush fires in the US and Australia, earthquakes, massive rains in very short times, landslides, melting of the arctic ice sheets are all causes for concern, real concern. What is surprising is that the Met departments have not really been able to forecast such disasters, much to the chagrin of the political powers who have to try and shirk the responsibility or blame nature for its wrath. 

Why political will falls short of an open acceptance

Not all natural disasters are created by nature, most are man-made. All over the world, political leadership always falls short of accepting responsibility for the damage being caused to nature because acceptance of any kind would imply an urgent need to take corrective measures. These measures would surely put a spanner in the much coveted ‘growth and development’ stories parroted by these leaders to gain power and keep it. If someone really decided to take measures to curtail damage to the environment, it would mean cutting down on consumption, plastics, dumping, landfills, pollution and vehicle usage. No one, not one country takes the lead in actively doing this, though a lot of lip-service is done at climate summits and conferences. Why, just a few days ago, the US expressed concerns about the harassment that the BBC journalists faced while covering the China floods. 

So what is Climate Change all about?

It’s more than what appears in the media. It’s the real and present danger that is standing at our doorstep. More burning of fossil fuels and pollution from carbon emissions from vehicles and factories spewing toxic waste means increased temperatures on the ground. This leads to desert expansion, melting of Arctic ice, more forest fires, depleting of groundwater levels and harsh seasons. The summers are getting hotter, the winters colder and the rains are lashing like never before. 

The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stated in its reports that increase in temperatures, around 1.5 degree centigrade, increases the risk of triggering of critical thresholds called ‘Tipping points’ which when exceeded, could cause irreversible damage. There are over a dozen or so such tipping points of which triggering of one could have a cascading effect on the others. These include the Arctic ice sheets, the West African Monsoons, deforestation in the Amazon, the changing monsoon patterns in India, dying off of the Coral reefs, loss of Boreal forests (which can sustain frost), etc. How far can you push this damage before everything is irreversibly lost? If you thought climate change only impacts on a broad level, then you’re in for some big surprises. In a global economy, floods, droughts, wild fires, drying rivers, loss of habitat, all come and stand at your threshold in some way or the other. Scarcity of clean drinking water is already troubling big cities with some imminent wars staring at your face soon. 

In the past, most climate changes and disasters were actually natural. Like the volcanic eruptions that buried the Roman city of Pompeii, the crashing of meteors that resulted in the extinction of the dinosaurs or the disappearance of the ancient civilization of the Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro owing to the changing in the course of the Indus river due to flooding. The famous Cambodian city of Angkor is also believed to have been destroyed by the changed the course of the rivers due to heavy floods. 

This, however, is not the case today when human intervention, greed and disregard for climate have resulted in most of the catastrophes that have hit us in the past few decades. In the post industrial world, man’s greed for development has seen unprecedented limits. We underestimate the impact that our industrialization is having on the planet. We always feel ‘It can’t be that bad. We’ve come this far in spite of everything, just a little more can’t do any damage’. Sadly, each country believes that it’s the others’ responsibility to make good the damage. 

Role of Climate activism and sensitivity 

What is the road ahead for us as a civilization, then? Will we survive the consequences in our lifetime? No one had anticipated the Covid pandemic and similarly, one wouldn’t be able to forecast how nature will react to so much destruction. People like Elon Musk realize the role of an individual in all this. One cannot undermine his efforts when he sells all his houses and moves in a 400 sq. feet Boxabl house that is ready to live in 24 hours flat. Reduce your needs, he advises. And the world needs more of such people, for he has also shown how- through his aggressive focus on solar energy, the Tesla electric cars, the Solarcity grids and the country-wide network of solar powered recharging station for all his cars. 

But beyond that, it is the individual’s role to actively think about climate change. In her much acclaimed book ‘Bare Necessities’, noted author Sahar Mansoor shows the way ahead for individuals to lead a life without burdening the planet any further. Choosing local produce, avoiding packaging as much as possible, recycling and repurposing your belongings, cutting down on overt consumption and above all, being aware and responsible for all your life’s choices for each one has an impact on your plant. A kids’ party involves creation of a boxful of plastic from chocolate wrappers, foils, trays, cups, cans, stickers and decoration. Your on-the-go meal means plastic trays, boxes, water cups, spoons and bags. A shopping spree leaves behind tons of packaging and boxes which are totally avoidable if sensitivity prevails in all of us. 

On a broader level, nations have already taken cognizance of the steps they need to take to cut down on pollution and emissions. The governments will play an active role in initiating sustaining and driving climate change efforts. As individuals we may try as much but collectively we can make a huge difference. Just being signatories to climate change initiatives and accords will never suffice if there’s lack of willpower to act upon it at the ground level. We have seen how carbon credits are traded which kind of defeated the entire purpose of limiting pollution. The need for energy is not going to reduce in the days ahead, but finding alternatives is one way we can create a balance. The scientific community needs to find viable options to utilize solar and wind power in homes. If the cost of alternatives remains higher than its benefits, there will be less willingness to adapt to change. 

The way forward includes a range of options like stabilizing GHG emissions, reduction in carbon and other harmful emissions by 2/3 by 2050, actively improving energy conservation and efficiency, introducing and strictly abiding by  new regulations about transportation and building codes, efforts to replace fossil fuels with clean energy alternatives like solar and wind power, encouraging individuals and businesses who take efforts on these lines, creating awareness about the harmful impact of climate change from school level and incorporating measures of reducing waste creation at every level in our daily lives. When consumption comes down, production will be curtailed. That will lead to less damage to the environment and thereby help heal the planet. Until that happens, we would keep staring at the danger that lurks behind the clouds in the form of flash floods, submerged islands or the fragile mountains which can crash anytime soon. 

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