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Our climate is changing! Why aren’t we?

TreeTake is a monthly bilingual colour magazine on environment that is fully committed to serving Mother Nature with well researched, interactive and engaging articles and lots of interesting info.

Our climate is changing! Why aren’t we?

Even if we limit temperature rise to under 2°C, disease spread is set to rise. The only way to tackle this is through increased species-monitoring and surveillance

Our climate is changing! Why aren’t we?

The soil is deteriorating, the pollinators are dying and there are floods and droughts all over the world. In the upcoming years, grains will become a rarity. People will not be able to afford vegetables and fruits. The only choice will be to feed on other animals. How will we decide to stay vegetarian or vegan then? The choice will be lost to us

Dr Sonika Kushwaha

It is a surety that you must have heard the term “climate change” in the past few years or even recently! But, do you actually realise its implications? You are also a witness to the extremes of temperatures- be it heat, cold or rain- in fact, of the peculiarities of weather as well. This year, it rained till the end of the first week of May in north India. The urban population found the weather pleasant while the farmers were hit below the belt. With the latest technologies, we get warnings and notifications about weather forecasting from the Meteorological department, but is this enough? How can the farmers save their crops with such forecasts?  They need to know why this is happening. “We wait for this time every year. Good harvesting means we can survive happily for the year. We have full granary and we also sell some portion of the crop to fulfill other requirements,” said Arvind Raikwar, a farmer from Uttar Pradesh. “This time first the Kharif and now the Rabi crops are damaged. We lost everything. There is nothing for our families and for animals. The damage is so much that we cannot even get fodder for animals.”

Farmers are facing the distress of climate change every season. “Farming is like gambling now. If the weather remains stable, crop yield is good but if it changes suddenly, you lose everything,” says Daya Ram, a farmer from village Malipur in Uttar Pradesh. The unpredictable changes, particularly the rainfall patterns, are harmful for all types of agricultural products be it pulses, rice, wheat, fruits, or vegetables. Pooran Prajapati, a small farmer from Niwari Madhya Pradesh is worried about the continuous loss of crops. “The condition of the country's food grains is now affected. Along with this, the food security of the poor is getting worst. In such a situation, despite giving free food grains to the poor under the Food Security Scheme, the price of all edibles is increasing. It is difficult to buy vegetables for the family. Most of them are above Rs 60/kg. We are not able to grow them. Due to sudden rains, the vegetables start rotting in the field itself. The fields get flooded and all the vegetables get spoiled.”

This is a cause of concern because such weather shocks have become more recurrent, intense, and worryingly they are unpredictable. Let us understand from the seasons that we have. The winters are delayed. In November we still use fans and cooling systems. The winters start in the last week of December and continue till February and sometimes in March too. The monsoon has a similar story. It starts late in the month of July and continues till September last and even October. The delay affects the sowing of the crops and the continuation affects the harvesting of the crops. Last year the heavy rain in late September destroyed the pulses completely. The fields were flooded with rain water and the pulses started decaying in the fields due to heavy post-monsoon. According to various resources, around 27% of India was left dry during the 2022 monsoon. Central India received 19% excess rainfall; the southern peninsula received 22% excess rain. Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Assam, Haryana, Delhi, and Punjab received very little rainfall during the monsoon season. But in the last week of September, Uttar Pradesh received more than 193% of the normal rainfall. Haryana received 916%, Punjab 350%, Himachal Pradesh 207%, Uttarakhand 223%, Rajasthan 190%, and Madhya Pradesh 83% above normal rainfall. October was thus one of the wettest in recent years at all India levels. Similarly, wheat harvesting suffered severe losses last month.

Governments are meeting and scientists from various fields are sharing their research to let the people know about the serious impacts of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) is an eight-year-long undertaking from the world’s most authoritative scientific body on climate change. Drawing on the findings of 234 scientists on the physical science of climate change, 270 scientists on impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability to climate change, and 278 scientists on climate change mitigation, this IPCC synthesis report provides the most comprehensive, best available scientific assessment of climate change. The summary of the report says:

1. Human-induced global warming of 1.1 degrees C has spurred changes to the Earth’s climate that are unprecedented in recent human history.

2. Climate impacts on people and ecosystems are more widespread and severe than expected, and future risks will escalate rapidly with every fraction of a degree of warming.

3. Adaptation measures can effectively build resilience, but more finance is needed to scale solutions.

4. Some climate impacts are already so severe they cannot be adapted to, leading to losses and damages.

5. Global GHG emissions peak before 2025 in 1.5 degrees C-aligned pathways.

6. The world must rapidly shift away from burning fossil fuels — the number one cause of the climate crisis.

7. We also need urgent, system wide transformations to secure a net-zero, climate-resilient future.

8. Carbon removal is now essential to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C.

9. Climate finance for both mitigation and adaptation must increase dramatically this decade.

10. Climate change as well as our collective efforts to adapt to and mitigate it, will exacerbate inequity should we fail to ensure a just transition. 

When we sum up the research reports by IPCC, World Bank, the Kyoto Protocol, Paris Agreement, or National Disaster Management Agency it reaches only to a handful of people. These people include researchers, environmentalists, academicians, and to some extent students. The public in general hears only the term “climate change”. The 2015 Paris Agreement aims at limiting the rise in temperature to 1.5°C, but it also added that the probability of limiting this warming to under 2°C by the year 2100 is less than 5 percent. How much do the common people understand from this and how much idea do they have about it?

What common populace need to understand

David Attenborough says: “We live our comfortable lives in the shadow of a disaster of our own making. That disaster is being brought about by the very things that allow us to live our comfortable lives.”- A Life on Our Planet: My Witness Statement and a Vision for the Future.

Stubble-burning is a very common practice by farmers. This not only contributes to air pollution but also deteriorates the soil’s organic content, essential nutrients, and microbial activity-which together reduces the soil’s long-term productivity. So, somehow farmers also contribute to climate change and they need to understand this. “The biggest problem when it comes to air pollution and anthropogenic aerosols in India is enforcement of the law. Vehicular emissions need to be regulated. Roadside and agricultural burning has no accountability. Open and unattended areas are prime locations for garbage burning too. Coal-fired power plants across the Indo-Gangetic plain are highly dangerous and need to be checked,” Prof SK Satheesh, Divecha Centre for Climate Change, Indian Institute of Science, and recipient of the Infosys Prize 2018 in Physical Sciences, pointed out. However, these problems are better controlled by governmental bodies and require long-term changes.

Newspaper and Rail Neer Packaged Drinking Water bottles along with disposable cups are served to the passengers on board Shatabdi/Rajdhani/Duronto Express trains on a complimentary basis. One bottle of 1 litre Rail Neer Packaged Drinking Water and newspaper is supplied to every passenger. Have you ever thought about or calculated the number of plastic bottles that are generated unnecessarily by the railway? Almost every passenger on these trains carries their own water bottles but not even a single person says no to the water when offered to them. Many of them have just a sip of water and then leave the plastic bottles with unused water. This can be avoided. The educated class of people traveling on these trains should act wisely. Railways can offer RO water that can be filled in reusable water bottles. The small solutions are there that can eventually stop the big devastating climatic effects.

The human population is enhancing every second. We have the same Earth with the same capacity. Humans have depleted the natural resources that were sufficient for their survival. How will the growing population continue to exist?

Dr S M Satheesan, India's leading Airport BASH Management Expert and vulture enthusiast says: “We can write pages after pages on global warming and climate change, the causative and promoting factors as well as ways to reduce the impact of climate change on our day-to-day lives. But core to all climate change solutions is reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which must get to zero as soon as possible. Checking human population explosion and population of other animals will go a long way in addressing most of the problems we face including climate change. When we check the root cause of analyzing any problem, we find unchecked population explosion is the main cause. Not only governments but the public at large should do whatever possible to reduce global warming including preventing the burning of stubble, home refuse, and other industrial and market garbage, and not using generators, air conditioners, and refrigerators wherever possible. Giving sermons on global warming is easy but setting the example on sensible practices to reduce global warming is very difficult. Look at animal and bird species whose populations have grown to a number that cannot be supported by nature, can you eliminate them? Even domesticated and farm animals are a great problem in producing greenhouse gases and animal garbage including slaughter waste. So, having an optimum population of any species should be the very basis for even wildlife conservation, nipping problems in the bud!”

Abhishek Dubey, Outreach Coordinator at Vegan Outreach, India says: “Our demands for milk and milk products is one of the main causes of an increasing number of stray cattle that are left for suffering by the greedy owners.” He further adds that the owners make the animals breed forcefully through unnatural processes for their benefit, the keep the females as long as they are capable of giving milk, and then they leave them to suffer and die. The condition of male animals is even worst. Everywhere you can see feral cattle and dogs roaming around, eating polythene, injured, or becoming a cause of road accidents. Can’t the so-called most intelligent species, homo sapiens manage this? Huge crop losses every season, with the increasing human population and with the uncontrolled rise in some animal species will surely lead to an imbalanced life. The soil is deteriorating, the pollinators are dying, and there are floods and droughts all over the world. In the upcoming years, grains will become a rarity. People won’t be able to afford vegetables and fruits. The only choice will be to feed on other animals. How scary all this appears!

There is more to it

There are diseases due to various types of pollution and outbreaks of viruses, heart attacks; cancers and diabetes are so common that almost every person that we come across is suffering from these.  Even if we limit temperature rise to under 2°C, disease spread is set to rise. The only way to tackle this is through increased species-monitoring and surveillance. This could help identify new diseases before they reach crisis levels. However, even this is easier said than done because of disease carriers like bats, rats, and other rodents, which are called hyper reservoirs as they can carry a range of diseases and spread very far with little detection. Dr Monika Raghuvanshi who did her doctorate on “Awareness, knowledge and attitude about environmental issues among secondary school students: An initiative for social as well as green marketing in Bikaner city” follows an eco-friendly lifestyle in every possible way. She believes that humans and nature are inseparable. They may appear to be different but are deeply interconnected. Climate drifting is due to pressure on nature due to anthropogenic activities. Nature is forced to recover its balance which appears as a natural calamity for humans. So, when we don’t change willingly, nature makes us change forcefully.

The famous phrase by Von Wong from Vietnam, “It’s just one straw, said one billion people”, has a very deep meaning for all people from every background. Be it a poor man or a rich one, everyone has taken the privilege of natural resources. An open tap with flowing or dripping water is a very common thing to be seen in a slum area or a public place like a railway station or bus station. Similarly washing expensive cars with open pipes is just a small thing for the rich. We need not realize climate change by the big terrifying data that go beyond our understanding. Mobile phones are a gift of technology for us that make our life easy in a number of ways only if we learn to use them wisely. Lotfi Belkhir, Associate Professor of Engineering at McMaster University said: “Our appetite for phones and the apps that populate them are a contributing factor to climate change. But there will be countable people who will agree to use mobile phones only for important work and not for entertainment.” The unnecessary screen time contributes to digital pollution and is digital waste according to Belkhir. 

On an individual level, Satheesh explained that we can still make changes that are helpful. “Vehicle emissions are the easiest to tackle by individuals,” he said. “An Innova can seat 5 to 7 people, yet often has only one or two. We need to familiarise ourselves with carpooling. Another thing we could do is conserve power by turning lights and fans off when we go out. Printing unnecessarily is also a great indirect cause for pollution due to felling of trees which can combat pollution. Then there is plastic,” he said. Satheesh stressed that there are several effects of air pollution that we see around us every day, including the ill health and respiratory disorders developed by senior citizens and bleaching of coral reefs by ocean acidification. Glaciers melt quicker, especially since black carbon particles settle on ice, warming them. We  are losing land to water, he says. “In climate change discussions, we always discuss global issues but lag behind on regional coverage,” he said of climate change coverage in the media. “What happens in other parts of the world might be very interesting, but is not of big consequence to a small town in our country, where citizens might not be aware of what is happening around them.” Prof SK Satheesh emphasized.

Climate change is grave trouble that humans have created by their small acts that are mostly preventable. Almost every one of us knows that we should carry our own cloth bag when we go out shopping, particularly for vegetables. We use vehicles even for small distances. This is detrimental to both our health and the environment. We are habitual to consume electricity and water than the requirement. Cape Town in South Africa is facing a severe water crisis. Similar is the condition in many parts of India be it the big cities or interior small villages of the Bundelkhand region. When agriculture becomes impossible in a lack of water, people start migrating to cities to earn their living. Farmers need to revert to the farming system. The use of excessive pesticides has led to soil degradation as well as a reduction in beneficial insects. The use of cow dung manure has multiple benefits. It enhances soil productivity, grows organic food, and also provides shelter to the cattle of farmers.

The construction of highways has destroyed lakhs of big old trees that will take more than a decade to grow. There is a major difference in the services provided by the large old trees and the young planted trees. Moreover, the number of trees that are cut down is never replaced by the same number of a plantation. A single tree is not only important for life-giving oxygen; it is the only habitat of countless species including invertebrates and vertebrates. Right from the roots to the branches, flowers, fruits, and leaves all are important for other living species as well and humans have no right to destroy them. The authorities, the responsible officers, the labour, and everyone who works on the construction projects should have the realization that by destroying nature we won’t be able to survive for long. To quote Ronald Reagan: “Preservation of our environment is not a liberal or conservative challenge, it’s common sense.”

So now is the time to understand climate change without the scientific data and without the enormous targets that are set for the upcoming 20-25 years. We need to change and act now. Ever tried to hug a tree and thanked it for giving us life? Try it now!

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