On August 6 a team of climate scientists led by Will Steffen of Australian National University published a paper in the Proceedings of the US National Academy of Science and issued a stern warning to humanity. The paper which has come to be known as “Hothouse Earth” warns,
“We explore the risk that self-reinforcing feedbacks could push the Earth System toward a planetary threshold that, if crossed, could prevent stabilization of the climate at intermediate temperature rises and cause continued warming on a “Hothouse Earth” pathway even as human emissions are reduced. Crossing the threshold would lead to a much higher global average temperature than any interglacial in the past 1.2 million years and to sea levels significantly higher than at any time in the Holocene. We examine the evidence that such a threshold might exist and where it might be. If the threshold is crossed, the resulting trajectory would likely cause serious disruptions to ecosystems, society, and economies. Collective human action is required to steer the Earth System away from a potential threshold and stabilize it in a habitable interglacial-like state. Such action entails stewardship of the entire Earth System—biosphere, climate, and societies—and could include de-carbonization of the global economy, enhancement of biosphere carbon sinks, behavioral changes, technological innovations, new governance arrangements, and transformed social values.”
The paper found the Earth was heading for a tipping point, known as a “hothouse” climate, which could lead to average temperatures up to 5oC higher than pre-industrial temperatures and rises in sea level of between 10 and 60 meters.
As the paper was being published, our earth was going through some of the roughest weather patterns in recent history.
Arctic was going through unprecedented wildfires.
Greece declared a state of emergency as raging forest fires killed at least 81 people and injured more than 190.
California was going through an unprecedented wildfire season.
New South Wales is under severe drought.
Meanwhile in the southern hemisphere unprecedented floods killed hundreds of people.
A once in a century flood in Kerala killed 488 people and caused massive damage
Uttar Pradesh recorded 325 deaths.
West bengal recorded 210 deaths.
Karnataka recorded 170 deaths.
Maharashtra recorded 139 deaths.
The strongest typhoon to hit Japan’s mainland in 25 years forced one of the country’s largest airports to close and hundreds of flights to be canceled. At least 10 people have died since Typhoon Jebi.
Meanwhile in Myanmar monsoon downpours have caused significant flooding, killing at least 16 people and displacing more than 150,000 others.
Don’t you see a pattern there?
Our weather system is getting out of control. The earth is losing balance as it moves into a ‘hothouse’.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) gave a synthesis report on November 1, 2017 which outlines the effects of climate change on all regions of the world.
With observations from the synthesis report and the draft IPCC Assessment Report (AR5) this is the prediction given for India.
Net annual temperatures in India in 2030s, with respect to 1970s, will increase from 1.7-2.2°C. Extreme temperatures are expected to increase by 1-4°C, with maximum increase in coastal regions.
The number of monsoon break days has increased while the number of monsoon depressions has declined.
Mean and extreme precipitation during the Indian summer monsoon is expected to increase.
The Himalayan region will see maximum increase in precipitation, while the north-eastern region will experience the minimum increase.
An increase in extreme rainfall events occurred at the expense of weaker rainfall events over the central Indian region and in many other areas.
Extreme weather events: cyclones, floods and droughts
Projections indicate that the frequency of cyclones is likely to decrease in 2030s, with increase in cyclonic intensity.
People living in districts along the eastern coast of India are expected to be especially vulnerable to the impact of extreme weather events because of poor infrastructure and demographic development.
Floods and droughts are likely to increase in India since there will be a decline in seasonal rainfall, coupled with increase in extreme precipitation during monsoon.
For example, the Mahanadi river basin in India will see an increased possibility of floods in September while an increased possibility of water scarcity in April.
Delhi is one of the world’s five most populated cities that are located in areas with high risk of floods.
In the light of all these predictions it is not too difficult to see that the extreme weather events we see in recent times are not just freak weather events but follow a pattern predicted by IPCC.
I’m from Kerala. Fortunately I was not affected in a major way from the deluge that continued from August 8 to 18. It was devastating. Actually nobody was unaffected by the flood one way or the another. My village was washed away. More than half a million people were rescued to shelter camps. If not for the timely action of the fishermen and the army thousands would have died. According to a rough estimate it would take at least $ 3 billion to rebuild Kerala and the lives of its people.
Sadly the government of India or the government of Kerala do not see it as a climate change induced extreme weather event. To put it milidly that is suicidal. Governments should open their eyes and start seeing these extreme events as part of climate change and global warming. They should realise that such extreme events would repeat more frequently in future and start preparing for the eventuality.
In 2013 a massive flood destroyed most of Uttarkhand which killed 5748 people. Yet, no lessons were learnt.
In 2014 another massive flood damaged most of Kashmir on both sides of the border. Yet, no lessons were learnt.
Cyclon Phailin hit Odisha in 2013. Due to high level of preparedeness death toll was limited.
On the other hand Cyclone Ockhi hit Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The state and central governments were caught napping. 245 died, and 661 missing. Most of them were fishermen whose lives could have been saved if there was proper weather alert.
It is high time that government of India and state governments woke up to the dangers of Climate Change and the related extreme weather events.
A drought on the scale of the recent deluge is a possibility for Kerala. If that happens that would be devastating for Kerala. The state with its rapacious capitalist development model has destroyed most of its water sheds, its water bodies. If a drought hits Kerala, salt water from the sea would rush up the river making most of the people of Kerala without drinking water.
Global warming is mostly caused by the western nations due to their high carbon emitting life style. It is the people in the poor South who are bearing the brunt of its effects. There should be proper mechanism under the auspices of IPCC to compensate those affected by climate change related weather events.
Binu Mathew is the editor of www.countercurrents.org. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org