Editorial: Change Attitudes towards Climate

Climate Change is real, but our preparedness for it is still not

The dots have not been conclusively connected in as far as the Kerala flood having been intensified by climate change, but the extreme heat of the European summer preceded by a record winter and the temperamental nature of the monsoon over these parts, make a rather conclusive argument for changing climate. These events need to be seen as reiterations of climate change realities of the present times. Unfortunately, we continue to engage with it in confusion. If this attitude prevails, things will not end too well. Only the better informed will be better prepared and only the more responsive societies and communities stand a chance of making the transition with the least suffering. Projections of climate change are admittedly based on imperfect science and worst case scenarios vary depending on the inputs and permutations deployed. What is however unanimously accepted is that the planet is getting warmer and that climate systems are in fact already changing. For a country which, despite the consistently falling productivity of its fields and disruptive economic tweaking like demonetisation, still depends on agriculture to occupy 60% of its population, we are doing woefully little to prepare for climate change. Agriculture in India is climate-dependent and the worry that the ongoing tap-dance of drought and inundation is triggering, reinforces this contention. Unfortunately, apart from more subsidies, loan waivers and funds for relief, the government is not engaging climate change with the scientific enquiry that the situation demands. Agriculture, lifestyles and livelihoods are not being prepared for climate change even though it is obvious that this adjustment is as necessary as all measures aimed at reducing CO2 emissions and adopting energy usage corrections. In the obsessive pursuit of calculating how much the polar icecaps will shrink and how high the seas will rise, the socioeconomic impact of climate change is not being discussed enough. Of course, there is the token mention of how the poor will suffer this the most, but that hardly carries any lifestyle-changing warnings because in our country, the poor suffer everything the most. Climate change will attract interest when people are told that it will impact Everyone, especially the rich and the well-heeled. And that might not be stretching things too far because the underprivileged are already hotwired with resilience, it is the rich who cannot handle change and disruptions. Sikkim has taken the lead over all other states by first instituting a commission to study the health of its glaciers and the impact of global warming on it and then by tasking the Department of Science & Technology to also include Climate Change in its name and study the phenomenon with Sikkim in mind. At least that is what it intended to do, but has not really delivered anything worthwhile on either count. These were still good initiatives and could provide the raw data on climate change. For these measures to deliver realistically, the data will have to be crunched in time to inform the lifestyle and policy level corrections the State needs to make to prepare for climate change. Get realistic, there is really nothing Sikkim can do to effectively stall climate change, neither here, nor at the international level, but it can do a lot to prepare for it and support global initiatives. It is already doing the latter, but needs to work extra hard on the former aspect. The glaciers are receding, rain is now falling even in erstwhile rain-shadow zones and even the tree-line is advancing higher. Crops have failed, plant diseases have become more resistant and rainfall patterns are accurately mimicking the intense rain over shorter duration pattern projected by climate change. It has been getting hotter as well. There are many studies and initiatives which should already have been undertaken. Since this piece has mentioned agriculture, let’s look at that sector itself. Going organic is definitely a good idea because that will protect the fields from the added torture of chemicals, but one should have already started double-checking on the advisability of persisting with hybrids. It is already accepted across the world that hybrids are the least tolerant to temperature fluctuations while the indigenous variants are hardier. We have already seen how Punjab has drained away its water-table with over-use and perhaps a more organized and reasoned approach needs to be taken on how Sikkim taps on its water sources as well. Experts have already started suggesting that infrastructure development be undertaken with an eye on climate change and Sikkim needs to follow up on this advise seriously. In fact, for something that so pervasive, it is surprising that climate change has still not entered the lexicon of national security. How many war-game projections for Sikkim have, for example, factored in the possibility that the trans Himalaya of North Sikkim might become a frightening criss-cross of bogs and permafrost frequently ambushed by flashfloods in the years to come.