What's with the Climate?

Voices of a Subcontinent grappling with Climate Change

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Delhi Metro: How Do I Love Thee?

Let me count the ways!

1. The emissions reductions
There is a reason I’m posting this love letter to WWTC. The Delhi Metro’s emission reductions have been certified by the CDM, confirming that from 2004-2007 the regenerative breaking systems on Delhi Metro Rail’s trains prevented emissions of 90,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide – like taking 16,000 cars off the road. And that’s only the breaks! It doesn’t even count how many cars it has actually taken off the road.
2.The Health
It’s not only that I believe the metro keeps fewer autorickshaws and cars on the road, thus keeping more black carbon and particulates out of the air, but also that it makes its riders healthier too! I walk to the metro, kilometers sometimes, and up these delightful stairs and I feel more fit for it.
3. The Safety
Moving to Delhi has made me afraid of 3 things I used to love: men, dogs and buses. Buses are worth fearing not only because the old blue line buses kill 100 people every year in pedestrian accidents, but also because buses feature crowds of men acting like dogs. Worst of all worlds. I’ve never ridden a bus without getting groped once. Enter: the women’s car of the metro. Not only is it a place of fantastic color and great shoes, but there is a community here. We can fix our hair, nurse our babies, giggle. Things you’d never do in the presence of men! And, best of all, we can ride grope-free.
4. The Miracle
In all the sacred places of India, from the glaciers that feed the river Ganga to the Buddha’s bodhi tree, people litter. And yet, in the miracle of miracles, no one does in the Delhi Metro. No one.

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Half the Sky: Women and Climate Change

When drought parches wells and streams,
someone must carry water. When storms bring devastation
and disease, someone has to nurse the sick.
Climate change hits hardest on the planet’s vulnerable edges.
If women hold up half the sky, what do we do
when it seems the sky is falling?

– Barbara Kingsolver, Ripple Effect Images

Ripple Effect Image

On International Women’s Day, it’s hard not to think about the most vulnerable, the women all around the world whose lives are being most impacted by climate change. As Kingsolver described, it’s women and girls who are travelling farther to bring water to their homes, walking for hours a day, eliminating many girls’ already-slim chance to attend school. It’s women who cook for hours in their kitchens, breathing in the smoke from cookstoves that pollute their lungs and their air. And, it’s women who are often last to eat, even when the first responsible for putting food on their families’ plates, even in the face of increasing food scarcity.

Hillary Clinton recently echoed Madeleine Albright in saying that issues of gender equality are issues of national and global security, and the impacts of climate change are woven tightly between the two. We cannot solve the challenges of climate change without empowering and educating women, and we cannot solve our other global challenges without addressing climate change. As Time recently wrote, “If you want to change the world, invest in girls.”

Solar SisterEmpowering female entrepreneurs and political leaders has never been more needed nor more possible. There’s Solar Sister in Africa and Barefoot College in India, training women as solar engineers and entrepreneurs; Wangari Maathai and the Green Belt Movement, planting trees and hope across Africa; dozens of groups of women constructing rainwater harvesting and catch dams. See the impact of giving female leaders better information about development decisions, training women on basic green technologies, and getting cleaner cookstoves into women’s homes.

These programs not only make women stronger, but help their families and communities. The World Food Programme reports that women who earn, invest 90 percent back into their families, and back into their communities. Investing in women means investing in communities, in truly sustainable development. Today, the problems and their solutions are closer than ever: “Help a Woman. Help the Planet.”

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No Island is an Island

I know it seems strange, but it is fundamentally true — while it is said that no man is an island as we are all interconnected in the web of life, no island nation is alone either. The impacts on a small island state are impacts felt on every nation, every state. To be very specific, ignoring all of the ethical, moral, and cultural losses that the COMPLETE disappearance of an entire nation poses to the world, to each one of us, the prospect of millions of climate refugees from small island states, coastal nations, and coastal areas within a given country, poses an enormous threat to global stability and to world peace.

I look at all of the refugees around the world – displaced from their homes because of political, economic, religious or even development reasons – and it terrifies me to imagine the millions more displaced in the future, not only because of complete disappearance of islands but also because of transformation of ecological systems that will make it impossible to farm in the floodplains of the Ganges as it becomes a seasonal river when the Himalayan glaciers disappear.

Here in Delhi, where many seem to think that climate change will not impact their lives, I beg us to look at what India will look like when home to millions of Bangaldeshis displaced by the estimated half meter of sea level rise by the end of the century. This is a change that could occur in our lifetimes! Should your heart be hardened enough not to break at the prospect of millions being forced to leave their homes, their lives, their livelihoods, their stories, their culture and their heritage — think of yourself. Think of how many you would or could take into your home, your workplace, your urban network. Think of your nation and your nations resources. Equitably, these climate refugees would be sent to where the responsibility lies – to the United States and to the EU, where governments would be mandated to give them jobs, houses, and livelihoods, though never able to replace their lives or their cultures. But the world is not just, and the refugees from around Southeast Asia will be here.

We are all interconnected, and it is for this reason that we MUST stand together with the small island states and the coastal nations in their petition to the United Nations Security Council to address climate change as an urgent threat to international peace and security. Previous plans calling on the United Nations to address climate change as a part of the UN’s fundamental right to preserve nations’ existence have not been successful, and polluting nations are fighting against UN action and thus any agreement that the UN Security Council would mandate immediate action for the UN and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

No man is an island, and no island nation is either. Join together and sign the Avaaz petition now. It will be presented by the islands’ ambassadors at the UN next week. The more signatures we raise, the more urgently this call will ring out to protect our common future – the future not only of these nations but of the world.

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North Pole is an Island for First Time in 125,000 years

As news of islands being submerged by rising sea levels, its no comfort that we have a new island on Earth, as of today — the North Pole. For the first time in 125,000 years, the North Pole’s polar ice cap has become a complete island, as satellite images taken by NASA in the United States have documented that the famed Northwest and Northeast passages are now in fact open, allowing water to stretch around the entire Arctic circle, isolating North Pole life from the rest of the continents. In fact, since the start of the last ice age, both passages have been frozen solid – again, they’ve been frozen for 125,000 years. Then again, is this surprising considering our carbon dioxide emissions at 387 ppm are higher than they’ve been for more than 650,000 years?

Measurements of ice and climate scientists are showing melting much faster and larger than anticipated. NSIDC gives daily updates on the status of North Pole Ice, and as of August 27, this year witnessed the second largest ice cap melt in one single year since records here have been collected. If the fact that the ice cap is an island for the first time in human history, the perspectives of some of the leading scientists is equally scary. Professor Mark Serreze, a sea ice specialist at the National Snow and Ice Data Centre in the US government, has expressed his thoughts that the melting ice cap has entered a “death spiral”, in terms of feedback loops that cannot be slowed down.

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Bangladesh is the Frontlines

At this week’s six day “International Symposium on Climate Change and Food Security in South Asia” hosted by Universtiy of Dhaka and South Ohio University, Visiting President of Iceland Olafur Ragnar Grimsson told the audience on Saturday that Bangladesh “has truly become a frontline state in the fight against climate change,” as it suffers and shares its impacts with millions.

Bangladesh has become the frontlines.

President Grimsson described the fact that Bangladesh is stuck between two massive climate impacts, ranging from a consensus that disappearance of the Himalayan glaciers between 2040 and 2070 would be possible. This would transform the yearlong seasonal rivers into seasonal trickles, or more importantly, as with the river’s course transformation (by hundreds of kilometers). The high-speed melting of the mountain ice spelt dangers for the southern Asian countries like Bangladesh that are dependent on the glaciers for sources of water.

More than the drought and glacier disppearance, the major impact of climate change discussed is often climate refugees, though very little of this research is brought to a level of inter-disciplinary success. However, as Mr. Grimsson suggested him a few day ago. Simultaneously, Mr. Grimsson emphasized that the urgency of climate change as a global issue, which will require “a new type of effective cooperation, particularly encompassing politicians, scientists, businessmen and civil associations to deal with climate change and global warming.” He also emphasized on a new scientific policy and technology to combat against climate change and global warming, and in the past Mr. Grimsson has mentioned a future partnership with India and IYCN to transfer Icelandic geothermal technology to Southeast Asia, if and where possible.

Bangladesh is the frontlines of climate impacts, but of climate solutions as well, where the microfinance model has been perfected and where solar lanterns are being distributed to independent women opening small offices to rent their lanterns when recharged. Mr. Grimsson was right – the front lines of this war are already here and while Bangladesh may be at the forefront, the impacts and the solutions will spread… the race to 350 is also a race against time…

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IYCN Meets Infosys Chairman & As Important: Each Other!

The third day of Indian Youth Summit on Climate Change may have been a torrential downpour, but it was no damper on the mood of the participants, who had another incredible day of discussions, including a discussion with the former Chairman and Founder of Infosys Technologies Limited, one of the world’s largest IT companies (90,000 employees!) which has been the generous host of the summit. Participants also had a chance to get to know each other a lot more during state breakout sessions, runs through the rain, and heated debates about how best to address climate equity.

Narayana Murty, Founder, Chairman & Mentor of Infosys with IYSoCC delegates supporting climate action and 350 ppm!
Narayana Murty, Founder, Chairman & Mentor of Infosys with IYSoCC delegates supporting climate action and 350 ppm!

The day began with a presentation by Gaurav Gupta of The Climate Project – India, which called for the youth to evaluate some of the hardest moral issues with regards to who should be bearing the costs of climate change adaptation and mitigation in countries like India. While India is suffering the largest impacts of climate change and is one of the world’s largest emitters of climate change, it has one of the lowest per capita levels of greenhouse gas emissions and must be allowed to develop to a higher level of per capita emissions, as developed nations must decrease their per capita and absolute emissions drastically. He also said that just as industrialized nations should be taxed based on their carbon emissions today, they should also be taxed for historical emissions, as the wealth of Europe and the United States is built on years of carbon emissions for which they were not charged.

The morning’s presentations also included presentations by Tapati Ghosh of Center for Social Markets and Brikesh Singh from Greenpeace India. Ms. Ghosh spoke about CSM’s projects to raise awareness about climate change, including the City Dialogues on Climate Change and Climate Challenge India, which received an award at the United Nations Climate Conference in Bali in 2007 as one of the world’s top five climate programs. Ms. Ghosh said, “Climate Challenge India seeks to build a new climate of hope and opportunity on climate change.” Brikesh Singh of Greenpeace India spoke about Greenpeace’s initiatives for grassroots action on climate change, and said, “If we need to fight climate change, we – tomorrow’s future – need to create a revolution today. IYSoCC is just the beginning.” Anugraha John and Digu Arachamy, both members of IYCN and organizers of IYSoCC spoke about climate change and impacts on water and agriculture, respectively.

Mr. Narayana Murthy, co-founder, non-executive Chairman and Chief Mentor of Infosys Technologies Limited, spoke to the Indian Youth Summit on Climate Change delegates this afternoon about climate change and the power of youth to make a change. He encouraged all of the delegates to lead through their own examples, to walk the talk with regards to conservation of resources. “I have always believed that the most powerful instrument that a leader has is leadership by example.” He was very supportive of the motives and actions of the Indian Youth Climate Network, and said, “We have a population of 650 to 700 million people under the age of 30. If we can mobilize this force, we will have enormous power for change to address climate change.” He also told us that he only uses half a bucket of water each day to bathe, putting water conservation into action.

Youth from around the country discussed impacts in their own states, ranging from loss of glaciers and decreased tourism due to decreased snowfall in Himachal Pradesh, reduction in fruit production in Kashmir, to droughts and farmer suicides in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. They also spoke about their solutions for their regions, including statewise support for subsidies on renewables, mandatory solar water heating and rainwater harvesting, and better educational campaigns on climate solutions. The most exciting part, of course, was the commitment made by individuals and by groups to take action when they do return home – to turn the words of the week into actions. The team from Delhi each committed to speaking at five schools or colleges to spread the message, and to meet in two weeks to discuss how to move the Delhi Charter on Climate Change into action.

Representatives from Bangalore agreed to compile a database of all organizations working on climate and environment in Karnataka and have a meeting on August 23 to unite them. In Hyderabad, groups committed to tree plantations. Many committed to share information and organize events for Project 350, an international grassroots movement to raise the number of 350 ppm as the international target for emissions. This has been identified as the only safe level of carbon emissions that will allow for a stable future climate, and is the base of international actions leading up to an international agreement for climate policy in Copenhagen at the United Nations climate negotiations in 2009.

In the afternoon, a group of international youth organizers spoke about their experiences internationally. Deepa Gupta told of direct actions that were organized in Australia, including chaining activists to trees to prevent being cut down and the Youth Climate Action Camp which included hundreds of youth lying on railway tracks to prevent coal trains from reaching a new coal plant. Two students from Nepal spoke about the impacts of climate change in Nepal and the international youth movement’s actions there. Representatives from the United States spoke about the shift from fear-based to hope-based climate action and the campus based movements that spread across the country, including Nathan Wyeth from Sierra Student Coalition and Will Bates from Project 350. In particular, Mr. Bates highlighted the effectiveness of national days of actions, including Step it Up 2007, in which 1400 communities and campuses across the country in all 50 states held events to call for 80 percent reductions in carbon emissions by 2050.

The official sessions ended with a painting session, with delegates painting canvases depicting their thoughts on climate change, impacts and solution that OxFam India will be bringing to this year’s international climate negotiations. The day ended with passionate discussions of climate equity and how best to address historical emissions, including questioning how colonial impacts, deforestation and land use change, and development pathways could be incorporated into such a tax.

Tomorrow is the final day of the Indian Youth Summit on Climate Change, in which the Youth Declaration will be finalized after a few more working groups.

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350: A Goal for Humanity

I don’t know about you but I kind of like the way the world was when civilization began, somewhere in the youth of this beautiful Indus valley. Now, I wasn’t around to see it, but that planet sounds pretty nice — our planet. So when James Hansen, Head of the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York and one of the world’s leading climate scientists, admitted that previous estimates of climate impact were grossly underestimated. That means that the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’s international goal to prevent “dangerous anthropogenic interference” on climate systems will require us to drastically cut global emissions far more than previously expected.

As Hansen says in his recent report, “Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?” 350 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere is the only acceptable stabilization level of CO2 if “humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilisation developed.” I’m not afraid to say it — I WOULD like a level of CO2 that would allow us to preserve such a planet. Which is to say – the only one we’ve got. The one that all ecological systems evolved for. The one that all humans rely on for absolutely everything. The one planet that has tied, ties and will tie all of humanity together.

Which means – as some have recently said – that 350 might just be the most important number in our lifetime. And, in the lifetime of the planet. The problem, to put it in context, is that we’re already at 383 ppm, and it’s continuing to increase, because we’re continuing to add more carbon emissions to the atmosphere. His paper went on to say that if we allow CO2 to reach 550 (double the 280 ppm of the thousands of years before the Industrial Revolution — that is to say, the CO2 levels for all of civilization), we’ll be facing a 6 C increase in temperature, unlike the 3 C increase the IPCC predicts. This is because of the slow feedback loops in the climate system. For example, the glaciers and ice caps are melting much more quickly than researchers had anticipated and this melting is exposing more land and water for heat absorption rather than the reflection that ice provides. Even if we cut CO2 to 450 ppm, Hansen suggests that sea levels could rise several meters – by 2100!

But back to this 350. It’s easy to lose hope when you think we’re already well above that, with no clear international (or even any clear national) strategy to really turn that trend around. The global political community has talked for so long about how difficult it would be to even stabilize at 450 ppm; reaching 350 ppm will require a massive commitment from all nations to reaching 350. This has to happen if we want to preserve the planet – the same planet – on which civilization was born. And it has to happen fast. To stabilize at 350 (from our current rate and our current trajectory) means transforming the energy system from a heavily polluting one to a zero emissions system. Over night. No big deal. If you think the Earth itself (and the civilizations on it) are no big deal.

Hansen does give us hope in his article — that while we’ve underestimated the climate impacts, we’ve overestimated our fuel reserves, which may help in the shift to clean technology in the coming years. Prices of fossil fuels WILL go up and the market will force renewable energies into the leading role in the market. But we’ll need aggressive policies, we’ll need total creativity, we’ll need innovative technology, we’ll need changes in lifestyles, and most of all we’ll need action from all of us. To commit to 350, to encourage 350, to share 350… To make it 350.

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Protect our Climate, Protect our Health!

The World Health Organization estimates that 150,000 people die annually already due to climate change-related causes (including in floods, droughts, and heat waves). It’s for this reason that the WHO chose to name World Health Day 2008 “Protecting our Health from Climate Change,” thus recognizing the fact that climate change will affect “some of the most fundamental determinants of health: air, water, food, shelter and freedom from disease,” as described by Dr Margaret Chan, Director of the WHO.

I was able to attend the event at Southeast Asian Regional Office of WHO on World Health Day — to perform a rap about climate change and health, no less — and heard the Regional Director speak about the threats to this region, where the health impacts are and will be enormous. Like everything associated with climate change, the impacts will not be equitably distributed throughout the world, and the threats are particularly frightening in India, with its large coastline and coastal population, large reliance on rainfed agriculture, and enormous population without access to basic health services already.

The massive migrations and health impacts caused by increasing floods AND droughts seem almost like a horror movie, and the rising sea levels will change both physical and cultural geographies due to mass migrations of climate refugees. All of these will not only impact physical health, but also create enormous mental health impacts.

However, the intersection of climate change and world health is not only that climate change will lead to direct health impacts, but that climate changes will exacerbate existing health problems and put greater stress on public health networks. Malaria is an issue the global health community is struggling to address, killing almost 1 million people annually, and warming winters will allow more malarial mosquito vectors to survive the cold seasons. Malnutrition is a problem that has not been solved despite the promises of the green revolution, still causing more than 3.5 million deaths a year, and the stresses of changing climatic conditions will only make the fight to survive an even more difficult battle. Lack of access to clean drinking water leads to diarrhoeal diseases, and increases in both droughts and floods are likely to decrease availability of fresh water. Urban sewage systems in India cannot treat the waste of existing populations, and with growing populations, rising sea levels AND increased precipitation, these problems will also be exacerbated. The global health community, and the general public must be aware of the impacts of climate change on health and prepare for these changes by expanding existing public health networks. Read on for more information and for lyrics to the rap performed on World Health Day 2008! Continue reading

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Spring Brings Tidings of Change

This past weekend saw an atypical collision of spring holidays all landing right around the Spring Equinox itself — Eid, Holi, Easter, and Purim — all within four days of each other and the first day of spring. This perfect storm of holidays usually occurring weeks apart is exactly the opposite of the ecological changes and disruptions witnessed around the world due to climate change.

In fact, these changes are even noticeable from space! Global satellites that measure when land “turns green” found that spring “green-up” has been arriving eight hours earlier every year on average since 1982 in the north-eastern United State. These eight hours may seem like an average working day anyone can live without, but in biological systems, those eight hours add up…

“The alarm clock that all the plants and animals are listening to is running too fast,” according to Stanford University biologist Terry Root. The real problem as I see it is that the plants and animals aren’t listening to the same alarm clocks as they used to — so they’re all waking up at different times. While some plants and animals are heat-sensitive, such that the warmth that accompanies spring (thawing the winter ice, for example) causes the biological seasonal changes, others are photosensitive, such that they respond to increasing day length to trigger their responses to spring. And while the warmth is coming earlier, the tilt of the earth and patterns of light aren’t changing. So while the spring “green-up” may now be happening eight days earlier than it did in 1985, according to satellite data, the other spring changes may occur even earlier or at the usual times.

This is an even bigger problem because our biological lessons of the birds and the bees can tell us that it’s all about the timing. Many birds, for example, have hatched for hundreds of years on exactly the same day that a certain type of insect emerges en masse. This is a natural evolution of ecological balance; without predatorial control at the appropriate time, populations of prey may surge, and when the predators do arrive, they may well be too late. So when thermally sensitive organisms start shifting their biological cycles while photo-sensitive organisms don’t, this can mean some massive changes to ecological systems!

The past two days have been witness to large storms in Delhi — many month early monsoons — continuing to show that this Spring may bring with it more than just conjunctions of holidays, but climatic changes of a larger scale. Longer periods of rain and moisture can provide ideal conditions for breeding mosquitoes and other disease vectors. Shifting seasonal timings for rain can also further complicate the changing ecological balances.

Optimistically, though, Spring is an ideal time to reflect on a personal, local, national, and global level on how best to reduce our emissions and impact on these climatic and ecological shifts. So for better or worse, it IS definitely time for a change.

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Loss of Tigers & Climate Change: Two Sides to One Coin?

After recent tiger survey results were released (1,411 tigers left in India), it is obviousTiger Pug Marks–the main source for census taking until recently that the entire species is on the brink of extinction. While the threats to tigers are manifold, including poaching and habitat loss, one of the emerging threats to future conservation programs may be climate change. At the same time, preserving India’s forests could help both the tiger preservation and climate mitigation. While conservation biologists have addressed the impact that climate change will have on wildlife refuges and wildlife preservation in other parts of the world, by recognizing that global warming will shift the climatic conditions in remaining wildlife reserves, the plight of the tiger still has not gotten the attention that it deserves.

It is now common knowledge that seas level rise is threatening the coastal areas of the world, particularly low-lying regions like Bangladesh and the Sunderbans. Increased submerging of the Sunderbans would threaten the stability of the world’s largest mangrove forest, increase the loss of habitat for the remaining tigers in the Sunderbans, and put further pressure on inland zones in future storm surges. The IPCC identified in as early as 2001 that sea level rise would greatly threaten the Sunderbans and the remaining Royal Bengal tigers living in that area.

Furthermore, other tiger reserves in India, including Corbett National Park, have also been identified as zones whose hydrological conditions will be transformed by glacial melt and changing precipitation patterns. Wildlife organizations have reported that tigers are being found farther north and in higher elevations now, not only because of climatic changes, but also because of development patterns that are forcing them out of traditional habitat in the lowlands. These changes in habitat and in available land will force the limited number of tigers to adapt to new ecological conditions, a difficult task for a threatened species.

Sanctuary Asia has also started a campaign to raise awareness that tiger preservation can also be a form of climae mitigation, in the sense that destruction of forests will not only be reducing tiger habitat but also releasing more carbon emissions to fuel climate change. Furthermore, Sanctuary points out that the the preservation of these forests will also be protecting India’s waterways, saying, “More than 300 rivers originate in tiger reserves.” India’s water and food security will be seriously threatened by climate change; the more that existing waterways can be protected, the more able India will be to cope with future climatic changes.

We cannot solve the problems of ecological destruction and the threats to tigers without addressing climate change, yet at the same time, our methods to address habitat preservation may also aid in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Neither climate change nor species loss are easy problems to deal with. But the implications of both and the solutions to both must be considered holistically if we are to solve either.