What's with the Climate?

Voices of a Subcontinent grappling with Climate 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.

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Biogas Fuels Big Ambitions

“Give us things that will help us run engines with local resources. Diesel and petrol prices are killing us farmers,” said Ram Karan. I sat listening intently to him at his farm on the very fringes of Ranthambore National Park. The majority of farmers here who do not have access to electricity spend anywhere between Rs. 15,000 to Rs. 1 lakh onRam Karan’s Tractor engine being fueled by biogas/diesel mix diesel to run generators to irrigate their farm lands. Imagine that amount of money instead being put towards a decentralized renewable energy source to sustain their livelihoods. “Give us solar, we are willing to pay!” he said. “I know that there are even solar powered pumps out there.” Solar pumps have been questioned for their efficacy especially where ground water levels have dropped severely—and they have in this part of Rajasthan. I was doing a survey on the local biogas plant dissemination project by a local NGO, the Prakratik Society. Though a technology around since the 1970s and considering one of the most abundant decentralized resources available to rural India being livestock, it is unfortunate that not much more research and development has gone towards its advancement. My survey revealed more than just a drastic reduction in fuel-wood consumed by villagers owning the biogas plants (50-100% drop by 100% of the households surveyed): some of the villagers are fueling some of their ambitions in rather unique ways with this old technology.

On this morning, Ram Karan was running his tractor engine with a mix of diesel and the gas generated by his biogas plant. The two cylinder tractor engine used to run the pump usually consumes 2.5 liters of diesel in one hour, but with a mix of biogas, it consumes diesel at a rate of 1.5 to 1.75 liters an hour. The only draw back was the limited amount of gas generated by the 3 cubic Biogas Plant, Karoli Tara-chand villagemeter biogas plant being sucked out more quickly by the hungry engine. Still, it reveals the scope of larger sized biogas plants in meeting additional needs of villagers beyond cooking. The problem with larger plants (those with greater width and depth) being the higher likelihood of cracks developing in the tank—which render plants completely useless. “If we could get enough gas to run an 8-10 horse power engine to pump water, and perhaps some for additional electricity generation, we would be all set!” He touted. Further down the road, a dhaba had been set up near the roadside. “I opened up this dhaba soon after getting my biogas plant,” stated Janki Lal. “Business has been good [as was visible during my short chai break] and it is so much easier to operate using gas as opposed to wood. But I want my lamp as well!” He was referring to the gas lamps the Prakratik Society used to disseminate with the plants earlier on which failed because of lack of proper infrastructure in place for replacement parts.

One of my final stops was at Ameen’s house. He had a large family and ambitions to match the size. “I want to have several biogas plants, or perhaps a few large ones. I will get nearly 10 artificially inseminated hybrid cows [scaling up from the 2 he had currently]. I am going to stop farming and start a dairy,” he stated confidently. His cattle will be stall fed by the fodder he will be planting instead. It will including the “sul babul” tree which grows quite well in this climate and grows rapidly. The native cows are artificially inseminated with the semen of high-milk yielding Jersey cows with help of Prakratik Society. With nearly 50% of the respondents (from 7 different villages surrounding the park) claiming they would be willing to take on bank loans to finance more biogas plants, perhaps its time the advancement of this technology take precedence to meet the ambitions of the people. “The jungle is disappearing, so you need to make these plants everywhere,” stated Ram Karan—revealing a true grasp of the human-wildlife conflict that is plaguing the country.