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The year climate change became common sense: Jacob Sebastian

July 24, 2012

Guest post by JACOB SEBASTIAN

 Is 2012 the watershed year for climate change? The year it ceases to be a ‘dodgy concept’ and transforms into painful reality?

Some facts to consider:

 *The United States – particularly the food basket that is the American Midwest, is facing its “worst drought” since the 1950s, and is expected to last all summer. US agricultural secretary Tom Vilsack told the media: “If I had a rain prayer or a rain dance I could do, I would do it.” The US is the world’s second biggest food producer, after China, but more importantly, one of the biggest exporters of food.

*Prices of the four key crops: Corn, wheat, sugar and soybean have risen 44%, 48%, 22% and 26% over the last month. The United States produces 41% of the world’s corn and 38% of the world’s soybeans. The two crops comprise two of the four largest sources of caloric energy produced and are thus critical for world food supply.

 *Russia, Ukraine and Kazhaksthan have also cut crop forecasts following extreme weather events (both drought and floods) in the ‘bread basket’ regions of the former Soviet Union, according to  an article in Financial Times on July 17, 2012. 

*India could very well be headed for a drought itself, with the monsoon being delayed by an unprecedented two weeks, and rainfall still 22 percent below average for the time of year.

 * The price of rice, the staple grain of the world’s poor, has so far not been affected, but the monsoon’s poor show in India could change that. July is the crucial planting month for the kharif crop, and the sowing of pulses and rice are behind schedule. Already, there are reports of the price of pulses and cotton being driven up by as much as 20% 

* Overall water level in reservoirs has been found to be at 57 per cent of last year’s storage. The Centre has issued an advisory to the States to limit release of waters from reservoirs and to give priority to drinking water and irrigation needs.

These disparate events could have a cumulative effect on the world’s and India’s food supply unless the weather improves and governments step in to impose controls and provide relief early enough. The economic and political implications of a potential food crisis are unpredictable. Price surges in 2008 and 2010 have been identified as at least partially responsible for political turmoil globally, including the events that led up to the ‘Arab Spring’. This time, it could also affect an already crisis-hit Europe as well.

The irony is that the average Indian farmer will be the last to benefit from any such shortfall in food supply and a corresponding price rise. On its part, the Indian state continues with its destructive agricultural policy that have put farmers and farming at the mercy of the ‘market’ – essentially big farmers, agribusiness, retail giants, middlemen, moneylenders and the microfinance mafia.

To mention two instances, earlier this month, vegetable farmers in Burdwan, West Bengal dumped their produce on the highway in protest of low prices and market manipulation by middle men. This week, vegetable farmers in Palakkad, Kerala, dumped their produce by the truckload, for similar reasons. 

The criminality in the ‘farm sector’ in India – both in policy and on the ground – has reached such levels that farmers are being forced to resort to desperate measures such as these (not to mention the continuing farm suicides) – but with little impact. 

Under these conditions, extreme weather events (still poorly understood) could very well be the straw that finally breaks the back of the beleaguered Indian farmer.

Jacob Sebastian is a Delhi based journalist

8 Comments leave one →
  1. July 24, 2012 1:26 PM

    Correction: climate change was not a dodgy concept. What is a dodgy concept to me still is AGW Anthropogenic (man-made) global warming. Climate indeed is changing. I do not dispute that we have to care for our environment, reduce or do away with exploiting fossil fuels and other efforts to care for our micro environments. But to believe that we humans are so powerful that we can control natural climate changes is not acceptable to me. Let us think in terms of adaption to climate changes than believe in ideas that we can find a Superman or Batman who can reverse climate change.

  2. vallyettans permalink
    July 24, 2012 11:59 PM

    but did the authorities care. our visionary PM is busy finding support for raising numbers in support of FDI in retail, opposition is fighting their on battle as is the left,so the only one we can look upto is we ,the common man .,who always wanted their netas to fight their wars . its time to do our little bit to save our mother earth before its too late

  3. July 25, 2012 3:12 AM

    Greater ‘shock and awe'; intelligent, environmental memes
    Great post, Jacob!

  4. Jacob Sebastian permalink
    July 26, 2012 8:18 PM

    UPDATE: This Tuesday, NASA announced (based on satellite data, including from that of ISRO’s Oceansat-2) an “unprecedented” melt in Greenland’s ice sheet. According to NASA press release, “measurements taken by three satellites on July 8, showed that about 40 percent of the ice sheet had undergone thawing at or near the surface. In just a few days, the melting had dramatically accelerated and an estimated 97 percent of the ice sheet surface had thawed by July 12.” (see image at link above).

    The tail end of this alarming report has a quote by Lora Koenig, a member of the research team analysing the satellite data, which says, “Ice cores from Summit show that melting events of this type occur about once every 150 years on average. With the last one happening in 1889, this event is right on time. But if we continue to observe melting events like this in upcoming years, it will be worrisome.”

    Others (quite obviously climate panic mongers), have refused to be comforted by this though. Writing in Climateark.org, ecological sustainability expert, Dr. Glen Barry responded thus: “We welcome NASA’s ability to monitor the Arctic, yet statements there is no cause for concern are just ridiculous. I don’t accept this is a natural cycle; it is too coincident with Arctic sea ice melt, and what is happening to the Arctic in general. When the entire Greenland ice sheet’s surface melts in a few days, abrupt climate change has arrived, global ecosystem collapse has markedly intensified, and the human family clearly faces a global ecological emergency.”

    Also note this:
    Global research company CRISIL has claimed that India is facing a “drought-like” situation (and this when we are in the middle of the monsoon)

    • Arpana permalink
      July 30, 2012 2:25 PM

      The real story of the Arctic melt- http://www.thearcticinstitute.org/2012/07/where-did-all-ice-go-medias-coverage-of.html

      Incorrect. The Greenland ice sheet, which is up to 3000+ meters thick, is not “melting away”, did not “melt in four days”, it is not “melting fast”, and Greenland did not “lose 97% of its surface ice layer”. Instead Greenland surface ice experienced thawing or melting across 97% of its area, most of which quickly refroze, especially at higher elevations. Only near the coast did some melt water drain into the ocean.
      Most articles also exaggerated the importance of the melt event on global sea levels by explaining how sea levels would rise by up to 7.2 meters if the ice sheet were to melt. Here one example from The Independent: “The vast ice sheet of Greenland, which holds enough water to raise global sea levels by 7.2 metres, underwent a remarkable transformation for a few days this month when scientists observed an unprecedented melting of its frozen surface.”
      Yes, the Greenland ice sheet is experiencing a significant amount of melting and up to 1/5th of global sea level rise can be attributed to it, but creating a connection between short term thawing of surface ice, which is related to a meteorological anomaly known as a heat dome, and the much larger ongoing climate change-related melting of the ice sheet is a misrepresentation of the events.
      Unfortunately, as result of the kind of reporting Andrew Revkin described as “hyperventilating coverage”, the potential significance of the melt event was lost in most accounts. Accurate and nuanced reporting was far and few between. Here a few that got it right.

      • Jacob Sebastian permalink
        July 30, 2012 8:37 PM

        the debate i guess is about what caused this – and NASA isn’t being exactly clear cut [fair enough - the data is only coming in].

        this is from the interview [with a NASA official] quoted in the article you have linked to:

        MARGARET WARNER: So, you’re saying you can’t really attribute this to climate change?
        THOMAS WAGNER: No. And that’s one of the things. We spent a long time trying to word the document that we put out describing it. And we said, look, there is evidence that this has happened before. Now, that doesn’t mean — we really don’t know the explanation for this one. If it happens again, if it starts to happen repeatedly, then we have an indication that there might be a real shift going on in the Arctic system there.

        http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/science/july-dec12/greenland_07-25.html

        he says ‘no’ – only to follow it later with ‘we really don’t know the explanation for this one’.

        part of the confusion has been created by the word ‘unprecedented’ [which, by the way, they haven't retracted] – as of now, only one thing is clear – this is unprecedented in the 30 years satellites have been collecting data for. those pictures still stand.

        they are attributing this to extreme weather events that happen once in 150 years – whether this is indeed that, will be confirmed only later [if this does not repeat in the coming years].

        that’s about this particular report. but see this about the ‘bigger picture’, from the same interview:

        MARGARET WARNER: And so nobody knows what caused this either?

        THOMAS WAGNER: Right, but we can’t lose sight of the bigger picture, which is this. The Greenland ice sheet has been losing tremendous amounts of ice for decades, on average 150 gigatons a year. You’re talking so much ice that this is contributing about 0.3 millimeters of sea level rise a year around the globe.

        MARGARET WARNER: And how much of the sea level rise is that?

        THOMAS WAGNER: Yes. Well, it’s about three millimeters a year overall.

        But the problem, too, with Greenland is that it looks like it’s been accelerating in recent years. And so depending on what time range you look at it, now it could be contributing a half-a-millimeter, maybe even more.

        *****

        MARGARET WARNER: Does this affect, say, the broader picture of the whole water system in the Arctic?

        THOMAS WAGNER: Oh, sure.

        And one of the things, this then also gives us a chance to highlight what’s going on in the Arctic. This year, we’re losing sea ice overall. We’re down close to another record year. And we’re probably at a record year. The sea ice is thinner now than it’s ever been. We’re seeing warming going around all around in the Arctic. Permafrost is thawing and those kinds of things. So it really does look like the Arctic has shifted in state.

        *****

        so the ‘real story’ isn’t in yet – and in a sense that applies to the climate change phenomenon itself as much as the greenland ice melt [though it looks like the skeptics are losing scientific ground every year]

        but this points to the larger question about climate change – given that there is no such thing as perfect consensus even when it comes to science’s fundamentals, given the evidence already accumulating, and above all, given what is at stake – should we be waiting for that perfect scientific consensus to come and nobels to be handed out? which side should we err on?

  5. Jacob Sebastian permalink
    August 7, 2012 1:13 PM

    NASA’s James Hansen writes in the Washington Post:

    Climate change is here — and worse than we thought

    James E. Hansen directs the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

    When I testified before the Senate in the hot summer of 1988 , I warned of the kind of future that climate change would bring to us and our planet. I painted a grim picture of the consequences of steadily increasing temperatures, driven by mankind’s use of fossil fuels.

    But I have a confession to make: I was too optimistic.

    My projections about increasing global temperature have been proved true. But I failed to fully explore how quickly that average rise would drive an increase in extreme weather.

    In a new analysis of the past six decades of global temperatures, which will be published Monday, my colleagues and I have revealed a stunning increase in the frequency of extremely hot summers, with deeply troubling ramifications for not only our future but also for our present.

    This is not a climate model or a prediction but actual observations of weather events and temperatures that have happened. Our analysis shows that it is no longer enough to say that global warming will increase the likelihood of extreme weather and to repeat the caveat that no individual weather event can be directly linked to climate change. To the contrary, our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change.

    The deadly European heat wave of 2003, the fiery Russian heat wave of 2010 and catastrophic droughts in Texas and Oklahoma last year can each be attributed to climate change. And once the data are gathered in a few weeks’ time, it’s likely that the same will be true for the extremely hot summer the United States is suffering through right now.

    These weather events are not simply an example of what climate change could bring. They are caused by climate change. The odds that natural variability created these extremes are minuscule, vanishingly small. To count on those odds would be like quitting your job and playing the lottery every morning to pay the bills.

  6. September 5, 2012 7:58 PM

    J acob. ” Is 2012 the watershed year for climate change? The year it ceases to be a ‘dodgy concept’ and transforms into painful reality? ”

    I am afraid not. This is simply the year of the El Niño for us in India. Usually when there is an El Niño; global and India temperatures spike and in India we usually receive deficient rainfall. This year we saw no such thing. Our SW Monsoon is on course to be in normal range despite science illiterate journalists whipping out hysteria of drought. We also on course for excess rains for NE monsoons and overall for another bumper harvest this fiscal.

    This was forecasted by me in my 3rd July post published in my blog and Moneylife entitled: Monsoon Forecast: Give the Met Dept a break. They are still on target and so are we! where we forecasted: \\”94% of LPA or between 92-98% of LPA at 95% confidence level! We see no reason to revise this forecast further downwards\\”

    http://devconsultancygroup.blogspot.in/2012/07/monsoon-forecast-give-met-dept-break.html

    So why was this year different from other El Niño years? This was because of the effect of the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), another oceanic phenomenon. This too was forecasted by my blog as early as April in a post called \\”Normal Monsoon Forecast: Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), the Wild Card

    http://devconsultancygroup.blogspot.in/2012/04/normal-monsoon-forecast-indian-ocean.html

    We expecting the best rains this month because in addition to helpful IOD and weak El Niño conditions but also a very favourable Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO).

    So what do we have here? El Niño; IOD; MJO??? These are all forces of natural variability which you dismissed in your comments:

    \\” The odds that natural variability created these extremes are minuscule, vanishingly small. To count on those odds would be like quitting your job and playing the lottery every morning to pay the bills.\\”

    More significantly, the latest SREX IPCC Report AR5 acknowledged that the prospect of any global warming, leave alone accelerated warming, does not seem even probable during the next 2-3 decades!:

    “…climate change signals are expected to be relatively small compared to natural climate variability\\”.

    In plain IPCC speak, it means that the signals of the positive external forcing of CO2 (global warming) is expected to be overwhelmed by forces of natural variability (global cooling) in future!

    The same SREX IPCC Report AR5, the IPCC finally concedes that there is no scientific evidence to attribute extreme events to AGW:

    \\”Long-term trends in normalized economic disaster losses cannot be reliably attributed to natural or anthropogenic climate change…\\”

    So when the UN Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) itself acknowledges natural variability, it cannot be just dismissed by science illiterate journalists without any scientific explanation and empirical evidence.

    Regarding the US, *Russia, Ukraine and Kazhaksthan cutting their harvest forecast, that can be blamed on jetstream anomaly. AGW theory excludes oceanic events like El Niño or matter of fact the jetstream. So the jetstream anomaly are integral part of natural variability.

    Secondly, you have to decide whether climate change food shortages and high prices or bumper harvests and lower prices.

    You maybe interested to read this post to clear the confusion:

    How Indian Farmers Beat the Climate: The Hard Data

    http://devconsultancygroup.blogspot.in/2012/07/how-indian-farmers-beat-climate-hard.html

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