What's with the Climate?

Voices of a Subcontinent grappling with Climate Change

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दलों का दलदल

(We are all trapped in the quicksand of political parties)

Elections have just concluded in 5 of the 30 states of India.  There has been a record turnout of youth and women voters this election season.  In Delhi alone, youth voters turned out in historical numbers pushing the total number of voters to 65% (the maximum before this was 61.8% in 1993).  While the allure of new political winds ushered in by the arrival of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) (The Common Man’s Party) may have driven some of the enthusiasm in a population beleaguered by poor governance and the false prophets of established political parties, let’s hope that these demographic shifts are here to stay.  And why shouldn’t youth be engaged?  After all, it is their future that is being whittled away by career politicians who are happy to sell the ecological wealth on which their livelihoods will depend.

So why do Indian political parties fail to acknowledge the need for environmental conservation in their campaigns? Article 48(A) of Part IV of the Indian constitution reads: “The State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.”  In no political party’s manifesto is it apparent that the political class has thought clearly about the matter.  If we can thank anyone for the protection of any ounce of our nation’s ecological capital (from a legal/governance perspective) it is the Supreme Court which has been cited as the greenest court in the world.

Why the empty promises of 30% reduced electricity tariffs which will only further bleed our utilities dry and leave them with no revenue to innovate for the future much less provide reliable access?  Why promise 700 liters of free potable water when you have a fetid and dead river that flows through your city (and there’s hardly any ground water left)?  Why promise new sewage treatment plants when billions of dollars have been spent on sewage treatment plants already and while we still have over 50% of our untreated sewage making its way to the river?  Who needs “Statehood” for what should be the most easily governed unit in the whole Republic of India?  You want to set up child-friendly courts for crimes against children?  How about one that will ensure that these children have their right to life and livelihood protected by having a firm foundation (environment) in place by the time they grow up?  You want a monorail?  Did you forget about the ring rail that is hardly used?  How about refurbishing that and integrating it with the metro system (and continuing to build the Bus Rapid Transit)?  These populous promises mean nothing.  Meanwhile Delhi and India at large are headed nowhere, very fast.  Think about that the next time you are caught in traffic and choking on the ever-increasing fumes while mantri’s whiz past you in their luxury vehicles.

  By Supriya Singh and Kartikeya Singh

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How climate change is helping Al Qaeda

We don’t often think of the link between climate change, poverty, and political instability.  But the video below highlights how resource pressures driven by a changing climate can have ripple effects in far off places– often being at the root of armed rebellions and terrorism.   For more on this, check out the original story at the Global Post.

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Irony on Ice

ImageEarlier this week, scientists reported that monitoring stations across the Arctic were registering readings of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels higher than 400 ppm.  Far above the “safe” 350 ppm, we are headed towards the eventual reality of surpassing even the two degrees target agreed to by politicians in the global climate negotiations.  Meanwhile, just today Interior Secretary Ken Salazar reaffirmed that the United States is giving the go-ahead to Royal Dutch Shell to begin drilling up to five wells in the off-shore Arctic.  This is part the US strategy to not only become “energy secure,” but also stay ahead in what seems to be an inevitable scramble to divide up the resource rich Arctic.  Already, Norway and Russia have embarked on the process to tap what seems to be a mammoth find of fossil fuels (oil and gas) hidden below the icy depths of the Arctic. 

Many will recall Russia’s symbolic flag placement on the ocean floor at the North Pole in an attempt to lay claim to the territory (according to the United Nations Law of the Sea Russia’s may have the right to it based on its continental shelf).  Even while the 8 nation members and 6 groups representing indigenous groups on the Arcitc Council are working to create a common framework for cooperation in the Arctic, other nations like Brazil, Japan, Korea and China are asking for stakeholdership in the region.  One noted diplomat from India suggests that the Arctic should be preserved for scientific research and peace along the lines of the Antarctic.  But who would forego such riches?  President Grimsson of Iceland hailed the Arctic model of cooperation as a “new form of diplomacy” at a conference in March 2012.  As the ice crystals settle, what will emerge is a new permanent secretariat of the Arctic Council with representation from not only the Arctic littoral states but also the indigenous groups who have been living in the region for centuries.  This secretariat will supposedly be democratic, have an “emphasis on science-based outcomes,” have “equality of partners in the decision making process,” set new diplomatic norms, and most importantly, all its tasks will be oriented toward the future (because it is assumed the Arctic will melt). 

There have been a flurry of events organized globally on the opportunities presented by the melting of the Arctic.  At least 12 symposia have been organized in the last decade around the opportunities for the oil and gas sector in the region.  Companies are sharing the advancements they are making in their abilities to tap resources in a region previously off limits due to ice.  Thanks to climate change, the situation in the Arctic has changed with sea ice retreating faster than what scientists anticipated.  Little is understood of how the melting Arctic ice may impact global fisheries, carbon uptake by the oceans and ultimately tip the planet’s delicate ecological balance.  Some estimates say the entire Arctic will be ice free during the summer in 30 years time. Meanwhile the climate negotiations have themselves arrived at a juncture where the work accomplished in the last 18 years means little.  Even less may be expected from the upcoming Rio+20 conference.  Perhaps they could take a lesson or two from this “new form of diplomacy” around the Arcitc.  No one is saying it, but we are all thinking it:  this is irony on ice.  Happy World Environment Day.

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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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Invoking Reason at COP 16

Ixchel, Mayan goddess of Reason

Yesterday the 16th Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 6th Meeting of the Parties (MOP) to its Kyoto Protocol (KP) kicked off in Cancun, Mexico.  The opening ceremony as usual helped set the tone of the event.  After having attended four COPs and a few intercessional UNFCCC meetings, one thing I always look forward to is the opening of the COP.  In addition to speeches by local politicians, the head of state, the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, and a representative of the science community, there is always an element showcasing the local culture.  While we are here to work, I still think it important to make sure that there be some symbolism as to why we are meeting in that specific part of the world (in this case Cancun) for such an event .

A few key elements were prominent during the opening that I would like to highlight.  First was the incredible speech given by Simona Gomez, a representative of the Mexican indigenous groups.  She spoke of how the climate in her native of Chiapas had changed and how her community of 6,000 needed alternate sources of income in addition to the handicraft trade.  The solution, she said, could be twofold:  getting paid to reforest a denuded area coupled with effective management strategies for local resources would mean the creation of jobs and saving the

environment.  As she spoke I could not help but think about the millions of indigenous people across the world who have been waiting for the day to be able to play a role in decision making processes that affect the resources on which they depend.  She ended her speech with:  “you who are so well prepared, know a lot . . .”  I asked myself if we the delegates, many representing political nation states, do in fact “know a lot.”  For if we did know this then surely we would know that the urgency of the issue requires immediate action to safeguard against planetary ecological collapse.  Surely we would know that the fate of future generations rested upon the only forum for addressing climate change.

The fate of the future generations was mentioned a few times in the opening.  A beautiful video prepared for the opening ceremony showed children with eyes closed or covered by cloth.  Their message was this:  “you grownup decision makers were children once too and had a vision of a perfect world.  You were inspired by the beauty of the planet.  Don’t close your eyes.  Don’t cease to see inspiration.  Let inspiration help you make the right decision.”  I am certain that a lot of the message was probably lost in translation.  Later, President Calderon of Mexico also encouraged the delegates to think of the children during the negotiations regardless of color or political boundaries because climate change understood neither.  Sounds pretty reasonable to me.

It was the need for reason that made Christina Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, invoke Ixchel, the Mayan goddess of the moon, happiness and reason, during her speech.  We are after all, in the land of the ancient Maya and we must tap the creativity and intelligence of that civilization to move the UNFCCC process forward.  We must also take lessons from history and recall that the Mayan civilization collapsed for many reasons, one of which might have been diminishing resources.  Let not the collective modern human civilization go the same way especially when we hold our future in our own hands.  Let us invoke reason.  May the Mayan goddess Ixchel watch over these proceedings.


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What is the truth about the Himalaya’s Glacier melt? Why not go see for yourself?

In recent times I’ve been reading a lot about climate change not being real. First the climate gate scandal followed by

These mountains in the depths of district of Chamba in the state of Himachal Pradesh (India) used to have a lot more snow.

the many articles attacking the IPCC for incorrectly publishing information on the glaciers melting in the Himalayas by 2035. Climate scientists, economics, politicians and business persons are being interviewed left, right and centre.

The question on the lips of the public is – what is the truth? The truth is such an interesting thing – where more often than not, it is a human tendency for a person to believe what they want to hear.

I pose a question to all people who are jumping on the bandwagon of denying the Himalayan glacier melt due to an error made by the IPCC, and denying the existence of climate change. How many of you have been to the Himalayas? How many of you have spoken to the citizens in the mountains of India and Nepal who have spent their whole lives there? 

Very few of you – if any.

I do not say this to accuse anyone of being a immoral or irresponsible, however before we make accusatory remarks and write articles of great consequence, we must get our facts straight.

I am not a climate scientist, economist, business person or a politician. However I have been to the Himalayas and met some of its people.

I was up near Haridwar, at the foot of the Himalaya’s in northern India only weeks ago, speaking to friends and colleagues who have grown up in the mountains their entire lives. Every single person spoke with sadness at how quickly the glaciers have receded in their lifetime. Some mentioned to me how many of them have had to move homes in search of better soil, because the melting glaciers have meant changes in water access and there for loss of agricultural productivity. For those of you who are farmers, I’m sure you can understand how painful that process can be.

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