Earth scientist, educationist and author of 43 books and 116 research articles, K. Siddhartha speaks to The Sunday Guardian about climate change. Excerpts:
Q: Below freezing temperatures in Texas, a heat wave in Siberia and Canada, two tropical cyclones in India before monsoons, snowfall in deserts—are this a new normal? What is happening?
A: Consider this:
- Snowstorms in Athens and in Saudi Arabia.
- Abnormal temperature contrasts in Greece.
- Abnormally cold conditions in Texas.
- Increasing frequency of hurricanes to such an extent that officials ran out of letters to name them.
- Siberia experiencing sudden abnormal warming, high number of wildfires.
- Abnormal and torrential rains in Peru.
- A sweltering heat wave over western Canada for several days with temperatures reaching a record 49.5°.
- Countries like Bulgaria, Estonia, Romania, etc. registered temperatures of up to 41°.
This series of weather abnormalities points to nothing but a new normal.
Q: Why is this happening?
A: There are natural as well as man-made causes behind these. The Texas cold temperatures were because of the breaking of the polar vortex, which in turn may have been caused due to warming of the Pacific Ocean. The difference between Western and Eastern Pacific disturbed the jet stream, which disturbed the polar vortex and pinching cold icy winds. Texas cold wave was because of that. Similar cold temperatures in Europe have been caused by the same spilling.
The Canadian wave of very high temperature has been because of the heat dome. Heat dome occurred as the jet stream moved eastward and trapped the warm air in the process.
Siberian high temperature originated because of the difference in the temperatures of the sea surfaces between the western and eastern Indian Ocean which relocated warm core of jet streams towards Siberia, thereby increasing temperature and reducing ice and snow cover. The domino effect of a bare surface absorbing solar energy finally raised the temperature by getting absorbed on the land and sea.
Q: What is the biggest concern among all of them?
A: Of course, it will be the temperature increase. More worrisome is the fact that the effects global warming are not evenly distributed. There are strong indications that the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. The impact in the Arctic is its increasing vulnerability to fires and Arctic fires are now a reality. The impact of all such weather aberrations is that we do not know the solutions or even adjustments.
Q: Can you elaborate on the impact of such events?
A: Unusual weather phenomena are growing in intensity and frequency every year and every day. Forest fires are increasing in intensity in the Arctic. Many Siberian and Alaskan fires will be burning carbon-dense peat soils, which is normally waterlogged. Peat fires when they take place, produce much more carbon dioxide and methane from the combustion of carbon.
A small temperature rise in the Arctic has the potential to release carbon locked in cold waters, increase the acidity of the oceans that will dissolve the calcareous skeletons of marine microscopic organisms which will in turn release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It will have a concomitant effect on Arctic warming. When this happens there will be no reverse gear.
Climatic aberrations have a likely impact in the form of inviting new viruses, new strains of diseases not to speak of new catastrophes. The greatest source of such aberrations is global warming, and some of the likely impacts that global warming will lead to is not known to human beings.
The impact of all such weather aberrations is that we do not know the solutions or even adjustments and have an overriding effect on the lifestyle of people, their established ways of living, and their fears about the future. In an uncertain world, these unusual weather phenomena make everything even more uncertain.
Q: What is the role of our present lifestyle and economy in triggering this?
A: Colonialism, the so-called industrial revolution, and globalisation have been the greatest culprits. Colonialization forced an alien lifestyle on the people, deliberately destroying the cultural fabric of the society, its relationship with nature, and the already evolved local wisdom. What the so-called industrial revolution did was it used energy (coal and oil in particular) to manufacture things in ways that were not ecologically compatible, and not ethically environmental. Its prime focus was an economy that was very polluting and degrading. That “revolution” has been still raising temperature and creating disturbances.
Globalization filled the people with a solitary aim of earning money. People made money by any means and became consumers, who consumed way beyond their requirement and thus brought undesirable changes.