Climate change and its adverse effect on earth – I

I firmly believe that climate change is due to global warming because of human activities. With a background of my graduate studies in physics, chemistry and biology, and as a medical doctor, this brief study, is written without any peppering of academic treatment, not for professionals, but for accessibility by the public and young students. It is partly based on my experience, but mostly on relevant scientific studies by climate researchers.

A word about my writing. I think a bit like a journalist who is bound by Journalists’ Code of Practice. I try to encourage people to trust me. I am truthful and sometimes truth hurts people. I am aware that it is a privilege to write a column and I shouldn’t misuse it. No offence is intended to anybody with my views that is clipped by the observation of natural events rather than by the world of pure speculation.

I do not cite a source for materials considered common knowledge and it is legal. For example, mention of Shakespeare is not necessary when I quote ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’ as it is a frequently referenced part of William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet. Or John Denver, for using excerpts for educational and personal use, from his world famous song ‘Take me home, country road to the place I belong’. The song is adopted as the official song by the West Virginia Legislature in 2014, and as theme song of the West Virginia University. Even I have sung the song myself at a pub with four beautiful women friends. My eleven year old grandson Aaryman Lairenjam sang it at his school function in Dehradun.

As this serialised article of “Climate Change” is written for a book, I have inserted reference numbers – similar usage as the last name of the author and date of publication eg ‘Singh 2006’ where it is necessary and they can be referred to at the end of the article in a proper bibliography.

Climate change on the Earth

I have my personal experiences of climate change in Manipur and other places in India, as well as in Britain. I remember the climate of Manipur as a small boy just before WWII, and I know what it is like now. I have been living in the UK for half a century and during these years I have visited Manipur almost every year, seeing changes in the climate of Manipur.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s one could see Imphal town centre full of young men in the evening, wearing heavy woollen overcoats or others wrapped up in thick woollen shawls in winter. When I went to Imphal in December 2014, my light woollen suit or a pair of cotton trousers, shirt and a thin woollen sweater were warm enough.

In those days just after WWII, the highest temperature of Manipur in summer was never more than 26.50C. These days, the temperature climbs up to nearly 38. The Times of India on April 22 2014, reported Imphal temperature at 35.6 – the hottest April temperature in 15 years. It also recorded June 12 2013 as the coldest winter in 10 years with minus 0.1C. Today, May 27 2015, the Imphal temperature is 32.2C (38% precipitation i.e. rainfall).

In the mid-1940s the Imphal River and the Nambul River were so deep that people using them had to hack long winding steps to reach the water in summer. These rivers had enough water flowing all the year round. Even the Naga River had enough water running in summer that we, people living in Khwai Uripok, used to have a boat race every year. The rainfall in the rainy season was so intense – non-stop for a week – that it could cause flash flooding.

Rivers and wetlands in Manipur have been drying out and some have completely dried up due to changes in the annual rainfall pattern and warmer climate. Manipur has been getting drier over the past 50 years. The Nambul River is just being kept flowing as a sewer with the effluent from Imphal City, while the Naga River is almost completely dry without the bilge water from the city centre.

Loktak Lake – the largest fresh water lake in northeast India – has substantially shrunk from that I saw in the late-1940s to what I saw in 2014. It has shrunk from 491 square kilometres in 1971 to 236.21 square kilometres in 2010,[1] mainly due to poor streams supplying the lake.

Manipur had been declared drought-hit on June 27 2009 by the Government of Manipur as insufficient rainfall in the region had taken its toll.

A Manipuri freelance journalist Sobhapati Samom wrote about the impact of climate change in Manipur. He noted that the rise in temperature with changing rainfall patterns in this era of climate change was affecting Manipur’s agricultural sector. The production of rice, potato, chilli, and even pineapple and orange, was severely affected due to climate change and subsequent human pressure.

There is an avalanche of evidence of climate change in the hilly Tamenglong district of Manipur. G. Hiamguanglung, Ph. D. Scholar, Manipur University, observed the shock of climate change in Tamenglong, resulting in the scarcity of staple food, drying of fountains, poor yield of oranges, and spread of diseases.

Addressing the South Asian Climate Change Media Briefing workshop in New Delhi, Dr B. Venkateswarlu revealed that 16 districts of all the eight northeastern states of India were among the recently identified 100 most climate-vulnerable districts of the country.

On October 17 2006, while holidaying in Shillong, my late nephew Dr. Dorendra took me, my wife Margaret and my son Neil to see Cherrapunji in Meghalaya – reputed to be the wettest place on Earth. We were stunned to see it parched.

When I was in middle school we were taught Cherrapunji’s average rainfall was 400 inches and it rained almost every day. Not these days. The town is getting hotter with the late arrival of the Monsoon and drying up due to the cutting down of pine forests, coal and limestone mining, and eroding of the surface soil due to farming by the inflated population. The soil has lost its capacity to hold water, which runs down to the plains of Bangladesh, 400 kilometres away from a height of 1,370 metres.

Today’s climate change has edged Cherrapunji out of the topmost wet slot and it has been surpassed by Lioro in Columbia. German missionary Christopher Becker wrote more than a century ago: “Not without reason has Cherrapunji achieved a fame as being the place with the heaviest rainfall on earth.”

In 2006, Cherrapunji received a considerably lower amount of rainfall, whereas desert states such as western Rajasthan received an unusual amount of rainfall, bringing in its wake all manners of calamities, including diseases.

On November 17 2010, my wife, son and I went to the desert city of Jaipur, expecting a very warm winter after the Monsoon season. But to our disappointment we had a heavy outburst of rain for the first two days. While studying in the cold Nainital hill resort I went to Jaipur on a holiday in July 1954. It was so hot that I stayed all day in the air-cooled (by pouring water on khus-khus tatties on glass windows) hotel room until sunset.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a scientific body under the auspices of the United Nations (UN), in its fourth assessment report in 2007, suggested that warming in India is likely to be above the average for South Asia, with an increase in summer rainfall that will be quite heavy in some parts as a direct result of climate change.

Indians are now seeing the damaging effects of climate change. In the early 1960s while I was working in Delhi, the media-reported incidence of death from heat stroke was in single figures, especially in north India. But on May 29 2015, The Daily Telegraph, UK, reported that the death toll from heat stroke in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana reached over 1,400 with a temperature of 47C.

Studies in different parts of India on the impact of climate change, published as abstracts for the International Climate Change and Humanity (ICCH), Berlin, 2015, seem to agree that global warming has had varying effects in India.

Global warming is a term used to describe a gradual increase in the average temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere and its oceans – a change that is believed to be permanently transforming the Earth’s climate. Climatologists have now agreed that most of global warming is caused by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and other anthropogenic (human) activities such as aerosols since the 1950s. Its annual emissions grew by about 80% between 1970 and 2004.

The writer is based in the UK