The Heat is On: Doomsday Not Far off

By Sandeep Sahu

The forecast is scary. Maximum temperature in Odisha this summer is likely to be 0.9 Celsius higher than ‘normal’. Coming as it did a year after what has now been universally accepted as the ‘hottest year’ on earth since 1880, the forecast issued by the India Meteorological Department (IMD) on Monday must have left a lot of people in the state already sweating.

If the forecast for this summer is scary, the consistent rise in global temperature over the last 100-150 years or so is scarier. Every decade during this period has been warmer than the previous one. It is now almost certain that the goal of limiting the rise in global surface temperature to within 2 degrees Centigrade more than pre-industrial levels, as agreed upon in the Paris Climate Agreement in December, 2015, will not be met. Let us take India, a signatory to the agreement, as a test case to understand why the goal is unlikely to be met. As its part of the bargain, the country is committed to reducing emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs) by as much 35% by 2030. But with India striving hard to take the fast road to industrialization, the chances of such a target being met is anybody’s guess.

Scientists have repeatedly warned us that failure to keep the rise in temperature within this limit will be catastrophic because it would make the effects of climate change irreversible. Sea levels could rise alarmingly and whole regions and populations – both human and animal – could be wiped out if mitigation measures are not taken well in time to keep things under check.

The unfortunate part is the mitigation measures needed, like the reasons for the rise in temperature, have been known to us for a while now: cutting down emission of GHGs by reducing burning of fossil fuel, check on the growth of automobiles on the road and reduced use of gadgets like refrigerators that emit carbon. And yet, we have been unable to do any of this. Oblivious of the devastating effect they have on the climate, we have gone for more and more thermal power plants while the number of automobiles on the road has undergone a phenomenal increase in the state.

Let us take Bhubaneswar as a test case. Its ‘Smart City’ tag notwithstanding, the capital city of Odisha, which used to be the go-to place during summers not so long ago, has emerged as one of the hottest places in the state – and even the country. For the record, it recorded 45.8 degrees Celsius, the highest temperature since 1952, on April 11, 2016. While other towns in western Odisha have recorded higher temperatures, what makes things unbearable in Bhubaneswar is the high humidity levels, often going past the 80% mark, that leave one thoroughly dehydrated. With one of the highest human-vehicle population ratios in the country, carbon emissions are going through the roof. The inexorable march of urbanization and modernization has seen merciless cutting down of trees and relentless concretization, pushing mean temperatures during summer up by several degrees Celsius. Temperatures in the city, which rarely went beyond the 40 degree mark all summer three, four decades ago, now routinely touch the mid-40s. Mercifully, there are no major GHG emitting industrial units in close vicinity of the city. Otherwise, things could have been even worse.

It is about time we woke up from our prolonged slumber and did something about the phenomenon. If we don’t, doomsday is not very far off.