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The Climate is Changing: So What?

                                                                                  The Hindu, New Delhi, 19th February, 2015


 We will act only if it makes sense personally for us to act

 Economists subscribe to the theory that unless the incremental benefit of changing is greater than the incremental cost of that change, the change will not occur.

 Be aware: Change is costly if the government has to spend on development of drought resistant rice varieties the same money that could have been spent elsewhere - on primary education teachers in Bihar or in flood relief in Kashmir.

 Likewise, changing our regular light bulbs to energy efficient LED bulbs is expensive and giving up eating meat or taking a bus (instead of driving a car) is harder. We may have to consume differently – the types of clothes we buy or in our travel habits. If all of us choose to travel less, our already sorely-beset travel industry may suffer more, leading to job losses.

 To judge if changes initiated by the government or the changes we make in our consumption pattern is worthwhile, we have to answer the following question: How does climate change affect or likely to affect you?

 First, let's start with you. Who are you? The 2011 Indian Census reveals that (if you are Indian) you are likely to be young (less than 40) and of modest means. As a reader of this paper, you are likely to be urban and well educated. So let us consider climate change impact from two perspectives: from that of a middle class urban household and a youth from the farming community.


The household depends on erratic water supply from the Corporation. The water comes in the pipeline only on alternate days and the quality of the water is not consistent either. The bore in the apartment complex is running dry and buying water is shrinking savings. The power cuts have started again because the windmill generation has stopped. Traffic-congested roads means the breadwinners spend more hours on the commute. The children are in school and getting into good colleges is very hard, making the parents spend extra on tuitions. The son suffers from asthma and inhalers are a constant fixture in the household. Food prices are still going up but not as much as they used to.

Fast forward 20 years. We do little to change our ways. Leading climate scientists then think the urban family's life is about to get a lot harder. Water will be the hardest issue - there will be nowhere close to enough of it. What is free (or nearly so) today will become scarce and, therefore, expensive. Nights will become much hotter, which will increase cooling costs. Food prices are likely to shoot up, since scientists are quite certain that crop yields will fall fast in most scenarios. More people with asthma and inhalers will become a way of life. Life will be harder in other ways. More and more families will come into cities - driven by desperation, failing crops and hope. Crime rate will be high and housing expensive. There will be less money to pay for tuitions, good schools and fun outings. This is significant as competition to get ahead is fierce.


Even then this life may appear good when compared to the boy from the farms. Today, he leads a hard life, even after getting so many things for "free": free water, free cycle, free power, minimum prices for crops, free education. Wow! That's not a bad life. Look a little closer - the free education is worth what he pays for it. Pratham's recent report on education tells us that nearly one-third of Class II children studying in rural government schools cannot recognise letters! Still, he tries hard and his family sacrifices so that he can leave farming behind and start out in the city.

Fast forward 20 years again. His family's crops are failing - the rain is erratic and the groundwater has dried up. It's so hot now that the plants wilt sooner than they ever used to. The insect cycle (pollination etc.) that was so closely coordinated with the crops earlier is now out of sync, playing havoc with the yields. Without new seed varieties, increasing fertiliser has not really increased the yield, but taken up extra cost. His dream of attending college is dead. His family no longer has the money to send him.

Predicting the future climate is a difficult job. As a species, we are still in learning process, learning about the inter-linkages, feedbacks and even about parts of the planet that are beginning to affect the climate. But how much we know so far? Every four years, with increasing stridency and certainty, hundreds of the world's leading scientists remind us how we are changing the climate through our actions and the impacts of that change are going to hit hardest on those of us living in hot dry climates and most of all on the poor.


Given this, should we act?

 Climaction is a fortnightly column that is published in MetroPlus Weekend on alternate Fridays. The next article in this series will appear on March 6. Feedback and questions may be e-mailed to


Mridula Ramesh is the Executive Director of Sundaram Textiles. She is also a student and teacher of global warming.