The beginning of the 21st Century was symbolised by a lot of things, like globalisation, advances in technology, music and film. Hollywood in the early 21st century was part of the parade that exaggerated global apocalyptic events like ice ages and earthquakes that will take the entire world’s population down. These were just a figment of imagination until the threat of climate change became imminent. These films are still dramatic, says geologist Abaan Ahmed Momin, an IIT-Bombay alumni but what they show is possible, “It is not possible on a planetary level but isolated events in small regions are definitely possible.” For example, intensive rains and cyclones in India, raging wildfires in Australia and the USA. “These events impact tropical regions more, if you notice, because tropical areas are very delicate systems. So yes, by the end of the century, these events will be more frequent, not enough to damage the ecosystem and the planet but enough to make entire regions uninhabitable.”
These events that Momin talks about are effects of global warming, a worldwide phenomenon of an unusual rise in temperatures. Global warming is a part of a larger process of climate change which also includes changes in precipitation levels, wind and weather patterns.
What is climate change?
While global warming is human induced, climate change is natural as well as manmade. Over the years, Earth’s weather patterns change with time, like El Nino and La Nina that are natural processes but a big contributing factor to this have been the industrial changes the human race has taken to since the beginning of 20th Century. With the Industrial Revolution came development which meant factories and industries which gave rise to human activities, including excessive usage and burning of fossil fuels, emission of gases that trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere, and deforestation. All this resulted in global warming, which led to climate change.
What are the consequences of climate change?
There are direct and indirect consequences of climate change, of which both are starting to show quite rapidly. Thawing ice caps, rising temperatures, untimely snowfall and rains, higher ocean temperatures, increased cyclones and tsunamis are direct consequences. All across the world, temperatures are soaring and hitting record levels in the planet’s recent history. In May 2021, Delhi, the capital of India witnessed the hottest day of the year so far at 45 degrees Celsius.
Rising temperatures and melting ice caps will give way to more health risks. Other indirect consequences of climate change include loss of biodiversity in flora and fauna like the decline of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, a rise in other crises like famines and droughts.
How to stop climate change from worsening?
Scientists used to say that the average rise of temperature per century must be limited to 1.5 degree celsius only, to save the planet from dire effects of climate change. But a recent study from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that the window of 1.5 degree Celsius is long gone and now the world is headed to 3 degrees Celsius of warming per century.
According to the World Meteorological Department (WMO), the planet could see a rise of 3-5 degrees by the end of this century. To prevent this and keep the temperatures at 1.5 degree Celsius, the report from IPCC says that unprecedented changes will have to be made in all aspects of society. Despite which effects will be very difficult to curb.
The four main global systems which the report says need to make changes are energy, land use, cities and industry. But it goes on to add that these macro changes alone will not be able to meet the target of preventing rise in temperatures. It comes down to the people, each individual, to make lifestyle changes like reducing their intake of meat, milk and milk products, purchasing locally sourced food, less wastage of food and clothes, avoid private transport and opt for commuting by public transport or on foot to reduce individual carbon footprints.
“I don't support fast fashion brands like H&M and I am also trying to go vegan,” says Swati Singh, a law student in Pune. I use public transport, because that’s all I can afford as a student, she says. Other than that, the regular things like avoiding excessive usage of plastic, is how she tries to contribute towards sustainable living.
On the topic of sustainable living, Zain from Mumbai says that he takes baby steps towards sustainability. “I don't waste food, because food wastage is massive, I don't use straws, and re-use as much as possible.” According to him, the effects of climate change are right in front of one’s eyes, if only one makes an attempt to see and understand, “Seeing polar bears starve so much that their natural behaviour changed, they started eating their own offsprings to survive. The kind of illnesses and diseases being born, global warming, rising sea levels, these things contributed to my belief in the reality of climate change.”
“I have always believed in climate change so I do my part by trying to reuse things as much as possible and avoid wastage,” adds Jasmine Lakdawala, a geologist from Mumbai.
“People who don’t believe in climate change need to be shown statistics and data surrounding growing carbon ratio in air, sudden snowfall, melting of glaciers and wildlife shifting to habitat area and especially by showing them the quality of life that existed before the 90s decade,” says Faisal, a Master’s student from Udaipur. It is a serious threat, he adds and according to him, the least one can do is try to reduce consumption of plastic and plant trees, lots of trees.
However, Taran Warner, a media professional living in Mumbai, who believes in climate change also believes that the consequences are a bit exaggerated, “I have come across a lot of research of late that shows that models used to predict the effects often use flawed and shaky data. This leads people to being overly anxious and perceiving climate change as this cataclysmic event.” The effects are very real, but the destruction will probably happen gradually and on a micro level, he says.
The effects of climate change, according to the study by IPCC, will be irreversible by 2030, nine years from now, if not acted upon immediately by bigger stakeholders like large corporations and countries.
Adding to both the points, Abaan Ahmed says that the claims of the media might be exaggerated but they are so because the media needs to spread awareness about climate change. “We as a generation are running out of time because contrary to earlier periods in geological history, this time the process of climate change is not what Earth normally sees. It is way more than what is normal because we have tipped Nature’s balance far too much,” he explains. But an individual cannot do this alone, according to him. “We are at a stage where it is necessary for industries to commit to limiting their carbon emissions and countries have to make a conscious effort to switch to renewable energies,” says the geologist.
What industries can do is get an environmental impact analysis done and check their impact on the environment and find a way to offset it, he says. “For example, the place I work at, Cairn India, limits the electricity we take from the State Electricity Board and instead we create energy from the gas we extract. This way, we offset the impact of our company’s large industrial processes.” Other than this, on a micro level, individuals can’t do much, he says, because we are past the point to save our planet like this. In the end he adds, “But still one should continue to do their part for sustainable living, by opting out of private transport and using public services, saving electricity, and reducing wastage. It won’t make much of a difference, but it is important to continue.”