Global warming: Indians say it’s real and want concrete action – India Today
By Yashwant Deshmukh, Anthony Leiserowitz, Sutanu Guru, Jagadish Thaker: An exclusive survey conducted by CVoter for the Yale University’s Program on Climate Change Communication finds that Indians recognize that global warming is happening and is a serious threat. In fact, the survey reveals that 84% of Indians believe that global warming is happening and is a personally important issue.
GLOBAL WARMING IS REAL AND PERSONAL
An overwhelming majority of Indians are also unequivocal that global warming is harming their lives and livelihoods and presents a clear danger to future generations. Perhaps surprisingly, a large majority of Indians think both the government and citizens need to take concrete steps to curb carbon emissions, even if there is a price to be paid. In addition, a significant majority of Indians are convinced that actions taken to combat global warming will have a positive impact on economic growth as well as job prospects in the future.
CVoter conducted this milestone survey in collaboration with a team of global experts led by the team at Yale University. It was conducted between October 2021 and January 2022 and 4,619 adult Indians above the age of 18 were contacted on their mobile phones using random sampling techniques. Results of the survey and the accompanying analysis were released by the team at Yale on October 18.
The results should not come as a surprise. Take just the year 2022 in India as an example of how Indians have begun to live in an era of global warming. Erratic weather has always been a feature of life in India. But the word erratic took an altogether different meaning this year. First, large parts of India suffered an unprecedented heat wave. Then, some regions saw massive floods because of early monsoons even as large rice producing states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal experienced a drought and the Kharif harvest could not be sowed in time. Then came extreme bouts of humidity followed by more rains and floods.
Not surprisingly, the Kharif harvest this year is set to drop to less than 105 million tons from 115 million tons in 2021 at a time when the world is facing a food shortage crisis. There is not space in one column to describe the flooding horrors in Pakistan, the catastrophic heat waves in Europe and the severe forest fires in Australia and the United States.
More than half of people in India (53%) say they have observed changes in the predictability of the monsoon and a majority (56%) say hot days have become more frequent in their local area. Many of the nearly 700 million Indians who have access to the Internet are aware of these things. And they instinctively, culturally, and on a civilisational basis know global warming is a unique and dangerous threat.
Just over half (55%) of the respondents say they know little or nothing about global warming. About 35% of the respondents say they see or read about global warming on media platforms about once a week. But when a simple definition was provided describing climate change and how it affects weather patterns, 84% of the respondents immediately said that climate change is happening. This was 15% higher than in late 2011 when a similar survey was conducted in India.
In the latest CVoter survey, 57% of the respondents say human activities are primarily responsible for global warming while 31% say it is a product mainly of natural causes. Most importantly, global warming is a reality that most Indians now face in their communities. Three in every four Indians say they have personally experienced global warming and its consequences. This is 24 percentage points higher than the previous survey conducted in 2011.
IT HARMS LIVES AND LIVELIHOODS
Indians don’t just think that global warming is now a reality. The CVoter survey for Yale also finds that a large majority of Indians are convinced global warming poses significant threats. Three out of every four Indians are of the firm opinion that it not only threatens to harm the lives and livelihoods of their families and communities, but also imperils future generations. And four out of every five Indians think that global warming will harm plant and animal species. In fact, close to 50% of Indians are convinced global warming is already harming them and their families and communities. This is a massive 29 percentage point jump from a similar survey in 2011 when about 21% of the respondents felt the same.
Perhaps the COVID pandemic that has killed millions of people around the world has prompted many Indians to wonder if human interventions in nature are leading to horrendous consequences. About 60% of the respondents in the survey say global warming will lead to an increase in epidemics in the next 20 years if nothing is done to address it. In addition, 54% of the respondents in India say global warming will cause many more severe heatwaves; 52% say it will cause many more severe cyclones. Finally, 50% of respondents in India say that global warming will cause many more droughts, water shortages and food shortages, creating famine like conditions. About 44% of Indians say global warming will cause increasingly severe floods.
Indians are aware or familiar with natural and man-made disasters. For instance, the Spanish Flu pandemic that started in 1918 killed millions of Indians. The Great Famine of Bengal in 1942-43 triggered more by the cruel behaviour of the Winston Churchill-led imperial government than limited rainfall starved millions of Indians to death. Even after independence, India had to seek the world’s help in 1966-67 when persistent failure of the monsoon led to severe drought-like conditions. The oral and cultural memories of these tragedies are strong and deep rooted and the severe disease and weather conditions faced in recent years may have reignited those cultural memories.
INDIANS WANT ACTION, AND NOW
Being aware is one thing. But Indians also express wholehearted support for concrete steps to combat global warming. In fact, Indians say that taking specific and concrete steps to combat global warming is more important than an increased cost of goods and services as a consequence of those steps. The survey finds that as many as 55% of Indians think the government must take effective steps to curb carbon emissions regardless of what other countries do. This represents a jump of 19 percentage points compared to 2011 when a similar survey was conducted. In addition, two thirds of Indians say the government needs to do even more to limit global warming.
Of course, there is no doubt that pro-active government policies and decisions both at the central and state level are nudging citizens towards becoming more environment friendly. Another big manifestation of this is the rapidity with which Indians are beginning to adapt to and embrace electric vehicles. A recent report by the Indian Energy Storage Alliance released in August 2022 claims that sales of e-vehicles in India will grow at 49% a year and reach annual sales of 17 million units by 2030. Even if that turns out to be an overestimate, Indians are driving change. Two third of Indians want more emphasis on fuel efficient vehicles even if the costs are higher. In fact, an even larger majority of Indians want buildings to use and waste less energy and water even if costs go up. And, three in every four Indians wants the government to actively pursue the goals set by the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change to reduce emissions.
ALSO READ | How much has the climate changed already?
Available data suggests that India is well on its way to meet the targets set by the Paris Agreement, irrespective of what other nations do. As of August 2022, India already had an installed capacity of 164 gigawatts of renewable energy. They constitute about one fourth of the installed capacity to generate electricity in India. Virtually every major corporate house, family, tycoon or foreign investor is committing billions of dollars in investments in clean and renewable energy. By 2030, 50% of electricity in India will come from renewable sources. Sure, there are many glitches and policy issues and India, after all, is still a low-income country. But the fact that virtually every institution in the world recognises India as the third largest renewable energy market in the world after the US and China speaks a lot on its own.
IT’S ABOUT ECONOMICS
There is a school of thought that argues that strategies and policies to combat global warming will inevitably result in economic costs including lower growth rates and reduced livelihood opportunities. To a limited extent, the argument is true. Take a simple example: what happens to the hundreds of thousands of people involved in repairing fossil fuel driven cars when e-vehicles (which require far less maintenance) increasingly replace them? Some may lose jobs and livelihoods. But human beings are amazingly adaptable. People operating VHS lending centres and STD booths (most young Indians less than 15 years old probably won’t know what they are) lost livelihood opportunities. But most adapted and became service, recharge and repair centres for mobile phones or other business opportunities.
Unusual and often unintended consequences do happen in economics. Take a recent example. Leading toffee makers have reported a massive drop in sales in recent years. The reason was not COVID. So many Indians have embraced digital payments that shopkeepers no longer pass on toffee to customers saying they don’t have change. Taking steps to combat global warming will have economic consequences; some known and some unexpected. The CVoter survey finds that Indians accept some of the economic benefits and costs revolving around the issue.
As many as 62% of Indians say that taking steps to combat global warming will improve India’s economic growth or have no negative effect on the economy and jobs. This includes 45% of the respondents who said the steps will lead to new job creation. Only 19% of Indians think that taking concrete steps to combat global warming will harm growth and cost job prospects. More than four out of every five Indians want the government to introduce programs that will train workers to find gainful employment in new energy industries.
What does this mean? First, Indians recognise that global warming is a reality and a personally important issue. Second, they know that it is already leading to harmful consequences. Third, a large majority of Indians want concrete steps to tackle global warming, even if the costs of goods and services go up. Fourth and most important, a majority of Indians don’t lament the days gone by. They believe that fighting global warming is good economics. Who would have thought that?
(Yashwant Deshmukh is Founder & Editor in Chief, Sutanu Guru is the Executive Director of CVoter Foundation, Anthony Leiserowitz is the Director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, and Jagadish Thaker is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Auckland.)