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Menopausal Mother Nature

News about Climate Change and our Planet



World Environment Day 2023: Rural India bears the brunt of climate change

Climate change is a global challenge with local implications; important to build coping mechanisms for rural communities

Rural India is diverse — from coastal regions, deltas and flood plains to deserts, hills, mountains and plateaus. Those living there have diverse aspirations, resources and skills as well. They are marginal farmers, manual wage earners, fisherfolk, animal-rearers, shepherds, nomads and many times a combination of these. 

That leaves millions of rural Indians at the mercy of the weather and climate change. Any deviation from standard long-term weather patterns makes them vulnerable to the uncertainties emerging from changing weather patterns with little access to coping mechanisms.  

Read more: Nearly 150,000 Indians have died in the past 51 years because of extreme weather: WMO

This happens in many ways. 

Rising temperature and heat stress

Most rural Indians eke out their livelihoods under the baking sun. But exposure to heat higher than 38 degrees Celsius is a severe health hazard. At temperatures above 40.6°C, our organs start to fail and the risk of death increases sharply, according to Mridula Ramesh’s book The Climate Solution

Coping mechanisms to these extreme heat conditions, like access to shade and hydration, are generally unavailable to the workers engaged. The stress worsens for malnourished women, small kids and elderly workers. 

The productivity of crops and animals is also badly affected by extreme temperatures. For instance, the increase in temperature in January lowers the yields of wheat and chickpeas. Similarly, the productivity of stressed animals is reduced significantly. 

Changing rainfall patterns

Around 120 million marginal farmer households depend on their farming and wages. Their farming practices, like time of field preparations, sowing, selection of varieties, labour availability and water management, have evolved based on prevalent weather patterns for ages. 

These aberrations from the typical weather patterns put all the farming operations in total chaos for these resource-poor farmers. This leads to poorer yields and severe economic losses. 

The implication of delayed onset of monsoon or failed September rainfalls and untimely rainfall in November for rainfed farmers is well known. It shrinks the whole rural economy and causes huge agrarian distress.        

Flood impact 

After floods, the farms and waterbodies need to be repaired. Dead livestock has to be restocked. Homes, small businesses and enterprises washed away by the torrents of rain need refinancing. 

There is a severe erosion of assets and livelihoods. But more than that, there is hardly any coping mechanism to meet these losses. 

During the flood periods, the human tragedy is immense. People survive on the high grounds, roadside and embankments for weeks and months, under plastic tents suffering during the flood and post-flood traumas.   

Read more: Budget 2023-24: Whither rural development? Allocation for livelihood and other schemes sees 14% cuts

Devastating droughts 

Droughts are slow destroyers. They slowly suck out the vitality of rural communities. 

The income of marginal and livestock farmers is affected by long-term water stress. They find themselves in a fix; they can’t abandon the farm and move away to look for alternatives and find it extremely difficult to continue with it. 

Marginal farmers have little control over the water needed for farming and water stress leads to unpredictable yields and reduced income to farmers. With the increasing water stress, farmers will reduce their investment in farming, further reducing productivity. 

More droughts also lead to the use of unsustainable already-stressed water sources. These include mining water from deeper layers that can’t be replenished, stealing water from other plots and fighting for water access.

This will lead to a significant reduction in farm incomes and increased dependency of wages from non-farm labour and distress migration. And, of course, with migration, the elderly and children left behind in villages will suffer more.

Vector-borne diseases

These unpredictable floods, droughts and rising temperatures will also increase vector-borne diseases like malaria, Kala Azar, dengue, chikungunya, Japanese encephalitis and Zika. 

The changing climate also changes the prevailing pattern of vector emergence, their pathogenicity and the severity of vectors. This may create havoc on already scanty health services available to rural communities. These vector-borne diseases can become endemic in rural areas, leading to acute human distress. 

Read more: MGNREGA graft: Social audit finds irregularities worth Rs 54 lakh in Rajasthan

Nutrition impact

Climate change will also impact the quantity and quality of food available to rural communities. 

As already mentioned, the productivity of crops will be adversely affected due to unfavourable weather conditions. But with increasing carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere, there is also a reduction of protein content in food grains like rice and wheat, which are the staples for rural communities. 

This reduced nutrition access is compounded by increasing vector-borne diseases in malnourished children and women.   

Toll on mental health

The stress and anxiety related to loss of livelihoods, uncertain futures, helplessness and physical stress due to extreme weather conditions also affect the mental health of rural communities. 

The anxiety to rebuild their lives and livelihoods or distressed migration to new places, feeling the vulnerability of their existence makes the rural people depressed and may lead to living unhappy lives or even add to farmers’ suicides.  

Call for action

Globally, there are discussions on actions around compensation, mitigation and restoration of climate change-related losses. Crucially, there must be actions at the local level. 

Each community has a different kind of vulnerability to the risks associated with climate change. The vulnerability reduction action needs to be customised to the specific human and ecological situation. 

This will need close interaction with the communities. Universalisation of access to public system support, insurance, easy access to financial systems, diversification of livelihood choices and collective action can reduce the vulnerability of rural communities.

Considering the scale of climate change, the hazards and losses are inevitable; it is important to build coping mechanisms for rural communities too. 

Read more: Tax the wealthy: 2 billion people can be lifted from poverty by levying the super-rich, says Oxfam

It is a global challenge with local implications; hence the solution should also be of that scale. Efforts are required everywhere, including the urban communities. The solutions may cover these points:

  • Helping the community to understand the spread and depth of the crisis — Often, communities in hilly regions do not appreciate the challenge of rising sea levels. Similarly, the urban folks may not appreciate how the power cuts affect the farmers and their livelihoods.
  • Solving water and energy crisis challenges — Investing in rainwater harvesting, checking soil erosions and distributing renewable energy like stand-alone microgrids for rural communities.
  • Making the primary healthcare functional
  • Nature-based solutions for climate restoration like large-scale reforestation / agroforestry investments and linking them with the livelihoods of local communities.
  • Technologies for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Local-level waste management — Recycle, reuse and compost.
  • Local food system — Diversified food production to meet the needs locally, reducing food miles, carbon dioxide, energy and water footprint.
  • Diversified livelihoods portfolio for rural communities to bring resilience and reduce vulnerabilities. 

Read more: Will India officially be poverty free in 2023?

There are no easy solutions to this global crisis, but we have no choice other than to try everything that may work. 

Ashok Kumar is director for farm prosperity at non-profit Transform Rural India

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth

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Flower That Grew Only in York Brought Back From Extinction After 30 Years—First Ever British De-Extinction

Andrew Shaw – The Rare British Plants Nursery

English media is gushing over the news of the first “de-extinction event” that saw a yellow wildflower unique to northeast England brought back to life.

Extinct since 1991, the York groundsel managed to carry on thanks to a handful of seed that was shed from three potted specimens on a windowsill at the University of York.

Stored at the Millennium Seed Bank in the Kew Gardens, botanists at Natural England organized a resurrection for the York groundsel after they received word the seeds were reaching the end of their lifespan.

A plastic greenhouse was constructed for the experiment at the Rare British Plants Nursery in Wales, and thanks in no small part to its excellent fecundity, 98 of the 100 seeds germinated, and soon, those three survivors on a windowsill had passed their genes on to literally thousands of offspring, three whole decades after they died.

“It’s a smiley, happy-looking yellow daisy and it’s a species that we’ve got international responsibility for,” said Alex Prendergast, a vascular plant senior specialist for Natural England. “It’s also got an important value as a pollinator and nectar plant in the area because it flowers almost every month of the year.”

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“It only lives in York, and it only ever lived in York. It’s a good tool to talk to people about the importance of urban biodiversity and I hope it will capture people’s imagination,” he told the Guardian.

This groundsel is the only known species to have evolved in England within the last 50 years as it dumped all its evolutionary vigor into figuring out how to live successfully in urban environments.

MORE DE-EXTINCTION NEWS: Conservation Zoos Have Powerful Potential to ‘Reverse Extinction’ Study Shows

It grew out of every crack in the pavement during the stagflationary recession of the 1970s, but soon fell prey to widespread weedkiller application.

Prendergast said that this de-extinction event is likely to be a one-off because of the unique nature of the York groundsel, but added that it nevertheless demonstrated the immense importance of the Millennium Seed Bank.

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Man Becomes Local Hero After Power-Washing Hometown’s Filthy Pavement: ‘I Got Fed Up’

Andrew Carr power washes public pavement – SWNS

A window cleaner has become an online sensation after pressure washing his hometown’s filthy pavement and sidewalks in his spare time.

Andrew Carr has been dubbed a hero by TikTok users for his efforts and his videos that have attracted thousands of followers from around the world.

Carr, who owns ABC Cleaning Services, says he was fed up with the paths and cobbles in Alnwick, Northumberland, being covered in chewing gum and dog poo.

One day he simply couldn’t take it anymore, and after finishing a job washing windows and gutters in a town shop, the 32-year-old turned his powerful pressure washer on the path outside and was amazed to see patterns on the paving slabs that had been hidden under decades of dirt.

Satisfied with his efforts he contacted the local council and offered to spruce up the rest of the historic town in his spare time, and they agreed.

Now, every Sunday morning, Carr blasts the paths and pavements around the town center until they sparkle.

“I was cleaning windows and gutters and just looked down and was really disappointed at the state of the pavements,” recounts Carr. “I looked further up the high street and every paving slab was covered in chewing gum and there was a dog mess. It was a sad sight.”

“Right there and then I set myself a goal of cleaning the center of town up. I thought to myself that everyone complains about dog mess and chewing gum but no one does anything about it.”

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“I contacted the town council and said I wanted to clean the paths up and they were delighted. It’s really lifted the spirits of people living here.”

He now wants to tackle the pavements around the edges of the town, including the rundown bus station and nearby residential streets, elated with the feedback he hears from people, especially from visitors.

For example, 60-year-old life-long Alnwick resident Angela Davies said that she “never knew the paving slabs had patterns before they were washed.”

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“It may seem a small thing to be excited about but the clean pavements have transformed the place,” she said.

“The work clearing chewing gum is very time-consuming but the results are a revelation,” said town Councillor Gordon Castle. “On behalf of the town, I thank him for his public-spirited work.”

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India’s hill states need sustainable cooling solutions to beat warming

If the electricity demand is not fulfilled via cleaner energy sources, this could lift the emission curve

A large number of Indian cities experienced scorching heat over the past week. As per Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), approximately 70 per cent of India experienced a maximum temperature between 40 and 46°C. According to an article published in Down To Earth on April 20, 2023, India has witnessed a 34 per cent rise in heat-related mortalities in 2013-2022 from the previous decade (2003-2012).

While such high temperatures are normal for some states, the Himalayan region saw the worst levels of mercury. The states in the region have witnessed moderate (0-4°C) to high (4-6°C) departures from the normal maximum temperatures in the past week.

For instance, Karsingsa, Itanagar, Anni, Passighat and Namsai in Arunachal Pradesh recorded a 3-5°C departure from the normal on May 23, 2024, according to IMD. At the same time, Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, Sikkim, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, Tripura and Meghalaya recorded a 1-4°C departure from the normal.

Also read: India should brace for dry and hot spring-summer, El Nino, say experts

The story does not end here; the IMD forecast on May 25 suggests that a 2-8°C departure will likely occur in Himachal Pradesh, Mizoram and parts of Ladakh in the coming days. This has several issues for people living in the hills.

First, people living in the hills have not experienced such high temperatures, so their tolerance to heat is limited. They are more susceptible to heat-related illnesses than someone living in the plains. Their exposure to heat is also high as most of the population works outdoors. 

The preferable ambient temperature for humans ranges from 17-24°C, according to an analysis published in The Lancet Planetary Health. Prolonged exposure to temperatures beyond this can result in physiological stress, cardiovascular disease and other heat-related illnesses. 

Secondly, hill states have not required active cooling infrastructure like fans and air conditioners. Increasing temperatures are forcing a switch to active cooling that would create a surge in electricity consumption and dent in people’s pockets.

If the electricity demand is not fulfilled via cleaner energy sources, this could lift the emission curve of the region. This means a vicious cycle awaits the Himalayan region wherein a warming environment means more anthropogenic heat due to cooling and more emissions.   

Even India’s coastal belt was not spared by the rising mercury. On May 23 and 24, IMD recorded a 2-5°C departure from the normal across Medinipur in West Bengal and Puri in Odisha. Additionally, the entire west coast of India suffered from a 2-4°C departure from the normal on May 24.

The increase in temperature over the coasts is accompanied by high humidity, which increases the feel-like temperature. Such conditions create sultry weather, making it unsuitable for mental or physical work. This leads to a loss in productivity while inducing heat stress and thermal discomfort amongst the dwellers. 

Most Indian cities fall under the plains, and the prevailing high temperatures here are leading to increased intensity of the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect. On May 23, several cities in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Delhi, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and West Bengal witnessed maximum temperatures above 40°C, according to IMD.

Hisar, Bhiwani and Mungeshpur in Haryana; parts of Delhi such as New Delhi and Najafgarh; Rajnandgaon in Chattisgarh; Mahabaleswar, Pune, Pimpri-Chinchwad in Maharashtra; Jamshedpur in Jharkhand; Baripada and Balasore in West Bengal; and a few other cities saw a 6-8°C departure from the normal temperatures. 

IMD declared heatwaves to severe heatwaves in Rajasthan’s Churu; Jhansi, Mathura-Vrindavan and Agra in Uttar Pradesh; Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh; and parts of Delhi (Pitampura, Narela and Pusa) on May 23. Further, cities are also experiencing high nighttime temperatures (approximately 5-6°C departure from normal minimum temperatures) due to UHI effect. This happens when the environment traps heat all day and releases it at night. 

Also read: Climate crisis in North East India: Why are rainfall patterns changing?

With such shifting temperature normals, cities need to both adapt and mitigate the impact of warming. This will require measures to cool down the environment. Increasing and improving green infrastructure is one such measure. It not only cools down the surroundings but also prevents flooding.

Green infrastructure includes green spaces and water bodies like parks, gardens, green belts, green roofs, ponds, lakes, etc. Green infrastructure restricts heat gain in urban areas via evapotranspiration and therefore plays a crucial role in regulating the micro-climate.

A 10 per cent increase in tree canopy cover can bring down afternoon temperatures by 1-1.5°C; active and passive water systems can lower the temperature by 3-8°C, according to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs.

Further cooling materials for roofs and facades can reduce the indoor temperature by 2-5°C. Integrating such measures with master plans and building by-laws would bring a mandated implementation and enable cities to act for heat resilience and mitigation. 

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