Tag Archives: #globalwarming

We Can’t Go Back Once Climate Change Hits A Tipping Point, Warns Climate Reality Activist Bill DeVincenzi

Our Climate is Changing. Why Aren’t We?

What happens when ice caps melt, forests die, the permafrost thaws and microbes multiply?

Climate Reality Activists Bill DeVincenzi and Erin Zimmerman join DesiCollective to clear up some misconceptions  about the pace of climate change. Scientists warn that we are in 6th extinction and that some of these changes are irreversible. Humans only have a ten year window to reverse the chain reaction of ‘feedback loops’ that are escalating the climate change crisis. The world is at a tipping point which can put us over the top to runaway climate change.

 

A Short Primer on Feedback Loops with Bill DeVincenzi & Erin Zimmerman

Climate Reality Leader Bill DeVincenzi

What’s A Feedback Loop?

A feedback loop is defined as a certain set of circumstances that can become self-perpetuating. They are present in everything from machines, and economics, to biological processes. They can be both positive and negative; however, in the case of climate change the consequences would be bad. Very bad.

Why Feedback Loops are Bad

Feedback loops are important to consider when trying to halt the climate crisis. And while entire books can, and have, been written about them, here’s a short primer on why climate action is essential now, and not at some point in the future.

When Earth Loses Its Best Reflector, that’s The Albedo Effect

You wouldn’t think the earth’s reflectively matters but it does. The Albedo effect, or loss of earth’s reflectivity is probably one of the most dangerous, and little known feedback loops. While much of the sunlight that hits the Earth is absorbed, some is reflected into space. You’ve probably experienced the Albedo effect if you have gone skiing or visited the high mountains in the winter. Snow and ice reflect around 85% of the sunlight that hits it and keeps the planet from getting too warm. But the volume of ice around the world has decreased by 75% in the last 40 years. According to scientists, we could lose Arctic sea ice completely by the end of this century. The ocean absorbs about 90% of the sunlight that hits it. So, we are replacing the best reflector, sea ice, with the worst absorber, open ocean. If you add in the loss of snow and ice on land as well, this adds up to approximately 40% loss of reflectivity. More heat absorbed means a warmer planet and results in even more ice melt and the cycle repeats itself.

Climate Reality Leader Erin Zimmerman

Permafrost Melt Releases Methane – It’s Wrapping Earth in a Warm, Toxic Blanket

Thousands of years ago, an icy cover in the North froze billions of tons of biological material to create Permafrost.  When permafrost melts, the biological materials thaw and then decompose, releasing the greenhouse gasses (GHGs) carbon dioxide (CO2) and Methane. GHG’s are like a blanket that covers the Earth, keeping it warm. As the blanket gets thicker (more GHG’s), the planet gets warmer. Today, permafrost keeps twice as much CO2 in the ground as there is CO2 in the atmosphere right now. If this CO2 is released, the consequences could be devastating. It’s vicious cycle. As global temperatures rise, the permafrost thaws, which increases greenhouse gasses and more warming. The cycle then repeats itself. The carbon dioxide is bad enough, but the Methane is 30 times more potent than CO2 in terms of trapping heat in the atmosphere.

The Jet Stream’s Deadly Loop De Loop

The Jet Stream ironically, is an actual loop of air current. It circles high above the earth around the Northern hemisphere between the colder north and the warmer south. The temperature differential between the two keeps the jet stream in place; however, the temperature in the North is increasing 2 to 3 times as fast as the temperature in the South. This is pushing the jet stream South; the further South it wanders, the more it picks heat from the South to carry North. This reinforces the cycle and causes wild and unpredictable changes in weather, from extreme cold spells in the South (ice storms inTexas!) to hotter days in the Arctic (or 100.4F in Siberia!). Dry areas become drier, and wet places get wetter.

Stand Up to The Folly of Fossil Fuels

As you have probably noticed, all the feedback loops start with fossil fuel emissions. If we reduce fossil fuel emissions, stop deforestation, and re-green the Earth, we can prevent or start to reverse these feedback loops.

Advocate for Climate Action or Elect Leaders Who Will

The single most important thing we can do is elect leaders who will move us in the right direction. We must vote in political leadership that will take on this problem and collaborate with other countries around the world. It is up to us to continue to put pressure on our local legislators to support the administration in the effort.

Regardless, the planet will continue to exist just fine, albeit a lot warmer, like in the time of the dinosaurs. We humans may not exist, nor would many of the species that now exist with us. So, we can sit back and let global warming wipe us out. Or we can act now to save ourselves and our fellow species. We have total control over this.

Let’s make it happen!


Meera Kymal & Anjana Nagarajan Butaney produce the climate change podcast ‘Our Climate is Changing, Why Aren’t We?’ at DesiCollective.

Photo by Hans-Jurgen Mager on Unsplash

2021 is A Hangover & We Are Facing the Repercussions

Hey, the New Year 2021 is here! Yay! There were a lot of private parties and a few public parties, with both masking and unmasking happening, for sure. A lot of cake was eaten and quite a bit of champagne was drunk. 

Unfortunately, the new year started with a heavy hangover from the previous one. What with the COVID-19 virus mutating and becoming even more contagious, there wasn’t a lot to cheer about. About the transition of power in Washington, the lesser said the better. In fact, why say anything at all here? We are all watching it on TV on a daily basis.

Where I live in South India too, the new year is beginning on a weird note. It is raining a lot, when it should actually be sunny but cold. In Coorg, Karnataka, where we have a small coffee plantation, people are very worried. The unseasonal rain is causing the coffee berries to drop and rot on the ground, reducing the yield. Those that have been picked have had no time to dry and may rot on the drying yard, if they aren’t washed away by the water, that is. Paddy harvest too may be affected.

Indians are certainly waking up to the unwelcome realization that global warming and climate change are no longer just subjects for scientific debate, but the reality on the ground. Farmers are seeing it first hand, while consumers are suffering when prices fluctuate wildly due to the unseasonal weather. Onions at Rs. 120 a kilo? Enough said.

Meanwhile, the United States is seeing its share of natural disasters as well. Forest fires decimating large swathes of land and swallowing up neighborhoods, and hurricanes and tornadoes wreaking havoc with barely a pause between successive ones, are impressing the concept of climate change among the people far better than any Government initiative to educate them.

However, the big question is: how are the two countries responding to it and trying to change their behavior? And what are individuals doing? Well, here is a layperson’s perspective.

In my decidedly uneducated opinion, both the US and India are responding identically to the climate crisis. They are spending billions of dollars and rupees having conferences and putting out white papers and other colored papers on the subject. But not one of them is doing anything real or major on the ground that may have the slightest effect on reducing emissions, reducing dependence on fossil fuel, and cleaning up the environment that they have laid waste. 

In India, new cars are flying off the shelves. All the money that couldn’t be spent during the lockdown days is being splurged on new and fancy cars. So much for reducing dependence on fossil fuel. 

Public works are still being conducted for the welfare of PWD contractors and not the public – in short, resources being wasted on shoddy work, such as water pipes that break and bleed hundreds of gallons wastefully into the earth. Water wastage and electricity theft is rampant, and there is no earnest effort to clean up invaluable water resources, even after the shocking water crisis faced by Chennai city. 

And forest management is absolutely non-existent. If you are a wild animal, or a human whose land is being encroached by wild animals (many parts of South India are seeing an unprecedented number of people being affected by the entry of elephant herds into cultivated land), or a tribal whose very livelihood is at stake, you are on your own. Meanwhile, blocks of flats keep appearing and land is being cleared to build new townships. 

In short, very little is happening on the ground to actually combat the climate crisis. 

As for the trend in the US, I had an opportunity to observe a few things when my husband and I visited the US this August. And what I observed was shocking, especially after having become used to the Indian way of life.

Again this is my humble opinion, but I think the US is seriously over-consuming. During our stay, we were stunned by the amount of trash we ended up generating each day…and this was mostly non-recyclable stuff. We stayed at a motel for an extended period, so we bought a bunch of silverware and some microwavable plastic and porcelain dishes. We had to depend on microwavable food from grocery stores, as eating every meal at restaurants was neither to our taste nor feasible due to COVID. We found that the frozen dinners were packaged in plastic that was of such durable quality that we actually washed a few and reused them as microwave bowls. 

Every store used plastic bags. At large chain stores especially, they would literally put just a pack of socks in one bag and a t-shirt in another. It was as if they’d never heard of limiting plastic. I dearly love the US and am nuts about the stores, but I wanted to weep when I saw the sheer amount of plastic waste that was being generated.

In India, plenty of plastic waste is generated too, especially with Amazon, and Flipkart, Big Basket, and Swiggy, Zomato, and other food delivery companies. But a lot of it does get reused at least a little. Plastic containers are washed and used to store food. Many use cloth bags for shopping, and as for the plastic bags that are used for things like rice, dhal, etc., they get reused too. Small kirana shops use these to package their goods. Milk covers are given to kabadiwaalas who resell them to recyclers. Newspapers are also sold to recyclers, or used to package things or used around the house, or even to wrap used sanitary pads before discarding. 

Some cities like Mysore where I live also force citizens to segregate their waste into dry and wet waste. Some apartment complexes like ours have their own composting units, and give only their dry waste to the municipality. 

Of course, in India, we have the overwhelming problem of public cleanliness – what garbage we have is usually in plain sight. Now after COVID, there might even be less will to clean up the country. Everyone feels that it was our daily exposure to all kinds of pathogens bred in our own neighborhoods that gave us lower susceptibility to COVID-19 virus. So God knows what will happen to the Swachh Bharath initiative.

The New Year has dawned. We’ve had to change a lot of our habits and behavior last year. Hopefully, we will change our behavior regarding many environmentally-sensitive practices so that 2021 will see a healthier planet emerging from shadow of COVID-19.


Lakshmi Palecanda moved from Montana, USA, to Mysore, India, and inhabits a strange land somewhere in between the two. Having discovered sixteen years ago that writing was a good excuse to get out of doing chores, she still uses it.

Connecting to Nature is Good for Public Health

The Bay Area is a great place to live in. It is blessed with progressive land planning that has set aside vast open space areas for recreation. Measures, like Measure Q and now T, to be voted in by the people, ensure that open spaces in Santa Clara Valley stay protected and accessible.

During the lock-down, families truly appreciate the value of access to public parks and open spaces. 

Atulya Sarin, Professor of Santa Clara University lost his beloved 12 year old dog Bufar Bryant Sarin last year. During the pandemic Sarin yearned to be outdoors . “I truly understand how my dog Bufar felt,” says Atulya Sarin with a smile, “I can’t wait for 5pm when I can go for my walk.” 

What helped families like Professor Sarin’s to escape to the outdoors was Measure Q, a $24 parcel-tax that was approved in 2014 by voters. It generated approximately $7.9 million per year, thereby enabling the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority to nearly double protected space in the county to more than 26,000 acres.

 It also preserved about 1,000 acres in North Coyote Valley, so Santa Clara Valley’s residents had open spaces and lands to escape to during lockdown.

Measure T, on the November 2020 ballot, renews Measure Q – keeping the parcel tax at $24 – but with the clause that it will renew automatically each year unless ended by voters. 

All funds are spent in the cities of San Jose, Milpitas, Santa Clara, Campbell, Morgan Hill, and in the unincorporated portions of Santa Clara County.

“We are in a great place and the reason we are in a great place is because measure Q gave us resources to buy up land,” said state Assemblymember Ash Kalra at a virtual meeting organized by Ethnic Media Services on October 1. At the end of the day, said Kalra, the land cannot be protected unless it is bought. Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority purchased land to protect it permanently. 

“We can zone land any which way, but a different council can change that. It is critical therefore that in addition to legislation to create a conservation program we must have the Open Space Authority have resources to purchase and protect the land permanently,” he said. 

Coyote Valley

A case in point is Coyote Valley – 7,400 acres of land between the Santa Cruz mountains and the Diablo range. The land is key for flood protection and safeguarding the valley’s ecological livelihood. 

In the 1980s, Apple eyed Coyote Valley as a place to build its world headquarters. In the 1990s, Cisco Systems tried to build a massive campus there. Environmental groups, who said the area — currently used by farmers and wildlife — should be left in its natural state, fought both proposals.

“We all know a little bit of development causes a domino effect and next thing you know it really becomes a totally different type of landscape. 

Measured Response

The pandemic and wildfires have choked California this year.   

“Scientists are telling us that we need to protect 30 percent of the land to keep global warming at bay,” said Kalra. “The more land we can protect the more we can combat global warming. We are seeing how human behavior is connected to all these tragedies,” he said.

South Bay leaders at the press briefing urged a vote for Measure T, which would preserve a tax used for parks and open areas.

“We need to protect this open space for the preservation of a sustainable future for California,” said state Assemblymember Ash Kalra, a long-time environmental advocate. 

Expanding public access to nature improves public health  “Spending as little as two hours a week in nature, 15-20 minutes a day, can improve self-reported health and well-being,” says Sadiya Muqueeth, director community health at the Trust for Public Land.

“We can fix it! We created it and we can fix it,” said Kalra 


Ritu Marwah is a 2020 California reporting and engagement fellow at USC Annenberg’s Center for Health Journalism.

 

The Bioma Project Brings Nature into the Classroom

As the climate change crisis threatens the world as we know it, it becomes the new generation’s responsibility to spread awareness and foster action. Large-scale organizations like UNICEF have been handing their social media handles to youth environmental activists. Half a million teen advocates have fought climate change by requesting government grants for their communities. According to the UNEP, 73% of surveyed youth from a global population say they feel the effects of climate change. Young people everywhere are demanding action — with and without access to the voting booth. It is amid this environment that Bay Area students are promoting environmental education through a national collaborative, the Bioma Project. With more than two thousand students and 40 supporting schools, the Bioma Project aims to “change the way young people think about the environment”. To find out more about what that entails, we had a chat with Raghav and Krishna, rising seniors from Monta Vista High School and co-founders of the project’s Cupertino chapter. 

What made you decide to start a chapter of the Bioma Project? 

Climate change, in the past few years, has become an increasingly prevalent issue in society. And there’s a good reason for it. The average global temperature has been steadily rising for the past 100 years, which in turn has risen sea levels, and increased the frequency of natural disasters like heat waves and flooding. But what’s worse is that the problem doesn’t seem to be going away. It’s worsening. And although there have been and still are a myriad of efforts directed towards raising awareness for climate change and pushing for legitimate change in society, we believed that there was something missing in our local community. There is an abundant amount of attention paid toward various sciences in the Bay Area(CS, Mathematics, etc.), but we were convinced that a larger emphasis on the environment and climate change awareness- specifically directed towards elementary and middle school students – in the Bay Area was something missing in our community. And we saw the Bioma Project as a valiant effort in promoting a positive change in our community. The Bioma Project maintains the belief that people can only care about a certain issue if they have been educated about it, which is why we direct our efforts towards younger students who will be forced to confront climate change in the coming years. Students, who are the generation that will have to face the brunt of climate change, should learn about the current state of our Earth, and what they can do to play a part in mitigating the disastrous effects that are currently scheduled to affect us. 

The Bioma Project’s website mentions how “students weren’t given the autonomy to run their own projects and enough field experience.” Could you elaborate on this concern, and how your chapter addresses the issue? 

Bill Tong, Founder of Bioma Project

Founded in Maryland by high school student Bill Tong, the program became popular and has been incorporated into forty schools in Maryland and is in the process of getting implemented into 3 classrooms here in the Bay Area. We offer two programs: one consists of placing a fish tank in a classroom and effectively constructing a stream water ecosystem in classrooms to allow students to understand various aspects of an ecosystem and understand more about the environment that surrounds us through a set of lesson plans; the second program consists of a lecture-style program in which teachers are provided an amalgam of presentations on different areas of the environment(such as an introduction to climate change, a presentation on fossil fuels, etc.) and activities that allow students to interactively learn more about our Earth. 

What kinds of activities are included in your program? 

Kid’s learning using the Bioma Project Model.

An example of an activity is a kid-friendly mining lab where students would have to “mine” chocolate chips out of a chocolate chip cookie without making a mess, which is used to simulate safe mining practices. We believe that by gradually introducing elementary and middle school students to fun activities like the one mentioned above induces learning and improves the reception of serious topics. Teachers have the option of choosing either program(or even both!), and we are willing to accommodate and customize lesson plans for teachers who prefer to incorporate the lesson plans differently. In addition, the lessons can be taught at the speed the teacher prefers to teach them at; each lesson plan spans between 15 to 45 minutes and teachers can allocate a fraction of their teaching time for the activities.

How has the coronavirus outbreak impacted your program? Will you continue your efforts virtually?  

Although the coronavirus pandemic has prevented us from expanding in the way we had envisioned, the Bioma Project has not stopped putting in an effort to reach a larger audience. We recently recruited few people in the Washington D.C metro area and Dallas, Texas to introduce this program to more students, and we are currently planning to create some form of a virtual continuation of the program in case school does not reopen next school year. In the meantime, we are continuing to email teachers in school districts all around the Bay Area to work out ways in which teachers can utilize the resources we provide to educate their students about the environment.

What advice can you give to other young teenagers who want to change the public’s perception of environmental science? 

 To any students or parents who are reading this and are interested in this program, we strongly encourage you to ask your teachers if they would be willing to dedicate a little amount of their time to teach their students about the environment and refer them to our website, https://www.biomaproject.org/ or email us at californiabioma@gmail.com. To any teacher interested in this program, we would love for you to visit our website, email us, and discuss how we could help you incorporate this program into your classroom.

Kanchan Naik is a junior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. Aside from being the Youth Editor at India Currents, she is also the Editor-in-Chief of her school newspaper The Roar and the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton.

A Planet of Wizards & Prophets

I was reading The Wizard & The Prophet by Charles E Mann on a crowded train one evening a few months ago and when a young girl sat down next to me. The name of the book is intriguing, and it piqued her interest too.

She was in first or second grade and her curly hair was made into numerous tiny plaits. Her eyes shone with a curiosity that would make any teacher’s heart sing.

Her mother’s heart though, quailed. She said, “Now…now don’t bother the nice lady there, let her get on with it.” I looked up at the mother and told her that I love reading to children, and though this particular book was pedantic, I did it anyway. It quickly taught me never to under-estimate children – my student soaked in everything and asked the most engaging questions.

I saw a certain amount of editing would need to be done if the topic were to sustain the interest of a 6-year-old. The book is a non-fiction tome going strong at 678 pages – pages richly adorned with facts, figures, and life histories of all the people involved.  But, I knew the bits where a child’s wonder can be kindled. 

The Wizard & The Prophet is a marvelous title because it encapsulates the polarity of our thinking so beautifully, and in this sense, they are both required for us to thrive. The Wizard in the book is Norman Borlaug, who is credited with leading the way for GMO strains of wheat production. Mentioned alongside him are stalwarts like Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, who saved billions of people from hunger and starvation 

William Vogt is the Prophet, who during his study in the Mexican coastal areas observed how we are stretching our natural resources and the effects it has on things as far-flung as bird migratory patterns and climate. In many ways, he is the one who set up the first bells of Global Warming and Climate Change. He is the Prophet.

“Do you believe in Climate Change?”, asked the girl wide-eyed.

I told her I did not need to believe in Climate Change at all because the experiments show me how humans are changing the air around. I showed her the pages outlining the experiment where scientists managed to pin down Carbon Dioxide as the source of our problems.

I cannot deny that global warming and climate change have always intrigued me. Carbon Dioxide only accounts for 0.04 % of the atmospheric gases after all. 

Scrippsnews from Wikimedia Commons

In The Wizard & The Prophet, the author outlines the experiments used to determine that, it is indeed carbon dioxide that is the culprit and how our industries are directly contributing to its increase. The correlation between carbon-dioxide levels increasing and global warming is now proven beyond doubt. Known as the Keeling Curve, we measure the carbon dioxide in the air over many decades.

(During the spring, there are dips because the Arctic tundra sprouts plant life and plants absorb Carbon Dioxide from the atmosphere.)

Looking at the worried expression on the child’s face, I asked her, “But not all is worrisome, did you know that we can reduce carbon dioxide?”

“Trees?” she said, and I nodded yes.

I went on to tell her about the excellent example set forth for us by the Kenyans in The Green Belt Movement, and how a person called Dr. Wangari Maathai helped the Kenyans plant millions of trees over the past 30 years.

She glowed at the simple solution thought of by Dr. Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel Prize. After a few minutes, my student’s stop had arrived and she stepped off the train with her mother, who was now listening to her daughter talk to her about The Wizard & The Prophet.  

As I reflected on the chat with her, I realized that science and the proof for increasing carbon footprint caused by human activity have been around for decades now. We just need to take action. 

But there is hope: I am glad to read that China proposes to plant and nurture a forest the size of Ireland to reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality. 

India was one of the first nations to increase its green cover by almost 15% in 2019.

We have one planet on which we can live. Let’s do all we can to take care of it.

Happy Earth Day! April 22, 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. A day meant to spur us into action meant to preserve and sustain Earth. 

Saumya Balasubramanian writes regularly at nourishncherish.wordpress.com. Some of her articles have been published in San Francisco Chronicle, The Hindu and India Currents. She lives with her family in the Bay Area where she lilts along savoring the ability to find humor in everyday life and finding joy in the little things.