Chennai’s unusual March downpour

It is unusual, to say the least, for Chennai to experience extreme weather events in March. This is after all a period between the two monsoons when the semi-arid landscape is just being warmed up for the torrid summer. Some radio jockeys are actually thrilled that the weather has changed for ‘the better’ except for the nuisance caused by the periodic rains.

But The Hindu reports under the headline Unusual amount of rainfall received, that the City received 25 times the normal rainfall expected for the period”.

It will no doubt sound bizarre to many that their everyday actions could be influencing this sort of phenomenon, if we are to go by available evidence of the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

In a country that is just beginning to enjoy the benefits of consumerist economic growth, a broad refrain to slash carbon gas emissions may appear almost silly. After all, many Indians do not consume anything at a significant level. Equally, though, there are many Indians today who are consuming a lot, some even more than those in the affluent countries; if per capita carbon emissions are to be compared between the developed world and the developing world purely in terms of the amount of carbon released, these are the numbers to compare.

We should let the question of personal choices rest for the moment: those who have always wanted to drive their Mercedeses, BMWs, Audis, and down the ladder, the Suzukis, the Hyundais and the Fords; those who have just bought their plasma televisions and their airconditioners, will find talk of emission curbs somewhat incongruous. The party has just begun. We are also waiting to usher in the club of Tata Nano owners soon.

It is necessary, however, to take note of the storm brewing on the horizon, if the party must go on and not stop altogether. Some of those signs appear to be evident in the maps of global temperature changes published by Dr. James Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Is there any connection between the maps showing an increase in the sea surface temperature in the Arabian Sea and parts of the Southern Indian Ocean, and the increase in precipitation that we are experiencing? Only the experts can tell.

But we get the uneasy feeling that not enough is being said about changes that are being experienced in weather patterns. What appears to be conclusive from evidence so far gathered by Dr. Hansen and others is that a further pumping of carbon into the atmosphere, regardless of where that is happening in the world, will very likely push the global climate into uncharted territory. Also, the carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere is expected to lead to changes that are at present “in the pipeline” and therefore invisible but inevitable if we carry on with even our activities as at present. Watch this slideshow by Dr. Hansen to understand the issues involved.

I am sure continued economic growth in India depends on a healthy climate. Viewed that way, the choices that now seem costly and diffcult will appear less daunting to us. Business as usual is not an option.

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