|Global climate change summit is coming near. Copenhagen will witness heated debate in December deal. This is the time of talks to save our planet from disasters. In the second part of its series of articles / interviews on climate change, Calicutnet presents the views of Cleo Paskal, a front-runner in environmental issues.
She says that this is challenging time and we all have to turn it into an opportunity.
Cleo Paskal is Adjunct Professor at SCMS, Kochi, and Adjunct Faculty, Manipal University. She is also an Associate Fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, London.
She has been a well-known journalist and columnist for many international media like The Independent, BBC radio 4, BBC World Service, Channel 4 (light entertainment and documentaries), Columbia Journalism Review, The Economist, Wired, Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News, Boston Globe, St. Petersburg Times, Australian Financial Review, Times of India, Hard News, Japan Times, CBC radio and Globe and Mail.
Her book, Global Warring: How Environmental, Economic and Political Crisis Will Redraw the World Map will be released in India in early 2010.
In an email interview, she speaks to Rajesh Kumar Edacheri.
1. What will be the most dangerous aspect of climate change?
Each region has its own vulnerabilities. Dry regions, for example, may get even less water and coastal regions may see more flooding. The local threats may vary, but all will face challenges. A good understanding of the local environment, coupled with a focus on future changes is a good defense. Then locally appropriate solutions need to be found and implemented.
The developing world is at the forefront of cheap, effective adaptation techniques and technologies because they have been living for centuries in vulnerable areas. Not only are those methods and inventions essential for survival, their development and export can create more economic development at home.
- Do you think of a war of water in the future?
I pray there will not be. We can avoid it by proper research, good planning and strong will. In India, many areas that see drought also get flooding at other times of the year. The stress of the drought time can be lessened with rainwater harvesting and ground water recharge. This may also help with flooding.
One need not rely on governments to do it as everyone benefits from a secure water supply. Developers, for example, may want to integrate rain water harvesting, grey water use and water filtration systems (as well as energy saving technique and technologies such as passive solar hot water heating, etc.) into the design of new buildings as an added sales feature.
In addition, it is worth looking at the traditional architecture of the region. In many areas buildings designed before electricity, have excellent water and energy saving designs, such as the high, vented roofs from traditional Keralite houses.
In the North of India, there are concerns about China trying to tackle its water deficiencies through diverting water from the headwaters of such Himalayan rivers as the Brahmaputra. The Himalayan rivers are, in part, glacier fed, and the glaciers in many areas are melting because of climate change. Now the waters may be high because of the added run off from the melting glacier, but soon they will be low because the glaciers will have melted.
China needs to understand that diverting the rivers will not aid in their water security in the medium term because of the disappearance of the glaciers and will create more tensions with its neighbors in the short term and long terms. Indian glaciologists and hydrologists could work with those in other countries affected, such as Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh to make the situation more clear to China, and to present a more united front, as well as to coordinate water management. Right now, there are tensions between, for example, India and Bangladesh over water flows and, while those need to be resolved, the potentially more serious immediate common challenge is the reduction of supply coming from China.
- How can we tackle the issue of climate change as a component of the larger problems directly made by mankind?
Climate change needs to be seen as part of the larger problems of environmental change, and that needs to be seen in the context of development. When looking at the health of a river, all aspects need to be considered, such as pollution, erosion, industrial needs, and changing water levels caused by climate change. This sort of understanding requires interdisciplinary research involving hydrologists, glaciologists, climatologists, meteorologist, experts in traditional knowledge, engineers, the business sector, etc. Right now, experts tend not to work much outside their field. Those artificial walls need to be broken down. Everyone has something to gain from learning from someone else. Moreover, if we do not learn, we will all lose.
- There have been environment-related disruptions to hydroelectric installations, offshore oil and gas production, pipelines, electrical transmission and nuclear power generation. Still the developing world is being faced by energy deficiency.
As of now, most energy installations were designed assuming the physical environment where they were built will not change. That is no longer the case. There have been declines in hydroelectricity production in India of over 8% last year and around 12% this year. That may be the result of shifting precipitation patters, such as the poor monsoons, or increased siltation caused by increased erosion, or many other factors. There is a serious challenge to production.
In such a varied country like India, rather than energy mega products, diverse and decentralized energy systems may provide more stability and cost-effectiveness. This can mean anything from geothermal to biogas to small home solar units for remote areas (something that is being pioneered with great success in Bangladesh).
- How can we meet the demand of sustainable clean water?
Again, this is not one difficult challenge, but many. In some areas, there is no water because of drought, in others it is because of polluted water ways. So different solutions must be examined for different geographic areas. In Kerala, for example, if the problem is pollution, in some cases the creation of artificial wetlands to purify the water may work. In other areas, where salt water is the problem, it may take new desalt technologies.
If only a fraction of the incredible talent that turned India into a high-tech leader is devoted to new water technologies, I am sure that it won’t take long before India is the world leader in this most important and critical new field. It would not only help at home, but is critical for easing tensions and saving lives globally.
- In developing countries, agriculture currently consumes over 70 percent of the world’s water. If things go like this, what is the future of food security? Can you comment on bio pharma and bio-fuel crops?
Food security is a very serious issue. Farmers are some of the most important people on the planet and must be respected, and listened to. They know the problems much better than someone sitting in an office block in New Delhi or New York. They know that there is a lot of wastage in water for agriculture; that in many cases inappropriate water-hungry crops are being planted for political or economic reasons; that poor irrigation infrastructure is leading to massive loss; that their crippling loans are causing them to take short cuts that are bad for the land, food production and their own safety.
There needs to be a reassessment of agriculture, with input from those on the ground, in order to find a way forward. The hard work and talent of the farmers of India combined with sound management of water supplies and agricultural policy can create food security for India.
- You are aware of the climate situation in Kerala. What will be the future of God’s own country with bio-diversities when the quantity of monsoon rain is decreasing? 229.8 mm (2005) 202.4(2006) 283.5(2007), 167.8(2008)
This is a very heartbreaking situation. Kerala is also challenged by rising sea levels, which is causing coastal erosion, and the infiltration of salt water into fresh water systems. Protecting Kerala from these changes will take active defense. Ideally the government, in conjunction with business and industry (who will, obviously, also be severely affected), should convene an Environmental Security Council which brings in the hydrologists, climatologist and other scientists who best understand the situation in order to assess where the biggest vulnerabilities lie, and what can be done to counter them. This could lead, for example, to the creation of an anti-erosion initiative, or for the development of a centre for water purification. These could become world-leaders in the field, helping economic development at the same time as creating more security.
- Do you think climate change will worsen poverty, political instability and regional conflicts?
It can, but it is not inevitable. With thought, effort and will we can get through this. We have to.
Think of a factory on the coast of Kerala. If it continues as usual, it might first have problems with erosion affecting its foundation; then power lines down the coast might fall over, affecting its electrical supply; then the building itself may flood. And flood again. It will face problem after problem until it is too much and it collapses.
Alternatively, it can defend itself, perhaps with anti-erosion techniques; can put in its own renewable energy supply, covering the cost of installation by selling off the excess energy it generates; and then become highly profitable as it develops and sells a new water purification system.
Business usual is not going to work anymore. But we all are in a position to turn that challenge into an opportunity and to create more stability and security for ourselves, our neighbors, our communities and our countries, and the world. We have to. The cost of failure is unimaginable.