Wednesday, May 20, 2009

iPod winning post!

The following article won me an iPod in a contest ...

Long Post ...

Are winters becoming extinct? Or am I the only one thinking of that? That smart turtleneck sweater, that black leather jacket and not forgetting the thick, heavy quilt; all of these have been lying unused for ages now.

Argument: If winters are the same as it were, say 15 to 20 years back, then why did I require these things in the first place? It is smack bang in the middle of January, and I still need the air conditioner while at home or office or in my car. I don’t recall that being the case 15 years back. That’s when the sweater, jacket and quilt all came in use.

Let me slide into what would be a more scientific construct than smelly woolens.

Is the Earth truly warming up?


CO2, which is one of the many green houses gases, has increased from 250 ppm (parts per million), during the pre-industrial levels, to 400 ppm. This has been termed ‘anthropogenic green house gas emissions’. In other words we have helped nearly double the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. Models are ineffective in predicting what final increase in average temperature it will have. But it is an established fact that, there will be an effect, most likely a warming. How much? We can’t say!

According to public domain data, the average surface temperatures have increased by 0.48 °C. It is a lot. The averages are spread over the entire surface of the earth. That is a lot of area and the increases are spread thin. Average temperature increases in cities (also termed as the Urban Heat Island# effect) will probably be in multiples of 1°C. Is this an effect of increase in CO2 levels? Yes.

It is now an established fact that majority of the glaciers are receding, trees are migrating northwards (as lower latitudes become warmer), Jelly fish populations are exploding (Jelly fishes thrive in warmer waters), migratory birds are changing migration patterns, grass has been found to be growing in Antarctica, the Ross Ice Shelf is crumbling, the Arctic ocean may be soon be navigable in summer, the last 10 years have been the hottest in recorded history … the list IS endless.

Ok am scared stiff, now what?

If you are thinking global catastrophes, ice ages, earthquakes, wildfires, freak weather and more recession, you are on the right track … let’s put it this way: You walk into a multiplex and the only three movies being screened there are ‘RGV ki Aag’, ‘Drona’ and ‘Chandani Chowk to Chinchwad’. A disaster of epic proportions, right?

The imagery is disturbing!

However, the Gaia Hypothesis*, proposed by James Lovelock, says that the Earth has an internal self-regulating mechanism to maintain equilibrium. In my (layman’s) terms, the Earth will find a way to reduce global temperatures.

Hurrah! We are saved! Let’s go burn some fossil fuels!

Hold on to your engines! The Gaia hypothesis also says that the increased human intervention will result in the planet not being able to regulate itself efficiently. This will result in the Sahara Desert extending to Paris by 2040, droughts and famines will significantly reduce human population and the tropics would be as live-able as the inside of a blast furnace. And no, it won’t be turned off.

Oh Blimey!

But it’s only a hypothesis. There is a certain probability that all of this does not happen as early as 2040. If people decide to take the initiative to reduce emissions, maybe we can delay the inevitable. We can all do our bit to control carbon emissions. We could all use less energy, conserve and recycle; maybe we will still be able to visit Paris in 2040.

Any takers for my old quilt, by the way?

Shubhadeep Dhar

References & Notes

* Gaia Hypothesis: Originally proposed by James Lovelock as the earth feedback hypothesis, [1] it was named—at the suggestion of his neighbor William Golding—the Gaia Hypothesis, after the Greek supreme goddess of Earth. [2] The hypothesis is frequently described as viewing the Earth as a single organism. Lovelock and other supporters of the idea now regard it as a scientific theory, not merely a hypothesis, since they believe it has passed predictive tests. [3]

[1] Lovelock, James (2001), "Homage to Gaia: The Life of an Independent Scientist", (Oxford University Press)


[3] Lovelock, James (2007), "The Revenge of Gaia: Earth's Climate Crisis & the Fate of Humanity" (Basic Books)

# An urban heat island (UHI) is a metropolitan area which is significantly warmer than its surrounding rural areas. The temperature difference usually is larger at night than during the day and larger in winter than in summer, and is most apparent when winds are weak. The main cause of the urban heat island is modification of the land surface by urban development; waste heat generated by energy usage is a secondary contributor.