By Dr. Jaijit Bhattacharya
Civilizations have been wiped out due to climate change in the past. The Roman empire fell as an enormous spasm of volcanic activity in the 530s and 540s CE triggered what is now called the ‘Late Antique Little Ice Age,’ when much colder temperatures endured for at least 150 years, leading to a dry spell that reduced agricultural outputs. This phase of climate deterioration had devastating effects on the Roman civilization. The climate change either led to, or coincided with a catastrophe of even greater impact, the outbreak of the first pandemic of bubonic plague. It was a matter of time that Rome fell to the attacks of tribes as it was too weak to protect itself.
Something similar apparently happened to the famous Harappan civilization, where, as per IIT Kharagpur, there was a prolonged dry spell, that led to the slow demise of the civilization. Same was the fate of the Mesopotamian civilization.
Why are these historic learnings important? These learnings are important because we are at the beginning of an unstoppable and irreversible process of climate change. Much has been written about what steps governments should take to reduce the global warming and not cross the 2 degree increase in global temperatures. Of how we should save Planet Earth. Much less has been discussed on what needs to be done in a post-climate change scenario. The fact of the matter is, as pointed out by noted climate scientists, we have crossed the point where we could stop the climate change. Ofcourse, one should continue to figure out ways to reduce further climate change, but climate change has happened.
And that brings us to the point as to what are the policies needed to shield humanity from the impact of this climate change. It is euphemistically referred to as “Save the Planet”. Actually, the planet was around before humans and dinosaurs came in. And the planet will be around much after we are all gone. The planet has no need to be saved. It is us humans, the most invasive of all species, that needs to be saved.
To begin with, what will climate change bring on to humanity? There will be very significant unpredictable weather. This has direct impact on global agriculture. Large swathes of currently productive land will become dry and hitherto dry lands will become arable. Such fluctuations will have devastating effect on our ability to produce enough food for the rapacious 8 billion humans on this planet. In addition, random floods will destroy standing crops. It will obviously trigger human conflicts. It will also trigger pandemics, man-made or natural, similar to the Wuhan pandemic.
All human achievements, from the creation of a microprocessor to landing of the Chandrayaan spacecraft on the moon, are fuelled by a grain of food. It is the most basic of survival requirements.
So what needs to be done? Once we have identified the problem, the solutions are relatively easier to find. We need to be prepared for multi-year crop failures. That implies, we need to massively increase our food storage infrastructure. Ofcourse a side impact of that would be an increase in the GDP due to the investments into the food infrastructure. This needs to be done at both a national level and at a global level, so that nations who have taken the right steps, are not pressurized into releasing foodgrains for others who have not done the same.
Given the cusp of technological advances that we are at in terms of lab grown food, both meat and vegetables can be grown at scale in a factory, by reproducing the cells of meat and of vegetable. It needs one big national push to make it viable at a commercial stage. It may not lead to complete substitutes of our current food, but it will lead to the ability to create food at scale, when agriculture starts to fail. Just as the US put its national resolve to create the atomic weapon or to send a human to the moon, we, with 16% of the global population, need to have a national program to ensure that we have the ability to create factory based food at scale.
Climate change has also started to impact our cities, drowning them in a deluge of rain. We cannot afford to lose our engines of economic productivity to floods and climate change. We need to start working towards cities that are resilient to floods. We should be able to have cities where large amount of water can be pumped out at a short period of time, in order to keep the city’s economic engine running.
It also means that we need to create infrastructure to collect much more fresh water than what we have. We need to build ability to transport water through pipelines, for both human consumption, as well as agriculture. Perhaps we need to push for greater economies of scale of technologies that convert sea water into fresh water. We need to find the millions of tanks that were dug by our ancestors as they moved civilization away from rivers, and revive them. Fresh water will be key to survival.
As I have repeatedly been saying for more than a decade, climate change will be far more devastating to our neighboring countries in South Asia. It is predicted, that climate change will bring over 25% of Bangladesh under water in the next 30 years. As and when that happens, one of the largest concentration of human population on this planet will start moving towards north, that is towards India. What will India do then? Should India do what Saudi Arabia is doing to economic migrants – summarily shooting them down? That clearly is not a solution. Hence what India needs to do is it needs to act immediately and help Bangladesh build the dykes that will help Bangladesh protect its sea shores and save its land. It will of course also lead to growth in Indian industry as we provide the building materials needed to build these dykes. We need to act now.
These are merely indicative actions that need to be taken to ensure the pain of climate change is mitigated. India has gone through climate change in the past, and we have written records of Dwarka sinking and emerging from the sea seven times. We have seen the Shore temples near Pondicherry popping up post Tsunami. Climate Change is real. Humans have failed to stop it. It is critical that we now switch gear and on an urgent basis to figure out all that needs to be done to ameliorate the pain that climate change will inflict, and reduce the impact of climate change to the minimal number of people possible.
This article first appeared in ET Government, https://government.economictimes.indiatimes.com/blog/policies-for-a-post-climate-change-scenario/104314573
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