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Showing posts with label tropical stroms. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tropical stroms. Show all posts

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Plundering the polar ice caps - a blunder in making!

Oil in the Antarctic!
Diamonds in the Arctic!

The whole world (read the business community) leaped in joy. The excitement was palpable. The search for a cheaper alternate energy source suddenly seemed not necessary. The OIL magazine – an energy industry quarterly dedicated its whole March 2013 issue to celebrate the great discovery.  Gianni di Giovanni its editor in chief remarked that the new frontier in energy procurement runs along the Arctic Circle.

Russia officially became the first country to start drilling the ice caps. And it went a step further by demonstrating its stern commitment to its efforts by labelling and convicting Greenpeace activists with piracy. And with Russia’s bold move came similar responses from other nations, who too suddenly jumped the bandwagon to claim their share of the pie. Many nations since then have even formulated a military strategy for the poles.

It’s an accepted fact that the industrial revolution has made us energy hungry. Fossil fuels are the cheapest, most economical source of this energy – another undeniable fact. The last decade has been particularly tricky with the need to find a balance between sourcing cheap energy and rejuvenating the badly damaged ecology. The various conferences and treaties signed since the Kyoto protocol seemed to be the right step forward. But then a few months back, the Russian move suddenly made all these treaties mere words writing on a worthless piece of paper.

Drilling in the remote and harsh but pristine environment of the poles poses two distinct risks:
  • Risks to human life working at the rigs
  • Environmental risks

The year 2012 was supposed to be a big year for Royal Dutch Shell. The company announced its plans to drill for oil off the coast of Alaska. The coup de grace came on New Year’s even when their rig ran aground near Kodiak. This blunder required the efforts of around 500 personnel and the coast guard working day in and out in the harsh climate to secure the rig. Soon Shell struggled to meet most of the US government’s safety requirements. And in 2013 – they abandoned the project. An independent audit later confirmed that the company did not have the equipment nor the capability to drill in such harsh climatic conditions.

The environmental risks posed by polar drilling are – (1) releasing trapped methane from the caps (2) oil spills and (3) tampering with the pristine ecology.

It is estimated that around 1700 billion tons of methane is trapped in the polar ice caps. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas and has the capacity to accelerate global warming at an exponential rate. This factor is never accounted for in the calculations that lead the big energy houses and governments to initiate the idea of polar drilling. In the event of a methane leak from the poles, the effects of climate change such as sea level rise, unpredictable climate etc. would be experienced at a much larger scale than otherwise predicted.

The next major concern from polar drilling is an oil spill. We have already seen the impacts of oil spills on marine lives and coastal communities. Today we do have technology that can be used to mitigate the effects of such spills. But as Shell’s blunder rightly pointed out – we lack the expertise and the technology to counter such an event at the poles. It would simply be catastrophic.

And finally our biggest concern is destroying the last remaining pristine ecology on earth. We in our quest for energy, power and money have plundered the entire world, messed with the ecology and experimented with the balance of nature. Through all these years of mismanagement and stupidity we have learnt the lesson and hence there now exists the need to go green. But the whole drama surrounding the oil exploration exercises at the poles suggests that we as human beings cannot change our originality, but simply put a cloak of pretentiousness.

And now we hear there is abundant coal and diamond reserves as well!

Wake up Earthizen!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Good weather - definitely on your wish list. Isn't it?

We all love a good warm sunny day; a pleasant winter afternoon and even enjoy a cozy raining Sunday. Good weather and climate is an integral part of our worldly needs. A hurricane, typhoon, landslides, volcano or an earthquake – definitely not on our wish list! Or is it?
This earth’s climate has continuously changed throughout its million year long history. Right from the ice age, right through the great deluge of the bible to the present day, if there is one thing that has been best documented by mankind – it’s the climate / weather around him. Historically the earth’s climate continuously changed due to geophysical factors prominently the oscillation about its axis as it travels around the sun. However since the last century the climatic changes have had a new and more profound influence   The industrial and agricultural revolution fueled a greater reliance on fossil fuels, accelerated deforestation and intensive agriculture and has led to an increase in Carbon dioxide and methane levels in atmosphere which is at its highest since the last 800,000 years! Now this will have a profound impact on the climate.
Throughout the world, precipitation patterns have dramatically changed this year. I hail from a small coastal city of Mangalore on the west coast of India. Our traditional rainy season was for 4 months from June to September. This year, it’s still pouring here in November! Meteorological and climatological measurements of climate change show that precipitation world around have become severe and more intense and extremely irregular. In lay man’s language – it’s simply going to rain more, rather irregular leading to widespread destruction and loss. We may soon see long spells of dry weather with sudden heavy downpours.

This year can be infamously dubbed as the year of the typhoons (or cyclones as some call it). This year the world witnessed a record 65 tropical cyclones. With two more months left, climatologists predict that this number is going to rise by the year end. As you are reading this, more than 10,000 people died overnight as typhoon Haiyan swept through the Philippines.  Strangely just like how there isn't a definite rainy season left, there no longer exists a definite cyclone season.
The best way to quantify the impacts of climatic changes is to look at the economic damage cause. And the best people to give an accurate measure of the economic damage caused are the insurance industry. Last year the insurance industry reported that there has been a significant increase in claims over loss of life and property due to climate related incidents such as floods, storms etc. Their report categorizes Europe as the most effected of regions. Let us consider Portugal, the nation that stands to lose out the most – its coastline is eroding at an alarming rate of 9 meters per year at some places. Southern Europe and the Mediterranean regions are losing their tag of having a favorable climate with an increase in the annual precipitation levels and average temperature. Central Europe which was generally dry has begun to experience longer periods of dry, draught like climatic conditions. The overall observed dryness in Northern Europe is reflected in the annual flow rates of the rivers.
Europe is getting all the attention because it is rich and it funds most of the research required to understand and mitigate climate change. CNN recently came up with a report that listed 10 countries that would be devastated by the effects of climate change. They are Ethiopia, Philippines, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Sudan (both north and south), Haiti, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau and at the top of the list is Bangladesh. Are you a citizen of one of these countries?

The present system of society, the political establishment and economic model are all designed to ensure that they are not questioned and overthrown. We do not see any government pressing the panic button on climate change. We do not hear of any official acknowledgement of the fact that there is something called as climate change. In this system the media is powerful enough to control the knowledge of the majority. In this system the political establishment is shameless enough to conspire with the super-rich and not come forth and act on climate change. In this system the common man is filled with problems beyond comprehension that he sadly has no time or interest to foresee a devastating future. This system is a farce.

We need to change this system. I proposed a new socio-economic model in 2007 called the ‘Society without Selfishness’. If this article touches you, then y;ou should go ahead and read my book ‘Shall we save the Earth?’ in which I have explained in great detail about this new model of society.
Well, even if we wanted we cannot change this system over night. But then what are our options? A good climate is definitely on each of our wish list. But the events of this day cast doubt on that wish! Let’s not panic, instead let’s pledge to do our part.
Our part?
Yes – the simple deed of protecting the delicate local ecology around us.
So what’s it going to be dear friend?