A Killer Virus. Fire in Arctic, Heat Wave in Siberia, Snow in the desert!

A global virus. New strains of diseases. New ecological catastrophes. All apocalyptic weather aberrations are man-made – a deadly consequence of the unbridled greed unleashed by globalisation and consumer society.

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Below freezing temperatures in Texas, a heat wave in Siberia and Canada, two tropical cyclones in India before monsoons, snowfall in deserts – is this a new normal? So, what is happening?

Yes. It looks like a new normal. Consider this:

Snowstorms have been witnessed not just in Athens but even in Saudi Arabia, which was largely a desert.
Spain endured the coldest March day in 82 years with the temperature dropping to as low as 20°С during the day.
Greece saw abnormal termperature contrasts
This winter, Texas experienced abnormally cold conditions that saw the collapse of the entire administrative machinery.
In 2020-21, the frequency of tropical cyclone hurricanes in North America increased to such an extent that officials ran out of letters to name them. The number of storms witnessed was so huge that Greek letters had to be used for naming the cyclones!
In Iceland, on the Reykjanes peninsula, a volcano (Fagradalsfjall) erupted, after more than 800 years.
In Siberia, the Republic of Khakassia saw sudden abnormal warming. There were as an abnormally high number of wildfires in Siberia this June, and parts of the northern regions are recording temperatures more than 15°С hotter than normal.
The eastern Siberian landscape in winter was covered in snow, but in summer, its forests were lush green and its wetlands soggy. In 2019, the region experienced a fire, along with large parts of the Arctic Circle. Yes, the Arctic was witnessing fires!
In Peru, abnormal and torrential rains were witnessed, which became the cause of landslides and floods.
Large-scale forest fires in Mexico affected areas of more than 7,000 hectares.
Australia witnessed one of the worst floods in recent decades. More than 18,000 people had to be evacuated
A sweltering heat wave has settled over Western Canada for several days. The temperature has reached a record 49.5°С. Canada broke a national heat record when the temperature in a small town in British Columbia reached almost 116 degrees Fahrenheit, breaking an 84-year-old record by nearly three degrees.
Countries like Bulgaria, Estonia, Romania, etc. registered temperatures of up to 41°С.
India experienced abrupt summer onset without an intervening spring. This irregularity in weather may have been the cause of the glacial disaster in Uttarakhand. Indeed, the Gangotri Glacier is fast receding for many years.
This series of weather abnormalities points to nothing but a new normal. So, why is it happening and how do we see these events?

There are natural as well as man-made causes behind these.

The Texas cold temperatures were because of the breaking of the Polar vortex, which, in turn, may have been caused due to the warming of the Pacific Ocean. The difference between Western and Eastern Pacific is increasing and that is driving the intensity of jet streams, which, in turn, is disturbing the Polar Vortex. Once the vortex is disturbed and pushed, it spills very cold air towards the south to affect regions not normally affected. The Texas cold wave was because of that. Similar cold temperatures in Europe have been caused by the same spilling.

The Canadian wave of very high temperature has been because of the heat dome. The heat dome occurred as the jet stream moved eastward and trapped the warm air in the process. This was initiated again by a strong change in ocean temperature from the west to the east. The Western Pacific has been witnessing relatively higher temperatures than the Eastern Pacific.

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The heat dome allows air inside it to subside, causing it to be warmed, but the warmed air doesn’t escape as there is an effective lid or cover over it — trapping the entire heat inside in a furnace.

The Siberian high temperature originated because of the difference in the temperatures of the sea surfaces between the western and eastern Indian Ocean which had hit a record high. This, in turn, intensified the jet stream and caused low pressure and extreme late winter warmth over Eurasia that got spilled into spring thereby increasing the temperature and reducing the ice and snow cover. The domino effect of a bare surface absorbing solar energy finally raised the temperature by getting absorbed on land and sea.

Can we single out the biggest concern among all these trends and their like impact?

Of course, there will be temperature increase. The temperature increase can still be adjusted to some extent, but worrisome is the fact that the effects of global warming are not evenly distributed. There are strong indications that the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet.The impact in the Arctic is its increasing vulnerability to fires and Arctic fires are now a reality.

The impact of all such weather aberrations is that we do not know the solutions, or, even the adjustments.

What is the impact of such climate change factors?

Unusual weather phenomena are growing in intensity and frequency every year and every day. Fires in the Arctic will acquire a much bigger consequence because of their potential of releasing large amounts of stored greenhouse gases.

Forest fires will increase in intensity in the Arctic. Many Siberian and Alaskan fires will be burning carbon-dense peat soils, which is normally waterlogged. Peat fires, when they take place, produce much more carbon dioxide and methane from the combustion of carbon. This carbon has been locked in the permanently frozen ground for thousands of years. Add to it the burning of the soil that can eliminate important carbon sinks, and his cannot be replaced on a human timescale.

A very large number of above-ground fires have been recorded by satellites, covering thousands of hectares in the Arctic and sub-Arctic, extending from Eastern Siberia to Alaska and Greenland.

These fires that emanate from within the Arctic Circle have produced more than 100m tonnes of carbon dioxide, or, roughly, what a small country like Belgium emits in a year. Fighting fires that have grown to such an extent in remote regions is difficult or impossible without any motorable roads to reach there. Such natural peat fires can only be managed by pumping billions of gallons of water over land. Besides, the water table can’t be raised for an area of the scale of Northern Alaska or Siberia.

A small temperature rise in the Arctic has the potential to release carbon locked in cold waters, increase the acidity of the oceans that will dissolve the calcareous skeletons of marine microscopic organisms, which will in turn release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It will have a concomitant effect on Arctic warming.

When this happens there will be no reverse gear.

When snowstorms are seen in deserts, people and residents are actually caught unawares. They are completely confused about a solution on how to adjust to it on a short-term or long-term basis.

Climatic aberrations have a likely impact in the form of inviting new viruses, new strains of diseases, not to speak of new catastrophes.

The greatest source of such aberrations is global warming, and some of the likely impact that global warming will lead to is not known to human beings.

Nature will play its part in all the changes that take place in the days to come, and change will remain the only constant. However, if, we, collectively, do not do anything towards respecting nature, we are really in for some serious trouble and its concomitant domino effect.

Is it not true that such frequent occurrences are disrupting everything?

These weather aberrations have an overriding effect on the lifestyle of people, their established ways of living, and their fears about the future. In an uncertain world, these unusual weather phenomena make everything even more uncertain. It becomes difficult for people to respond to such aberrations.

When tropical cyclones carry a stronger gust than that has been known, then it forces everyone to think about the next step and the method of adaptation. It forces us to rethink new technologies, new ways to forecast and warn people in a region not subjected to such severity. Our entire life, thinking, and responses, go topsy-turvy.

Imagine the increased frequency of tropical cyclones on the western coast of India! Will it not be difficult for the people to cope with over 150 km of fierce wind speed, accompanied by heavy rain?

It will always be difficult to cope with a sudden gust of 200 km per hour, in the same manner it will be difficult to deal with a heat wave and its adaptation.

As we try to adjust, we will innovate certain things, try to insert certain things in environment, modify it in some other ways, without actually having known how the environment actually functions.

We have still not known that the basic principle on which the environment functions is that indeed, ‘There is no such thing as a free lunch’, and, ‘Nature knows best’.

So what is the role of the present lifestyle and economy in triggering in these drastic and destructive climate changes? To what extent are politics and the economy to be blamed for it?

Colonialism, the so-called Industrial Revolution, and globalisation – they have been the biggest culprit in destroying the world, society, and the environment.

A small temperature rise in the Arctic has the potential to release carbon locked in cold waters, increase the acidity of the oceans that will dissolve the calcareous skeletons of marine microscopic organisms, which will in turn release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It will have a concomitant effect on Arctic warming.

What colonialization did was that it forced an alien lifestyle on the people, deliberately destroying the indigenous cultural fabric of the society, its intrinsic and deep relationship with nature, and the already evolved local wisdom. Enshrined in the modus operandi of the colonial mindset and working has been a homogenization and imposition of their own propagatory norm, with the avowed aim of dominating the mind, culture, and economy of the colonized land all. This was the clear agenda.

What the so-called industrial revolution did was it used energy (coal and oil in particular) to manufacture things in ways that was not ecologically compatible, and was not environmentally unethical. Its prime focus was an economy that was extremely polluting and degrading. That ‘revolution’ has been relentlessly raising temperature and creating disturbances in a highly disproportionate manner.

What globalization did was that it filled the people in a consumer society with the solitary aim of earning money, money, and only money. People made money by any means and became consumers — class consumers who consumed way beyond their requirement. This almost always meant destroying the air, land, and water, destroying biodiversity, and destroying the mindset that moves towards a conservationist approach. This clearly had an impact we are still reeling under.

Besides, how can the discussion be complete without reference to the Chinese?

The Chinese, in their pursuit of gaining geopolitical power will do everything possible to achieve their unbridled ambition. For this obsession, they will do anything — building dams, cutting trees and forests, destroying oceans and rivers-systems, you name it. Their style, intent, and posturing — all sets a new mark on gobal geopolitics, with its consequent impact on Tibet, the Mariana trench, global temperatures, Albedo, or, even, air and ocean circulation.

What are the solutions in sight? Are there any possible prescriptions – harsh or simple?

A variety of solutions — short term, medium-term and long-term can be cited which deal with rising temperature, refers to the use of certain technologies and awareness programmes, all of which keeps being extensively talked about.

Minimalistic lifestyle will help us in preserving social capital, with less wastage and low energy use. It will create an environment with a cleaner air, help in the concerted efforts to prevent problems, and cultivate a way of sustainable thinking — away from the obsessive ‘GDP-led growth to happiness’.

These are smaller nuances that will play a major role in preventing bigger disasters by rooting solutions around sustainability and nature. Natural phenomena will continue to take place as usual, but they will not be so easily converted into a disaster, a pandemic, or a catastrophe.

Also Read: Shaping a trilateral as Rome looks to the Indo-Pacific

Certainly, nature will play its part in the all the changes that take place, and change will remain the only constant, but if we collectively do not do anything towards respecting our ecology, we are really in for a variety of concomitant domino effects and some unprecedented and extremely serious trouble ahead — about which we do not know.