Global Warming, Climate Change, and India

Last year in March, I relo­cat­ed from Detroit back to Pune. We put on our ther­mal wear, jack­ets, gloves, and such win­ter para­pher­na­lia to brave Detroit’s sub-zero tem­per­a­tures and snow, on our way to the air­port. In the stopover at Ams­ter­dam, we removed all that, and pro­ceed­ed to final­ly land in the blis­ter­ing sum­mer heat in India. Well, I real­ized that I’d bet­ter warm up to gear for this!

We’re all con­cerned about glob­al warm­ing. How India will deal with it is a dif­fer­ent sto­ry alto­geth­er.

As a start, we need to edu­cate our­selves. So here’s some­thing inter­est­ing I dis­cov­ered:

Q. Can plant­i­ng a tree stop the sea lev­el from ris­ing and the ice caps from melt­ing?
A. It depends. A new study says that it depends on where the trees are plant­ed. It cau­tions that new forests in mid to high lat­i­tude loca­tions could actu­al­ly cre­ate a net warm­ing.

In the first study to inves­ti­gate the com­bined cli­mate and car­bon-cycle effects of large-scale defor­esta­tion in a ful­ly inter­ac­tive three-dimen­sion­al cli­mate-car­bon mod­el, sci­en­tists from Lawrence Liv­er­more Nation­al Lab­o­ra­to­ry found that glob­al forests actu­al­ly pro­duce a net warm­ing of the plan­et.

Forests affect cli­mate in three dif­fer­ent ways: they absorb the green­house gas car­bon diox­ide from the atmos­phere and help to keep the plan­et cool; they evap­o­rate water to the atmos­phere and increase cloudi­ness, which also helps keep the plan­et cool; and they are dark and absorb a lot of sun­light, warm­ing the Earth. Cli­mate change mit­i­ga­tion strate­gies that pro­mote plant­i­ng trees have tak­en only the first effect into account.

Afforesta­tion has been pro­mot­ed heav­i­ly in mid-lat­i­tudes as a means of mit­i­gat­ing cli­mate change. How­ev­er, the study shows that it doesn’t work. The albe­do effect (the process by which less sun­light is reflect­ed and more is absorbed by for­est canopies, heat­ing the sur­face) can­cels out the pos­i­tive effects from the trees tak­ing in car­bon.

So what can India do? In his inim­itable style, Swaminomics offers a refresh­ing per­spec­tive:

Now, if all the world’s trees are cut, Bala’s mod­el shows that the con­cen­tra­tion of car­bon diox­ide in the atmos­phere will dou­ble by 2100. A dis­as­ter, you might think. Yet, the mod­el shows that glob­al tem­per­a­ture will actu­al­ly fall by 0.3 degrees Cel­sius.

How can the world get cold­er despite dou­ble the car­bon emis­sions? The mod­el shows that defor­esta­tion will heat up the trop­ics, but the albe­do effect of snow reflec­tion in high lat­i­tudes will pro­duce a huge cool­ing effect. On bal­ance, the cool­ing albe­do effect will exceed the warm­ing effect of dou­bling car­bon in the atmos­phere.

A more impor­tant impli­ca­tion is that the world should seek to increase the albe­do effect, not just aim for car­bon reduc­tions.

And how can India increase the albe­do effect? Use white paint.

This entry was posted in India, nature, Science. Bookmark the permalink.
  • The Jal­sa solu­tion to Indi­an warm­ing (The globe? What globe?)

    Let’s all just cool down. Let’s spend one day, 24 hours, with­out get­ting angry. With­out shout­ing at each oth­er over tele­vi­sion debates. With­out scream­ing and honk­ing at each oth­er on the roads. With­out get­ting enraged about the organ-size of our guy in the sky. With­out curs­ing our boss­es, our co-work­ers and our over­spend­ing wives.

    Tem­per­a­ture Reduc­tion: Mar­gin­al
    Sea Change in atti­tude: Price­less

  • the effect of Glob­al Warm­ing these days is even worst. i think every gov­ern­ment should pass stricter laws on Car­bon Emis­sions. we should also con­cen­trate more on renew­able ener­gy sources and avoid fos­sil fuels.