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Discussion note:

CLIMATE CHANGE CATASTROPHE: INSULATING KERALA


thrivikramji@gmail.com
Background

The final report of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and the documentary film - An
inconvenient truth- by Al Gore (former VP in the Clinton administration) shared the Nobel Peace Prize for
2007. The Nobel committee chose to award this distinction to highlight and loudly declare the topical
importance of global climate change (GCC) due to rising lower tropospheric temperature, as a result of
uncontrolled emissions of Green house gases (e.g., CO2, CH4, SOx, N2O etc) by burning of fossil fuels.
The primary geophysical impact of GCC is global sea level rise (SLR) due to a). volumetric expansion of
seawater due to radiative heating and b) by the discharge of large volumes fresh water from melting of ice
and snow in the western Antarctic sheet, Arctic sea ice, Greenland ice cover and continental ice sheets and
glaciers The projected secondary implications (biophysical) are impacts on the human settlements in the
coastal towns and cities, changes in water quality of coastal aquifers, lagoons and estuaries, heightened
coastal erosion and loss of property, devastations to coastal and terrestrial ecosystems, shift in intensity and
aerial spread of rain fall, higher dryness and consequent droughts etc. This shift may lead to tertiary
consequences affecting human health due to rise in incidence of vector borne diseases, heat stress on
human psyche, decreasing water supply and sanitation in population centers and even civil disorder and CC
refugees.

The CED convened a Conclave of the Senior Academics and Scientists (COSAS) for a face to face (March
15, 2008, Trivandrum), out of which emerged the CED-SAS-Think Tank, which sat (April 8, 2008 - CED
Conference Hall) in a brainstorming mode on the Climate Change Catastrophe - Insulating Kerala (CCC-
IK). Here, the need to constitute a larger working group emerged. One other resolve of the brain storming
session was to stage, along with KEC-2008 at Thrissur, a meeting of COSAS to go deeper and concrete into
the issue of CCC-IK, and hence this special session.

GHG driven Global change Phenomenon: International scenario


A bit of history
Role of carbon dioxide in modulating the atmospheric temperature (lower troposphere) was recognized right
from the 1860 s. Tyndall (1863) suggested that CO2 can absorb the out going infrared radiations and keep
the earth warmer. The phrase green house effect (GHE), was coined by Arrhenius (1896) who proposed that
burning fossil fuels like coal and oil would increase the atmospheric CO2 content and thereby warm the
th
earth by several degrees. But Barrel et al (1919) argued that the cooling trend in the 19 century was an
indicator of absorption of CO2 by the chlorophyll in plant life and by sea water. In the first half of 20th
century, scientists believed in GHE but did not believe in its efficacy to alter the earth s climate. The physics
governing atmospheric and oceanic contents of CO2 seemingly ensures that only 2 % of oceanic CO2 will
be retained in the atmosphere. Possible implications of GCC are summarized in Table 1

. Table 1, Effects, degree of likelihood and manifesting impacts (after Gilman et al, 2007)
Geophysical effect Probability Impacts likely to occur
Higher max. Temp., more hot Very likely Increased deaths and serious illness in older age
days, and heat waves over (90-99%) groups & urban poor; increased heat stress in
nearly all landmasses livestock & wildlife; increased risk of damage to a
number of crops; increased electric cooling demand
& reduced energy supply reliability.
Higher min. temp., fewer cold Very likely Decreased cold related morbidity & mortality;
days, frost days and cold (90-99%) decreased risk of damage to a number of crops &
waves nearly over all the increased risk to others; extended range & activity of
area. pests & other disease vectors; reduced heating
energy demand.
More intense precipitation Very likely Increased flood, landslide, mudslide & avalanche
events (90-99%) damage; increased soil erosion; increased flood run
off; increased recharge of some flood plain aquifers
Increased summer drying Likely Decreased crop yields, increased damage to building
over most of mid-latitude (67-90%) foundations caused by ground shrinkage; decreased
continental interiors & water resource quantity and quality; increased risk of
associated risk of drought. forest fire.
Increase in tropical cyclone Likely Increased risk to human life and risk of increased
peak intensities, mean and (67-90%) infectious disease epidemics; increased coastal
peak precipitation intensities erosion and damage to coastal buildings and
infrastructure; increased damage to coastal
ecosystems such as coral reefs and mangrove
swamps.
Increased droughts and Likely Decreased agricultural & rangeland productivity in
floods associated with El Nino (67-90%) drought and flood prone regions; Decreased
events hydropower potential in drought prone regions

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Discussion note:
CLIMATE CHANGE CATASTROPHE: INSULATING KERALA
thrivikramji@gmail.com
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But in the wake of the 4 IPCC (final) report sharing the Nobel Peace Prize-2007, the International
community of governments and nations, civil and scientific societies, industry, business and trade groups
and media, has come in chorus asking for formulations for mitigation and adaptation of CC impacts. .

Prof. Jeffrey Sachs of Earth Institute, Columbia Univ., recently bluntly stated in a Scientific American article
that even with a cut back in wasteful energy spending, our current technologies cannot support both a
decline in CO2 emissions and expanding global economy. He adds that what is required is whole set of new
technologies like capturing and burying CO2, plug-in-hybrid cars, and solar thermal electric plants - each of
which will require a combination of factors to succeed - more applied research, important regulatory
changes, appropriate infrastructure, public acceptance and high cost investments . The economic powers
should shoulder the burden of energy research. The US and Europe grew through the last century by
burning fossil fuels. In recent article in Nature a group of scientists argued for a new technology policy, not
emissions policy. They said there is no question about whether technological innovation is necessary- it is .

Table 2 is a qualitative summary of vulnerabilities of systems (both natural and manmade) due to GCC. CC
related responses are very likely to affect the civil society, civil order and political society and economy of
nations. Orderly and peaceful life of citizens will be at risk due to GCC forced disruptions and therefore the
preparations for facing the climate change challenges cannot wait any longer.

Table 2 Systems vulnerable to GCC

System Manifest vulnerability


Ecosystems 60% are degraded (e.g.,Wetlands of Kerala) and most severely stressed; e.g.,
Aral sea, Central Asia ; with past climate change ecosystems shifted to new
zones; Human interference and blocking by infrastructure already stressed
ecosystems do not shift locations; even a short excursion from normality can
lead to collapse.
Water availability Deprivation of 500 million people in semi arid and 200 million in arid zones;
allocation and access are contentious; aquatic ecosystems and humans are
affected by problems of untreated return flow entering fresh waters; agricultural
intensification can lead to contamination of surface and subsurface water. By
2050, 42% of population may live in countries with inadequate fresh water
stocks. Desertification due to increased drying will force 30 million to flee sub-
Saharan Africa
Urban Forms Only 20% of 1.6 billion lived in urban areas in 1900, but today it is 50% of 6.6
billion; by 2050 with population of 9-10 billion vast majority of large urban
centers will be in global south; climate change will aggravate all nocuous
aspects of urban life in global south.
Civil systems A brew of climate change stress and related wants of city life may disrupt civil
order of population centers; may result in chaotic civil life.
Tourism At 10% of world business activity tourism is a driving force in the economy;
warmer climate taking over temperate regions will restrict out flow of warm air
seekers; Ecotourism in south American states, tropical Kerala will gradually
vanish by relocation or disappearance of flora; shifting climate will affect inflow
of tourists; Mediterranean and tropical western seaboard of India can become
unpleasantly hot. For nations developing tourism the stakes are especially high.

The UN Initiatives
The United Nations have always been in the forefront to enlighten and encourage the member states in
respect of GCC impacts and about the need for limiting emissions of GHG to slow down the warming
process of the earth so as to deflect the impacts of climate change catastrophe. A series of annual meets
known as COP (conference of parties) under auspices of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework
conference on Climate Change) have been scheduled right from 1992. The Earth Summit of Rio, the
Montreal and Kyoto protocols, New Delhi declaration, Bali Roadmap etc., are some of the landmark COPs.

Carbon trading
An NGO called Nature Conservancy prodded General Motors (GM) of the US to spend $10 million to
conserve a Brazilian rain forest destroyed by water-buffalo-ranching so that GM can earn credit (later a.k.a.
carbon credit) from both national and international organizations for CO2 those new trees in Brazil will
absorb for the next 40 yr. Also GM can use in future those credits to help meet its own requirements for
cutting emissions of CO2, methane and other GHG. Under the Kyoto protocol (2001) on global warming
endorsed by 178 nations in July 2001, many nations would have to cut their GHG emissions to certain target
levels. Trading turns those GHG emissions into a commodity which can be bought or sold like gold,
soybean, wheat or pork bellies. One metric ton of CO2 emission or the equivalent of another GHG listed
under the protocol, is listed as one tradable emissions allowance - the key idea being the spread of best
industrial practices

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Discussion note:
CLIMATE CHANGE CATASTROPHE: INSULATING KERALA
thrivikramji@gmail.com
SE Asia portrait: India & China scene

The nations of eastern hemisphere have approximately 2/3 of the world population and long shorelines and
associated coastal land. India and China in particular have more than a billion people each and are gifted
with climate zones ranging from humid tropical to temperate and arid. The high altitude provinces in
mountain belts and plateaus have permanent snow and ice cover or glaciers. Both nations are in the fast
track of development with GDP growing at >10.0 % for China and > 8.0% for India, demanding huge inputs
of fossil fuels and equally large share of annual GHG emission to the atmospheric reservoir. Truly, in respect
of limiting GHG emissions, with a nation-specific-quantum of emissions, one shall reckon and commit
appropriate weightage to the nation specific cumulative emission of GHG, either starting with the post
industrial revolution or post WW2 decades. Any decision on the contrary will be a disfavor to the global-
south community of nations including India and China and other industrial power houses of SE Asia.

Indian scenario
Though in the late 80 s, consequent on a toast by Mr. Gayum, then visiting President of the Republic of
Male, and gift of a copy of a treatise on Sea Level Rise due to Green House Effect .. etc. (Barth and Titus,
1984) to late Mr. Rajiv Gandhi (the PM of India), triggered a co-coordinated research program (Coordinator:
late Prof. V.Asthana, JNU) to examine and assess the economic loss to the nation due to impact of sea level
rise. Since then, much else did not happen in this area at least in India, in spite of the award of the Nobel
peace prize-2007, to the group (leader, Dr. Pachauri, TERI) that finalized the IPCC final report on climate
change (and producer of the inconvenient truth Mr Al.Gore) - only exception being the Anna University
(Chennai) inaugurating a Department of Climate Change Studies.

The consensus is that GHG driven climate change shall lead to warmer days and nights resulting in mightier
discharges of melt water in the Indian-Himalayan-rivers and to the joy of the governments and civil society
locally and for a shorter term. The longer term prognosis is very bleak in that these rivers might run dry
sans the supply of glacial melt water, driving the entire civil society of the Indo-Ganga plain to cascading
disruptions due to drought, starvation, disease and civil disorder and chaos. Water-battles between
Bengladesh and India or between China and India are distant but plausibile. There might even be drought
and starvation driven illegal migrants and refugees from Bengladesh to the Indian cities adding further
disruption and breakdown of civil order. Similarly, CC refugees from the Lakshadweep islands to the Indian
states of western seaboard and internationally from Male are possibilities with high potential.

Kerala specifics
Large coastal tracts of the states of Indian peninsula, including Kerala are within the shouting distance of
impact of global climate change and the first order geophysical responses are manifest rise in sea level,
coastal erosion, landward migration of shoreline, displacement of people and deprivation of livelihood.

Truly, for the littoral state of Kerala, with a long western seaboard and a reactively long shoreline of 560 km.
(most of which fall in the category of low coastal land (LCL) of < 7.5 m elevation), GCC portends a bleaker
future. The chief attributes of the physical system of Kerala are portrayed in Table 2. The Kerala coastal land
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(area =~3922 km ), one of the three physiographic divisions, falls below the 7.5 m (Anonymous, 1974).

Table 2. Kerala- Highlights (modified after Thrivikramji and Anirudhan, 1992)


2
Area: 38,836 km ; Population: 31.8 million (Census, 2001)
Size of side of support square: 34 m; Population density: 798/km
Highland, elevation >75.0m ; area: 18,696 km2 , (48.14%)
Midland, elevation 7.5-75.0m; area: 16218 km2 ,(41.76%)
2
Coastal land, elevation <7.5 m; area: 3922 km , (10.10%)
2 2
Low coastal land: 2992 km ; 76.29% High coastal land: 930 km ; 23.71%

In the coastal land (CL) based on erodibility, Thrivikramji (1979) identified two types of shorelines, viz., the
low coastal land with permeable shoreline composed of sandy beaches and high coastal land with
impermeable shoreline made of rocks of Tertiary Warkalli series and and/or of Precambrian Crystalline rocks
or their altered equivalents.

Out of the 34 Kayals, most of the major ones like Ettikulam, Vembanad (the largest and area =~205 km2),
Kayamkulam and Ashtamudi and some minor ones, (or the wetlands) fall in the LCL. The Kayals of coastal
land are very vibrant ecosystems and play a vital role supporting a varietal biodiversity. The coastal land and
its natural systems play and contribute vastly to the states economy. For e.g., the coir industry of Kerala as
well as tourism industry depends heavily on the lagoons of LCL. The Naval Academy, Cochin Port, Naval
base and air strip, thermal power station, Indian Rare Earth s Ltd., KMML, TTP Ltd., and Trivandrum Airport
etc. are located in the LCL.

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Discussion note:
CLIMATE CHANGE CATASTROPHE: INSULATING KERALA
thrivikramji@gmail.com
LCL is characterized by low relative relief (elv. = <7.5 m), underlain by vast sand sheet that originated as
strand-plain-sandy-sediment (Thrivikramji, 1981), locally of glass quality (James, 1984), and is underlain by
older Tertiary sediments. The tract is traversed by active- and paleo-stream channels, wetlands, inlets and
lagoons. On the contrary, HCL is essentially and mostly composed uplifted Tertiary sedimentary fill (e.g.,
Karichal, Varkala, and Kannur) or raised crystalline basement rocks (e.g., Kovalam and Ezhimala).

Jacob (1976) described the nature of confined aquifers of CL. Hydrogeology of the region, is largely
controlled by geology and climate. Like all sediments and sedimentary basins in particular, low coastal land
is quite well known for occurrence of large aquifers of unconfined, shallow-confined and deep confined
types. The coastal aquifers support drinking water needs of a very large population settled in several large
and small towns spread across this tract.

Possible impacts
The terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems along with human ecosystems are under threat by the GCC and its
consequences. A picture of systems and sub-systems with potential for transitions are indicated in Table 5.

Table 5: Potential Impacts of CCC: Kerala..

High land Midland Coastal land


Natural forest: Agro-biodiversity: harmed due to Severe erosion of beaches in
Decrease in plant species drier soil and drier air- decreasing LCL- shoreline migrates eastward
diversity-consequent fall in animal latex yield in rubber plantations- beach front property and homes
species diversity- increasing decreasing homestead farm damaged- civic facilities like
dryness higher wind and water production decline in livestock coastal roads, water supply lines,
erosion soil loss farming and milk production waste water disposal and
decrease in food crop farming and sanitation facilities damaged-
out put - power standards and supply
system uprooted
Soil and nutrients: Soil and nutrients: Salinity rise in soil moisture -
Loss of soil moisture due to Decrease in nutrients and Water table rise damages
extended days of drought and increase in area under eroded foundation of public buildings and
severe showery days loss of soil soils- extreme wet and dry spells homes domestic shaft well
and soil nutrients due to intense tend to erode top soil and water turns brackish - quality of
rain water erosion nutrients public water supply sources
decline.
Agrobiodiversity: Agro-biodiversity: Salinity intrusion into aquifers-
Exposure of cardamom, tea, Decrease in yield from rubber, inlets and coastal wetlands
coffee, rubber and others to long coconut, arecanut farms wetland ecosystems including
warmer spells and heavy rainy decrease in soil moisture and air paddy fields in LCL affected- plant
spells both adverse for these moisture- soil microbes change and machinery in the
crops. due to physical changes in soil manufacturing units ruin by
salinity intrusions
Pests and vectors: Pests & vectors: Wetland fauna and flora go into
A jump in intensity of invasion- but Density will jump but duration of environmental stress - due to
durations may decline activity may decline disruptions unable to migrate or
re-establish.
Hydro-power: Surface & ground water: Water in wetlands (kayals) , river
Bleak outlook- span of wet days Decline in the duration of base channels, intra-costal water ways
decline and so is base flow days- flow in streams- aquifers get all suffer by higher salinity-
decline of days reservoir staying deeper- increase in kwh per /m3 aquatic animal and plant life
at or near FRL higher power of water lifted for use in farms, under duress many may
demand due to rising demand for industry and homes. Dissolved become extinct water supply
air-conditioning for extended ion content in water may go up system and sources suffer-
periods; for pumping water from due to decreasing dilution and disruptions in civic life and stress
wells, irrigation and drinking water higher evaporation loss of soil due to higher temperatures may
supply schemes. moisture. make citizens prone to anger and
violence- increasing violence and
anarchy in the society.

Need for Impact Analysis


In the light of release of the IPCC final report on GCC, in 2007, the impact of GCC on Kerala s civil life,
economic growth (in agricultural, industrial and service sectors), welfare of the citizens and the natural
environment need to be brought in the radar. The relative overdependence of the citizens of the Kerala on
the ecosystems both aquatic and terrestrial- and the potential harm the warming trends can inflict on
these, need careful thought and documentation, research, analysis and scrutiny to insulate the region from

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Discussion note:
CLIMATE CHANGE CATASTROPHE: INSULATING KERALA
thrivikramji@gmail.com
the risks and to ensure the future generations with a safer Kerala. Therefore research initiatives in the
modes of survey research, monitoring, opinion polls etc on a multidisciplinary and peoples participatory
format are the essential first mile in the research studies.

References

Arrhenius,S, 1896, On the influence of carbonic acid in the air upon the temperature on the ground:
Philosophical Magazine, 41;237.

Barth, MC, and Titus, JG, 1984, Greenhouse effect and sea level rise: A challenge for this generation: New
York, Van Nostrand Reihold Co.

Gilman,N, Randall,D and Schuarty,P, 2007, Impacts of climate change:A system vulnerability approach:
Global Business Network, 25p.

Jacob, VC, 1976, Mineral Resources of Kerala and their utilization: GTA of Kerala, Proceedings of
Symposium, 35-37

Thrivikramji, K.P.,1979, On the shore line characteristics of Kerala: Abst: 2rd Convention of Indian
Association of Sedimentologists, Bangalore, p19.

Thrivikramji,K.P., 1981, On the evolution of lagoons of Kerala coast Abst.) International Oceanography
Congress,, Paris.

Thrivikramji,KP, and Anirudhan,S, 1992, Sealevel rise due to greenhouse effect: 2nd interim report to MOEF,
GOI, 56p

Tyndall, 1863, On radiation through earth s atmosphere: Philosophical Magazine, 4:200.


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