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Climate Change Articles

 

Mangoes and Global Warming
Kartikeya V. Sarabhai

The earth’s atmosphere has no boundary but becomes thinner further away from the earth’s surface and finally fades into outer space.  The first 11 km, called Troposphere, is crucial as three quarters of the atmospheric mass is in this surface. In terrestrial terms this is a short distance, about the length of Gandhinagar from one end to another, but 11km in vertical terms is very critical (Mt. Everest is around 8.8km above sea level).

There are many gases in the atmosphere but some like carbon dioxide, water vapors, ozone and methane are so called greenhouse gases. The sunlight which reaches the Earth’s surface is reflected back in the form of infrared waves. The greenhouse gases absorb these infrared radiations and maintain the warm temperature that is essential to life on earth. This trapping of heat is called the natural greenhouse effect.

The greenhouse gas emissions, especially that of carbon dioxide, have been continually and rapidly rising due to the ongoing burning of fossil fuels and land-use change. The natural carbon cycle balances the cabon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere. Carbon is essentially used by plants for photosynthesis - a process through which they absorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen. With massive depletion of the earth’s green cover and increasing use of fossil fuels like coal, oil, petrol, diesel and natural gas, carbon dioxide is rapidly increasing in the atmopshere. As a result the atmosphere is trapping a lot more of the infrared waves, a process known as the man made (or anthropogenic) greenhouse effect, thus resulting in the rise of earth’s temperature.

The maximum consumption of fossil fuel is for the generation of electricity and as fuel for vehicles. As we move towards modernization, our energy consumption is skyrocketing. The per capita consumption of power in India during 2005-06 was 631 kWh (in the United States, it was 13338 kWh in 2004). Gujarat being at a higher development point than other states in India, had an energy usage of 1283 kWh per capita. If our development model is one that imitates the west, we too will start consuming extremely large amounts of electricity.

Energy use is inevitable for development but one need to use energy more efficiently. The type of power generation stations, use of alternate energy resources, the vehicle we use etc. can all be more efficient. On the demand side we need to curb waste, have buildings and industries that are more effective and use devices that save energy for every little step counts. But often we do not make the connection between such simple decisions and a global phenomenon like climate change.

Let’s just take one example which we would feel has nothing to do with global warming. Mango as we all know is a summer fruit.  In Gujarat we enjoy it in season. But the same mangoes are available throughout the year in Mumbai. How does this happen? It is because they are refrigerated for long storage and every mango represents more electricity consumed. In what is called “developed” countries, seasonality of fruits and vegetables is almost forgotten! A simple lifestyle decision with huge implications for the future of planet earth!

Mahatma Gandhi said “God forbid that India should ever take to industrialism after the manner of the west...it would strip the world bare like locusts.” We need to believe in ourselves, and even as we develop rapidly, we must not forget the good practices that are an integral part of our tradition.