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
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.