Overheated, Flooded, the Earth is Sounding an SOS
The world needs to unite to protect the future
According to a report released on August 22, 2022 by The Joint Research Centre, European Commission's Science and Knowledge Service, two-thirds of the European continent has been experiencing the worst drought in the last 500 years due to extreme temperature and persistence heatwaves this year.
This drought is so severe that the water levels of many European rivers like Loire, Rhine, Danube, Po receded to a very low level. At some places, the Loire River in France has receded so low that it can be crossed on foot.
The water level of Italy's Po river has dropped by 85 per cent. The source of England's famous Thames river has slipped five miles downstream from its historic source. Along with Europe, China, the United States of America, some countries of Africa are also under the grip of terrible drought these days.
The water level of China's longest river Yangtze, has dropped to 50 per cent below its average level, and China's largest freshwater lake, Poyang, is also drying up. Only one-fourth of its capacity is left in Poyang lake.
The livelihood of the country's 450 million people depends on China's Yangtze river. One-third of its crops receive/get water for irrigation and many industrial units receive water and electricity from multipurpose projects built on the Yangtze river.
Due to lack of water in the river, the hydropower projects have been unable to generate the required amount of electricity. As a result, electricity and water supply have been limited in some areas. In order to reduce the consumption of electricity, the Chinese government has had to turn off decorative lighting in the city of Shanghai.
As a result of an increase in the average temperature of the earth due to human activities, there is severe drought and decrease in the water level of rivers and lakes in different countries around the world. Due to rising temperatures, summers are getting longer and hotter while winters are getting shorter.
The average night temperature is also increasing. This year (2022) almost all the countries of the world have witnessed that the summer season has come early in March, vanishing in the spring season. This rise in temperature is also affecting the Antarctic and Arctic.
In March, an increase of 40 degree Celsius in the average temperature was recorded at the Concordia Research Station in the Arctic. An increase of 30 degree Celsius was also recorded at the Svalbard Research Station in the Arctic.
Due to less rain in winter, summer came earlier and as a result, heat waves also are preponed. The long hot summer season has on one hand increased the incidents of forest fires and on the other hand, increased use of air conditioners which has led to the release of huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the environment. The rise in temperature affected all the water bodies and their water has been evaporating rapidly.
According to a NASA report dated August 22, 2022, the water level of the Colorado river in the western region of the United States of America has dropped to 34 per cent of its average capacity. The water level of the two major lakes, Mead and Powell, have dropped to 28 and 26 per cent, respectively.
Usually in colder countries' rivers and lakes are filled with water due to melting of snow in summer. But this year they are drying up as a result of extremely high temperatures. According to a research study published on February 14, 2022 in a climate journal, the western region of the United States of America has been experiencing the worst drought of the 1200years period for the past two decades.
Not only the countries of China, the United States of America, and Europe have been affected by drought recently, but some African countries are experiencing drought. According to a United Nations report dated August 19, 2022, the East African countries of Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia are experiencing drought for the fourth year in a row, with which 22 million people in these countries may suffer from starvation.
Actually, earth is a functional unit that is driven by two types of components, biotic and abiotic. If there is a change in any one element of these components, then its effect automatically falls on the other elements, forming a vicious cycle. Due to an increase in the average temperature of the earth, the functioning of the earth has been disturbed.
The average temperature of the earth has now increased by 1.1 degree Celsius compared to the Pre-Industrial Revolution Period temperature. In 2014,the fifth report of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) revealed that an increase in the average temperature of the earth will increase the number and frequency of droughts, floods, extremely heavy rain and snowfall events in a short duration, heat and cold waves, and natural disasters like cyclones and tsunamis.
As a result of the serious warnings and alarming revelations of this report, countries around the world had drawn up plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the 'Paris Climate Agreement' in 2015, but they have yet to seriously implement them. All the countries of the world are being affected by natural calamities.
Decreasing water levels in rivers/lakes is the result of climate change as well as rampant human tampering with rivers/lakes. Humans have built numerous dams on rivers to meet their needs like irrigation of crops, drinking water, and hydroelectricity. A lot of river water is stored in the lakes created behind these dams. As a result, some rivers flow through the plains with very little water.
Rivers are part of the rich heritage of any country. If a river dries up, the precious heritage of that region is also lost. All the civilisations of the world had been born on the banks of rivers because rivers provide easy access to water for crop irrigation, fertile soil, and pleasant weather as well as drinking water.
Rivers add to the beauty of the land by endowing it with various landscapes. Fast-flowing rivers in mountainous regions have also cut mountains into V—shaped valleys, ox bow lakes in plains, and deltas in coastal regions.
If rivers are drying up, many countries will face scarcity of drinking water. Upto 30 to 40 percent of Italy's rice production depends on the Po river, and China's 450 million population depends on the Yangtze river for agriculture.
Receding of water levels in the rivers will result in decreased production of crops, which will also be reflected in reduction of food grains and as a result, people will become victims of starvation. Loire, Rhine, Danube and some other European rivers are making an important contribution to the European economy.
The trade of European countries is being badly affected due to a significant decrease in the water level of these rivers. According to Eurostat data, the European rivers carry more than one hundred thousand tons of goods every year.
Rivers contribute about 80 billion US dollars annually to Europe's economy. Water is an invaluable gift of nature which is the second basic necessity of all living beings after air. Water is a life-giving natural resource, life cannot survive without water. If water vanishes,it will take all the organisms with it.
This year, higher-than-average temperature and water shortages have led to early grape harvesting in France. Many people are under an illusion that water is an inexhaustible resource, but this year's drought has clearly shown that it is not. Natural resources can be stored, not created.
It is a pity that in the blind race of economic development, most of the countries of the world have not only forgotten to take care of natural resources, but at the same time, they are also blindly depleting natural resources.
As a result, due to an increase in the average temperature of the earth, countries previously with colder temperatures are in the grip of heat waves even by mid-September. Europe's economy is being badly affected due to extreme hot temperatures and droughts.
Due to the shortage of drinking water in France, the French government has to ration water. The French government has banned the washing of cars, filling of swimming pools, golf courses, domestic and public lawns, and instructed shopkeepers to keep doors closed when air-conditioners are working.
California, in the United state of America, is under the grip of drought and heat waves these days. On the other hand, this year floods have caused heavy destruction in Pakistan, Indonesia, China, South Korea, and 17 countries of West and Central Africa.
A research study by Swain and his colleagues has predicted a 25 to 100 per cent increase in drought and rainfall events in the western parts of the United States of America over the next century. Such a strange phenomenon is not only happening in the western parts of the United State of America.
According to a report released in 2020 by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (India), a very strange phenomenon has emerged in 40 per cent of Indian districts. The traditionally flood-prone districts have seen an increase in drought events, while on the other hand there also has been an increase in the incidents of floods in the drought-affected districts.
In order to control the increasing incidents of natural disasters due to an increase in temperature, all the countries around the world need to take joint efforts. The third instalment of the sixth IPCC report released in April 2022 has revealed a very disturbing fact that the emission of greenhouse gases in the environment is still increasing rapidly and all the countries around the world are facing unexpected disasters.
In order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, each country must first make radical changes in the means of transportation and energy sources. Energy should be generated from renewable sources like wind and sun instead of coal, oil, gas, and diesel.
To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the developed countries today are pushing for electric vehicles to replace diesel and petrol vehicles which raises many questions in some important aspects. The first aspect is that from which source electricity (energy) will be generated to run the vehicles. If this source is coal again, greenhouse gas emissions will increase instead of decreasing.
The other aspect is that due to the growing population, the number of vehicles is also increasing day by day which will require wider roads and more parking spaces. As a result, we will cut more trees from the earth which will further reduce the area under forests.
So, we should promote car-free infrastructure and a public transport system. Apart from this, there is a rapid increase in air traffic. The richest 1 percent of the world's population is responsible for 50 per cent of emission from aeroplanes. Private jets emit more than 33 million tons of greenhouse gases.
They emit 5-14 per cent more pollutants per passenger than commercial planes and 50 times more than trains. The number of unnecessary air journeys should be restricted. Schiphol airport in the Netherlands is planning to limit the number of flights from next year.
Every country should increase the area under forests to 33 per cent. While selecting the trees, local shady trees should be planted. The American city of Miami is planning to cut down the palm trees and to plant oak, elm, and ash trees. Native shady trees should be planted instead of ornamental trees along roadsides. This will reduce the emission of greenhouse gases and it would also be helpful to control the rising temperature.
Rainwater should be collected in low lying places in each and every region/area to prevent natural calamities like droughts and floods. Earlier, our ancestors used to build villages or towns on high elevations and the rain water automatically flowed from the high elevations and got deposited in the nearby low places which recharged the ground water and also met the daily needs of the people.
Now in many countries, the excess rain water accumulates in the low places below the bridges, where the administration of that area should dig wells and drain them so that the underground water can be recharged. Old lakes, ponds, and other water bodies should be revived.
Efforts should also be made to harvest rainwater from every house and building. Dams should be constructed on the rivers according to their capacity so that the rivers do not dry up and people do not face drought-like conditions.
Everyday we hear about new climate disasters all around the world, some places are suffering from droughts and floods all at once, others have forest fires, storms to name a few. We don't have much time left to avoid natural disasters.
Each year more lives are impacted, facing the brunt of such often yet new and odd occurring climate disasters. We also don't have the necessary means to deal with such frequent disasters.
To survive and avoid such calamities and to secure our lives and the future of our children. We need to carefully plan our efforts at national and international levels. We also need to hold our actions accountable, analyse the impact of changes made and make changes if needed. We need to tackle these issues with gravity and urgency.
Dr Gurinder Kaur is a former professor, of the Department of Geography, Punjabi University, Patiala