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A warm-up to mankind's doom?

We cannot afford to remain complacent about global warming. However, there are no simplistic solutions, according to Ashwin Mahesh, an atmospheric research scientist.

GLOBAL WARMING is something that is affecting humankind. The past few years have seen the earth undergoing climatic changes: drought in India, floods in Europe. If we continue to pollute our precious planet at this pace, temperatures will rise, the polar ice caps will melt, leading to a rise is sea levels. Several islands and coastal areas will be submerged, and the greenhouse gases will spell end to several species, setting off a chain reaction that will eventually doom our own.

Dr. Ashwin Mahesh, an atmospheric research scientist at the Earth Science and Technology Center, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, USA, was in Bangalore to lecture on Global Warming or Mini Ice Age, a talk organised by Environment Support Group. He is a local boy, having studied in St. Josephs College. He has a masters degree in astronomy from Vanderbilt University, and a doctorate from Washington University. His main areas of research are remote sensing of clouds and the impact of clouds on global climate. His research focuses specifically on the polar regions, which are the most susceptible to global climate changes.

Dr. Mahesh is also a writer and journalist, and is a co-founding editor of India Together, the online initiative that promotes information-bases engagement of civil society by citizens, and carries opinions, news and radio programmes on a range of issues. In an interview, he warned of the consequence of the world's current lifestyle and the steps that could be taken to avert a major disaster. Excerpts.

Q. Global warming is no longer a mere warning of a distant storm. The situation is quite grave. What do you think are the major consequences?

There is no definitive consensus as to what consequences we are likely to see. But the major consequence is that it will require a change in the way we live. What change will be required depends on how much we change. And also how much the climate changes will depend on our activity. It is a continuing cycle. There is no definitive answer but the general truth is that global warming is taking place and it will take decades before it can be stopped. It will continue in the immediate future but the long-term impacts the degree of warming or whether the warming will continue, these questions have not been conclusively answered.

What are the steps that should be taken to fight this impending disaster?

The true cost of our activities has to be realised and attached to those activities. It is like vehicle pollution.

You have to meet certain standards. I want a certain kind of behaviour. But if you want to continue your behaviour I will impose certain costs on you. For example, people come to you and tell you this is a serious problem. That they want to reduce this problem. And they propose a plan to improve the situation. You say it will harm your business. In that case, you ought to pay the cost for it. The pollution you are adding to the atmosphere has a certain cost and you cannot get away with it.

How far are governments across the world serious in combating global warming?

It is really easy to say that governments are not serious. Governments are serious. But this is not a problem they are used to dealing with. This is a problem which not only requires government action but also requires inter-government action. You may chose to intervene and take action but another government may chose to do the wrong thing. So, cooperation is critical.

The government has to be smart enough in identifying the problem, the possible solution in the short term and make sure that it is not only implemented but also chosen by the people who impact us. I think that government action is well intended.

It is said that a warmer world could lead to intense weather conditions.

There is some evidence that strong weather conditions have been experienced in recent years. The exact phenomenon that links intense weather conditions in some parts of the world and global warming cannot be explained yet.

Which parts of the world are more likely to suffer as a result of global warming?

I don't know if any one part of the world is more susceptible to global warming than the other. But based on some understanding of the climate of each part, any indication of change in the climate must mean that a certain kind of change in behaviour is required.

That's the sort of thing that will happen all over the world. People will experience changes in the climate. According to that change, they have to bring about a change in the economic activity they indulge in.

One has to respond to the changed climate.

Given the present conditions how much more warming is likely to occur?

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) came up with a report that some 2-2.5 degree Celsius increase is likely to happen over the next century.

Is an increase in population any way responsible in contributing to global warming?

Sure. Ultimately, human activity is to serve human population. And that is the key. Human activity is causing global warming. And increase in human population will have a corresponding effect.

Does the theory that deserts will turn into fertile land and vice versa have any relevance?

I will not say that it has no relevance. On other hand, it is not universally true. There are some parts of the world that will become drier, (others) that will become wetter. But that does not mean that currently the areas that are dry will become wet.

Does it require a change in lifestyle to control global warming?

Yes. But it is not just a change in lifestyle that will reduce global warming and not only the kind of economic activity you have been involved in.

This is a peculiar problem. Even if you start implementing the solutions today it will take decades, maybe centuries before the problem could be reduced. There are scientific reasons for that.

It is not a problem that could be easily reversed.


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