The many avatars of climate change

Too much rain at once is also not good for charging our groundwater as much of it either will evaporate or flow into rivers rather than percolating into the ground.

Let us revisit the floods that ravaged Jammu and Kashmir last September. While the IMD map shows historical rainfall in a smooth green line across the entire monsoon, the actual rainfall in 2014 is episodic. The September rainfall peaks, while somewhat bridging the cumulative rainfall deficit and leading to the J&K floods.

Episodic rainfall is not good for agriculture. Indeed, one of climate change’s most tragic impacts for India is the triple whammy on agriculture: rising temperatures causes falling yields, water shortages make the yields worse and lastly, when water does come, much of it likely to come in stormy intense rainfall, damages crops. Some models claim that rising CO2 levels cause plant productivity to rise. True – if the rise happened in isolation. But the rise doesn’t happen in isolation – it happens with rising temperatures, falling water availability, increasing short term pollutants like black soot, changing pest attack patterns with a strong dash of extreme events thrown in. The IPCC projects steep falls in the yield of wheat and many other crops in India post 2030. That’s bad news for a poor country with a billion mouths to feed.

Today we are acting with impunity, leaning on the world and tilting it, thinking it will rebalance. We provide free power and water thinking we are doing favours for the farmers, when indeed they are the ones most likely to be hit in the warmer planet that is coming. We build on river flood plains and over water bodies disrupting the natural water flow and paying a price when floods do come. What we need now is granular data– rain/ temperature data at the village level – that will help our scientists predict and understand the future and bring out solutions that will work. Battling climate change is both a high level war involving carbon taxes and UN summit agreements, as well as a battle fought in the trenches encompassing farmer retraining, LED adoption, and changes in what we eat.

For Raja and his friends, adapting to climate change may involve a different way of farming, using less water and more resilient seeds. It is striking that what they really wanted was awareness and training.

Climaction is a fortnightly column published in MetroPlus Weekend on alternate Fridays. The next article in this series will appear on February 20. Feedback and questions may be e-mailed to

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