‘The weather has gone haywire,’ one feels. Everyone thinks that the winter last year was better! Or the summer this year is more scorching. How good or how bad was the weather in the past? To know that we have varieties of records, for example, the meteorological records, though most scientific and instrumental, are hardly 100 year old. To know further, one has to go through the pages of the History. For example, it is said that in 1784 there was a drought in the Awadh Province and Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula started a scheme similar to the present day’s ‘Food for work’. Those who worked as construction labours were given food in lieu thereof.
But there have been several periods of droughts in the pre-history, when we were not around, how do we know about them? Fortunately the climate records of the pre-history have been very well chronicled in the pages of the Earth’s history. We need Earth’s historians to read them or in simple terms, geologists are able to decipher those records. Such records are continuously read and deciphered by the geologists.
The picture that has emerged is not a very rosy one. For example, some 54 million years ago, the Indian subcontinent was floating like a Noah’s Arc on the Tethys Sea, heading for the Tibetan Land mass, which was stationery. At that time the concentration of Carbon-di-Oxide in the atmosphere was 2000 parts per million (PPM) against the present 380 ppm. Thank God, we were not there at that time. But then there were no factories or cars either. Who was pumping Carbon-di-Oxide in the atmosphere then? I feel we unnecessarily blame each other for the increase in atmospheric Carbon!
But if we compare the present scenario with that of those days, there is a major difference. Those days the forests were virgin and untouched. Today in our greed we have hacked forests after forests. Even as late as 18th and early 19th century, vast tracts of forests were hacked to accommodate the developing townships and also the developing agrarian society. For example, The Capital of Awadh was shifted to Lucknow from Faizabad. There were thick forests in the areas where present day posh market of Hazratganj or several housing colonies are situated. Likewise the British encourage the cultivation of cash crops like Cotton, Sugar Cane and Indigo. The farmers enlarged their cultivated areas by hacking down the forests. This mistake of the past cost us one thing dearly. The forests, particularly the tropical forests were and still are a big sink for the atmospheric carbon. By reducing the total area of the forests we have reduced their capacity to absorb the extra atmospheric Carbon-di-Oxide. On the other hand, by increasing the number of cars, airplanes, factories, thermal power plants etc. we have pumped in lot more Carbon-di-Oxide than we should have. That does impact our weather system, but not as much as the natural agencies, like a volcanic eruption.
Climatic vicissitudes were worst in the past, particularly 5.4 million years ago. The rise in temperatures increased the melting of the glaciers and also the rainfall episodes were much intense. Consequently the sea level rose by as much as 100 meters. Today even a three meter rise will bring doom in our coastal cities.
The climate was such that many organisms perished en-masse and many reduced their surface areas of the body to avoid the scorching rays of the Sun. The increase in the atmospheric carbon helped the plants to evolve rapidly. Luxuriant flora was there, the fossil remains of which are abundantly found in the Northeastern region even now. Apart from much hyped dinosaurs, lot many sea dwelling animals perished unknown, unsung.
But the climate does not remain the same forever. Once again a cold phase crept in. It engulfed a large part of the Earth. The Ice Age compelled many organisms including our ancestors to move to warmer areas. Herds of horses and other large vertebrates like ancient elephants moved from, what is now known as Ladakh in J&K to warmer southern latitudes! On the way, perhaps they were engulfed in floods and as such their fossils are now found in the Ganga basin, deep in the sands near Kanpur. Till about 18000 years ago, when the Ice Age came to an end, the cold spell continued. The cold phases are still worst. The life comes to a standstill. It is like a deep freeze, where even the bacteria do not thrive. As soon as the Ice age came to an end we again headed for an era of warming, which is still continuing.
The climate change that has set in will need to be tackled seriously. We need to prepare for the worse natural hazards like prolonged droughts, floods, landslides etc. People in Uttar Pradesh will have to brace up against floods and droughts more than other states. Likewise, the northern and north-eastern mountain states have to brace up against heavy rains, landslides and damming of the rivers by the slide material leading to flash floods later. Agriculture being our main stay might get affected! In plains, we have to build large reservoirs to provide water to our fields during droughts and avoid building colonies on the flood pathways of rivers to save mass deluges. In the hills we have to develop much better drainage and stop construction on steep mountain slopes, so that water flowing on the mountain slope swiftly travels down unobstructed.
However, it is sad to see that we are not considering these simple norms of safety and pumping out groundwater in the plains with our full might, construction activity in the mountains is going on at suicidal speed and forests we think are unnecessarily occupying our land. Sometimes I wonder where we are heading to!