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Wednesday, November 28, 2018


Methane accounts for 20% of the total radiative forcing from all of the long-lived and globally mixed greenhouse gases.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. Carbon dioxide is the main one, because the atmosphere holds 200 times as much of it. But a given amount of methane traps at least 25 times as much heat—unless you burn it first. Then it enters the atmosphere as CO₂.

A lot of methane is being burned these days. In the past decade the technology called hydraulic fracturing, “fracking” for short, has enabled drillers in the United States to extract natural gas from deeply buried shales they couldn’t tap before. Natural gas supplies have surged; prices have plummeted. Fracking is now spreading around the world, and it’s controversial. The gas boom has degraded landscapes and polluted water. But it has also had environmental benefits. Natural gas burns much cleaner than coal. In part because American power plants have been switching from coal to cheap gas, U.S. emissions of CO₂ from fossil fuels fell last year, even as the world set another record.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Are emissions from Nitrogen fertilizers all that bad ?

Nitrous oxide gas should not be confused with nitric oxide or nitrogen dioxide. Neither nitric oxide nor nitrogen dioxide are greenhouse gases, although they are important in the process of creation of tropospheric ozone which is a greenhouse gas.

Nitrogen (N) use in agriculture substantially alters global N cycle with the short- and long-term effects on global warming and climate change. It increases emission of nitrous oxide, which contributes 6.2%, while carbon dioxide and methane contribute 76% and 16%, respectively of the global warming. However, N causes cooling due to emission of NOx, which alters concentrations of tropospheric ozone and methane. NOx and NH3 also form aerosols with considerable cooling effects.

Thus net global temperature change potential (GTP) over a 20 year time-scale is lower by 6.9% and that over a 100 year time-scale by 2.4% compared to the GTP considering nitrous oxide emission alone.

The Danger from Black Soot for Rising Temperatures...

The UN reports that 50% of the emissions causing global warming are from non-CO2 pollutants.

Although not a greenhouse gas, Black Carbon (soot) has emerged as a leading contributor to rising temperatures worldwide. Recent scientific studies have found black carbon – a component of soot that comes from the burning of fossil fuels and plant materials – to be a key cause of climate change. Black carbon has a strong warming effect both in the atmosphere, and when it lands on snow, ice caps and glaciers, where it absorbs the sun’s heat, reduces reflectivity and causes widespread and faster melting.

Norway’s foreign minister said action on black carbon was even more urgent than that on CO2: “Even if we turn the rising curve of greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years, the reduction will not occur quickly enough to preserve the polar and alpine environments. We must address short lived climate pollutants such as black carbon.”

Because black carbon remains in the atmosphere for only a few days – unlike other greenhouse gases, which may remain in the atmosphere for over a century – reducing black carbon emissions may be among the most effective near-term strategies for slowing global warming and avoiding some of the most imminent climate change tipping points.

Black carbon’s role in Arctic warming : Most black carbon that falls in the Arctic comes from North America, Europe and Asia. Black carbon stays in the atmosphere for just days to weeks, but it can do a lot of lasting damage. The contribution to warming by one gram of black carbon is 100 to 2,000 times more than one gram of CO2 on a 100-year timescale. A 2011 study by scientists from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies found that as much as a quarter of Arctic warming is caused by black carbon.

Black Carbon comes from diesel engines, industrial smokestacks and residential cooking and heating stoves. There is need to set stricter standards for diesel engines. Replacing primitive cooking stoves with modern versions that emit far less soot could quickly end the problem. Controlling traffic in the Himalayan region should help ease the harm done by emissions from diesel engines.

Climate and Clean Air Coalition was launched in 2012 to address pollutants that are short-lived in the atmosphere such as black carbon, methane and hydrofluorocarbons which responsible for a substantial fraction of current global warming with particularly large impacts in urban areas and sensitive regions of the world like the Arctic.

Approved initiatives include: fast action on diesel emissions including from heavy duty vehicles and engines; the upgrading of old inefficient brick kilns that cause black carbon emissions; accelerating the reduction of methane emissions from landfills; speeding up cuts in methane and other emissions from the oil and gas industry; and accelerating alternatives to hydrofluorocarbons through fast-tracking environmentally-friendly and cost effective alternatives and technologies.

Bringing down the demand for Electricity...

Many demand side management options can reduce electricity demand (and hence emissions) more effectively than altering energy supply patterns. Demand side policies that encourage more efficient use of electricity, such as in lighting, air conditioning, electrical appliances and industrial motors, contribute to roughly 30% of the avoided CO2 emissions in comparison to the Reference Scenario by 2030 - nearly as much as the combined greenhouse gas mitigation potential from the power sector supply side.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Earthquakes and after in Japan

 Two major planning tools—redevelopment and land readjustment—are used in modern urban development in Japan. Land readjustment, which re-subdivides existing parcels, is a complex process involving modification of property boundaries to widen roads and to provide new open spaces and other public facilities. Under land readjustment, each landowner loses some land area, but the new infrastructure and improved accessibility add value to each parcel.

When the Kobe earthquake struck on January 17, 1995, the strongest ground motions hit the City of Kobe. Fires consumed 203 acres of urban land, more than 400,000 buildings were damaged, and thousands of households needed to relocate. Major east-west transportation systems were damaged or collapsed. The earthquake caused severe damage to neighborhood businesses, manufacturers, and the Port of Kobe. Eighty percent of the city’s 2,000 small- and medium-sized businesses failed.

The national government funded US$58 billion to reconstruct basic infrastructure, housing, and other physical facilities. The reconstructed housing and commercial buildings are seismically stronger than before, but residents of new multistory projects have had to adapt to new living environments that were quite different from the traditional one- and two-story housing to which they were accustomed. This transition was especially hard for senior citizens. In addition, the pressure to quickly construct housing, especially public housing, meant that many housing projects were built in expedient locations, rather than in locations that provided the access residents needed.

Kobe had approximately US$2.9 billion in debt and had to respond by cutting staff, lowering salaries, and reducing social-welfare programs. The city also tried to raise new revenues from land and asset sales. It has taken decades for the city to pay down its debt. Debt also extended to individual disaster victims and business owners who had difficulty repaying various types of disaster recovery loans.

By the fifth anniversary of the disaster, most debris had been cleared in Miyagi and Iwate Prefectures.

After the 2011 disaster, the central government was more generous with funding than it was in 1995. It no longer requires local governments to share in the cost of land readjustment and other recovery programs. Victims are compensated for the costs of rebuilding, displacement, and unemployment. Some worry, however, that a costly precedent has now been set without full consideration of the tremendous financial burden this places on the national government and citizens when the next huge disaster inevitably occurs.

Newzealand earthquake - complicated reconstruction...

Following a 1931 earthquake, New Zealand adopted seismic provisions as part of its building codes. It became one of the first countries in the world to offer government-backed earthquake damage insurance. Today, the New Zealand Earthquake Commission insures the country’s residential properties against earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hydrothermal activity, tsunamis, natural disaster fires, and natural landslides.

From Sep 2010 to Feb 2011, a series of earthquakes damaged the area in the Canterbury region. One hundred eighty-five people died. Most of the 2,000 commercial buildings in Christchurch were damaged, displacing more than 4,000 businesses and 55,000 central city workers. Over 100,000 of the region’s 160,000 homes suffered significant damage. The total cost for responding and rebuilding following the earthquake is estimated at US$32 billion — close to 20 percent of New Zealand’s annual gross domestic product.

The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority managed the two-and-a-half-year cordoning and demolition process in the central city. The Earthquake Commission received more than 5 lakh claims for buildings, contents, and land damage. As of June 2015, the commission had settled, through cash payments or repairs, nearly all of its building- and contents-related claims. It is estimated that it will take 30 years to replenish the US$4.8 billion Natural Disaster Fund had prior to the Canterbury earthquakes.

The national government offered half of the pre-earthquake value of the land for uninsured residential and nonresidential properties in the red zones. It is felt that if a participatory planning process had been held earlier in the policy formulation stage of land zoning decisions, many of the consequential issues that required supplemental policies, programs, and actions would likely have been brought to light.

China - Reconstructing after a giant earthquake..

Three months before the scheduled Olympic games in China, one of its regions suffered a catastrophic earthquake, where nearly 1 lakh people died. Within four months, the State Council issued a plan for recovery. The plan divided reconstruction areas into three categories: suitable for reconstruction, suitable for appropriate reconstruction (for areas with environmental constraints or economic limitations), and unsuitable for reconstruction (ecological areas that accounted for 63.5 percent of the planning area).

The reconstruction was expected to cost US$147 billion, which was equal to the gdp of the entire province or 20 percent of all Chinese government revenue for the previous year.

A unique aspect of this recovery process was the “pair assistance” program through which the state council asked 19 eastern provinces to support recovery in 24 counterpart counties. Donor provinces were asked to “offer assistance with no less than 1 percent of their last ordinary budget revenues”.

Pair assistance facilitated the speed and efficiency of reconstruction by decentralized recovery activities. Pair assistance distributed some of the administrative work, technical capacity, and financial burden to the wealthier provinces. By creating many more channels for financial flow, the program reduced the potential for bureaucratic bottlenecks to impede funding streams. It increased reconstruction capacity by mobilizing planners, designers, and construction specialists from the donor provinces and directly connected them to earthquake-affected counties and towns.

Most of the reconstruction of housing, infrastructure, and public buildings was complete within three years. However the new cities are not fully occupied, nor are the industrial parks. Jobs and social needs were not kept in mind while rebuilding. 

Recovery from disaster takes many years..

Great natural disasters are rare, but when they occur, the aftermath can change the fortunes of a city or region forever. The process of recovery and its management can affect both the intensity and duration of the experience. Post-disaster reconstruction can offer opportunities to fix long-standing problems: to improve construction and design standards, renew infrastructure, create new landuse arrangements, reinvent economies, and improve governance. If done well, reconstruction can help break the cycle of disaster-related impacts and losses, and improve the resilience of a city or region.

This neighborhood park, located in the north Rokkomichi area of eastern Kobe, was constructed as part of a land-readjustment project to widen roads and add neighborhood-level disaster services following the 1995 earthquake. The park includes an auxiliary water supply for firefighting, emergency latrines, and a community meeting center stocked with post-disaster supplies. 

The process of recovery is a major aspect of disaster, and its management greatly impacts citizens. Such catastrophes disrupt lives and businesses, as people await assistance, infrastructure repair, and the return of their neighbors. Management of recovery matters because the aftereffects of disasters extend over time. Many people survive the initial disaster but then suffer from the recovery as the economy stagnates, social networks weaken, and health care and support services decline. The physical recovery from disasters takes many years and the psychological scars can last for decades.

According to the first major study of recovery from disasters in 1977, the authors estimated that it takes more than two years to attain pre-disaster levels of capital stock and activities, and it can take 10 years or longer to complete major reconstruction. 

Although the extent of damage and the availability of financial and human resources are important, the authors say that communities with a high collective efficacy—those who see themselves as self-organizing and not reliant on others—are most likely to recover. 

Every detailed account of reconstruction decision making that follows disasters— especially great disasters—describes chaos and confusion among participants.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Reconstruction challenges after a disaster..

While the number of geophysical disasters – earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions – has remained steady, the number of hydro-meteorological (weather-related) events – including droughts, windstorms and floods – has more than doubled since 1996.
  • Whatever the kind of disaster, richer countries can guard themselves against it, much better : the 6.5 earthquake which hit central California in 2003 took two lives and injured 40 people. By comparison, the 6.6 earthquake, which hit Iran four days later, killed over 40,000 people. Both events took place in areas with high density populations
  • In San Francisco….the last major earthquake caused the death of 62 people. In Turkey, an earthquake of similar magnitude killed 17,000.
  •  Each year of the past decade an average of 258 million people have suffered from disaster – most of them in the developing world, up from 74 million a year in the 1970s...
A 2006 study of past disasters found that the immediate humanitarian relief work was generally effective and well-funded. But the same could not be said for the medium/long-term recovery and reconstruction. There tended to be a lack of funding and absence of coordinated management of the reconstruction phase following major disasters.

Despite huge improvements in the emergency response to natural disasters, permanent reconstruction is often inefficiently managed, uncoordinated and slow to get off the ground.

While humanitarian emergency operations have been in general well funded…sectors such as critical infrastructure/ environment, shelter/non-food items, restoration of livelihoods, agriculture and capacity building remain under funded.

Traumatised disaster survivors spend far too long in unsatisfactory transitional accommodation, often unsure whether they will ever have a permanent home and, if so, where. 

Anatomy of a disaster

The Kobe Earthquake 1995 : Most of the deaths and injuries occurred when older wood-frame houses with heavy clay tile roofs collapsed. The collapse of buildings was followed by the ignition of over 300 fires within minutes of the earthquake. The fires were caused by ruptured gas lines. Response to the fires was hindered by the failure of the water supply system and the disruption of the traffic system.

Weathering the storms in Cuba : Cuba’s geographical location gives it a high and recurrent risk of hurricanes. In the seven years between 1996 and 2002, six major hurricanes have hit Cuba, yet a total of only 16 people have died. The same hurricanes claimed the lives of 665 people elsewhere. 

Cuba is a small and poor country that makes the best use of its social assets at the national and local level. ‘Disaster mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery measures are enshrined in laws that are enforced’

Straws in the Wind..

We all need to take unprecedented action to change the direction of the world hurtling deep into the abyss of climate change.. I will report some hopeful steps as i come across them.. but these are only baby steps in the right direction.. if everyone takes to them, they would help mitigate atleast some of the terrible impacts of climate change..

You really ought to be asking yourself everyday.. what did I do today to help life preserve, even prosper a bit in the face of climate change ?

So here is one great news : Great improvements in Rice Productivity : Worried about rice productivity not keeping up with the population growth, I found this wonderful news. An innovative method developed in the African country Madagascar offers a way out. Called the System of Rice Intensification (sri), the method was developed by a Jesuit priest Henri de Laulani in the 1980s.

Water conservation Studies have shown sri requires 30 to 60 per cent less water when compared to conventional cultivation methods. Rice grown this way has larger root system and yields are almost double that of the conventional crops. Today SRI is being adopted in many states in India, including Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The system prefers compost or farmyard manure to synthetic fertilizers.

An astonishing 11 months a year of hot days for Kochi..

32 C feels like 40 C with the average annual humidity across india of 65-70 %. This link tells you how the heat days have increased in your city since the 1960s.

Kochi and Mumbai’s 6 months of heat a year in the 1960s (atleast 32 degrees C a day) have increased to 9 and 8 months respectively now. By the 2040s the hot days are set to increase to an astonishing 11 months a year for Kochi and 10 months a year for mumbai.

Chennai and Kolkatta’s 6-7 months of heat a year in the 1960s have increased to 8 months now and will cross 9 months a year in the 2040s.

Pune, Delhi and Bhiwadi’s 6 months of heat a year in the 1960s have increased to 7 months now and will cross 8 months a year in the 2040s.

Bangalore had 3 months of days of atleast 32 C or above in 1962, when I was born. Now those 3 months have increased by 18 days and will become 4.5 months in the 2040s.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

System of Rice Intensification...

Worried about rice productivity not keeping up with the population growth, I found this wonderful news. An innovative method developed in the African country Madagascar offers a way out. Called the System of Rice Intensification (sri), the method was developed by a Jesuit priest Henri de Laulani in the 1980sNorman Uphoff bought the method into limelight. This scientist from the Cornell Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development, usa, stumbled upon sri while doing research in Madagascar. 

Today sri is practised in 20 countries, including India. It has four components: soil fertility management, planting method, weed control, and water (irrigation) management. Several field practices have been developed around these components. The key ones are: soil nutrient management through adequate farmyard manure application, transplanting young seedlings (8 to 12 days old), transplanting with soil clump (along with seed) and regular weeding and protective irrigation to keep soil wet without flooding. Rice grown this way has larger root system and yields are almost double that of the conventional crops. The secret is that rice plants do best when a young plant is transplanted carefully in an area 25 cm long and 25 cm wide. This area is larger than that conventionally allocated to rice plants, but it ensures rice roots grow larger on soil kept well aerated with abundant and diverse soil micro-organisms. 

But what about standing water requirements? Standing water only arrests weed growth; it has no other beneficial impact on rice plants. In the sri system, meticulous weeding ensures pests do not intrude in to the plant area. 

Water conservation Studies have shown sri requires 30 to 60 per cent less water when compared to conventional cultivation methods. Biksham Gujja, policy advisor, Worldwide fund for Nature International, Switzerland remarks, "For a state like Andhra Pradesh this means a lot. The state cultivates rice in around 3.8 million ha consuming about 30 cubic km of water, annually. Adopting sri will save 10 cubic km of water, even by conservative estimates. That means Andhra Pradesh can redefine its priorities on using water." 

Acknowledgement : This section sourced largely from this article

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

A visit to Gurudwara Bangla Sahib..

Approaching the inner sanctorum of the Bangla Sahib Gurudwara in Connaught Place in Delhi on 5th nov with my cousin sister.

The beautiful interiors.. We sat and listened to the raagas for a while.. A friend had told me the entire Guru Granth Sahib is composed in different ragas..
A new gate was being completed on the opposite side to the main entry..

There was a museum of paintings depicting moments from the gurus' lives..

Friday, November 02, 2018

The Story of Rice..

Rice is the world’s most important food. More than half of the world’s population depends on rice for food calories and protein, especially in developing countries.

According to the Economic Survey 2015-2016, in wheat, India's average yield in 2013 of 3075 kg/ha is lower than the world average of 3257 kg/ha. The picture is starker in paddy production where all Indian states have yields below that of China and most states have yields below that of Bangladesh. India's best state, Punjab, has paddy yield close to 6000 kg/ha whereas China's yield is 6709 k .. 

The inefficient use of water for agriculture is affecting the productivity. Although water is one of India's most scarce natural resources, India uses 2 to 4 times more water to produce a unit of major food crop than does China and Brazil. 

The world’s largest rice producers by far are China and India. The next largest rice producers are IndonesiaBangladeshVietnamMyanmar, and Thailand. These seven countries together account for more than 80% of world production.

The ‘Green Revolution’ is the name given to the dramatic increase in cereal crop yields through modern agricultural inputs – irrigation, fertilizers, improved seeds, and pesticides – in the 1960s. For rice, the revolution began with the release by IRRI of the high- yielding semidwarf variety IR8 in 1966. The world average rice yield in 1960, the product of thousands of years of experience, was about 2 tonnes/hectare (T/ha). Astonishingly, in only 40 more years, as the Green Revolution spread, it doubled, reaching 4 t/ha in 2000. The rice varieties and technologies developed during the Green Revolution have increased yields in some areas to 6–10 t/ha. 

Although the Green Revolution was mainly a technology revolution, it required strong public support and policies to develop the technologies, build the required infrastructure, ensure that markets, finance, and input systems worked and that farmers had enough knowledge and economic incentive to adopt the new practices. Public interventions were especially crucial in Asia for ensuring that small farmers were not left behind, and without which the Green Revolution would have been much less pro- poor. On average, Asian countries were spending 15.4% of their total government spending on agriculture by 1972 and they doubled the real value of their agricultural expenditure by 1985. 

Governments also shored up farm credit systems, subsidized key inputs – especially fertilizer, power, and water – and intervened in markets to ensure that farmers received adequate prices each year to make the technologies profitable. Many governments used their interventions to ensure that small farms did not get left behind. Substantial empirical evidence at the time showed that small farms were the more efficient producers in Asia and land reform and small farm development programs were implemented to create and support large numbers of small farms. Small farm–led agricultural growth proved to be not only more efficient but also more pro-poor, a win-win proposition for growth and poverty reduction.
Since the mid-1990s, population growth has exceeded rice yield growth and the gap has been growing steadily larger, creating a significant imbalance between supply and demand. This trend is evident for Asia as a whole, but also separately for East Asia, Southeast Asia, and South Asia. Stagnation in area harvested further contributed to the problem, and prices eventually began to rise. Indeed, world market rice prices rose steadily by a cumulative 67% between April 2001 and September 2007.
There are several possible reasons for the slowdown in rice yield growth and production: displacement of cereals on better lands by more profitable crops such as groundnuts, diminishing returns to modern varieties when irrigation and fertilizer use are already high, and the fact that cereal prices have fallen relative to input costs, making additional intensification less profitable. There is also concern that pest and disease resistance to modern pesticides now slows yield growth, and that breeders have largely exploited the yield potential of major Green Revolution crops. 
Environmental problems that have arisen in different areas include excessive and inappropriate use of fertilizers and pesticides that pollute waterways and kill beneficial insects and other wildlife, irrigation practices that lead to salt buildup and eventual abandonment of some of the best farming lands, increasing water scarcities in major river basins, and retreating groundwater levels in areas where more water is being pumped for irrigation than can be replenished. Some of these outcomes were inevitable as millions of largely illiterate farmers began to use modern inputs for the first time, but the problem was exacerbated by inadequate extension and training, an absence of effective regulation of water use and quality, and input pricing and subsidy policies that made modern inputs too cheap and encouraged their excessive use.
Globally, farmers need to produce at least 8–10 million tons more paddy rice each year—an annual increase of 1.2–1.5% over the coming decade, equivalent to an average yield increase of 0.6 t/ha during the next decade. Over the longer run, global rice consumption growth is expected to slow down but yields will have to continue to grow faster than at present because of pressure on rice lands in the developing world from urbanization, climate change, and competition from other, high-value agriculture. Rice yield growth of 1.0–1.2% annually beyond 2020 will be needed to feed the still-growing world and keep prices affordable.
Acknowledgement : This section sourced largely from this article

Thursday, November 01, 2018

The economic costs of global warming..

 The Stern Review done in 2006 estimated that the rising costs of escalating global warming will grow to 5% or more of the gross domestic product of all the nations on Earth.

This means that 5% of the world’s total gross domestic product will be lost to emergency recovery from global warming-related consequences. For an economic comparison and perspective, consider that the Great Depression of the 1930s in the United States was the result of only a 4% loss in U.S. gross domestic product.

Newer studies from 2015 project that if the average global temperature increase reaches 6° Celsius (10.8° Fahrenheit) by the end of the century, the nations of the world will be spending from 10% up to a possible 30% of their total gross domestic product recovering from an endless stream of mega global warming-related consequences and catastrophes on the final road to extinction. The current GDP of the world is about $80 trillion a year; by 2100 it may double or triple that. This means we could be spending one-third of the world’s GDP in 2100—about $100 trillion a year—just to try to survive extinction from global warming.

If we are able to avoid global warming extinction, the total estimated costs of all related global warming destruction could be in the range of $400-$600 trillion—about eight years of the current total gross domestic product for every nation on Earth. To put this in perspective, this means that if we fail to successfully resolve global warming now, farther down the road we will have to dedicate 5 to 8 times the total current value of all annual global human productivity to try to recover from the global warming consequences.

Worse yet, that is only what we may have to pay if we are lucky. If we go into irreversible or extinction-level climate destabilization, what will the cost be then?

Additionally, all of the related financial costs of global warming-related catastrophes and emergencies will rapidly diminish any existing national emergency recovery safety nets. This will cause unthinkable suffering among those who are not prepared and who will consequently have no governmental safety net.

Escalating global warming started out as an ecological threat. It has now become the world’s greatest security threat and threat multiplier. Over time, one of the most costly consequences of escalating global warming will be the regional, national and international conflicts and wars it will create, intensify, or prolong.