— Shashwat DC
Essentially, nature in its true essence is fairly cyclical, much-less random, and measurably predictable. Left to its own, it tends to find an equilibrium that can continue on for ages, before changing into something else, which then continues on. Yet, when confronted by an event, or pummelled by an external force, the same staid predictable nature turns into an unseeming labyrinth of mysteries capable of unimaginable force of destruction and devastation. In times like these, the impact of a little action can and often results in unprecedented consequences. The proverbial flap of a Butterfly’s wing in Brazil, resulting in a tornado in Texas. Nature in such times is chaotic and cruel, often both at the same times.
Global warming is a hot topic for discussion these days, especially in India. Not because of the sudden interest on the anthropogenic impacts on climate change, but because of the unusual warm summers that the denizens have to bear, especially in the cities of Delhi & Mumbai. The temperatures have been searing in these cities, in Delhi the temperatures had breached the 40 Degree mark, while in Mumbai it is bordering on it. It has become almost impossible to venture out in either cities in the day,
especially in the noon, the heat is debilitating. People can be seen sweating profusely, and the most vulnerable are the infants and the aged, who can barely come to terms with the heat. It is the summer month, and summers are like this in India, is the constant refrain.
Yet, any denizen who has lived through the many summers in either of the cities will not agree with the contention. Of course, the sun would scorch the land during the summers and has been doing so for ages (sufficient enough to coerce the Mughals and the British to seek refuge in hilly terrain). The temperatures would certainly rise, and there would be these very uneasy days now and then. But over the past decade, especially the past few years, there is a strident rise in the temperatures. Days are getting hotter with each passing summer and what is worse now is that it is staying so.
In the earlier years, the days would be hot, but when the sun would set in the west, things would considerably improve. In Delhi, the chill winds from the north would ease up thing. While in Mumbai, the Arabian Sea would be saviour. The sea breeze would cool things in the day, and keep it pleasantly warm in the night. The cycle of sea breeze, land breeze ensured that the temperatures seldom fluctuated out of the norm.
But off late, things are not the same anymore. While the days are hot, the nights are not very different. Of course there is a dip in the temperatures, but it is not as pleasant and bearable as it was in the yore. And the reason for it is not the sun, or some fabled monstrous thing like global warming, but it is our on unplanned urbanisation.
Cities like Mumbai and Delhi have grown over the past many years, and are now busting at the seams. The infrastructure is crumbling, snarling traffic jams are now a regular occurrence, the roads are choc-o-bloc. With the population burst, vacant land is now an exception in the city. Skyscrapers, buildings, towers are now dotting all the space. Mammoth malls at close intersection are spread all over. Constricted roads, and constricted apartments are the hallmark of urban life in India.
But such unplanned and rampant development is now impacting the environment in the same cities. Take the case of Mumbai, the unplanned structures have blocked the natural flow of breeze from the sea, hence, the automatic conditioning is now disrupted. The temperatures keep rising with the ascension of the sun. Result, people are now dependent on air-conditioning to keep the environs cool. All the big residential towers, glass buildings that have offices and the every mall these days is air-conditioned. They keep the temperature within at a pleasant 20s and at times even lower. But in doing so, they evict the heat outside creating an invisible circle of heat around the building, what is often referred to as the heat island (HI). The impact can be easily felt when one steps out of such air-conditioned buildings, the temperature is much higher than normal in the immediate vicinity. The reason is not hard to fathom, the cool inside results in the hot outside.
With scores and thousands of such HIs all across the city, the temperature keeps rising. It is a sort of a vicious cycle, because of the heat expelled from the air conditioners, the neighbourhood gets warm and to cool it, people are compelled to switch on the ACs, resulting in even more expulsion of heat. No wonder in the day, the roads of the city, especially in Mumbai which has even lesser green cover, are hotter than average.
There was a study done by Government of India in association with Teri that found that over the years, the surface temperature of the Delhi and Mumbai has risen by up to 2-3 degrees Celsius since 1998, turning the city into a virtual urban heat islands. The difference between the city and rural can be as stark as 5-7 degrees Celsius.
And to exacerbate the problem there is the problem of the unceasing traffic, wherein the cars almost all with their air conditioners at full blast, keep emitting sulphur and CO2 into the atmosphere. Resulting in even more dense concentration of heat-trapping GHGs in the city. The consequences are evident, health issues like fatigue, muscular cramps, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke, are fairly common in the cities.
And then there is the global warming angle to it as well, because of the surge in demand for power (especially to run the ACs), electricity usage rises tremendously. For instance, according to a news report, because of the use of ACs, there has been a surge of nearly 550 MW power in the city of Mumbai. The daily electricity demand now stood at 3430 MW against the usual of 2900 MW. This extra power is then procured from the many thermal plants, that burn coal emitting even more CO2 in the air.
Hot summers is now not a rarity, but rather a norm in urbanised Mumbai and Delhi. Attention should be drawn to the reasons for the same. Simply blaming the gods, global warming or even El Nino is not good enough. The remedies are pretty straight forward, enhancement of green cover, controlling rampant and illegal construction, monitoring the urban sprawl, is what it is required. Else records will be broken every summer, with people reminiscing about the past when it used to be not as bad.