Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Ecology: Vanishing Hills

Much has been said about the need to conserve our forests (see: Trees are vital). The campaign to keep the earth green seems to be getting the message across to millions of people. But there is another vital area of ecology that is, unfortunately, not receiving the attention that it deserves.

I am talking about the hills. All over India, hills are being flattened for for building construction, cutting stones, for obtaining earth for filling low or water logged areas and so on. Laws to prevent this may or may not exist but the indiscriminate mining carries on nevertheless. Nobody seems to bother except some activists.

What is the damage if the hills are flattened? Water covers about 70% of the Earth. I saw an estimate that water level would rise by more than 8000 feet (about 2500m) if the earth surface were evened out. That means there would not be any land-sea ratio. The planet would be a mass covered by water. That of course is an unlikely eventuality.

But there are several other adverse impacts of leveling hills. The surface area of the earth decreases when a hill is flattened. The trees and plants (some of them medicinal) and life forms that thrived there disappear. I think all the major rivers of the world originate from and are sustained by the mountains. The hills attract rains. They provide water to more than half the world’s population. Terrains like laterite formations retain water. If we do not protect hills, the result would be acute water problems.

There could be an argument that habitats are among the basic requirements of humanity and that construction activities provide employment to many people. True. But can’t we build without flattening the hills? Contour architecture, I think, is the answer. Two examples of this I can immediately recall are the residential area of the HMT complex near Cochin, and the Kovalam Resort near Trivandrum.

Certainly, our architects are capable of coming out with eco-friendly designs.


Also see: Komana Kadu.

Cross posted to:

Song og the waves - Parayil A. Tharakan Blog

Articles By Abraham Tharakan

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Global Warming: A new factor?

A new study that has been published in the journal Nature last week claims that the immense haze clouds over the Indian Ocean, is as much a culprit as Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) in causing atmospheric warming and the melting of Himalayan glaciers.

The research into this was conducted by Veerabhadran Ramanathan and his colleagues at University of California’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California. According to an AFP report in the Deccan Chronicle (August 7, 2007), this team of scientists “sent unmanned measuring devices into the haze pollution, known as Atmospheric Brown Clouds, over the Indian Ocean in March 2006 near the island of Hanimadhoo. “

After analyzing the data on aerosol concentration, soot levels and solar radiation, collected by these airborne gadgets, the scientists reached the conclusion that the haze increased atmospheric heating by 50%. The cause of this pollution, the researchers believe, is the burning of wood and plant matter for cooking in India and South Asian countries.

Till this report was published, scientists were of the opinion that brown clouds did not contribute to global warming because it was thought that they deflected sunlight and cooled the atmosphere. But the present findings contradict this because they reveal that the particles in the brown clouds absorb sunlight and thereby warming the atmosphere.

The scientists fear that increased warming from this source would result in the Himalayan glaciers melting entirely. Once that happens, the major rivers which are now fed by water from the glaciers as well might become totally rain dependent and would remain dry during non-monsoon seasons.


Public Domain image.

Also see:

Fire: The man whose house burned down twice

Saturday, 14 April 2007

Effect of Climate Change on Plants.

Vishu is the New Year according to a calendar based on Indian astrological calculations. The day, which is celebrated in several parts of India, comes in mid-April. One of the essential ingredients for the rituals is the flowers of cassia fistula.

This tree normally used to bloom late March or early April. Of late the pattern has changed and the blossoms come in February or early March. This results in the scarcity of the flowers around Vishu time.

According to some botanists, the reason for early flowering of cassia fistula is that the temperature required, 33-35 degrees centigrade, is now reached in Kerala in February-March instead of April because of global warming.

Climate change could be having such impact on other plants as well.


Read detailed article on Vishu at


Saturday, 17 March 2007


“Changes in climate are now affecting physical and biological systems on every continent.” says a soon to be released report, written and reviewed by over 1000 top scientist from different countries. According to Patricia Romero Lankao (National Center for Atmospheric Research, US), a co-author of the report, “Things are happening and happening faster than we expected.”

The present problems attributed to global warming include increase in allergy inducing pollens, more acidified oceans, changes in the habits and habitats of many species, bleaching of coral reefs and loss of wetlands. It is predicted that within the next couple of decades, millions of people will face water scarcity and rising temperatures and sea level will result in floods rendering tens of millions homeless. There will be and increase I tropical diseases including malaria. By 2050, pests like fire ants will be rampant. Natural habitats of polar bears will almost vanish. Food scarcity will hit hundreds of millions by 2080.

Andrew Weaver, climate scientist at University of Victoria says, “This is the whole play. This is how it’s going to affect people. The science is one thing. This is how it affects me, you and the person next door.”

Some hope is there, the experts say, if greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are controlled and then reduced. Earlier this month the European Union leaders agreed to contain and decrease GHG by 2020. The plan to achieve this is to be presented to the leaders of other nations also.

(Based on an AP report in The New Indian Express, March 12, 2007)


Thursday, 1 March 2007

The hotter it gets...

The findings in two recent reports on climate change are foreboding. One, the 700 pages Stern Review by Sir Nicholas Stern, eminent economist and academic from the United Kingdom, was released on 30 October 2006. The other presentation is by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that was published a few weeks back. These studies confirm, much more authoritatively than the several earlier efforts from different quarters, the perils in store for the planet if the increases in Greenhouse Gasses (GHG), which lead to global warming go unchecked.

The prediction is that world temperatures are likely to increase by 1.1 degree C at the current rate, but could even soar by a disastrous 6.4 degrees C by the end of the century unless emergency projects are undertaken and sustained to contain GHG.

What would be the impact of such escalation in temperatures? Dr. Bill Kirkman, Emeritus Fellow of Wilson College, Cambridge, explains in an article titled ‘Time to act’ (The Hindu, February 11, 2007) explains: “Even an increase of four per cent [in temperature] could destroy hundreds of species, and cause devastating shortages of food and water, and floods which would displace millions of people.”

One of the several dire consequences of global warming is that sea levels will continue to rise. 70% of the Earth surface is water. According to one calculation, water would rise to an altitude of about 8000ft. if all the land on the planet were distributed evenly. Such an event is, of course, beyond the realm of possibility. But the point is that each hill, which is flattened as it is happening in many parts of the world for construction and other purposes, adds to the problem. This angle, it would appear, has not received the attention it deserves.

There is greater awareness today than ever before about the calamities that global warming can cause if it continues unchecked. The safeguards and corrective measures to be adopted to prevent them are also known. It is generally accepted that climate change is caused mainly by carbon emissions. Therefore the answer is to contain such emissions within tolerable limits. There is developed and developing technology to achieve this objective.

The core requirement, however, is the political will to take hard decisions now, and to implement and sustain them. Most governments seem to be reluctant to enforce steps that would be unpalatable to the business world. Fortunately, of late there are indications that this mindset is undergoing a transformation in many countries.

Can an ordinary citizen do anything about the impending doomsday? Yes, of course. Stop being a silent spectator. Write to your elected representative. Join an awareness campaign or start one. Bring up the topic in Parent-Teacher Association meetings at the schools where your children are studying and suggest that the students are informed about the perils of global warming and the means to ward off the dangers. You can think of more actions.

But, do not light candles for the cause. It could result in more carbon emission!


Monday, 12 February 2007

2007 to be the warmest year on record?

According to the British Meteorological Office, a combination of global warming and El Nino is likely to make 2007 the warmest year on record. (The Hindu, February 12, 2007.)

Friday, 26 January 2007

Climate change threat to Alpine ski resorts.

"The OECD warns that 75% of Europe's glaciers could disappear by 2050, bringing economic disaster to its $65bn wintersports industry. Hit by record warm temperatures, reduced snowfall and melting permafrost, ski resorts are threatened with increased hazards and ever greater losses." (The Hindu. January 26, 2007.)