The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.

- Arthur C. Clarke (h/t Brin)

Monday, May 9, 2011

Dew

An interesting item from my email.

One technical question: does a decline in the diurnal temperature cycle imply less fog and dew in general? Could this have a widespread economic and/or ecological impact?

There are a few studies here and there but I couldn't find anyone taking a global perspective. (This ties in with some explicitly confused expectations about coastal fog in the western US that Roger Peilke Jr. raised some months ago; there seems to be disagreement on which direction it is going and which way it is supposed to go.)

Anyway, just one of many things to think about raised in this context:

'Where Have All the Seasons Gone?'

Delhi Platform, along with the Gujarat Agricultural Labour Union
(GALU) and the International Union of Foodworkers (IUF), has just
published a 48-page report 'Where Have All the Seasons Gone? Current
Impacts of Climate Change in Gujarat'. It focuses in particular on the
impacts of climate change on small and marginal farmers, and on
agricultural workers in parts of Gujarat.

A summary of the report is pasted below.

Anyone interested in the full printed copy, please contact us at
delhiplatform@gmail.com. Those in Delhi are welcome to come to our
meetings in Coffee House in central Delhi, where you could also pick
up a copy.

In solidarity,

Nagraj Adve, and others,
Delhi Platform

SUMMARY OF THE REPORT

Global warming has finally begun to get the attention of the world in
the last few years, though a sense of urgency and a commensurate
response is still lacking where it is needed most. With that, there
has been a plethora of attempts to study and analyze it at the macro
level. However, there has been a relative lack of detailed studies of
the impacts on the ground, particularly in India. We need to
understand better how people across gender, caste and class divides in
different regions and ecosystems are being impacted by climate change;
if and how they are responding; and which responses are effective and
which are not. Many players need to take part in efforts in this
direction, because to address the issues meaningfully, participatory
response, at the local, regional, as well as the global level, is
essential.

This report reveals the already considerable impacts of global warming
on small and marginal farmers, and on agricultural labour in northern
and eastern Gujarat. A joint team comprising activists of Delhi
Platform, of the International Union of Foodworkers (IUF), along with
the Gujarat Agricultural Labour Union (GALU), Bandhkaam Mazdoor
Sanghatan and Disha, visited villages in Banaskantha and Sabarkantha
districts in northern Gujarat and the predominantly adivasi Dahod and
Panchmahal districts in eastern Gujarat in late-November, early
December 2010. This report is based on our conversations with
residents in villages there; discussions with activists; interactions
with those knowledgeable about Gujarat’s social structure, agriculture
and water systems; and on relevant primary data and secondary
literature.

Residents in villages told us about a range of climate change effects
in recent years (presented in chapter 1). These date back from about
half a decade to a slightly longer 15-20 years. They include a rise in
winter temperature and a consequent loss of dew (atmospheric moisture)
for the winter crops; irregularity in rainfall; delays in the main
southwest monsoon and a decline in rains in June; more intense
rainfall events, a lot of rain in fewer days; patchiness in rainfall
over a region; and a rise in summer temperatures and heat. Many of
these reported changes are in keeping with changes elsewhere in India;
some, such as the loss of dew, we were hearing for the first time.
Secondly, whereas people in villages had expectedly a clear idea of
changes in rainfall and other climatic patterns, there was very little
awareness about why it was happening or that anthropocentric global
warming was to blame.
The impacts of climate change on small and marginal farmers (chapter
3) have been varied:

a. Warmer winters have meant reduced moisture for their winter crops,
maize, wheat, tuar dal, etc, due to the absence of dew, resulting in
sharply reduced yields or farmers even having to leave their lands
fallow. Those without access to well water in eastern Gujarat are
particularly hard-hit by this, and they typically tend to be from the
poorest households.

b. Warmer winters are also resulting in the increased incidence of

pest attacks in both regions. Consequently, farmers are being forced
to incur a further burden of higher input/pesticide costs.

c. Irregular rainfall events are harming agriculture in different

ways. For instance, the production of cotton and other crops such as
groundnut and potato was devastated in 2010-2011 due to excessively
and unprecedented rains until late November. These extensive rains,
very likely caused by climate change, extended for hundreds of
kilometres beyond Gujarat, to southern Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh,
Maharashtra, Rajasthan, etc.

d. The extraction of groundwater by farmers has accentuated greatly

with the increasing cultivation of market-driven cash and
water-intensive crops, and by climate change. This has resulted in a
sharp fall in the water table, particularly in northern Gujarat. As
this intensifies, it has serious implications for the farm economy
generally, in particular for poorer farmers directly and landless
labour indirectly through the reduced demand for labour.

e. Milk production – which is central to household economies,

particularly among poor households, both in eastern Gujarat but
particularly in Banaskantha and Sabarkantha – is getting hit due to
thermal heat stress faced by local and hybrid cow breeds. The
availability of fodder, free or at least inexpensively, has
diminished, putting more pressure on households least able to cope
with it. This also affects the fat content in the milk, thereby
reducing the price at which milk can be sold.

f. Food security of the poorest households have begun to get hit as

yields of food crops such as maize, wheat and pulses have begun to
suffer, wiping out possible short-term gains from Green Revolution
strategies.

Our visit reconfirmed our long-held view that the impacts of global
warming are being felt most by those least responsible for it. For
small and marginal farmers, crop failure due to climate change can be
a disaster and can plunge them into a cycle of debt, or into forced
migration to factories or construction work in western and south
Gujarat. For sharecroppers (bataidars) and agricultural workers in
Gujarat (and elsewhere in India), the impacts of climate change
(discussed in chapter 4) means a serious loss of work and wages. In
North Gujarat for instance, the damage to the cotton crop meant a loss
of about 30-40 days’ work per agricultural worker, or about Rs 4,000
per worker, a big setback to households in which more than one member
engages in agricultural labour. It meant migration, but thousands of
workers made that journey to find no work at the end of it because the
crop had been damaged there too. To the best of our knowledge, this is
the first time that impacts of climate change on agricultural workers
in India are being presented in a published report.

Climate change cannot be viewed in isolation from social processes.
The capacity to absorb the impacts of climate change is crucially
dependent on two factors in any agrarian setting: land ownership and
access to water. A third factor, in parts of Gujarat, is animal
husbandry, given its centrality for household economies. The social
structure and land ownership, the extensive tapping of groundwater in
northern Gujarat and its relative absence in adivasi areas of eastern
Gujarat; the development of milk cooperatives and the interconnections
between these three elements of the agrarian economy are discussed in
chapter 2, along with some recent developments, such as the decline in
groundwater, policy variations in electrical supply over the last 20
years, the development of contract farming more recently, and how
north and eastern Gujarat differ in many of these.
What might be the way ahead? A concluding chapter (chapter 5) suggests
that our responses would need to be at different levels. It mentions
specifics such as compensation for workers due to loss of work, and to
farmers for loss in crop yields, and possible sources for such
compensatory payments. Regarding cushioning the impacts of, and
adapting to climate change, NREGA has a considerable role to play in
the better distribution of water and electricity, in developing and
maintaining ponds; check dams; development of grasslands, revival of
forests, water harvesting, etc.

The chapter also discusses crucial wider questions that the issue of
global warming revives, without which no meaningful long term solution
is possible. Two such central questions are equity, and, connected to
it, reviving the notion of the commons. Land reforms are central to
any notion of equity in an agrarian setting. But what would equity
mean in the context of access to water, and more specifically,
groundwater? It would include snapping the link between access to
land, capital and technology, and access to water. How does one have
arrangements in place at the community level that ensure that even the
landless and the poor have a right to water? To understand better
these and related questions, we briefly discuss some earlier struggles
in Maharashtra and elsewhere around equitable distribution of water.

Climate change is only one among a range of ecological crises that
humanity has created and needs to tackle with urgency. Global warming
draws our attention, once again, to man’s relations with nature and
relations within human society. It forces us to rethink our entire
development trajectory itself. The need to tackle global warming hence
needs to be made part of a larger struggle for equity. In that longer
struggle, reports such as the one that follows below, can at best, but
we hope, play a small part.

3 comments:

Steve Bloom said...

Very interesting, and the full report looks to be more so. Re the groundwater in particular, there were GRACE results ~6 months ago detailing a fast draw-down of Gujarat (fossil) groundwater. The Indian government had been extremely uninterested in the subject and seemed to be less than welcoming of the results. We saw something similar re CA groundwater, where the rural water districts have been very, very bored with the subject of groundwater depletion. Who would want to see such data, after all?

From my own all-too-extensive (although fortunately not recent) experience with Iowa summers, the point about the dew seems right. The hottest days seemed to engender lots of night ground fog in the river bottoms and lots of dew in the coldest hour just before dawn. The dew carried some serious moisture, enough to keep tall corn pretty wet for the bulk of the following day. Nights following relatively cool days didn't see much of these effects.

Kooiti Masuda said...

Cases like that of Gujarat (India) poses a difficult issue of attribution.

Though I do not know enough for discussing the cause of the change there, it smells to me that local anthropogenic forcing rather than global one is mainly at work. Irrigation will result in locally moister and cooler (at least in daytime in hot seasons) condition, and stopping it will shift the local climate oppositely. The change is not likely to be proportional to depletion of underground water storage but more abrupt. In addition, global anthropogenic forcing may cause much larger changes in local climate than global averages, but it is hard to quantitatively foretell them.

So we can use this example to persuade people to reduce our total ecological footprint (use of fossil water is certainly included), but not to reduce our carbon emission.

Ken said...

Regarding Dew, here in Eastern Australia bushfires are a serious vegetation management problem and dew, through the cooler months has played an important but not always appreciated part in hazard reduction burning - it makes possible the lighting of low intensity fires through the cooler evenings with good expectation that these will self-extinguish during the night . Manpower and resources and perfect weather forecasting are simply not available to do larger areas with any sense of certainty that the fire will be contained - and warmer nights with less dew increase that uncertainty.

For those who live elsewhere in the world, much Australian vegetation tends to be highly flammable with dead and dry material building up - decay, due mostly to lack of moisture, can't keep up, and more so during drier drought periods. Over the course of years the amount of fuel builds up and if left will tend to end up burning as fierce, destructive and unstoppable wildfires during the hotter and drier conditions of summer.