Do you believe that heat waves, heavy rains and floods are a result of climate change? Think again. Weather expert Pradeep John explains what we must tell our children about extreme weather.
By Amrita Gracias
It’s a common belief that extreme weather, which is being experienced both within and outside the country, results from climate change. But, is it right to link the two? Tamil Nadu Weatherman, Pradeep John, gives us an interesting perspective on climate change and explains why we must not use the term to describe changes that may be caused by man. Here, he speaks about how we can educate children about changing weather conditions.
What are your views on climate change? Is it causing extreme weather and other calamities?
We cannot deny that climate change is happening at some level globally. But, it is more important to focus on the impact of urbanisation and human intervention — development of roads, power plants, housing projects and other construction activities. I feel these are causing more harm to our environment than climate change. Yes, climate change exists, but its impact is obvious only in certain places like coastal regions, for instance, which are being affected by the rise in sea levels. Just because we encounter changes in the weather like heavy rainfall for a few days, we cannot attribute it to climate change. It is possible that heavy rainfall has occurred in the same place in the past. So, we need to study the intensity patterns of rainfall in that area over a century, or over a few decades at least, before concluding that climate change is the cause for these weather conditions.
How do we explain climate change to children?
We are a developing country that requires energy on a large scale for growth and development. Presently, India has more coal-based thermal power plants, which emit gases that pollute the environment. However, these are essential to meet the growing demand for energy supply. Therefore, it isn’t practical to say we should shut down power plants. But, we can tell our children to make efforts to help save the environment. Instead of just talking to children about climate change, tell them how urban lifestyle impacts the environment. Then, they can come up with ideas to conserve energy and the environment.
Should children be concerned about climate change?
Firstly, one must understand the climatology of a place before making assumptions about climate change in the area. If we experience a hot day, we cannot assume that it will only get warmer henceforth because of climate change. We will experience cooler days too. For instance, Chennai experienced a high temperature of 45 degrees only in May 2003. But, we haven’t experienced this again since then. That is why, we cannot link a few days of heat or rains to climate change.
Children must be aware that a lack of trees and an increase in concrete structures in the city can contribute to a rise in temperature. Often, we find that many calamities may actually be due to man-made interventions, like canals being diverted and construction in a catchment or a forest area. These are happenings that our children should be concerned about.
Why is the term climate change being used so often?
Technology is one of the main reasons this concept has become so popular. If we look at data for over a century, we can see that rainfall intensity in a certain place has been almost consistent. But, with advancing technology and communications, we now know of what is happening all over. There has also been a rise in the number of automatic weather stations and data is now available for all to monitor. Besides, everyone has access to social media, so photos and other information gets posted as soon as an area receives heavy rainfall. A decade or two ago, despite similar weather patterns, that did not happen. In fact, monsoons have been erratic for centuries.
I have studied rainfall patterns and found changes in some places. But in other areas, there is no change. Therefore, it is difficult to pinpoint an exact cause for climate change, nor can we assume that the present weather results from it.
You have said urbanisation impacts weather changes. Can you give us an example?
We feel that today there is an increase in both temperature and rainfall. But, there is also a vast increase in concrete structures and roads, and a decrease in the number of trees in cities and urban areas. This causes heat to reflect off structures back into the atmosphere. When rain clouds move in, the excess energy in the atmosphere causes high intensity rainfall in urban areas as compared to rural areas. This is called the 'urban heat island effect'. Therefore, though it seems like the weather has changed in the last decade, the changes are mainly due to urbanisation.
So what can children do to reduce the effects of urbanisation?
Children must understand the need to conserve energy and nature. They can:
As parents, what examples can we set to help the cause?
We must avoid construction in low-lying areas. Such encroachments block water flow during the monsoons, leading to floods and other problems. Children must learn why there shouldn’t be any urban development on river banks to avoid flooding. So, this will get them to examine whether it is really climate change that is causing calamities like floods, or whether it is urbanisation.
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