Saturday, 30 March 2019

Climate Reporting & Information Systems

Image may contain: bird, sky, outdoor and nature
Pic by Sanjeev Das Mohapatra: Bird Sanctuary at Mangaljodi, Odisha, India

Climate change is accelerating. In spite of extreme climate events increasing all over the world there is no proper reporting of climate change except as standalone events not related to other such events. Most of these events don’t even find their way into the headlines or first page.

Bill Giles, pioneering BBC meteorologist, wrote recently that news channels should have slots for climate change In my blog “Death of Seasons...Climocalypse” posted on 28-5-2017, l had written “Inspite of a quantum increase in extreme climate events the media is not reporting it in a holistic merely reports the events as they occur without attempting to join the dots and paint the big picture”

It is now amply clear that during the past couple of decades irreversible climate changes are taking place and there is definitely a rising trend of warming (heat records are outnumbering cold records by two times or so), extreme climate events, storms, flooding, sea level rise, and so on. Most of us are aware of it but do not like to face the inconvenient truth or discuss it. In Oct 2018, the UN IPCC Report gave humanity a 12-year deadline 2030 to reduce carbon emissions by 50% if we are to limit temperature rise to 1.5 C. This indeed is a Herculean task.

Now comes the daunting question of how are we going to achieve it. Certainly, it needs the active and coordinated participation of all of us. Most of us are living in denial. We are so immersed, embedded, addicted to our energy intensive, car dependent, capitalistic, consumeristic lives that we think carbon reduction is the job of governments only and that we cannot do anything about it. Carbon reduction is something where we don’t have a role except a few perfunctory steps like having organic food which is more of a status and fashion statement, buying energy efficient gadgets, electric cars. Our levels of awareness of climate change are abysmally low.

We really cannot blame the general population for not being aware of the deep inroads which climate change has made into all our continents, oceans and atmosphere. The governments and main stream media have made no efforts to spread awareness among the populace at large. There are several reasons behind it. Some of the major reasons are governments do want to be unpopular by being harbinger of bad news or want to introduce harsh measures to control carbon emissions since big industry and fossil lobby are against climate measures since their incomes and profits will be adversely affected. Since the 1980s, scientists of the US have been repeatedly urging the government to control and reduce carbon emission. The deep state and the entrenched fossil lobby have prevailed and the successive governments have done nothing about it. Rest of the world follows suit. No one wants to slow or stop the wheels of capitalism.

Hence now that time is limited, society at large must be made aware of the intensifying climate crises. Mainstream media, educational institutions, governments, social groups, healthcare sector have a major role to play in disseminating climate news. At the basic level, daily weather reports and forecasts on TV, newspapers, online channels, etc. need to change the coverage of weather from one being extremely short term and myopic to more medium /long term and analytical in content along with widening coverage to include environmental factors.

Simple additions which can be incorporated either daily, weekly, or on rotational basis are:

1. Past weekly or monthly averages for high, low and average temperatures compared to historical averages for highs, lows and averages since beginning of records or previous 10 years, 50 years, etc.
2. For heatwaves, humidity and wet bulb temperatures compared to historical.
3. Similarly, for rainfall, snow averages compared to historical averages, highest during a particular period, year to date cumulative totals vis-à-vis historical average, highest, lowest.
4. Year to date number of days of rain, snow compared to historical data during comparable periods.
5. Intensity of rainfall, snow in cms, inches during number of hours and average per hour compared to historical figures.
6. Record highs and lows of temperature, precipitation, snow, humidity, etc.
7. Changes in start and end of seasons.
8. Pollution (atmospheric, water) index / levels vis-à-vis historical figures.
9. Aquifer levels, number of dry wells, river levels - comparisons, trends.
10. Contamination levels of water.
11. Garbage collections, disposal with breakups of wet, dry and recycle able waste wherever possible.

The above are some basic metrics which can used for spreading awareness of climate change. This will necessitate computerising time series data available at all weather stations, and other sources in all countries. Presently US, Europe, other developed countries, large economies like India have comprehensive weather and climate data, forecasting systems. The American and European forecasting systems are most evolved. The NOAA of the US is perhaps the most sophisticated. There are several weather data agencies world over.

Inspite of all the advanced weather and climate systems, population at large views climate change in a disembodied manner like death which happens to others but not oneself. Hence it is the bounden duty of responsible media, intellectuals, climate change believers to help humanity realise that climate change is integrally linked to our day to day weather and lives and that it is happening in real-time and accelerating.

During my childhood from the early 1960s, as a ten-year-old I used to read the weather report daily in The Statesman, Kolkata, India. It was on the first page column 1 at the bottom. I had a strong fascination for noting the temperatures daily which was a precursor to my present obsession with climate change. But nowadays many newspapers have relegated weather reports to page 3 or to the local section page. Even extreme climate events if in another continent or country are reduced to tiny reports consigned to the inner recesses of the newspapers.

In order to link climate change to daily weather reports there is an urgent need to present on TV, newspapers, magazines, digital medium, etc the figures for the latest, trends, averages, cumulative, records, high, lows, etc in terms of:

1. Holistic weather reports as outlined above on page 1 with basic analysis.
2. Weekly roundup of extreme climate and environment related events across the globe under different categories like heat, cold, precipitation, floods, wildfires, drought, etc.
3. Monthly roundup of atmospheric carbon and methane levels globally; country / region level carbon emissions, source wise carbon emissions, etc along with trends since 1950s or so; melt status of Arctic, Antarctica, glaciers in Greenland, Himalayas, etc.

The above reports and presentations need to be ideally made in dashboard formats with graphs, charts so that the information transmission is powerful and arresting. We are in an age of information overload. Hence need for attracting eyeballs in a hyper competitive media world with so much clutter. Some of the other innovative communication interfaces could be electronic hoardings, kiosks and the like at airports, stations, important road crossings, malls, plazas, etc. with horizontal, vertical scrolling sections and dashboards like in the top three sections of my website

For preparing the analysis, there will be need for researchers using simple statistical analysis tools like averages, moving averages, correlation, auto regressive models along with software and apps. All this requires sponsors from big industry and business, involvement of university departments / units like the MAHB (Millennium Alliance for Humanity and Biosphere) of Stanford University, governments, cause friendly publication groups like The Guardian of UK, etc.

Macro climate research data is available at several websites like NOAA, Copernicus, World Bank Climate Change Knowledge Portal, Climate Reality, Climate Matters, Global Pm 2.5, etc. Micro city locality wise data is available in most large cities. Bengaluru has Yuktix

The objective of climate reporting and information systems should be to evangelically spread the truth about accelerating climate change, influence and motivate people into reducing their carbon footprint by about 5 to 10% per annum from 2020 if humanity is to survive. The dire consequences of not reducing emissions should also be conveyed as part of the mission.

There is an urgent need for apps and online platforms which can help both individuals and communities (housing layouts, buildings) measure and track their carbon emissions (their top 5 or so emission sources constituting major part of their total emissions). These apps/ platforms should also enable them to set goals for reducing emissions on an annual basis which can be monitored on monthly or quarterly basis. Easiest to track would be electricity consumption in kilowatt hours, petrol in litres, gas consumption in kwh, air travel in kms, hotel (star wise) stays in days, etc. Tracking can be done by the providers of energy services, utility companies, producers who have data of consumers. Banks, credit card companies are another source of consumer direct spends on carbon emitting products and services.  Governments, corporates, businesses should incentivise their employees to set ambitious carbon emission reduction goals and achieve them.

The need for educating the public on accelerating climate change cannot be over emphasised. Ideally the best place to start would be at schools and colleges. They have a greater stake in the future than us. We can ignite their minds about the impending changes in climate, how it will make their lives so much more difficult and different during the next few decades, and why we need to act now.

Greta Thunberg’s movement “We Don’t Have Time” expresses our human predicament so very cogently and poignantly, ironically by a 16-year-old, which we adults have failed to comprehend. I have explained to my 4-year old granddaughter about the dangers of burning coal, cutting trees and why school children were on strike on March 15th recently. She understood it so well, told me that we will not be having oxygen and get burnt by the heat. Truly children have a better vision of our burning planet than us.

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