Many people requested me to do a video on climate change. I shied away from it because I did not have the courage to do it as I am not an authority on the subject. But since the demand has become persistent, I have decided to share with you whatever I know about it. The average temperature of our planet is 15 degrees. The hottest places on earth are parts in Ethiopia which record an average temperature of 41 degrees. This figure is arrived at after recording the temperatures of the days and nights of one whole year, through summer, rains and winter. The average temperature of Kerala is 33 degrees. So you imagine how high the temperature is out there, how high it can rise, and how critical the situation is. The lowest temperature is experienced in the Arctic regions. It is -97 degrees. All these figures are taken into account in order to arrive at the average temperature of the planet, that is 15 degrees. Only when the temperature is favourable for humans can human, animal and plant life thrive on earth.

The role played by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in making such a cold and frozen planet habitable for us is indeed great. In other words, carbon dioxide envelops the earth like a blanket. As we all know, plants take in carbon dioxide and give out oxygen. At night, it is the other way round – plants exhale carbon dioxide. It is this carbon dioxide blanket that absorbs some of the heat of sunlight as it gets reflected from the earth. That is why we are able to live here. Otherwise, we will not get the warmth required to sustain life.

But the last 200 years has seen a rise in the volume of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases like methane, nitrous oxide and so on. Greenhouse, as you know, is the artificial enclosure we make in order to maintain an optimal temperature for the growth of plants. Increase in the amount of greenhouse gases has caused the temperature of the earth to rise. A lot of changes have taken place on the earth in the last eight lakh years since the planet was born. But the last 200 years alone have seen a rise in temperature to the tune of 1.2 degrees, much of which has happened in the last 40 years, that is, since 1980. According to certain studies, if we look for a period of 5 or 10 years that has recorded the highest temperatures, it will be since 2010 or 2015. That is, there has been an excessive rise in temperature of late. This will bring about changes in the climate. Rise in temperature will affect the cycle of seasons.

For instance, Kerala has now been witnessing an increasing incidence of cyclones. Cyclone Ockhi happened only recently. A similar fall-out of rising temperature is the occurrence of floods, caused by sudden downpours. This has happened not only in Kerala but in Japan and Uttarakhand as well. In fact, it is happening all around the world. What we experience in Kerala is the result of a one-degree rise in temperature in the Arabian Sea. Should this trend continue, Kerala will face more serious problems. This is caused by burning fossil fuels, a phenomenon that started 200 years ago with the Industrial Revolution. Fossil fuels are deposits of organic material, petrol and coal found deep underground, created by trees and animals buried within the earth. They are rich sources of carbon. Burning it triggers the release of carbon trapped inside it, causing a thickening of the layer of carbon dioxide enveloping the earth.

Those of you who are sceptical of this may try wrapping a woollen blanket around themselves. It traps the heat inside and soon you will find yourself sweating. When the heat becomes unbearable, you will throw the blanket aside. Similarly, the sunlight hits the surface of the earth and gets reflected. But as the layer of carbon dioxide enveloping our planet thickens, the heat trapped within will increase. An increase of a mere one degree is enough to bring about grave changes. Ice caps will melt, and sea levels will rise. According to studies, in the last 200 years, the sea level has risen by eight to nine inches. Three-fourths of this increase took place in the last 25 years. This is a dangerous situation.

Greenland is an island that is only half the size of India. For the first time in the last 70 years, that place witnessed rainfall, in August last year. That raised the temperature by 0.38 or 0.48 degrees. The spell of rain lasted seven to eight hours, dumping 700 crore tons of water on the island. That was the reason for the rise in temperature. If all the ice in that place melts, the sea level will rise by seven metres. Generally speaking, a rise in 1.5 to 2 degrees in temperature is enough to raise the sea level by one metre. If that happens, all the coastal cities in the world, including our own Kochi, will go under water. These are the natural tragedies awaiting us.
What we can do to avert it is this: stop burning fossil fuels, like carbon or coal; avoid the use of petroleum products, including cooking gas. Emission of the greatest volume of greenhouse gases in America comes from the transportation sector; that is, nearly 29 %.  Similarly, we burn a lot of fuel while producing electricity. When the atmospheric temperature rises, we use air conditioners which in turn emit harmful gases, causing holes in the ozone layer. Gas emission from refrigerators also cause similar harm. Some people warn us that if such a trend continues, the temperature will go up by 2.5 degrees. Or, even by 4 degrees. And this has sparked off debates now.

But 40 years back, this was not a subject of discussion. For instance, when the Silent Valley project was proposed, it met with stiff resistance because of the fear that it would destroy the rich biodiversity of the region. However, what was suggested as an alternative then was a coal-fired thermal power plant! Nobody thought about the pollution or the carbon dioxide emission it would cause. I don’t think anyone gave any serious consideration to the phenomenon of global warming then.

I recall an interesting childhood experience. There was a farming supervisor named Gopalan near my house, who hailed from Kuttanad. It was from him that I first heard about this phenomenon of rising temperature – he did not use the word ‘global warming’ obviously. What he said was: “Whereas a measure of paddy took four or five days to dry during my childhood days, it takes only one day now”. He said this in 1980. But I did not take his story seriously then. Today, when I think of it, I realize that back then even common people had begun to take note of rising temperature because it had started affecting their daily life. Now scientists are aware of it because of natural catastrophes.

But common people will be the most affected. There will be scarcity of drinking water and food, destruction of crops, natural disasters like cyclones. Fishermen’s livelihood will suffer. In the scramble for resources that will follow, the common people will be the worst hit. But all this carbon and fuel is burnt not for the benefit of the common masses but to further improve the lifestyle and business prospects of the rich. A minority – like you and me – hear about such things on the mobile. Until 1990, the computer was not widely used. The heat generated by computers, mobile phones, internet servers that store data – the whole world is full of them – is considerable. But nobody speaks about it.  Similarly, the heat generated by wars – in Iraq, Ukraine, etc. through the explosion of bombs or for the manufacture of rockets – contributes to the overall rise in temperature.

And yet, claims are being made about arresting global warming, that it will be brought down by 1.2 degrees by 2030, 1.5 degrees by 2050, and to the old state in 2070, and so on. But from what we see now, these goals do not look achievable. We do not hear about anyone who is working towards it sincerely, other than ordinary people. We can do a lot of things. One of them is planting trees. I shall talk later about what we can do to arrest climate change which comes from burning fossil fuels, contaminating the atmosphere, causing a heating of the planet and thus bringing changes in weather patterns.

Today is June 22. The new Malayalam month of Mithunam [mid-June to mid-July] has begun, after Idavappaathi. Idavappaathi usually starts in the beginning of June, with its characteristic heavy downpour, and progresses to Thiruvathiramazha where drops of rain falling continuously resemble the wick of a traditional lamp. That is also called Thiruvathira njaattuvela. Earlier, pepper vines were planted in our land during the time of Thiruvathira njaattuvela. The Europeans came looking for black gold and took away our pepper vines. When people complained, the king is said to have consoled them, saying that the Europeans can take away only our pepper but not our Thiruvathira njaattuvela! But these phenomena that all of us take great pride in – Idavappaathi, Thiruvathira njaattuvela and Thulavarsham – have gone awry. And this is only the beginning of climate change. What await us are large-scale catastrophes.

What we can do is reduce the use of fuels to the maximum extent possible, and plant the maximum number of trees. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and store carbon inside them. The stored carbon gets released only when we burn wood. Therefore building houses with wood is not a problem. But that does not mean we should cut down all the trees we see around us, and use them. As long as they remain standing, they will absorb carbon. After a certain stage, they can be put to use because they cause less pollution than cement, concrete and iron. But this is a subject that needs to be studied further. If all this information is good for starters, and will help you in any way, I will be very pleased.