Resources Research

Making local sense of food, urban growth, population and energy

A method for a post-carbon monsoon

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The uses to which we have put available climatic observations no longer suit an India which is learning to identify the impacts of climate change. Until 2002, the monsoon season was June to September, there was an assessment in May of how well (or not) the monsoon could turn out, and short-term forecasts of one to three days were available only for the major metros and occasionally a state that was in the path of a cyclone. But 2002 saw the first of the four El Niño spells that have occurred since 2000, and the effects on our Indian summer monsoon began to be felt and understood.

The India Meteorology Department (which has become an everyday abbreviation of IMD for farmers and traders alike) has added computational and analytical resources furiously over the last decade. The new research and observational depth is complemented by the efforts of a Ministry of Earth Sciences which has channelled the copious output from our weather satellites, under the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), and which is interpreted by the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), to serve meteorological needs.

The IMD, with 559 surface observatories, 100 Insat satellite-based data collection platforms, an ‘integrated agro-advisory service of India’ which has provided district-level forecasts since 2008, a High Performance  Computing  System commissioned in 2010 (whose servers run at Pune, Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai, Guwahati, Nagpur, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Chandigarh, Bhubaneswar, Hyderabad and New Delhi) ploughs through an astonishing amount of numerical data every hour. Over the last four years, more ‘products’ (as the IMD system calls them) based on this data and its interpretation have been released via the internet into the public domain. These are reliable, timely (some observation series have three-hour intervals), and valuable for citizen and administrator alike.

The new 11-grade indicator for assessing weekly rainfall departures in districts. Same data, but dramatically more useful guidance.

The new 11-grade indicator for assessing weekly rainfall departures in districts. Same data, but dramatically more useful guidance.

Even so, the IMD’s framing of how its most popular measures are categorised is no longer capable of describing what rain – or the absence of rain – affects our districts. These popular measures are distributed every day, weekly and monthly in the form of ‘departures from normal’ tables, charts and maps. The rain adequacy categories are meant to guide alerts and advisories. There are four: ‘normal’ is rainfall up to +19% above a given period’s average and also down to -19% from that same average, ‘excess’ is +20% rain and more, ‘deficient’ is -20% to -59% and ‘scanty’ is -60% to -99%. These categories can mislead a great deal more than they inform, for the difference between an excess of +21% and an excess of +41% can be the difference between water enough to puddle rice fields and a river breaking its banks to ruin those fields.

In today’s concerns that have to do with the impacts of climate change, with the increasing variability of the monsoon season, and especially with the production of food crops, the IMD’s stock measurement ‘product’ is no longer viable. It ought to have been replaced at least a decade ago, for the IMD’s Hydromet Division maintains weekly data by meteorological sub-division and by district. This series of running records compares any given monsoon week’s rainfall, in a district, with the long period average (a 50-year period). Such fineness of detail must be matched by a measuring range-finder with appropriate  interpretive indicators. That is why the ‘no rain’, ‘scanty’, ‘deficient’, ‘normal’ or ‘excess’ group of legacy measures must now be discarded.

In its place an indicator of eleven grades translates the numeric density of IMD’s district-level rainfall data into a much more meaningful code. Using this code we can immediately see the following from the chart ‘Gauging ten weeks of rain in the districts’:

1. That districts which have experienced weeks of ‘-81% and less’ and ‘-61% to -80%’ rain – that is, very much less rain than they should have had – form the largest set of segments in the indicator bars.

2. That districts which have experienced weeks of ‘+81% and over’ rain – that is, very much more rain than they should have had – form the next largest set of segments in the indicator bars.

3. That the indicator bars for ‘+10% to -10%’, ‘-11% to -20%’ and ‘+11% to +20%’ are, even together, considerably smaller than the segments that show degrees of excess rain and degrees of deficient rain.

Far too many districts registering rainfall departures in the categories that collect extremes of readings. This is the detailed reading required to alert state administrations to drought, drought-like and potential flood conditions.

Far too many districts registering rainfall departures in the categories that collect extremes of readings. This is the detailed reading required to alert state administrations to drought, drought-like and potential flood conditions.

Each bar corresponds to a week of district rainfall readings, and that week of readings is split into eleven grades. In this way, the tendency for administrations, citizens, the media and all those who must manage natural resources (particularly our farmers), to think in terms of an overall ‘deficit’ or an overall ‘surplus’ is nullified. Demands for water are not cumulative – they are made several times a day, and become more or less intense according to a cropping calendar, which in turn is influenced by the characteristics of a river basin and of an agro-ecological zone.

The advantages of the modified approach (which adapts the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s ‘Global Information and Early Warning System’ categorisation, designed to alert country food and agriculture administrators to impending food insecurity conditions) can be seen by comparing the single-most significant finding of the IMD’s normal method, with the finding of the new method, for the same point during the monsoon season.

By 12 August 2015 the Hydromet Division’s weekly report card found that 15% of the districts had recorded cumulative rainfall of ‘normal’ and 16% has recorded cumulative rainfall of ‘deficient’. There are similar tallies concerning rainfall distribution – by region and temporally – for the meteorological sub-divisions and for states. In contrast the new eleven-grade measure showed that in seven out of 10 weeks, the ‘+81% and over’ category was the most frequent or next-most frequent, and that likewise, the ‘-81% and less’ category was also the most frequent or next-most frequent in seven out of 10 weeks. This finding alone demonstrates the ability of the new methodology to provide early warnings of climatic trauma in districts, which state administrations can respond to in a targeted manner.

So very many of us

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The current world population of 7.3 billion is expected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100, according to ‘World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision”, which is compiled and issued by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations.

Of particular interest to us is the prediction (based on very sound estimates and the careful curation of data) that some time in 2022 the population of India will exceed the population of China. Currently, the population of China is approximately 1.38 billion compared with 1.31 billion (the UN-DESA estimate as of now) in India.

Population growth till here and the fan-tail of predictive projections for the next 85 years. Differing trajectories start becoming visible only from the mid-2020s. Image: UN-DESA

Population growth till here and the fan-tail of predictive projections for the next 85 years. Differing trajectories start becoming visible only from the mid-2020s. Image: UN-DESA

By 2022, both countries are expected to have approximately 1.4 billion people. Thereafter, India’s population is projected to continue growing for several decades to 1.5 billion in 2030 and 1.7 billion in 2050, while the population of China is expected to remain fairly constant until the 2030s, after which it is expected to slightly decrease.

China is now a ‘low fertility country’, that is, one in which women have fewer than 2.1 children, on average, over their life-times. Low-fertility countries now include all of Europe and Northern America, plus 20 countries of Asia. India is an ‘intermediate fertility’ country, that is, where women have on average between 2.1 and 5 children. Intermediate-fertility countries are found in many regions, with the largest being India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Mexico, and the Philippines.

More urbanisation is expected which will concentrate larger numbers of people into town and city wards. Few will be as ideal as this graphic suggests.

More urbanisation is expected which will concentrate larger numbers of people into town and city wards. Few will be as ideal as this graphic suggests.

Most of the projected increase in the world’s population can be attributed to a short list of high-fertility countries, mainly in Africa, or countries with already large populations. During 2015-2050, half of the world’s population growth is expected to be concentrated in nine countries: India, Nigeria, Pakistan,  D R Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania, USA, Indonesia and Uganda (listed according to the size of their contribution to the total growth).

Currently, among the ten largest countries in the world, one is in Africa (Nigeria), five are in Asia (Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, and Pakistan), two are in Latin America (Brazil and Mexico), one is in Northern America (USA), and one is in Europe (Russia). Of these, Nigeria’s population, currently the seventh largest in the world, is growing the most rapidly. Consequently, the population of Nigeria is projected to surpass that of the USA by about 2050, at which point it would become the third largest country by population in the world.

Greece against a cast of contemptible characters

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These images (taken from various news agencies) show how ordinary Greeks, but particularly elderly pensioners, have been tormented by EU politicians. This has been portrayed as a Greek debt crisis, but it is much more a crisis about what Europe is and stands for.

These images (taken from various news agencies) show how ordinary Greeks, but particularly elderly pensioners, have been tormented by EU politicians. This has been portrayed as a Greek debt crisis, but it is much more a crisis about what Europe is and stands for.

Update 11 July: The Greek parliament supported a so-called package of spending cuts, pension savings and tax increases with a majority of 251 votes in the 300-seat parliament. This is what the 61.3% ‘NO’ vote rejected six days ago! Naturally, this has set the stage for massive internal turmoil in Greece. Heavyweights of Syriza, parliament speaker Zoi Konstantopoulou and energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, and 15 other members either voted against the plan, abstained or were absent from the vote. Another 15 Syriza members of parliament said they also opposed the proposed measures and could reject them in future votes even though they supported prime minister Alexis Tsipras and his template of borrowed proposals. With breath-taking cynicism, the Syriza leader has presented this direct repudiation of the will of the Greek people as a “triumph of democracy”. Who is this man Tsipras working for?

The newest alumnus of the Transatlantic School of Austerity and Misery, with a special interest in 'haircuts'

The newest alumnus of the Transatlantic School of Austerity and Misery, with a special interest in ‘haircuts’

Beyond the beggaring calculations made by the economists and financiers of the Troika and the ahistorical stubbornness of the Berlin-Paris ruling cliques who will still not deviate from their ‘austerity’ prescription, is the legitimacy of Greece’s claim to autonomy. “Autonomy, the willingness and capacity to question and change our collective laws, is a universal principle and one that should be at the heart of the European project,” writes Giorgos Kallis. “Greece’s disobedience to the rule of the markets is a universalistic call for reclaiming democracy for all Europe, not a particularist protection of its own backyard. This is not a demand for the rest of Europe to obey to Greece’s will, but a plea to listen, reflect and genuinely co-decide.” Ah but Berlin cannot abide any other will than its own.

It is finanzpolitik, or perhaps the political economy of occupation by austerity. Whatever it is called in Eurolingua it has proved politically effective for European elites in general to present the Greek problem as their own debt problem. Doing so has provided a powerful ideological and moral justification for the brutal austerity policies prescribed to the countries of the European ‘periphery’ (and especially Greece) in recent years. And so, as Thomas Fazi has narrated, Euro-leaders’ “deeply moral interpretation of the euro crisis – which pitted the profligate, debt-ridden wrongdoers of the periphery against the virtuous, responsible countries of the core – rapidly became conventional wisdom among European politicians, commentators and bureaucrats”.

On Sunday 5 July 2015 Europe was shown to be imprisoned by its institutions. But the people of Greece chose with dignity and in solidarity to expose the prison, and walk away.

The landslide ‘no’ (or OXI) vote in the 5 July referendum on austerity in Greece is an overwhelming repudiation of the European Union and the austerity agenda pursued all over Europe since the 2008 economic crisis. The weapon of austerity is the euro, and it works by wiping out genuine economic and social progress through productive systems composed largely of small and medium enterprises, because this weapon pries open these local ‘markets’ (a despised term) to raids by financial monopolies.

RG_greece_20150710_gr3Such raids have the sanction of the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission, and the European Central Bank – together known as the troika which has waged war on the Greeks. The troika has waged such war as punishment (in the words of European politicians such as Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande, Martin Schulz, Wolfgang Schäuble and David Cameron) to the Greeks for their own failed design of the Euro in a system that is economically unsustainable and socially perverse.

“Shame on all those who have accepted the idea that the troika represents the European peoples,” wrote Samir Amin. “Shame on the governments that have installed in the presidency of ‘their Europe’ a Luxembourgian functionary in the service of a tax haven; installed in the management of ‘their central bank’ a character who made a career at Goldman Sachs, the bank associated with all the financial villainies of the century.”

RG_greece_20150710_gr1The ‘OXI’ (no) in the referendum means the Greeks voted for a socially just distribution of the burdens for the sustainable reforms necessary in their country to fight corruption and nepotism. They voted for sustainable reconstruction and growth of their economic structures, to reduce military spending and for mandatory negotiations on debt restructuring. Those who so voted on 5 July were 61.3% of the Greek people, drawn largely from the working class and poorer layers of the population.

But what happens now?

There is not much belief that the Syriza government will fulfil the ‘no’ vote mandate and bring austerity to an end. Reportage via independent media say that most people fear there will be new austerity measures, which the mass of the population can no longer take.

RG_greece_20150710_gr2Should the Greek Parliament approve talks on the new proposal (it may be acceptable to the Eurozone’s negotiators but has will still have to be approved by the European Parliament) there will be a short period during which the people of Greece will reflect on what is being done. They may decide to tolerate more ‘negotiation’, or not. They could rise up against a government that has gone back on its promises and disregarded their will as expressed in the referendum.

On the other hand Germany will balk at offering any debt relief. The European financial press (such as it is) is carrying reports that a section of German capitalist strategists are calculating that it is now cheaper to kick Greece out of the euro (provide a ‘humanitarian relief aid’ dollop) than continue to negotiate a formal bailout. A French publication reported that the Greek negotiation team was asked by Schäuble, “how much money do you want to leave the euro”, underlining how execrable the Euro political class has become.

These have been disastrous times for people in Greece. Salaries have been cut by half, taxes have increased eight times (not by 8% or 80% but eight times more), there are 1.5 million people unemployed and that is a full third of the working class, those who have jobs have often not been paid in weeks or months. There is misery and 60 euros as pension for those who can find 60 euros to draw out, but the Greeks want to their overthrow of austerity to be historic and permanent.

The power-guzzling Indian steel genie

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The Parliamentary Consultative Committee to the Ministry of Steel and Mines has just met. Its chairperson, the Union Minister of Steel and Mines, Narendra Singh Tomar, has following the meeting made an announcement which, if even partly pursued, will alter hugely India’s energy use, our energy mix and our emissions of CO2. Its ecological impact can barely be guessed at.

Tomar said that until 2014 India was the fourth largest producer of iron and steel in the world (after China, Japan and USA). The first five months of 2015, according to industry data, indicate that India will end the year one position higher. This possibility is seen as a triumphant landmark by the present government, for USA will then be relegated to fourth place.

As the table alongside shows, India produced 81.3 million tons of steel in 2013 and 86.5 million tons in 2014 (data from the World Steel Association). The achievement that the minister is so proud about is the data for January to May 2015, during which time India produced 37.6 mt compared with the USA which produced 33.1 mt. On this basis, Tomar and the ministry and the country’s iron and steel industry see a bright future.

Country-wise steel production. Table and data: World Steel Association

Country-wise steel production. Table and data: World Steel Association

So bright indeed that Tomar (having duly consulted the mandarins who are in the know of such things in the ministry) announced that as India’s per capita steel consumption is “quite low, 60 kilograms as against the world average of 216 kilograms, this low consumption no doubt indicates huge growth potential for Indian steel industry”. It hasn’t occurred to any inside the ministry or outside it apparently to wonder whether we would get by quite nicely with 60 kg per person per year or even 50 kg, now that so much has already been built using iron and steel.

But no, Tomar has instead grandly announced to the members of the Parliamentary Consultative Committee that “India has fixed a target of 300 million tonnes production capacity by 2025 and steel ministry is working out action plan and strategies to achieve this target”!

Where did this absurd ‘target’ come from? Does the Union Minister of Steel and Mines simply make numbers up as he wanders about gawking at blast furnaces and iron ore mines or are there advisers in this ministry, in the Ministry of Power (which includes coal and renewable energy), in the Ministry of Environment, in the Ministry of Rural Development and in particular in that ministry’s Department of Land Resources, who has given him these numbers? Or has this monstrous and foolish number come from the world’s iron and steel industry and in particular its Indian private sector heavyweights?

The World Steel Association, which serves as the apex association of the metalmen, scarcely bothers to camouflauge what it wants – that the two big and neo-liberally growing Asian economies continue to feed their appetite for iron and steel. “Despite continued turbulence around the world in 2014, it has been another record year for the steel industry,” explained the Association in its 2014 statistical round-up. “Crude steel production totalled 1,665 million tonnes, an increase of 1% compared to 2013. 2014 also saw the emergence of a new phase in steel markets. For the past decade, the steel industry was dominated by events in China. The evidence is that the steel industry is now entering a period of pause before undoubtedly picking up again when markets other than China drive new demand.”

That phase concerns India, the pause is the building of new steel-making capacity in India (and the staking out of new areas, many under dense old forest, to dig for iron ore and for coal), we are the market other than China (whose steel plants are working at 70% of capacity, if that, and whose consumption growth has stopped), and it is India, in this metallic calculation, that will drive new demand. That is the reason for Tomar’s announcement of per capita kilo-consumption of steel and the 300 million ton figure.

It is scandalous that a minister in charge of a major ministry makes such an announcement without a moment’s thought given to what it means in terms of energy use and what it means in terms of raw material. It takes a great deal of energy to make a ton of steel. Industry engineers call it energy intensity and, including the wide range of methods used to make steel and the wide variety of raw materials used, this energy intensity varies from about 15 gigajoules (GJ) per ton to about 23 GJ per ton.

Put another way, it takes as much energy as 22 average urban households in India use in a month (at about 250 units, or kilowatt hours, per month each) to make a ton of steel. This is the equivalence that ought to have been discussed by the Parliamentary Consultative Committee so that choices can be made that lead us to decisions that do not bury us under kilograms of steel while we suffocate from pollution and have no trees left to provide shade. The equivalence begins with the 86.5 million tons of steel India produced in 2014. This is 237,000 tons per day. India also generated some 1.2 million gigawatt hours of electricity in 2014-15. The two measures are not operands in the same equation because steelmaking also uses coking coal directly.

What we do know is that the residential and industrial sectors consume about 40% and 30% respectively of energy generated, that the making of iron and steel is extremely energy-intensive (it is estimated to account for about 6.5% of India’s total emissions), and that this sector alone accounts for a quarter of India’s total industrial energy consumption. And this is at 86.5 million tons, whether we stand at third or fourth place on the world steelmaking victory podium.

To make these many tons (for our regulation 60 kilos per year ration) it takes a gigantic quantity of raw material. A ton of steel produced in a basic oxygen furnace (which is how 42% of our steel is made) requires 0.96 ton of liquid hot metal (this in turn comes from 1.6 ton of iron ore and 0.6 ton of coking coal) and 0.2 ton of steel scrap. A ton of steel produced in an electric-arc furnace (58% of steel is made this way in India) requires around 0.85 tons of steel scrap and supplementary material amounting to about 0.3 tons (the coal having been burnt in the thermal power plant elsewhere).

What justification can Minister Tomar and his associates provide for this mad project to enclose all Indians in choking suits of armour? it comes from the world’s foremost ironmongers, speaking through their association: “The impact of urbanisation will have a key role to play in the future. It is estimated that a little more than one billion people will move to towns and cities between now and 2030. This major flow will create substantial new demand for steel to be used in infrastructure developments such as water, energy and mass transit systems as well as major construction and housing programmes.” And there we have it – the urbanisation obsession of India translated into ever heavier per capita allotments of metal, and to hell with the trees and the hills.

Written by makanaka

July 7, 2015 at 23:18

Mapping climate behaviour, ten days at a time

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This year, the Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS, a project of the FAO) has brought into public domain a new rainfall and vegetation assessment indicator. The indicator takes the form of maps which describe conditions over blocks of ten days each, with each such block termed a dekad (from the Greek for ‘ten’). Thus we have visual views of divisions of thirds of a month which from a crop cultivation point of view, now lies between the weekly and fortnightly assessments regularly provided by agri-meteorological services.

How to read the colours used in the rainfall anomaly maps.

How to read the colours used in the rainfall anomaly maps.

In 2015, what was quickly called “out of season” rainfall was experienced in most of India during March and April. These conditions carried over into May and that is why the typical contrast between a hot and rainless May and a wet June is not seen.

The panel of maps shows the incidence of normal, below normal and above normal rain during six dekads of May and June. Greens signal above normal, yellows are normal and reds are below normal. The first dekad of May looks like what the second week of June normally does, but for the large above normal zone in the north-central Deccan. The second dekad of May has in this set had the largest number of above normal points, with more rain than usual over the southern peninsula, and over Chhattisgarh, Odisha, West Bengal. Rajasthan and Punjab.

The third dekad of May shows most of India as far below normal. This changes in the first dekad of June, with rain over the eastern coast registering much above normal for the period – Tamil Nadu, Rayalaseema, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha. During the second dekad of June, the divide north and south of the Vindhyas is visible, when northern India and the Gangetic belt continued to experience very hot days whereas over Telengana, Karnataka, Vidarbha and Madhya Maharashtra there was above normal rainfall. During the third dekad of June the picture was almost reversed as the southern states fell below their running rainfall averages.

This panel describes not rainfall but the anomalies (above and below) recorded in received rainfall. At the level of a meteorological sub-division or a river basin, the anomaly maps are a quick and reliable guide for judging the impacts of climate variability on crop phases (preparation, sowing, harvest) and on water stocks.

Winds of monsoon India

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This panel of four images shows: top left, winds at around sea level; top right, winds at about 1,460 metres altitude (around 4,780 feet); lower left, winds at 3,010 metres (9,880 feet); lower right, winds at 5,570 metres (18,280 feet).

These are the wind patterns that are bringing the monsoon to us from just above the equator, as they travel east-north-eastwards towards the Indian peninsula, and earlier north-north-westwards as they travelled from near Madagascar and the Mascarene Islands, which lie about 21 degrees south of the equator.

RG_India_monsoon_winds_20150613_bIn the top two images, the south-west (from our point of view) winds sweeping across the Arabian Sea are the dominant feature, with the winds at the higher of the two altitudes (right, at 850 millibars, or mb, which is around 1,460 metres) rushing in at just the direction and velocity they ought to. Winds at near-sea level are less powerful, and in both the two top images winds are also seen travelling due north up the Bay of Bengal.

In the lower two images, the vortex of Cyclone Ashobaa is clearly seen, with wind trails running due east across the Arabian Sea, then across peninsular India and out over the Bay of Bengal towards Burma. More markdly with the winds in the lower left image, which are at 700 mb or 3,010 metres, they scarcely touch central and north-western India and the Gangetic belt (whereas the winds at lower altitudes, as seen in the upper two images, do).

Finally, in the lower right image are the winds at 500 mb, or 5,570 metres. Here we see them streaming powerfully down from the Hindu Kush-western Himalaya, across north India and thence right across the Gangetic belt, through Assam and the north-east. These are the major wind patterns we have now in mid-July, and they will change in strength, direction and intent as El Nino changes and also as the Northern hemisphere summer continues over the Eurasian land mass.

These wonderful images are taken from the ‘earth’ weather observation visualisation which skillfully employs the forecasting by supercomputers of current weather data from the Global Forecast System (GFS) and the NOAA/NCEP climate and weather modelling programmes.

Written by makanaka

June 13, 2015 at 21:54

To localise and humanise India’s urban project

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Cities and towns have outdated and inadequate master plans that are unable to address the needs of inhabitants. Photo: Rahul Goswami (2013)

Cities and towns have outdated and inadequate master plans that are unable to address the needs of inhabitants. Photo: Rahul Goswami (2013)

The occasional journal Agenda (published by the Centre for Communication and Development Studies) has focused on the subject of urban poverty. A collection of articles brings out the connections between population growth, the governance of cities and urban areas, the sub-populations of the ‘poor’ and how they are identified, the responses of the state to urbanisation and urban residents (links at the end of this post).

My contribution to this issue has described how the urbanisation of India project is being executed in the name of the ‘urban poor’. But the urban poor themselves are lost in the debate over methodologies to identify and classify them and the thicket of entitlements, provisions and agencies to facilitate their ‘inclusion’ and ‘empowerment’. I have divided my essay into four partspart one may be read here, part two is found here, part three is here and this is part four:

The reason they pursue this objective in so predatory a manner is the potential of GDP being concentrated – their guides, the international management consulting companies (such as McKinsey, PriceWaterhouse Coopers, Deloitte, Ernst and Young, Accenture and so on), have determined India’s unique selling proposition to the world for the first half of the 21st century. It runs like this: “Employment opportunities in urban cities will prove to be a catalyst for economic growth, creating 70% of net new jobs while contributing in excess of 70% to India’s GDP.” Naturally, the steps required to ensure such a concentration of people and wealth-making capacity include building new urban infrastructure (and rebuilding what exists, regardless of whether it serves the ward populations or not).

"Employment opportunities in urban cities will prove to be a catalyst for economic growth" is the usual excuse given for the sort of built superscale seen in this metro suburb. Photo: Rahul Goswami (2013)

“Employment opportunities in urban cities will prove to be a catalyst for economic growth” is the usual excuse given for the sort of built superscale seen in this metro suburb. Photo: Rahul Goswami (2013)

The sums being floated today for achieving this camouflaged subjugation of urban populations defy common sense, for any number between Rs 5 million crore and Rs 7 million crore is being proposed, since an “investment outlay will create a huge demand in various core and ancillary sectors causing a multiplier effect through inter-linkages between 254 industries including those in infrastructure, logistics and modern retail… it will help promote social stability and economic equality through all-round development of urban economic centres and shall improve synergies between urban and rural centres”.

Tiers of overlapping programmes and a maze of controls via agencies shaded in sombre government hues to bright private sector colours are already well assembled and provided governance fiat to realise this ‘transformation’, as every government since the Tenth Plan has called it (the present new government included). For all the academic originality claimed by a host of new urban planning and habitat research institutes in India (many with faculty active in the United Nations circuits that gravely discuss the fate of cities; for we have spawned a new brigade of Indian – though not Bharatiya – urban studies brahmins adept at deconstructing the city but ignorant of such essentials as ward-level food demand), city planning remains a signal failure.

Typically, democratisation and self-determination is permitted only in controlled conditions. Photo: Rahul Goswami (2013)

Typically, democratisation and self-determination is permitted only in controlled conditions. Photo: Rahul Goswami (2013)

Other than the metropolitan cities and a small clutch of others (thanks to the efforts of a few administrative individuals who valued humanism above GDP), cities and towns have outdated and inadequate master plans that are unable to address the needs of city inhabitants in general (and of migrants in particular). These plans, where they exist, are technically prepared and bureaucratically envisioned with little involvement of citizens, and so the instruments of exclusion have been successfully transferred to the new frameworks that determine city-building in India.

Democratisation and self-determination is permitted only in controlled conditions and with ‘deliverables’ and ‘outcomes’ attached – organic ward committees and residents groups that have not influenced the vision and text of a city master plan have even less scope today to do so inside the maze of technocratic and finance-heavy social re-engineering represented by the JNNURM, RAY, UIDSSMT, BSUP, IHSDP and NULM and all their efficiently bristling sub-components. The rights of inhabitants to a comfortable standard of life that does not disturb environmental limits, to adequate and affordable housing, to safe and reliable water and sanitation, to holistic education and healthcare, and most of all the right to alter their habitats and processes of administration according to their needs, all are circumscribed by outside agencies.

Managed socialisation in our cities and towns must give way to organic groups. Photo: Rahul Goswami (2013)

Managed socialisation in our cities and towns must give way to organic groups. Photo: Rahul Goswami (2013)

It is not too late to find remedies and corrections. “As long as the machinery is the same, if we are simply depending on the idealism of the men at the helm, we are running a grave risk. The Indian genius has ever been to create organisations which are impersonal and are self-acting. Mere socialisation of the functions will not solve our problem.” So J C Kumarappa had advised (the Kumarappa Papers, 1939-46) about 80 years ago, advice that is as sensible in the bastis of today as it was to the artisans and craftspeople of his era.

For the managed socialisation of the urbanisation project to give way to organic groups working to build the beginnings of simpler ways in their communities will require recognition of these elements of independence now. It is the localisation of our towns and cities that can provide a base for reconstruction when existing and planned urban systems fail. Today some of these are finding ‘swadeshi’ within a consumer-capitalist society that sees them as EWS, LIG and migrants, and it is their stories that must guide urban India.

[Articles in the Agenda issue, Urban Poverty, are: How to make urban governance pro-poor, Counting the urban poor, The industry of ‘empowerment’, Data discrepancies, The feminisation of urban poverty, Making the invisible visible, Minorities at the margins, Housing poverty by social groups, Multidimensional poverty in Pune, Undermining Rajiv Awas Yojana, Resettlement projects as poverty traps, Participatory budgeting, Exclusionary cities.]

It’s time to permanently retire the UN climate circus

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‘World on Fire’ by Spiros Derveniotis, courtesy Cartoon Movement,

‘World on Fire’ by Spiros Derveniotis, courtesy Cartoon Movement,

This year’s ritual of talking about climate and talking about the effects of changing climates has begun. This is the 21st year that this is being done, and in none of the previous 20 years have the talkers achieved any worthwhile goal. They will not this year either, although much money will be spent on slick and colourful messages to convince the publics of 196 countries otherwise.

On 1 June the Bonn Climate Change Conference June 2015 began. The actors at this conference are mainly from the same cast that has played these roles for 20 years. They have been replaced here and there, and overall the main cast and supporting casts have grown in number – I think this growth in the number of climate negotiators and climate experts matches the growth rate of parts per million of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, there may be a correlation that can inspire a new discipline of research.

These conferences are expensive, for thousands of people are involved. Most of these people profess to be concerned about climate change and its effects and most of these people maintain curriculum vitaes that are tomes designed to awe and impress, usually with the purpose of securing well-paid consultancies or academic tenureships or some such similar lucrative sinecures. It is an industry, this negotiating climate change, whose own rates of growth are about as steep as the number of those, in the OECD countries, who fall into debt. As before, there may be interesting correlations to note.

The soundbite, big data and cool vector graphics world of UNFCCC climate negotiation pretense has gone on for far too long.

The soundbite, big data and cool vector graphics world of UNFCCC climate negotiation pretense has gone on for far too long.

The publics of the 196 countries that are constrained to send emissaries and observers and negotiators to these colossal jamborees have been lied to for 20 years quite successfully, and this 21st year we will see the lies repeated and presented all wrapped up in new tinsel. Many of these countries – from south-eastern and central Europe, from small island states in the Pacific and Indian oceans, from the Caribbean, from South America and from South-East Asia – pay for the useless privilege of sending representatives to attend this annual round of sophisticated tomfoolery. It is money down the drain for them.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) under whose aegis most of these jamborees are held, and in whose august name most of the hollow but portentous pronouncements are ritually made, is an organisation that is over the hill, round the bend and up the wall. It represents today nothing that is in the interest of the public and it represents today almost everything that is in the interest of the corporate plutocracy, whether global or regional or national.

A 21st edition of annual obfuscation by the UNFCCC and its crony institutions.

A 21st edition of annual obfuscation by the UNFCCC and its crony institutions.

Unembarrassed by its own hopelessly prodigal existence, the UNFCCC lines up ‘technical expert meetings’ month after month to produce suitably technical papers that would fill libraries, if they were printed. It arranges conclaves in expensive locales (all sponsored naturally) to gauge ‘mitigation ambition of countries through multilateral assessment’. It commissions extensive reviews of the adequacy of countries’ agreed goals to keep the global average temperature from rising beyond 2°C above pre-industrial levels and the abundantly-qualified authors of these reviews (which read very much like the reviews of 2014, 2013, 2012 and so on) self-importantly inform us that “the world is not yet on track to achieve the long-term global goal, but successful mitigation policies are known and must be scaled up urgently”, just as their predecessors did 20 years ago.

The main UNFCCC cast and its supporting cast (of thousands, but these thousands alas do not form the geographic representation that the United Nations system pretends to) spend days together at preparatory conferences and meetings, and pre-preparatory conferences and meetings, and agenda-setting conferences and meetings, and theme-outlining conferences and meetings, all year round. From somewhere within this flurry of busy nothingness they announce (perhaps on the days before the solstices and following the equinoxes) that new breakthroughs have been made in the negotiating text and that consensus is nigh.

This has gone on far too long. Twenty years ago, when this great obfuscation began, there were some 1.83 billion children (under 14 years old) in the world. Today they are at ages where they are finishing primary school, have begun working (many of them in informal, insecure, hazardous jobs whose paltry wages keep families alive) and a few are completing university degrees. Some of this 1.83 billion may have an interest in what climate is and why it changes but for them, the techno-financial labyrinths invented by the UNFCCC and its comfortable nest of crony institutions offer no enlightenment. For those young women and men, the cancerous industry of climate change negotiations has done nothing to ensure, during their lifetimes till now, any reduction in the exploitation and use of materials whose first and primary effect is to degrade the nature upon which we all depend. [This article has also been posted on the India Climate Portal.]

How El Niño plans to hijack monsoon 2015

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Whether the monsoon starts off on time, whether the June, July, August and September rainfall averages are met, and whether the seasonal pattern of the monsoon is maintained are expectations that must now be set aside.

According to the Climate Prediction Center’s ENSO probability forecast, there is a 90% chance that El Niño conditions will prevail through June to August of the northern hemisphere and a more than 80% percent chance El Niño will last throughout all of 2015.

What this means, especially when record warm global atmospheric temperatures (because we in South Asia and our neighbours in East Asia have continued burned coal as if the resulting CO2 and soot simply doesn’t exist) are being set, is the remaining months of 2015 – the monsoon period included – will bring strange, dangerous and extreme weather. We have already seen that over the last week, with the death toll from the heat wave having crossed 550.

The Ministry of Earth Sciences El Niño/La Nina, Indian Ocean Dipole Update (10 May 2015)

The Ministry of Earth Sciences El Niño/La Nina, Indian Ocean Dipole Update (10 May 2015)

For the first time since 1998 – ­the year of the strongest El Niño on record, which played havoc with the world’s weather patterns and was blamed for 23,000 deaths worldwide – ­ocean temperatures in all five El Niño zones have risen above 1 degree Celsius warmer than normal at the same time. That is read by climatologists and ocean scientists as presaging an El Niño that is moderately strong to strong. The forecast models updated in May are now unanimous that El Niño is going to keep strengthening through the rest of 2015. (See also the official forecast from the USA’s government climate science agency.)

El Niño’s home is in the tropical eastern Pacific, but we in India need to watch the waters to our south very closely. New research published in the journal Nature Geoscience has examined records going back to 1950 and noticed that Indian Ocean absorbed heat at a low level until 2003. Thereafter, the excess oceanic heat in the Pacific Ocean found its way through the Indonesian archipelago and into the Indian Ocean. This is the gigantic reservoir of watery heat that is going to dictate terms to our summer monsoon, or what our school textbooks call the south-west monsoon.

It is a worry for the entire South Asian region – India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, the Maldives, Burma, Afghanistan and Bhutan. That is why when the Forum on Regional Climate Monitoring-Assessment-Prediction for Asia (FOCRA) issued its seasonal outlook for June to August 2015 it predicted weaker than normal Indian summer and East Asian monsoons. Precipitation over land is influenced by external factors such as the El Niño Southern Oscillation (the ENSO), the ‘Indian Ocean Dipole’, the ‘Arctic Oscillation’, and so on.

There may be a “timely onset” of the monsoon, as the venerable IMD is used to saying, but that doesn’t mean our troubles are over. Far from it.

Three months of swinging Celsius

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The middle of February is when the chill begins to abate. The middle of May is when the monsoon is longed for. In our towns, district headquarters and cities, that climatic journey of 90 days is one of a steady rise in the reading of the temperature gauge, from the low 20s to the mid 30s.

This large panel of 90 days of daily average temperatures shows, in 57 ways, the effects of the rains that almost every district has experienced during the last two months. For each city, the curved line is the long period ‘normal’ for these 90 days, based on daily averages. Also for each city, the second line which swings above and below the ‘normal’ is the one that describes the changes in its daily average from February to May 2015.

[You can download (1.52MB) a full resolution image of the panel here.]

Where this second line crosses to rise above the normal, the intervening space is red, where it dips below is coloured blue. The patches of red or blue are what tell us about the effects of a lingering winter, or rains that have been called ‘unseasonal’ but which we think signal a shift in the monsoon patterns.

The 90-day temperature chart for Goa, with daily averages nearer the long period normal over the latter half.

The 90-day temperature chart for Goa, with daily averages nearer the long period normal over the latter half.

Amongst the readings there is to be found some general similarities and also some individual peculiarities. Overall, there are more blue patches than there are red ones, and that describes how most of the cities in this panel have escaped (till this point) the typical heat of April and May. The second noteworthy general finding is that these blue patches occur more frequently in the second half of the 90 days, and so are the result of the rainy spells experienced from March to early May.

Hisar (in Haryana) has remained under the normal temperature line for many more days than above or near it. So have Gorakhpur (Uttar Pradesh), Pendra (Chhattisgarh), Ranchi (Jharkhand), Nagpur (Maharashtra) and Jharsuguda (Odisha).

On the other hand in peninsular and south India, the below ‘normal’ daily average temperature readings are to be found in the latter half of the time period, coinciding with the frequent wet spells. This we can see in Kakinada, Kurnool and Anantapur (Andhra Pradesh), Bangalore, Gadag and Mangalore (Karnataka), Chennai, Cuddalore and Tiruchirapalli (Tamil Nadu) and Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala). [A zip file with the charts for all 57 cities is available here (1.2MB).]

What pattern will the next 30 days worth of temperature readings follow? In four weeks we will update this bird’s eye view of city temperatures, by which time monsoon 2015 should continue to give us more blues than reds. [Temperature time series plots are courtesy the NOAA Center for Weather and Climate Prediction.]


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