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Archive for September 2014

An erratic monsoon with late spikes

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RG_IMD_rain_deficit_chart_20140924From the first week of June 2014 until the middle of September 2014, there have been floods and conditions near drought in many districts, but for India the tale of monsoon 2014 comes from individual districts and not from a national ‘average’ or a ‘cumulative’.

The weekly rainfall variation table for Maharashtra's districts. The period of the last week of August and the first two weeks of September is the only period during which these districts received rainfall at or above normal. But overall, the second deficient category, coloured light rose, dominates (this table uses my modified monsoon measure methodology, see text for link)

The weekly rainfall variation table for Maharashtra’s districts. The period of the last week of August and the first two weeks of September is the only period during which these districts received rainfall at or above normal. But overall, the second deficient category, coloured light rose, dominates (this table uses my modified monsoon measure methodology, see text for link)

This revealing chart tells some of that tale. It shows that for the first six weeks of monsoon 2014, most districts recorded rain below their normals for those weeks.

The lines are percentile lines; they tell us what percent of districts recorded how much rainfall in a monsoon week relative to their normals for that week. This chart does not show how much rain – it shows distance away from a weekly normal for districts.

The left scale is a percentage – higher percentages indicate how much above normal districts recorded their rainfall, negative numbers show us how much below normal their rainfall was.

The dates (the bottom scale) are for weeks ending on that date for which ‘normals’ and departures from normal were recorded. The P_01 to P_09 lines are the percentiles (10th to 90th) of districts in every week.

The typical IMD map of 'normal' rainfall measured by the meteorological sub-divisions. The detailed weekly tables give us a very different picture.

The typical IMD map of ‘normal’ rainfall measured by the meteorological sub-divisions. The detailed weekly tables give us a very different picture.

The district weekly normal is an important measure for matters like sowing of crop and issuing water rationing instructions in talukas and blocks. In the week ending 23 July for example, we see that the 60th percentile line spiked above normal, and this means that in that week only four out of ten districts all over India received the amount of rain it should have based on the average of the last 50 years.

The districts overview chart is distilled from the detailed weekly tables I have assembled (see the image of the Maharashtra table). For the whole country, what the districts tell us about the monsoon so far is a very much more detailed and insightful tale than the typical offering by the Meteorological Department (see India sub-divisional map). These weekly district tables are coded using my modified monsoon methodology, geared towards aiding decisions for local administrations especially for prolonged arid conditions leading to drought.

Written by makanaka

September 24, 2014 at 10:06

How the Scot ‘no’ changed Europe and the UK

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Scotland_20140918_IndependentWith results from the 32 councils declared, the ‘no’ voters of Scotland carried referendum day and opted to stay in the union, that is, the United Kingdom. The margin – 55% ‘no’ to 45% ‘yes’ – still means that every other Scot wants independence of some sort from the UK and its London-centric Westminster government.

There are some immediate reliefs for London’s politicos who were besides themselves with worry until early today morning. The Union survives (but not in the same shape). Still, this means that the UK remains a G7 economic power and a member of the UN Security Council. It also means Scotland will get more devolution and David Cameron will not be forced out (which may be a disappointment to many more English people than the number of those who voted ‘yes’).

Those reliefs will not provide cheers until after this weekend. Monday morning, the United Kingdom will have to look back at the last few weeks of referendum mania, and the last few adrenalin and hope-filled days, and realise that the 307-year-old union must change course radically to stay in any shape at all (and even that will be on borrowed time). Here is why:

Scotland_20140918_TelegraphFirst, there has indeed been a victory for Scotland, for those who considered themselves patriots for voting ‘yes’ and for voting ‘no’. The victory is more devolution for Scotland. Scottish Nationalist Party leader Alex Salmond (who is also the governor of Scotland) is the one who initiated the referendum campaign and who had wanted three options on the ballot papers: independence; the status quo; or more devolution for Scotland.

Until mid-year, the British government led by prime minister David Cameron accepted only the independence question, for more powers to the regional government in Edinburgh was rejected outright, and at the time they thought so, polls were showing a comfortable majority against ‘yes’ – as high as 65% in 2013. That advantage dropped steadily, with a shock poll in early September 2014 putting the ‘yes’ camp for the first time in the lead. This is when Cameron and the leaders of the two other main parties in Westminster – Labour and the Liberal-Democrats – signed a pledge to give more powers to Scotland if its voters chose ‘no’. Cameron and the other leaders – Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and the Labour party’s leader Ed Miliband – will now have to deliver on those promises and also face claims from the other regions – Wales, England and Northern Ireland – for more money and powers.

Scotland_20140918_HeraldSecond, the ‘yes’ camp had painstakingly put together the arguments its campaign needed to show that Scotland could be successful as an independent country. These arguments appealed to many and convinced a good number – just over 44% as it has turned out – to take the leap of faith and thereby stare down the ‘no’ placards which read, “It’s not worth the risk”. Where the SNP fell short was in convincing more Scots about the risks and how to hedge them. But even in falling short, the ‘yes’ camp has proved to UK (and to all those regions in Europe seeking self-determination) that to seek independence is a powerful and uplifting tonic, which is a substance in very short supply all over the continent.

In the end – for so the commentators and observers mutter – it is the respectable middle class in sober dress who have tended to vote ‘no’, and so have the Labour stalwarts of all ages for whom some idea of ‘solidarity’ is apparently more comforting and familiar than the gritty new business of making independence work and dealing with the more obvious contradictions of the Salmond plan. Scottish monetary union with the UK also meant an independent Scotland using the pound as its single currency, but having no control over it.

Scotland_20140918_GuardianThe Euro crisis taught Europeans that a monetary union without a political one is a debilitating project, and so the risks shrewdly exploited by the ‘no’ camp (and the banks and the petroleum industry, let’s not forget them) came to weigh more than placards. Even so, Scottish independence as an idea based upon an implicit assumption of Scottish national and ethnic uniqueness – incompatible with the British identity, as any gent in a kilt would swear – has been considerably strengthened, at the cost of the Westminster style of government, whose days are from today numbered.

Third, the nature of this long demise. Early on Saturday morning political scientists were already saying that for British politics, much thought now needs to be given to constitutional arrangements, that constitutional change will have to be delivered. Such work will have to begin on Monday morning to make a start towards reconciling all the interests – Scots, English, Welsh, Northern Irish and local (however local chooses to define itself in the UK). It is not the kind of “epochal opportunity” that the SNP was waving overhead as a flag until yesterday, but it is for similar movements all over Europe, and the project in UK will be watched very carefully indeed in those countries and territories.

Scotland_20140918_TimesSalmond and the SNP will still govern Scotland until 2016 and the party will need to decide whether to run in 2016 on a stronger pledge for full independence (a two-stage referendum was amongst the eminently sensible suggestion made earlier this year). The question of equality will be raised more pertinently than before – in the Linlithgow Palace, Scotland’s James V built an elaborate fountain to express his equal status with his English uncle, Henry VIII, and amongst the ruins the fountain survives as a vivid reminder of Scottish pride. As for the economics of independence, it was Salmond who told the BBC: “The central mistake that the ‘no’ campaign has made is to tell the people of Scotland that the land of Adam Smith is not capable of running its own matters financially.”

The Scottish ‘no’ therefore is but a punctuation mark in a strong statement of cultural identity that began to be written well over half a millennium ago. A more thoughtful UK may result, one whose political performers learn to understand the union they claim to love. If so, the Scots have indeed won.

[The Khaleej Times published my article here.]

India’s giant megawatt trap

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A panel of charts that show India’s energy consumption, imports, and dependence on fossil fuel.

A panel of charts that show India’s energy consumption, imports, and dependence on fossil fuel.

Electricity as fundamental right and energy convenience as the basis of ‘development’ in Bharat and in India. If this is what Piyush Goyal means when he says his government is “is committed to ensure affordable 24×7 power” then it will come as yet another commitment that supports energy provision and consumption as the basis for determining the well-being of Bharat-vaasis and Indians (the UPA’s Bharat Nirman was the predecessor). But the Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Power, Coal and New and Renewable Energy cannot, using such a promise, ignore the very serious questions about the kind of ‘development’ being pursued by the NDA-BJP government and its environmental and social ramifications. [This article is also posted at the India Climate Portal.]

Goyal has said, via press conferences and meetings with the media, that the NDA government is committed to ensuring affordable power at all times (’24 x 7′ is the expression he used, which must be banished from use as being a violent idea – like nature our lives follow cycles of work and rest and ’24 x 7′ violently destroys that cycle). Goyal has promised, pending the taking of a series of steps his ministry has outlined, that such a round the clock provision of electric power will be extended to “all homes, industrial and commercial establishments” and that there will be “adequate power for farms within five years”.

The summary of India’s power generation capacity, by type and by region. Source for data: Central Electricity Authority

The summary of India’s power generation capacity, by type and by region. Source for data: Central Electricity Authority

Some of the very serious questions we raise immediately pertain to what Goyal – with the help of senior ministry officials and advisers – has said. The NDA-BJP government will spend Rs 75,600 crore to (1) supply electricity through separate feeders for agricultural and rural domestic consumption, said Goyal, which will be used to provide round the clock power to rural households; and (2) on an “integrated power development initiative” which involves strengthening sub-transmission and distribution systems in urban areas. This is part of the “transformative change” the ministry has assured us is for the better. Goyal and his officials see as a sign of positive transformation that coal-based electricity generation from June to August 2014 grew by nearly 21 per cent (compared with the same months in 2013), that coal production is 9% higher in August 2014 compared with August 2013, and that Coal India (the largest coal producer company in the world which digs out 8 of every 10 tons of coal mined in India) is going to buy 250 more goods rakes (they will cost Rs 5,000 crore) so that more coal can be moved to our coal-burning power plants.

UN_Climate_Summit_2014_smWe must question the profligacy that the Goyal team is advancing in the name of round the clock, reliable and affordable electricity to all. To do so is akin to electoral promises that are populist in nature – and which appeal to the desire in rural and urban residents alike for better living conditions – and which are entirely blind to the environmental, health, financial and behavioural aspects attached to going ahead with such actions. In less than a fortnight, prime minister Narendra Modi (accompanied by a few others) will attend the United Nations Climate Summit 2014. Whether or not this summit, like many before it, forces governments to stop talking and instead act at home on tackling anthropogenic climate change is not the point. What is of concern to us is what India’s representatives will say about their commitment to reduce the cumulative impact of India’s ‘development’, with climate change being a part of that commitment. [Please see the full article on this page.]

Written by makanaka

September 13, 2014 at 18:33

Physics and fatality

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Those working in the area of theoretical physics may have noticed that the mean time between being noticed by the rest of the world is about two years, give or take a year. For the last sic years, the upheavals in this rather rarefied field of study have been caused by a particle whose very existence had been questioned for the previous 55-odd years. That particle is the Higgs boson and it was in 2012 when evidence of its existence was discovered, fleetingly, by scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), in an enormous particle accelerator which has been built to look for what is supposed to not be there.

Now theoretical physics has again caused the encyclopaediae to be brought down from dusty shelves (or the electronic equivalent) for it is Stephen Hawking, perhaps our generation’s best known theoretical physicist, who has discussed the Higgs boson and its somewhat doom-laden proclivities. Hawking, formally the Director of Research at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics and Founder of the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at Cambridge, is otherwise recalled for stepping out of the realms of the strange with a book that artfully introduced his subject to the general reader, ‘A Brief History of Time’, which did remarkably well.

He has written several books since, and the latest, entitled ‘Starmus, 50 Years of Man in Space’, has the reference to the curious particle in the foreword. The Higgs boson, Hawking has written, “has the worrisome feature that it might become megastable at energies above 100bn giga-electron-volts (GeV)”. These are not energies that we can conceive of in our everyday routines, but the physicist has explained his concern: “This could mean that the universe could undergo catastrophic vacuum decay, with a bubble of the true vacuum expanding at the speed of light.” Put plainly, what this means is that the curiosity theorised by Peter Higgs in 1964 (and after whom it was named, despite having not been proven to exist) could if accelerated to high energy levels destroy the universe.

Are the worries of theoretical physicists our worries too? Not unless we are willing to cope with monstrously large numbers that represent energy and time. And Hawking’s warning carries a caveat. A machine to accelerate the Higgs boson to the point where it becomes troublesome, he decided, would need to be larger than Earth and, he added with more than a touch of mischief, “is unlikely to be funded in the present economic climate”. Until the next announcement about the Higgs boson and its unseen stablemates, a half hour with the umpteenth Star Trek sequel should suffice.

Where are Bharat’s local leafy greens in this chart?

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RG_IN_veg_2013_14_prodHere is the list of the principal vegetables grown, according to the third advance estimates for 2013-14 (the agricultural year is July to June) for horticultural crops. The figures are from the usual source, the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation, Ministry of Agriculture. The quantities are in million tons. Where’s the vegetable diversity? Where are the leafy greens? Are they included in that bland circle called ‘others’? The DAC won’t/can’t tell us.

This is an enlightening comment a reader of Resources Research. Neville said:

“We moved to Goa 5 years ago from California. First thing that shocked us was the (low) quality and diversity of greens and other vegetables here. Most farmers here have stopped growing due to the soaring price of land, so veggies are trucked in from Belgaum where there doesn’t seem to be any oversight or regulations. For example, we stopped buying spinach and other leafy greens as they reek of DDT 90% of the time. The average person doesn’t seem to notice / care. There is a healthcare crisis here in Goa – soaring rates of cancer and stroke and I am convinced it is due to the bad quality of food and the rampant burning of plastic waste. We now grow our own veggies or buy from small-time villagers. Sad state of affairs indeed.”

The numbers are: Beans 1.213; Bitter gourd 0.971; Bottle gourd 2.192; Brinjal 13.842; Cabbage 9.109; Capsicum 0.156; Carrot 1.19; Cauliflower 8.585; Cucumber 0.69; Muskmelon 0.702; Okra/Ladyfinger 6.461; Onion 19.769; Peas 4.165; Potato 44.306; Radish 2.561; Sitaphal/Pumpkin 0.356; Sweet Potato 1.126; Tapioca 7.778; Tomato 19.193; Watermelon 1.827; Others 21.953.

Written by makanaka

September 4, 2014 at 21:18