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Archive for May 2015

How El Niño plans to hijack monsoon 2015

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ICP_El_Nino_monsoon_20150526_sm

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.

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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.]

India, WTO and public food stocks

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Minister of State (Independent Charge) in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Nirmala Sitharaman, clarified on 6 May 2015 to the Rajya Sabha on India’s stand at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on food security.

Here are the main points contained in Sitharaman’s reply to the Rajya Sabha:

1) A decision was adopted by the WTO General Council in November 2014 which makes it clear that a mechanism will remain in place in perpetuity until a permanent solution regarding this issue has been agreed and adopted.

2) The decision also means WTO members (countries) will not challenge the public stock-holding programmes of developing country members for food security purposes, in relation to obligations under the WTO Agreement on Agriculture.

3) The safeguard available for continuing the Minimum Support Price policy is thus strengthened and will ensure that India’s food security operations are not constrained due to WTO rules.

4) The WTO General Council Decision includes a firm commitment to engage in negotiations for a permanent solution.

Together with other developing countries, India has proposed an amendment to the rules of the WTO relating to public stock-holding for food security purposes. Sitharaman told the Rajya Sabha that “concerned at the lack of progress in implementing the Ministerial Decision on public stock-holding for food security purposes, India decided not to join the consensus in the WTO on next step for the implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement till its concerns were addressed”.

May Day 2015

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Garment workers take part in a protest calling on the government to raise wages during a march to mark Labour Day in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Garment workers take part in a protest calling on the government to raise wages during a march to mark Labour Day in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

All the substantial issues confronting the working class today — the rapid growth of social inequality, a tattered veneer of ‘democracy’ behind which ever more rapacious forms of neo-liberal economics rule over peoples and the environment, the explosion of police violence within countries (as in the USA) and of armed conflict between countries and regions — all these are bound up with the struggle against new forms of dominance.

The dangers of war loom more menacing today than they did in 1914 and in 1939. But for many workers in many countries on this May Day in 2015, war has never gone away. It persists because of the division of the world into what are called competing economies (as if ‘country’ and ‘economy’ are synonymous: they are nothing of the kind). On May Day, the subordination of the productive forces of households, families, communities and villages to the corporate and financial elite is protested and revoked.

Workers carry banners with messages in support of workers' rights during a march to mark Labour Day in Yangon, Burma (left). Members of the Group of the National Confederation of Trade Unions, raise their fists and shout slogans during their annual May Day rally in Tokyo.

Workers carry banners with messages in support of workers’ rights during a march to mark Labour Day in Yangon, Burma (left). Members of the Group of the National Confederation of Trade Unions, raise their fists and shout slogans during their annual May Day rally in Tokyo.

The world of work has been reshaped by globalisation. Today, much of global trade involves global buyers and suppliers, which has implications for workers’ welfare. Multinational enterprises source from a network of suppliers, who, in turn, compete with one another to obtain business. The task of providing compensation is therefore left to the supplier of the product or service, who is under considerable pressure with regard to the wages and conditions they can offer workers.

There are no mechanisms within the political system (there are scant differences between political systems installed today, for their methods are so similar) through which any of the grievances of the vast majority of the population can find expression. These democratic demands should be linked to programmes that advances the social rights of the working class. Chief amongst these must be a massive redistribution of wealth, which has been snatched away by what is mockingly called the ‘market’, itself a ghastly amalgam of banks, technocrats, commodity speculators, global finance capital, lobbyists and consultants, the multi-lateral lending organisations (like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank), and all their cronies and cabals fostered by politicians.

Technological advancements and the expansion of the internet have caused temporal and physical distances to vanish. They have accelerated sweeping and damaging changes in the organisation of production and work. There has been a growth in the number of hours that enterprises operate (24 by 7 has become a household term) and therefore in the times when workers at all levels of service and production must be available to work. If they are not they are summarily sacked, fired, dismissed.

Protesters from the trade union PAME hold red flags during the May Day rally in front of the parliament building in Athens, Greece (left). People march in Moscow marking Labour Day.

Protesters from the trade union PAME hold red flags during the May Day rally in front of the parliament building in Athens, Greece (left). People march in Moscow marking Labour Day.

Since the 1980s, but especially in the 2010s, under the pressures of ‘competition’ but in fact as a strategy to create an ever-greater pool of consumers who are otherwise disenfranchised, companies and corporations run by the financial puppeteers have demanded greater flexibility in production and organisation. This has abandoned the traditional employment relationship which, for all its faults, has been one that has survived the Modern Era. It was the basis for labour protection measures. No longer. Non-standard employment arrangements have become common features in what are now cynically called labour markets, no matter where they are – Argentina, Micronesia, Scandinavia, sub-Saharan Africa. Work has become unstable and frighteningly insecure for families. Work has in fact been deliberately caused to become chronically unpredictable.

A concerted assault on the domination of our societies by this putrid but dangerous financial aristocracy is needed. For this enemy is determined to maintain its stranglehold through violence and through the punishment of poverty. This grip over our economic and political lives must be broken, for only when our societies are based on public ownership and democratic control of the forces of production and the means with which to safeguard ecology, natural resources and cultural values can genuine ‘development’ (a grossly abused term) take place.