Climate Change

The paradox of cooling

For a tropical country like India, there is not much to cherish about. The number of unbearably hot days experienced by India and Bangladesh will rise

By Hardik Siroha
Published: Tuesday 14 July 2020

Stop me if this sounds familiar: Ever since phrases like ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming’ became mainstream, almost every year is perpetually termed “one the hottest recorded in human history”.

This trend continued from the beginning of the decade. As this decade comes to an end, the National Centres for Environmental Information said 2020 “is almost certain to rank among the five warmest years on record”.

To call this paranoia, is untenable and ludicrous. Our planet is warming at an alarming rate, but one of the most overlooked facts is this warming is discriminatory at its core.

While a massive chunk of the greenhouse gases are from developed countries, the axe of global warming falls on poorer ones. They, coincidentally, tend to be closer to the equator and more vulnerable to the slightest increase in mercury.

When I visited Europe in 2018, I struck up a conversation with a Hungarian woman who said she wanted to visit India during the summer.

I told her the summers in India are not as pleasant as the ones in Europe. The benevolent nature of summer and its personification as a symbol of strength is evident in English literature: Rising temperatures may surely open more avenues for outdoor life in Norway and Sweden.

For a tropical country like India, however, there is not much to cherish about. The number of unbearably hot days experienced by India and Bangladesh will rise and, believe it or not, lead to plummeting productivity.

Every increase in temperature beyond 27-28 degrees Celsius reduced the efficiency of workers by two per cent, pointed out a study at a garment factory in India.

A global study established the relationship between rising temperature and a fall in per capita income.

A 1°C increase in temperature in a poor country reduced per capita income by 1.4 per cent, according to the study.

The story doesn’t just end here. Age-adjusted mortality was impacted by an additional day of extreme heat in a year 25 times more in a country like India than one like the United States, according to several studies.

This is, however, just one aspect of the story. Unfortunately, the solution to our problem exacerbates the issue.

Air-conditioners (AC) — a luxury for a middle-class Indian family — have now become mainstream. Cheaper ACs — that are becoming common in India — release deleterious Hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) gases that have a global warming potential 100 times greater than carbon dioxide.

Eco-friendly ACs, however, remain out of reach of the average Indian.

This puts us in an imbroglio, where we tussle with a constant trade-off between the present and the future. The device that cools us today warms the country tomorrow.

This argument points out how gaps between the haves and have-nots is far from over. It also shows how climate change discriminates in a brutal fashion.

The Government of India, in its stance on the Kigali Agreement, decided to save its citizens today at the cost of tomorrow.

Europe, Japan and the US began the phasing out of synthetic HFC in 2019. India, Pakistan and a few countries in west Asia, however, have decided to wait till 2028.

These eight years can cause serious degradation to the climate.

To be honest, a true environmentalist cannot blame the Government of India: Right from the Kyoto Protocol to contemporary times, the concept of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities has been an indispensable part of climate change negotiations.

At the same time, however, this makes us realise the urgent need for investing in greener research and development, especially in the air-conditioning sector. Otherwise, we will feel the proverbial heat very soon.

Views expressed are the author's own and don't necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth.

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