Whether report

Climate is changing. So must the scientific attitude

Published: Wednesday 15 January 2003

which was the cruellest month of the year 2002? April, pace T S Eliot but also the unnaturally high temperature. June, or July, or August, if you thought the rains would come. November, when it was announced that India is in the grip of a full-country drought. Even December, with a winter sun too hot to bask in.

2002 should perhaps be called the year of cruelly visible climate change. The weather's been completely topsy-turvy. That is to say, its been like our scientists at the Indian meteorological department (imd).

imd scientists have now admitted that their long-range climate model failed to forewarn them of this year's non-monsoon, and the severe drought (see: Normal >> less than). Our weather forecasters are a worried lot. They should be; we want them to be. But we'd also like them to stop being elegiac about failure and to start looking for solutions. Looking into new scientific possiblities that ensure their modelling isn't the predictable disaster it has been.

Long-range forecasting is a tricky business, especially with respect to tropical monsoons. But it isn't tricky enough to justify cock-eyed forecasting. Weather is too important a factor in the survival equation of millions in India to merit shoddy understanding.

Is it not possible for India to invest in more advanced models of prediction? Wrong question. Now it has become imperative that India do so. The time to dwell in the niceties of probablism is over. Equally, India must invest in studying the impacts of climate change. Most livelihood activities are dependent on the weather -- agriculture, food and water security, and our health. We simply cannot afford to be lax.

Given the strides that high power computing machines have made, it is surely not impossible to procure or develop more dynamic models of prediction. But for that, the mindset of our weathermen has to change. It is imperative that imd makes its biggest investment in research and development (r&d) on monsoon and climate change studies. And the earlier the Indian scientists realise the need for this, the better. They owe this to the Indian people, particularly the farmers and the poor.

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