I firmly believe that climate change is due to global warming because of human activities. With a background of my graduate studies in physics, chemistry and biology, and as a medical doctor, this brief study, as requested, is written without any peppering of academic treatment, not for professionals, but for accessibility by the public. It is partly based on my experience, but mostly on relevant scientific studies by climate researchers.
Climate change on the Earth
I have my personal experiences of climate change in Manipur and other places in India, as well as in Britain. I remember the climate of Manipur as a small boy just before WWII, and I know what it is like now. I have been living in the UK for half a century and during these years I have visited Manipur almost every year, seeing changes in the climate of Manipur.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s one could see Imphal town centre full of young men in the evening, wearing heavy woollen overcoats or others wrapped up in thick woollen shawls in winter. When I went to Imphal in December 2014, my light woollen suit or a pair of cotton trousers, shirt and a thin woollen sweater were warm enough.
In those days just after WWII, the highest temperature of Manipur in summer was never more than 26.50°C. These days, the temperature climbs up to nearly 38℃. The Times of India on April 22 2014, reported Imphal temperature at 35.6°C – the hottest April temperature in 15 years. It also recorded June 12 2013 as the coldest winter in 10 years with minus 0.1°C. Today, May 27 2015, the Imphal temperature is 32.2°C (38% precipitation i.e. rainfall).
In the mid-1940s the Imphal River and the Nambul River were so deep that people using them had to hack long winding steps to reach the water in summer. These rivers had enough water flowing all the year round. Even the Naga River had enough water running in summer that we, people living in Khwai Uripok, used to have a boat race every year. The rainfall in the rainy season was so intense – non-stop for a week – that it could cause flash flooding.
Rivers and wetlands in Manipur have been drying out and some have completely dried up due to changes in the annual rainfall pattern and warmer climate. Manipur has been getting drier over the past 50 years. The Nambul River is just being kept flowing as a sewer with the effluent from Imphal City, while the Naga River is almost completely dry without the bilge water from the city centre.
Loktak Lake – the largest fresh water lake in northeast India – has substantially shrunk from that I saw in the late-1940s to what I saw in 2014. It has shrunk from 491 square kilometres in 1971 to 236.21 square kilometres in 2010, mainly due to poor streams supplying the lake..
Manipur had been declared drought-hit on June 27 2009 by the Government of Manipur as insufficient rainfall in the region had taken its toll.
A Manipuri freelance journalist Sobhapati Samom wrote about the impact of climate change in Manipur. He noted that the rise in temperature with changing rainfall patterns in this era of climate change was affecting Manipur’s agricultural sector. The production of rice, potato, chilli, and even pineapple and orange, was severely affected due to climate change and subsequent human pressure.
There is an avalanche of evidence of climate change in the hilly Tamenglong district of Manipur. G. Hiamguanglung, Ph. D. Scholar, Manipur University, observed the shock of climate change in Tamenglong, resulting in the scarcity of staple food, drying of fountains, poor yield of oranges, and spread of diseases.
Addressing the South Asian Climate Change Media Briefing workshop in New Delhi, Dr B. Venkateswarlu revealed that 16 districts of all the eight Northeastern states of India were among the recently identified 100 most climate-vulnerable districts of the country. 
On October 17 2006, while holidaying in Shillong, my late nephew Dr. Dorendra took me, my wife Margaret and my son Neil to see Cherrapunji in Meghalaya – reputed to be the wettest place on Earth. We were stunned to see it parched.
When I was in middle school we were taught Cherrapunji’s average rainfall was 400 inches and it rained almost every day. Not these days. The town is getting hotter with the late arrival of the Monsoon and drying up due to the cutting down of pine forests, coal and limestone mining, and eroding of the surface soil due to farming by the inflated population. The soil has lost its capacity to hold water, which runs down to the plains of Bangladesh, 400 kilometres away from a height of 1,370 metres.
Today’s climate change has edged Cherrapunji out of the topmost wet slot and it has been surpassed by Lioro in Columbia. German missionary Christopher Becker wrote more than a century ago: “Not without reason has Cherrapunji achieved a fame as being the place with the heaviest rainfall on earth.”
In 2006, Cherrapunji received a considerably lower amount of rainfall, whereas desert states such as western Rajasthan received an unusual amount of rainfall, bringing in its wake all manners of calamities, including diseases.
On November 17 2010, my wife, son and I went to the desert city of Jaipur, expecting a very warm winter after the Monsoon season. But to our disappointment we had a heavy outburst of rain for the first two days. While studying in the cold Nainital hill resort I went to Jaipur on a holiday in July 1954. It was so hot that I stayed all day in the air-cooled (by pouring water on khus-khus tatties on glass windows) hotel room until sunset.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a scientific body under the auspices of the United Nations (UN), in its fourth assessment report in 2007, suggested that warming in India is likely to be above the average for South Asia, with an increase in summer rainfall that will be quite heavy in some parts as a direct result of climate change.
Indians are now seeing the damaging effects of climate change. In the early 1960s while I was working in Delhi, the media-reported incidence of death from heat stroke was in single figures, especially in north India. But on May 29 2015, The Daily Telegraph, UK, reported that the death toll from heat stroke in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana reached over 1,400 with a temperature of 47°C.
Studies in different parts of India on the impact of climate change, published as abstracts for the International Climate Change and Humanity (ICCH), Berlin, 2015, seem to agree that global warming has had varying effects in India.
Global warming is a term used to describe a gradual increase in the average temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere and its oceans – a change that is believed to be permanently transforming the Earth’s climate. It is now agreed by most climatologists that most of global warming is caused by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and other anthropogenic (human) activities such as aerosols since the 1950s. Its annual emissions grew by about 80% between 1970 and 2004.
Here in Britain, only in the late 1960s, the winters were was so freezing cold that a thick woollen suit with a waistcoat or a sweater inside and a woollen overcoat on top, were not warm enough most of the time. Now, a light woollen or polyester suit and a padded polyester anorak are enough. All woollen overcoats have been shelved.
Britain had frequent heavy snowfalls that brought the traffic to a complete standstill for a few days at a time. These days, severe snowfalls except in the Highlands of Scotland are a rarity. British weather varies year to year, but winters are getting milder and wetter and summers hotter and drier.
Professor Tim Sparks from Coventry University, England said crocuses (small spring-flowering plants) came up 11 days earlier in Kew Gardens in London and swallows, the traditional herald to the end of winter, come from mid-March but there have been sightings in the Isle of Wight as early as mid- February.
Lots of scientific evidence exists to suggest that the climate has changed significantly over the course of the Earth’s history. It has been recognised that over the last 100 years the Earth’s average surface temperature has increased by about 0.8°C.
At an IPCC conference in Stockholm in 2013 on the physical science of global warming, scientists agreed and made a landmark report that they are 95% sure that humans have been the “dominant” cause of global warming since the 1950s, producing GHGs, due to the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) and deforestation.
Added to this, there is a large amount of methane from permafrost that has raised global warming. The world’s permafrost or permanently frozen land is found mainly in the Polar Regions. It contains more than one third of the current amount of carbon in the atmosphere. When it thaws the underlying organic matter (peat) releases greenhouse gas emissions in the form of methane (second most prevalent GHG) and carbon dioxide.
These findings have been recognized by the national science academies of the major industrialized nations. Climate model projections summarized in their report indicating that during the 21st century the global surface temperature is likely to rise a further 0.3 to 1.7 °C, leading to further global climate change.
Global climate change means more extreme and unpredictable weather across the world as the Earth heats when many places will be hotter, some wetter and others drier.
What is meant by Climate and Weather?
Climate models incorporate the physics and chemistry of the atmosphere. Climate is not weather. It is easy to mix up climate with weather. Climate is the description of the average weather we might expect at a given time, usually taken for several decades or longer to average out year to year variability. Variability might be due to a particularly hot summer or very cold winter. Weather means the state of the atmosphere at a particular place and time as regards heat, cloudiness, dryness, Sunshine, wind, rain, humidity and so on, which means the surrounding environment.
The simple way to remember is that climate is what we expect such as cold winters or very hot summers. Weather is what we get such as rain, fog or scorching heat.
The atmosphere of the Earth is the air we breathe in, containing a mixture of gases that create pressure in all the directions. We are unaware of these pressures as our body cavities contain gases that are maintained at the same pressure as outside. For example, though aircraft cabins are pressurised i.e. equivalent to outside air pressure, when the aircraft is descending to lower altitude prior to landing, air must flow back into the middle ears and sinuses in order to equalize the pressure. The opposite happens while climbing up in altitude.
Solar energy consists of radiant light (visible sunlight) and heat (infrared). It does not affect the majority of gases in our atmosphere such as nitrogen, oxygen and argon (gas used in welding), but other gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, and water vapour absorb and emit the Sun’s radiation.
When sunlight hits an object, its infrared energy turns into heat like the warmth you feel while sitting in the Sun. The Sun warms up our planet by heating the land surface, the oceans and the atmosphere. This keeps the Earth warm enough for life to flourish. Almost all life on the Earth (except most bacteria, and fungi e.g. mushrooms that you can grow in the dark in a cellar) require the Sun’s energy. The first life formed or arrived on the Earth (now 4.5 billion years old) 3.5 billion years ago when it cooled down to the point where life could start.
How is the global climate affected?
The global climate depends on how much of the Sun’s energy is retained in the land, sea and air globally. There are many factors in the Earth’s atmosphere that affect climate change, such as changes in the Sun’s intensity, volcanic eruptions, heat trapping gases and the amount of solar radiation re-emitted back by the Earth. These are called the primary “drivers” of atmosphere.
Climatologists are definite that climate change with global warming is occurring worldwide, but how much greenhouse gas is contributing to the change is undecided. Besides, there are always sceptics who argue that global warming due to greenhouse gases is a myth. Example: The Wall Street Journal on January 27 2012 ran an Opinion Editorial written by 16 people who denied the evidence of human-induced climate change.
While many sceptics have been denying, many scientists have been involved in studying what has caused global warming. They have come up with the idea that natural events that are known to influence climate change are not enough to cause such an amount of warming and that it can be explained by the inclusion of greenhouse gases in the troposphere (lower atmosphere starting at the Earth’s surface and going up to 7-20 kilometres), emitted by human sources.
It has been noticed that the ozone layer in Earth’s stratosphere (higher atmosphere from 30 to 50
kilometres above the Earth) that forms a protective shield surrounding the entire Earth is thinning
out, allowing an increase in harmful ultraviolet-B (UV-B) radiation from solar energy and an increase in the rate of greenhouse warming.
Added to these greenhouse gases are the release by man of gases such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that are used in refrigerators, air conditioners and in some spray cans to force the contents out of the cans, as well as Chlorocarbons – used in making synthetic rubber, like automobile tyres and tennis shoes. These are considered to break down the Earth’s ozone layer, and alter interactions between the stratosphere and the troposphere and thus cause global warming.
Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere absorb much of this thermal (IR) radiation emitted by the land and ocean following their absorption from the atmosphere. This does not include the immediately reflected portion from the Earth back to space because it does not actually heat the Earth. The exchange of incoming and outgoing solar radiation that warms the Earth is being referred to as the greenhouse effect. In significant quantities these GHGs can force change in the climate system by trapping more and more of the Sun’s warmth and reflecting back to the Earth to cause global warming.
The greenhouse effect is so called because a greenhouse works in much the same way. A normal greenhouse that Europeans keep to grow plants is made of glass roofs and glass walls with a small venting system to allow heat to escape if it becomes too hot.
Incoming solar radiation with ultraviolet (UV) and infrared (IR) rays easily passes through the glass walls and roof. It is easily absorbed by plants and hard surfaces like tables inside. Weaker IR radiation however, has difficulty passing out through the glass walls and roof and is trapped inside and thus warms the greenhouse. The heat helps tropical plants thrive inside a greenhouse, even during a cold winter. It is similar to the heat trapped inside a car when left exposed in scorching heat with its windows rolled up.
One of the main biological impacts of UV radiation on plants is that it reduces their rate of photosynthesis to make food (sugar) by trapping carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen during the process. Plants thus will be starved and lose their ability to grow. This may eventually affect biodiversity and change the structure of an ecosystem.
Enormous amount of solar radiation reaches the Earth through the atmosphere in the form of light that we can see and others we can’t see, including UV and IR. About 30% of this radiation is immediately reflected back out to space by cloud, ice, snow, sand and other reflective surfaces. The remaining 70% is absorbed by the oceans, the land and the atmosphere of the Earth.
But these elements can absorb only so much and the heated energy is released back to the atmosphere and finally into space. This way, nature establishes an equilibrium between incoming and outgoing radiation, with an average temperature of 15°C. Otherwise, no life can exist on the Earth, as it would be as cold as the Moon that has no atmosphere with a temperature of about minus 153°C, or as blazing hot as Venus with a dense atmosphere and an average temperature of about 462°C.
The IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report (2007) discusses the greenhouse effect. To balance the absorbed incoming solar energy the Earth must radiate the same amount of energy back to space. The Sun is extremely hot and has a lot of energy to give off, so it gives off shortwave radiation in the form of UV rays and visible light (the colours of the rainbow), because short wave radiation contains a higher amount of energy. The Earth is much cooler, but still emits radiation with much longer wavelengths, primarily in the IR form, because long wave radiation contains a smaller amount of energy.
The Earth’s ‘budget’ of solar radiation is as follows:
Absorbed by atmosphere 17.5
Scattered to the Earth from blue sky 10.5
Scattered to the Earth from clouds 14.5
Radiation going directly to the Earth’s surface 22.5
The primary greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are water vapour, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane and ozone. These greenhouse gases greatly affect the temperature of the Earth. Without them the Earth’s surface would average about 33 °C colder than the present average of 14°C.
The IPCC in its Fourth Assessment Report, 2007, on climate change asserted that warming of the climate system is unequivocal and most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG concentrations.
What is climate change?
Climate change means any significant change in climate, such as temperature or rainfall over a 30 year period or more. If the climate is changing it means the 30 year average temperature or rainfall or number of sunny days is changing. A meteorological definition is a change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns when that change lasts for an extended period of time (i.e. decades to millions of years).
In the past century this planet had warmed up by an average of nearly 1°C. This is not much in anybody’s eyes but it is creating havoc for people and wildlife. Climate change does not mean we will all just have warmer weather in future. As the Earth heats, climate patterns change but it is erratic and unpredictable across the globe. It will be extremely dry in some parts of the planet, while some places may be drier.
The climate of the Earth has been pretty stable at about 14°C, after the end of the Ice Age about 11,500 years ago. But from-mid-20th century and onwards its temperature has been rising. This climate change is attributed largely to the increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide produced by the use of fossil fuels, and methane gas.
Scientific research shows that the climate i.e. the average temperature of the Earth’s surface has risen by 0.89°C from 1901 to 2012 and there have been changes in the patterns of precipitation (water in any form falling to the Earth from the sky). Further, it is shown that the rate of temperature rise since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution is extremely high.
Scientists have noted rising sea levels since 1900 by about 19 centimetres globally on average. Glaciers are melting all over the world, as in the Himalayas, the Alps, the Rockies, the Andes, Africa and Alaska, and the rate of shrinkage of ice sheets has increased in recent decades.
The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, which between them store the majority of the world’s fresh water, are also shrinking and the rate is accelerating. Arctic sea ice has been known to be declining since the late 1970s. It is being reduced by about 4% – an area about the size of the island of Madagascar per decade.
Climate change is not new. Our Earth has gone through a series of warm and cold periods. Over the last 100 years we are told that its average surface temperature had gradually increased by about 0.8C. This is human enforced warming due to greenhouse effect.
What affects climate change?
The climate of the Earth is affected by a number of factors – natural and man-made – which are called “forcings”, because they “drive” or “force” the climate system (the oceans, land surface, cryosphere (frozen water part), biosphere (zone of life on Earth), and the atmosphere. Changes in these forcings, such as in the amount of greenhouse gases produced, cloud particles, and in the reflectivity of the Earth’s surface, will cause imbalance in the climate. A positive climate forcing will tend to cause warming, and a negative forcing a cooling.
The most important forcings during the last millennium were the solar energy output, volcanic eruptions, and increased concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
There are many natural causes that can affect the climate system, such as changes in solar radiation, the Earth’s rotation in its oval orbit around the Sun, and volcanic eruptions that release huge amounts of gas. Though most of this gas is removed within days to weeks, some gas like sulphur dioxide can cause global cooling, while volcanic carbon dioxide has the potential to promote global warming.
Solar radiation increases every 11-years’ cycle, known as “sunspot” cycles. Though it contributes to climate change, its intensity has been relatively constant through the last 2,000 years. Changes in solar brightness are considered to be too weak to explain recent climate changes. Changes in the reflectivity of the Earth’s surface, such as by melting of sea ice or extensive cloud cover has some impact on climate change though regionally.
Man-made causes include:
(1) Increased output of greenhouse gases
(2) Cutting down forests and breeding cattle
The increased solar energy, though responsible for the Earth’s warming till the early 20th century is now not the main cause of climate change in the global warming trend. It is due to a vast increase in the greenhouse gas production.
The strongest greenhouse effect (95%) of greenhouse gases is due to an increase in the concentration of watervapour in the atmosphere that increases the temperature as it traps heat.
But water vapour does not by itself increase temperature. It amplifies already occurring warming due to additional carbon dioxide from factories and airplanes that also traps heat. And as the atmosphere warms up, the amount of water it holds increases, which further adds to the warming effect.
Modern nations cut down vast areas of forest that naturally trap carbon dioxide. As a result, the extra carbon dioxide (that stays for 100 years) in the atmosphere will absorb and emit more of the Earth’s ongoing radiation. That will further warm up our climate.
In recent times, transformations in land use and land cover, such as deforestation, reforestation and desertification, now occurring practically in one quarter of the total land surface of the world, and urbanisation often contribute changes in climate regionally, but is small when averaged over the entire globe.
Industrialised nations are breeding vast numbers of livestock – 1.5 billion cows and billions of grazing animals. Cows produce methane gas (23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide) through belching and to a lesser extent from flatulence. Scientists are creating a pill that will convert methane into glucose in a cow’s stomach.
How does climate change produce extreme global weather?
We know that climate disruption does cause a variety of extreme weather conditions and there have always been extreme weather events. But they are now occurring with increasing frequency in association with global average temperature rise, which is one of the most-cited indicators of global climate change.
This large-scale pattern of global climate change due to human influence is a significant feature present in nearly all of the studies conducted by the world’s climate modelling groups for the Fourth Assessment of the IPCC, and is also evident in observed 20th century precipitation trends.
Other scientific studies also find that since the 1960s many countries in the world are experiencing warmer climate accompanied by a reduction in the frequency of frosts, an increase in the number of heat waves and coastal flooding in many parts of the world. There is a rise in extreme precipitation events in some regions and increasingly severe droughts in others – detected by ‘Attribution Studies’ focussing on changes in extreme global events.
How sure we are that humans are the major cause of global warming?
The practice of linking weather events to human influence, such as global warming is difficult to substantiate. However, only in the last few years, the Earth’s average temperature has been rising from the mid-20th century and onwards. And climate change is associated with increased levels of atmospheric anthropogenic carbon dioxide and methane gas.
IPCC scientists in the Fourth Assessment Report conclude that they are 90% sure that there is direct evidence that emissions of heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide from human activity have caused almost all of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century and that the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has increased from the pre-industrial era of 100 years (1750-1850).
Adverse effects of climate change on the Earth
The adverse effects of climate change on the Earth due to global warming are almost daily events we see. Its physical impact is causing serious inimical consequences on our environment and subsequently on human social and economic systems.
Experts predict that fierce storms and floods are likely to become more and more frequent in the future. Higher temperatures, fresh water shortages, higher sea levels and extreme weather events
will each affect regions differently – depending on the nature and level of climate change, especially with continuing greenhouse gas emissions.
The adverse effects are many but can be broadly grouped under the following categories:
(1) Rising temperature with extreme weather conditions
(2) Water and food scarcity
(3) Potential impacts on human activity and health issues
(4) Impact on wildlife with altered habitats, species extinction
Rising temperature relates to extreme weather conditions
Experts believe that global temperature may rise between 1.1 and 6.4 degrees Celsius above 1990 levels by the end of the 21st century if concrete steps are not taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Earth’s current average temperature according to NASA figures is 15°C. The possible climatic change will cause extreme weather conditions. There will naturally be more heat waves, droughts and flooding more than what we are seeing now globally.
Water and food scarcity
Water and food scarcity are the main challenges under climate change because of the substantial reduction in fresh water resources and agricultural yield. Study of Global Climate Models (GCMs) projects significant changes to regional and globally averaged precipitation and air temperature, and these changes will likely have associated impacts on groundwater recharge.  As a result, there will be food shortages from the land and sea for a large proportion of life on this planet.
Potential effect of climate change on human activity and health issues
Climate change is already beginning to impinge on life on the Earth. Extremes of temperature and rainfall, such as heat waves, floods and droughts have direct effect on human and animal mortality, as well as long term effects. It will affect biodiversity and the ecosystem of goods and services that we rely on for human health. It has also been observed that even small temperature changes can result in measurable impacts on malaria, diarrheal diseases and malnutrition. From the knowledge of these relationships an approximate estimate of the health effects of the future due to climate changes can be made.
Impact of climate change on animals, birds and plants
Animals, birds, plants and entire ecosystems are on the move as rising temperatures force species to seek out cooler climes. There are higher rates of tree death and increasing dieback of forests in the last two decades. As Arctic climate is more sensitive to global warming, the shrinking of ice in the Polar Regions over the next 100 years will have a severe damaging effect on Arctic wildlife, such as polar bears and seals.
Scientists at Stanford University in America, using fossil records and extinction counts have in 2015 calculated the normal ‘background rate’ of extinctions and compared it with a conservative estimate of current extinctions. Professor Paul Ehrlich at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment said: “Species are disappearing up to about 100 times faster than the normal rate between ‘mass extinctions’. Earth has entered its sixth ‘mass extinction’. Humans have created a “toxic mix” of habitat loss, pollution and climate change, which has already led to the demise of at least 77 species of mammals, 140 types of birds and 34 amphibians since 1500.
In India, realising the potential adverse effect of climate change, it was great statesmanship that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on June 30 2008, released India’s first National Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) outlining existing and future policies and programmes, addressing climate mitigation and adaptation. While emphasising the overriding priority of maintaining high economic growth rates to raise living standards, he pledged that India’s per capita greenhouse gas emissions “will at no point exceed that of developed countries even as we pursue our development objectives.”
Climate scientists believe that global temperature will continue to rise for decades to come, largely due to greenhouse gasses produced by human activities though the effects on climate change will vary all over the globe. They predict increases in global mean temperature of less than 1 to 3 degrees Celsius (1.8 to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) above 1990 levels. This will produce beneficial impacts in some regions and harmful ones in others. Net annual costs will increase over time as global temperature increases.
Personally I believe, though scientific confidence with observed data is currently not complete, the underlying mechanisms of climate change are expected to play.
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It was great statesmanship that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on June 30 2008, released India’s first National Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) outlining existing and future policies and programmes, addressing climate mitigation and adaptation. While emphasising the overriding priority of maintaining high economic growth rates to raise living standards, he pledged that India’s per capita greenhouse gas emissions “will at no point exceed that of developed countries even as we pursue our development objectives.”