Indian officials, scientists link deadly heat wave to climate change
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Indian officials, scientists link deadly heat wave to climate change

THE recent searing weather plaguing India has resulted in hundreds of deaths and record-breaking mercury levels in western Rajastan, when temperatures reached 123.8F/51C on May 19. The now familiar story of impoverished farmers choosing suicide over destitution is repeating itself as crops fail. Many farmers have also made their ways into the cities, causing the number of urban poor to swell. Less grim, but still astonishing, are the images of melting roads that have spread through the Internet.

The mention of climate change is conspicuously scarce in Western media coverage of India’s heat wave

While many major international news outlets have run stories on India’s record heat wave, the scarcity of the phrase “climate change” is surprising. Notable exceptions include editorial columnists like Laurie Penny in the New Statesman and Alan Farago in the Huffington Post, plus the explicitly progressive Democracy Now, but articles from the Independent, Discovery News, the BBC and CNN make no mention of the obvious.

Although extremely high temperatures are not unusual on the Subcontinent, a combination of increasing greenhouse gases and environmental awareness should at least put climate change or its much-maligned cousin “global warming” at least in the conversation. Perhaps right-wing climate change deniers have gotten their wish and “climate change fatigue” is really setting in, discouraging both reads and therefore journalistic coverage in this age of clicks, even when covering such closely related phenomena.

Indian scientists, officials and media are not exhibiting climate change fatigue

When your country is suffering greatly from warming temperatures linked to climate change it is big news. Here are some quotes on the heat wave from Indian officials and scientists, gleaned mostly from Indian media sources.

“It has been observed that since 2001, places in northern India, especially in Rajasthan, are witnessing a rising temperature trend every year. The main reason is the excessive use of energy and emission of carbon dioxide. Factors like urbanization and industrialization too have added to the global warming phenomenon. I think similar trend would be maintained in Rajasthan in coming days.” — Laxman Singh Rathore, director general of the India Meteorological Department (via Times of India)

“In terms of the (India’s heat) records (this year), it could be due to a combination of seasonal climatology, the prevailing circulation (wind, cloudiness) in the region as well as long-term trends associated with global warming.” — Rupa Kumar Kolli, chief of the World Climate Applications Division and Climate Prediction and Adaptation Branch at the World Meteorological Organization (via Firstpost)

“The frequency of both heat waves and severe heat waves has increased, particularly in the last two decades. The reasons could be related to climate change, urban heat island effect or others.” — B P Yadav, director, National Weather Forecasting Center, India Meteorological Department (via Times of India)

“Since the frequency of heat waves is increasing due to climate change, we have been pursuing the implementation of heat plans with the government. Ideally local government administration or municipalities should be in charge of it.” — Dr Dileep Mavalankar, director, Indian Institute of Public Health, Gandhinagar (via Times of India)

“This is the first effect of climate change, I must say. Because of it, there is no water, there is no agricultural development, and that is why farmers commit suicide.”  — Maharashtra Rural Development and Water Conservation minister Pankaja Munde (quoted by ABC from an unnamed Indian cable news network from December 2015)

Perhaps it is impossible to pin this exact heat wave entirely on climate change, but scientists have long warned that these types of events and other extreme weather phenomena will become more frequent and more extreme as global greenhouse gas levels increase. Whatever the case, we must be aware of the link. At least the responsible parties in India seem to be doing their job in raising this awareness.