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India Must Rename Cyclone Phailin and Call Attention to Global Warming

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Posted on Oct 12, 2013
Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere

By Subhankar Banerjee, Common Dreams

This piece first appeared at Common Dreams.

Last month I wrote two articles (here, here), gave an interview to The Real News Network (here), and an interview to Uprising Radio (here) about the devastating floods in Colorado. With Boulder as its epicenter, the floods damaged more than 2,000 squares miles along the Colorado Front Range—from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins. Ten people were killed, nearly 18,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, hundreds of miles of road were washed out, and thousands of oil and gas wells flooded resulting in environmental contamination from toxic fracking fluids and nearly 40,000 gallons of spilled oil. Boulder got nearly its annual average rainfall in just five days, and it happened at a wrong time—September, not July/August, when rain usually falls in the desert southwest.

My main contribution was to raise the noise to the level the corporate media had failed miserably to in its reporting of the Colorado floods. Not a single journalist had raised the question on corporate TV: Did global warming play a part in causing or intensifying the Colorado floods?

Bamboozled by the lure of technology, humans have become deeply amnesic. We forget a tragedy soon after the corporate media stops reporting on a particular catastrophe. In a globally warmed Earth, however, before amnesia sets in, the next assault arrives.

Friday morning I woke up to the news of super cyclone Phailin in the Bay of Bengal that would make landfall Saturday in the east coast of India. “Odisha and Andhra Pradesh braced for the “very severe” cyclone [Phailin] that was expected to hit the east coast with winds gusting up to 220 kmph [136 mph] Saturday evening, as lakhs [1 lakh=100,000] of people were being evacuated to safer places and the military remained on standby,” The Hindu reported.

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I had lived in the American southwest for eleven years, and I was born and grew up in Bengal. So, the recent Colorado floods and the super cyclone in the Bay of Bengal are personal.

There are already many news articles on the India cyclone available: The Hindu here, Times of India here, India Today here, BBC here, Washington Post here. I won’t go into the details; instead, I’ll focus on two things: naming and blaming.

Apparently Phailin was named by Thailand and it means sapphire in Thai. What nonsense. Some humans do desire the precious stone, but no one, I’d think, is desiring Phailin. India should rename this meaningless obfuscation and call attention to global warming immediately.

There was also some confusion about whether this is a ‘cyclone’ or a ‘super cyclone’. On Thursday the India Meteorological Department had “indicated that the wind speed would be limited to 185 kmph.” But now the forecast is at 220 kmph, and the US Navy has indicated that the “wind speed will be above 240 kmph.” So before the cyclone made landfall, it would turn into a deadly super cyclone—yet another example of an extreme weather event.

The India Today has posted a very useful article “What is a super cyclone?”  The article gives an excellent explanation of the 1999 Odisha super cyclone, also known as Cyclone 05B. “It struck the coast of Odisha with a height of [ocean water] 26 feet (8 meters). Approximately 275,000 homes were destroyed leaving 1.67 million people homeless. Another 19.5 million people were affected by the super cyclone to some degree. A total of 9,803 people officially died from the storm. Though it is believed that 15,000 people died,” the India Today reports. The article also mentions how the rescue operation proceeded. By placing this article in the context of the impending super cyclone in the exact same landscape, journalists in India are doing a better job than those who reported the Colorado floods last month. But it could be better, it needs to better, and an explicit connection to Global Warming needs to be made.

India Today explained: “Tropical cyclones typically form over large bodies of relatively warm water. They derive their energy from the evaporation of water from the ocean surface, which ultimately recondenses into clouds and rain when moist air rises and cools to saturation.” There is our clue—connection of the impending super cyclone with global warming. All the articles I have come across on the impending Bay of Bengal cyclone, however, avoided using the phrase “global warming.”

The anthropogenic global warming caused by accumulation of greenhouse gases is making the oceans warmer, which in turn is causing more frequent and more intense cyclones/hurricanes and floods.

The UN IPCC Fifth Assessment Report’s (AR5) first part, the Summary for Policymakers (SPM), was released two weeks ago. More than a 1,000 scientists from all over the world contributed to the report and the team worked for six years. The SPM was approved by 190 nations. All that means that the IPCC AR5 is a conservative estimate of global warming. The reality will likely be worse than what the IPCC predicts.

Having said all that, the IPCC reports states: “Ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system, accounting for more than 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010 (high confidence). It is virtually certain that the upper ocean (0?700 m) warmed from 1971 to 2010…”

The India-based Dr. Rajendra Pachauri has been the chairperson of IPCC since 2002. The organization was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. I’d urge Dr. Pachauri to go on TV and explain the anthropogenic warming of oceans and its relevance to the impending super cyclone in the Bay of Bengal that will undoubtedly bring massive deaths—to humans and nonhuman species—and devastation.

India must rename Phailin and connect the impending super cyclone to global warming.

Subhankar Banerjee is a photographer, writer, and activist. Over the past decade he has worked for the conservation of ecoculturally significant areas of the Arctic, and to raise awareness about indigenous human rights and climate change. He founded ClimateStoryTellers.org, and is editor of the anthology Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point. He was recently Director’s Visitor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, Distinguished Visiting Professor at Fordham University in New York. He received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from New Mexico State University, and the Cultural Freedom Award from the Lannan Foundation.


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