BBC, Indian Monsoon, And More Lies
Welcome to the latest barrage of lies and misinformation from the BBC:
This week I went to the scene of terrible tragedy.
A river, swollen by raging monsoon floodwaters, had torn down a bridge on the main road between Mumbai and Goa.
More than 30 people are thought to have died when the great stone structure crashed into the torrent, taking with it two buses and a number of cars.
Some of the bodies were swept more than 60 miles downriver in two days.
We produced a short news report.
In the heart-wrenchingly brutal calculus of the newsroom, this isn’t a major story. But zoom out, and you begin to see the outlines of a much bigger and more worrying picture.
India, indeed the whole South Asia region, has been riding a rollercoaster of extreme weather.
The summer monsoon is the most productive rain system in the world, and this year the region is experiencing a strong one. The floods it caused have affected more than 8.5 million people; more than a million are living in temporary shelters; some 300 people have been killed.
Though what really caught people’s interest was the three baby rhinos rescued from the waters in the north Indian state of Assam.
The fact that 17 adult rhinos drowned got rather less attention.
But the important point is that the region is awash with water. Just a few months ago, it was a very different story. The previous two monsoons were unusually weak. The result was a terrible drought in northern India, and parts of Pakistan and Bangladesh.
And it was exacerbated by another extreme weather event – record heat.
India experienced its highest temperature ever this summer, a blistering 51C.
Rivers ran dry; water holes evaporated; reservoirs became dusty plains. And, once again, the statistics were staggering.
More than 300 million people were affected by water shortages – the equivalent of the entire population of the US. A city of half a million people was left completely dry. It had to rely on supplies brought in by train.
As if that weren’t bad enough, in spite of the drought, the country was hit by a series of unseasonal rain and hailstorms. They caused such terrible damage to crops that some farmers were driven to suicide.
All these examples of extreme weather were widely reported, rightly so. What tended not to be discussed was the underlying cause.
We are all interested in weather; few of us want to be told – once again – that our lifestyles are disrupting the global climate. Yet the truth is that many climatologists believe the monsoon, always fickle, is becoming even more erratic as a result of global warming.
The picture in the last couple of years is complicated by the fact that the world has been experiencing a particularly strong El Nino, the periodic weather variation caused by warming of the sea in the Pacific.
But a series of long-term studies have shown the number of extreme rainfall events in South Asia increasing while low-to-moderate events are decreasing. And increasingly erratic and extreme weather is precisely what scientists expect climate change will bring.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has predicted “rainfall patterns in peninsular India will become more and more erratic, with a possible decrease in overall rainfall, but an increase in extreme weather events”.
Since the monsoon accounts for as much as three-quarters of rainfall in some areas, any change is a huge issue. The more extreme the storms, the more likely we are to see more tragedies like the shattered bridge I visited this week.
Now, since you’ve read this far, I hope you’ll excuse me if I take a moment to ram my point home a little harder because there is growing evidence that climate change isn’t just restricted to South Asia.
Ask anyone who follows the issue and they’ll tell you that this year is already well on the way towards becoming the hottest ever. The previous record was last year; before that it was 2014. In fact, the 11 warmest years have occurred since 1998.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t talk about the weather, just that we need to talk about the climate too.
This is all too typical BBC fare – pick a weather event, hype it up as something unusual, connect it to climate change and say they are going to get worse!
So let’s do a bit deconstruction.
1) Far from the floods being a “terrible tragedy”, the Indians themselves regard heavy monsoon rainfall as being extremely benevolent. Indeed, the reporter Justin Rowlatt’s opening comment reveals the BBC’s metro liberal outlook on the world.
If he had bothered talking to the Indian authorities, he might have discovered that the Indian economy benefits in all sorts of ways, not just agricultural production, for instance here.
As Gaurav Kapur, senior economist at the RBS, Mumbai, stated earlier in the year:
The forecast of a better-than-normal monsoon is a welcome development coming after two years of drought and considering the state of the rural economy and the impact on food inflation. If indeed we end up having a better-than-normal monsoon, and spatial distribution of monsoon and production indicators point to a normal year, then RBI’s comfort for another rate cut will increase.
“Monsoon has a big linkage effect on not only rural income but overall growth and inflation and if we have another sub-par monsoon, then contribution of farm sector to GDP will be near zero.”
The Indians accept that floods are an unfortunate, but necessary evil. It is drought that they really fear.
2) You may have noticed that nowhere is there any input from the India Meteorological Dept, or for that matter any other local experts.
If Rowlatt had bothered to check with the IMD, they would have told him that, so far, this year’s monsoon has been perfectly normal:
3) They might also have told him that, historically, big swings from year to year are the norm. Quite simply, there is nothing “extreme”, “erratic”, or otherwise unusual about recent monsoons, despite Rowlatt’s claims.
The consistently wettest period was from the 1930s to 50s, when the world was warming up. By contrast, global cooling after 1960, brought a succession of droughts. HH Lamb described this period:
In the first quarter of the century, there was a severe drought in N and NW India every 3rd or 4th year. Then, as the Earth warmed up and the circumpolar vortex contracted, the monsoon rains penetrated regularly into Northern India, and drought frequency declined to 2 in 36 years, from 1925-60. But since 1960, with the cooling of the Earth and the southern movement of the subtropical high pressure areas, drought frequency has been increasing again and the probability may be now more than once a decade.
4) It is well established that monsoon rainfall tends to be below normal during El Nino years, hence the the dryness of the last two years.
5) Rowlatt refers to a record temperature set earlier this year, clearly in an attempt to link this with the floods. However, long term temperature trends in India are notoriously unreliable, given the massive urban expansion across the country.
Indian monsoons are the result of land warming up faster then the sea in summer, thus drawing in moist air from the ocean.
Significantly, a study by Dr. Roxy Mathew Koll of the Centre for Climate Change Research, Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology last year found that the opposite had been happening, and that the landmass has actually been cooling as The Hindu reported:
The summer monsoon has been showing a weakening trend over the past century with decreasing rainfall over large regions of the Indian subcontinent. The monsoon occurs because the land heats up much more than the ocean and the warm air over the land rises and results in low pressure. This causes the rain-bearing winds from the relatively cooler ocean to blow on to the land and cause rainfall. That is, it is the strong thermal contrast between land and ocean that results in a strong monsoon.
However, a recent study by Dr. Roxy Mathew Koll of the Centre for Climate Change Research, Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune and others, and published recently in the journal Nature Communications contends that this thermal contrast has been decreasing in the past decades, i.e., the land has been cooling and the ocean warming and the monsoon has shown a decreasing trend during the past century.
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