Creating an Environmentally Smart Planet

While drought and floods play havoc across the globe, the states in India that were worst affected by floods this year are parts of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala, even as other states like Tamil Nadu and even parts of Maharashtra were languishing without water until recently. Hundreds were killed and lakhs were displaced even as Northeast and Western coasts of India were battered by torrential downpour. In 2015, Chennai saw its heaviest rainfall in a century and last year, it was Cochin. According to CityLab, Chennai was brought up as an unfortunate exhibit of the perfect storm created by climate change and shoddy urban planning.

Has climate crisis hit home?

Absolutely yes. Multi-decade rain deficit and rising temperatures have drastically changed weather patterns globally. No amount of silencing of science by the likes of President Trump can deny the reality of millions in various parts of the world. The Indian Meteorological Department declared that 2018 was the sixth warmest year since 1901 and several other countries have seen century old climate records tumble.

Is this man made?

Definitely, the perils of unplanned urbanisation, growing concentration of people in cities, chronic underinvestment in environmental and even fundamental infrastructure are. It is crucial to examine how cities solve the water and heat crisis.

Military approach to combat climate crisis

As the iconic David Attenborough says, “Human beings can reverse this 6th Mass Extinction Event that is happening right before our eyes”. But it needs cohesive intent and speed. “We are not only battling climate crisis but also time,” says Chitravina N Ravikiran, Founder of the Planet Symphony Global Environmental movement, who recently premiered Climatrix Symphony, in which several hundred artists and students from nearly 30 countries of the Planet Symphony came together in a historic Global Music Production to perform the *Climatrix Symphony – Planet Anthem* on over 50 instruments as a musical call for Environmental Action. This was launched on World Environment Day on 5 June, 2019. This is the largest collective musical audio production of its kind for the environment.

“And the war against climate needs military style strategies, budgets (which is a combined US$1.6 Trillion globally today) and technological investments by a united global front.”

Vicious combination

Our planet has an in-built natural water cycle but as urban land gets hotter by the day with concrete and glass and green cover disappears, evapotranspiration as well as ground water storage becomes much lower. Ramshankar, a member of Rain Center and Planet Symphony says, “Rain is not deficient in many areas but harvesting has been poor. Even efficient and committed officials are resistant to new approaches like Recharge Wells and resort to Storm Water Drains which throw months of water supply into the sea or sewage systems every year.” Good governance and infrastructure are inevitable to facilitate higher standards of living.

The fundamental Q

While a lot of focus has been on harvesting rainwater, the Planet Symphony’s comprehensive Strategic Urban Roofscaping for Environment (SURE) formula made headlines recently by trying to spotlight on the fundamental question: What do citizens harvest if urban regions cannot attract rain first?

Roof greening is gaining global popularity (despite nominal extra costs in new buildings & interventional challenges in existing buildings) because its benefits including cooling roofs by 35-40°F (and ambient city temp by 5°F), purifying the air etc far outweigh the challenges.  Cities like Toronto, Chicago, Paris, Singapore and Copenhagen have been leaders while those like Minneapolis are joining. 

“But the cause-effect is not self evident in the attracting rain postulate as the dots are connected in more nuanced ways,” Ravikiran said.  “But Planet Symphony’s advisors which includes leading scientists and educators from top institutions across the world as well as other environmentalists agree with our fundamental premises, based on other relevant studies.”

The amazing Amazon

The PS premise that greening translates to rain is strongly backed by the amazing phenomenon of Amazon forests which have been creating rain months before seasonal winds bring moist air from the ocean. Satellite images have confirmed that this coincides with more greening of fresh leaves.  But the 5.5 million sq km Amazon rainforest is 650-700 times larger than the biggest cities (New York 8600 sq km, Tokyo <  7000 sq km) on earth. 

And only a part of these cities can be greened.  Can micro-systems replicate this? Perhaps they can – as this video illustrates, at least in some regions.  “Further studies and modeling will empower us to strategise but this is not only about attracting rain but also regulating weather & preventing extremes”, asserts Ravikiran who has himself raised substantial funds for environmental causes worldwide through his concerts including Tsunami of 2004, Hurricane Katrina (in USA) and Chennai Floods (2015). 

Prof Anurag Kandya of PDPU, Gandhinagar said that Urban Roofscaping could definitely bring down atmospheric temperatures which would mean 100% humidity earlier than when the air is warmer. “At the micro-level, it has the potential to reduce reduce air pollution and also mitigate the Urban Heat Island effect; and cumulating the roof-top garden effect at macro-level (city level) even the precipitation cycles can be partially altered averting the extreme weather conditions resulting into heavy downpour and droughts”.

“In cities like Delhi roof and vertical greenery will certainly augment the low humidity, thereby tangibly improving chances of rain”, Ravikiran added. The PS SURE solution also includes optimal water empowerment and a shift to greener energy like solar.”

Smart Planet

Planet Symphony proposed the concept of Smart Planet in the Chennai Climate Conclave in August.  Smart Planet drive is about empowering human beings to take environmentally smart decisions rather than be passive players in electronically driven smart homes and smart cities. 

“It is far from smart to trade off fundamentals like air, water, comfortable climate in pursuit of electronic progress without respecting biodiversity and creating a safe environment for all living beings,” Ravikiran asserted. “That is why Climate Literacy is an important activity of ours. For instance, millions of people are planting trees which is commendable.  But after Planet Symphony calculated that our planet needs at least 36-54 billion trees, the efforts are getting contextualised with requirements and enabling more cohesive efforts.” 

To arrive at this number, the PS collated global data from various sources including the IPCC, National Geographic and Discovery Science and calculated based on a healthy average of 40-60 trees per acre over 1.4 million square miles (900 million acres).  “36-54 billion will look doable if we view it as 6-8 trees per person on the planet. We can also use millions of acres of urban rooftops,” Ravikiran concluded.

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