Let’s not talk about Urban Heat Island
Even before the summer sets in, we start discussing about Urban Heat Island effects. Nearly all news paper publication and magazines cover atleast one article or even more wherein they talk about the Urban Heat Island. And at the end of the story they discuss the ways and solutions to avoid and be safe from Urban Heat Island effects. However, the Nationwide decline in numbers of trees cover per head has not only made the Urban areas, but, also has affected the rural areas wherein making them warmer and warmer. In this scenario discussing about Urban Heat Island is like fighting a forest fire with a single Firebrigade!.
First, let’s educate our readers who are unaware of the term Urban Heat Island. Briefly we will explain the term and then move towards the discussion of why talking about Urban Heat Island in these times of climate change does not make any sense.
“Urban heat Island” occur when cities replace natural land cover with dense concentrations of pavement, buildings, and other surfaces that absorb and retain heat. This effect increases energy costs (e.g., for air conditioning), air pollution levels, and heat-related illness and mortality. Hence, but obviously the human population, the roads, construction sites, carbon emission and all the problematic issues would be more than rural areas. Even the tree count would be less than that of rural areas. Hence, when the temperature of the Sun is at the peak in summers in these the temperature of the area is a couple of degrees more than that of rural areas. These situation in different theories are termed as Urban Heat Island.
Talking about this theory if we move ahead, then, every year to safeguard against Urban Heat Island many ideas and solutions are given. Like in the cities it is said that maximum use of green roof tops should be done on houses and apartments, more gardens should be made, use of tar should be reduced, the architecture should be such which would follow natural shade structure. Few places they have also suggested adding water fountains and canals in public places. And many more ideas, solution, designs, notions are shared, which according to me are either not economically viable, or the feasibility of execution on a macro level is not possible.
Due to the above reasons, even though the term Urban Heat Island has been discussed every year, we have not succeeded in reducing the heat in the city nor any positive steps have been taken in this direction. Rather, in the last one and half decade the beast of climate change has raised its head in such a way that it has not spared even the rural areas from its wrath, the heat waves are hitting the areas be it rural or urban without discrimination for days at a stretch, due to which thousands of people are getting effected. The world is frantically looking for options to calm it down. And to add to the plight, due to these heat waves, the existing green cover and forest are getting regularly affected by wild fires at a rampant pace and disturbing the eco system very badly. The rate of survival for trees in the urban areas has also decreased. In short the main problem solvers of Urban Heat Island, ‘Trees’ are also now adversely and deeply affected due to the severe heat waves generated due to climate change.
And then, the weather reports that we read from around the world, tell us that the days of winter are decreasing constantly and the temperatures of 35 degrees in winters would become the new normal. This does not only apply to urban areas – the rural areas would be equally affected too. And this issue has nothing to do with Urban Heat Islands. The effects of Climate Change has covered the entire earth!. Hence forth is it worth to worry or discuss about only Urban Heat Island effects every summer ?
Now we need to implement precise policies, bring awareness and implement strict laws at war footing speed as that’s the only way left now. Because, up till now we were worried about the couple of degrees increase of temperature in cities in summer, however, climate change has shown us a red light, the ugly truth and changed the perception of the seasons. We are staring at a situation where we will have to endure prolonged hot summers most of the days of the year.
Now what? If we don’t intend to bear the hot summers throughout the year and to let the seasons change naturally as it used to change in past, what shall be done? What steps should we take? For that we should work towards Urban Forest Policies at a rapid pace and plant as many native trees as we can in urban areas and preserve the existing trees in urban as well rural areas. And to reserve land in cities not for gardening but for urban forestation. Other than that we Indians are not aware about the concept of urban public transport, we count it as a means or need of transport for the lower income class whereas in developed countries they consider it and use it as need of time. And then there Public transport means are all based on renewable energy which directly effects carbon emission. Again I would bring to light that success of renewable energy concept can be a big hit if used in public service but would have a very limited effect if it used on individual level. Because the transportations based on renewable energy should also be affordable with being clean and in a developing country like India it might not be a first option for individuals due to economic constraints is understandable.
The other biggest issue faced by urban India is that the land which does not need to be filled or covered with tar or paved with paver blocks, even they are stuffed corner to corner with tar or paver blocks. There is very less or no land available in cities. So much that to facilitate rain harvesting in these areas is not possible and hence underground recharge is not possible. In addition it increases the heat quotient on the population. Leave alone the main roads even small streets face the same dilemma. And also preventing the growth of millions of street / road side trees thus disturbing its ecosystem.
Though, carbon emission can be reduced using many techniques. However, as Greenman I feel that while reducing carbon emission, and implementing the techniques or technology we will need public awareness as well as need massive funds and how much these solutions will have any effect on ecology will be a separate point of discussion. But, if we focus only and only on Urban Forestation, then, surely we will reduce carbon emission footprint and also develop a healthy ecology. And here there is no need of any awareness programmes or massive funds.
Finally, climate change is such an enormous issue that we will need collective steps to curtail it. And such collective steps could not be taken by printing in publication Do’s and Dont’s. This needs proper policies and moreover implementation of these policies by law enforcement agencies is a must. Then only we can fight and crush the beast of climate change or else every passing year we would be cribbing of more hot summers and waste our energy on discussing how to fight climate change.
By Viral Desai
(The author is a known Environmentalist and the Pioneer of Satyagraha Against Pollution movement.)