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Climate change brews multi-challenges for tea

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Guwahati: In the backdrop of the just-concluded COP21 talks in Paris, as nations across the world discussed ways to tackle the monster called climate change, back home, India’s favourite beverage, tea, is facing some major challenges as a result of it – from low yield to new pests.

Scientists at Assam’s Tocklai Tea Research Institute (TRI) say that erratic rainfall over the years is a major concern for the tea industry. The first flush – the early leaves which are delicate and have a gentle aroma – which is harvested mid-March, has been affected by the changing rain patterns.

R N Bhagat, one of the scientists at Tocklai, said: “In the last 100 years in Assam, we have lost around 22.1 cm of rainfall. With this decrease and a shift in rainfall distribution, the tea industry is losing the first flush that comes in March-April. Spraying of fertilizers is timed with the rainfall pattern, but with no rain, the fertilizers have no impact.”

Then again, with no rain, the relative humidity in March-April is also lowering, further affecting the first flush. “It used to be 80 percent, but in 2015 it was recorded around 52-54 percent,” Bhagat told IANS.

In a discussion organised by the Centre for Environment Education and The Third Pole under the Indian Himalayas Climate Adaptation Programme (IHCAP), Bhagat said that tea is a self-adapting plant and has been sustaining rising temperatures – the summer saw more than 35 degrees Celsius while tea grows ideally between 13-30 degrees C.

Even then, it cannot tackle all changes – like a spurt in new pests as a result of changing weather patterns.

N. Muraleedharan, director of Tocklai, said: “White flies is a new species of pest which has been reported mostly from the Assam belt. It is minute and travels in hoards. There has also been an increase in pests like thrips, tea mosquitoes, scale insects and green hoppers, as a result of which the intensity of damage on tea is more.”

“As a result of the change in weather patterns, there is a decrease in leaf quality too,” he went on to say.

What all of this translates into is production being affected. And to increase production, the tea managements generally use more chemicals, leading to more biotic stress on the plant. According to the scientists, there are two kinds of stress – abiotic (drought, flood) and biotic (pests and the like caused by flood and drought).

“This also means that the total production cost of the tea estates is increasing. Earlier Rs.4,000-5,000 was used for pesticides, per hectare. Now it has gone up to Rs.20,000-25,000. Irrigation costs have also increased,” Bhagat said.

With such multi-pronged challenges being thrown at tea by changing environmental conditions, scientists are now working on developing clones that would have the best chances of survival in the future.

“We have simulated future scenarios of climatic conditions, like higher carbon dioxide, and are looking at how tea plants behave. In one or one and a half years’ time, we should be able to announce future clones to the industry,” Bhagat said.

Scientists also developed a seed-stock that is drought resistant and released it in September on an experimental basis, which got good results.

The changing climatic conditions and more pests have also steered many gardens into adopting indigenous plants that naturally repel tea-harming insects. “In this matter, organic tea is much more climate resilient than the chemical version. And its demand is high too. But it is more expensive,” Muraleedharan said.

So, it is an uncertain future for the steaming cup of ‘chai’ in your hands. But, as experts keep brainstorming to keep the deluge of problems from the tea plants, the good news is that all hope is not lost. Not yet. (Azera Rahman, IANS)

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Students Worldwide Skip School to Protest Government’s Failure against Global Warming

They're angry at their elders, and they're not taking it sitting down

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global warming, climate change
Students from different institutions hold placards and banners as they participate in a climate protest in New Delhi, India, March 15, 2019. VOA

They’re angry at their elders, and they’re not taking it sitting down.

Students worldwide are skipping class Friday to take to the streets to protest their governments’ failure to take sufficient action against global warming.

The coordinated “school strikes,” being held from the South Pacific to the edge of the Arctic Circle, were inspired by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who began holding solitary demonstrations outside the Swedish parliament last year.

Since then, the weekly protests have snowballed from a handful of cities to hundreds, driven by social media-savvy students and dramatic headlines about the impact of climate change.

climate change, global warming
Students attend a protest ralley of the “Friday For Future Movement” in Berlin, Germany, March 15, 2019. VOA

Thunberg, who was recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, was cheered for her blunt message to leaders at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland this year, when she told them: “I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day.”

Friday’s rallies are expected to be one of the biggest international actions yet. Protests were under way or planned in cities in more than 100 countries, including Hong Kong; New Delhi; Wellington, New Zealand; and Oulo, Finland.

In Berlin some 10,000 protesters, most of them young students, gathered in a downtown square, waving signs with slogans such as “There is no planet B” and “Climate Protection Report Card: F” before a march through the capital’s government quarter. The march was to end with a demonstration outside Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office.

Organizer Carla Reemtsma, a 20-year-old university student, said social media had been key in reaching people directly to coordinate the massive protests in so many different locations, noting that she was in 50 WhatsApp groups and fielding some 30,000 messages a day.

“It’s really important that people are getting together all over the world, because it’s affecting us all,” she said.

Critics, supporters

Some politicians have criticized the students, suggesting they should be spending their time in school, not on the streets.

“One can’t expect children and young people to see all of the global connections, what’s technically reasonable and economically possible,” said the head of Germany’s pro-business Free Democratic Party, Christian Lindner. “That’s a matter for professionals.”

climate change, global warming
Students hold signs during a rally for global climate strike for future in Seoul, South Korea, March 15, 2019. VOA

But scientists have backed the protests, with thousands signing petitions in support of the students in Britain, Finland and Germany.

“We are the professionals and we’re saying the young generation is right,” said Volker Quaschning, a professor of engineering at Berlin’s University of Applied Sciences.

“We should be incredibly grateful and appreciative of their bravery,” said Quaschning, one of more than 23,000 German-speaking scientists to sign a letter of support this week. “Because in a sense, it’s incredibly brave not to go to school for once.”

Scientists have warned for decades that current levels of greenhouse gas emissions are unsustainable, so far with little effect. In 2015, world leaders agreed in Paris to a goal of keeping the Earth’s global temperature rise by the end of the century well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

Yet at present, the world is on track for an increase of 4 degrees Celsius, which experts say would have far-reaching consequences for life on the planet.

“As a doctor, I can say it makes a big difference whether you’ve got a fever of 41 degrees Celsius (105.8 Fahrenheit) or 43 C (109.4 F),” said Eckart von Hirschhausen, a German scientist who signed the call supporting striking students. “One of those is compatible with life, the other isn’t.”

Other action

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have publicly welcomed the student protests, even as their policies have been criticized as too limited by environmental activists.

In France, activist groups launched legal action this week for failing to do enough to fight climate change, citing a similar successful effort in the Netherlands.

climate change, global warming
Hundreds of schoolchildren take part in a climate protest in Hong Kong, March 15, 2019. VOA

In Germany, environmental groups and experts have attacked government plans to continue using coal and natural gas for decades to come. Activists say that countries like Germany should fully “decarbonize” by 2040, giving less-advanced nations a bit more time to wean themselves off fossil fuels while still meeting the Paris goal globally.

Other changes needed to curb greenhouse gas emissions include ramping up renewable energy production, reining in over-consumption culture now spreading beyond the industrialized West and changing diets, experts say.

“The fight against climate change is going to be uncomfortable, in parts, and we need to have a society-wide discussion about this,” said Quaschning.

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That conversation is likely to get louder, with several U.S. presidential hopefuls planning to campaign on climate change.

Luisa Neubauer, one of the Berlin group organizing Fridays for Future, said politicians should take note of the young.

“For the European elections in May, we’re urging everyone to think about whether they want to give their vote to a party that doesn’t have a plan for the future and the climate,” she said. (VOA)