A popular folk melody that dwells deep in the valleys of Uttarakhand, brings forth a lady’s wish to visit her mother’s place. She explains that the less valued wild fig is available throughout the year, but the short lived once in a year ripening "kaphal" has marked the onset of spring. The hymn went technically wrong this year when the wild berries like kaphal and many others were stirred up in between the sweet slumber of the winters early in the month of January. Another local favorite, rhododendron (known as buransh locally), whose first bloom is supposed to have plucked for the celebration of harvest festival( "phool dei") which marks the onset on spring, swept the Himalayan valleys in its red and pink hues in January, which otherwise is a lifelessly frozen winter month. Although, the de-synchronization with the nature's clock caught the attention of many leading newspapers, yet we prefer to stay dumb to the underlying causes to which most of us keep a deterministic opinion.
Himalayas, the youngest of all the mountain ranges of the world, are also the biggest inventory of ice cap on earth outside the poles. Thus, the region is considered to be highly susceptible to climate change. In fact, the IPCC Fourth Assessment report suggests that the Himalayan Eco-system is particularly at risk with a rise in global temperatures. In fact, the report embosses some of the major concerns such as global warming and climate change, biodiversity depletion, biological invasion etc.
Various studies have established that climate change influences phenological behavior, such as flowering, fruiting, germination etc. as plants and trees are susceptible to seasonality i.e. seedlings are particularly vulnerable to short-term droughts, saplings to the presence or absence of sunlight, and mature trees to the availability of soil water in growing-season. In fact, changing temperatures also can create an asynchrony with the monsoon and phenological events such as seed fall or germination may occur too early leading to seedling mortality due to dry conditions.
At macroscopic levels, studies revel that the narrowing band of temperature variation around the year might impact species distribution in the Himalayan forests as the evergreen species will gain land from depleting deciduous ones which are vulnerable to drought. Interestingly, some species are marching upwards in the mountains to escape the rising temperatures, but the conical shape of mountains leaves lesser space for biodiversity at higher latitudes which may become a contributing factor for extinction.
The human habitat
A place where life is closely knitted to its nature, and economy lives in symbiosis with natural resources, climate change is bound to leave major impressions on day to day life. Its no secret that these are the areas with low per capital income with major fraction of population either dependent on agriculture, forest resources or tourism. Shrinking winter spans and scanty snowfalls have slowed down the in pour of currency from tourism. In addition to this, the advanced short spells of spring have given a blow to vegetation which is the backbone of Himalayan economy. Rhododendron showed up early and the bloom was too weak to meet the annual demand of flower concentrate. With poor storage facilities and short shelf life of mountain berries, poor roadside berries sellers have faced the worst hit.
The early show of vegetation, low harvest, arid summers, melting glaciers and all other changes have certainly not climbed up the lofty Himalayas in a day. These trends have their roots set up in pre-colonial databases that had speculated the situation long ago. Since then, academicians round the globe have been pouring in their research work, but all that could hardly nudge the common masses of the country. Since the growing consumerism has put us all in a platform where environment is exploited at macroscopic levels to achieve the narrow band of personal comfort at microscopic levels. Planetous appeals the readers to bring forth a lifestyle that will break our planet free from the shackles of toxins and bring back the arena of sustainable organic world. A concern for environment in general perspective of each individual can make the nature change its track. Individual waste management, afforestation, educating the masses, planet awareness, etc are some of the basic elements missing from our society. From the point where we stand at environment conservation, it is a long road to travel .
Mahesh R. Gautam, Govinda R. Timilsina, and Kumud Acharya, Climate Change in the Himalayas: Current State of Knowledge, The World Bank Development Research Group Environment and Energy Team June 2013.
R. Krishnan, J. Sanjay, Chellappan Gnanaseelan , Milind Mujumdar, Ashwini Kulkarni, Supriyo, Assessment of Climate Change over the Indian Region A Report of the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES), Government of India, The Springer,2020.