Thursday, October 20, 2011

Climate Change: Don't Shoot The Messenger!

Last evening I wrote a piece on how changing climate is affecting tea production in India’s Assam. Soon after, I was pulled up by a scientist for being ‘unscientific’, ‘sensational’, ‘fuelling a controversy’ etc, etc. At the end, he had a strong diktat: don’t link climate change directly to the decline of any crop production, including tea.

Interestingly, the effects of climate change in tea gardens is not breaking news. In October 2009 Heather Stewart and Nick Mathiason of The Guardian, reported on the effects of climate change in four countries tea and coffee producing countries – Kenya, Mexico, Peru and Nicaragua. The report, based a research by Fairtrade drinks producer Cafédirect, said that “Climate change is already wreaking havoc on the livelihoods of small-scale tea and coffee farmers in some of the world's poorest countries.”

A year later, in Dec 2010, the Guardian again published an extensive report, this time on the plight of tea growers affected by climate change in Assam. The report by journalist Amarjyoti Borah stated  “…in the last 60 years, rainfall has fallen by more than a fifth and minimum temperature has risen by a degree to 19.5C. .. In 2007, Assam produced 512,000 tonnes of tea. By 2008 this had declined to 487,000 tonnes, with estimated production in 2009 down again to 445,000.” 

This Guardian isn’t the only media to raise the issue. 

On December 31, 2010, Associated Press carried an article that read, “…climate change has hurt the country's tea crop, leading not just to a drop in production but also subtly altering the flavor of their brew.” The report quoted Mridul Hazarika, director of the Tea Research Association, one of the world's largest tea research centers.

This year, in January, the International Business Times reported that climate change was weakening Indian tea. Reporter Brigid Darragh quoted local tea growers who echoed the same concern.

In January again, Sumanta Ray Chaudhuri wrote in DNA news daily of a decline in production of tea. Chaudhuri’s report quoted Tea Association of India (TAI), sayng “the declining production in Assam tea gardens is nothing new, and has been happening steadily for the last six years... The main reason for this is the gradual decline in what used to be abundant rainfall and a steady rise in minimum temperatures.” 

A day later, UPI published an article titled “Climate change a threat to Assam tea”. The article quoted Debakanta Handique, a climate scientist in Assam, who said that decline in Assam’s tea production was “clearly due to climate change and it is bound to have major impact on the tea industry."

The list of such reports is long enough to cover a km. But I would like to stop here and ask a couple of questions: 1) why are certain scientists still adamant about treating climate change as a taboo, while it is happening right at their backyard? 2) If the telltale signs of climate change at the community level are not acceptable to the scientists, how can media help it?

Calling a spade a spade may not be everyone’s forte. But that’s the core job of the media and it should be allowed to do its job, or else we have no right to call ourselves a democracy.

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