Spring is vanishing as Earth is warming. How can we save it ?

- Gurinder Kaur,
A recent report by a group of climate researchers Climate Central looked into how rising global temperatures affect India’s seasons. Based on temperature data since 1970, Spring is Disappearing in India showed that rising global temperatures are causing a gradual decrease in the spring season across all states and Union territories of India.

Over the past five decades, India has seen a reduction in the length of winter season and rising temperatures across states and Union territories. However, the rate of temperature increase varies by region each winter month. Manipur experienced the highest increase (2.3 degrees Celsius), while Delhi had the lowest (0.23°C).

In 2023, there was a notable temperature contrast among Indian states during winter. Southern states experienced above-average temperatures in December and January, while northern states saw below-average temperatures.

Delhi, Ladakh and Uttar Pradesh had lower temperatures, with Delhi experiencing -0.2°C in December and -0.8°C in January. In February, temperatures began to rise abruptly.

In February, Rajasthan saw the highest temperature increase (2.6°C), while Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Ladakh and Jammu & Kashmir all experienced a 2°C rise.

This rapid warming has pushed February temperatures to levels previously seen in mid-March. Consequently, the spring season is shrinking, impacting vegetation growth.

With less time for crops to mature, food production, from fruits to grains, may plummet. According to the second installment of the 6th report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a 1-4°C temperature increase could slash maize production by 25-70 per cent and paddy production by 10-30 per cent in South Asia.

Spring’s arrival isn’t just changing in India — it’s happening worldwide. In Japan, cherry blossoms mark the season, drawing visitors from around the globe. Since 1953, these blooms have been appearing 1.2 days earlier per decade.

Similarly, in Washington DC, cherry blossoms have been arriving about a week earlier since 1921. This shift is due to winter shortening and rising temperatures, causing the blossoms to bloom prematurely.

The rise in Earth’s average temperature is causing widespread and interconnected effects on seasons worldwide. In 2023, it became the hottest year on record, surpassing pre-industrial levels by 1.48°C. From June 2023 to February 2024, temperatures increased each month for nine consecutive months.

February 2024 saw an average temperature of 13.54°C, 1.77°C higher than the pre-industrial average for February. Notably, every single day in 2023 had temperatures at least 1°C higher than pre-industrial levels, with half the year experiencing temperatures over 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

In 2023, not only did Earth’s average temperature rise, but so did the average temperature of all the world’s oceans. From March 30, 2023, to March 25, 2024, except for May 3, each day saw the highest sea-surface temperature for that date.

This trend suggests a concerning future. Oceans traditionally absorb 90 per cent of atmospheric heat, helping to regulate Earth’s temperature. However, with rising ocean surface temperatures, this natural moderating effect is diminishing.

Studies like the one by Climate Central are not unique — In 1962, marine biologist and writer Rachel Carson published a book, Silent Spring, analysing the harmful effects of synthetic insecticide dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT) on the environment and wildlife.

Despite opposition from chemical companies, the United States banned DDT use in 1972 due to its adverse effects.

IPCC reports from 2014 and 2021-2022 emphasised that without global efforts to curb Earth’s rising temperature, every nation will face the consequences of climate change. Since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Brazil in 1992, countries have been negotiating to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

However, developed nations and rapidly growing economies continue to release significant amounts of these gases. Despite discussions, high-emitting countries often sidestep commitments to reduce emissions.

Time is running out for action as natural disasters strike countries daily. It’s not just spring that’s shrinking; if Earth’s temperature keeps rising, seasons could vanish entirely. With spring disappearing, autumn may follow suit, leaving only summer and winter.

In India, winter has already shortened to two months from October to February. Europe’s temperature has surged 2.2°C above pre-industrial levels, twice the global average. The Arctic and Antarctic are warming rapidly too. This temperature rise threatens vegetation, animals and humans, especially in colder regions, potentially leaving Earth seasonless.

To curb rising temperatures, countries must act swiftly by cutting greenhouse gas emissions. This means transitioning to renewable energy sources and reducing fossil fuel use. Transportation, living and eating habits should also change to lower emissions.

Public transport should be prioritised and cities should be planned for walkability and cycling. Increasing forest cover can help absorb emissions. By controlling temperature rise, we can prevent natural disasters and preserve seasonal cycles. - Down to earth
(Gurinder Kaur is former professor, department of geography, Punjabi University, Patiala)

Nature Khabar