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Is Climate Change Changing India?

What are the effects of climate in India and will it evolve to avoid an existential tragedy?

Kishanganj district in India's Bihar state is one of the poorest regions in the country but is also home to one of its highest birth rates, with each woman having nearly five children on average. To try to curb the population growth, the local government is attempting to educate locals on family planning, distributing free condoms and even encouraging people to get sterilized. Even while great expense is being made to curtail this demographic growth in other parts of India the opposite is going on. Per the latest National Family Health Survey, India's national Total Fertility Rate has fallen below 2.0 and the average number of children born to a woman over her lifetime has dropped below the replacement level.

But why the stark difference in Kishanganj like other regions of India that have no problem with birth rates the population is distinctively different thy are predominantly dark brown in complexion!

Sikkim is a state in northeastern India. It borders the Tibet Autonomous Region of China in the north and northeast, Bhutan in the east, many of the population are light skinned and suffering from the ravages of climate change. It is the world’s largest producer of smoky black cardamom. It also has India’s smallest population, not even three-quarters of a million people, and its lowest birthrate.That last distinction has state leaders worried about the survival of the unique culture produced by Sikkim’s blend of ethnic groups, religions and geography. And they are taking action.

While India as a whole, with 1.4 billion people and growing, will soon become the most populous country in history, the situation in Sikkim has gotten so dire that the local government is essentially paying people to have babies.

The effort points to a demographic reality in India that is often overshadowed by its sheer scale. Its population growth is highly uneven. Given the geography and climate of north Indian states, most natives are fair skinned in Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Jammu & Kashmir. Ironically, this is also where we see the lowest birth rates. These states in the north account for much of it. Where the populations look more like East Asia or Western Europe, with aging populations that are shrinking or will be in the coming years. One cannot but ask, are the recent years of climate extreme weather events a factor ?

In North India inn the 1990’s many Brahmin families were full of government servants who were still carrying the colonial white man’s burden of racial prejudices and superiority complexes. Fair skin has long been part of India’s national psyche. The various settlers, rulers, invaders, and colonizers who entered India starting in the 1400s were relatively light-skinned. This includes the Dutch, French, Portuguese, Mughals, and of course, the British, who were in India from the 17th century until India’s independence in 1947. During the British Empire, skin tone prejudice became formally engrained; the colonizers kept light skinned Indians as allies, giving them extra advantages over the rest of the “blacks.” The British East India Company even named their settlement at Fort St. George “White Town'' and their Indian settlement “Black Town.”

The British colonizers were able to build on India’s existing caste system, a socio-economic hierarchy with origins in Hinduism but which now permeates across Indian society. The upper castes like the Brahmins and Kshatriyas were traditionally powerful (and also fair-skinned), while lower castes (including the “untouchable” Dalits) performed manual tasks and had darker complexions. A popular saying in the region is “Never trust a dark-skinned Brahmin or a fair-skinned Dalit.”In Bangladesh, agriculture absorbs about 44% of the workforce. 76% of the population live in rural areas, and 90% of them are directly involved in agriculture. The net crop income is sensitive to climate changes. Despite technological advancement, the climate still plays a crucial role in agriculture, where temperature and rainfall are the key determinants of crop production. Many Bangladeshi people in Bangladesh and in the diaspora consider light skin more attractive and desirable, resulting in discrimination of dark-skinned people, particularly girls and women. Advertisements for skin lightening products such as “Fair and lovely” have a significant presence in Bangladeshi society, on TV and social media as well as print media and huge billboards in cities and rural towns. The contrast in skin tone between the people in the advertisements and the people on the streets is striking.

In Indian society those with fairer skin have a higher place in the upper echelons of the society the access to food and farming for the nation remains in the hands of the lower caste. Climate change,thus becomes a factor of great import to demographics beyond social hierarchy, such as changes in precipitation patterns and frequent temperature fluctuations, can affect population dynamics through fertility behavior.

For example, higher temperatures reduce birth rates about nine months later . A 2019 study by Lam and Miron found that a 1°C increase in monthly temperature would lead to nearly 1% fewer births nine months later for the Pheomelanated or light skinned populations Similarly, a 1°C increase in summer temperature leads to 1% or more. fewer births nine months later in predominantly white U.S. states.

Not only temperature but also precipitation is related to fertility. A study of rural communities in Mexico found that fertility–in the years following an increase in precipitation–was 1.14 times higher for dryland communities than for wetland (coastal) communities. This implies that the previous year’s precipitation is an important factor in fertility timing, especially for dryland (urban/Suburban) communities.

Indians from the northernmost region are fair skinned while Indians from the northeastern region are commonly known as having a yellow skin tone and facial features more akin to our Southeast Asian counterparts. Southern Indians, or those from the Dravidian's family tree, mostly have a darker skin tone. All North Indians are not light-skinned. North India has a big population of Tribal ( Adivasi in Hindi language) , Dalit etc. These populations are darker skinned. Historically, Dalits were often limited from equal political participation. They are often prevented from entering religious places. They were considered impure and were not allowed to even fetch water from the public well. Almost 100 million Dalits in India – or one third of their total number – continue to live in multidimensional poverty.

The Following Regions have the lowest birthrates in India and are falling fast…

1 Sikkim 1.1

2 Jammu and Kashmir 1.4

3 West Bengal 1.6

4 Delhi 1.6

Recent surveys show that in the majority of Indian Northern states, the fertility rate has fallen well below the replacement level of 2.1 and the country is fast approaching the replacement level itself. While the 40-60 age group constitutes 25 percent of the population, 10.5 percent are over 50. 26% are under the age of 14. Indo-Aryan refers to the populations speaking an Indo-Aryan language or identifying as Indo-Aryan; they form the predominant group in Northern India. The largest Indo-Aryan ethnolinguistic groups are Hindi–Urdu, Bengali, Punjabi, Marathi, Gujarati, Rajasthani, Bhojpuri, Maithili, Odia, and Sindhi. Despite this fact, R1a or 'Indo-Iranian' AKA ‘Indo-Aryan’ lineages form only about 17.5 % of Indian male lineage, and an even smaller percentage of the female.

This is important because natural selection has been operating in contemporary humans and our bodies trend to discard those traits that do not assist our survival.. It has also been shown that there was significant variance in relative fitness in a pre industrial human population before global warming climate change, such that there is much potential for natural selection to come into effect. Climate change could trigger evolutionary changes in humans, including causing a shift in our appearance and eliminating archaic genetics suited for survival in an ice age ie leftover traits from Neanderthals like white skin, blue-eyes, red hair, short stature and freckles!

This ‘variable selection’ hypothesis is that ecological instability, driven by climate changes, would impact evolution by favoring genetic traits that make humans more flexible and better able to adapt to extreme climate changes. The last time the Earth was hotter than it is today was at least 125,000 years ago, long before anything that resembled human civilization appeared. Since 1970, the Earth’s temperature has spiked faster than in any comparable forty-year period in recorded history. The eight years between 2015 and 2022 were the hottest on record. In 2022, 850 million people lived in regions that experienced all-time high temperatures. Globally, killer heat waves are becoming longer, hotter, and more frequent. One study found that a heat wave like the one that cooked the Pacific Northwest in 2021 is 150 times more likely today than it was before we began the atmosphere with CO2 at the beginning of the industrial age.

The truth is, extreme heat is remaking our planet into one in which large swaths may become inhospitable to human life. One recent study projected that over the next fifty years, one to three billion people will be left outside the climate conditions that gave rise to civilization over the last six thousand years. Even if we transition fairly quickly to clean energy, half of the world’s human population will be exposed to life-threatening combinations of heat and humidity by 2100. Temperatures in parts of the world could rise so high that just stepping outside for a few hours, another study warned, “will result in death even for the fittest of humans.” Bleaching your skin in a future like that is tantamount to suicide.

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