30 December 2015 14:19:40 IST

Goodbye 2015 — you were hot!

But before you let out a sigh of relief, here’s some more bad news: 2016 will be worse

It was a problem that would have confounded a committee comprising Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Perry Mason.

The charred body of a man in full scuba diving suit was found stuck in the top branches of a tree in a California forest. He was apparently burnt by a forest fire. That point of the woodland, where the body was found, was a good 10-km away from the nearest coastline. So, what was the man doing there, dressed in a full diving suit?

After much brain-racking, the forest rangers came up with a theory that seemed to answer the riddle: the man was swimming in the Pacific, even as a fire was raging in the forest. Helicopters were pressed into service, scooping huge bucketfuls of water from the ocean to water-bomb the fires. One of the choppers, it is speculated, scooped up the poor man along with the water and dropped him into the raging inferno.

How true is it?

Now, this is a legend. There are differing opinions about the veracity of the story and nobody knows quite for sure if it really happened. But it helps highlight, and remember, a common fact with nature — forest fires.

Forest fires are nothing new, and though they are common in the United States, Canada and Australia, they are not really confined to any particular geography. (Indian literature of yore is replete with references to daava-anala. ) Yet, now is a good time to remember forest fires. For the year that ends this Thursday has been the hottest in recorded history.

Goodbye 2015! You were hot. But before you let out an ‘oof’ of relief, come to terms with this bad news — 2016 is going to be worse.

A disastrous year

From a clean-tech perspective, 2015 was not a good one — it has been a year of climate extremes.

Flood waters may recede but memories of the trauma won’t. Chennai suffered an unprecedented flooding issue, one that was never supposed to happen. Delhi is literally and figuratively under a cloud. Air pollution has reached alarming levels. Ditto is the case for several cities in China.

In South America, some 150,000 people have had to be evacuated due to flooding. Argentina and Paraguay were worst affected.

The Paris Agreement, which one had hoped against hope would be a success, turned out to be a dud, thanks to a Machiavellian West.

Forest fires have been raging in Indonesia since July, causing a big dent to its economy — one estimate pegs the loss at $47 billion. Some 20,000 troops are fighting the fires, to no avail as yet. The US is likely to see a record-breaking extent of forest burnt down by fires — close to 10 million hectares. Australia, where bushfires are common, has also suffered more this year.

Beyond boundaries

All these will have consequences well beyond the affected regions. Experts fear a rise of nationalism due to climatic extremes, which could feed on itself. How would you react if the United States told India not to burn coal any more? Scenario builders see the misery and sufferings spawning terrorism and a rise of criminalisation of nations.

Amidst all this, there was only one bit of good news from 2015. Solar power prices fell to historic lows — ₹4.63 a kWh — breaching the ₹5-mark. A further fall is anticipated.

So, brace yourself up for a (too) warm 2016. Happy New Year.