Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Climate Change: The Story From the Delhi Weather Station

My artefact focuses on Delhi, India's capital, and home to the country's top lawmakers and policymakers. I want to show Delhi residents how their own city's climate has changed in just one generation. This is no longer about their children or children's children. This is here and now. 

Hopefully, India's lawmakers and policymakers who live in Delhi, will understand how badly this problem can affect their own quality of life and thus be spurred into action, purely out of self-interest. 

While the city government  has taken steps to reduce pollution, such as powering all public transport with natural gas, the average Delhiite is still largely unconcerned about the effect their lifestyle has on the environment. For example, the city's 21.7 million people add an average of 1,000 new cars to its roads every day. The resulting emissions means Delhi's air is just as bad, if not worse than Beijing's.

The changes outlined by local data for Delhi mirror exactly the predicted trends for climate change for the country: India is projected to get hotter and wetter. However, there will also be fewer days of rain on average, every year.

Let's take a closer look at the data for Delhi taken from the city's Safdarjung Weather Station (Source for data). The three charts below depict data beginning in 1978 and ending in 2012. They tell a clear story of how the city's climate has changed.

CHART 1: Average Annual Temperatures
The blue line depicts average annual maximum temperature in Celsius. The blue trend line begins at about 31 Celsius in 1978 and ends just under 32 Celsius today. The red line is is the average annual minimum temperature. This has risen slower. The trend line here begins at about 19 Celsius in 1978 and ends about 0.2 Celsius higher.

CHART 2: Annual Rainfall (mm) 
The blue line depicts annual rainfall in mm. The trendline begins at about 670 mm/ year in 1978 and ends at 800 mm/ year in 2012. On average, Delhi is now getting a staggering 130 mm/year more rain in just 36 years.

CHART 3: Days With Rain & Days With Storms
Even though Delhi receives more rain every year, the number of 'rain days' and number of 'storm days' is reducing. This suggests more rain falling per day. The red line - Rain days - starts at 62 per year in 1978 and ends at 58 per year in 2012.
Interestingly, the blue line - storm days - begins at 38 per year in 1978 and ends at 24 per year in 2012. This is a dramatic reduction in the number of storms, suggesting that while each rain day brings more rain, there are fewer storms, on average.

All this is bad news for the city's residents.

From Charts 2 & 3, we can extrapolate more analysis on Delhi's rainfall. In 1978, the city received an average of 10.80 mm for every day of rain (670 mm/ 62 rain days). In 2012, it received an average of 13.79 mm for every day of rain (800 mm/ 58 rain days) - an average increase of nearly 3 mm for every day of rain. Effectively, there is more rain pouring down each year as well as more rainfall on every day that it does rain.

Delhi's archaic drainage system clogs up after even a moderate rain shower, flooding the capital's roads. To adapt, the city will need to repair and overhaul its existing drains quickly. This could potentially cost tens of millions of dollars, money the city doesn't have thanks to its large fiscal deficit.

The city's average maximum temperature also continues to rise sharply - an average of about 1 degree Celsius in just 36 years. This means more intense summers. The only positive is a relatively stable average minimum temperature, which suggests less erratic winters.

The city will need to plan for more intense summers. This means spending more money on day-time shelters for homeless people, more public water fountains and a worsening peak electricity demand thanks to all that extra air conditioning. All of this costs more money, which means higher taxes on the city's residents.

Climate change may be bringing fewer climatic storms to Delhi, but it certainly hasn't left the city without its share of socio-economic ones. If India's policy makers and lawmakers, who call the city home, don't act fast, they may become the victims of their own apathy. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

What Every Mobile Phone User Should Know

So I tweeted this morning about a potentially serious privacy/ security breach that anyone who uses a cellphone should be aware of. I've got the details below, but a little background first.

I recently bought a new sim card for a smartphone. The number I was issued had been 'recycled'; i.e. it had been used by someone earlier who had then returned it. Small problem: 'Vishal K.' forgot to inform his bank, his life insurance company and about half-a-dozen other firms who store his personal information.

The result: every few days, I receive an SMS meant for Vishal. Sometimes it's innocuous; a new sale at a store, or the usual spam texts about real estate. Gosh, I even know what RO water purifier system he uses.

But three events in particular got me very worried. The first was a series of texts from his bank. The second was a series of texts from his life insurance provider and the third was a birthday wish from a store.

I now know Vishal K's bank, his loan account number, his life insurance policy number, its premium value and his birthday. If I was your proverbial bad guy, I'd already be "social engineering" him. That would give me access to more personal data that would allow me to impersonate him.

As someone who covers cyber security, this worries me greatly. Most real world and even online services only require details such as your birth date or email or address to confirm your identity. If a hacker gets their hands on these, it's game over.

The really good hackers can make you pay, literally. In fact, you really should read this excellent and chilling piece. A reporter challenged a group of hackers to find out everything they could about him. Their creativity and skills gave them control of everything (and I do mean EVERYTHING!) in his life, except his children. Even that was only because he expressly told them his kids were off limits.

I should add here that I have already informed Vishal K's bank and life insurance provider about the problem. However, I think you can see exactly how this could have worked out very, very badly for him.

The problem here is how mobile operators assign new connections. Sometimes, new number series open up, but most new subscribers are given recycled numbers. If the person who used the number before you forgot to unregister his/ her mobile number, you are going to receive texts meant for them. There is no way to avoid this.

So, if you do change your mobile number please, please, please make sure you update this with critical service providers. Important personal information could fall into the wrong hands. Once that happens, you can easily lose control of everything from your email IDs to social media accounts or worse, your bank accounts. Stay safe!