The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

India Is Cooked

On May 29 New Delhi was 52.9 degrees Celsius (127.2 F), only 1.5 degrees less than the world record from Death Valley.

Records are being set all over the world:

And this is in May, which is, in a way, a good thing, since humidity is relatively low and the wet-bulb temperature wouldn’t have been as high as it would be, in say, August. At a humidity of 66%, people would have been dropping like flies.

I have noted, for many years now, that I do not expect India to survive and that I expect, along the way, large famines and death tolls of at least two to three hundred million.

Temperature is only part of it, but it’s not going to be a small deal. Most of India’s groundwater is contaminated, and while some states are fine, many are over-using groundwater to the extant that farmer suicides because wells drying up are a regular event. As the Himalayas get hotter and glaciers dry up, rivers will first swell then either die or have far less water in them. (The Monsoons, at least, will be stronger in most areas of India.)

The combination of less water, more heat, extreme weather events and unreliable planting seasons means that at some point India’s harvest is going to fail in a big way. If this was a “India only” problem, well, the rest of the world could get India thru, but it isn’t, India’s just one of the most vulnerable countries.

In most famines, there’s enough food, it just isn’t distributed to people who need it, but we are going to have famines where there just, genuinely, isn’t enough food, period and India is very vulnerable to this.

(This is, as an aside, one of the main reasons for the China/Russia alliance. China has great difficulty feeding itself, and Russia has massive food surpluses. China wants and needs to be first in line when food becomes scarce.)

Now there are potential solutions to a lot of this, but India, though ostensibly rich in GDP terms, isn’t rich on the ground and has terrible state capacity. China will be able to implement effective public policy for quite some time. India won’t.

Finally, and I want to return to this, the fact that population replacement rates are falling around the world is GOOD, not bad. We have too many people and are in classic population overshoot. Increasing population is the idiot’s way of increasing GDP. (Canada and Britain, take note.)

So one good piece of news for India is that population is now at replacement and in many states has fallen below replacement. But, it’s a little too late, I fear.

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Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – June 02 2024


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  1. Bill R

    And remember the “Green Revolution” miracle meant that farmers needed more water and chemical inputs. It does not help that western firms went and stole the seeds from farmers and patented them thus forcing farmers in many parts of the world to pay for the seeds they had grown for generations.
    The last forecast I saw was that Canada’s grain harvest could be down 29% this year, Russia has said they will have a lower harvest, Britain’s PM has told people to grow fruit and veg. Ocean fish stocks have been hammered by over fishing, pollution and many are move to new areas due to climate change.
    Nero fiddled while Rome burned – it does not seem we are even playing any music.

  2. EGrise

    Ian, how do you think a Modi/Hindutva government will respond to mass famine?

  3. Ian Welsh

    I think it’s still ten to twenty years out, but if it happens sooner than I expect (a decent chance, I tend to be over-optimistic) , then I would expect martial law and an attempt at distribution, however Modi’s fundamentally incompetent at actual governing, and Indian state capacity is weak.

    Expect a lot of communal violence. It will be a very bad time to be untouchable or Muslim.

  4. elkern

    India is also saddled with a 5,000 year old class of Oligarchs (Brahmins) enshrined by religion. Seems like Congress I [sorta kinda] tried to change that, but either failed, gave up, or were bribed/threatened into dropping that massive social project. With BHP solidly in charge now, I expect no accountability for even the worst corporate crimes. I generally avoid buying products from India because I have no faith in the government’s ability to enforce health and safety regulations.

    And I chuckle bitterly every time US media quotes our gov’t officials promoting our “alliance” with India as a bulwark against China. (The neologism “Indo-Pac” deserves its own drinking game, but the drinks would be 10% methanol, so don’t play it). India is an incompetent *and* unreliable partner. Their Oligarchy is far worse than ours, so their MIC is even less likely to produce functional weapons; and Hindutva imparts a sense of civilizational superiority that means they will never really accept a position of subservience to US goals.

    I say all this with sorrow and bitterness. Earlier in my life, I really thought India could be an important player in making the World a better place, but the rise of the BJP has ended that fantasy.

  5. Mary Bennet

    India would need to collect and retain the water of the monsoon rains. Why would India not be able to do this?

  6. StewartM

    Finally, and I want to return to this, the fact that population replacement rates are falling around the world is GOOD, not bad. We have too many people and are in classic population overshoot. Increasing population is the idiot’s way of increasing GDP. (Canada and Britain, take note.)

    It’s not just Canada and Britain, it’s the political right, everywhere.

  7. Revelo

    PDF predicts both India and China will have increased precipitation with global warming. Very nice maps in the article, so worth downloading. Note that the Mediterranean climate areas are where precipitation predicted to drop: Mediterranean per se, Mexico and Central America, eastern South Africa, Chile.

    Worldwide increased precipitation from global warming is intuitive, because more heat means more evaporation from the ocean. Increased precipitation might be in the form of deluges that cause flooding plus more precipitation might mean higher humidity during hot spells, so deadly wet bulb temps.

  8. different clue

    The Great Baby Boycott would be a kinder and gentler way of floating human populations down to eco-bearable levels than the Great Die Off would be. And if appears that a semi-great Baby Boycott has been under way in some places due to hundreds of millions of choice-responses to a diffuse forcefield of pressures and possibilities.

    The Chinese Communist authorities may want another Long Baby Boom, but so far a lot of China’s young people will not “lie flat” for that, or take it “lying down”, or however one wants to put it.

  9. Ian Welsh

    Yes, I noted that the monsoons (rainfall) will be stronger. It will not be sufficient to make up agricultural needs

  10. Purple Library Guy

    Again, with a strong government that was interested in the prosperity of the public, India might do many things–they might do measures to ensure rainwater was retained and used more efficiently, they might encourage and help with a shift from rice to less water-intensive crops and from cotton to things you can eat, and so on. But that would require agricultural policies that were carefully thought through and extensively implemented at ground level, working directly with the peasants, and India does not have that kind of government.

  11. EGrise

    Thanks for the reply, Ian. I guess I worry that a nationalist government would blame the Muslims and start bloody pogroms which in turn could alarm Pakistan and lead to a war between two nuclear powers.

    Interesting times ahead!

  12. Stormcrow

    Thank you very much for posting the wet bulb data. Where did you run across it?

    My interest is practical, since I intend to blatantly steal those graphs to buttress my very pessimistic assessment of the long term viability of the extreme southern US, and particularly Arizona, to human habitation, as global warming continues.

    I don’t even want to think about what’s in store for Mexico and Central America.

  13. Ian Welsh


    did a bit of research and found a better chart.

    The previous one was really heastroke risk, and thus labelled incorrectly. My apologies for the mistake.

  14. NR

    Earlier in my life, I really thought India could be an important player in making the World a better place, but the rise of the BJP has ended that fantasy.

    elkern: I don’t know if you saw this, but Modi’s BJP party have lost their majority in parliament. A coalition of opposition parties led by the INC are set to gain over 100 seats in a surprising overperformance from where the polls had them.

    Modi is still expected to remain Prime Minister since his allied parties will be enough to give him a majority, but maybe there’s hope for India yet?

  15. different clue

    I would guess that Pakistan is also cooked. Maybe even more cooked if its society is more brittle and given to chiliastic religionistic escape than India’s society pre-Modi and perhaps post-Modi if non-Modi India can conquer and defeat the Modians.

    By the way, here is a sorta-funny cartoon . . .

  16. Ian Welsh

    Yes, things will be worse in both Bangladesh and Pakistan, Bangladesh for sure.

  17. different clue

    I wonder how Pakistan versus Bangladesh will turn out. Bangladesh has less bio-physical margin of safety but Pakistan has less social health and cultural decency, even at the barest minimum level. So I think Bangladesh will respond better to climate/weather disasters and inexorable heat and sea-level rise than Pakistan will, so long as they stay below utter extinction levels.

  18. different clue

    Here is a link to an article about the current heat wave in Pakistan, which goes to show just how very cooked Pakistan will become.

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