Chimney Sweep

Ladakh herders endeavor to avoid wasting future amid local weather disaster

KHARNAK, India — Nomad Tsering Angchuk vows to stay put in his remote village in India’s Ladakh region.

His two sons and most of his fellow villagers have migrated to a nearby urban settlement but Angchuk is determined to herd his flock of fine cashmere-producing goats in the treeless Kharnak village, a hauntingly beautiful but unforgiving, cold mountainous desert.

Dolma Angmo, wife of nomad Tsering Angchuk, attends her hardy Himalayan goats that produce cashmere in the remote Kharnak village Sept. 17 in the cold desert region of Ladakh, India.

The 47-year-old herds 800 sheep and goats and a flock of 50 Himalayan yaks in Kharnak. In 2013, he migrated to Kharnakling, an urban settlement in the outskirts of a regional town called Leh but returned a year later, not because his old home had become any better, he said, “but because the urban centers are getting worse and there are only menial jobs for people like us.”

Nestled between India, Pakistan and China, Ladakh has faced both territorial disputes and the stark effects of climate change. The region’s sparsely populated villages have witnessed shifting weather patterns that have already altered people’s lives through floods, landslides and droughts.

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Thousands of Ladakh nomads, known for their unique lifestyle in one of the most hostile landscapes in the world have been at the heart of these changes, compounded by border conflict and shrinking grazing land. The changes have forced hundreds to migrate to mainly urban settlements, while others work to make it a more habitable place.

Angchuk’s sons didn’t return — they don’t want to be shepherds, he said — and settled in Leh. One became a construction contractor and the other works at a travel agency, part of the region’s burgeoning tourism industry.

With 300-plus days of sunshine, the desert is in the rain shadows of the Himalayas and receives only about 4 inches of precipitation annually.

Photo 2

Nomad Tsering Angchuk, right, talks with a reporter as he sits with his wife, Dolma Angmo inside their mud and stone house in remote Kharnak village Sept. 17 in the cold desert region of Ladakh, India.

At an altitude of 15,000 feet, temperatures can fall to minus 31 degrees Fahrenheit during long winter months. But it’s getting hotter.

There is no word for mosquito in the local Ladakhi language, but the region has lots of these insects now, said Sonam Wangchuk, an engineer working on solutions for sustainability at his Himalayan Institute of Alternative Ladakh.

“These are all coming with the viability of climate for them,” he said.

Ladakh’s thousands of glaciers, which help give the rugged region its title as one of the water towers of the world, are receding at an alarming rate, threatening the water supply of millions of people.

“This year we had an unprecedented melting of glaciers,” said Prof. Shakil Romshoo, a leading glaciologist and earth scientist.

Romshoo said his team has been studying seven glaciers in the Kashmir and Ladakh Himalaya for nine years but “this year shows the maximum ablation,” referring to the amount of snow and ice that has disappeared.

Drung-Drung, Ladakh’s second largest glacier, melted 197 inches in its thickness this year compared to an average 39 inches annually in the past few years.

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A nomad fetches water from a hand pump Sept. 17 in remote Kharnak village in the cold desert region of Ladakh, India.

The melting, experts say, has been exacerbated by an increase in local pollution that has worsened due to the region’s militarization. Black carbon or soot from the burning of fossil fuels on the glaciers absorbs sunlight and contaminates waterways, threatening the region’s security of food, water and energy.

The pollution is “a huge environmental onslaught,” engineer Wangchuk said. “Most of it is due to heating shelters that can be easily replaced by non-carbon-based heating systems.”

He added Ladakh today is “probably the densest militarized zone where the civilian-soldier ratio is 1:2.”

The ongoing standoff between India and China has witnessed the deployment of tens of thousands of additional soldiers to the already militarized region.

“Climate change is a global mismanagement while the pollution is a local mismanagement. We’re witnessing devastating effects of the mix in Ladakh,” Wangchuk said.

“It’s not just any little conflict, it’s much more than that and whoever wins we all lose.”

Herders say with access to the usual breeding and birthing grounds blocked by militaries on either side, newborn goats and sheep are perishing in the extreme cold of higher elevations.

Shepherds roamed these pasturelands atop the roof of the world along the unmarked borders with China for centuries where the harsh winds cause the goats to grow their super-soft wool.

Cashmere takes its name from disputed Kashmir, where artisans weave the wool into fine yarn and exquisite clothing items that cost up to thousands apiece in a major handicraft export industry.

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Nomad women weave carpets in remote Kharnak village Sept. 17 in the cold desert region of Ladakh, India.

“None of the other products get as much revenue as what they produce and they are the true generators of wealth in Ladakh,” Wangchuk said about Kharnak nomads. “They’re the most precious but they’re the most neglected lot.”

The nomads live a grueling life and follow a strict round-the-clock routine. They milk and shear their animals twice a day, maintain stone-walled pens, weave carpets, collect and sun-dry manure for fire and cook food. Shepherds also shuttle their animals from place to place more often than usual in search of greener grazing areas.

But there’s almost no health care, school or a proper irrigation system.

“It’s a whole year work here, no holidays. Even if you’re sick you’ve got to tend to animals,” Angchuk, the nomad, said. “In a decade or so I think there won’t be any Kharnak nomads although our people will be around. We’ll be history.”

Authorities say they’re doing everything they can to stop the flight of nomads. Today the village has solar panels for electricity, government-built prefab huts and water taps. Some parts have telecommunication coverage.

But the herders say it’s not enough.

Tundup Namgail, the Leh district head of sheep husbandry department, said all facilities notwithstanding, the nomads need to be “lured back on practical terms, not by romanticizing their life.”

The “only way to keep them there is to improve their profitability. Make them rich somehow,” he said.

The ‘urban heat island’ effect has made these 10 cities the most heat-intense in the US

The ‘urban heat island’ effect has made these 10 cities the most heat-intense in the US

The 'urban heat island' effect has made these 10 cities the most heat-intense in the US

Urban heat islands are areas within cities that are hotter than their outlying regions, largely due to albedo—the tendency of a material like asphalt or pavement to absorb, rather than reflect, heat from the sun. Lack of tree cover, an abundance of tall buildings, and population density can amplify this phenomenon as well.

These hot spots generally experience temperatures about 1-7 degrees Fahrenheit higher during the day and 2-5 degrees Fahrenheit higher at night than the surrounding areas. The rise in temperature increases the chances of air pollution and could prove dangerous for those without air conditioning. Urban heat retention isn’t just uncomfortable: it’s a serious public health threat.

More than 80% of Americans live in urban areas, according to Census data. But within these areas, it is almost always those in low-income and underserved neighborhoods that find themselves living in urban heat islands. This makes them not only economically disadvantaged, but also more at risk of the slew of health dangers urban heat islands pose.

Many of the most heat-intense cities in the U.S. are older cities in the Northeast. These are more compact and developed than other parts of the country. They also tend to have taller buildings, which adds to the heat island effect.

New Jersey Real Estate Network examined data from climate change nonprofit Climate Central to find which cities experience the most intense heat due to overbuilding, also known as the urban heat island effect. Out of 159 assessed cities, these 10 had the highest index.

#10. Providence, Rhode Island

#10. Providence, Rhode Island

– Index score: 7.08

– Main contributors: Building height, impermeable surface

Providence owes its high heat concentration in part to a large highway (Route 95) that cuts through the city, and its frequently used industrial port. Areas like Pavilion Avenue, which are sparsely covered in tree canopy, are particularly heavily affected.

This means that lower-income and minority members of Providence’s population bear the brunt of the urban heat island effects as is true in almost every other city. For instance, childhood asthma rates are highest in the parts of the city where heat island intensity is also highest. To combat this, the Providence Neighborhood Planting Program is offering citizens the opportunity to have free trees and greenery planted in their areas.

#9. Baltimore, Maryland

#9. Baltimore, Maryland

– Index score: 7.08

– Main contributors: Building height, impermeable surface

The worst of Baltimore’s urban heat island is in the east of the city, especially the neighborhood of Patterson Park. In these areas, temperatures are as much as 20 degrees higher than elsewhere in the city, with heat-hoarding roofs and roads largely to blame.

To lower temperatures, the city is hoping to implement “cool roofs,” which would have collateral benefits for the local economy, flood damage prevention, and public health. The B’More Cool initiative, started in 2014, is investigating where Baltimore’s urban heat islands are the worst and how to best mitigate the damage. Among their sustainable solutions is an unexpected tactic the entire community can help with: composting.

#8. Miami, Florida

#8. Miami, Florida

– Index score: 7.24

– Main contributors: Building height, impermeable surface

Miami broke new ground in addressing urban heat islands when it inaugurated the world’s first chief heat officer. Since taking the role, Jane Gilbert is devising solutions to dissipate the strength of urban heat islands, and the class inequities in health they dole out. Among these are climate resilience hubs, which will offer relief for residents suffering through a heat spell.

Additionally, Keep Safe Florida is stepping in to assist low-income residents in these hot pockets of the city. The program provides funding for low-income properties to install and update infrastructure to protect against urban heat islands, as well as other effects of climate change.

#7. Chicago, Illinois

#7. Chicago, Illinois

– Index score: 7.24

– Main contributors: Building height, impermeable surface, population density

Chicago’s heat concentration is quite skewed, thanks to the city’s position on Lake Michigan. With the lake’s waters cooling downtown, it is the city’s western suburbs that are heating up disproportionately. The fact that these areas are also increasingly developing, with additional heat-absorbing buildings and structures being constructed, only adds to the intensification.

To fight against this, Chicago’s city government has developed a series of building codes and green infrastructure projects. These include plans to install reflective roofing and rooftop gardens; requiring that newly built flat roofs meet EPA standards; and offering funding for projects that will encourage greenery and other heat island mitigation.

#6. Boston, Massachusetts

#6. Boston, Massachusetts

– Index score: 7.24

– Main contributors: Building height, population density

Boston’s neighborhoods with high concentrations of pavement, asphalt, dark roofs, and high buildings are where urban heat islands can be found. These include the neighborhoods of Chinatown, Dorchester, East Boston, Roxbury, and Mattapan.

The city’s Heat Resilience Solutions for Boston is a plan designed to counteract these heat-gulping hot spots, especially during the summer. Strategies laid out include a grant program to fund the installation of cool roofs, as well as plans to distribute cooling kits to the public during outdoor summer gatherings. The Extreme Temperatures Response Task Force has been directed to design action plans to put these ideas into motion.

#5. San Francisco, California

#5. San Francisco, California

– Index score: 7.37

– Main contributors: Building height, impermeable surface, population density

San Francisco’s environmentally friendly reputation makes it a receptive city to try solutions for urban heat islands. The Next Generation Urban Greening Project hopes to expand preexisting sustainability programs from the city’s affluent neighborhoods to its poorer ones, where urban heat islands are concentrated. Plans are being considered to redesign sidewalks and buildings to accommodate greenery and reflective materials, even if strategies must be fitted uniquely block by block.

In January 2017, San Francisco became the first city in the U.S. to require at least 15-30% of roof space to have solar panels or greenery. The city’s Clean Air Plan also suggests implementing a “cool parking ordinance,” which would pay particular attention to planting and installing shade materials in parking lots, which are major culprits for absorbing heat.

#4. Houston, Texas

#4. Houston, Texas

– Index score: 7.46

– Main contributors: Impermeable surface, surface color/reflectivity

The Houston Harris Heat Action Team, or H3AT, attempted to map the city’s urban heat islands in 2020 and found that areas close to Richmond Avenue and Chimney Rock Road were noticeably hotter than others. Many of Houston’s hot spots are not random, but the result of past patterns of socioeconomic inequality.

The city’s Third Ward neighborhood has found itself an urban heat island largely because of historical bureaucracy and systemic decision-making that sidelined the community from programs to develop parks and green spaces. Overall, only 18% of the city is shaded. The city would need to plant 2.4 million trees to provide adequate shade for all residents.

#3. New York, New York

#3. New York, New York

– Index score: 7.62

– Main contributors: Building height, impermeable surface, population density

It is perhaps not surprising that the “concrete jungle” is also the third-worst urban heat island in the country. There are over 6,000 high rises and more than 270 skyscrapers in New York City, all of which suck in the sun’s rays and heat up the city. The NYC CoolRoofs project paints urban rooftops around the city white, which lessens the extent to which they absorb heat. The initiative focuses on providing this service to nonprofits, low-income residential areas, community centers, and schools.

Cool Neighborhoods NYC, established in 2017, has dedicated $106 million to reverse the city’s heat-hungry infrastructure—$82 million alone will be used to plant trees in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Brooklyn. New York’s one saving grace is Central Park, which cools the areas around it. However, as the park’s surrounding neighborhoods are some of the wealthiest in the city, low-income residents are once again disproportionately affected by urban heat.

#2. Newark, New Jersey

#2. Newark, New Jersey

– Index score: 7.71

– Main contributors: Impermeable surface, building height, population density

Newark’s Ironbound neighborhood suffers significantly from heat hoarding, in part because of its population density: It is home to around 50,000 people within 4 square miles. It doesn’t help that the neighborhood is also slated for construction projects that will increase its tall, heat-absorbing structures, including a six-story apartment building, a 13-story retail space, and an 11-story building near Penn Station.

To understand why Newark’s urban heat islands exist where they do, one can look as far back as the 1930s and 1940s, when funding was allocated to other neighborhoods of the city. This led to many Newark residents—including a disproportionate number from lower income and minority neighborhoods—lacking heat-deflecting green spaces while other areas in the wealthier North Ward received more investment, more trees—and decades later, less heat.

#1. New Orleans, Louisiana

#1. New Orleans, Louisiana

– Index score: 8.94

– Main contributors: Surface color/reflectivity, impermeable surface

New Orleans’ lack of tall buildings may offer an aesthetic benefit, but it leaves the city with a climate disadvantage, lacking much shade from the sun. The city also has a high number of dark roofs and roads, in combination with a low amount of greenery. Hurricane Ida worsened the city’s ability to fight against intense heat, cutting residents off from power, and with it the ability to use fans or air conditioners.

The city government has pledged to reverse this and reach 30-40% of the city covered in green areas by 2030. Supplementing this, Sustaining Our Urban Landscape has planted 5,000 trees in the last five years alone, attempting to compensate for the 100,000 trees lost during Hurricane Katrina.

This story originally appeared on New Jersey Real Estate Network and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.

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