Tag Archives: #earth

The Financial Folly of Fossil Fuels

At the Front Door  –  a column on climate change in our lives

Natural disasters are as old as our planet.  From asteroid impacts that caused major species loss, to floods and plagues of biblical proportions, to modern day hurricanes and wildfires, they have affected both plant and animal life.  Past events were viewed as “acts of God” – random occurrences, with no known cause.

Today we know better.  Astronomers with increasingly accurate telescopes can track and predict the paths of asteroids.  Plate tectonics tells us where and approximately how frequently, but not when earthquakes will occur.  Weather forecasting is increasingly precise, allowing accurate estimates of storm tracks and precipitation amounts.  Major storms and seasonal droughts are no longer totally random events; they can be predicted weeks and even months ahead.

There is one important prediction that was made over 100 years ago, based on the observation that carbon-dioxide (CO2) is a greenhouse gas:  the earth will get warmer if we continue to burn coal.  It was not taken very seriously at the time, the amount of warming, due to 19th century coal production, seemed insignificant and far into the future.  But coal consumption increased, automobiles replaced horse drawn carriages adding oil as a generator of CO2.  Coal was also used to generate gas for heating and cooking, but as coal reserves became depleted, natural gas took its place and CO° emissions grew even more.

The world is now paying the price for the emission of all that CO2 – literally thousands of millions of tons (gigatons) per year.  This has raised the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere by over 60% since the beginning of the industrial revolution.  As predicted, the earth has warmed; currently the global average temperature is 1.2 °C more than it was 150 years ago and is rising at a rate of 0.18 °C per decade.  This may not seem much, but it has huge consequences.  Glaciers all over the world are melting, as are the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets.  The Arctic Ocean is now virtually free of ice every summer.  Thermal expansion as the oceans warm, combined with the added volume of melted ice is raising sea levels.  Warmer oceans also result in more frequent and more severe tropical storms.  Higher evaporation rates and warmer air carry more moisture inland where temperate zones suffer also from abnormally severe floods.  Conversely, away from the normal storm tracks, warmer, drier air is causing longer and more severe droughts, deserts are expanding towards the poles, plants are stressed and dying.  As a result, wildfires, too, are more frequent and severe.

These changes in climate directly affect our food and water supplies.  Crops failures due to both floods and droughts are increasing.  Farmland is being lost to rising oceans and saltwater encroachment.  Coral reefs are dying because of warmer water, as well as acidification caused by dissolved CO2.  This in turn causes collapse of fisheries.  Himalayan glaciers that once were reservoirs, replenished by winter snows, of fresh water for much of South East Asia are no longer reliable; likewise, the snow-packs feeding the watersheds of the Caucasus, Alps, Atlas, Rockies, Sierra Nevada and Andes mountain ranges.

All this damage costs money to combat, repair and ameliorate.  In the US alone, billions of dollars are spent building seawalls, creating more reservoirs, preparing for and fighting wildfires, building levees and other infrastructure strengthening.  Adapting to the loss of crop yield, for example by planting more acreage, costs a similar amount.  The price tag for hurricane and wildfire damage, in excess of natural historical averages, is many tens of billions of dollars annually.  Overall, the cost of extracting, refining, transporting and burning fossil fuels in business-as-usual is projected to be tens of trillion dollars by mid-century.

We can continue to pay more and more every year, or we can invest now and reap the future rewards.  There are readily available solutions at hand.  Electric power generated by solar cells and wind turbines do not emit CO2, and the “fuel” is free.  Power can be distributed largely over the existing grids.  The cost is solely in installation and maintenance.  Overall, the cost of clean energy is already less than that generated from fossil fuels.  It makes no economic sense to invest further in, and even subsidize, coal, oil and gas.  There will, of course, be job losses in these legacy industries with potential disruption of workers lives, but there will be ample new opportunities for safer, healthier jobs in clean energy, retrofitting buildings for its efficient use, electric vehicle manufacture and many other areas.  The funds for retraining and relocation, if necessary, can be supplied from redirected subsidies, the enormous savings in the cost of energy and reduction of damages.

So, pay now, or pay much more later.  The choice is clear.


J. Campbell Scott, PhD. recently retired after a 45-year career as an educator and research scientist. He is currently a volunteer with The Climate Reality Project and a member of the speakers’ bureau in its Santa Clara County chapter.

Edited by Meera Kymal, Contributing Editor at India Currents.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Aberration: Chapter 3

This story is published once a month as part of the column – Legends of Quintessence – which interacts with Sci-Fi in a South Asian context. 

Recap

In the last chapter, Sneha was disappointed when she learned that she would not travel to the positron cloud. Instead, she would be part of the backup team and find refuge on HR 4189-GR. However, her first steps on the planet were anything but boring. She did not know yet, but what awaited her was more than she could have asked for…

Chapter 3: Unfamiliar Past

Sneha’s head hurt as she lifted it to figure out where she was. She had a hazy memory of double vision and at this point, she was convinced she had been hallucinating. She got up and walked around to realize that she was inside the shelter on HR 4189-GR. As she walked out of the room, she entered the regular sleeping quarters in the shelter. She noticed that at the far end were stairs going up…perhaps to the dome above ground that she remembered seeing as they had exited the spaceship.

The shelter still functioned rather well for an old abandoned structure. The technology must have been centuries old and abandoned for as long, but a few years ago, when another spaceship was forced to land here, they found the shelter still functioning. Since then, it had been used as an emergency refuge. Sneha crossed the sleeping quarters and walked up the stairs to enter the fiber enclosure and looked around at the eerie atmospheric display of HR 4189-GR. She was about to turn around and go back underground when she heard a thud on the round wall behind her. She turned thinking it was someone from the crew but felt her throat dry up as she watched floating vapor change shape and come directly in front of her.

She saw the double vision again. The floating vapor transformed into solid shapes that moved and then reconnected back with the floating mass of vapor. She wanted to speak but knew in her mind that her language would be useless in communication. Somehow, this creature had managed to communicate with her telepathically. She reached out her hand, scared, but wanting to touch the floating shape.

She heard footsteps and saw the fluid shape move across the room and disappear into the wall. Sneha was stunned by her realization: there was something else on this planet besides just humans and clones. She waited for everyone to fall asleep and when all was quiet, Sneha walked outside. She picked up the gravity modifier and then almost dropped it in alarm, as she heard a voice in her brain say, “You do not need it.”

She panicked and ran up to see if she could spot anyone or anything through the transparent dome.

For many moments, Sneha stood debating if she should step out of the structure on her own. “Come out,” she heard her brain speak to her again. She stepped back in alarm but then decided to follow her instinct. She had come so far for an adventure …so why back down now?

As she stepped outside she felt surrounded by the floating shape. As her hand passed through the dense cloud it felt heavy and empty at the same time. “Your mother knew us. She was here”….she did not even realize that she was walking away from the structure towards a far-field of shapeshifting stones. As Sneha snapped back to reality, she wondered, how she was able to walk comfortably while gravity shifted constantly on this planet. She had left her gravity adjuster behind. 

They arrived at the field and she saw the floating mass transform into two distinct shapes, almost solid and opaque. “Who are they?” she wondered. “We are the Zetarians that inhabit the space your people call Antilla”. “So the legends were true,” Sneha thought. “Yes,” they replied. 

“Have you always lived here? How long has your species lived in this Constellation? Why did you approach me?” Sneha asked with absolutely no attempt at pacing her questions. “How do you know my mother?” 

The shapes moved closer to her, “Do you not remember yet? We have part of your DNA and you have part of our Fasilogram.”

There was a long silence as if they were waiting for her to suddenly see the light. “Do you mean my mother had your ‘Fasilo’?” Sneha asked confused…her mind was now evaluating a million possibilities…”But how did she get a part of you in her?” She asked. 

One of them moved closer and dropped a part of its mass on her arm. She watched in part horror as the heavy droplet disappeared into her skin. “So you are now part of me?” She looked at the shape and asked awkwardly?

“Wait!” it said. “Give your mind and body time to remember”. “Go back now and rest,” the other one told her. 

“No, don’t leave now!” she shouted at the disappearing shapes. She thought she heard a faint reassurance. “Don’t worry, we will be back soon,” as they completely disappeared. Sneha walked back to the shelter and lay down to rest. Something was going to change, she knew that. She believed that they would be back but had no idea what would happen then. Should she warn the others? Then she looked at her arm almost hoping to see her skin throw out the mass it had absorbed earlier. Would she die now? Or get some horrible, uncurable cosmic disease? 

Why only her? They had approached only her. Her mind bounced around a thousand questions as she fell asleep.

Go back and read Chapter 1 and Chapter 2!


Rachna Dayal has an M.Sc. in Electrical Engineering and an MBA from IMD. She is a strong advocate of diversity and inclusion and has always felt comfortable challenging traditional norms that prohibit growth or equality. She lives in New Jersey with her family and loves music, traveling, and imagining the future.

Aberration: Chapter 2

This story is published once a month as part of the column – Legends of Quintessence – which interacts with Sci-Fi in a South Asian context. 

Recap

Sneha, our hero is one of many clones being raised within a research lab on earth. Unlike the others, she has free will. In the last chapter, we were left wondering if Sneha would get caught after switching places with another clone – a clone that was set to travel into space.

Chapter 2: Sudden Moves

Sneha was surprised how easily she got away with switching identities with another clone. They did not really care to investigate XT87’s death. She was now part of the group traveling to the Positron cloud and ready to get off of this old decaying planet. 

Two days later, Sneha sat strapped in the chair with her eyes closed and heart racing. She could feel her head pounding as the equipment whirred around her. 

They moved quickly from hypersonic to warp speed and she felt her inners lurch for a split second before a strange calm settled on the ship. She unclenched her hands and dared to breathe. Earth was behind her for now. Instead of being one of 3000, she was now one of 30 traveling to the positron cloud around the Fornax Void. There were nascent pockets of activity and the most recent research showed expansion of dark matter and the existence of multiple infantile positron clouds around voids and dark holes. Space had mysteriously been shifting violently for the last 5000 years with no indication of slowing down.  

This was going to be a rough and interesting voyage with the crew navigating many firsts. They had to avoid pathways linked to dark energy filaments across galaxies. Sneha was listening to the crew discussing the upcoming stop in 9 days on the base station close to the Sculptor Wall. Day 2 & 3 were easy to manage but days 4 & 5 got boring with very little opportunity to learn anything new as the crew restricted access due to systems checks.

On day 6, as they were out on the movement deck, Sneha realized something was not right. She overheard snippets of conversation from the crew…..“ new communication”….”old base” … “shelter for few days”…

The main deck hovered with communications. Things felt off and she felt shivers go down her spine. She waited to get back to her compartment and closed the door pretending that she felt disoriented like some of the others. Once inside, she touched the screen on the wall and started typing codes from her memory, hoping to get access to the communication channels. She knew she was shooting in the dark here. 

Soon she got frustrated, closed her eyes, and drifted away to sleep. She was jolted back to reality as a shrill voice repeated emergency instructions. They were making an unplanned stop on an old base HR 4189-GR within the Antilla Constellation. She remembered reading about it in the memoirs of some explorers that managed to survive on HR 4189-GR.

What made this constellation memorable were the rumors of alien life on its planets. Never verified, these accounts had become legendary since early intergalactic travels. Despite early romantic visions of interactions between alien species, it had been almost impossible to communicate or understand each other’s language, science, or other critical concepts. What had been documented was the expected life spans, conditions that led to the demise, and unique birthing phenomena for a few species that humans and humanoids could comprehend….at this point, any further conclusions were more art and imagination than science. 

She braced for landing. They had warned it would be tough as gravity was fluid in this constellation with the magnitude of its stars shifting constantly. Once secure on the surface, they were assembled on the transport deck and divided into two groups. Ten of them would stay here on the planet as backup and the other twenty would continue their journey towards the positron cloud. Her heart sank when she realized she would be staying on the planet. This was not why she came! She was meant to travel and be out there!

They had lost communication with Earth and a couple of other planets in the Virgo cluster. Incoming reports mentioned that the cosmic ripples traveling through the cluster led to the core of multiple planets collapsing. Sneha sat stunned as they narrated the loss of the research facility and their colleagues. She waited to hear some words of regret for the loss of so many Snehas. None came. There were no tears in the eyes of the crew….They were just samples- numbers in a log…Hundreds of samples lost in a catastrophe. She tried to contain the immense grief welling up inside her. 

As they exited the ship, Sneha was sharp again, absorbing everything she saw and sensed. Something told her to look at the far left corner of her vision. She was not sure what she saw but it was enough to shake her up. She felt her breath being torn from her for a second and then it started to become normal. Or so she thought momentarily …  but something stayed odd – she had two visions…it was almost as if there were two of her within one body! On one side she was seeing the path she was walking with other Snehas towards the shelter but on the other she saw something she did not quite understand – a vision of a dark path and moving shapes that seemed to drift between transparent and opaque forms. Her head started to hurt and she felt both visions collapse into one as she tumbled face forward, unconscious.


Rachna Dayal has an M.Sc. in Electrical Engineering and an MBA from IMD. She is a strong advocate of diversity and inclusion and has always felt comfortable challenging traditional norms that prohibit growth or equality. She lives in New Jersey with her family and loves music, traveling, and imagining the future.

Aberration: Chapter 1

This story is published once a month as part of the column – Legends of Quintessence – which interacts with Sci-Fi in a South Asian context. 

Chapter 1: Coming of Age

Sneha lay wide awake as she looked out at the skylight. She hated the view of the stars from the building on the most primitive planet – Earth. She was stuck in a  planet used only for low-grade research, while the colonies thrived across the superclusters. Outside, some of the researchers sat and told stories of their travels. She marveled at how they felt no guilt, no remorse at holding her hostage.

She was surrounded by her family – almost 3000 other Snehas –  but she knew very well that she was not home. She envied the ones that had either perished or moved to another planet for experiments. They were free, she was trapped…  

She jumped up and paced around her room and stopped momentarily to peek at her mother’s picture on the wall. Tomorrow she would turn 23 – the same age when her mother donated her DNA for cloning experiments. As fate would have it, it was that batch of cells that led to successful, multiplicative cloning without errors. Her mother had been one of the most celebrated scientists of her time. Yet, here she was, just another number with no future and no permission to dream! She felt more restless than she had ever felt before. 

Sneha and the other clones had been designed and genetically altered and re-altered to follow orders. But in her case, somewhere between frozen cells and an acceleration incubator, nature had taken over. She was different! 

Sneha had known since she was an infant, sparked by moments of joy, resentment, excitement, and doubt. Soon after, overwhelmed by despair and anger and the will to be free. But she had her mother’s brains and knew she had to hide these emotions. No aberrations in clone samples were tolerated and she would be terminated if anyone were to know.

Laser focus on quality research had enabled humans to develop amazing vaccines against cosmic pathogens. It had also led to horrible deaths for many clones along the way. But they were just numbers, a homogeneous mass of experimental bodies that were dispensable to propel cosmic exploration. Her thoughts kept drifting as she slowly fell asleep.

The next morning she opened her eyes to the same dreary cell and remembered she was now 23. She turned to the screen in her room and realized that today they were prepping a batch of clones for travel to test new enhancement drugs against radiation damage. As she entered the dining area, she overheard that the new batch would travel to a newly discovered positron cloud. She felt her heart racing at the idea. She could just imagine herself on a ship deck approaching the ominous cloud.

She quickly snapped out of her dream. As she sat down to eat, she looked around at all the Snehas surrounding her.

Sn45XT34. That was her number.

They were all given numbers so that humans could identify them. She could tell each one of them apart but somehow humans could not handle the complexity of uniquely identifying clones in large groups.

The clones that would travel were huddled in one corner of the dining area with instructions. 

Her eye suddenly caught Sn45XT87 looking odd. She looked pale and her eyes were furtively looking at the guards across the room. Sneha watched her and realized that XT87 was panicking. That was odd…was she another aberration? Her mind was thinking fast. She realized XT87 was starting to choke …She got up and dashed towards her. She took off her number tag from her shirt as she ran. She shouted as XT87 fell to the ground “Move away from her, she might be infected” and immediately all the other clones moved away. She reached XT87 quickly and put her hands on her chest and started pumping. Deftly, she removed XT87’s tag and replaced it with her own. As she pressed the tag to the shirt she realized her heart had stopped beating: XT87 was dead! She looked at the guards and said simply “XT34 is not responding it seems”.

As she walked away to find XT87’s room, her head was trying to recall all the tests they could perform on XT87’s limp body. Her gait was nervous as her mind frantically played everything that could go wrong from here. Once inside the room, she closed the door and cried miserably, muffling her sobs. She felt like a criminal. A novice lawbreaker with a conscience! And now, all she could do was wait. Wait for what would happen next…

Read Chapter 2 HERE!


Rachna Dayal has an M.Sc. in Electrical Engineering and an MBA from IMD. She is a strong advocate of diversity and inclusion and has always felt comfortable challenging traditional norms that prohibit growth or equality. She lives in New Jersey with her family and loves music, traveling, and imagining the future.

Environmentalism Through Kid’s Kathas

Living in the world that all of us do today, it goes without saying that children across the spectrum need to read books that create awareness surrounding the environment and its inhabitants. 

When I think of an Indian publishing house for children, the name that first comes to mind is Katha. What sets Katha’s books apart from others is that it is known for facilitating learning through the power of storytelling. Storytelling is a beautiful way to address some of the most pertinent issues related to the environment and climate change, and the 32-year-old publishing house has time and again called for attention towards our planet through this distinctive approach, in books such as Tigers Forever!, The Mysteries Of Migration, and Polar Bear

Books that Make You Fall in Love with Nature

Sonam’s Ladakh

One of the most effective ways of getting children to care about the environment is to simply help them fall in love with it. Some of Katha’s older books instill a love for nature with their stories and themes. Each of their books has a varied message: In Run Ranga! Run!, one gets to explore the grasslands with the fearless baby rhinoceros who needs a friend; Walk the Rainforest with Niwupah and Walk the Grasslands with Takuri are tours of rainforests and grasslands with a hornbill and an elephant, respectively; On the Tip of a Pin Was… uncovers the science behind wormholes; The Gift of Gold is a mythical story from South African folklore is about a little girl who saves her village from drought. 

Manish Lakhani’s Sonam’s Ladakh tells a story through exquisite photography about a girl belonging to the semi-nomadic Changpa tribe, wandering shepherds in Ladakh. Young Sonam informs readers about animals in the Ladakh region that are her closest friends and “better than boxes of money”. She mentions goats, dogs, her father’s pashmina herds of sheep, and yaks that help grow food and whose wool make their tents. She also points out other animals in the region—the rare Eurasian otters, horses, and Himalayan wolves. The story that is bound to fascinate most children with its sheer novelty and imagery. The books ends with a section that discusses Ladakh’s many glaciers that are gradually melting due to the earth’s global warming, increasing pollution levels and the cutting of trees. The questions posed are aimed at making children think of ways in which all of us in our own way can contribute to caring for the environment.

Keeping it Simple

In a world filled with an overwhelming amount of information on environmental degradation, young children are most likely to gain sensitivity about the situation most through personal experience. Katha’s books have constantly aimed at bringing out simple storylines with characters that relate to most children.

In Who Wants Green Fingers Anyway?, Geeta Dharmarajan explores a mother’s obsession with her potted plants kept in her verandah. When her plants start mysteriously wilting and drooping, her husband researches the subject of how to keep them happy, leading him to attempt re-potting them. What follows is a comical saga, however, the key message has been surreptitiously slipped in—that the roots of plants get tangled up when their pots become too small for them.  

More recently, in The Mystery of the Missing Soap, Tobakachi, the wicked Asura and GermaAsura, along with their Coronavirus Army, make soap disappear in Dakshinapur, one of the happiest villages in the country. By tricking people in this way, they ensure that no one washes their hands, which makes them all very sick. That is until the helpful elephant, Tamasha and the fearless girl, Lachmi, show everyone how to make soap in order to win the battle against the Virus Army. The story, beautifully illustrated by Suddhasattwa Basu and Charbak Dipta, is followed by a simple recipe for making soap at home using reetha berries. By explaining the importance of washing one’s hands in order to prevent coronavirus, the book then dives into Katha’s famous “TADAA” (Think, Ask questions, Discuss, Act, and Take Action for the community) section which details what coronavirus actually is and what one can do to prevent oneself from getting it.

Big Ideas with a Heart

After getting kids to fall in love with nature through simple stories—and hence, getting them to care for the environment—the next step is to focus on concepts that help them think about pressing environmental issues that are affecting the world. Every narrative in Katha’s books is filled with common themes—or what the publisher likes to call ‘big ideas’. For instance, all of Katha’s environment books have recurring themes such as empathy, affection, kindness, collective action, and cues to switch to alternative eco-friendly habits.

Ma Ganga and the Razai Box weaves environmental concerns like pollution, soil erosion, and desertification with mythology. The Magical Raindrop humanizes and gives emotions to Mother Earth, formulating her character in a way that the readers feel she’s a person who feels happiness, sadness, anxiety, and joy just like all of us. Katha’s Thinkbook Series has been designed in a way to introduce young readers to big ideas such as “climate change, gender, and kindness through stories that inspire, aspire, and engage.” 

Educating through Stories

Katha’s founder, Padma Shri Geeta Dharmarajan, is an award-winning writer, editor, and educator. Her published works alone include more than 30 children’s books, many of which are Katha publications. Needless to say, environmental issues are very close to her heart. She is credited for having created Katha’s unique concept of StoryPedagogy, which combines India’s oral traditions and the 2,000-year-old Sanskrit text on the performing arts, Natya Shastra; an idea that she has seamlessly integrated with an earth-friendly curriculum.

While the stories get children to empathize with the characters and their situation—and thus, understand and imbibe an environmental concept—Katha’s final goal is to make children think deeper and take initiatives to act and make a difference. The insightful exercises that appear at the end of each book are created using the SPICE model (Student-centred, Problem-based, Integrated, Community-based, Electives, Systematic) as well as observations, teachers’ feedback, and research among children in the Katha Lab School.

Katha Lab School is a model and a center of creativity for the slum cluster of Govindpuri in New Delhi. Thus, Katha takes the storytelling approach a step further beyond its books too. The Katha Lab School, for instance, uses no traditional textbooks or a one-size-fits-all syllabus. Instead, its system of education is based on StoryPedagogy, a technique that is delivered through Active Story-Based Learning, which helps children to learn language, science, and mathematics, while developing general awareness and critical thinking skills through various stories and activities.

Katha’s StoryPedagogy is the new age of education – one that we can all benefit from adopting.

Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world.