Goddess of Green Chemistry and Climate

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When the vice-chancellor of our university declared that they had come up with their own anthem “Rasayan Devike” (Goddess of Chemistry), I thought he was crazy. Who does that, I said to myself. Until now.

It has been five years since I graduated from this university. Today, I found out that the concept took birth to spread awareness about green chemistry – how old chemistry could help clean up its act with newer greener chemistry.

There’s actually a statue of the goddess near the vice-chancellor’s office. Makes me wonder the length to which the university must have gone to engage people in environmental protection. What were the odds of being ridiculed? 100%? Probably, because I heard no one talk about it the way I’m doing it now. I have a newfound respect for this.

Chances are students barely knew what it was all about. It may have been nothing but a stunt for them. Not to me anymore. History is filled with mythological characters. People have devised ways to celebrate these characters and what they symbolize.

Which takes me to another train of thought. Have you ever heard of the God of Climate? There are many weather gods – wind, thunder, rain, lightning. None for Climate. As NASA defines, “The difference between weather and climate is a measure of time. Weather is what conditions of the atmosphere are over a short period of time, and climate is how the atmosphere “behaves” over relatively long periods of time.”

So, what am I proposing, you ask? I’m proposing a God of Climate, wait, no – a Goddess of Climate (it’s just more fun that way). I don’t know how this is going to help, but hey everything begins with an idea, right?

Gnarliest tree in Canada

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Canada’s gnarliest tree giving a fist bump

After having slept through the wee hours, my friends and I headed to see one of Canada’s most twisted old-growth trees in Canada. A short climb to a breath-taking view started with a drive on bad roads leading towards Avatar Grove trail on Vancouver Island. Dirt cars and dirty cars passed by as we managed to drive through the unmarked and unpaved road. Be careful when you drive up there.

What appeared to be a fist bump, was actually a big knot in the tree. That’s how the tree got its name. Knots, or otherwise known as “burls“, are formed as a reaction to stress. They are kind of like blisters on our skin. In our case, the blisters go away as the skin underneath it heals. Knots on trees, on the other hand, are permanent. Climate change is one of the many stress causing factors. In fact, it can bring down not one tree, not two trees, but an entire forest. Because it strikes where it hurts the most – its immunity.

“Forest die-offs also impose an economic hit on loggers and those who depend on income from hikers, campers and others who use forests for recreation.” – Science Magazine

One would argue – doesn’t stress increase the tree’s immunity? Yes, it does. However, it needs time to build that immunity. What can we do, you say? Burning fossil fuels for fuel, electricity, and heat is one of the biggest contributors to climate change. I asked Enterprise rent-a-car if there was a choice to rent an electric car. There isn’t at the moment, but there is an option to offset the emissions caused by the fossil-fuel powered car that you rent. I didn’t take it because I was afraid my friends wouldn’t agree to pay more. Did I ask? No. I wish I had. You’d face a similar situation when you’d wonder if others would take part in your crusade. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.

Seasons are a kind of awakening

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Spring is waking up these flowers to come out of their velvety warm blankets

As a kid, I only knew of three seasons in India – Summer, Rainy (Monsoon), and Winter. When I moved to the USA, I heard of – Fall and Spring. Did someone say, Autumn? Delhi Tourism website lists five seasons – Winter, Spring, Autumn, Monsoon, Summer. Makes me wonder – did I miss some science class in school? If you have lived in India, what kind of seasons have you heard of?

Aren’t these seasons a kind of awakening?

Endotherms or warm-blooded animals that generate body heat tend to slow down during winter. Their metabolism, energy consumption, and growth slows down. It’s nature’s way of conserving energy. Even seeds stay dormant until the right environmental conditions favour its growth.

After a period of this deep-sleep or sometimes called as hibernation, these species are awakened by the sun’s warmth. Spring sunshine wakes them up.

When the rain falls, you smell the strong scent (petrichor) in the air after a dry spell produced by awakened bacteria.

External temperatures affect dormancy. Global warming is changing these amazing phenomena – causing spring to arrive early and autumn to come late. Sadly, some species are finding it hard to adapt. The world needs to wake up to this.

Life of Pine

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I saw this beautiful view dying with my own eyes, a small part of the millions trees affected by the beetle outbreak

On our trip to Denver, Colorado last year, we learnt how the mountain pine beetles are eating away pine forests across North America. This outbreak is ten times bigger than ever. We were saddened to see so many dead grey pine trees. What impact does this have on the local people and on the regional or even the global industry? What effect does it have on you as a tourist? A 2009 report concluded that Canada could have avoided a cost of $165 million annually by preventing the introduction and establishment of four high-profile invasive forest insects and diseases.

The pine beetles thrive in warmer and dryer atmospheres. Think global warming. Researchers are suspecting that global warming induced due to human activities is contributing to this. Add to that helpless drought-stressed trees that are vulnerable to outbreaks. Add to that forest fires.

Is this the survival of the fittest or survival of the luckiest? The beetles are moving, they are invading other regions of the world. If your area has pines, the best way to find out if the epidemic has reached you is to seek experts, because not all beetles behave the same way.

In this short film called Life of Pine made at the International Wildlife Film Festival Filmmaker Labs, shows what we can learn from this. Professor Six is studying the genetics and adaptation of these pine trees to understand how these trees are fighting back. This is just one kind of outbreak. Although outbreaks are, as Professor Six says, ‘a natural disturbance’, the scale observed these days are not normal.

In British Columbia alone, more than 16 million of the 55 million hectares of forest have been affected. Researchers are tracking how a forest that becomes infected by the pine beetle evolves from being a carbon sink to a carbon source, by measuring the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere above beetle-infected forests.

Professor Six says how we are shifting the blame onto these beetles for something that we humans have done. She says the beetle is just an organism that is doing what it does. I’d the say the same for humans, we are doing what we do – we are good at manipulating and using our environment to our needs. However, I do believe that we are doing it wrong. We can do better.

Further watching: An entomologist tells the story of how a little beetle has ecologically and economically altered North America’s forests.

Globe Forum 2018

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I was a volunteer at the GLOBE Forum 2018, held on March 14–16, 2018 at Vancouver. I helped attendees for three days for North America’s largest and longest running Leadership Summit for Sustainable Business. I helped guests navigate around the event, answering fundamental questions. I monitored and maintained specific event areas such as B2B area and the Innovation Expo. It was a little boring at times standing in one place, but fun too – during my breaks I made friends, networked with organisations, learnt new things.

The Innovation Expo was a global showcase of sustainable products, clean technologies, services, and ideas fresh off the lab bench. Buyers from more than 50 countries roamed the aisles, looking for the next big thing. As a B2B event – businesses, governments, and civil society leaders found inspiration, connections, and new opportunities in the clean economy. I had no idea Canada was so much into Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage (CCUS). Other focus areas included:

  • Smart Grid/Micro-Grid
  • Sustainable Mobility
  • Smart/High Performing Buildings
  • Water Innovation

CO2 is a waste

CO2 that human activities are pumping into the atmosphere is a waste, it is not needed there. This waste is a resource for many industries. Scientists are working around the world to develop technologies that will capture CO2 from their emission source and store it for use.

Hitachi Chemical showcased their research on how to capture CO2 more efficiently. Their research shows that cerium-based catalysts work better than zeolites for carbon capture.

International CCS Knowledge Centre was established to accelerate the global development of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology by both sharing access to the data, information and lessons learned from SaskPower’s Boundary Dam 3 facility and by incorporating the knowledge and experience from CCS projects elsewhere in the world. The Boundary Dam Carbon Capture Facility is capable of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by up to one million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year – the equivalent to taking 250,000 cars off the road. Brought online in 2014, the Boundary Dam CCS Project is the World’s First Post-Combustion Coal-Fired CCS Project integrated with a power station.

Not out of sight no out of mind

A lot of environmental and social issues are not acted upon because people cannot see the problem with their own eyes. Photographers and organisations around the world are making these things known to the public, becoming their eyes where they don’t reach.

Students on Ice Foundation is an organisation that organises an expedition that will be a profound hands-on experience for youth to expand their knowledge of the changing circumpolar world, foster a new understanding and respect for the planet, and gain the inspiration and motivation needed to help lead us to a healthy and sustainable future.

It was inspiring to watch the presentation of Cristina Mittermeier. Felt lot of emotions rushing through me as she told stories through her photographs. Cristina Mittermeier is a contributing photographer, speaker, and explorer for National Geographic.  She is a marine biologist who for the past 25 years has been working as a writer, conservationist and photographer. She is the founder and President of SeaLegacy, a non-profit organisation working to protect the oceans. SeaLegacy is an organisation dedicated to promoting the protection of the world’s oceans through storytelling. Cristina’s work has been published in hundreds of publications, including National Geographic Magazine, McLean’s and TIME.

Investment

The World Tree Carbon Offset Program is a sustainable timber investment based on the Empress Splendor tree, the fastest growing tree in the world. Empress trees provide valuable hardwood lumber within just 10 years. They also absorb 11 times more carbon than any other tree. Participants in the program both offset their carbon footprint and share in the profits of the sale of the lumber. They are looking for farmers to grow their trees. They provide the trees, the expertise and a buyer for the lumber. You provide the land and the care. Together you share the profits.

Agriculture

Terramera is a Sustainable Agriculture CleanTech company developing safe and effective Plant-Based Products and Replacements to Synthetic Conventional Chemical Pesticides & Fertilizers. They use Neem which is a tree native to the Indian subcontinent. Terramera’s agriculture products make sustainable/organic farming without the use of conventional chemicals more productive and efficient. Farmers need better solutions to protect crops from pests & diseases: Over 30% of chemical pesticides will be banned or restricted by 2020 leaving a 6.2 to 20 billion dollar gap in the market.

Arrogant or hopeful?

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How does it make you feel and what goes in your mind when I say: Cleaning up air pollution may strengthen global warming. Bacteria are evolving to eat the plastic we dump in the oceans. Some corals are flourishing in a time of global warming. Coal and gas are far more harmful than nuclear.

First of all, all of it is true, it is supported by scientists. Scientists are fallible humans who are just trying to figure things out in the constant tug of war of deficit and surplus of information. It’s a learning process. Second of all, I for one felt lost, what do I do with this information? I was polarized just like Mulder and Scully from the X-files, chasing after the truth, sometimes ending up lost along the way, wanting to believe. Good news is, at least we know more. With the pace at which we are working, I will be arrogant enough to say that we will figure things out within my lifetime. I’d rather be hopeful than scared.

I like how Zat Rana puts it, “Uncertainty isn’t a condition to be avoided, but a tool for better decisions. ”

Are you arrogant or hopeful?

I’d also read: Keeping an open mindDo you take climate science with a grain of saltIs the earth adapting to climate change?