To See The World

I remember the first excitement at seeing the bubble maps of population vs GDP for countries around the world, and how they changed across a span of a century. If one could have their mind blown, that chart was it. Then, a few years on, I saw the TED Talk by Hans Rosling in which he explained Large Families/Low GDP Vs Small Families/High GDP, and this time the wonder grew.

In the intervening years, the power of big data and visualization grew by leaps and bounds, and there never was a dearth of graphs, or data analysis. Causal analysis, correlations, search engine optimizations, ad targeting, and numerous other concepts entered the lingo of the normal person. As early as 2012, Target could predict when a woman was expecting a baby even before her family knew.

Daniel Kahneman & Amos Tversky changed our perceptions by introducing the world to a whole new world of Behavioral Economics.

The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by [Michael Lewis]

So, when I picked up the book, How I Learned to Understand the World, I thought I would find about more interesting statistics about the world, but I was in for a pleasant surprise.

In the book, How I Learned to Understand the World, written by Hans Rosling and his daughter-in-law, Anna Rosling, it is Dr Hans Rosling’s journey that is written. The book isn’t written in the style of can’t-put-it-down. Instead of a compelling narrative that is keeping one’s interest, it is the genuine interest in the human being who was instrumental in changing the way we think of global health and economies. His journey to help humankind starts off with being a doctor in a impoverished nation, but moves on to much more than that. This is an inspiring sketch of what is possible when we think outside the box. That varied interests and knowledge-seeking is never wasted: they truly do come together in myriad ways.

The book starts as most biographies do, with a character sketch of the good doctor’s parents, grandparents, and his modest upbringing in Uppsala in Sweden.

He goes on to study medicine, and then travels to lesser developed countries hoping to do good work. His perception of developing countries such as India undergoes a transformation as he studies and travels there. It is here that he gets an appreciation for public health. The Indian Government at the time was battling one of the largest public health initiatives of the time ( possibly polio vaccinations – I forget). It is a humbling experience for him. He realizes, for instance, that medical facilities were not as backward as he assumed, medical knowledge was quite on par, or better, where it was available. The true problems were scale, population and outreach. 

After his return to Uppsala in Sweden, he goes on to begin work as a doctor in Impala. Where is Impala? Nacala? The joy of studying a map for these places is half the joy.

Here, in the coastal region of Nacala, he settles into his work as a doctor with his wife and children. Faced with less than ideal facilities, low budgets, and even less trained people to work with, he slowly learns the areas in which he can make a difference. He learns the importance of cultural awareness, and his humility for people’s knowledge and way of living, helps him reach the people he is attempting to serve. Without this realization he might never have been able to understand the devastating Konzo (‘Konzo’ means tied leg referring to the paralytic symptoms) disease that was paralyzing children in rural areas.

His work in Nacala, and his researches around the paralytic disease, konzo, led him to a life in research after his medical practicing days. The cassava plant is a staple diet in these areas. The cassava root is treated to a long, and arduous process of preparation before being made fit for human consumption. For example, the cassava is dried in direct sunlight for more than 8 weeks, to remove bitterness coming from a cyanide like substance that causes partial paralysis in human-beings (The long process is usually sufficient to remove the amounts of cyanide, but during times of drought, the plant produces more of this chemical content). Dr Rosling was the person to identify this link between the food process and the paralysis in his patients, and it was because he made the effort to understand the way of life in these areas. In times of food crises, the cassava plants are the only source of nutrition, and the results are devastating for those affected: their disability spiraling them further into poverty.

His ability to reach dictators, elected officials, and private industry for the sake of public health is remarkable.

His book, Factfulness, is the next one on my list to be read. In this one, he outlines the state of the world in terms of actual numbers. Is our world as bad as we think it is, or are we progressing better than we give ourselves credit for? I am waiting to read this one.

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World--and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by [Hans Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Ola Rosling]

Dear Democracy

“Gosh! Must you always be this dramatic?!” said the daughter rolling her eyes up at me, wrenching them away from the screen. 

I suppose ‘nail in the coffin of democracy’ was not exactly the poised and controlled reaction I was going for. 

“Well..”I fumbled for a moment, and then said with a steely determination that took me aback, “You know what? Yes I must! If I am not upset at a moment like this, I don’t have use of the emotion at all! This is democracy – and it is supposed to thrive!” I said taking a handful of emotions from Pandora’s box and letting them course through my system in righteous anger, and disappointment. 

Time and time again, we have been disappointed by politicians and humans seeking power. The one job that requires no specific training or education. #ButterBattleCourse

“Trust, a mighty god has gone, Restraint has gone from men,

and the Graces, my friend, have abandoned the earth.” 

Hesiod, the 6th-century BC Greek poet Theognis of Megara 

Another eye roll, another laugh stifled, and another poetic exclamation later, I was spent. 

The chaos at the Capitol building as the senate ratified the election results was appalling. It was not being called a coup on television. The sitting 45th President of the United States had incited violence to be unleashed on the Capitol Building, and I felt a sinking feeling. We all know that the greater the power, the higher the fall and all the rest of it. But truly, nothing prepares you for that gloating face defacing the Speaker’s office with not an ounce of remorse. Nothing prepares you for the moment that a mob crashes into the Capitol Building, and gets to the Speaker’s chair in the largest democracy in the world. 

But Pandora had one last emotion that she had in her box. Hope.

The senators filed back in later that night and completed their constitutional duty well past midnight. 

Hope is the only good god remaining among mankind;

the others have left and gone to Olympus.

Hesiod, the 6th-century BC Greek poet Theognis of Megara 

The next day, the daughter was showing us posts from her social network. 

“This video, see this one? Cries her heart out – thinks she is Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, and says she has come all the way from Tennessee for the revolution. ”

“What revolution? Wait a minute! She took a flight from Tennessee to Washington D C for this during a pandemic?! “, I asked, “And she is upset she was pushed back from the Capitol building?”

“I mean, we all know the ones who were creating the ruckus aren’t the smartest tools in the box, but they outdid themselves, Amma. This one guy searched up Georgia, and planted the Georgia flag – I mean the country Georgia’s flag. Then, one Indian dude shows up there with an Indian flag! I don’t know whether they stopped to think about what they were doing.”

https://qz.com/1953366/decoding-the-pro-trump-insurrectionist-flags-and-banners/”

I shook my head and we fell to discussing the sad state of affairs because one narcissistic man could not bear to lose. 

Reference: The history of the peaceful transfer of power: History.com

  1. The year was 1797. The first President George Wshington willingly stepped down after 2 terms in office setting a precedent to the two terms in office, that was later ratified as the 22nd Amendment to the constitution in 1951.
  2. The year 1801 set another important precedent. John Adams after losing to Thomas Jefferson quietly left Washington in the dark hours of March 4th. He did not attend the inauguration, but he did set the hallmark for the peaceful transfer of power. 

History.com: There were several ways in which power was transferred. One of the best is the letter George W Bush left for Bill Clinton, and the tradition followed.

“How did it come down to this? Why is it so hard to lose? You played your game, move on!” I said.

“He must not have played rummy with his mom!” said the son, and we all burst out laughing. It’s true isn’t it? We win some games, we lose some games. Play teaches us so much: the joy of playing, the thrill of winning, the grace of losing, and the friendship that binds it all together.

I used to wonder how Hitler rose to power democratically and was able to commit such horrendous acts of genocide. Recent events have shown us all too clearly how this can happen. By removing bars of decorum and conduct, we have been shown that the country may not survive a younger, more ruthless strain of Trump’s brand of dictatorship. 

I quite agree with how Aristotle describes the nobility required of politicians: he opines that politicians should take an oath, almost as sacred as a Hippocratic oath, to remain fair and mete out justice. From the Nicomachean Ethics – By Aristotle. 

Oh! How dear Democracy is.

Weather Monsters

“Have you gotten your bags ready?” my friends’ voices piped over the phone. 

“Uh – not yet. Got a bag down from the loft – will get to it.” I said shuffling my feet as I said so.

“Well..what are you doing now?”

“Writing about the weather over the past week.” I said somewhat sheepishly, and a loud laughter emanated from the other side. 

We toodled off with the sentiment of “Well Nero fiddled, I write!” but I am not going to lie. I was rattled, and went off to pack the emergency kit. The wildfires were too close for comfort – the air has been thick with smoke.

Exactly a week ago:

The days had been stifling in the heat wave that gripped the land. Oppressive waves rose from the shimmering hills nearby, and the eyes squinted for respite after the briefest strays outside. Some evenings had a splattering of clouds giving rise to splendid sunsets, and while I swooned my way through the evening walk, I yearned for a bit of rain, if nothing but to smell the parched sizzling earth cooling off a little bit. 

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I may have wished too soon.

For the very next day, I was looking at the most improbable of sights. I had set a whimsical alarm to rouse me at 5:30 a.m on that Sunday rearing for a hike before the sun started beating down on us. 

While I am always crooning about Nature and talking about it being the greatest soother of all time and all that, I often forget nature’s fury. I live in California where we pay a weather-tax. For the most part, the weather conditions are soothing, flowers bloom the year around, and though I yearn for more rains, it is a mellow nature that greets me most days. But that morning, I listened astounded as thunder rumbled overhead and the noise penetrated the double-paned windows, and then in the darkness the whole house stood illumined for a few seconds. I glanced unwittingly towards the sleeping children, and I stood awed.

We have easily gone more than two decades without thunder and lightning storms of this magnitude in this area. What was going on? 

I whispered to the husband – “Wow! Rain was not even in the weather forecast huh?” and stood mesmerized by the window wondering whether a walk was still on the cards if not a hike.

The husband looked at me and said, “Are you nuts?! Who goes out in this weather? Hiking at that. Nothing doing – if this is you wanting to watch the rain, pull up a chair and sit by the window!”, and he went right back to bed.

So, I did just that – I woke the son and showed him the lightning and the rain pelting down. It made for a magical morning, but I hadn’t completely realized the harm a storm of this magnitude can unleash on an already dry and parched Earth. In under 6 hours, there were more than 10,000 flashes of lightning starting over 300 fires that continue to rage across the Bay Area.

Time Lapse based off Satellite images of the Lightning strikes and subsequent fires in the area.

In just a few days we had experienced everything from heat waves to lightning and thunder storms – all in the midst of a pandemic no less. The air quality deteriorated significantly as the fires raged and fire fighters poured in from everywhere to contain the fires. 🔥 The sheer magnitude of the fires 🔥 they were dealing with had simple folk like me blanching, but these teams had strategy and they were working tirelessly. The tenacity for a job like that! 

In our skies, an angry sun shone through when it could through the smog.

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One week later:

Wildfires continue to rage over thousands of acres of land. Beloved forests and mountains ranges that have provided solace and comfort to millions of people over the years have been lost to the fires. My heart caught at the news that Big Basin Redwoods were damaged badly. Though redwood trees are supposed to be extraordinarily resilient to fires  and would probably make it past these fires, I grieved. Every time I visited these forests, I have come back not just refreshed, but spiritually in a better place as have thousands of tree huggers over the years. A true space for forest bathing or shinrin yoku as the Japanese call it.

trees_komerabi

It has been a week since the lightning strikes. 1 week in which more than 60,000 acres of land have been burnt, with ominous statistics of 5% fire contained, fire alerts etc.

California Redwoods 

2020 seems to be determined to make its mark.




 

The Grapes of Wrath

We were driving through the countrysides of rural America. Vast landscapes stretched on all sides reminding us once again of the beautiful and vast nature of this country. The countryside baked in the hot Californian sun as we made our northward. We drove past fields and small towns that reminded me of the areas featured in the Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck in more ways than one.

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The Grapes of Wrath evoked a sense of economic ruin, human struggles, and the helplessness of it all. I walked around for weeks pulled down by the plight of the millions of Joad families who had to survive post the Great Depression. 

You see, I was prepared to see a certain level of isolation. Covid-19 has changed the landscape unimaginably with the service sector and the retailing industry in hiatus. What I was not prepared for, was the eerie and pervasive shadow of desolation and ruin. The divide between the haves and have-nots a deep chasm yawning wide and deep. 

https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2016/employment-by-industry-1910-and-2015.htm

The husband and I were in a somber mood as we made our way back, and fell to discussing the nature of work and how it is has changed so drastically in the past century. Just under a century ago, there was a good percentage of the population working farming jobs, then factory jobs. So, there still was a dream for a middle-class life – a life that promised reasonably good education for the children, relatively good health care, a decent home, and food on the table. It seemed the only jobs left for people to work in these small towns were in the service sector or the retail industry. With both these sectors impacted so heavily with Covid-19, it was a terrifying sight. 

“There ain’t no sin and there ain’t no virtue. There’s just stuff people do.”

John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

If the elections bring the current president to power again, he will find a way to make things much worse – maybe even go to the extent of inciting riots and civil unrest. If another president takes the reins, I do not envy the poor president-elect – what a mess to unravel and what a huge responsibility to the citizens. 

How would the world get back on its feet? 

“But how on earth is the stock market holding up?” I asked, for wasn’t that supposed to be an indicator of the economic conditions on the ground?

There – right there, is what is called a mystery. Anthropologically, mankind has been through worse survived more, but there is no doubt about it  – we have rough times ahead of us post-corona. As children, when we sang the hymns in our school, we liked some, loved the lyrics of others, and some stayed on with us through the ages. The first song that came to me that day was this one:

“We shall overcome .. We shall overcome…We shall overcome…Some day….”

After all:

“Muscles aching to work, minds aching to create – this is man.”

John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

grapes_of_wrath

The Glimmer of Hope

I sat in my backyard reading on a hot Saturday afternoon. It was the 4th of July week-end, and I had pages to go before I slept. During the peak of the Black Lives Matter movement, I resolved to read more about the life of minorities, racism, civil disobedience and much more. The son & I had painstakingly collated a list after reading several lists online, suggestions from friends, teachers, colleagues, and the companies we worked for. If there are any other recommendations, please let me know in the comments section. (Thank you 😊 )

  • Becoming – by  Michelle Obama
  • Civil Disobedience – by Henry  David Thoreau
  • Sneetches and other Stories – By  Dr Seuss
  • A Long Walk to Freedom – Nelson Mandela – Abridged by Chris Van Wyk
  • Black Panther – by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • XVIII – 13th Netflix Documentary
  • Hidden Figures movie

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While I sat reading, there was a faint niggling guilt to the apparent normalcy of it all. Was it alright to be sitting calmly and reading in one’s backyard while the world around us was still reeling?  

I read as the sun overhead appeared to move towards the west, and finally got up to take a long walk. If anything, I had several things to think about in the book. There was a section in the book where she writes about failure being a feeling that sets in long before failure itself does. She writes about this in the context of the South Side in Chicago, and how the ghetto label slowly portended its decline long before it did. Families fled the place in search of upwardly mobile suburbs, the neighborhood changed in small, but perceptible ways at first, and then at an accelerated pace. Doubt is a potent potion, and when fed in small portions can quickly shadow everything.

The limitations of dreams are seeds planted in our sub-conscious slowly and surely so that we may fulfill what society thinks we ought to do, no more and no less. Minorities the world over know the feeling well enough.

Trevor Noah, in his book, Born a Crime, writes about the ability to dream being limited to what a person knows. If all people know is the ghetto, they can truly not think beyond that.

“We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited.” – Trevor Noah – Born a Crime

The largest section of population to know these limitations must be women.

In the Moment of Lift, Melinda Gates writes in her very first introductory chapter, “All we need to uplift women is to stop pulling them down.” 

It was, therefore, in sombre mood that I set out for the walk, little knowing that Serendipity, that most mysterious of forces will work its magic by the end of the night. 

I walked on taking in the setting sun at a fast pace. My mask hoisted on the face was sweaty, and every now and then on the trail when there weren’t people nearby, I slipped it down to take a deep breath of the summer air. I was walking by the waterside, and slowly  feeling the calm strength of the waters. My thoughts were slowly lifting as the sun was setting, and the full moon rose in the opposite direction. Out in the distance, the sound of Fourth of July fireworks was providing an orchestra of sorts to the accompanying bird sounds, and the sound of water sloshing gently against the shores of the lake. 

img_20200407_195324-effects

“Bring the kids – sunset and moonrise marvelous and fireworks everywhere!” I texted the husband, and off we went in the approximate direction of the fireworks. We parked on a side road to take in the revels of the night. To stand there with the full moon behind us, and an array  of fireworks going off in front of us in a largely residential neighborhood was marvelous. 

Later, as we drove on, we listened to songs chosen with a special regard to the 4th of July. The children had aced the  list, and we drove on through the moonlight, lilting and dancing to the tunes.

“Behind the Clouds, the sun is shi—ii—ning. “ – What has to be one of our favorite Disney songs rent the car as we pulled into the garage. 

As I read the final section of Michelle Obama’s Becoming later that night, I found the audacity of hope (pun intended) stirring and this too felt different; worth examining. Politics is a dirty game, but Barack &  Michelle Obama had shown us what was possible. Dare we hope?  

P.S: I was blissfully unaware of (yet another) divisive speech by Donald Trump, and the announcement of Kanye West to run for President that night. I like to hold on to that glimmer of hope that permeated my heart as 4th of July ticked on steadily into the 5th of July.

Maybe hopes can translate to positive outcomes long  before they  happen.

 

A Hopeful Future

There is nothing quite as special as walking in nature after a long day or week. Every step seems to take one tiny bit of stress away, and replace them with happy endorphins  dancing to a beat in the body. As the eyes lift their gaze towards the skies, the clouds, trees, and birds seem to join in on one harmonious orchestra together welcoming the soul to relax and rejoice in the moment of being, and participate in the steady march of time. Hummingbirds, bluebirds and the occasional butterflies flit overhead, while the ravens and geese noisily make their way home.

Summer is creeping in, the jacaranda trees are in bloom in the neighborhood, the gingko leaves have come in fully, and though the world around us is in shambles, confused, anxious and worried, Mother Nature seems to have no such problems. She brought on Summer just in time.

The park near where we live has a steady smattering of high school students social distancing as best as they can and taking graduation pictures. In little knots of 2s & 3s, they cluster around giggling and looking hopeful. I stop at a distance admiring the high schoolers celebrating their graduation day with pictures in gowns. The smiles of confident youth look just as marvelous as the summer blooms they stand amidst, and their perfumes amidst the heady scent of the flowers is heaven itself. There is no doubt about it: The summer evenings seem doubly enjoyable and bright because of the young talent making their way out into the world.

These children did not get the graduation party like their seniors did, or their juniors will, but they seem to be coping with grace. A few photographs with their best friends would have to do. I hear loud peals of laughter puncture the evenings as they decide on how to take their pictures. I hope every child in these uncertain times has good friends. The laughter rings in the obvious: everything seems to be manageable with the right set of friends.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

Emily Dickinson

In other news,
Trump Rally Registered Million Attendees but Actual Count 6000!

Thousands of teens registered for Trump’s rally , after his initial Juneteeth rally was moved to Sunday, and then didn’t show up. What’s more? They deleted their tik-toks soon after!

Standing there that evening with the world on pause from the Corona virus, and the city’s curfew just ended due to the Black Lives Matter movement, I felt hope stir again. The angst and idealism of youth was intact. These young adults saw us flounder at a critical moment in their lives, and the exuberance with which they are eager to take the torch makes me hopeful.

“For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.” Kahlil Gibran

What Does It Mean to be Human?

I  struggle to write about the past week of events for two reasons.

(1)  I have not read enough of Black History in my adopted country to know the depth and breadth of the problem. (A shortcoming, I hope to rectify to the  best of my ability in the coming months.) All I  know is that the Black Lives Matter movement is long overdue. 

(2) The other is that the blatant nature of the cold killing of George Floyd flabbergasted me. How could a man sent sprawling to the ground with his hands handcuffed  behind him be such a threat, that a policeman felt he needed to put his knee on his neck in addition to everything else? How could he not let up when he felt the man go limp under his knee? How could .. why did he…could he not have instead…a million questions that will remain unanswered. The killing is a chilling realization of the moment when our humanity deserted us collectively.

We Belong on Earth  is a strong theme in my blog as regular readers know. 

Do not hate in the plural is another strong theme on my blog. 

The Black Lives Matter movement very strongly aligns to both these causes.

As I  mutely witnessed the events and absorbed the weight of the movement, my heart stirred and yearned for only one  thing: that the civil rights movement is long overdue is an understatement; what I wanted more than anything else is for the awareness to be translated  into action. 

So, what does it mean to be  human? 

If a person, racist or not, is  in need of a blood transfusion or an organ transplant, do they, even for a moment, think about the race of the donor? I don’t think so.

I thought the Corona virus reminded us of what it means to be human. In spite of borders, and diatribes about immigrations, and the numerous ways in which  we find ways to divide ourselves, the virus proved to us without a doubt that we are human and are therefore susceptible.

In the words of Seneca: 

Dum inter homines sumus, colamus humanitatem

“As long as we are human, let us be humane.”

Additional Reading:

What does it mean  to be human?

The Biology of Skin Color (The link between human evolution over time; the ability to adapt to different levels of UV  radiation in the tropics vs the poles; and its correlation with absorption of Vitamin D is explained in this video)

Maria Popova in her Brain Pickings blog had written a sentence on a meditation of the human condition, and I had jotted it down, for it was such a powerful sentence. I quote:

“At a time when the need to celebrate both our shared humanity and our meaningful differences is all the more painfully evident, the question of what makes us human becomes not one of philosophy alone but also of politics, justice, identity, and every fiber of existence that lies between.”

That is the Earth!

“Do you know what this is?”

“That is the Earth! From the moon.” said the son matter of factly. “I saw it before!” he said in response to my awed expression.

We were looking at the back jacket of a book, that I flipped to the last page first.

this_is_earth

This is the Earth, by Diane Z Shore & Jessica Alexander with paintings by Wendell Minor.

It was a picture of the Earth rising on the Moon’s horizon.

A picture that generations of humans for millennia could only have imagined, and never really gotten close to the sheer beauty of it. Our myths are at once rich and limiting in its reach. They have imagined Earth as being elephants on elephants, turtles on turtles all the way down, flat discs, imagining heavens above and hells below.  

earth_myth

 

The picture was taken by an astronaut, Bill Anders, aboard the Apollo 8 spacecraft in 1968. I looked on mesmerized at the picture.

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Bill Anders / Public domain

But this picture is truly astounding. The pale blue dot when seen from the Moon is a brilliant, blue orb, suspended in space, intriguingly spattered with clouds, oceans, landmasses, not really depicting the billions of lives it fosters, or the number of ecosystems it has in its fragile balance. 

Bill Anders said: “We came all this way to explore the moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.”

What a lovely statement that is, and together with his Earth Rising image, contributed to the concerns around Planet Earth that led to founding of Earth Day in 1970.

50 years later, we have made rocky starts and gains towards conservation. But this April 2020, 50 years later, purely coincidentally, Covid-19 has the world on lockdown, not just imagining a life of bare necessities but embracing it for the social good. We, the people, now have the time to observe our fellow inhabitants.

Heart warming tales of peacocks making its foray into the deserted cityscapes of Mumbai; turtles coming ashore to hatch in the beaches along the Bay of Bengal; seeing the Himalayas from a 100 miles away once the smog fog lifted; deeming the waters of the Ganges near Rishikesh fit for human consumption again without all the factories along the way dumping its wastes into the flowing water;or bears enjoying their natural habitats unhindered by human presence in Yosemite National Park, are surfacing, and it has my heart lifting again. I have often enough lamented on this blog about the poor attention we pay to the Planet that nurtures our fragile selves and egos. 

Watching the even more fragile ego of the stock market indices, it seems to me that we can very well have the world function this way, by having a month off every year in which everything stops but essential services. An Earth Month every year to reflect, slow down, plan and recoup our staggering impact to the environment. After all, the stock market seems to have a life of its own and seems only to want some stolidity in its expectations. So, we anticipate a month with no major events, no excessive or unnecessary travel, and only essential services operating. The notion isn’t that far-out either. 100 years ago, no one thought we could have 5 day work-weeks. Yet, here we are, in state where it is the norm now. 

Maybe this could be the measure we take for Earth Day to slow the rise of Carbon Dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 6.33.29 PM

Please go this site to see the curve over 2 years and over 200  years Keeling Curve – Scripps UCSD

If you look at the extrapolated curve from the 1700’s, it has risen exponentially. It is probably too soon to see the effect of Covid-19 on CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

Could, Earth Month become the new normal for us. So children matter of factly accept that Earth Month as essentials month in the coming generations?

Let’s care a whole lot!

T’was family movie night. An evening fraught with decisions, and everyone’s voice and opinion clanged over the dishes and sizzled over the noise from the stove.
Suggestions rose, opinions swelled and movies quelled.

“Uggghhh! No way!”
“That again?”
“What are you? A kid? Oh wait! Yes you are a kid! Okay never mind!”
“Nope! Too much for Amma! “
“What do you mean? It isn’t too much for me?!”
“You bawled last time for a movie that wasn’t even a tear-jerker, nope! How about this?”
“Star Wars!”

A collective moan went up. Finally, it was revealed that the youngest member of the family had no recollection of the Dr Seuss movie Lorax. He has read the book multiple times, and so we all settled in to watch Lorax.

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Dr Seuss is an inspiration, of course; but just how insightful his take on humanity is uncanny. From fresh air as a commodity, to a land without trees, to surveillance at every pore, his far sighted vision has so much to nod your heads at.

The Thneeds, created by the Once-ler, in his story are made from Truffle trees. Thneeds were fashion statements – doubling up from head scarves to sweater vests and shawls. (“But even he, it seems, could not envision a future where ripped jeans were fashion trends!”,  I said and drew a grudging chuckle from the teen with the ripped jeans. ) Eventually, of course, the Once-ler’s greed led to decimation of trees, habitat loss and a devastated landscape is all that is left.

“Wow – that was such a good movie Amma – though the movie had scenes that the book didn’t have.” was the verdict of the youngest.

“Really! Humans are impossible!” said the teenager, and discussion turned to conservation, Greta Thunberg and some you-tuber who talks about going green.

“Did you know the Lorax was banned in some schools in California because loggers felt it was not friendly to the ‘foresting industry’. ” I said.

I looked at their agonized faces with awe – how is it children get these things, and adults don’t; and I felt a surge of hope.

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We were walking a familiar route through our neighborhood a few days later, stopping to see some of the felled trees as we do every so often. The rings in the pine trees show they must have been at least 80 years old, and to see the forlorn stumps reminded of the beautiful book, The Giving Tree.

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The book starts with friendships between a young boy and an apple tree. The boy plays and swings on the tree’s branches, but as he grows older demands more and more from the tree. He needs her apples to make money, cuts her down to build himself a house and a boat, and finally comes back tired and spent with life, when all the poor tree can offer is the stump to rest.

The Giving Tree, can be interpreted and discussed in many different ways. Givers & Takers, Need & Greed, Selfish & Selfless, but the most beautiful one is the simple one, the one where your children make a sad face at the end, and say, “Why doesn’t this boy/man/grandpa ever feel sorry for what he’s done?”

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The boy reminds us of human’s relationship with nature. The human species can be broadly classified as takers: from the planet, & from our co-habitants on this planet. You might have seen this video clip of Man’s greed By Steve Cutts:

The Giving Tree too was banned interestingly for sending sexist messages – the tree was female and the little boy continued to take from her without ever giving back.

I just finished a book called Losing Earth – by Nathaniel Rich. The book, deals with the science, politics and action of climate change.

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Despite humanity having the science locked down more than 50 years ago, little action has resulted. The closest we came to getting everyone to agree on unified action was the Paris Agreement where all countries agreed to work towards keeping emissions such that we not go above the 2 degree increase of temperatures world-wide. The largest emission offender for decades, United States, pulled out of the agreement when Donald Trump became President.

I was shocked to find that Climate Change as a topic has been banned in certain schools, skirted around in others and given a miss altogether elsewhere. The science behind Climate Change and the effect of our industries were long proved – as far back as 1970.

This April 22nd is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day with a special onus on Climate Action. Maybe this Earth Day, we can renew our commitment to the only pale blue dot that will harbor us. Let’s care a whole lot about our planet before all we are left with is the word ‘Unless‘ like in the Lorax story, or the tree stump in The Giving Tree.

 

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Read also: Are we to become Lab Rats?

 

The Rings of Life

We were walking a familiar route through our neighborhood, stopping to see some of the felled trees as we do every so often. The rings in the pine trees show they must have been at least 80 years old.

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For an impatient flitter such as myself, trees are truly sentient beings. Beings that teach me about holding still, of being sentient beings for the small time we spend on this beautiful planet. Like a butterfly flitting through the Earth for a day. You can replace tree for a star in the quote below and it would still hold when one sees redwood trees, sequoia trees and old banyan trees.

“From the point of view of a mayfly, human beings are stolid, boring, almost entirely immovable, offering hardly a hint that they ever do anything. From the point of view of a star, a human being is a tiny flash, one of billions of brief lives flickering tenuously on the surface of a strangely cold, anomalously solid, exotically remote sphere of silicate and iron.”

― Carl Sagan

As I was reading Life in the Garden by Penelope Lively, I stopped to relish the section on trees. Though the book is largely about gardens, she does make a foray into trees briefly:
“Tree rings are wonderfully eloquent; here is time stated, time recorded, time made manifest. Dendrochronology- the scientific method of dating based on the analysis of tree rings-can determine past climates, or the age of a building, it can be used to calibrate radiocarbon dating, or by art historians to determine the date of a panel painting. And all because a tree grows slowly, systematically, but laying down each year a memory of what that year was likes – usually wet, dry cold, hot-whether the tree flourished and grew, or held back, and how many years have passed. And the more I think about it, the more I have come to the conclusion that this is why trees invite anthropomorphism. They are sentient in a way that a building cannot be.”

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When I read this piece in Life in the Garden by Penelope Lively, I thought to myself, that Covid-19 would not register in the life of trees, would it? Droughts, wildfires, these may, but Covid-19 would not. The human suffering is acute – there is no doubt about it. The true heroes are the front-line workers, such as doctors, nurses, water and essential service providers, cleaners, mailmen, supply chain workers for groceries and medication who are braving the outbreak to keep society functioning as best as it can, while the virus takes it toll. The human toll is one thing, Covid-19’s economic ramifications is quite another, reminding us of the tottering pile we have built our societies upon: Stock markets indices, economies, international boundaries, – everything that a virus can thwart on a whim.

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What would Covid-19 imprint in our psyches? It can be a time of transformation. A time of reflection. A time to prune the unnecessary, a time to nurture the necessary, a time to get to know ourselves and our loved ones better. A time to think of needs vs wants.  A time of quiet.

We may never have taken pandemic preparedness seriously. Covid-19 is teaching us about the importance of these things. What would we need to do for far more severe outbreaks, with water-borne or air-borne diseases in the future? I am sure these will never be treated with the same levity ever again.

“Nature is always more subtle, more intricate, more elegant than what we are able to imagine.”
― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

The more I think about it, the more I want to believe that we shall embrace Science as a Candle in the Dark. Many children will take up research in microbes. I hope we shall, from now on, invest in our infrastructure, in our research, in our general preparedness, and appreciate the fragility of life and our social ecosystems itself. Our rings in time will bear out the wisdom in the coming years if only we learn from it. One dark circle reverberating it’s learnings outward, and spreading light in the subsequent rings afterward.

“In its encounter with Nature, science invariably elicits a sense of reverence and awe. The very act of understanding is a celebration of joining, merging, even if on a very modest scale, with the magnificence of the Cosmos. And the cumulative worldwide build-up of knowledge over time converts science into something only a little short of a trans-national, trans-generational meta-mind.”
― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

References:

  • Life in the Garden – By Penelope Lively
  • The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark – Carl Sagan