Where’s the science, President ?

When I first started this blog with my friend about 2.5 years ago, it was with an intention to put forward our ideas about science and math. I remember the high school days when we used to discuss vague topics in science, often baffling people around us. Never do I recollect talking about politics though. This blog followed the same trend with scores of articles about astronomy, statistics, economics but hardly any political commentary.

But the extraordinary events going on in the name of the great 2016 American Election have made me sit up and take notice. Everyone of us has an opinion about Donald Trump. I am not here to do any general Trump bashing. Much of that is available on youtube and probably in a more entertaining manner than I might present things here. The angle which I want to cover here is the amazing disregard for science and math that this presidential race has shown.

I have been living in the U.S. for more than 3 years now. Many things have surprised me about this country, but one aspect that has been reinforced is the level of scientific progress here. Countless researchers are involved in working on ground breaking technologies and discoveries all over the country. U.S accounts for more than 30% of scientific publications in the world annually. Equally impressive is the staggering number of students assisting in the endeavor.

But judging from how the presidential campaign is going on, one would hardly think that science is even a subject taught in high school. Right from the primaries, the focus has been on immigration and economics. In the primary debates, the only scientific topic that came up was climate change. It is perhaps the most important concern facing humankind right now. But most of the candidates treated it how a child treats the last 2 problems of his/her homework; they just want to finish it off quickly so that they can go out and play with their buddies.

A look at Hilary Clinton’s webpage shows only a tiny section about climate change as a representative for science. Donald Trump’s page doesn’t even have a mention about it.The whole point of this election has become about two grownups coming close to retirement age squabbling like 10 year old kids over petty issues. Important topics like space exploration, new manufacturing techniques and renewable energy development have been left in the dark.  We can make the world a better place if we give greater impetus to these, but they are almost absent in the hate and blame rhetoric that has characterized this election.

My other big concern is about how numbers and statistics have been blatantly disregarded. Much of this blame has to fall on Trump. Trump has often sought to use his cult of personality to make statements which are blatant lies. One of the many examples of this is how he claims that U.S. unemployment is growing worse. He once claimed that U.S. employment stands at a grand total of 42%. For people who believe in him, that might set big alarm bells ringing. Upon closer examination, his numbers actually include anyone who doesn’t have full time 40hr employment, and that includes high school, college or graduate student, a stay-at-home parent, a job-training participant and even retired senior citizens ! Factor all that out and the harshest number that you can come up with is 16%. That is more than 2.5 times smaller than Trump’s claims. Facts should be the cornerstone of our social lives and if we get blinded by rousing emotions and charisma of the person in front of us, then it can paint a very wrong picture of our society.

Now you might think that a President has nothing to do with science. Let’s leave all that to the universities and industries, shall we ? Well, that’s way off the mark. Let me redirect your attention to Mohamed Nasheed, former president of Maldives, a tiny island nation in the Indian Ocean. Realizing that rising sea levels due to climate change could potentially sink his country, he launched a huge campaign to battle against climate change. He lobbied with leaders of countries far more powerful than Maldives to implement pro-climate measures. He also implemented policies to make Maldives a carbon-neutral nation by 2020. Today he is regarded as a climate change hero all over the world for his tenacity.

If any of the two candidates shows even a fraction of the regard for science as Nasheed showed, U.S could go a long way in helping solve not only the nation’s but the world’s problems, Instead of spreading communal hatred and mistrust, people need to be encouraged to believe in the power of reason and scientific truth. J.F.K’s words in 1961 about sending a man to the moon may have been driven by the cold war, but they revolutionized NASA and has led to a huge boost to space technology which is positively impacting lives all over the world. This once again shows what strong political will can achieve. As Carl Sagan once said, “The earth is but a pale blue dot”; Instead of wasting time on communal tensions, we can let science and math guide our way into a better future.

Is the environment really in danger ?

Maldives – The sinking paradise

A treat for the eyes.. but only for some time now..

Maldives – the place of unrivaled luxury and pristine beaches. A dream destination for every traveler to enjoy few days of complete relaxation. But unknown to the bedazzled tourist, this wonderland is undergoing a ‘sea’ of change. The global rise in the sea levels is slowly eating up the coasts of Maldives.

Maldives, one of the world’s most low lying areas, is one of the few places where we can see the effects of global warming so strikingly. The coastline of the Maldives is being taken up inch by inch every passing day by the rising waves. The pearl of the Indian Ocean might not remain on our maps anymore. To have a chance of preventing this, we can resort to the well documented ways of reducing energy usage and carbon footprints. But primarily, we need to reform our mindsets about climate change and nature. Here are some of the ideas which we think are very interesting in that aspect.

Jurassic Park – Let’s save ourselves !

When dinosaurs ruled the earth..

We all know about Jurassic Park. Michael Crichton’s epic novel and Spielberg’s breathtaking movie has captured the imagination of people all over the world. But Jurassic Park  is so much more than just scary dinosaurs. It  has some very crucial lessons on the relationship between man and nature.

The idea of the park’s creators was to re-create living creatures who have been extinct millions of years ago and try and fit them into a restricted park setting. The point that they missed was that dinosaurs weren’t some species that disappeared because of deforestation or hunting. They have had their shot at dominating this planet. Nature selected that they become extinct. Trying to bring back the past amounts to playing around with nature’s rules which never yields success. This was demonstrated in the end where the dinos broke out of their cages and wrecked havoc on the whole system. If one tries to control nature, then nature will hit back.

Surprisingly the novel also emphasizes on the notion that even in difficult circumstances, life finds a way to survive and thrive as the dinos did even if the humans there didn’t manage to do so That gives us another very important lesson. When we say that we are damaging the “environment”, we should understand what that means. Even if there are catastrophic events on the earth, somewhere, in some tiny place on the planet, life will remain. And given enough time, nature will once again regain its full splendor. It’s not nature which is being put into danger by our actions; it’s us. We do not wield any power over the Earth. The faster we grasp that fact, the better we can plan for saving ourselves from extinction.

Siberia’s Happy people !

Survive in Siberia

How do you think life would be in the hellish cold of Siberia ? Quite taxing, right ? 

Werner Herzhog, the famous German Film director, gives us a very different perspective on one such Siberian community in his documentary “Happy People”.

Bakhtia is a region in the Siberian Taiga known for its extremely cold weather where a group of villagers have been living for centuries in their traditional way. Every year in winter when the Yenisei River freezes, the men of the village go hunting in the woods where they live a life of solitude. Every hunter has his own cabin and has to be completely self reliant in order to survive. Most hunters carry dogs that are tremendously helpful in hunting. Other than using some modern technology such as guns to kill larger prey and motorized snow sledge to cover vast distances of the Taiga, these hunters rely mostly on traditional traps to catch small animals. They then carry their game back to the village during spring time to sell and/or eat. Even after these hardships, they are quite content with this lifestyle and are glad to have their life so intertwined with nature.

Now these people who are dealing with natural uncertainties for centuries using more or less traditional methods are better equipped in dealing with climate volatility than people living in urban areas who are mostly just exposed to a constant controlled environment through their lives.

For most part of human history majority of human population has been living in rural societies that were more in touch with nature than ours. These communities have developed basic age-old methods to solve many problems nature poses them whereas urban societies have grown disconnected from natural forces. With the growing disconnect comes more and more dependence on technology that works best in normal times but it has forced us to keep our natural survival instincts aside.

Lets survive!

We have to realize here that there are parts of climate change that we can affect and there are parts that we cannot control or predict to a certain degree, but humans have tackled climate change all the time and what has been a powerful tool for our survival is our ability to think about and plan for the future.

Human behavior has been shaped by variations in climate change and the question of our survivability on this planet still remains, but we have a chance to answer it. For our own good, we better take it.  

Reference for the documentary: 
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1683876/