Advanced science, Bangladesh, Economic, Environmental, International, Political, Technical

Welcome to the age of climate change

Our planet is under tremendous stress now. During the last week of January, major cities in the US Midwest and Northeast were colder than some regions in Antarctica. Temperature in Minneapolis dipped as low as negative 32 degrees Celsius, with the wind chill reaching negative 47. Grand Forks in North Dakota has seen the lowest wind chill at negative 54 degrees. As many as 21 cold-related deaths have been reported so far.

Temperatures during the first week of February rose on average by a whopping 40-50 degrees. However, the reprieve is going to be short-lived as the frigid temperatures are expected to return later this month.

Although the scientifically challenged US president wants global warming to “come back fast”, someone should whisper into his ears that extreme cold spells in the Northern Hemisphere are caused, at least in part, by global warming. Under normal circumstances, cold air mass sits above the poles in an area called the polar vortex. Emerging research suggests that a warming Arctic distorts the vortex in the North Pole, so that instead of staying where it belongs in winter, closer to the Arctic Circle, the air moves down south into continental United States. Hence, the brutal cold spells. With the rapid warming of the Arctic, the effects of the polar vortex could become more frequent and severe, bringing about more intense periods of cold snaps and storms.

While we are trying to stay warm, down under, Australians are getting baked by record-breaking heat. Over two days in November, temperatures exceeding 40 degrees in Australia’s north wiped out almost one-third of the nation’s fruit bats, also known as spectacled flying foxes. Scores of brumbies—Australian wild horses—in the Northern Territory have fallen victim to the January heatwave, which soared to a high of 47 degrees. They died from starvation and dehydration. More than a million fish have perished in a river in New South Wales as the water temperature surpassed their tolerance limit.

Last summer, many nuclear power plants in Europe halted operation because overheated river water could no longer cool down the reactors. And like many Asian megalopolises, Bangkok is choking on air pollution. Water cannons are used to alleviate the smog that has shrouded the city for weeks.

A series of droughts with little recovery time in the intervals has pushed millions to the edge of survival in the Horn of Africa. Bangladesh is staring at an unprecedented migration problem as hundreds of thousands face a stark choice between inundated coastal areas and urban slums.

California saw its most ruinous wildfires ever in 2018, claiming more than 100 lives and burning down nearly 1.6 million acres. There have even been freak blazes in Lapland and elsewhere in the Arctic Circle. There is ample data to suggest that climate change is the biggest driver of out-of-control wildfires. In colder regions, an unusually warmer climate leads to earlier snowmelt and, consequently, spring arrives earlier. An early spring causes soils to be drier for a longer period of time. Drier conditions and higher temperatures increase not only the likelihood of a wildfire to occur, but also affect its severity and duration.

Typhoon Mangkhut with maximum sustained winds of 120 miles per hour roared across the Philippines and China in September 2018, triggering landslides, extensive flooding and killing some 100 people. The ferocity of the typhoon matched that of Hurricane Florence on the other side of the globe that pummelled the Mid-Atlantic Coast of the United States just four days earlier. The wind speed was 130 miles per hour and the hurricane claimed 36 lives.

Cutting-edge research by climate scientists indicates that the intensity of hurricanes and typhoons is closely connected to global warming. Higher sea levels due to melting of glaciers and Greenland’s ice sheets and warm water give coastal storm surges a higher starting point. Additionally, because hurricanes and tropical storms gain energy from water, their destructive power intensifies. Moreover, as the Earth has warmed, the probability of a storm with high precipitation levels is much higher than it was at the end of the twentieth century.

Besides raising the sea level, climate change is also modifying oceans in different ways. According to a study published in Nature Communications in January 2019, as climate change gradually heats oceans around the globe, it is also making the ocean waves stronger and more deadly.

Climate change is ravaging the natural laboratory in the Galápagos Islands, one of the most pristine and isolated places in the world, where Charles Darwin saw a blueprint for the origin and natural selection of every species, including humans. Today, because of the more frequent El Niño events that have come with warming of the seas, the inhabitants of the islands are trying to cope with the whims of natural selection.

Welcome to the age of climate change! These are just a few examples of multiple weather-related extremes occurring all over the world. They beg the question: Can human beings survive the climate crisis? The answer depends on what we do in the next 10-20 years. It will determine whether our planet will remain hospitable to human life or slide down an irreversible path towards becoming uninhabitable.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos last month, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said, “If what we agreed in Paris would be materialised, the temperature would rise more than three degrees.” He is finally seeing eye-to-eye with the mainstream scientists and essentially declared the 2015 Paris Accord a dead deal.

If global temperature indeed increases by more than three degrees, summer heat would become unbearable. In particular, temperatures and humidity levels in cities that are already scorching hot would rise to levels that the human body simply cannot tolerate, researchers warn. More importantly, it would trigger a positive greenhouse effect feedback that would eventually push our planet, according to Guterres, “dramatically into a runaway climate change….” Once the runaway greenhouse effect starts, then Paris-like accords, conferences of parties, rulebooks for adaptation to climate change, or going cold turkey with fossil fuels won’t be able to reverse the situation.

Runaway greenhouse effect is not a “Chinese hoax.” Several billion years ago, Venus was cooler than what it is now and had an abundance of water in oceans overlain by an oxygen-rich atmosphere. The current hellish condition on Venus where the surface temperature is a blistering 460 degrees Celsius was caused by runaway greenhouse effect.

Thus, without a significant adjustment to how we conduct our lives, the possibility of Venus syndrome is quite high. In this scenario, our planet would still keep on spinning, but as the fourth dead ball of rock devoid of life.


Quamrul Haider is a Professor of Physics at Fordham University, New York.

Cultural, Human Rights, International, Life as it is, Political

Xenophobic delusional peddlers of Brexit

Barack Obama in his state visit to the UK in April 2016 to mark farewell to his two-term presidency of America said quite clearly that Britain’s membership of the EU magnified Britain’s place in the world. He also stated that should Britain decide to leave the EU and then try to draw trade deals with America, she would find herself always at the end of the queue. The message was quite blunt that America, as a trading nation, would always deal with big players like the EU, China, Japan, India and so forth first and then only the small nations like Britain would come, no matter what the deceitful delusional Brexiteers’ claim and assert that the ‘special relationship’ with America was profound.

But the delusional morons advocating Britain’s exit from the EU would dismiss everything, rejecting with contempt that Barack Obama’s view carried no weight as he was the outgoing president. Little did they know that the whole of American political and bureaucratic establishments, past and present, had echoed Obama’s views. Twelve American past Secretaries of State had signed a document endorsing his views. But the Brexit advocates claimed that America would fall head over heels to come to favourable trade deals with Britain! Just a few months down the line, the incoming president declared clearly, “America first, America first” and imposed exorbitant tariff on steel imports, wherever they are manufactured!

When the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and many other world economic bodies warned that Britain’s economic power and its stature in the world would be severely diminished if Britain left the EU, the Brexit advocates said they were all wrong! These economic organisations, according to Brexit people, had made many wrong predictions and they were wrong again. The Brexiteers without doing any economic analysis came to predict Britain’s economic future was very bright outside the EU! These delusional day-dreamers were nothing but block-headed xenophobic bunch.

These Brexit leaders, mostly right-wing Tory fanatics, peddled mind-boggling lies and deceits – £350 million per week to the NHS from the saving of £19 billion per year membership fee; making trade deals are the “easiest things in the world history”; the Irish border issue is insignificant and “can be solved like London congestion charges”; stopping 80 million Turkish immigrants coming to Britain, “taking back control” from the EU etc.

On 29th of March 2017 Theresa May, the new prime minister gave the Brexit notice to the European Commission and the withdrawal terms state that within 24 months the exit should be completed. The mantra of the prime minister was, “Brexit means Brexit” and she discarded the “single market” and “customs union” completely. These utterings made her the darling to the ultra-right-wing xenophobic Tory Brexiteers.

Let us see what those Brexiteers had said before the EU referendum with the shrillest voices to discredit the pragmatic voices and what the reality is now. Those Brexiteers purposely ignored the benefits of the EU membership – regional regeneration fund coming to industrially depressed areas such as Liverpool, North Wales, North of England etc; educational grant to British students and British universities, advanced research grant, security cooperation, nuclear cooperation, European Research Council (ERC) funding and lots of other programmes to help Member States. Withdrawing membership will automatically negate all these benefits and so to say membership fee will be the total saving is a total bonkers.

When the EU leaders, particularly the German Chancellor and French President, stated that Britain outside the EU would lose all the privileges and the advantages of being in the EU, Brexit leaders said they were wrong. The EU would give better deal to Britain outside the EU! Did the Brexit peddlers know better what France, Germany and other EU countries would do than their own leaders? Delusion and wishful thinking were at its dizzy heights with these morons.

Prime minister’s “Brexit means Brexit” was nothing short of pandering to extreme right-wingers’ dogma. She is now saying that Brexit may be delayed due to legislative logjam and pragmatic reasons. Many compromises had to be made, particularly with regard to Irish ‘Good Friday Agreement’; otherwise the dark days of IRA and sectarian killing may return.

The xenophobic imperialist Tory politicians thought that they could bring back the second era of British colonialism and ‘rule Britannia’ status if Britain is outside the EU. Boris Johnson, the arch delusionist, who became the foreign and commonwealth secretary at the back of his monumental falsehood went to India, Myanmar and other ex-colonies deluding that he would get the reception and imperial status of colonial foreign secretary, but came back utterly humiliated. Liam Fox, Brexit international trade secretary, who made the claim of making trade deals is the easiest thing in world history, could not make a single worthwhile trade deal in over two years! 

The deceitful Brexiteers have all fizzled out now, their promises of £350 million per week have all but thrown out, the 80 million Turks were total fantasy. But they are holding on to the new mantra, “people have spoken out overwhelmingly” – with 51.8% to leave as against 48.2% to remain. A 3.6% margin is hardly overwhelming, when all those lies and deceits had been taken into account.

The fact was that the referendum process was hoisted on to the public by the internal squabbles of the Tory party. The previous Tory party leader had to agree to have a referendum under duress from the Eurosceptic Tory political agitators. When the referendum came, the vile instincts of the Eurosceptics burst out into open to stir up fear and prejudices of the ignoramus people. Lies, deception, xenophobia, bigotry, innuendos and all other vile instincts that run counter to the spirit of democracy had been played out.

No matter how loudly Brexiters shout, “Brexit is the will of the people”, if the voters had been fed with misinformation, fear and prejudices, the outcome is bound to be anything but sensible. When over a million people ‘Google searched’ the word ‘EU’ a day after casting vote on the EU referendum, one can say that there was something grossly wrong. Democracy had been massacred in the referendum.

Democracy cannot survive in ignorance, illiteracy or moral degeneracy. When honesty, decency, morality etc. are divorced, democracy takes leave too. As Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education”.

– Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist.

Bangladesh, Cultural, Human Rights, International, Life as it is, Literary

Tagore’s renunciation of OBE in 1919

David Olusoga has attempted to justify his honour. But surely black and Asian Britons should try to undo imperial delusions.

Rabindranath Tagore: ‘The time has come when badges of honour make our shame glaring in their incongruous context of humiliation.’ Photograph: Fox Photos/Getty Images

A century ago the eminent Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore returned his knighthood to the viceroy of India, which was awarded in 1915. The “time has come when badges of honour make our shame glaring in their incongruous context of humiliation”, Tagore wrote in outrage as scores of peaceful protesters were massacred in Jallianwala Bagh. He would now “stand, shorn of all special distinctions, by the side of my countrymen”.

In accepting the knighthood, Tagore had been unfairly accused of being a colonial flunkey, partly because he had expressed justifiable reservations about aspects of Indian nationalism. The 1919 atrocities in Amritsar jolted the Nobel laureate into accepting that his Knight Commander of the British Empire (the CBE still in use today) could not be treated as unconnected to the bloodied realities of that empire’s operations.

The belief that titles such as Officer, Dame Commander or Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire can be treated as purely symbolic, untainted by the gross brutalities of the imperial project, appear more plausible today, with historical distance. Accepting his Order of the British Empire, the public historian David Olusoga, who has a Nigerian father, has insisted defensively that while “the empire was an extractive, exploitative, racist and violent institution”, the fact that “there isn’t an empire any more” changes things completely.

The E-word is now a slightly retro empty term – a little bit distasteful, for sure, but happily emancipated from any historical reference. However, Olusoga’s comforting thought runs counter to the British establishment’s own adamantine but honest refusal, despite official criticism of the word as “anachronistic” and “insensitive”, to substitute “empire” in these titles with something less divisive and racially charged. It also ignores the extent to which aspirations to a resurgent imperial global grandeur have resurfaced, so explicitly and harmfully in the case for Brexit. Is the empire really over, or has it remained a virus-like sleeper cell in the British political imagination?Ms Dynamite

Rabindranath Tagore, ca. 1930

The black scholar Paul Gilroy suggests that Britain’s refusal to accept the loss of empire has produced “deluded patterns of historical reflection and self‑understanding”. Surely it is the task of black and Asian Britons to undo, not pander to, these delusions.

The most eloquent case for descendants of the enslaved, the indentured and the colonised to refuse honours that exalt the British empire was made by the poet Benjamin Zephaniah in this paper. He linked his own rejection of an OBE in 2003 not just to past atrocities or a “betrayal” of enslaved ancestors but to the very real afterlife of empire: racism, police brutality, privatisation, militarism, ongoing economic dispossession and the retention of the spoils of empire. One is either “profoundly anti-empire” or one accepts its many self-serving fictions along with the honour, including the notion that despite a few mishaps, it was a largely benevolent enterprise.

Zephaniah’s choice was based on clear principles, from a long and often forgotten tradition of black and Asian resistance to the global harm inflicted by empire, and the understanding that imperial and domestic rule were maintained by paternalism, buying loyalties heading off dissenters at the pass and ensuring that criticism was toned down. In the 1930s, the fiercely anti-colonial black British newspaper International African Opinion identified “the judicious management of the black intelligentsia, giving them jobs, OBEs and even knighthoods” as a key tactic for diffusing confrontation.

Bestowing knighthoods on African chiefs (indirect rule) and Indian princes elicited their assistance in controlling the colonised masses, though this was not always possible given widespread resistance. A select class of non-white leaders could be upheld as exemplars of a just system even as the large majority continued to face widespread discrimination and inequality.

Olusoga suggests that, by acknowledging the “incredible achievements of black and Asian Britons”, OBEs can be seen as a defeat of racism. Apart from the ways in which tokenism usually enables hierarchical and exclusionary systems to continue business as usual, the more vital question is whether OBEs actually facilitate what Olusoga correctly describes as the “need to confront” not celebrate the history of empire. The role of an officer of the empire is hardly calculated to induce that much-needed confrontation.

The British establishment, utterly reliant on fictions of imperial glory and benevolence, is not so naive as to facilitate its own undoing. Olusoga and others are fully entitled to their personal choices and private compromises. What is more questionable is the presentation of these personal decisions as politically sound choices made selflessly in the name of all black Britons.

Does having a few black names with OBE after them really signify that the British establishment acknowledges the profound historical contributions of black and Asian people to this nation, not least through producing much of its wealth? Beyond exceptional individual achievement, non-white Britons have also collectively organised for rights, fought racism challenged the empire, lobbied for legislation, run for political office, led demonstrations, produced community newspapers, and engaged in radical political education. So no: the “only options on the table” are not “to accept or decline” a seat at it. The real task is to bring this country to an understanding of what empire was, did and continues to do – and to question how a genuinely democratic decolonisation can be achieved in future.

• Priyamvada Gopal is a lecturer at Cambridge University

Advanced science, Astrophysics, Life as it is, Technical

Quantum Conundrum

The quantum concept that came into existence precisely in the year 1900 was both revolutionary in outlook and spectacular in outcome. This very concept which was put forward by Max Planck in 1900 when he tried to explain black body radiation was subsequently taken up by a luminary like Albert Einstein (as yet unknown to the world) in 1905 and gave a rational explanation to the hitherto difficult scientific problem.

The classical physics (also known as Newtonian physics) was ruling the day until about 1900 when all day-to-day physical problems could be explained by this discipline. But gradually it was running out of steam as new technically challenging phenomena came up due to invention of new instruments and reliable measurements were made.

The intractable physical processes like the black body radiation, interactions of light with particles, the puzzling behaviour of light and many more physical processes could not be explained by traditional classical mechanics. So, a new method, a new mode of thinking, a new science had to be invented that would explain all these inexplicable things.

Although Max Planck was first to venture outside the conventional concept of light being wave in nature to explain ‘black body radiation’ in 1900, it was Albert Einstein who gave scientific explanation by proposing in 1905 the ‘quantisation’ of light – a phenomenon where light was assumed to consist of discreet packets of energy – which he called quantum of light or photon. This quantum of light was advanced in order to explain the hitherto inexplicable photoelectric process, where light was allowed to fall on the surface of a metal and electrons were detected to have emitted. No matter how long or how intense one type of light was, electrons would not be emitted. Only when light of higher frequencies was allowed, electrons were emitted. Einstein showed that photons (quantum of energy in a bundle) of higher frequencies have higher energies and those higher energy photons could emit electrons. (It was like, no matter how long or how heavy the rain is, the roof would not be dented. Only when hailstorm of sufficient big sizes falls on the roof, does the roof cave in). For this quantisation theory, Einstein was awarded Nobel prize in 1921.

Thus, light came to be viewed as both wave and particle, depending on experimental circumstances, and hence the nomenclature ‘wave-particle duality’ came into common vocabulary. If hitherto electromagnetic light can be viewed both as wave and particle, can particles (like electrons) behave like waves? Indeed, so. If electrons are allowed to go through two slits, they interfere and produce alternate bright and dark spectral lines on a screen, exactly like light waves do. The microscopic world does not distinguish between waves and particles, they are blurred into indistinguishable entities. That is the nature that quantum mechanics has produced. 

Although Einstein was the pioneer of quantisation of light, he was not at ease with the way this new concept had been taken up by ‘new lions’ under the stewardship of physicists like Niels Bohr, Wolfgang Pauli, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrodinger, Max Born and many more in the early part of the last century. They collectively produced the full-blown quantum mechanics, which Einstein had difficulty in recognising.  

In quantum theory, particles like electrons revolving round the nucleus of an atom do not exist as particles. They are like strata of waves smeared round the nucleus. However, they exist, behaving like particles, when some energy is imparted to the atom or some energy is taken away from the atom resulting in those electrons moving up or down in energy levels. In other words, electrons exist only when there is an interaction or transition. Without such transitions, electrons just do not show up. However, electrons (with negative charge) are there around the nucleus, but there is no way of telling where the electrons are – only probability of their presence (wave function) can be described! No wonder, Einstein was not happy with such description, which he called incomplete.

Heisenberg produced what came to be known as ‘Heisenberg uncertainty principle’. The elementary particle like an electron cannot be measured with absolute accuracy both its position and momentum at the same time. The act of measuring the position of an electron disturbs the complementary parameter like velocity and so certain amount of uncertainty in momentum creeps in – that is the uncertainty principle. Similar uncertainty exists when measuring time and energy of the particle at the same time.

Niels Bohr, the high priest of quantum mechanics, produced from his Advanced Institute of Physics in Copenhagen, what came to be known as ‘Copenhagen Interpretation’ of quantum mechanics. This interpretation advanced the idea that elementary particles like electrons do not exist in stable or stationary conditions; they only exist in transitions and in interactions.

The ‘Copenhagen Interpretation’ further emphasised that a quantum particle can only be said to exist when it is observed, if it is not observed it does not exist. This was a revolutionary concept. Einstein could not reconcile with that idea. He retorted, “When the Moon is there in the sky, it is real; whether one observes it or not”. Thus, the great intellectual battle on the nature of reality ensued between Einstein and Bohr. Einstein firmly believed that the quantum mechanics as it existed in his life time was inconsistent and incomplete (although he withdrew the ‘inconsistent’ branding, as quantum mechanics kept explaining modern technical processes with consistency). To prove that ‘incompleteness’, he produced various ‘thought experiments’ at various times to challenge Bohr’s ‘Copenhagen Interpretation’. Bohr countered those challenges with technical explanations, but Einstein was not fully convinced.   

Einstein did not like the abstract nature of quantum mechanics. He always demanded that theory must correspond to the reality, if not, it becomes a ‘voodoo’ science.  

For his criticism, he was not very popular with the advocates of ‘Copenhagen Interpretation’. They even lamented that ‘how is it possible that Einstein who was the pioneer of quantum theory and who revolutionised gravitational concept by saying that space is warped by gravity and the gravitational field is indeed the space, now he is reluctant to accept ideas of quantum mechanics’?   

Quantum mechanics had solved many intractable problems and predicted many physical aspects which subsequently came to be true. But at the same time, it is incomprehensible, extremely abstract and devoid of ‘elements of reality’. Anybody hoping to see theory mirroring reality would be totally disappointed. Even Richard Feynman, American Nobel laureate, who contributed significantly to the development of quantum physics once retorted, “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics”! Nonetheless, quantum mechanics is the most advanced scientific discipline of today.

– Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist.

Economic, Environmental, International, Technical

COP24: All noise, no signals

Climate change has become a political football in the last 20 years. The “un”-stable American genius once mocked climate change as a Chinese hoax. Now he believes “something’s changing,” but it is “not man-made.” Other heads of state and government talk and act as if climate change will follow whatever is agreed upon by them at various conferences. However, they do not realise that the Earth’s climate system is highly complex, and complex systems do not respond to whims.

Since 1995, when the first Conference of Parties (COP) took place in Berlin, world leaders or their representatives met 24 times to address the burning issue of global climate change. At these conferences, they debated about steps that should be taken to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, ignoring other greenhouse gases, some of which are more potent than carbon dioxide. Some of them argued that atmospheric data is incomplete and computer models used by climate scientists are only as reliable as the data fed into them. Others contended that we are trying to measure small changes in a large, complex system and extrapolating those changes into the future is always tricky. The conferences usually ended without any unified strategies to mitigate the dangerous impacts of climate change. In the meantime, our planet is heating up, causing extreme weather-related events that would create, in a very short order, a new planet, still recognisable, but violently out of balance.

The recently concluded COP24 held at Katowice, the coal capital of Poland, was attended by thousands of negotiators representing different countries as well as scientists, students, environmental activists, business groups, non-governmental organisations and journalists. Conspicuously absent were heads of state of some of the countries, most notably the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, China and India, which emit carbon dioxide in copious amounts. Many activists from developing nations hardest hit by the impacts of climate change were denied visas to attend the conference. Some attendees deemed undesirable by the Polish authorities were either deported or forcibly kept away from the conference site.

As expected, disagreements at the conference weren’t really about climate change and global warming. Rather, they were about protecting the national interests of the industrialised countries. To that end, they interpreted scientific results in a way that would bolster, instead of undermine, the support of their political base. Others, including delegates from Bangladesh and small island nations that are least responsible for causing global warming but most vulnerable to its devastating effects, urged the participating nations to adopt a collective action plan to keep the overall temperature rise below two degrees Celsius before the end of this century.

After two weeks of acrimonious debate, it was déjà vu—failure to produce a substantive framework for policy which would offer coherence and consistency as to how the global community should cope with the long-term challenges of climate change. The only noteworthy piece of document that COP24 produced is a Rulebook for putting the 2015 Paris Climate Accord into practice. Suffice it to say, the guidelines outlined in the Rulebook could be portrayed as stopgap measures, for they only treat the symptoms and neglect the underlying root causes of climate change. Therefore, they won’t be enough to stop global warming from reaching critical levels.

There are other takeaways from the conference, too. For the umpteenth time we were reminded—this time by the UN Secretary General—that “climate change is the defining issue of our time, and we are at a defining moment.” His statement was rephrased by Poland’s President who said that “climate change constitutes one of the gravest threats of our time.” British environmentalist Sir David Attenborough was one of the few moral voices who mentioned that besides human activity, human inaction is also responsible for climate change. He warned that our inaction would lead to “the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world.”

Kuwait, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United States “noted”, but did not “welcome”, the scientific evidences related to climate change. Supported by the host country, where almost 85 percent of electricity is produced from coal, they expressed reluctance to phase out the use of fossil fuels.

The only heartening takeaway from COP24 was the participation of the new generation including school-going children. In particular, Greta Thunberg, a 15-year-old Swedish girl and one of the speakers, castigated the world leaders accusing them of abdicating their responsibility to address adequately the problems arising from climate change. She did not mince words in pointing out that “our biosphere is being sacrificed so that rich people in countries like mine can live in luxury.”

Greta’s speech should motivate us to set aside zero-sum game thinking, and think more about how to work together to achieve a greener world. Specifically, we have to fully transition to renewable energy, draw down carbon dioxide, relocate the displaced millions, farm and grow more sustainably, and rejuvenate Earth’s ecosystems. Most importantly, we have to build a society that seeks balance between human and ecological needs, thereby ensuring that we, our future generations, and other species can survive and live well. Failure to do so would result in a disaster of epic proportions.

Achieving the above-mentioned goals would require cooperation between nations on a much grander scale than envisioned at COP24. The Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in June, 1992 is a good example, although not an ideal one. Nevertheless, the summit produced several agreements on climate change, deforestation, species protection and sustainable development. Participants also published a massive document called Agenda 21, which outlines thousands of ways to solve many of the world’s environmental problems caused by climate change.

Finally, in physics, there is a phenomenon known as “resonance” that is produced by sympathetic vibration. For example, when we turn the knob of a radio to tune to a station, we are changing the frequency of the electrical circuit of the receiver to make it equal to the transmission frequency of the radio station. When the two frequencies match, there is resonance and we can hear clearly broadcasts from the station. If the frequencies do not match, we hear only noise. At COP24, there were nearly 200 participating nations operating at discordant frequencies. Hence, there was no resonance, only noise without any discernible signal.

Quamrul Haider is a professor of physics at Fordham University, New York.