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Advanced science, Astrophysics, Life as it is, Technical

From Newton’s Gravitational Law to Einstein’s Gravitational waves

Visualisation of Newton’s gravitational attraction

Summer 1666, a young Cambridge University physics student by the name Isaac Newton was sitting under an apple tree in his mother’s garden at Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire, England. An apple fell from the tree on the ground and that triggered him to think: why did the apple come down straight to earth, not go sideways or upwards? That question led him to delve deeper into the mystery of attraction between two bodies and to come up with the law of gravity. He published his research work in “The Principia Mathematica” in 1687, where he described, among other things, this seminal work on the law of universal gravitation.  

This law of gravitation tells us that two bodies attract each other with a force which is proportional to the product of the masses of the bodies and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. This simple empirical formula was astonishingly successful in calculating the force of attraction between two bodies on earth. This law was also applied to calculate the attractive force between the earth and the moon and to the orbital motion of the moon round the earth. The law was quite accurate in defining the orbits of many other celestial bodies, although in few cases the law was somewhat inaccurate.

This law was and still is the centre piece of what is now known as the ‘classical physics’ or ‘Newtonian Physics’. We all studied this law, Newton’s laws of motion, properties of matter, electricity and magnetism, heat and thermodynamics, optics etc in our schools and they gave the grounding for advanced physics.

For nearly 300 years this law was supreme and explained how the force of gravity controls the motions of all celestial bodies. However, the law did not say anything about the nature of this force or how the force is propagated through space; it just stated that the force diffuses through space without leaving any trace. As the predictions of the law were right in most of the cases, nobody bothered too much about these minor details or even ignored some minor discrepancies.    

At the turn of the 20th century, a patent clerk by the name Albert Einstein was working on patent submissions of electrical devices in Bern, Switzerland as a ‘Technical Expert, Third Class’ and in his spare time he was working on gravitational problems. The Patent Office work took up 48 hours of his time per week over six days. Einstein described his work load subsequently as, it left him with ‘eight hours for fooling around each day and then there is also Sunday!’.

In 1905 he published a technical paper outlining the Special Theory of Relativity giving revolutionary scientific ideas and concepts. In this paper, he introduced two fundamental concepts: the principle of relativity and the constancy of speed of light. The speed of light was stated to be independent of the speed of the observer. In other words, whether the observer moves in the direction of light or opposite to it, he would see the speed of light always remaining constant (c= 3*108 m/s). (It may be mentioned that in 1905, Albert Einstein produced three more monumental papers of enormous significance: (i) the mass-energy equivalence (E=mc2), (ii) Brownian motion of small particles, and (iii) photoelectric effects. For his work on photoelectric effects showing the particulate nature of light, which laid the foundation for quantum mechanics, he was awarded Nobel prize in 1921. As mentioned above, the year 1905 was extremely productive for Albert Einstein.

Visualisation of Einstein’s spacetime construct

Einstein developed his relativity concept even further and produced the General Theory of Relativity in 1915. In this General Theory of Relativity, he advanced the principle of spacetime, not space and time. He stipulated that the three dimensions of space (such as X, Y and Z dimensions of cartesian coordinates) and one dimension of time are not independent of each other, but intricately linked to form a single four-dimensional spacetime continuum.

This concept of spacetime continuum was revolutionary at that time and even now they make human beings baffled. The relativistic consideration has produced what is now called the time dilation. The passage of time is relative and so it depends on the motion of an observer relative to a stationary observer. Also, the passage of time depends on the location in a gravitational field. For example, a clock attached to an observer in a spaceship will tick slower than that of a clock attached to an observer in a stationary position. Also, a clock in a higher gravitational field, such as at the surface of earth, will tick slower than that of a clock in lower gravitational field such as the top of a mountain.

Let’s take an example. There were three men in the UK, all of them exactly of the same age, say, 25 years. They decided to offer themselves as guinea pigs for a research on gravity. One was asked to stay in Lincolnshire, England (not too far from Newton’s famous apple tree), the other was told to go and live high up in the Himalayan mountains and the third, most adventurer of the lot, got the opportunity to have a space travel in a superfast spaceship. The spaceship travelled fast and so his clock was ticking slowly. Let’s say his spaceship was so fast that one year in the spaceship clock was equal to five earth years and the mountain man clocked 10 minutes more than the Lincolnshire man in five years. When after five years they met on earth, they found that the mountain man was 10 minutes older than 30 years, Lincolnshire man was 30 years of earth age and the spaceship man was whopping four years younger than 30 years! To the spaceship man, it would look like he had come back four years in the future!     

Einstein stipulated that the gravitational field creates space and the bodies with masses bend and warp space; more like massive bodies create curvature in a trampoline. All less massive bodies fall into the curvature in the trampoline created by the massive bodies. When there are a large number of bodies warping the space, the space becomes jagged and celestial bodies move around in tortuous paths. There is no force of gravity pulling objects towards each other; just the bodies move around the jagged curved space along the path of least resistance.

Space, like any other force field, is discreet, quantised and granular. The quantum of space is dubbed as graviton, similar to the term photon in electromagnetic field, and it is so small that we cannot feel its discreteness, as we cannot feel the discreteness of photons of light or discreteness of atoms in a solid body.

Exactly hundred years after Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, experimental evidence of gravitational field and gravitational wave have been produced by the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory) experiment and shown that space is modulated by the gravitational field. A monochromatic laser beam of light was split and sent at right angles to each other along two arms, each of 4 km long. These beams were reflected back along the same path and allowed to interfere back at source. If there is no distortion or modulation of the path lengths, the two beams would interfere in anti-phases and there would be no interference patterns.

When two super massive black holes some 1.3 billion light years away merged and produced a gigantic massive black hole, an enormous amount of energy, equal to three solar masses, was produced and sent out as gravitational energy. It rippled through the whole universe in the form of gravitational wave at the speed of light and deformed the spacetime fabric. That deformation in spacetime was detected by the LIGO experiment in the form of interference pattern and that proves that gravitational waves modulates the space. 

The implication of Einstein’s spacetime is that at the very beginning when even the ‘Big Bang’ did not take place, there was no spacetime. Spacetime came into existence following that ‘Big Bang’, when gravity came into play along with other forces such as electrical force, strong nuclear force and weak nuclear force. If at the end, as Physics predicts, the whole universe starts to collapse, there would be what is called the ‘Big Crunch’ and the spacetime would collapse too and disappear. There will be nothing, no material, no space and no time. These are the predictions of scientific theories as exist today.

In 1930 when Einstein came to London as the guest of honour at a fundraising dinner to help the East European Jews, George Bernard Shaw, the chief guest, said humourously, “Ptolemy made a universe which lasted for 1400 years. Newton made a universe which lasted for 300 years. Einstein has made a universe, and I can’t tell you how long that will last.” The audience laughed loudly, but none louder than Einstein.

  • Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist


Bangladesh, Cultural, International, Life as it is, Literary, Political

February 21: International Mother Language Day

Ekushey February (21 February) was the forerunner to Bengali nationalist movements against the political and economic domination of the then West Pakistan, including the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971

More than 78 years ago, Sir Winston Churchill famously said, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” It was a tribute to the men and women of the Royal Air Force who valiantly defended England from the relentless bombing by the Nazis during World War II.

Churchill’s tribute is equally applicable to the martyrs of the Language Movement, with the 260 million Bangla speaking people as the “so many” and Salam, Rafiq, Jabbar, Barkat and others as the “so few.” The so few were killed on February 21, 1952 near Dhaka Medical College when the Pakistani police opened fire on Bengali protesters who were demanding official status for their mother tongue.

The song ‘Amar Bhaier Rokte Rangano Ekushey February, Ami Ki Bhulite Pari’ (My brothers’ blood spattered 21 February/How can I forget it?) says it all. It epitomizes the supreme sacrifice made by these few men.

A few months after the killing, a young poet and political activist from Chittagong named Mahbubul Alam expressed the grief and anger of every Bangali in a poem: Kandte ashini – phanshir dabi niye eshechhi―I have not come to weep, I have come to demand them hanged. The English translation of the last few lines is:

Today I am not deranged with anger,

Today I am not overwhelmed by grief,

Today I am only unflinching

in my determination . . . .

The demand that those who perpetrated the crime be hanged.

Every year on February 21, people from all walks of life head to the Shaheed Minar―the Martyr’s Monument built as a tribute to the martyrs of the language movement―singing the song “Amar Bhaier Rokte Rangano Ekushey February” in the probhat feri, a barefoot procession starting at one minute past midnight. The monument stood tall until March 26, 1971, when it was demolished by the Pakistan army during Operation Searchlight. It was rebuilt after Bangladesh gained independence.

The seeds of the language movement were sown in 1948, when on February 25, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan and its first Governor-General, said in the Constituent Assembly that Pakistan being a Muslim state, Urdu would be its state language. Four weeks later, on March 21, at the Dhaka University convocation, Jinnah once again said, “While the language of the province [East Pakistan] can be Bengali, the state language of Pakistan is going to be Urdu and no other language. Anyone who tries to mislead you is really an enemy of Pakistan.” These statements by Jinnah evoked angry protests from the Bengalis who took it as an affront to their language. After all, Bangla (Bengali) was spoken by fifty-four percent of the population of Pakistan.  

On January 26, 1952, the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan recommended that Urdu should be the only state language of Pakistan. On the same day, in a public meeting at Paltan Maidan in Dhaka, the then Prime Minister of Pakistan Khawaja Nazimuddin, a Bengali who wouldn’t speak in Bangla, declared that Urdu alone would be the state language of Pakistan.

Both the developments were the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. They sparked off a wave of agitation leading to the police firing on February 21. Bangla finally gained official status in Pakistan, alongside Urdu, in 1956.

Why do we feel so passionately about Bangla language? Bangla is an Indo-European language spoken mostly in the East Indian subcontinent. It has evolved circa 650 A.D. from Sanskrit and Magadhi Prakrit, believed to be the language spoken by Gautama Buddha, and was the language of the ancient kingdom of Magadha.

Nineteenth century was the period when the actual literary renaissance of Bangla started. Literary stalwarts, such as Michael Madhusudan Datta (1834-1873) and Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay (1838-1898) were the founders of modern Bangla literature. Madhusudan was the first Bengali poet to write in amitrakshar chhanda (blank verse) and combined western influences into the essence of Bengla literature.

Then came Rabindranath Thakur (Tagore), a Bengali polymath, who gave new meaning to Bangla literature. As we all know, he was a poet, novelist, short storywriter, dramatist, essayist, lyricist, painter and literary critic all rolled into one. In short, he is the Shakespeare and more of Bangla literature. He won the 1913 Literature Nobel Prize for his epic Geetanjali. The other Bengali poets and writers who made our literature superbly rich were Kazi Nazrul Islam, a poet, dramatist, writer, musician and a revolutionary, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Jibananda Das and Bibutibhushan Bandopadhyay, to name a few.

Why are we so emotional about February 21, also known as Ekushey ? We are emotional because:

Ekushey ignited a movement where language took precedence over religion.

Ekushey was the forerunner to Bengali nationalist movements against the political and economic domination of the then West Pakistan, including the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971.

Ekushey is a symbol of our freedom, emancipation and independence from a repressive regime. Ekushey is the day we pay homage to the brave, young souls who laid down their life for the Bengla language. It is also a day of remembrance of the hundreds of thousands of men and women who sacrificed their lives for our independence.

Ekushey is a symbol of Bangali culture.

Ekushey means keeping our head high.

Ekushey teaches us to fight social injustice, inequality and oppression.

Ekushey is our guiding light towards a better future.

More importantly, Ekushey makes us feel proud to be a Bengali.

Every nation loves its mother tongue and so do we. We are proud of our literature, our music, our culture, our heritage. We love our poetry because the verses are so mellifluous for which there are no parallels. Examples are: Tagore’s Banglar maati, Banglar jol, Banglar baayo, Banglar phol, punnyo hauk, punnyo hauk, hey bhagoban. (The soil of Bengal, the water of Bengal, the air of Bengal, the fruits of Bengal, may be blessed, may be blessed, O’ my Lord.)

Dijendra Lal Rai’s O Ma Tomar Charan Duti Bokshe Aamar Dhori, Aamar Ei Deshete Janmo Jeno Ei Deshe Te Mori (Oh my Mother, I hold your feet in my heart. I was born in this land and I want to die here too.)

That is why we gave blood for our mother tongue. And that invariably justifies our quintessential emotion for Bangla.  In November 1999, UNESCO declared February 21 as the International Mother Language Day. This is a matter of great pride for the Bangla speaking people all over the world, because it is a recognition by the United Nations of the supreme sacrifice we made in 1952 to defend our rights to read, write and speak in mother tongue – Bangla. Since then, the day is observed worldwide to promote peace, awareness of linguistic and cultural heritage, multiculturism and multilingualism.

The writer is a professor of physics at Fordham University, New York

Cultural, International, Life as it is, Political, Religious, Technical

Science and Islam

Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, considered to be the inventor of Algebra (780-850AD)

The title of this write-up may seem a little incongruous as common perception presents science and religion as essentially two distinct and incompatible disciplines. That may be true, but there was a time, some centuries ago, when Islam and science were intermingled ushering in what is now graciously called the “Golden Age” of Islam. Sometimes this Golden Age is flashed around to claim credit for Islam and subliminally proclaim that Islam can attain once again the same greatness in this modern world. The die hard Islamists insist that to achieve greatness once more one has to go back to the period when this was achieved and hence they hark back to the 7th century conditions including the reintroduction of Sharia laws.

So, what is this “Golden Age”? In essence, the Islamic kingdom from the beginning of 8th century to the middle of 13th century is assigned as the glorious period when science and technology, art and culture, music and medicine and so forth all flourished under the patronage of the state. The Arab kingdom, under the Umayyad Caliphate from 661AD to 750AD having Damascus as the capital and then the Abbasid Caliphate from 751AD to 1258AD having Baghdad as the capital, was the melting pot of all human knowledge. The reason for such an epoch rise in human culture and knowledge within just a few decades of the establishment of Islam was that the kingdom that encompassed Persia on the East to Lebanon on the West, Egypt and North Africa on the South to the steeps of Asia Minor on the North brought together the talents from all corners of the kingdom and beyond. Greek science and technology, arts and literature were all translated into Arabic and ilm or knowledge was actively encouraged by the state. All great minds of the kingdom were offered the collective knowledge of other cultures – translated from Greek, Latin etc. – and encouraged to pursue knowledge unencumbered by theological constraints. “Go even unto China to seek knowledge” was the guiding philosophy of that period.

Unprecedented progress was made in many scientific fields, many new disciplines had been invented. Algebra was invented by Muhammad al-Khwarizmi (780 – 850AD) – a Khorasani (which included Persia, part of Afghanistan and part of Central Asia) working in Baghdad, who not only introduced Indian decimal concept and numeral system but also put forward logical thinking in a form which came to be known as Algorithm. This algorithm is used even now as the starting point of computer programming. Another Khorasani, Muhammad al-Farabi (872 – 950AD) was the most prominent scientist and philosopher of the day and wrote on physics, cosmology, psychology, philosophy and on many more. Yet another Persian scholar Abu Rayhan al-Biruni (973 – 1048AD) was regarded as one of the greatest scholars of the medieval Islamic era and was well versed in physics, mathematics and other natural sciences. He was a prolific scientific writer and wrote 146 treatises. His major accomplishment was that he estimated the circumference of the earth using his trigonometric methods and that estimation came within 200 miles of the actual circumference of 24,900 miles! He was a great linguist too – he could converse in Persian, Arabic and Sanskrit, and knew Greek, Hebrew and Syriac. Muhammad Zakariya al-Razi (854 – 925AD) of Persia was the pioneer in medical sciences who invented distillation of alcohol and its use in medicine, identified measles and small pox and wrote a treatise on them which remained the guiding light for centuries. He was the author of the encyclopaedia of medicine spanning over twenty three volumes. Abu al-Husayn ibn-Sina was a philosopher and the most authoritative physician of the day (980 -1037 AD) and produced multi-volume medical survey which was translated into Latin. The initial transfer of knowledge from Latin to Arabic had by now reversed its direction and knowledge started to flow from Arabic to Latin.  

Another physicist by the name Ibn al-Haytham (965 – 1040AD) from Basra may be considered to be the father of modern optics, centuries before Newton, he had figured out that objects were seen because they reflected light which was then received by the retina of human eyes, not the previously misconceived notion that eyes emitted light which then hit the objects. He was credited with the development of scientific methods such as the experiment, hypothesis, modification, theory etc. He wrote a “Book of Optics” (kitab al-Manazir) that is still admired by historians of physics. There were many more physicists, mathematicians, astronomers and medical professionals who contributed to the great achievements of that “Golden Age”.

Now, how did that great assimilation of knowledge in the “Golden Age” disappear almost overnight following the collapse of Abbasid Caliphate as a result of Mongol invasion in 1258? Could an empire as well as the human achievement and intellectual progress disappear so suddenly? Admittedly, other civilisations of the past such as the Greek Civilisation, Indian Civilisation, Chinese Civilisation etc. all came and gone, but none did disappear without a trace of intellectual heritage for future generations to pursue as in the case of Islamic “Golden Age”.

To seek out the answer one has to look back at what was happening at the dying days or years of the Abbasid Caliphate. Like any great empire in decline, Abbasid Caliphate was disintegrating for quite some time. In Spain, Christians reconquered Cordoba in 1236 and then Seville in 1248. But the last nail in the coffin was the siege and occupation of Baghdad by Mongols in 1258, thereby bringing an end to the dying empire. For decades or even a century or over, there were internal tension and conflict between the Mu’tazilites who embraced rational thinking and inquisitiveness and the Ash’arités who were anti rationalists. This Ash’arités movement was dogmatic Sunni Muslim movement which held the view that rationalist view was anti-Islamic. Things do happen as God wishes to happen, not as a priori or a posteriori.

Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (1058 – 1111AD) argued that rationalism was incompatible with Islamic teaching. As God’s will is completely free and unencumbered, His wishes are supreme and cannot be compromised by human rationalisation of causes and effects. A storm takes place because God wishes it that way to punish the sinners for their misdeeds, not as a result of any meteorological condition. Rain falls not as a result of precipitation and condensation of moisture, but due to God’s will. By his dogmatic interpretation of Islam he gave a philosophical underpinning of religion, far removed from scientific explanation, and brought Sunni Islam very close to Sufi philosophy.

Following the collapse of Abbasid Caliphate, Ash’arités movement supported by Ghazalites took hold in the Islamic world. From that time on, Islam had been going in the reverse direction to the Western civilisation and Christianity which embraced Renaissance and Age of Enlightenment. Admittedly, Christianity had its turbulent periods when different theological strands vied against each other and did everything to eliminate each other, but eventually rationality prevailed over darkness. Christianity came out of the dark ages bruised and battered, but with its theology intact as long as its boundary is properly demarcated and ring fenced. In other words, in Christianity theology is numinous undertaking segregated from the workings of the nation state.

Islam does not want to accept such segregation of duties and responsibilities. It wants to encroach on the state responsibilities covering politics, economics, education and every other facet of human endeavour. How could a state function when religion tells that there is no rationality, no cause and effect; everything moves as God desires? How could state advance economically or intellectually when faith based religion puts an overarching umbrella over its development plan? A simple practical incident will exemplify this dysfunctional relationship.

Some years ago, when I went from Britain to Saudi Arabia as a Consultant on Radiological Protection, I was invited to present a paper on ‘Effects of radiation on human beings’ at an international conference in Riyadh. The conference was very well attended with many British, American, German, Swedish and Finnish experts. There were high level Saudi presence too including the Saudi Interior Minister, Health Minister and Saudi Atomic Energy Commission’s chairman and so forth. As I presented my paper in English, it had to be translated into Arabic as I spoke. During the presentation, I said that there was a contemporary scientific view that radiation might have caused mutation in human genes that helped the process of evolution. My translator, an intelligent Egyptian man, stopped translating at that point and then came over to me and said, “Sir, I cannot translate this line. If I do, not only I but also you would be arrested for blasphemy.” Then it dawned on me that this was a fundamentalist state where there was no evolution, God made everything. We proceeded without this sentence and any other reference to Darwinism.

In most of the fundamentalist Muslim countries, education at schools, colleges and universities proceed without any reference to evolution, natural selection etc. Islamic teaching takes precedence over scientific developments – God created earth, sun, moon and everything else some 10,000 years ago; everything happens as God wishes; human beings must pray to God to please Him and He will give things as He pleases. With such mental blocks, it is no wonder that science and technology have taken leave from the Islamic world.

Physics Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg (who shared the prize with Abdus Salam and Sheldon Glashow in 1979) said, “Though there are talented scientists of Muslim origin working productively in the West, for forty years I have not seen a single paper by a physicist or an astronomer working in a Muslim country that was worth reading.”

Prof. Abdus Salam, First Muslim Nobel Laureate in Physics 1979

Even Prof Abdus Salam, a Muslim of Pakistani origin, who carried out his ground-breaking research in the UK, had to suffer the ignominy of being declared non-Muslim by the Pakistani authorities as he was from the Ahmadi sect. Before his death in 1996, he wished to be buried at his home country, Pakistan. On his burial, his graveyard was desecrated by Muslim zealots, as the headstone at his burial site had the inscription ‘Prof Abdus Salam – First Muslim Nobel Laureate’. As he was declared non-Muslim, the word ‘Muslim’ had been covered-up by an order of the Lahore Court. But then, as he could not claim ‘First Nobel Laureate’; so the whole inscription was covered-up.  

From time to time, Western leaders patronisingly speak of Muslim heritage and scientific and intellectual contributions to civilisations by Islam, but the fact remains that those contributions were nearly 1,000 or more years ago and mostly by people (Shias) who are now considered either non-Muslims or renegade Muslims by Wahhabi Sunnis.

Now, going back to the fundamental question, what caused the catastrophic collapse of “Golden Age” of Islam after the fall of Abbasid Caliphate? Why it could not have been revived in any of the 56 Muslim majority states of the world? The answer is quite simple. Islam, or its fundamental version of it, is not compatible with science and technology. Prof. Steven Weinberg claimed that after Ghazali there was no more science worth mentioning in Islamic countries. Only way Islamic countries can revive the culture of scientific studies is to relegate Islam to back burners, far away from the state functions. The religion of Islam should be totally segregated from all branches of science. Otherwise, Islam will keep creeping back to damage scientific disciplines.

  • Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist.  (This article was published in bdnews24.com in 2014)
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.