Advanced science, Environmental, International, Technical

Potential Carbon Capture Techniques

Carbon capture and storage

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concedes that limiting the rise in global temperature below two-degree Celsius before the end of this century is impossible without reducing emission of carbon dioxide to zero by 2050. However, the majority of scientists agree that zero emission alone will not solve the problem of global warming. That is because we have done too much damage already to the climate to avoid warming just by halting the burning of fossil fuels. Besides, the current concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would keep on trapping heat for hundreds of years.

So, what’s the way out? Despite the bleak outlook, we can still limit global warming to under two degrees by going carbon negative together with zero emission. Carbon negative means removing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than adding to it.

The technique that is currently used to remove carbon dioxide and potentially other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere independent of its source is known as Direct Air Capture (DAC). Within the context of DAC, carbon dioxide is sucked out of the ambient air with a giant network of fans. Once carbon dioxide is trapped, it is liquefied and transported through pipelines and stored underground, often in natural reservoirs like depleted oil wells that can hold the gas for millions of years. There is also growing interest in storing the liquid carbon dioxide in saline aquifers due to their enormous storage capacity.

The companies that are at the forefront of DAC technology are Carbon Engineering in Vancouver, Climeworks in Zurich and Global Thermostat in New York. The Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change in Berlin claims that the company’s DAC plant is the first of its kind to operate on an industrial scale.

Zero or near-zero emission of carbon dioxide could be achieved by using the Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology. The process is similar to DAC technology except that CCS traps carbon dioxide from the exhaust stream of power plants, thereby preventing it from entering the atmosphere.

There are a handful of coal-fired power plants around the world that are using the CCS technology. The largest such plant, Petra Nova in Texas, captures around 5,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per day from its exhaust. That is about 90 percent of all the carbon dioxide the plant produces.

Another zero-emission technique is known as Bio Energy with Carbon Capture and Sequestration (BECCS). It involves growing crops, burning them to generate electricity, capturing the carbon dioxide emitted during combustion and storing it deep down into the Earth’s crust. Eventually, over the course of millennia, it is converted into carbonate rocks.

Clearly, BECCS obviates the need to extract fossil fuels, thus closing the carbon loop and enabling carbon neutrality by replacing fossil fuel with crops. There are about two dozen BECCS pilot projects operated by multi-national companies like Shell, Chevron and Archer Daniels Midland (ADM). Since 2011, ADM has been sequestering about a million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

At Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, scientists are working on applying concentrated sunlight to the captured carbon dioxide to initiate reactions that yield carbon monoxide, hydrogen and oxygen. Because carbon monoxide and hydrogen are the basic chemical building blocks of synthetic fuels, they call this process “sunshine to petrol”. Indeed, researchers have demonstrated that 75 percent of the carbon dioxide captured from the air can be converted into methanol. This shows that the main culprit of global warming can be recycled into useful products. Moreover, production of these carbon-recycled products would be carbon neutral or carbon negative.

Billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide could also be captured by rocks via a natural chemical reaction and permanently stored in an environmentally benign form, according to researchers at Columbia University in New York and the US Geological Survey. They found that when a rock, known as Peridotite, comes in contact with carbon dioxide, it converts the gas into harmless minerals such as calcite. This process is known as “carbon sequestration by mineral carbonation”. They have also worked out a way to “grow enough of the [rock] to permanently store two billion or more tonnes of carbon dioxide annually.”

Peridotite is exposed at the surface in many places on Earth. It is abundant on all the continents, except perhaps Antarctica. In Oman, this naturally occurring rock is sequestering about 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. That is enough to soak up carbon dioxide emissions from burning more than 35 million litres of gasoline.

A power plant in Iceland that uses hot water from geothermal steam, which contains carbon dioxide, removes the gas from the steam and injects it into a volcanic rock called basalt. The rock reacts with carbon dioxide to form carbonate minerals in less than two years. Ongoing research suggests that this technique could be used to convert huge amounts of carbon dioxide into “rocks” and stow them underground.

Recently, De Beers—the world’s largest diamond producer—announced that it would start a pilot project in South Africa designed to create the world’s first carbon-neutral mine. Essentially, De Beers would inject carbon dioxide into kimberlite, an ore containing diamonds, where the two will combine to form a solid compound. The project is due to start sometime next year.

Although the idea of carbon dioxide absorption by rocks is still in the embryonic stage, the silver bullet to keep our planet’s climate under control might be the rocks right under our feet. Until the technology to utilise these rocks is fully developed, DAC, CCS and BECCS will need to be a significant part of any realistic plan to assuage the effects of climate change while simultaneously mitigating the cause. Otherwise, we may soon be entering a new geologic era, which could be termed the “Anthropocene Era”, one where the climate is very different from the one our ancestors knew.

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


Significance of 1.5 degree and 2.0 degrees Celsius increase in global temperature

Today, we are witnessing a lively, sometimes acrimonious, debate over global warming. Science, economics and politics are all mixed up in this debate. One of the outcomes of the debate was the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change, where 195 nations agreed to limit the rise in global temperature to 1.5-degree Celsius by the end of this century. Although lauded by some, many scientists have criticised the Paris Agreement because it understates the actual amount of warming predicted by mainstream climate change models. Furthermore, the agreement falls short on addressing the effects of the potency of green house gases and those that are already in the atmosphere.

Any person with a modicum of intelligence knows that even if emissions of greenhouse gases were stopped immediately, the ones that are already present in the atmosphere would continue to raise the global temperature for hundreds of years. That is because, aside from water vapour, the other four principal greenhouse gases―carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and halocarbons(CFCs/HFCs) can remain in the atmosphere from months to millennia. Consequently, they become well mixed, meaning that their concentration in the atmosphere is roughly the same all over the world, regardless of the source of the emissions.

The potency of a greenhouse gas is determined by what is called the Global Warming Potential (GWP)—a measure of the total energy a gas absorbs over a period of 100 years. The larger the GWP, the more warming the gas causes. With a value of one, carbon dioxide serves as a baseline for GWP of other greenhouse gases. As noted in the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), GWP of methane is 28, which means methane will cause 28 times as much warming as an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide. Nitrous oxide has a GWP of 265, while GWP of most of the HFCs, used as refrigerants, is over 1,000.

Another powerful greenhouse gas, sulphur hexafluoride, emitted from a variety of industrial establishments, has a GWP of a whopping 23,500 and an atmospheric lifetime of about 3,200 years. Its atmospheric concentration has increased by two orders of magnitude since industrial production started in 1953.

In view of the long lifetime and large GWP-values of the greenhouse gases, the overwhelming consensus among scientists is that global warming is unstoppable unless drastic measures are taken sooner rather than later. Moreover, as long as carbon based energy consumption continues, global temperature would keep onrising unabated. In a report released in October 2018, IPCC essentially corroborates this assertion by noting that planetary warming is happening faster than the panel’s scientists predicted and the goal of 1.5 degree rise in temperature would happen much earlier than 2100, unless burning fossil fuels is cut by half by 2030. Most climate models, however, predict a rise of 2-degreeor more by 2100.

The difference between 1.5 degree and 2.0 degree may not sound like much, but changes in average temperature of even a degree or less can have big effects on the climate. As we know, a sub-one degree rise in temperature since 1880 has inflicted significant damage to the environment. A 1.5 degree rise will cause even more damage, while a 2.0 degree rise will push our planet into a new, more dangerous climate domain.

The effects on the climate due to the extra half-degree won’t be uniform across the planet. Some regions will heat up faster than other regions. The tropics would experience the biggest increase in the number of unusually hot days. Deserts will become bigger, hotter and drier. Crop yields would be lower, especially in the sub-Saharan Africa, South east Asia, and Central and South America.

Frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events―wildfires, storms, floods, drought and heat waves due to half-degree differential would increase exponentially, as stated in the IPCC report. Additionally, more water would evaporate from the oceans, which in turn would make the heaviest rains and snowfalls even heavier in many parts of the world.

An additional half-degree of warming could mean more melting of ice sheets, resulting in greater habitat losses for polar bears, whales, seals, sea birds and other polar animals. Loss of ice would produce a bigger rise of sea levels.Thus, an extra half-degree of warming could be significant for small island nations, which are particularly vulnerable to sea level rise and other climate change impacts.

Another victim will be the coral reefs, which act as nurseries for many fishes. Almost all tropical coral reefs will be at risk of severe degradation due to temperature-induced bleaching.

According to the latest IPCC report, without aggressive action, many effects noted above and expected only several decades into the future will now arrive by 2040. Hence, the difference between 1.5 and 2.0 degrees Celsius is a big deal!

So, what should we do now? “Do what science demands before it is too late.” This ishow the United Nations secretary General António Guterres admonished world leaders after poring over a recent report prepared by a group of scientists at the request of several small island nations. The report paints a grim portrait of how quickly the Earth is heating up and how serious the consequences would be.

We can reverse, or at least forestall, some of the adverse effects of climate change by appealing to geo-engineering methods. It encompasses two different approaches using a variety of cutting-edge technologies. They are removal and sequestration of carbon dioxide to lower its concentration in the atmosphere and offsetting global warming by blocking some of the solar radiation from everreaching the Earth’s surface via a space-based programme called Solar Radiation Management.

Until geo-engineering technology are fully developed, their environmental impacts tested and subsequently deployed, we have no choice but to use the available technology for non-polluting, renewable sources of energy like solar, wind, geothermal and fuel cells using hydrogen. Many more clean technologies, such as Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion and Hydrokinetic Energy, will become available in the future. In addition, we have to make a clean break with burning fossil fuels. Changing our lifestyle, albeit painful, is a must, too.

Unfortunately, no alarm seems loud enough to penetrate the ears of the world leaders. While nations argue how to implement the flawed Paris Agreement, the United States and Western Europe are still producing carbon dioxide. However, the highest per capita production of carbon dioxide is in the newly industrialised countries. In the present geopolitical environment, it is, therefore, difficult to transform scientific observations into executable policy.

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

Editor’s Note: Sir David Attenborough, the renowned environmentalist, in his speech at the United Nations climate talks in Katowice, Poland in 2018 said, “Right now, we are facing a man-made disaster of global scale. Our greatest threat in thousands of years is the climate change. If we do not take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”


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

Albert Einstein’s Views on Religion


Einstein and Tagore, the two intellectual giants of the 20th century, from the West and the East

Many people, particularly those promoting and propagating religious beliefs (in all major religions), had over the years laid claims that Albert Einstein was a man of religious conviction. They often put forward Einstein’s famous quote, “God does not play dice”, implying that belief in God’s harmony and absolutism in creation was inbuilt in Einstein’s thought process. Nothing, I emphasise nothing, could be more egregiously misinterpreted and misrepresented than this.

Albert Einstein was not a man of religious conviction by any standards. His religious views, if considered dispassionately, would verge on the side of atheism; although he did not like him to be branded as an ‘atheist’. His views on religions were very well contained in his one and half page letter, written in German in 1954 (just a year before his death) to the German philosopher, Eric Gutkind, which contained, “The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable but still primitive legends, which are nevertheless pretty childish”. He also said, “No interpretation, no matter how subtle, can change this”. That letter had been sold in an auction at Christie’s in New York only a few days ago (2018) for the staggering sum of $2.9 m (£2.3 m).

Einstein's letter

That “God does not play dice” was not said by Einstein out of devotion to God, but as a retort to the underlying theme of “Copenhagen interpretation” produced by Niels Bohr/Heisenberg and others on quantum mechanics. Although Albert Einstein and Max Planck were the pioneers of quantum concept in the first decade of the 20th century, subsequent developments of quantum mechanics by Niels Bohr / Schrodinger / Heisenberg / Pauli / Dirac and many more leading to probabilistic nature of objects (elementary particles) were very much disputed by Einstein. An object is either there or not, it cannot be half there and half not; Einstein contended. In that context, he rejected the probabilistic nature of objects by that quote. He also said, the moon is there on the night sky whether we observe it or not. Just because we cannot observe the moon because of cloud in the sky does not mean the moon is not there!

However, quantum physics was relentlessly moving forward into the probabilistic interpretation of objects and successfully explained many hitherto inexplicable physical processes. Einstein struggled the latter part of his life with the nature of reality. When Tagore and Einstein met in Berlin in 1926 (and at least three more times until 1930 meeting in New York), they had a very fascinating philosophical discussion/debate, not so much on the existence of God but on the nature of reality. Tagore held the Eastern philosophical view of convergence of man (meaning life) and nature, Einstein held the view of ‘absolutism’.

In the letter, Einstein, an Ashkenazi Jew, also articulated his disenchantment with Judaism. “For me the Jewish religion like all others is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people,” he wrote.

However, as a child he was religious; as is the case with most of the children of religious families anywhere in the world. But he had a fiercely independent mind and a deeply inquisitive trait. He disliked authoritarian attitude – whether in teaching or training. He was very unhappy at the Luitpold Gymnasium (a strict discipline focussed school) in Munich, where his parents enrolled him for proper education. He described later that he deeply disliked the ‘rote learning’ method at the school with no opportunity for creative thinking. He, however, remained at that school to keep his parents happy. Years later, he advised people, “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning”.

Einstein did not or could not completely discard the notion of supremacy of the supernatural power, which became inbuilt in his childhood, although he rejected consciously the idea that this religion or that religion derives from the orders or massages from God. By the age of 13, he started doubting the religious teachings and “abandoned his uncritical religious fervour, feeling he had been deceived into believing lies”.

He believed in or had strong inclination towards “Spinoza’s God” (Baruch Spinoza, a 17th century Dutch thinker), “who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind”. Einstein had the same or similar mindset. This streak of thinking had a strong resonance with the Eastern philosophy that man and nature merge into one or have strong inter-connection.

The physical world follows a set of laws and principles with specific physical constants relevant to the natural world. Any variation of these laws and constants would negate the existence of this universe and could possibly generate another universe. That may be the underlying thinking in the idea of multiverse. So, to claim that a grand designer created this universe with specific set rules and laws for our habitation in mind is a mendacious presumption.

Einstein was, to a large extent, ambivalent about God, the so-called grand designer. He could neither prove or disprove the existence of this ‘Uncaused Cause’, the ‘Unmoved Mover’ and hence it was sensible to maintain some ambivalence; but all his instincts were against such a presumption. He said facetiously, “I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts; the rest are details.”
– Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist.

Cultural, International, Literary, Political, Religious

When Continents Clash

It is not the collision of the tectonic plates that I am alluding to here or the drift of the continents nudging each other out, it is the mighty clash of dominant religions from the adjoining Continents. The religion of Islam from the East (the Middle East and North Africa) crossed over to the West in Spain and clashed for centuries for prominence.

Spain was the battle ground of two dominant religions vying out for territorial gains. Islam from North Africa and North West of Middle East eyed Spain some twelve centuries ago as the gateway to Europe for religious expansion. Obviously, the dominant religion (Catholicism) of the region resisted and fought back and what happened during the next few centuries not only shaped Spain but also the whole of Europe.

Recently I travelled to ‘Classical Spain’ with the Riviera Travels visiting places like Seville, Cordoba and Granada, among others, where Islam came, conquered and eventually beaten and relinquished the gains some centuries later in the face of relentless adversarial reaction from the indigenous religions.

Our travel started when we landed at Malaga airport (a southern coastal city of Spain), when Riviera Travels grouped together tourists from Manchester and South of England and brought them through Manchester and Gatwick airports. We spent the night at a 4* hotel which was some 1100 ft above the sea level and hemmed in on the sloping banks of a hill overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. After a drink reception in the evening followed by buffet dinner where I came to know other tourists, I retired.

Next morning, we travelled to Ronda, a small town on the outskirts of Sierra de Grazalema national park trekking a scenic route past Marbella (a holiday resort famous for night clubs) and on the way managed to have a glimpse of Gibraltar across the sea. It is surprising that for such a desolate rocky mountainous outpost, two countries went to battles a number of times over the centuries. We spent nearly five hours in Ronda, which is famous for bull fighting, in particular. It is claimed that bull fighting started in Ronda, but other cities like Seville and Madrid would dispute that vehemently. After having fantastic mixed tapas for lunch, we went to see the ‘new bridge’ connecting two hill cliffs over a gorge of some four hundred feet drop. The sound of cascading water in the gorge is soothing, but the sight of hundreds of feet of almost vertical drop is awesome. As I looked from the bridge down the gorge, I saw people trekking along the small stream meandering along the boulders, rocks and some tropical trees.

Another three hours of bus trip took us to the famous city of Seville. After checking in at the hotel at the centre of the city, we went to have ‘tapas tasting’ at a local restaurant (given free for Riviera travellers) and then after the dinner, we went to see the famous ‘Mushroom Tower’. This ‘Mushroom Tower’ has a fascinating history. Some twelve years ago, Seville politicians had the bright idea of digging a tunnel across that area to construct a relief road. As they dug, they started getting more and more Roman artefacts and then they found a Roman burial chamber. Obviously, they could not demolish the Roman Remains for the relief road. They built an archeological museum on the burial site and a fantastic mushroom bridge towering over the surrounding areas (some three hundred feet above the street level) had also been built. The site now is a major tourist attraction.

Mushroom tower in Seville

Seville is a place bristling with numerous historical and cultural monuments from both Islam and Christianity. The next morning, we had been taken by a bus to have a whirlwind tour of the city – so that afterwards we could go and see individual attractions at our leisure. We saw Seville Cathedral with the Giralda, Alcazar palace, the bullring and then we walked through the Maria Luisa garden to Plaza de Espania (half-crescent palace).

Seville Cathedral (Spanish: Catedral de Santa Maria) is a Roman Catholic cathedral. It is the third largest cathedral in the world (after the St Peter’s cathedral in Rome and St Paul’s cathedral in London). Seville was conquered by the Umayyad in 712 AD. The Almohad caliph Abu Yaqub Yusuf decided to construct a grand mosque in the city in 1172 on the site where a mosque was built in 829 by Umar Ibn Adabbas. The grand mosque that was built was massive in size (15,000 sq.m. internal space) but it was not completed until 1198.

Shortly after the conquest of the city by Ferdinand III, the grand mosque was ‘Christianized’ by converting it to city’s cathedral. In 1401, city’s leaders decided to build a massive cathedral on the site so grand that people would say after its completion that the leaders were simply mad. The work was not, however, completed until 1506!

But some aspects of the grand mosque were preserved. The courtyard for ablution for the Muslim faithful was preserved. Now it is a long pool of water, some 15 ft wide, with fountains on both sides criss-crossing the pool and orange trees adorning it. Also, the minaret of the mosque (some 342 ft high) was kept, but converted into a bell tower, known as La Giralda, which is now the iconic symbol of the city. There are wide ramps, not steps, that lead up to the bell tower. The muezzin used to go up the ramps on horse back to the bell tower to carry out calls for prayers five times a day! The cathedral also contains Christopher Columbus’ burial site.

Alcazar is a royal palace, built for the Christian king, Peter of Castile, on the site of an Abbadid Muslim residential fortress. The name Alcazar comes from the Arabic word al-qasr (the castle). The castle, with its extensive garden, was used as a royal palace by the Moorish rulers. It is still being used as a royal palace and, in fact, it is the oldest royal palace in Europe. In 1987 the cathedral, the adjacent Alcazar palace complex were all given the status of World Heritage Sites.

Flamenco dance

In the evening, at 9pm, we went to the Flamenco performance. The gypsies from Southern Spain created the flamenco dance and music since their arrival at Andalusia in the 15th century. It is said that the gypsies came from a region of northern India called Sid, which is now in Pakistan. The folk-lore of Andalusia is conveyed by vibrant expressive dance, trapping of feet and the accompanying music. It was very entertaining.

After spending three nights in Seville we headed for the famous Moorish city of Cordoba. We did not spend night in Cordoba, but spent the whole day there. We visited the Royal Palace, the famous Mezquita (mosque) and a museum. Cordoba, during the Moorish time, had the largest library in the world and the Cordoba University is reputed to be the oldest university (older than Oxford by centuries). After lunch we headed for Granada through the countryside covered with olive groves and absorbed the spectacular views of Sierra Nevada Mountains.

We stayed in a hotel in Granada right on top of a mountain next to the Alhambra palace. Next morning we walked to Alhambra Palace and spent literally the whole day exploring various avenues and absorbing the lifestyles and traditions of bygone days. The history and tradition of Muslim rulers were conveyed to us by a local tourist guide. That the ruler would come in to one of the chambers (which chamber would not be disclosed previously for security reasons), sit on a high chair to give audience to the public is still being practiced by many Muslim leaders in many countries. (It is said that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman of Bangladesh practiced the same tradition). The following morning we went on a train tour (actually a bus shaped like a train) of the city, had lunch there and came back in time to board a bus to go back to Malaga airport.

After the hectic seven days we headed back to England.


A Rahman is an author and a columnist


Advanced science, Astrophysics, Environmental, Technical

How global warming is impacting on Earth’s spin

Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions might be affecting more than just the climate. For the first time, scientists at NASA presented evidence that the orientation of the Earth’s spin axis is changing because of global warming.

global_warming_1[1]The Earth spins from west to east about an axis once every 24 hours, creating the continuous cycle of day and night. The north-south spin axis runs through the North and South Poles and is tilted by 23.5 degrees from the vertical. The axial tilt causes almost all the seasonal changes.

But the tilt is far from constant. It varies between 21.6 and 24.5 degrees in a 41,000-year cycle. This variation together with small fluctuations in the Sun and Moon’s gravitational pull, oblate shape and elliptical orbit of the Earth, irregular surface, non-uniform distribution of mass and movement of the tectonic plates cause the spin axis, and hence the Poles, to wobble either east or west along its general direction of drift.

Until 2005, Earth’s spin axis has been drifting steadily in the southwest direction around ten centimetres each year towards the Hudson Bay in Canada. However, in 2005, the axis took an abrupt turn and started to drift east towards England at an annual rate of about 17 centimetres, according to data obtained by NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellites. It is still heading east.

After analysing the satellite data, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California attribute the sudden change in direction of the axis mainly to melting of Greenland’s ice sheets due to global warming. The reason: Melting of ice sheets and the resulting rise of the sea level are changing the distribution of mass on Earth, thereby causing the drift of the spin to change direction and become more oblique. The axis is particularly sensitive to changes in mass distribution occurring north and south of 45 degrees latitude. This phenomenon is similar to the shift in the axis of rotation of a spinning toy if we put more mass on one side of the top or the other.

Since 2002, ice sheets of Greenland have been melting at an annual rate of roughly 270 million tonnes. Additionally, some climate models indicate that a two-to-three degrees Celsius rise in temperature would result in a complete melting of Greenland’s ice sheets. If that happens, it could release the equivalent of as much as 1,400 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, enhancing global warming even further. It would also raise the sea level by about 7.5 meters. By then, the wobbling of the Poles would also be completely out of whack.

The ice in the Arctic Ocean has also decreased dramatically since the 1960s. For every tonne of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, about three square meters of Arctic’s ice were lost in the last 50 years. This reflects a disquieting long-term trend of around ten percent loss of ice per decade. Furthermore, Antarctica is losing more ice than is being replaced by snowfall. The influx of water from the melting of ice of the Arctic Ocean and Antarctica together with the melting of glaciers and the subsequent redistribution of water across the Earth is also causing our planet to pitch over.

What does this mean for us? Although something as small as we humans shook up something as massive as the Earth, it won’t turn upside down as long as the Moon, which acts as a stabiliser of the Earth’s spinning motion, stays in the sky as our nearest neighbour. However, if the shift of the spin axis maintains its present rate and direction, then by the end of this century, the axis would shift by nearly 14 meters. Such a large shift will have devastating consequences for climate change and our planet.

The orientation of the Earth’s spin axis determines the seasonal distribution of radiation at higher latitudes. If the axial tilt is smaller, the Sun does not travel as far north in the sky during summer, producing cooler summers. A larger tilt, as could be in the future, would mean summer days that would be much hotter than the present summer days. In addition, it would impact the accuracy of GPS and other satellite-dependent devices.

Since global warming is causing the Earth’s mass to be redistributed towards the Poles, it would cause the planet to spin faster, just as an ice skater spins faster when she pulls her arms towards her body. Consequently, the length of a day would become shorter.

Our biological clock that regulates sleeping, walking, eating, and other cyclic activities is based on a 24-hour day. Faced with a shorter day, these circadian rhythms would be hopelessly out of sync with the natural world. Moreover, a rapidly spinning Earth will be unstable to the extent that the Poles would wobble faster. This would create enormous stress on the Earth’s geology leading to large-scale natural disasters that will most likely be disastrous for life on Earth.

We may not witness the effects of a rapidly spinning Earth by the end of this century or the next. Nevertheless, the effects will be perceivable a few centuries from now if the global temperature keeps on rising and the ice sheets keep on melting in tandem.

The shift in the Earth’s spin axis due to climate change highlights how real and profoundly large impact humans are having on the planet. The dire consequences of the shift in the axial tilt towards a larger obliquity, as noted above, is not a wake-up call, but an alarm bell. There is still time for our leaders to listen to the scientists and formulate a long-term approach to tackle the problem of climate change instead of a short-term Band-Aid approach, as outlined in the 2015 Paris Agreement, which will see us through only to the end of this century. Therefore, our foremost goal before the death knell should be to reverse global warming, or at the least, to stop further warming instead of limiting it to 1.5-degree in the next 75 years or so.

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