Weekly Letter to the President
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INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
November 24, 2017 (posted November 30, 2017)
Mr. President: The late Henry Kendall was a Nobel Laureate in Physics, a Professor
at MIT, a founding member of the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Chairman of
its governing board. In 1992, he spearheaded an effort to warn humanity of eventual
disaster unless it changed its ways. The appeal was signed by 1700 of the world's
leading scientists including then a majority of science Nobel Laureates.
Its major thrust was to 'bring environmentally damaging activities under control', to
'move away from fossil fuels', to 'cut greenhouse gas emissions', to 'halt
deforestation, ... loss of agricultural land, and the loss of terrestrial and marine plant
and animal species.'
The words 'global warming' were not used for even they did not anticipate the surge
in atmospheric CO2 levels, which are now at record highs. Deforestation continues
unabated and the loss of species has become so rapid it is estimated to be at least
1000 to 10,000 times greater than the national rate. This mass extinction is the worst
die-off since the dinosaurs disappeared 65 million years ago.
The world, however, has been able to stabilize the stratospheric ozone layer through
a sustained effort to alter the use of refrigerants. That it can springs hope for other
areas -- particularly global warming just given concerted attention at the Conference
of Parties (COP23) held in Bonn (November 6-17) at the UN climate change
While the conference was in progress, on November 13, another 'Warning to
Humanity ...' this time with 15,364 signatories from 184 countries appeared in the
journal Bioscience. The first figure is enough to give pause. Population has soared
both of humans and ruminant livestock, another cause of environmental degradation.
They note fresh water resource per capita declines, rising CO2 levels, increasing
temperature change, deforestation and a drastic decline in vertebrate species to 40
percent of 1970.
The world did not heed the first call; with global warming at hand, perhaps it will the
second. There was an encouraging sign at COP23: Local and regional leaders
responded to the UN Environment Program's Emissions Gap Report. They signed the
Bonn-Fiji Commitment for faster climate action to help deliver the Paris Accords.
Some effects of not heeding the first call are already apparent. Storms and
hurricanes are becoming more severe due to warmer sea temperatures. Low lying
island nations, like the Maldives, now experience annual flooding with the seawater
contaminating groundwater supplies. Whether it is flooding or drought, or any other
climate related catastrophic event, the poor nations of the world and their populations
suffer most. Lack of resources, infrastructure, emergency services and
preparedness are the usual reasons. It comes down to money and through it training
Another consequence is on the quality of food. Rising CO2 levels speed up plant
growth increasing carbohydrates through plant sugars and diluting nutrition due to
reduced minerals and protein. The nutrient quality of our food is expected to fall as
CO2 levels rise this century.
Again, the effect will be worst felt by the world's poorer populations relying on a plant
diet. Moreover, extreme weather events affect production, distribution, spoilage and
contamination. Those hurt most will be people in a broad tropical belt of countries in
Africa, Asia and the Americas, that is mostly the poor in our world.
It is a sobering thought during the Thanksgiving holiday feasting.