Climate Change – Part III – What can be done?

With the veritable amount of evidence that has been laid out before us, why is it that people aren’t concerned about global warming? Despite scientific consensus on the subject, some people think global warming isn’t happening at all. There are several reasons for this, and they cover various overlying and conflicting themes on global communication, and an incentive towards environmental action.

Beginning with the common lay-person, a popular speculation is formulated in the form of this question: If simple forecasts can’t get next week’s weather right, how is it that we can trust the predictions that have been made on the basis for decades or centuries from now?

The answer to this is quite simple, and once again highlights the necessity towards scientific communication, and public education. Weather and climate are not the same. Weather relates to individual, and day-to-day changes in the atmosphere; climate is the statistical average of such changes. Weather is short-term, and of a chaotic nature, thus making it inherently unpredictable beyond a few days. Meanwhile, climate is long-term average weather, controlled by the composition of the atmosphere, and is thus more predictable on the time-scales considered.  A simple analogy is provided at the Climate Communication website,

While it is impossible to predict the age at which any particular man will die, we can say with high confidence that the average age of death for men in industrialized countries is about 75. The individual is analogous to weather, whereas the statistical average is analogous to climate.

Stepping beyond the individual, we encroach upon a global dialogue between, and within political and scientific institutions. While most scientists recognize the phenomenon that is global warming, there still remain a few who believe that there is nothing to be worried about. The latter argue that the Earth is more resistant to climate change than proposed. Many of the consequential changes are, in their opinion, not disastrous, and that cutting down the emission of greenhouse gases may result in economic damage far more potent than any of the effects of global warming.

The uncertainty that exists within the scientific community has been carried over to the political realm. Skeptics use it to argue for postponing action, while contenders point out that there are various other facets of life that require action in the face of uncertainty, such as buying health insurance. The IPCC has also pointed out that confronting a large-scale task such as climate change will not occur in an economic dissolution. As quoted from the 2014 report by the IPCC’s Working Group III,

Climate policy intersects with other societal goals, creating the possibility of co-benefits or adverse side effects. These intersections, if well-managed, can strengthen the basis for undertaking climate action.

Ultimately, what can we do about it? It isn’t possible to simply “stop” climate change. Even if we turned off every fuel-burning machine on Earth, the planet would warm at least another 0.5 degrees Celsius as the climate adjusts to the greenhouse gases that already have been emitted. Nevertheless, progressing toward the future, we can still make efforts in decreasing activities that may help propagate and positively reinforce global warming.

On a local level, we can do this basically by not using as much of the stuff that creates greenhouse gases as well as using less energy. Electricity governs much of the modern world, and much of the electricity that operates many of the devices in our homes comes from a power plant, which most likely burns fossil fuels to generate that power. The simple action of turning off lights when they are not in use, and using a fan or an air-conditions only when necessary can help. Similar initiatives can be taken in the view of using public transportation, efficient recycling and waste management, reforestation etc. Beyond all of this, we need to develop non-fossil fuel energy sources. Hydro-electric power, solar power, hydrogen engines, and fuel cells could help in this initiative towards a global change in energy sources.

In conclusion, much of this is easier said than done but that doesn’t mean we should give up. Given the global nature of the climate problem, we all have a hand in contributing to the solution, and in confronting the necessary alternatives and options we must also be willing to face agreements and disagreements in faith of positive communication. The real power to enact significant change rests in the hands of those who devise national and global policies. International and scientific collaboration on technology sharing, effective communication and education of the public supplemented by an efficient transition toward alternative, and green-energy initiatives would help make a difference in the long run.

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The environment’s role in our survival, and the importance of its preservation is common sense. There is nothing wrong in creating a better world. We have a moral responsibility in protecting and handing the planet over to the next generation. 
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Making A Difference

I’m fortunate enough to have been given the opportunities that I have had in my life. Thanks to my father’s employment in a prominent non-governmental organization (NGO) called PLAN International (a child rights organization that works with communities in many countries to alleviate child poverty), I, along with my family, have traveled to several countries around the world. We were modern-day nomads, traveling wherever my father’s work beckoned. Whenever possible, I joined my father on his daily adventures, allowing myself the opportunity to understand and learn the multifaceted nature of humanitarian service and development. It also helped that my father often brought his work home, leading to long-winded conversations on his day-to-day exploits.

Growing up, I tried to emulate my father. But as my future beckoned, I learned to find my own unique path, and destiny in life. Still, to this day, I carry the lessons I have learned in the presence of my father, most notably his compassion to his fellow human beings as well as his perseverance and commitment to his work. My father found great satisfaction in the simple act of helping others, and even more, in the happiness of his family. His efforts were largely directed to these objective. Thus, he made a big difference in my life, and of countless others. So it is not at all surprising that I too feel a strong calling toward contributing to the society and making a difference in the world.

Our world is riddled with doubt and confusion. The toils of war, civil unrest, corruption, racial and ethnic differences, climate change (along with an assortment of environmental issues), to name a few, are the great uncertainties of our time. These issues afflict our daily lives, standing as we are, mute and in the shadow of a persistent struggle to communicate and unite, as a species, toward a better and brighter future. At the crux of it all, we have allowed our fear and anger to dictate our choices and actions, leading the greater part of the world to be divided.

Take racism for instance, it manifests in many aspects of our social lives. It pervades modern-day societies and political systems; the basis of its strength is a volatile expression of pride, prejudice or aversion to others via discriminatory practices. Humanity has a deep history with racism, and its various forms including segregation, supremacism, xenophobia, nativism, hierarchical ranking, and other related social phenomena. Reaching back to the ancient societies of the past: Greeks, Romans, Indians, Arabs, and even further, to their predecessors, I find that racism was a by-product of our own vanity. Natural circumstances subscribed to humanity our beliefs in an expression of individuality, dividing and classifying us, into specific races. Racism is an institution, not an ideology, founded in capitalism and slave trade.

To me, racism is nothing more than a word that describes the highly- convoluted story that is human cooperation and communication. Is there a solution to this? I admit that many of the issues that plague modern society have great histories behind them, making it difficult to distinguish a unique solution in any case. Nevertheless, I believe we owe it to ourselves to iterate the necessity for action, particularly in recognition of alternatives that may provide the foundation for future solutions.

At one point in my life, I told my father that I would love to build a university. Finding inspiration in the Akademia of Plato, I modeled my university to be an institution that pioneered free thought. People could come and go, study what they must, openly discussing their thoughts with their peers, without fear or discrimination; a platform for reason and rational conversation. I still harbor this dream, though it is a work in progress (there remains more room for thought in the realization of such an institution, especially with regards to its structures and inner workings, but what matters to me is the message of such a concept). In knowledge, and in education, I found what I believed to be a solution towards the fractured communication of the human species. By educating ourselves, and our children in proactive and collaborative thinking we may slowly shear away towards a solution. By addressing our differences, openly and without fear, we may find unity. Of course, at this point, it becomes a question of how are we to do that? I find my answer again in what I proposed earlier. All of us are unique in our own ways, but it is in the same pride with which we define our individuality that we can also define our humanity. The hierarchical structures of knowledge and government weren’t constructed as a means to enslave our species, but as a medium to liberate ourselves in collective thought and action.

This will be the challenge of our time. Communication without fear, government without bias, education without limitations…While it may require an acceptance of short-term losses for the sake of long-term benefits, we must learn to recognize the importance of our world. While anger and fear may have allowed us to survive and evolve over the millennia, those very emotions can also fuel our motivation towards building a better world, not just for those who are alive now, but more importantly for those who follow us, our children, our legacy. Therein lies what may be a small part of the bigger picture, to learn to see ourselves as a global family rather than as select individuals.

My father had a bigger picture that motivated his own actions. It was his family. He found his strength in the happiness of his family, an emotion that he channeled into his work and in the lives of others whom he met and helped. Simply put, he made a difference. Just as much as ignorance can be bliss and can forestall change, anger can be proactive and enforce our will to action. I too want to make a difference, and though I have a long way to go, by expressing my anger, not to separate myself from others, but as a tool to define and communicate my knowledge, to help shape the world, I could one day just like everyone else, if they are willing to, be the difference that will become a brighter future.

On the Nature of Knowledge

Introduction

So, after a week of thoughtful contemplation amid myriad deadlines, I’m excited to finally post my discussion “On the Nature of Knowledge.” I contested two methods of approach in presenting this topic: one that is grounded in philosophy, and the other that is inspired from my personal experience as a student. Ultimately, I’ve decided to stick with the latter as it would be consistent with how I’ve addressed most of the topics posted on this blog. For anyone wishing to tackle the same topic from a philosophical perspective, check out epistemology (the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy provides an awesome introduction on the subject).

Our discussion will be divided into three separate parts dealing with the following questions:

(1) What is knowledge?
(2) What is knowledge from a student’s perspective?
(3) What is the purpose of knowledge?

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Seems simple enough!

My objective today will be to share my personal experience and growth over the last seven years of my undergraduate and graduate studies, during which I actively and repeatedly engaged these questions. I’m well aware of the various generalizations that can be made in answering these questions, but my opinions will converge and revolve around the viewpoints I’ve accepted in my personal journey to discover those same answers as a student. Let’s begin!

What is knowledge?

I believe knowledge can be defined via three categories: personal, factual, and action-based knowledge.

Personal knowledge revolves about the knowledge gained by acquaintance with the objects, the events, and the people in one’s environment. Having just arrived in Canada for my undergraduate studies, the foundation of my life was built around the expectations and experiences I had with my family living in India, Egypt, and Sudan. Commencing my studies at the University of Alberta while living in student residence, working part-time and volunteering in various activities, my personal growth as an individual continued as I mingled and became familiar with an alien environment. My new-found freedom allowed me to fully experience and question my individuality, a process that would culminate in my identity crisis several years down the road (one that I have thankfully resolved). Knowledge, in this sense, is acquainted with my familiarity toward objects in my environment as well as the delegation of my recognition to said objects, and was highly influential in defining my identity and my decisions. Altogether, personal knowledge is very much a book in progress in our individual lives. Its measures and ends are dictated by our environments, personal motivations, and growth while actively influencing all three of those aspects.

Action-based knowledge is the knowledge of how to do something. This would involve one’s abilities to do something, like driving a car or starting a campfire.

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On the other hand, factual knowledge, as is obvious, is the knowledge of facts. Action-based knowledge is different from factual knowledge. One may know the theory behind driving a car, while not actually knowing how to drive a car. Factual knowledge is evident in both action-based, and personal knowledge. With personal knowledge, in order to speak with others, one must  know how to communicate. One doesn’t necessarily know a person just by meeting them, one must also know a few things about them. Similarly, with action-based knowledge, one must know certain facts about driving, like the motion of the car with respect to actions on the steering wheel, to assist and help them actually drive the car.

Despite this, factual knowledge is alone not enough. Personal knowledge involves the need for action-based knowledge that helps an individual acquire the necessary skills to interact with his/her environment, and action-based knowledge may require some factual knowledge, but that same factual knowledge cannot amount towards action-based knowledge. In fact, one could say that there is no definitive standard of connection between these three categories of knowledge, seeing how much they intermesh. For the philosophy lovers, epistemology deals largely with the views of factual knowledge.

What is knowledge from a student’s perspective? 

How does this all come together for a student? Well, one of the main reasons we go to school is to cultivate our knowledge and understanding of the world. At university, this may largely be oriented by our aspirations on a field that would preferably model our future careers. I say “may” as I believe the purpose of higher studies does not have to primarily revolve about one’s career or prospective choice of employment (this in itself, leads to the crucial discussion on the structures of education or educational systems).

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Have…To…Keep…Going….

As a student, much of our time at university involves absorbing the factual knowledge before actually implementing them in the real world. Our action-based knowledge is attested to our success with such implementations. It is pretty similar to the notion of the scientific method, where theory precedes experiment in a repetitive cycle. This is where we also learn the difference between the static process of remembering knowledge versus the dynamic process of applying said knowledge. This is at the core of our ability to learn and interact with our environment, and is a social behavior whose roots are sown in our evolution as a species.

Factoring on to this is the personal knowledge that every individual inhibits. Being a student, you’re part of a community, one that we may or may not socialize with (each with its own share of circumstances). Putting aside the knowledge we gain from our courses, the personal knowledge we exhibit provides for the competitive play of our social lives from networking, to the establishment of our status, while satiating our thirst and drive for recognition.

All of which now leads us to ask, what is the purpose of knowledge in general?

What is the purpose of knowledge? 

Personally, to this day, I believe an individual’s knowledge is characterized not only by their ideas, but also how they act upon them. The question on the purpose of knowledge derives greatly from the means of education an individual may seek, which by itself, is an even bigger discussion.

I’ve come to recognize how influential the methods utilized to propagate knowledge at an academic institution can be on its community (teachers and students alike). After my four years of undergraduate studies, I was spent, and in many ways had to rediscover my personal creativity and motivation. Following a gap year, I pursued graduate studies, which I just recently completed. Looking back at my experience, I must say that a large part of my journey also had its run of the mill circumstances surrounding my identity crisis, but I cannot deny that it came with its share of new and enlightening perspectives involving my personal opinions on the educational systems of modern-day academic institutions.

What is the purpose of knowledge? I believe it is what it is, for every one of us, however we wish to see it.

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 If there is one attribute to my personality that I have always been proud of, it would be my undying curiosity, and endless thirst for knowledge. In my life, this has changed from a wish to understand the world, to sharing said knowledge, and to contributing my own by enhancing the source of said knowledge. The Pensive Reverie is in fact a personification of my desire to share my knowledge, as an individual, to the world. Ultimately, as Francis Bacon put it, “Knowledge is power” but I also believe what we do with said power defines the object for each and every individual.

Next up: On the Nature of Knowledge

Hi everyone,

Just wanted to send out a brief update on the topic I have decided to discuss for my next post. It took a few days of deliberation and careful thought, and given my recent completion of graduate studies, I felt it would be ideal to discuss On the nature of knowledge. 

I’m well aware of the various intricacies and the large volume of literature dedicated to this subject (it is in fact a field called epistemology.) As usual, my treatment of the topic will revolve around my personal experiences albeit with some casual references to quotations and critical analyses provided by professional savants.

I wish to focus, in particular, on the role of knowledge, and how it is integrated and implemented in current educational trends at schools and universities. As an aspiring PhD student, and as an autodidact, my views on education vary from the classroom to my personal work-space at home. I have often questioned the purpose of the knowledge that I have accumulated throughout my life, both in social and academic contexts, and how to appropriately and selectively apply said knowledge in my daily adventures as a foundation towards a healthy lifestyle. Such a thought has also widely influenced my methods of finding means to an end when it comes to my dreams to be a multi-talented and well-rounded individual.

Having successfully completed another major phase of education in my Masters degree, I felt it would be entertaining to discuss a question that has been quite significant in my daily life, and is pretty much a common occurrence in almost everyone’s daily lives and careers.

I should have the post up by the end of this weekend. Until then, toodles!