Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A story on Global Warming

This is the story of Rahul, who used to live in a posh locality of Delhi, Vasant Vihar. Just as many of his friends, he studied in a school nearby, which he proudly called the ‘best school in Delhi’.
His father owned a maruti 800 car in which, his driver would drop him to the school everyday. After school the same car dropped Rahul at the tennis club, where he used to play tennis for an hour.
Rahul had a friend Gautam, who was his neighbour and used to study in the same school and even go to the same tennis club. Rahul was a better player of tennis that Gautam. But Gautam’s father owned a longer and newer car than Rahul, and Gautam often used to tease him, “Where is your Mini Car?”.
As that was his only slack point, Rahul always wanted to do better than Gautam and used to tell his father to buy a new car.

The project on Global Warming
One day, while in the class, the teacher announced that there is going to be a national level competition on Global Warming and everyone had to make a project. One chosen project would represent the school at the national level.
Rahul, thought this is the best chance to score one on Gautam. He thought, “ I would make a project, which is the best. Much much better than that of Gautam”
Obviously Gautam also didn’t want to left out. And thus both of them started collecting material and ideas to make a project on Global Warming.

The Green House Effect
Rahul read on the internet that to understand Global Warming, he first needs to understand the Green House Effect. After a bit of search on google, he found the following:

“The earth receives energy from the sun in the form of short wavelength sun rays, which pass through the atmosphere and are absorbed by the earth- its land, oceans etc. A lot of this energy is emitted back by the earth as long wave radiation, which does pass though the atmosphere and is absorbed by some gases called green house gases like carbon dioxide, methane, water vapour etc. So the heat is trapped by the atmosphere and thus the earth maintains a higher temperature than it would have otherwise.”

Rahul, quickly copy-pasted the above in his document on the project. But he wasn’t quite sure what all this meant. But he wasn’t bothered as long as the work was being done. Nevertheless, the understanding came, when the school got over the next day.
Rahul came out of the school a bit late, to find his driver standing under a tree, waiting for him. Rahul looked at the driver, who pointed towards the car parked in the sun.
As soon as Rahul got into the car, he jumped, “ Why is it so hot?”. The driver said “ there was no other place to park, so I parked in the sun and stood in the shade waiting for you. Hang on ! I will put on the A/C”.
But Rahul was wondering, why the car was hotter than usual. And then he realized that it was nothing else but the green house effect. Short wavelength sun rays could pass through the glass and come in but when the car radiated heat at longer wavelength, they were absorbed by the gases inside the car. The glass didn’t let heat go out and the car got heated.
Rahul was happy, he had understood the first point in his study of Global Warming.

Meanwhile, Gautam had got an essay on Globar Warming from his cousin about extinction of glaciers and polar bears. He anyways had a lot of information on polar bears. He was already planning to make a model on ‘Save the polar bear – save the planet’.

Global Warming
When Rahul came to know of Gautam’s ideas, he felt insecure and nervous. He decided to put all his night on net searching for the project. He read that Global warming was just an effect of the increase in green house gases.
As the gases increase, there is increased absorption of heat and thus the temperature of the earth increases. As the temperature increases, the glaciers at the poles and those in the mountains start melting, which leads to a rise in the ocean levels leading to a lot of disasters. The animals at the pole like polar bear etc would become extinct and also there is likelihood of change in climate patterns across the world.
Rahul, was excited to think of rising ocean levels and all other things. And then he read that the earth’s temperature was likely to go up by 10C to 20C.

“Just 10C! Then why is there so much of hullabaloo about it. Its not a serious problem”, he thought. It was already 2’O clock in the night and his eyes started paining. So, he decided to go off to sleep.

Next morning, he woke up with fever. The late night work had taken its toll. His whole body was aching and he didn’t feel like getting up. His Mom put a thermometer in his mouth and said “My god ! its 100 degrees. You pull up your quilt and we’ll take you to the doctor.” Rahul almost felt like crying, it was three days to go for the project and he was ill with 100 degrees fever. It would surely take a week to recover.

But suddenly Rahul realized, is 100 degrees that much? He remembered what his teacher had told the class, “ The normal human body temperature is 98.6 0F”. And he had 100 “ Just 1 to 2 degrees more than normal and I am ill. My body is aching”. The earth’s temperature is going up by the same amount - the earth’s got fever! It felt as if he had really understood what global warming is. But why are the green house gases increasing? he thought. He decided he would take complete rest, recover and then discover more.

Luckily for Rahul, the fever came down and he was better by evening.

Twist in Rahul’s Life
On searching some more on the internet, he found that one of the major green house gas was Carbon dioxide and that was the real problem. Countries around the world were using more and more fuels and thus carbon dioxide was being added in the air.

He found that the mantra to fight Global Warming was to reduce carbon dioxide or in general carbon emissions.

And then he read statements, which changed his life forever:

The increase in the number of vehicles was a big threat for Global Warming.
A bus carries 35 people and creates less carbon emissions per person than a car. “A car carrying one or two people is criminal! – Its best to pool a car.
Small cars are better than bigger cars in terms of fuel efficiency.

“Then how is Gautam’s car better than mine?”, he thought. “May be because all of us say so”. “And anyway cars are bad, public transport is good. So, how does it matter if I have a long car or a small one”. Rahul had already scored one without even completing the project.

Rahul was now clear in his mind – he would make a project around transportation, emissions and global warming and encourage everyone to use bus or car pool.

Survey of the school
Rahul thought of doing a survey in the school to find out how many people come to school in cars and convince them to use car pool or to use the bus. But, there was one problem, As Rahul himself came to school in a car alone, he decided he would get some people in the neighbourhood to join his pool.

For the next two days, he went from class to class to find out how people were traveling to school. To his surprise, there were a lot of people who came to school walking or cycling. He wondered, “Wasn’t walking and cycling, the best way to commute. No emissions at all. The perfect tool to fight global warming”.

Rahul found three people in his survey taking personal cars to school (including Gautam), who were staying in his neighbourhood. He went to each of the parents house and tried to convince them for a car pool. He was putting his best effort on it.

Gautam was the first one to refuse. But the parents of one of his schoolmaters living in the neighbourhood agreed and thus started Rahul’s pool.

It wasn’t easy. People started booing him – “public carrier- Rahul transport corporation- Do you give tickets to people in your car pool”. But Rahul didn’t budge and added two more people to his pool soon.

The results
Rahul’s project was ready. He presented his survey and the data he had copy pasted from the internet and declared ‘the fight against global warming with car pools, walking and cycling”. His project aimed to reduce the carbon emissions of the school.

Meanwhile, Gautam had collected data from US Wildlife department of the reduced number of polar bears. He had also downloaded images from the NASA website about receding glaciers. His project was to create awareness about “Global warming by doing street plays about the death of polar bears”. He also planned to screen films and had got friends to wear dresses of polar bear look alikes. Everyone cheered for him.

All the projects were submitted for the national level competition.

Finally, when the results came in, Rahul’s project was chosen and he was asked to represent the school at the national level. Rahul was avenged as he had finally scored one on Gautam. But this victory over Gautam and the look on Gautam’s face made him uneasy on second thoughts. He had actually nothing to look forward to.

Rahul’s project ultimately won at the national level and got the national Award. As his confidence grew, he realized it was foolishness to compete with Gautam. Also a lot had changed in Rahul by then.

He got a cash prize of Rs 2000 in the National Award. Rahul immediately bought a cycle with the Award money and started traveling to school on the cycle. He even started going to the tennis club on the cycle now.

The US trip
But the happiest news was yet to come. The government of India informed Rahul that he would represent the country in United States for a world level competition on Global Warming.
It was as if lighning had struck him. He didn’t know how to react.

As the news spread, Rahul became a hero in no time, traveling on his cycle. He had also put a board on his cyle saying “Fight Global Warming- Walk, Cycle, speak”. From booing, his friends had started respecting him and a few more car pools had come up in the school. There was one girl, who left her car and took up a cycle.

Meanwhile, there was a letter from the government that informed him that he would now have to redo his project and make it relevant at the world level with global statistics. He was also allowed a partner to help him.

Rahul, knew that the best person in worldwide knowledge about global warming was no one else but Gautam. But, how could he ask Gautam to be his partner. Gautam was his enemy, although the rivalry had died by that time. The re was also another problem – Gautam used his personal car to come to school- which was totally against the project. Rahul couldn’t think of any other person but Gautam.

As Rahul was watching television that evening. He happened to watch a film called “Mission Kashmir”, in which two arch rivals come togther for a common cause in the end. He was all charged up and thought of appraocing Gautam the next day.

It wasn’t an easy job to do. He went to Gautam’s house, the next evening and asked Gautam to join him in redoing the Global Warming project for USA. Gautam, who was anyway embarrassed in talking to Rahul, didn’t know how to react. Neither could he offer to join nor could he decline. The conversation ended as Guatam told him “I’ll let you known tomorrow.” Gautam didn’t sleep that night and so did Rahul.

Next day, as Rahul got out of his house and sat on his cycle to go to school. He saw Gautam in front of his house, seated on a brand new cycle, smiling at Rahul. Rahul couldn’t believe, Gautam had given up on his car and bought a new cycle. Gautam shook hands with Rahul and said “ Ready for the US trip”. “Yeaaah!” both of them cheered.

Going Global
Both Rahul and Gautam knew that it wont be easy in the international competition in US. So, both of them worked hard on the project. Delving more into the matter they found out that a lot of work had happened at the international level with respect to Global Warming.

They came to know that an international conference took place in 1992 at Rio de Janeiro, where the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was produced. Out here started a process, whereby the world started thinking of reducing greenhouse emissions. A meeting was held later in 1997 at Kyoto, Japan to put clear targets as to how much emissions, each country needs to reduce.

Unequal world
They read that it would be unequal if the poorer and developing countries are asked to curb their emissions as they are at a developing stage right now. It should be the onus of the developed countries to go for stringent emission standards as they were developed and had the technology and flexibility to go for the same.

All this was copy pasted in their computers but both of them didn’t quite understand what this ‘inequality thing’ was all about? They were to realize this at a later date.

As both of them had become popular, they were often invited to go to different schools for interactions with other children. They used to tell everyone to cycle and not to burn anything as it creates carbon emissions.

In one of their interactions with children at a village school– a child stood up and said that my mom cooks food with wood and we also use wood to warm ourselves in winter - Does that mean that we are culprits for global warming?

Rahul thought for a minute and looked at Gautam. He said, “You must stop this immediately, burning wood and coal leads to lot of carbon dioxide. You must use cleaner fuels like LPG and use electric heaters for warming yourselves.

“But where will I get an LPG gas stove from? I have no money. Also, there is no electricity in our village”, the child said.

Rahul and Gautam had no answer to his queries and asked the child to meet them later. In the conversation later with the child, they realized, there was much they needed to know about global warming.

They thought that perhaps till the time, India develops and there is electricity and LPG in every house, people should be given the exemption to cook food with wood. Now wasn’t that similar to the Global negotiations – that till the time the developing countries become better, they should be somewhat exempted from carbon emissions.

That’s was something for them to think about.

What about energy?

Rahul and Gautam later met an energy expert at one of the seminars, who told them that a city person was more responsible for global warming than a villager, even if one walks or uses a cycle.

It was a shock for Rahul and Gautam, they thought they were totally anti- Global Warming as they were cycling. “But how is that true”, both of them questioned.

“The electricity that you use for the Air Conditioner, TV and other appliances in the house is the cause. Much of the electricity produced is from thermal sources using gas or coal- hence a lot of carbon dioxide is emitted in the process. Also if one is using a lot of packed stuff being transported from long distances, one is ethically responsible for the amount of carbon dioxide being emitted in the process of transportation, facilitating packaging etc” the expert explained. “And this is especially the case in America, European countries and the developed world. Their per capita carbon emissions are much much more than a person from the developing world. The carbon emissions of developed countries is for luxury, while those in the poor countries is for survival- for cooking food and what not”.

All this directly linked to the child in the village, whom they had met.

Rahul and Gautam were spellbound. The didn’t know how to react. The heroes of global warming on examining themselves realized that Global warming was not just about traveling to school but a whole lot of things- its about lifestyle.

The US Project
It took a while for both of them to come out of the shock given to them by the child and the energy expert. But they thought that its high time they made the truth evident to the entire population of the planet.

Just then they discovered that a movie had been made on the same truth called ‘the inconvenient truth’ made by a former American Vice President. They added that movie also to their project and made a project titled

Stop Global Warming – Its all about your lifestyle

They made a huge plan on how a country can tackle global warming. They had a special plan for school transportation and planned to eliminate it altogether by giving admissions to children staying in the neighbourhood, so that they could walk/cycle (Mr Ganguly, the Chairman of CBSE had given them this idea in a function to felicitate them).

Anumita, a transportation expert they met at a school function, told them that taxes should be heavier on cars and lesser on public transport like buses. This would encourage better public transport. Similar economic measures can solve a lot of problems – newer innovative policies need to be thought.

Thus, they realized that it was not only about lifestyle but also about policies and changed the topic to

“Stop Global Warming – Its all about your lifestyle and policies”

The International Competition

Rahul and Gautam were both in New York, the United States of America- nervous about what is going to happen.

The venue of the event was St. Thomas Auditorium in downtown Buffalo. Students from all over the world had come. Chinese, Indonesian, Pakistani, French, Australian, Brazialian, Canadian- everyone was there.

A panel of judges from eminent institutions of the world were going to judge them, which included one from NASA- Gautam’s dream institution. The panel was very strict and grilled all of them.

Rahul and Gautam were asked a variety of questions regarding their topic. But both of them convinced the judges on all accounts that changing personal lifestyles and policies mattered a lot in saving the earth from Global Warming.

But they actually performed their best in the “Presentation round” – a round where all the teams had to make a presentation to the entire audience about the relevance of their project.

They had made a power point presentation and also showed clips of “inconvenient truth” in between. As both of them were actually cycling for the last 4 months, all that they spoke was from the heart.

While talking about the inequality in global environmental emissions, they gave the example of the child they met in an Indian village and how he had shocked them- it all came straight form experiences.

The entire audience was shocked to hear such a hard truth coming from school students. Rahul and Gautam got a standing ovation. The clapping just didn’t stop. It was not difficult for everyone to guess- who got the prize. Rahul and Gautam were declared the best team in the world.

There was no limit to the happiness as both of them went on a different planet altogether.

The final felicitation
There was no welcome or felicitation planned for Rahul and Gautam in the school. The entire school community- teachers, students, Principal and everyone else walked or cycled to school as a mark of respect for both of them.

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