A papal tweet and what it says about climate change

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It’s ludicrous how an impending disaster that puts 7.3 billion people at risk, the largest of its kind, is treated more as a myth by people than anything else. Climate change despite strong scientific backing has a hard time being taken seriously. It’s a polarising and absurdly even a partisan issue in some developed countries. But perhaps the greatest danger of climate change is its sheer lack of credibility to hold debate even in the highest forums.

In 2015 Dr. Virabadran Ramanathan, an atmospheric scientist had convinced the Vatican to let him have a 3-minute audience with the pope outside his residence. It was quite literally a parking lot pitch. To save time, he memorized a monologue in Spanish to explain the dangers of climate change but as the car pulled over and the greatest religious leader of the world stepped out, he blanked out. Not a word of Spanish came to him, so he resorted to a translator and got straight to the heart of the issue. He told the Pope that the richest 1 billion were causing more pollution than the rest of the world and that poorest 3 billion are going to suffer the brunt of the consequences. Even though they had contributed little to the issue. The pope listened to the scientist and asked what he could do to help. This was not how Dr. Ramanathan had thought it would go. He told the pope that climate change was a moral issue and that as the moral leader of the world he must urge the world to be better stewards of the planet. The pope was rather quite convinced, he mentioned this message in his letters to the Catholic world but more importantly, he tweeted it to his 40 million followers.

That one act of changing the lens through which we see the issue from a scientific to a humanitarian paradigm and propagating the message through something as mundane as a tweet had the most profound impacts. Almost half of all Americans had heard of the Pope’s message, 1 in 10 Americans had it discussed in their place of worship and 17% of Americans had gained a better understanding of the issue. This phenomenon was called as the Francis effect.

Graphs and data do little to persuade people. To have people deliberate on an issue, the issue must first permeate the ethos of their society. The differentiating factor between climate change and other issues is that climate change has its cause(pollution, waste, etc.) more detached from its effect(population displacement, loss of habitat, water shortage, etc.). Therefore, a hole in the ozone layer doesn’t intuitively translate into a humanitarian issue. Scientific papers cannot change what a society considers as their ethical responsibilities and do not reflect on the humanitarian issue that climate change will create. At the crux of it, climate change is an impending humanitarian disaster and one tweet from the Pope made us the world populus a more socially and ethically aware than decades of scientific reports or research.

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The Buzzword

“This world health day, let us talk about one such particular word. A word that deserves more gravity than is credited for.”

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Diction. Words. Terminologies. Technically speaking, all of these are usually just coined for convenience in identification and reference of ideas, obviously, right? Some may beg to differ. Maybe, there really is more to words than just having a mere meaning. Speaking in terms of mental health, words can sometimes act as lifelines. Having a word to describe one’s state of mind is often all that one needs to hold on to. A word makes a concept very real and solid, which may or may not be a good thing for the patient, but it gives him/her something to identify themselves with.

But some words have gradually become the subject of injustice, being irresponsibly tossed around, being assimilated into what one might call pop culture. This world health day, let us talk about one such particular word. A word that deserves more gravity than is credited for.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD is a mental illness whose consequences are dispersed over a spectrum ranging from short-lived anxiety to suicide. People suffering from this disorder feel the need to check, perform certain routines, or have certain thoughts repeatedly to the point where it gets in the way of their life.

Ava, a 27-year old woman, complained of excessive checking. Her symptoms dated back to her childhood when she spent hours on homework because of a need to have each page perfect with no erasures or cross-outs and hours arranging her room so that it was in perfect order before sleeping. By high school, she couldn’t complete assignments until after the term had ended and did not participate in any extracurricular activities because her time was spent checking work assignments. When she entered college, she developed new checking rituals to assure herself that she had not caused harm to anyone around her (e.g., checking electrical appliances for fear that she had started a fire, faucets for fear that she had left them running, and door locks for fear that she had left them open). These rituals began to consume several hours a day leading her to be late for class or to miss it entirely. Although she sought therapy, she did not tell the therapist about her obsessions and rituals for fear she would be labelled “crazy.” If only she’d had another word to describe herself, had it not been used already for describing trivial perfectionism.

Madeline, a patient of the same, gives a firsthand account of how suffocating OCD really can be:

“Imagine being trapped. Not a lot of air. Your palms are sweaty. Your heart is racing. Maybe a movie is playing, or a song. One you don’t particularly like. Over and over and over again. Imagine being stuck on the Disneyland ride “It’s a Small World” for days and weeks on end. Or maybe you are inside a room. With no door handle. No window. No phone. No way to get out. Welcome to my OCD.”

OCD is said to have affected 2.3% of the world’s population, a figure much smaller than what seems to be claimed of late. This claim may not directly affect a real victim of the illness, but it surely does make the percolation of help way more cumbersome than it is supposed to be.

As a way of empathising with this ailment and many others, this World Health Day, let us oath to endeavour more discretion and sensitivity towards maladies we may not have exhaustive knowledge of. All the same, let us not hold ourselves back from talking about them, let us keep these buzzwords “trending”, because sometimes awareness can make all the difference.

Fool’s Paradise

Eudaimonia. Felicidad. Contentezza. Bonheur. Happiness. An emotion that is supposed to transcend the barriers of language and culture. Unite people and spread joy. But is happiness such a one-dimensional shallow feeling? Something for which we always wander never realizing what it truly means. Men far greater than me have tried to define happiness within the confines of a few words. Aristotle put it eloquently when he called it a state of activity. Eleanor Roosevelt elaborated on her definition elaborating upon criterions to achieve happiness.

“Someone once asked me what I regarded as the three most important requirements for happiness. My answer was: A feeling that you have been honest with yourself and those around you; a feeling that you have done the best you could both in your personal life and in your work; and the ability to love others.”

Without going into further such wordplays, the commonalities can be seen emerging from these definitions. Though this does beg the question that can this unequivocal feeling be put into words that might apply for the everyday John or is it defined by unique parameters for every individual. After all you cannot judge a fish by it’s ability to climb a tree and neither can you put a millionaire in a pauper’s place and ask him to find happiness there.

We often hear about parameters that state how happy the general population of a country might be. The United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network has been providing us with a World Happiness Report outlining the state of world happiness and causes of both happiness and misery. In addition to this, in the last thirty years, more than 3000 empirical studies have been conducted, some of them bearing questionable titles like ‘How much happiness is there in the world?’ and ‘Causes and correlates of happiness’. Most of these use factors like GDP and surveys among the demographic to quantify something that might just be unquantifiable. But to what extent are such measures valid and reliable as they seek for an answer to a seemingly abstract question. U.S.A which is seemingly the 14th happiest country in the world continues to be ravaged by unemployment and dissatisfaction with the government bringing into question the validity of such reports.

In spite of its vague nature, happiness is something we strive for in our day to day lives often making it an end goal for us. “I just want to be happy”, a line often heard from the millennial generation a they navigate through the creeks and crevices of life. Most of our decisions are guided by our pursuit for happiness, often failing to identify happiness right when it is staring us in the face. This never-ending pursuit goes on and many end up losing track of the path they set out on often settling into the monotonous idiosyncrasy of their life. Other try and look for happiness in material possessions or perhaps in the arms of a loved one. But if you cannot find happiness on just your own from within yourself, how can you expect things or people to fill the void that might be bubbling under your skin?

A wise man once said that you will always find the answer in your heart where it has been long waiting since before the question. Maybe that is where our Pursuit of Happiness is supposed to lead us too. And in that moment of contentment, flourishment and fulfilment, we might end up discovering the fruits of our strenuous pursuit for the all elusive Happiness.

Human 3.0

The dominance of humans on this planet has been greatly due to their abilities to use inanimate objects, engineering them to meet their desires. To a certain extent these objects or more precisely tools have been more useful than the animate ones itself. The process of evolution took time but the development of these tools was gradual with a very steep slope. Unarguably, the tool that has led us to discriminate other creatures against humans has been the technology. Life has never been this easy in the human history all credit goes to the level of technology around us. Even today it is impossible to predict the point of saturation of it. But the stretch of one of the fields in technology that has startled humans is Artificial Intelligence. Fundamentals laid on the ground to describe the human thinking based on very clever manipulation of sequences of 1s and 0s. This field of intelligence has seen lot of ups and downs during the course of its development. But this giant was never out of scope and its mammoth possibilities to transform human lives even further gave us the taste of every colour.

 

AI is not the technology of any other generation but now. It might be either “Siri” or “Alexa” assisting you right on your demand or spotting the driverless car in traffic beside you. For instance, the smarter web browsing experience whether the filtering of junk mails or personalising the web, our dependence on it narrates the story . With every sunrise we are not only gifted with a brand new day but also with better experience due to new and improved algorithms heavily influenced by this technology. The ability of these machines driven by AI – – to show advanced cognitive skills, to learn, to perceive,  to process data – has made them capable to perform any task with high accuracy.

 

On 1st january 2016, the dream for a better future took off driven by 193 nations. The dream is to see a better world by the end of 2030 revolving around the development of economy along with attention to the amelioration of the environment. The United Nations ‘17  “Sustainable Development Goals” is set to promote prosperity in the country and at the same time protect the planet, economic growth and the social needs for the same including education, health, social protection, and job opportunities along with checking the climate change and environmental protection.  The concept of “AI for good” is to explore the implementation of it for the greater good of society and ultimately using it to cut the problems faced by us.

 

If the coin gets flipped, we might end up with the very last invention of the human race. We consider ourselves supremely intelligent from our primitive animal cousins, but in reality we are only fractionally more intelligent than them. But that tiny fraction had led us to develop tools, language , civilisation and much more. When AI gets more intelligent than us, not fractionally but by million times called the “singularity”, our breath could be the price we pay. All that is needed now is to be very careful with this technology but the twist being the impossibility of the situation in predicting it before it actually happens.

Citizen X

The privacy of a person is one of his/her most prized possessions. If at all the person feels that his/her privacy has been violated, it is a great source of concern and is looked down upon. Hence, the privacy of a citizen is of great importance to the governance of a country.

Recently, the nine- judge bench of the apex court in India declared that the previous stance of the top court which states that the right to privacy does not come under the fundamental rights granted to the citizens, as void.  

A privacy law refers to the law regulating, storing and the usage of personally identifiable information of individuals which can be collected. India’s supreme court upholds right to privacy as a fundamental right granted to its citizens. It is an intrinsic part of article 21 that protects life and liberty of the citizens and as a part of the freedoms guaranteed by the part III of the constitution. In the instance of encroachment of privacy, with the aid of the law, necessary legal action can be taken.

Many aspects of the right to privacy have been taken into consideration when we talk about a privacy law. The preservation of personal intimacies and sexual orientation (a much debated and volatile topic in India) has been viewed one of the most essential aspect of one’s privacy. The protection of heterogeneity and the recognition of diversity in a vast country such as India is the crux of forming the law for the people. One’s right to safeguard information, emotional and physical well being and various other facets of life have been included in the formation regulation of the privacy law.

HOMOSEXUALITY

Homosexuality is romantic and sexual attraction and behaviour between member of the same gender. Many a times, a person’s identity is defined by their sexual inclination. Homosexuality is considered to be a taboo subject in the Indian society which discriminates the citizens. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in India face Gay and transgender individuals continue to face widespread discrimination in India.

Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (colonial era) makes sex with the same people of the same gender punishable by law. It states that “whoever voluntarily had carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment od either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable for a fine.”

The Supreme Court’s decision to hear in open court curative petitions – the last legal recourse available to litigants – on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) is an opportunity for it to rectify the mistake of re-criminalising homosexuality in the country.

AADHAR CARD

The Aadhar card is a unique identification mark, different for every citizen of India which had been developed by the government of India, with an aim to organise the country. The project was introduced in 2009, by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). This program wants each and every citizen to have a unique number which involves an Aadhar number which involves issuing an Aadhar number as well as one Aadhar card, which can later be linked to various schemes and services that are provided by the government.

In the recent times, there have been many speculations regarding the Aadhar card and its close monitoring in every aspect of a person’s life, throwing light to the infringement of privacy felt by many citizens. A recent unanimous judgment by the Supreme Court of India (SCI) in Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd) vs Union of India is a resounding victory for privacy. The ruling is the outcome of a petition challenging the constitutional validity of the Indian biometric identity scheme Aadhaar.

ABORTION

Abortion is the termination of pregnancy by the method of removing a foetus or an embryo before it can survive outside the uterus. Abortion caused purposefully is called an induced abortion. When allowed by the law, abortion in the developed world is one of the safest procedures in medicine.

Abortion in India is legal only up to twenty weeks of pregnancy under specific conditions and situations, where the continuance of the pregnancy involves risk to life for the mother or which could cause significant physical and mental health damage.

There have been many instances where unwanted pregnancies have to been carried out due to late detection, crossing the twenty weeks mark. Rape victims and unmarried girls don’t have a strong say in the legal abortion, forcing many to choose the illegal route resulting in the complications in health. Unmarried women find it difficult to abort, because the pregnancies are healthy, but they don’t want to be carried out due to the societal stigma attached to it. Many physical deformities and terminal illness the foetus might have can be detected after 25 or 28 weeks, eliminating the opportunity of an abortion if required.

There have been many debates involving the extension of the permittivity of abortion mark and discussion of giving the pregnant woman more say in whether or not the pregnancy is to be carried out, especially for the unmarried women in India.

The right to one’s own body and what happens to it has been a topic of major discussion. The privacy of an abortion and the records to be kept private has been another source of concern, the privacy of abortion records which are included in health reports posing various difficulties for the pregnant female to get proper health benefits and insurance later in life. Thus, it is high time India makes abortion laws and any laws relating to abortion as it addresses woman’s rights to health, dignity, liberty and privacy.

The various aspects of privacy have been a topic of discussion and debate in India. Granting freedom of expression and safeguarding the privacy of its citizens has been the main idea. Drafting the laws in solid words so as to have a systematic approach in the wide spectrum of privacy is essential for the privacy law in the country. To make the citizen feel safe and respected has been the main objective of the most recent hearings, moving the country to a more transparent yet safe environment.

Pandora’s Box

Traveling from an East Asian sea port, like Busan, South Korea to a European one like Rotterdam would take the average European cargo ship about 45 to 60 days- a journey that would circumvent all of Asia and Europe, passing through the Suez canal. Moreover, for such a journey, with an assumed speed of about twenty knots, traveling the 12000 nautical miles between these two ports would consume about 5000 tons of fuel. Not only does this cost a fortune, it also causes severe damage to our environment – increasing the rate of global warming and upping global smog levels. What if there was a shorter way, one that could effectively cut distance, time, cost and the carbon footprint of this journey? Introducing the fabled North-West passage.

In fact, this passage remained a myth until the year 1906, when Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen became the first to traverse this passage over the course of three years. Further successful attempts by Henry Larsen in 1940 and Willy de Roos in 1970 opened up a whole world of opportunities for further traders. However, this passageway remained seasonally open and difficult to navigate even in the best of circumstances therefore using it as a commercial trade route remained unfeasible.

Eventually with the coming of the 21st century the world saw a rise in global temperatures, triggering a phenomenon we all know as global warming. This global warming saw a gradual melting of ice in the polar regions – leading to the complete opening of routes that hadn’t been easily accessible prior to the 21st century- namely, the northeast passage, the transpolar route and the northwest passage. Geographers predict that the northwest passage will be open to commercial use by the early 2030s – an event that would result in the reduction of thousands of miles of travel on major shipping routes. This would allow shipping companies to transport much larger ships in lesser time than the Panama Canal- the sea route that is currently in use- saving them millions of dollars in transportation. However, the opening of the north-western passage poses just as many problems as it does solutions.

One of these, a problem which has been a source of controversy since the journey of the SS Manhattan through this passage in 1969, is Canada’s claim to it. Since this strait passes through the Canadian archipelago, the Canadian government has claimed these waters as their own. They state that Canada reserves the right to decide which ships are granted transit through this strait and it can debar any vessel from traversing along the north-western passage. This is in stark disagreement with the United States of America and the European Union, who view this as more of a “transit passage”- where, although Canada retains the right to the resources, it can’t control which ships are allowed through. Inevitably, this has since led to conflict between Canada and the rest of the world.

One of the first instances of this conflict dates to 1985 when the US coast guard ship Polar sea passed through the strait en route from Greenland to Alaska. This infuriated the Canadian public despite the fact that the ship submitted to checking by Canadian officials. Tempers flared and a rift was formed between the United States and Canada. Later, in 2005, a fresh round of controversy was sparked when US nuclear submarines were alleged to have traveled through Canadian waters without any form of governmental approval. One of the first moves by Canadian prime Minister Stephen Harper as he was elected into office was to adopt a firm stance on the arctic issue, claiming that the strait was to be classified as Canadian internal waters and be referred to as such by all Canadian forces as of April 9th, 2006. In July 2007,Prime Minister Harper finally announced the building of a deep-water port in the far north, strengthening Canada’s position over the strait.

And it isn’t just the United States and Canada being affected by the opening of this passage. Consider the Russian Federation. After having planted a flag in the arctic seabed- claiming it as their own in 2007- they recently traversed this passage in an oil tanker between Norway and South Korea, taking just over 19 days. A similar journey over the Suez canal would have taken a significantly larger amount of time, marking this as the first of 15 such Russian expeditions. Even the Republic of China has laid eyes on the passage as it sees this as an amazing opportunity to minimize costs and hence increase revenue. Although neither of these countries have chosen a side in the ongoing conflict and hence could be persuaded in either direction, both have shown signs of inclination towards the United states/EU block.

Environmentalists, on the other hand, have a completely different take on the situation. They believe that we should focus on how the strait will impact nature, instead of who owns it. While on one side of the coin, the opening of the passage results in a newer shorter sea route that vastly reduces shipping distances and hence fuel; on the other we have a myriad of problems- from increased number and size of ships (leading to damaged ecosystems), oil spills, chemical leaks and general damage to flora and fauna caused by human activity. In fact, the opening of the passage itself can be discussed from an environmental standpoint as it points to increasing global warming and carbon emissions. With this multitude of problems surrounding this region, we can only hope that the powers involved take the right steps and think about the entire world community in any of their decisions, and plan for the years coming ahead.

IIT Guwahati Model United Nations Conference