The Importance of Science in an Upended World

November 10 was World Science Day for Peace and Development, which the UN designates for highlighting the importance of science to society and to people’s daily lives. According to their official website (, the purpose of World Science Day is to

  • “Strengthen public awareness of the role of science for peaceful and sustainable societies;
  • Promote national and international solidarity for shared science between countries;
  • Renew national and international commitment for the use of science for the benefit of societies;
  • Draw attention to the challenges faced by science in raising support for the scientific endeavour.”

Making ordinary people, or citizens as they are referred to in this context, more aware of and more involved in the field of science and current scientific developments and issues is a fundamental theme of this day, championed by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization). Science, along with it ever-present ally mathematics, is a way of knowing more about reality through original inquiry and investigation. It is good for everybody to learn as much scientific knowledge as they can and also to be involved in the original inquiry and investigation that produces such knowledge. Most people think of this activity as being something only for scientists, experts that specialize in this and have all the right tools. But just like there are professional athletes who specialize in activities like running and swimming, but every person can and should exercise and be involved in running and swimming to make themselves healthy, so every person can be involved in science, no matter what their role in life is. Science will also help a lot in shaping that role in life. Hence is the importance of the science-society interface.

What is also of critical importance, of course, is utilizing science for the right purposes. Science tells you how things are and how they can be. By itself, it doesn’t say how things should be and what we should do. It is up to us to act responsibly and use science for ends that make the world better (and be careful not to end the world with it). It helps that delving into science enables people to realize what they need to do and what is important.

The twentieth century is a long story of society learning about how ethics and science play out together. The devastation wrought by the world wars was made possible by major scientific advancements. Backlash against science for the same reason emerged during the Vietnam War, when students saw how scientists were contributing to the war effort, such as by developing the chemical defoliants destroying Indochina’s forests. But scientists also uncovered and drew attention to the effects of the war on Vietnam. It took scientific inquiry to understand the full impact of war. It has taken the same also to understand at all the toll that human activity is taking on the natural environment.

Now is a time when science’s role in society and society’s role in science is particularly relevant. The theme for this year’s World Science Day for Peace and Development is “Science for and with Society in dealing with the global pandemic”. The COVID-19 pandemic is such a major event, with an enigmatic cause and an extensive impact on the world and the lives of people, that scientific inquiry on a vast scale is needed to understand it. Plus, the world’s people have to play an outsized role in the response to the pandemic, which calls for dissemination of scientific education on an unprecedented scale.

In fact, scientific awareness is taking on elevated importance for numerous reasons. Due to a variety of factors, the world over the past year is enduring its biggest state of crisis since World War 2. During WW2, the urgent need for scientific expertise and awareness spurred tremendous advancements in numerous areas of science from nuclear physics to aerodynamics to oceanography to weather forecasting and many people got involved in scientific know-how (like the personnel who learned to operate telecommunication equipment during the war and then went on to make so many television sets upon return to civilian life). Now, there is again a need for a boost in science and, instead of using it to wage war against other people, we need it for the direct cause of bettering humanity’s lot and solving the world’s challenges. A whole lot of challenges, indeed, have popped up within the last year and we need science to understand them and to find solutions to them.

Just how much all those world issues need science, though, is up for assessment, if, indeed, science itself can be clearly defined. Some of today’s challenges, such as the dispute over the presidential election in America, the outbreak of war over Nagorno-Karabakh, or the economic downturns, do not seem like matters that can be related to science in any significant degree, at least science as we tend to think of it. It looks like other subjects on the classroom curriculum are needed instead. The word “science” can have different meanings. In past centuries, it used to mean just “knowledge” but now it is typically construed as, essentially, knowledge of the material world. That is the definition that will be used in this article. Some classify subjects like political science, social science, and economics (which are of immense importance for 2020 as well) as belonging to the realm of science, but for now, it is just going to be the two fields that define how reality fundamentally works, physics and chemistry, and the fields that study the natural world, the life sciences, Earth sciences, and astronomy, as well as the various subjects concerning all that humanity creates by its own prowess, what go under the general labels of technology and engineering.

All these areas of study strongly underpin recent global developments as a whole. And in particular, 2020 is a time in which disasters are breaking out across the world and new threats are emerging. Science is always needed in order to effectively manage such issues, so let us look at where science is crucial in today’s environment and how we can use it to grasp the crises that are swirling around us.

The coronavirus strain that scientists call SARS-CoV-2 is the supreme topic on the news. This infectious agent came to humanity’s notice only within the last year, so when the outbreak began, there was a lot that science did not know about it and the disease it causes. That still holds true, but only to a much lesser extent. Research is being conducted on COVID-19 on a grand scale and builds upon the vast amount of knowledge we have about infectious diseases, an area that cuts across a huge number of disciplines, most of which are part of the vast field of biology, the study of life.

Viruses, like the one that causes COVID-19, are not considered life-forms but are very much a part of the living world. Studying them is called virology. Viruses are an enigmatic part of our planet. They are tiny particles that transfer genetic material between different organisms and cells and use those cells to reproduce, often being the source of diseases in humans. The domain of viruses cuts into the very foundations of life, so we need to delve into the deepest secrets of life in order to truly understand the existence of viruses. Studying viral infections involves cell biology and molecular biology, which is a part of biochemistry. The battle between COVID-19 and the human body largely takes place at the molecular level, involving complex chemical interactions. To fight COVID-19, we need to know everything going on in this invisible and intricate realm, making biochemistry and molecular biology vital tools. We also need to create our own molecules and chemicals to fight the virus. That is where pharmacology comes in, the study of medical drugs and how they affect the human body.

Speaking of the human body, it is studied as anatomy, the study of how the human body is structured, and physiology, the study of how the human body functions. We need an intimate knowledge of the human body in order to study how people get sick with COVID-19, especially as the disease seems to affect the body from head to toe in various ways. But since it is mainly a respiratory disease, special focus has to be on pulmonology, the study of the human respiratory system. Even more important is immunology, the study of the human immune system, which is the mechanism by which the body fights COVID-19 and also is ironically often responsible for making the disease worse.

When it comes to how the pandemic itself works, how the virus spreads in the world, we need epidemiology, the study of the prevalence and spread of disease. It is a very complex field that incorporates a lot of disciplines. If you need to know how the virus inhabits the world, you really need to know the world. This pandemic is a time when we are being driven to really get to know more about ourselves, in fact, and it’s more than just our bodies. Human behavior is a fundamental factor in the pandemic and our chances of fighting it, so it is imperative to turn to the scientific disciplines that deal with this subject, which carry the labels of anthropology, psychology, or simply behavioral science.

Genetics, the science of heredity, is of overarching importance to this pandemic. The coronavirus exists purely as a genetic agent, being a gene-containing capsule that manipulates the reproductive system of cells. It also is capable of undergoing genetic mutations that change how it infects people, so we need to know if and how the virus is changing and the likelihood that will happen. Special focus is on molecular genetics, the study of the very molecules themselves (DNA and RNA) that govern the genetic process. We need genetics so that we can detect the virus and diagnose infections, track the spread of the virus (genetic tracing), and develop drugs and vaccines to fight the virus. Genetics describes what gives living things their existence, which is why it is of such broad usefulness, particularly as SARS-CoV-2 is one of the newest things to come into existence.

It will be extremely useful to know how that happened. The coronavirus almost certainly originated as a zoonosis, a pathogen switching from animals to humans. SARS-CoV-2 is believed to have come from an ancestor (or ancestors) that infected bat species in Asia and possibly jumped to pangolins as a reservoir host before making its way into people. This likely required a sudden genetic change that produced a new strain of the virus, what is call an antigenic shift. Zoology and ecology now come into the fold, as we need to know the animals that were the original hosts for the virus and how they transmitted it to humans. Did environmental degradation play a role in the pandemic’s origin? What are the disease dynamics in the wet markets that are theorized to be the coronavirus’s final source? Why is it that bats are host to a lot of viruses but manage to avoid getting sick all the time? Answers to these questions will help us not only with the current pandemic but future ones as well.

When it comes to finding solutions to the crisis and innovating our way out of the pandemic, biotechnology has a big role to potentially play here. Biology is just studying how life works, but biotechnology is manipulating life itself and altering how it works to achieve the outcome you want. One of the most radical examples we have achieved with the COVID-19 pandemic is the mRNA vaccine that is certain genes taken out of the coronavirus and injected into people’s bodies so their cells produce pieces of the virus. Biotechnology is a contentious field. There are many ethical questions that go into playing around with life. There are also the consequences that we may have to watch out for. Such issues may pop up with the coronavirus pandemic, now that the world is making its biggest forays into biotechnology yet. 

There is just so much science that has to go into saving the world from COVID-19. For now, I will go no further than drawing attention to the insights we can gain just from this seemingly unassuming article in Bloomberg, Covid-19 Mutation in Denmark’s Mink is Danger Sign for Vaccines,

It suggests that history is repeating itself in a short span of time. The pandemic is believed to have started when a coronavirus circulating in animals kept in Chinese wet markets mutated into a form that infects humans, SARS-CoV-2. Now, it seems that SARS-CoV-2 circulating in Danish-farmed minks has mutated into a different strain that again has jumped back to humans, which could potentially alter the course of the pandemic for the worse. Even if the new strain itself is not more contagious or virulent, just by being different, people who gained immunity to COVID-19 from prior infection may be infected again and the vaccines being developed right now may not work against the new strain. The entire pandemic may essentially start all over again. Furthermore, the more widespread the virus is circulating in the human population, the more likely that new strains will develop. With this insight, we can realize the importance of maintaining measures that flatten the curve until everyone can be vaccinated. To assess the threat of the coronavirus evolving, we have to understand how it all began in the virus’s original animal hosts, how Covid-19 reinfection works, the dynamics of the pandemic, and the inner workings of the virus’s genome.

Besides the pandemic, the next big plague of 2020 is of locusts. There are several outbreaks across the world of various locust species, but the most significant is the desert locust which is wiping out agricultural harvests in dozens of countries across Asia and Africa. This is just as complex a problem as the coronavirus. Entomology is the study of insects, of course, and locusts are unique animals to study. Locusts are certain kinds of grasshoppers that undergo a physiological change and then gather and migrate in giant swarms that can strip land bare of vegetation. They have what is called extreme phenotypic plasticity, allowing them to change into their swarming form through certain biochemical processes. This happens when favorable environmental conditions cause locusts to become more abundant and congregate more densely.

Locust invasions are primarily an ecological issue and ecology is a complex field that studies the relationship of living things with their environment. Biogeography is another designated field that cuts deep into the subject here. At the center of the matter are the locusts themselves and how their numbers can increase so much. We therefore need to study the population dynamics or population biology of these insects. Under the rubric of population ecology, it makes up the first tier of ecology and deals with how organisms of the same species interact with each other to influence the extent and location of the whole population. Locust swarming depends upon locusts breeding and interacting in dense formations. The next tier of ecology is community ecology, how all living organisms in an environment interact. Locust populations are determined to a large degree by the plants locusts eat, the animals locusts are eaten by, and the pathogens locusts are infected by. Finally, there is ecosystem ecology, an ecosystem being the sum of both all the living things in the environment and the non-living materials they interact with.  

The Earth sciences therefore come into play in our study of environmental factors in locust abundance. We need to know the soil conditions involved, the science of which is called pedology, and the influence of the water cycle, which is called hydrology. Meteorology, the study of weather, is crucial to the fight against locust upsurges because weather conditions determine how and where locusts breed, how long they live, what they eat, and where they move. Weather events are always what trigger locust outbreaks. Weather forecasting helps us to forecast locust patterns.

And let’s not forget the individual locust that we have to get to know in order to combat it. There is quite a lot of science that has to go into this small animal alone. There is its anatomy and physiology. There is its biophysics, such as the aerodynamics of how it flies. There are the properties of its body, such as of its exoskeleton, for which material science comes into the fray. We need to know how its brain works and how its hormonal system works. There is its biochemistry. There is its behavior. We have to know its life cycle.

Applying pesticides is currently the main way to fight locusts, which depends upon using chemistry to find and produce the substances that most effectively kill locusts. This often has adverse environmental effects (and makes it unsafe to eat locusts in order to find relief from hunger) and we need to fully understand what those effects are, which requires comprehensive ecological analysis. But we can get smarter than just using brute force against locusts. All we may need to do is target the biochemical keys to their swarming phase. Recently, scientists studying migratory locusts found a pheromone that they emit in swarms that attracts other locusts ( This discovery might be used to lure locusts into areas where they can be killed or develop chemicals that shut off locust chemical receptors to the pheromone.

Also, instead of using manmade tools to control locust populations, we can enlist the help of other living things in locust habitats. This is called biological pest control and, to make it possible, we have to not only know the natural relationships between locusts and other wildlife but intricately study a wide range of living organisms to see what they can do, especially those endemic to the areas under the reach of locust species. That includes the vast regions across Africa and Asia that provide the maximum range for the desert locust. This means that extensive inroads into biogeography and community ecology need to be made to make possible the integration of locust control with the local ecosystems.

Extreme weather is responsible for 2020’s locust outbreaks, most notably that the strongest positive Indian Ocean dipole on record (that is when the western side of the Indian Ocean is very warm) delivered enough rainfall to East Africa near the end of 2019 to cause a surge in the desert locust outbreaks. And a lot of other major weather-related natural disasters have occurred in 2020, including the Australian bushfires caused by the same Indian Ocean dipole. Severe weather, in fact, is getting to be more rampant across the world than ever before in what is, without doubt, an escalation of the climate crisis. So, as usual, the science of climate change is of paramount importance for us.

Climatology is the science that deals with the Earth’s climate, the standard behavior of the world’s weather conditions. It studies why the climate is the way it is and how it can change. Meteorology is the study of weather, the dynamics of the Earth’s lower atmosphere. And also remember that atmospheric science is the study of the entire atmosphere, from the surface of Earth to the edge of outer space. These are some highly sophisticated scientific fields, as the Earth’s atmosphere is an extremely complex and highly dynamic system. Climatology incorporates not only the atmospheric sciences but also geology, hydrology, biology, and astronomy. When we factor in the influence of climate on the world, the whole picture gets a whole lot more complex. Regarding current climate change, we need to know if the climate is changing, what is causing it to change, and what this will lead to in the future.

We have to start with the basic physics and chemistry, especially of the greenhouse gases that are being emitted by human activity. Then we can understand how they capture the Sun’s warmth and how long they stay in the atmosphere. This is the greenhouse effect, which humans are enhancing by emitting gases in various ways. Some of these sources require scientific study to measure, such as emissions from agriculture and deforestation and, of course, positive feedback loops from global warming. Oceanography plays a big role in climate and weather science. Of the many ways that Earth systems interact in response to rising greenhouse gas emissions, one of the most important is how the oceans absorb most of the heat from the Sun, vastly dampening the impact of the greenhouse effect. Otherwise, emissions from human activity would have already fried the climate by now!

Many weather events this year are highly out of place compared to what has normally been observed in the past. That points to them being the result of climate change. But to be sure of that, we need attribution science, which assesses the probability that a weather event would not have played out the way it did had climate change not been happening. It is not a simple task. Basic meteorology alone is hard to fully grasp. But it has now become all the more important because of the rise in weather disasters.

Meteorology incorporates a lot of physics and some chemistry. It involves using fluid mechanics to study how the atmosphere and air behaves as a whole, the complicated and important role water plays in the atmosphere, thermodynamics and the way heat moves through and moves the atmosphere, electrodynamics and electrostatics and the very active role electricity plays in the atmosphere, the particulate matter in the atmosphere and its influence, the large variety of chemicals in the atmosphere and the big role many of them play (that includes the trace chemicals besides water, diatomic oxygen, and diatomic nitrogen), and how the atmosphere interacts with the Earth’s imposing surface. All this comes together to form a science that is mind-bogglingly complex. Chaos theory is often used to explain how weather works, or rather, how it is difficult to know the weather. Regardless, weather forecasting is the prime goal of meteorology.

The Indian Ocean Dipole, which caused Australia’s epic drought and heat, East Africa’s deluge, and the most active cyclone season the Arabian Sea has ever known in late 2019-early 2020, is an example of a climate oscillation, a system in which part of the climate regularly switches from one condition to the other. It is not very entirely known how climate oscillations happen and even less how they are changing in today’s world. Another oscillation to watch out for is the Pacific’s ENSO, which has a huge influence on the entire world. Right now, it is developing into a La Nina phase. We should be very concerned about where it is taking us, as the potential for further weather hazards across the world, which means we should be up on our weather forecasting as much as we can.

We also need to use scientific investigation to understand all the extreme and unusual weather events that already have occurred in recent months, discovering why and how they happened. This includes the incredibly unusual 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, the Saharan dust cloud that rolled across the Atlantic in June, the hole that opened in the ozone layer over the Arctic in March and April, the floods wreaking endless havoc across East Africa, the mounting droughts in the western and central United States, and the devastating monsoon floods that took place in various parts of Asia. We need to understand not just their impacts as the disasters many were but also their collective and long-term effect on the planet. By knowing all of this, we can build up a clearer picture of how the climate is changing and where it is taking us.

Of all the natural disasters ravaging the world this past year, wildfires stand out. Among several wildfire outbreaks of a scale rarely seen before, the most notable are the unprecedented bushfires in Australia, forest fires in California, and tundra fires in Siberia. Wildfires are complex phenomena very diverse in their form and behavior, as evident in what we have seen this year. Many of Siberia’s wildfires this summer sprang from “zombie” wildfires that were smoldering through the winter, the burning of peat and other organic matter buried underneath the tundra soil while everything may look normal above the surface, an astounding natural phenomenon indeed. In California, epic “dry lightning” storms, which are thunderstorms in which the lightning reaches the ground but the rain does not because they evaporated mid-air, were responsible for kick-starting many of the state’s massive blazes. And the Australia bushfires burnt through every habitat where there was ample vegetation, including places that typically don’t experience wildfires such as old-growth rainforests. All three fire mega-outbreaks created plumes of smoke that stretched across the planet.

A lot of ecological factors go into wildfires, which are the chemical combustion of vegetation and can spread to manmade infrastructure. This makes ecology, botany, and chemistry some of the most important fields regarding wildfires. There is very complicated physics involved as well. The science of wildfires will help us to predict wildfires, will help us to prevent and fight wildfires, and will help us to prepare for them. We have to know the factors, both meteorological and ecological, that enable wildfires, as well as the human involvement in wildfire risk. And we need to know the impact of wildfires on human infrastructure, the economy, and health. One of the important things to know about is wildfire smoke, which gets emitted into the atmosphere in large quantities and can wreak havoc on human health. We need chemistry to know what may be in the smoke emitted from fires of every kind and what happens to that smoke when it is in the air. When it gets to the human respiratory tract (and eyes), we have to break out everything we know about human physiology and health to figure out what the effect is on the human body in both the short-term and long-term.

Wildfires also have major consequences for the natural environment. They are often beneficial if they follow a natural pattern, which seems to now be a thing of the past everywhere, and many plants and animals have adapted to fire very well and actually benefit from them. But the wildfires the world has been having lately have been very ecologically harmful. This was especially the case with the vast bushfires of what is known as Australia’s 2019-2020 Black Summer. Reportedly, a billion animals (counting only mammals, birds, and reptiles, what scientists call amniotes) died and many species were driven closer to extinction. Australia’s wildlife is still on the long road to recovery. The Black Summer bushfires, one of the biggest ecological catastrophes in recent human history, are is a major lesson in ecological dynamics. Australia has some of the world’s most unique wildlife and ecosystems, which have long been adapted to frequent and widespread bushfires during the summer. But human influence, both directly and indirectly through climate change, is subjecting them to destructive changes, as these unprecedented bushfires have shown. How changes in Australia’s environment made the inferno possible and how the inferno changed Australia’s environment is a hugely complex subject for science.

Flooding is another very common disaster recently running rampant across the globe. Sudan has experienced its worst floods on record on the Nile, hurricanes have devastated the Caribbean region and the United States, a third of Bangladesh went underwater, East Africa has been endlessly flooded since October 2019, Vietnam is being wracked by monsoon floods and typhoons, and rivers in China such as the Yangtze turned into deluges so furious that the very Three Gorges Dam itself appeared to be under a significant risk of weakening and even collapse. The science of flooding events like these is complicated. It does not only deal with the flood or outbreak of floods itself but also where these floods fit within a longer-term pattern. That is something we should not lose sight of in 2020. These floods are happening all over the world now, but many of them have been a long time in the making and will leave behind changes that will last long after human recovery is finished. And floods are another natural hazard with a strong human influence.

Flooding, which is part of the water cycle, is typically the result of a meteorological phenomenon, usually intense precipitation or heat melting snow and ice. But a flood itself is not a weather event, any more than a river or a lake is a weather process. It is an event on the Earth’s surface in which land that was dry before is submerged by water. Floods are hydrological phenomena with strong geological, meteorological, and biological aspects, often artificial aspects as well, especially in the case of urban flooding. The study of flooding falls under the field of hydrology, which studies the immensely diverse role water occupies on our planet. This science hinges upon fluid dynamics (hydrodynamics in the case of water specifically), the study of how fluids such as liquids behave when moving and being subjected to forces. A mathematical understanding of fluid mechanics can help forecast the behavior of floods.

Precipitation is ultimately behind all flooding and studying precipitation processes, patterns, and levels helps us to forecast and chart floods. Water that evaporates into the atmosphere always comes back down, but a variety of factors determine when, how much, and in what way it does so, such as movement of air currents causing adiabatic temperature changes and condensation nuclei. Causes of flooding are usually prolonged rainfall, intense rainfall, melting snow and ice, rivers being jammed by debris, or embankments containing water bodies collapsing. The recipe for flooding is a lot of water coming into a certain area in a short amount of time, such as rainfall being more concentrated in time and space. This often means less water available for other places or times and so drought and flooding have a tendency to go hand in hand.

It is not just the water being delivered in the first place that determines flooding but also what happens to that water in its journey over the ground. Topography then is the prime factor in whether floods happen in any given location, how deep they are, and how fast they move. It concerns the shape of the land surface and orientation with respect to Earth’s gravity. Also important are soil hydraulic properties, as water doesn’t just move over the land but also seeps into sediment. The less the ground is able to absorb water, the more likely flooding is, such as when the soil had dried up before (another way drought and flood supplement each other). It is not just soil that soaks up large amounts of water. Vegetation cover does too and an area covered with a hefty quantity of live plant matter is less prone to giving rise to floods. Water that seeps into the soil gets soaked up by plant roots and is delivered to the leaves where they easily evaporate, a process called transpiration. This combined with evaporation directly from soil is termed evapotranspiration, the total loss of water from land to the air.

Water really shapes the planet and floods are one of its most powerful forces. It is a force that we must respect and understand using science. Regular riverine flooding, for example, actually safeguards against worst floods. When water spills from the riverbanks, the sediment it is carrying is deposited along the sides, building up a natural levee over time. Humans are now endeavoring to know everything they can about how natural processes like these work so that they can approach flood management and adaptation in a more sustainable manner. Technology can play along through the right scientific innovations, but we must be very careful in how we behave towards the natural balance of water. We have been doing a lot to disturb this balance with the result that floods have been getting worse in every which way.

A warming planet allows more water to evaporate and thereby precipitate. There are also getting to be more events in which precipitation comes down in narrow, short bursts. Higher temperatures are melting more snow and glaciers. Development of floodplains blocks the ability of water to drain away. Widespread deforestation removes much of a landscape’s ability to get rid of water. These factors are almost certainly at play in all the floods that have affected human lives in 2020.

Some of the most serious issues to come out of 2020’s floods concern the way China’s flooding put the stability of its innumerable dams under question. As river water levels rose to record-breaking heights, most dams in the flooded basins were seriously strained. Some of China’s small dams and dykes collapsed. Even China’s largest dam of all, the mighty Three Gorges Dam, ended up at the center of serious concerns. The reservoir behind the Three Gorges reached its full capacity at certain points and some experts voiced alarm over the possibility of the dam being weakened and even collapsing, based upon apparent deformations in the dam and weaknesses that some believe the dam has. Any threat to the structural integrity of the dam is a serious matter as the Three Gorges is the world’s largest hydroelectric dam and millions of people live along the river downstream, all of whom are at extreme risk if the dam is ever to suddenly fail.

So it is important to be cognizant of these issues with the Three Gorges and all the other dams in China and understand what happened to them in this summer’s flooding and what could possibly happen with extreme events like these. In particular, was the Three Gorges really at risk of collapse? These questions revolve around the field of mechanics. That includes knowledge of the material properties of the dams and of the behavior of the water they interact with, which fall under the fields of hydrodynamics and hydrostatics. The construction of dams is a matter of structural engineering, which is a branch of engineering that deals with non-moving structures. It also relies a great deal upon geotechnical engineering, which studies the relationship of a manmade structure with the natural environment it is set in and how to manipulate that environment to serve the structure’s purpose. In the case of dams, that is the ground a dam is built on and the water body it is built across. The mechanical physics surrounding how dams behave involves both dynamics, the movement of water through the dam’s spillways or over the dam and the dam’s interaction with water waves, and statics, the water pressure behind the dam and the stress and strain within the dam.

Issues surrounding dams have a major role in today’s world as humanity increasingly relies more and more upon dams. Indeed, another part of the world saw its own dam-related problem spring up in the summer of 2020 in the form of Ethiopia beginning to fill up the reservoir of the newly completed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). This hydroelectric dam, the largest in Africa, is expected to bring much-needed economic development to Ethiopia by providing electricity. But it is built on the Blue Nile, the main tributary to the Nile River that provides Egypt and Sudan with almost all the water they need. The completion of the GERD will therefore affect the downstream flow of the Nile in ways that can cause problems for these two nations, especially Egypt.

The Nile Basin begins with several tributaries in East Africa and ultimately runs through the Saharan Desert in the form of one great river, the Nile. This environment is highly prone to flooding and drought. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam was designed in part to fix such problems, but it won’t come without its downsides, the foremost of which, at least for now, is that the filling of the reservoir behind the dam will result in a period of time in which Sudan and Egypt receives reduced water flow, affecting agriculture and energy production. The discrepancy is so big that the filling period that Egypt desires is several years, rather much for Ethiopia’s patience. Egypt is also worried that Ethiopia will use the dam to hold back water in times of drought and that evaporation in the dam’s reservoir could reduce the overall downstream flow. This is a political dispute that stems from the natural environment and the workings of Earth’s water cycle. As important as diplomacy is, resolution of this issue greatly depends upon science, specifically knowledge of physics, engineering, hydrology, meteorology, and environmental science.

Egypt could make use of the reservoir behind its own Aswan Dam to compensate for losses. Also, as Egypt’s water availability is steadily decreasing over time, isn’t it best Ethiopia’s reservoir be filled as soon as possible before Egypt becomes too water-scarce? But Egypt, not wanting to deplete its water reserves, is adamant that the GERD reservoir be filled slowly, preferably during periods of above-average river flows. Incidentally, that is very much what happened since Ethiopia started filling the dam. Sudan’s Nile floods this August and September, caused by rainfall over Ethiopia, are the worst in recorded history, with the Nile reaching levels not seen in a century. Egypt was spared the floods as it sealed off the Aswan Dam. This could serve as an opportunity for Ethiopia to set the reservoir filling at maximum so that water quickly fills the reservoir while Sudan and Egypt would be protected from the floods and continue to have plenty of water. Is that really a possible advantage of the floods? In any case, the extreme flooding that followed the start of the dam’s filling has a big influence on GERD’s outlook. It has furthered the case that the dam will go a step further in taming the Nile waters if it is managed properly. In a changing climate, this role may expand in importance. But dams have a tremendous environmental impact that is not controllable. The building of the Aswan Dam and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam both mean the end of the historic sediment flow that built the Nile River Basin, for instance. Whatever the crises and boons at hand right now, the long-term impact of the GERD and the future evolution of the Nile is something that the nations of the region need to be concerned about.

One of the calamities of 2020 that most struck us on the TV screen was the August 4 Port of Beirut explosion. It was a terrible tragedy, killing more than 200 hundred people, injuring nearly 7,000, and rendering 300,000 homeless, wreaking havoc on the city of Beirut and worsening Lebanon’s long-running troubles. This disaster was caused by 2,700 tons of stored ammonium nitrate (used as fertilizer) detonating into one of the largest manmade non-nuclear explosions ever recorded. There is a lot of chemistry and physics that goes into this event; chemistry in the ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3), how it degraded into a volatile form during storage over several years, how exactly it ignited, and the substances it changed into such as toxic nitrogen dioxide (NO2); and physics in how the material expanded into a fireball and the kinetic energy this spread into the surrounding environment, mainly seismic waves in the ground, water waves in the sea, and the highly destructive blast wave in the air, and how this energy produced damage in the area. The scientific study of explosions is called blast physics and blast engineering is how this knowledge can be put to practical use, mostly for safety from explosions.

This science has been put to good use already in identifying the cause of the explosion, if you don’t trust Lebanon’s governmental authorities. Just by watching footage of the blast, physicists and chemists were able to assess that it was likely caused by ammonium nitrate by observing the color of the plume of smoke and estimating the detonation velocity. Scientific knowledge of the Lebanon blast will also help in safeguarding against future accidents of this kind everywhere. That will mostly fall upon the engineers and planners who apply expertise knowledge to enact policies to prevent explosions or to ensure that such explosions result in less harm. But it is also good for ordinary people to know about how explosions work so that they can take actions that maximize safety.

That can be even after the very detonation has happened. Many of the people that fell victim to the Lebanese blast were in the wrong spot at the wrong time. If they were not close enough that the shockwave got them, then they were close to an object or structure that fell on them or glass that shattered all over them. It seems that this kind of hazard comes too fast for anyone to react in time, but there is actually a warning sign that can be used. In videos of the explosion overcoming the city, you can see a brief thunderous rumble followed by the boom in which everything is destroyed. These are two longitudinal waves (like scaled-up sound) released by the explosion, one that is the seismic waves that travel through the ground and only shake things up and the other is the blast wave that travels through air and actually causes most of the damage. Since sound travels faster through solid ground than through gaseous air, the seismic waves travel ahead of the blast wave. People who can recognize this rumble for what it is and are quick-witted enough can immediately get away from hazards like windows or even just avert or cover their faces and eyes from glass panes before everything is shattered. It is impressive that scientific knowledge of how things work can go so far in getting you through extreme events, when ordinary experience is not enough. 

Some of the threats that are currently emerging across the world are that of warfare and conflict. The year began with USA and Iran on the brink of war due to Qasem Suleimani’s killing. Now, war already broke out for real between Armenia and Azerbaijan and a new civil war has erupted in Ethiopia. Tensions are rising between Greece and Turkey, China and its neighbors, and with the aforementioned Nile River dispute, and tensions involving Iran have just reignited after Iran’s top nuclear scientist was assassinated. War is one of the world’s toughest problems. Its consequences are often hugely devastating and it tends to be extremely tricky and difficult to resolve. Let’s hope we can use diplomacy to defuse today’s hostilities, but it is important also to know, if war breaks out anywhere, what its effects will be and how to counteract it, which will require science. The innocent are often harmed by war without anyone intending it. It is always because of all the weaponry used in war and the damage inflicted on the human and natural environment.

Modern weaponry and tactics as used in all conflicts is the result of wide-ranging applications of science in what is termed technology, engineering, and applied sciences. The people who make and use these weapons already know a lot about the science involved. Those whose goal is to mitigate the scourge of war itself should know the same and should investigate fully the effects of war on the world. Because technology continues to rapidly advance nowadays, new war-related hazards are emerging all the time. Look at the Nagorno-Karabakh war, which featured extensive use of drone technology. It is a snapshot of the high-tech warfare that is increasing in availability and the new risks in the field that come with it, along with old problems such as the unexploded ordinance left behind by the Nagorno-Karabakh clash which make the former battlefield a continued danger zone. But some believe technological innovations can make war safer.

Moves towards a more belligerent world are evident in the world’s greatest military power as well, the United States. At the end of January 2020, the President authorized the use of landmines by the military, reversing a ban that was in effect for years. This sparked dismay across the world because landmines are one of the most harmful weapons of war. They can remain hidden in the ground permanently and maim and kill anyone who steps on them long after a conflict is over. But the Pentagon said it will pursue the use of “smart landmines” which can be remotely controlled, be activated and deactivated on command, and self-destruct after some time. These proposed innovations are part of a pattern many believe exists. Developments in technology have made war more destructive over the last two centuries, but now further technological innovations are promising to make war less destructive, like precision-guided missiles that can spare all except the enemy. It remains to be seen if such a promise will hold. Science holds most of the answers. We just have to use it properly. Designing weapons of the future which are effective and have minimal collateral impact will require sophisticated inroads into mechanical engineering, electronics, digital technology, computing, robotics, artificial intelligence, aeronautics, blast engineering, and ballistics.

We have to go far beyond just designing weapons. Hopefully, the landmines the US army might deploy will be reliably safe, but they have to be integrated with landmine clearance programs. Clearance of mines, IEDs, and unexploded ordnance is a major field in which a variety of techniques are pursued. Detection is the main challenge and science is being extensively utilized in this. Metal detectors, using electromagnetic induction, are a traditional method. Various advanced electromagnetic technologies are being developed in their place, like ground penetrating radar, sensitive thermography, hyperspectral imaging, electrical impedance tomography, and backscatter X-ray imaging. Acoustic and seismic waves can also be sent into the ground to listen for bombs. Abandoned bombs usually leak chemicals into the surroundings which researchers are seeking ways to detect, such as making use of fluorescence, piezoelectricity, electrochemistry, and spectroscopy. Some of the most advanced techniques are nuclear quadrupole resonance and neutron probing. But researchers are also turning to nature for help. Mammals, insects, plants, and bacteria have been considered in searching for the chemical signatures of bombs. Besides dogs, giant pouched rats and mongooses have been trained to detect explosives. Even bees have been trained to do so.

Even the ultimate weapon of war has been becoming ominously more relevant in the news nowadays, the nuclear bomb. In May and June this year, reports came out that the US president was requesting that testing of nuclear explosions, which the US has not done since 1992, be resumed in response to alleged Russian and Chinese tests. This and the landmine policy shift indicate that the US is moving towards getting ready for conventional warfare with other nations, instead of asymmetrical warfare like the Afghanistan war it is ending now. This means that the threat of nuclear warfare may be on the rise. Nuclear war is unthinkable. It would have a devastating impact on the world, even if done on a tactical level. Even if that does not happen, nuclear testing itself is an activity with very harmful consequences. In the US itself, there are many people suffering from health defects because of living downwind of test sites.

It is here that one of the world’s longest-running scientific issues come into play, that concerning nuclear technology, which is the manipulation of nuclear energy. Nuclear physics the study of the nucleus, which is composed of protons and neutrons and makes up almost all the mass of all atoms. Nuclear energy, based upon the equivalence of mass and energy (E=MC2), is the huge amount of energy in the nuclear bonds of protons and neutrons, which can be released by either splitting or combining atomic nuclei. It is easy for humans to do so with the atoms of some elements, like hydrogen and uranium, to the point that they can make nuclear chain reactions happen in a sudden explosion. When a nuclear bomb is detonated, a huge amount of energy in the form of electromagnetic radiation is released and makes the surrounding environment explode. Besides this huge blast, radioisotopes, which are radioactive atoms that continue to emit energy, are released. These have a very wide-ranging and long-lasting effect, being responsible for the radioactivity left behind. Radioisotopes released from nuclear testing in the 50s and 60s have spread all over the world and some of them have altered the bone chemistry of every human by getting into the human body and being treated by the cells as calcium.

A thorough scientific understanding of the effects of nuclear energy, not just of how to harness it, led to the end of nuclear testing by almost all countries. It is importance that awareness of this knowledge remains widespread among both decision makers and ordinary people. Even though nuclear physics has loomed large in the public imagination ever since the nuclear attack on Japan, misconceptions and a lot of understanding of how it actually works abound. The dangers and downsides of nuclear energy will only become a bigger issue as time goes on, even if the world becomes peaceful enough that nuclear warfare retreats into the shadows of our concerns, because of humanity’s increasing reliance on nuclear power. Controlling our use of nuclear energy is one of the greatest responsibilities of science.

So that is a rundown of some of the scientific issues of the present-day. The world is in a tumultuous state and most of us are going through a difficult time right now. All these challenges may seem to be overwhelming, but hopefully, you have learned a little bit about how a correct utilization of science enables us to go a long way in overcoming them and improving the lot of the world.

Summer is here, and Baywatch is here.

Summer season has just arrived in the northern hemisphere and its beginning has been marked in what may be the best way possible, the release of the film adaptation of the enormously popular American TV series Baywatch. Baywatch, which ran from 1989 to 2001, was the global symbol of beach culture. The series, which reached an audience of 1.1 billion people around the world, was about lifeguards which patrolled the beaches of Los Angeles Country, California, with David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson in the lead.

Now, 16 years later, Hollywood has produced a film version of the show with different actors. The Baywatch cultural phenomenon which marked the 1990s has now been brought back. After so much time, it may be expected to be a little different now, but the film Baywatch, one of the most anticipated films of 2017, has the potential to be enormously popular as well. It may spawn a new Baywatch franchise and the actors of the film may become the new faces of beach culture. They are quite a significant group of people, with Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Priyanka Chopra, Kelly Rohrbach, Ilfinesh Hadera, and Jon Bass in the lead.

Whatever the film is like, what better way is there to start our summer than by going to see it? Baywatch right now is receiving poor critical reviews, but the TV series also did not have a high critical reputation. The main purpose of a show like Baywatch is to provide people with a fun viewing and the film likely does that. Watching it can be a fun part of anybody’s summer and can also inspire us all in how to spend our summer. Before we all hit the beaches, it is perhaps worth our while to go and see the modern-day revival of a monumental beach legend.

World Migratory Bird Day

The Background of World Migratory Day
May 13 is designated as the World Migratory Bird Day by the United Nations Environment Program through two intergovernmental treaties that it presides over, the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). Since 2006 the World Migratory Bird Day is held every second weekend of May. The slogan of this year’s campaign is “Their Future is Our Future- A Healthy Planet for Migratory Birds and People,” The countries observing the day will focus on “Sustainable development for wildlife and people”.
Many animals typically tend to inhabit one region. But many others migrate to different parts of the world. This is most common among birds, because their ability to fly makes long-distance travel easier and crossing of geographical barriers such as mountains and oceans possible. Their reasons for migrating are usually due to the environment becoming less suitable. This is often because of a change of season, with birds in the northern hemisphere going south. Birds can leave an area because the food supply decreases. They also migrate when they need to produce young and regard another place to be better for breeding. Countless species of birds travel vast distances during their migrations, with many of them traveling across the world. The bird with the longest migration is the Arctic tern, which every year travels from the Arctic to the Antarctic and vice versa (that is because the tern can get to have summer all year round by switching hemispheres).
What makes migratory birds special is that they are global species. Birds that regularly make long journeys are important in that they can make various regions on Earth their habitat. This allows them to be abundant and exploit certain environments more than stationary animals can. For example, if an environment is abundant in resources at some times and deficient in others, animals that cannot move in and out of there quickly will not prosper there as much as animals which can. Land animals are capable of migration but flying animals like birds can do it much quicker, farther, and with less restriction, allowing to them to move in and out of vast areas of the Earth which fluctuate in their bounty, such as the entire northern latitudes of the planet.
As the planet in general is the habitat of migratory birds, they are very important for the environment of the whole world and provide essential ecological services. Migratory birds also serve as global bioindicators. Ecologists often assess what is happening to a certain environment by looking at what is happening to living things, called bioindicators, which are particularly sensitive to environmental changes.
Problems Facing Migratory Birds
At present, the plight of the migratory bird is a worrying story. Migratory birds face a lot of threats, many of which are particularly associated with their migratory lifestyle. Humanity is harming environments all across the planet, so that there are few pristine places left for birds to live in. During their migrations, birds are very vulnerable because human beings have made their migrations harder and more dangerous in a variety of ways.
Traveling long distances is not an easy task. Many birds stop frequently and briefly rest and feed in certain habitats, known as stopovers, along their migration route. Their migration routes, which tend to be fixed, are known as flyways and most migratory birds travel along the same general routes on the planet. For example, many migratory birds do not like to travel over stretches of water and so those that travel between Africa and Eurasia usually travel into the Middle East and through Israel and the Suez Peninsula. Many birds also like to stop at the same general spots, creating world stopovers.
Stopovers and the rigors of migration are where birds are at their most vulnerable. Habitat destruction is one of the main threats to migratory birds. Birds that migrate without relying entirely on stopovers need to eat a lot to store energy for the trip but they can be prevented from doing this if the environment they are preparing to leave is deficient in food supply. Birds suffer the same way if the habitats that they use as stopovers are being destroyed. If birds are not properly nourished, they become more likely to suffer starvation and exhaustion along their trip. They can be unable to finish the journey and have to stay where they did not intend to and they could even starve to death. Birds that suffer from exhaustion are more likely to become disoriented and stray off their path or collide with objects such as other birds and buildings. Habitats can be degraded by humans deforesting, building cities, and agricultural development. Wetlands, which are the preferred stopovers for most birds, are among the environments most likely to suffer degradation as these are often drained by people.
Because migratory birds congregate en masse in a limited number of places as stopovers, they are vulnerable to many things, such as disease and predation. Stopover and flyover areas are hotspots for bird hunting. Birds are often hunted to the point of endangerment at these places. Some stopovers are in impoverished or food-insecure areas where people need to hunt wild animals to sustain themselves. Stopovers can be filled with unnaturally large numbers of predators, such as cats, that can kill large numbers of birds.
While flying, migratory birds are vulnerable to many things that human beings build. When windows reflect the sky or trees, birds sometimes mistake them for the sky or trees and try to fly into them, which often results in them dying or being injured when they hit the glass. Thus, migratory birds are put greatly at risk if major cities are located along flyways, especially if they have skyscrapers. Antennae towers and wind turbines are other forms of construction which birds are prone to colliding with. Finally, the artificial lights of cities, especially on tall towers, can disorient birds and make them more likely to collide with something. They tend to be attracted to lights and so fly towards the buildings.
Climate change is one of the major threats to migratory birds. It disrupts the traditional schedules and ranges of migratory birds. Many migratory birds are very sensitive to the timing of the availability of food compared to the timing of their breeding activities and suffer if there is a mismatch between the two events, which is likely to happen with changing temperatures. Climate change can lead to the destruction of stopover habitats. In addition to all this, climate change can result in a greater frequency of weather disasters such as hurricanes which harm birds or disrupt their migration flights.
Conservation of Migratory Birds
What makes the issue of protecting migratory birds challenging is that it is international in scope. Almost all migratory birds have destination habitats, stopovers, and flyovers that span different countries. This means that conservation efforts to help them have to cross borders as well. And depending on the countries that have to be involved, this may not always be easy. Many intergovernmental treaties have been created to maintain cooperation between nations on the issues, the biggest of which are CMS and AEWA. Many countries are not party to these two treaties, however. Four of those which are not party to CMS are Canada, the United States, Russia, and China.
Protecting migratory birds and their journeys hinges mostly on the flyways and stopovers where they concentrate. The limited amount of areas in the world to focus on can make this conservation goal easy. What we basically need to do is set aside stopovers as conservation zones. Wetlands are the environment most in need of conservation. They have a lot of other important functions in addition to hosting migratory birds. People often use wetlands for many things, such as water purification and agriculture. Measures to reduce the poaching of birds at stopovers and flyways are very important, as is the reduction of unnatural predation. For example, cat populations should be removed from stopover sites or pet cats should be kept inside during migration season. As for disease, if migratory birds truly do promote avian flu and other diseases, then the solution to the problem is to prevent the prevalence of the disease among them. Ways must be sought of doing this at stopover sites.
On the issue of artificial lights disorienting birds, some major cities organize a lights-out campaign in which all non-important lights on state buildings are kept switched off during peak migration season.
Stopover areas can be provided with food and other things that birds need. Ordinary people can do this themselves and so turn urban areas into habitats for migratory birds. Bird feeders and water can be put out everywhere. This is an effective short-term strategy for bird conservation, keeping birds provided for until their habitats can be restored, but it may also end up being a long-term solution. In a changing world, perhaps a good way to preserve wildlife is to create new situations to suit their needs in addition to trying to keep things the way they always were.
In addition to stopover habitats, the permanent habitats of migratory birds also need to be protected. It is no use migrating if they cannot store up enough fat reserves for the journey or if they arrive at their destination and find it is not what it should be. That is where preserving the natural environments of the world comes into play and is ultimately what we should be working towards in migratory bird conservation.
Migratory Birds in Pakistan
Pakistan is an important land for migratory birds. It lies along the Central Asian Flyway where birds travel to Siberia in the summer and areas around the Indian Ocean in the winter. The Indus Basin in particular is a major route for birds, known as the Indus Flyway. Four million birds used to travel along it every year. There are several major stopover sites for migratory birds in Pakistan, particularly the many lakes and wetlands within the country. In addition, Pakistan is also a major destination for migratory birds traveling south in the winter, as its highlands and the Indus Delta are bountiful habitats. They usually start coming in November, peak in February, and leave by March. Birds that migrate through and to Pakistan include geese, cranes, bustards, ducks, and mallard. These annual visitors are an important part of Pakistan’s wildlife. They perform all the usual ecological roles birds play and they are also beneficial for people. For example, many birds help with agriculture by eating crop pests, spreading seeds, and pollinating plants. Without them, millions of dollars would have to be spent on pollinating plants by human hands. Migratory birds are also a big part of Pakistan’s landscape and the large numbers of them around Pakistan’s wetlands and lakes provide quite a sight. That makes them valuable for tourism and sightseeing.
However, in present times, the presence of migratory birds is suffering a serious decline in Pakistan. Many of these birds are declining overall and are becoming endangered. Some are close to extinction. Migratory birds are also choosing to avoid Pakistan and use other places as wintering grounds and stopovers. This is because of various environmental problems in Pakistan. There is widespread habitat degradation, including bodies of water decreasing and being polluted. Pakistan’s wetlands are in serious trouble and severe water depletion is occurring in Sindh and the Indus Delta. Because of water usage in Punjab, the Indus River has significantly shrunk in Sindh. Hunting and capturing of migratory birds is also rampant. Much of it is illegal but it still goes on.
Even if problems in Pakistan do not seriously affect migratory bird species because they can live elsewhere, what happens to them is a barometer of the state of environmental health in Pakistan, which ultimately affects the people of Pakistan. In addition to this is the environmental harm that Pakistan will incur if birds abandon the nation. This is what the theme of this World Migratory Bird Day is about, sustainable development for people and wildlife, exemplified by the slogan “Their Future is Our Future.” This occasion should therefore motivate Pakistanis to become more environmentally conscious and more importantly, more environmentally active, and to realize that their country prospers if its environment is protected. Not only should we observe World Migratory Bird Day this year,we should continue to do so. The occasion this year should not just be an event celebrated but should bring change. Our nation, which is a signatory to CMS, should start doing more to protect migratory birds and our environment in general.
International Efforts on Migratory Bird Conservation
However, the change that Pakistan needs is not just confined to Pakistan itself. The status of migratory birds serves not only as a reminder of the environmental problems a certain region faces but reminds us also that everything on Earth is interconnected and that environmental degradation anywhere is a threat to environmental prosperity everywhere. Many of the migratory birds of Pakistan are declining because of problems they face in all their habitats. One example is the Siberian Crane, a large bird that spends the summer in Siberia and winters in Pakistan, besides other places, but is critically endangered because of habitat destruction across its range, especially the damming of the Yangtze River in China. For their own interest, the people of Pakistan should be concerned about the state of environmental affairs in China. For one thing, our Indus River originates from there. Not only does the decline of birds caused by what is happening elsewhere impact Pakistan, but it represents the general environmental problems across Asia and how they impact Pakistan as well.
These problems will have to be solved by international efforts. Migratory bird conservation is one of those issues which can bring different countries together, which can bring the world in general together. But there are always problems in bringing countries together. Natural phenomena like the migration of wild birds always transcends any manmade borders or political constructs, but our collective attempts to safeguard these features of nature can be hampered by our political, economic, or social differences. The majority of countries may be willing to work alongside others in protecting the environment, but there could always be a non-cooperative country whose territory is important for migratory birds.
A country may not be environmentally-conscious and be unwilling to exert effort or make sacrifices on behalf of wild animals such as by restricting development and leaving aside certain areas for wildlife. A country may be suffering from conditions that make it difficult for people inside to focus on conservation or work in conservation, especially in the area of habitat preservation. A country could be underdeveloped or dealing with severe poverty. It could be unstable and conflict-ridden. Finally, animosity, distrust, or isolation between nations can hamper the international issue of bird conservation
Despite such issues, the conservation of migratory birds, and other environmental concerns that cross borders, is also an opportunity to foster cooperation and friendship between nations. It makes people from different countries, from different cultures and places, come together, interact with each other, visit each other’s homelands, and help each other. This promotes cross-cultural harmony and awareness. And if these different countries have differences with each other, political, religious, ideological, or otherwise, they may learn to put their differences aside if they consider working together on environmental issues. This is because they will learn that no matter what they think of each other, all countries and all human beings live on the same planet and are provided for by the natural environments of the same planet. This is what we all have in common, that we have the same home, and the most important priority for us is to take care of the environment that sustains us in order that we may continue to live and prosper. That need transcends all the little disputes that we have and requires that we all work together and live in harmony. Migratory birds may be the best way to encourage all nations and all clans to become aware of this, for when we look at how they are inhabitants of the whole world, we realize that the human race is too.
Thus is the focus of this year’s World Migratory Bird Day, “Their Future is our Future- A Healthy Planet for Migratory Birds and People,” and ultimately, it may prove to be about us just as much as the birds.

Happy Birthday, Dr. Edhi!

Today is the (supposed) birthday of one of the most remarkable humanitarians ever, Abdul Sattar Edhi. He passed away on 8 July, 2016 at the age of 88 and would have turned 89 now. His charitable organization, the Edhi Foundation, is one of the most prominent in South Asia and is all the more remarkable by virtue of the destitute circumstances in which it formed and grew. Edhi’s life has been so pure and so devoted to helping the needy that he is almost considered a saint. Most large-scale charities are formed and run by people who possess considerable wealth. But Abdul Sattar Edhi lived in grinding poverty when he started his charitable work and continued to be poor for a long time afterwards. It was a case of the needy being helped by one of their own. How Edhi managed to provide so much for others while having so little himself can be considered one of humanity’s great feats.
Edhi’s beginnings were so grounded in poverty that even his date of birth is unknown. Edhi said that he was born between 1926 and ’28. After his death, media reports suggested that he was born on January 1, 1928, but more recent reports suggest it was February 28 of that year. Hence February 28 is being formally celebrated now. It is known that he was born in Gujarat. His mother instilled in him a charitable mindset. She would give him 1 paisa so he could buy food for himself and another paisa to give to a beggar. When he was eleven, calamity struck his family when his mother was paralyzed by a stroke. He had to care for her for years afterwards, and the experience he gained from looking after his mother shaped his vision of life. His mother died when he was 19 and shortly thereafter, he moved to the newly created nation of Pakistan during Partition.
He witnessed and himself went through the enormous violence and suffering that marked Partition. When he arrived in Karachi and settled there, he noticed how much poverty was in the city and how little the authorities were doing to help the needy. He at first had to establish a means of living for himself and started work in a market and took to selling cloth. He soon bought a small room for himself where he established a dispensary to care for the needy, using donations that he sought personally all over the city. In 1951, he founded the Edhi Foundation to provide 24-hour medical assistance in Karachi. In 1957, Karachi suffered from a worldwide influenza outbreak and Edhi managed to acquire a lot of donations to provide a remarkable amount of assistance to people to protect and treat them. Afterwards, a large donation from a rich businessman allowed Edhi to buy a van which he drove around as an ambulance. During this time, Edhi expanded the scope of his work beyond Karachi.
Since then, the Edhi Foundation has grown from private donations. It now hosts the world’s biggest volunteer ambulance service. It has established clinics for the disabled, the mentally ill, and the sick. It runs orphanages, women’s shelters, maternity wards, rehabilitation centers, and a variety of other welfare services. The Edhi Foundation has dealt with crises and calamities all across Pakistan, from traffic accidents to earthquakes to terror attacks. Its ambulances, which are world-renowned, have shown a spotless record of timely performance during emergencies. It has engaged in humanitarian work in many parts of the world from Ethiopia to the United States. The organization has consistently carried out its work in the face of countless challenges, including opposition from Islamic fundamentalist groups. Eidhi always maintained a humble lifestyle with his wife, Bilquis, a nurse at his dispensary whom he married in 1965 and who always worked faithfully by his side, and his four children. He lived in an apartment near the headquarters of the Edhi Foundation and wore simple clothing.
He lived a long life of helping humanity. In 2013, he started suffering from a kidney disease. It was later announced that he needed a kidney donation to survive but this never came. His last wish was that his organs be donated but after his death, the corneas turned out to be the only suitable parts of his body. The Edhi Foundation continues to function after his death as before, receiving a generous flow of donations.
Edhi had many qualities that enabled him to do what he did. He was selfless. He was hardworking – and in addition to all this, he was brilliant. The Edhi Foundation sprouted against all odds because of his guidance, his ingenuity and resourcefulness. We should closely study the work he did because it may hold valuable lessons for us. The amazing and inspiring facts about this man’s life are endless. His life is perhaps the most remarkable among humanitarians and yet it is comparatively underappreciated.
Today, on what is now accepted to be his birthday, the world has taken a step to fostering recognition of him through a Google doodle honoring his life’s work. It is an image on the homepage of the worldwide tech giant which depicts him, one of his ambulances, an open book, his pet dog, and a mother and child outside a clinic. People in the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Japan, Ireland, Denmark, Iceland, Portugal, Estonia, and Pakistan can see this image. This will no doubt increase the standing of the Edhi Foundation worldwide. The Edhi Foundation is not just for Pakistan, it is for the world as well. As one of the most consistent and efficient charities in the world, the world should give more assistance to it. Even if the foundation cannot take care of the whole world, Edhi’s ideals can help all of humanity if we only learn from him. The Edhi Foundation has a bright future ahead of it and we should work with it to create a brighter future for all of us. Along the way, we must never forget the man who may well be among the greatest humanitarians of modern times.

Express Tribune Blog Titled Back to Obama

This is my article, titled Back to Obama, published in the Express Tribune Blog on January 22, 2017.

In just a few days, America and the world will have to say goodbye to an era that we have known for eight years, the presidency of Barack Obama. It will give way to a radically different and unorthodox presidency, which makes the change all the heavier. Barack Obama should utilize most of the time that he has left, and so should we. As we do so and as we await the inauguration of Donald Trump, we need to look back and see how the eight years of the Obama Administration have been, what he has done and what he has accomplished, and figure out what his legacy will be.
Obama presided over America during one of the tougher periods in its history. The previous eight years of the administration of George W. Bush was turbulent, with a significant threat of terrorism materializing and long-running wars which were bearing little fruit. Then, at the end of the administration, a major recession struck America’s economy. Barack Obama inherited all this and his job for the next four years was to turn America’s problems around. He also wanted to bring all kinds of other improvements to American society.
The economy was the most pressing issue for him. He responded within his first one hundred days by signing into law a stimulus package called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Its most immediate goal was to save and create jobs. Obama request to get another stimulus bill enacted in December 2009 was unheeded. With the automobile industry being among the sectors worst affected by the recession, Obama launched a bailout of car-making companies. Many believe this saved General Motors and Chrysler, two corporations very important to America’s economy, from bankruptcy. The economy worsened during Obama’s term until October 2009, when the unemployment rate reached 10.1 percent. However, an unprecedented recovery hereafter resulted in the unemployment rate being cut by more than half by December. 2010 also saw rapid growth in the economy which slowed in the latter parts of the year, and the economy grew at a steady and slow pace until 2014. While Obama has not succeeded much in improving the economy, many argue that he prevented America from sinking into much worse conditions in the earliest days of his administration.
One of his major early initiatives was to overhaul America’s healthcare system and insure affordable healthcare for all Americans, something he focused on after he was through with the stimulus bill. The big dream of his presidency came true with the passing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, on March 23, 2010. One of its goals was to extend health insurance and make healthcare more affordable. This was one of Obama’s most challenged policies but it has succeeded in reducing significantly the number of Americans without health insurance by twenty million, although another twenty million are still without health insurance. Obamacare has survived intense opposition since it was passed, such as endless repeal attempts by Republicans and two major challenges by the Supreme Court.
Regarding the most important issue in foreign policy, the War on Terror began a slow die-down under Obama. He opposed the Iraq War during his 2008 presidential campaign and while he was in office, a program of withdrawing American troops progressed until all had left except embassy guards by the end of 2011. However, this was in accordance with an agreement signed by George W. Bush when he was president and Obama cannot really therefore take much credit except for presiding over the success of the endeavor. Later on in 2014, Obama had to return American soldiers to Iraq to fight the insurgency of ISIS, which is ongoing with no clear end in sight.
In Afghanistan, however, Obama increased the number of troops during his first year in response to a deteriorating situation with the insurgency. He then said that he would soon end the war and start withdrawing US troops in July 2011. In 2012, the US signed a deal with Afghanistan to slowly start handing the war over to the local military. Obama said all US troops except for embassy guards will leave Afghanistan by the end of 2016. However, although US involvement in Afghanistan largely decreased by the start of 2015, Obama later decided to indefinitely keep troops there in combat operations. There are now about 8,400 US soldiers in Afghanistan as Obama leaves office and the Afghanistan War is ongoing as America’s longest war ever.
One of the highest points of Barack Obama’s administration is to preside over something that the United States tried its hardest to do for ten years, bring justice to Osama bin Laden, who masterminded the September 11, 2001 attacks against the United States, the worst terror attack in world history. It meant accomplishing what was arguably the main goal of the War on Terror, creating hope that the war could soon be concluded. But while Obama played a big role in the search that found bin Laden and authorized the raid, it was not like another policy he was pushing or something he was mostly doing on his own, so it may not be considered a big part of his legacy.
A considerable achievement in foreign policy was Obama’s work regarding one of the biggest problems in international relations, fears over Iran’s nuclear program. Iran was a theocratic, hardline Muslim nation hostile to the West and to Israel and it was working to develop nuclear power. As this would enable Iran to build nuclear weapons, it made its enemies very nervous, especially Israel, which once launched a military strike on Iraq’s nuclear program when Saddam Hussein was ruling. After more than a year of negotiations, Iran finally in July 2015 agreed on a deal with the big five powers of the UN, Germany, and the European Union to limit its nuclear activities, such as by eliminating medium enriched uranium and by not building heavy water facilities, in exchange for easing of nuclear related sanctions. The International Atomic Energy Agency would have full access to all Iranian nuclear facilities to inspect in order to monitor Iran’s compliance. Obama played a significant role in this deal as the participation of the United States was crucial.
Many of Obama’s achievements were to bring change to situations that lasted a long time, and one of the longest was the US embargo of Cuba. Since 1961, as part of the Cold War, the US put the nearest communist country under an intense economic blockade and diplomatic shut-off and this continued after the Cold War ended. The US and Cuba held secret talks starting in early 2013 and in December 2014, Obama restored diplomatic relations with Cuba. The two countries’ opened their embassies for the first time in more than fifty years in August 2015.
Obama did not take the issue of gun ownership in the US in much consideration during his first term, but after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, in which twenty children died, which occurred before he was re-inaugurated, he made it a central policy of his to increase gun control so people will be less likely to engage in gun violence. He urged Congress to carry out various restrictions, particularly a ban on assault weapons. However, not a single major gun control bill passed Congress under Obama and the Senate blocked a gun control program by two senators as well. This was due to the enormous influence of gun rights activists. Gun rights in fact increased while Obama was president and he signed two bills that allowed people to carry guns on Amtrak trains and in national parks (where, evidently, the fear of gun violence is not high). Since the goal of all this is to reduce gun violence, which everybody can agree on (while they cannot agree on whether gun rights should be restricted), Obama’s success in this regard should be measured by how much gun violence, not ownership, has been reduced. That has not happened either and mass shootings have occurred regularly since 2012. It is a fail for Obama.
Illegal immigration has long been a huge issue for the US because of the country’s to the barely-controllable movement of people from Latin America, especially Mexico, into the United States. There are two main measures that the US takes in regard with this problem, preventing people from entering and deporting them if they are caught having entered at any point in the past. Obama from the start called for immigration reform that focused on easing down the latter. Many of his attempts were blocked, but one that was successfully passed in 2012 was to protect illegals from deportation if they came in before their sixteenth birthday. That same year, though, saw a record rise in deportations, which then died down during Obama’s second term. Meanwhile, the number of illegal immigrants in the US has stabilized during his presidency.
Another serious issue was the selling of drugs in the United States. This was closely tied with the above issue because both most of the illegal drugs and most of the illegal immigrants in the United States came from the same place, south of the border, and the easier illegal immigration was, the easier drug smuggling was. US efforts against drugs were so extensive that they took on almost the form of a war. Again, Obama called for leniency. US prisons were brimming as many believed the nation was going too far in punishing those who sold drugs. Obama was generally successful in passing laws to ease the war on drugs and he also commuted the sentences of 1,000 drug offenders. As a result of all this, Obama is set on being the first president since the 1960s under whom the federal prison population decreased. But one should also look at the rates of people suffering from drug usage in America, for they should also define his legacy.
Obama has been a very environmentally conscious president. The rest of the government has not been, however, and he has had trouble passing bills to protect the planet. The use of coal, which is a particularly dirty energy source, declined while he was president, which was encouraged by some regulations he imposed. He got around a stubborn Congress by getting the EPA to work for a reduction in carbon emissions by America. The environmental degradation- fighting duo unveiled their grand plan, the Clean Power Act, in different steps in 2014 and 2015. The final version by Obama put a national limit on carbon emissions for the first time. The goal of the plan is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 28 percent by 2030. In order to assess this part of Obama’s legacy, we will have to wait until then.
With most Republicans, and some other people, hostile to Obama’s environmental policies on the grounds that they conflict with the economy, Obama found greater success outside the country. He participated in 2009 in the Copenhagen Accords which provided for monitoring of greenhouse gas emissions by developing countries. He made a deal with China in 2014 for that country to halt the rising of its carbon emission by 2030 while the US would have the aforementioned Clean Power Act, paving the way for wider agreements among nations. Obama’s biggest green achievement came with the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris in late 2015. The meeting ended with the historic Paris Agreement in which nearly all countries agreed to a commitment to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The US, as well as China, played the most important role in the agreement and it is believed Obama’s EPA plan and deal with China made the Paris Agreement possible. It is one of Obama’s great achievements, but for this part of his legacy to truly bear fruit, we will have to wait and see how much the signatory countries reduce their carbon footprint.
Right from the start, one of Obama’s most widely acclaimed achievements was becoming president in the first place. Every single president before was white and of northern European descent. Obama was the first African American president and that in a nation which long suppressed the ability of black people to succeed and in barely discernible ways still continues to do so. But more than that was needed. When Obama won his first election, people hoped his administration would improve race relations in the US. But under his administration, several racial issues started to emerge, some of which people saw as a reaction to his being president. But the most severe issue was the law’s approval of violence towards black people, starting with the shooting of Travyon Martin in 2012 and continuing in 2016 with several police killings. Obama was deeply concerned with Travyon’s death but it was not until 2014 that he freely talked about issues faced by blacks and other racial minorities in the US. Race relations are now viewed by many Americans to be in dire straits. As Obama leaves office, America appears to be descending into increasing racial tension, whether it is his fault or the fault of the nation.
A great problem faced often by American presidents is that they are not dictators. They have considerable power in deciding what the nation does, but most of their decision-making has to contend with the legislative branch of government (and the judicial branch if they go too far), filled with a wide variety of people with different opinions. If these people belong to the party Obama belongs to, they are the most likely to agree with him. The general elections of 2008 ended with Democratic dominance in the legislative branch, with majorities in both houses of Congress, a favorable condition for Obama. But in the 2010 mid-term elections, Republicans scored a major upset, increasing their seats in the Senate and taking over the House of Representatives. The new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, was greatly opposed to Obamacare. In the 2012 general elections, Democratic seats increased in both houses of Congress but the House was still in the hands of the Republicans, so Obama remained in the same hard situation. It got worse in 2014 when Republicans took over the Senate as well, giving them the power to block Obama from appointing people to judicial and executive positions. The Republican Party was generally opposed to Obama’s policies, preventing him from doing much of what he wanted to do and generally being a more successful president.
One can say that Obama did well under such conditions. But it is not just a matter of how he did when he was president but whether what he did will continue to stand. And Obama’s legacy now stands to come under severe threat due to the rise of Donald Trump. The very fact that Donald Trump became the Republican frontrunner and then the nominee in the 2016 election and his popularity is an indicator of Obama failing in many aspects. Donald Trump and his crowd stand for the opposite of everything Obama stood for. Most of all, they seem to be a repudiation of Obama’s commitment to tolerance and diversity. The failures of Obama in uplifting the country may have driven so many to support Trump, who supports a new kind of change. Too much of the people of America have rejected Obama in the highest way possible.
And where Obama did succeed, it is all likely to be undone. During his campaign, Trump wanted to repeal Obamacare right away. He opposed belief in global warming and wanted to repeal the Clean Power Act and withdraw from the Paris Agreement. He went far in the other direction on illegal immigrants, saying all illegal immigrants would be deported immediately. He supported gun rights. All this was while the Republican Party (which Trump has little controversy with beyond old Access Hollywood tapes) retain their dominance in the legislative branch. The America Obama built seems set to be destroyed.
But when Trump won the election, things started to change. He declared that there was “some connectivity” between human activity and climate change and that he had an “open mind” towards the Paris Agreement. He said that he would only repeal some parts of Obamacare. He toned down his anti-immigrant stance. It appears that Donald Trump is backtracking on his promises. He would not be the first politician to do so, but from Obama’s point of view, it would be a very positive thing. Trump, like him, may not end up being as complete a force for change as promised and he may also have entered a more tolerant phase that is reconciliatory of Obama’s legacy. And when a president has ruled for eight years, reversing everything he has done cannot be easy, especially if done immediately.
Obama’s legacy is of a man who tried. And it is a legacy which has a very uncertain future.

Clarification of my Express Tribune blog dated 22 January, 2017, titled Back to Obama

The Express Tribune published an article of mine called Back to Obama. In it, it said that all the American presidents before Obama traced their descent to Northern Europe. Northern Europe has more than one definition and one of them covers only Scandinavia, the Baltic States, and Finland, from where none of the presidents originate. I want to make it clear that I mean the northern half of Europe, including Britain, the Netherlands, and Germany.

America’s New President

Donald Trump is now the 45 president of the United States of America. Barack Obama, after leading the country for eight years, is now an ordinary civilian. It is Trump’s first full day in office and already, his presidency is eventful. He has taken his first steps to undermine Obamacare and massive protests are taking place against him in America and around the world. I believe it is emblematic of what Trump’s term as president is going to be like and if I am to make a prediction about what his first 100 days will be like, it is that he will be very busy and there will be a lot of tensions.

Trump is a radical president and is likely to create major changes. What those changes will be is what makes so many people so apprehensive. But as we look ahead to an uncertain four years, we should remember that we all have a part to play in the running of the world and we can work for the changes that we want. And now may be the time when it is most important for people to get active.

Inaugurating the New President

Eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency are going to come to an end. We will now witness the ushering in of a new period in the most powerful country on Earth, the United States of America, and it is a very important change. President-Elect Donald Trump’s inauguration is coming, a series of ceremonies marking his transformation into the new president.
Normally, it is an exciting event (it most certainly was for Obama’s first term), but the nation is less enthusiastic about the upcoming one than normal. Many musicians have refused to perform at the inauguration, politicians are boycotting it, and many demonstrations and protests are planned to occur alongside it. But the inauguration is still an important event and we need to decide how we go through it in order to help determine what the future of the country under Trump will be.
One of the most important parts of the inauguration is the inaugural speech, Donald Trump’s first speech as President of the United States. It is the introduction he will give us to his term as president. Generally, in an inaugural speech, the new president outlines his basic vision or his basic plans for the country and gives a message to stir or uplift the people and inspire them, invoking something about the country and not his administration. Donald Trump has his speech ready. He says that he wrote it some time ago and that it will be short and simple.
As Donald enters office facing historic opposition from broad swathes of society, we should consider that words can have great power and that what he says can significantly change people’s opinion of him. It is possible for a leader to say something so radical and unique that it causes a huge shift in public thinking, that it sways the mind of almost everybody, and also that it turns people’s thoughts in a new direction. All that is needed is for it to be thought up and that can require a great deal of creativity. For communication with their fellow man and the expressing of ideas are among the most creative and imaginative of endeavors people can engage themselves in.
Saying that, I will give my own suggestions as to what President Donald Trump should say in his inaugural. I hope he reads this in time and incorporates these ideas into his speech at the last minute. A proper inaugural speech for Trump is a considerable task to create because of how bitter and divided the country is currently and how badly the people are in need of something to uplift them and calm them and bring them together.
National unity is already expected to be a main theme in Trump’s speech (and has been in most inaugurals, since, after all, elections rarely see the entire nation getting together and agreeing on the same thing). All sorts of issues divide Americans. They overtly are generally political in nature but are mostly social issues in their core, since politics is about governing and guiding society. So, when the masses argue about what party should be in power and what politician should be in a certain office and what legislation should be passed, they are usually arguing about issues that affect their personal lives, often in immensely important ways. That is what makes people so passionate about politics and also bitter and divided over it.
Donald Trump should emphasize the endeavors that bring people of a nation together. America has been from the start been made great by virtue of its political achievements, but it also has been made great by the technological pursuits of its people, the scientific pursuits, the cultural pursuits, what people have built and continue to build. Donald Trump should emphasize them as a way to move the country forward and to make America great again, for that was how America was great. Trump should declare that the productivity of Americans must be encouraged.
So, however, should be their political mindset. For the political system of America is what allows its citizens to flourish so. The freedoms insured by the Constitution are the nation’s most important assets and enable all Americans to follow all their dreams and their pursuits. The political system is what also protects the people and ensures for them a sufficient lifestyle. So Americans must be kept mindful of politics and be kept engaged with the political processes as they engage in other pursuits in life as well.
President Trump should offer words that soothe the American people after they had to go through one of the nation’s most tumultuous and bitter election campaigns and a transition period that also saw its share of stress and now face a future which is likely to be similar. Maybe he should talk about something light-hearted. For example, he can encourage the people to take a rest from the election and take a break from the political issues by getting focused on something else, one of the aforementioned non-political pursuits that Americans are good at. One example would be to wait for and see the movies that are upcoming. Perhaps he should also encourage the country to make 2017 or the next year a great year in film.
Finally, to soothe tensions and bring people together, it would be a good idea for Trump to emphasize that this is less about him and his administration and more about the country and that people from all swathes of society, not just the president, are important to the running and the well-being of the country.
Perhaps one of my readers can help me get to the Trump team and share this with Trump in case it inspires him in any way in time for the speech. Besides what is written here, I have some particular great ideas that he can put in his speech and the Trump team can contact me and ask me to share with them what they are.
I hope such ideas can help Trump to give a great speech and to run a great administration and ultimately make America great again. There have been many great moments in inaugural speeches. The famous lines, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” and, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country,” were spoken while presidents Roosevelt and Kennedy were delivering thus. Maybe in Trump’s inaugural there will also be a line or two that will be stirring and inspiring enough to make it into the history books.

The December Solstice, a Special Day

Today is December 21, 2016, the December Solstice. It is a special day because it means we have left 10 more days of 2016 and 30 more days of the Obama Administration. We should consider how we are to make the most of what is left of these two periods which we could end up missing, if only briefly, and figure out how to prepare for 2017 and for the Presidency of Donald Trump. How will we spend 2017, and what will life be like under a Trump Administration? These are both important questions in their own ways.