Hind Al-Abadleh

On the Recovery of the Ozone Layer

Climate Change
Climate Change

By Hind Al-Abadleh,

Reading the news headlines1 on September 10, 2014 about the start of recovery of the ozone layer over Antarctica cheered my heart as someone who teaches about the chemistry of the ozone hole and the role that chloroflourocarbons (CFCs) played in speeding up the destruction of this ‘shield’ gas up in the stratosphere.

To place this news in the context of environmental history:

In 1974, it was scientifically established that CFCs –used in fridges, radiators, spray cans, and air conditions- are agents that can destroy stratospheric ozone, and it was 13 years after that the Montreal Protocol was established for a total global ban on the production of CFCs by the late 1990s.

This protocol is one of a kind international treaty by politicians, hosted by Canada, that sent the right message to the people of the Earth that governments care about the ozone layer.  It also sent the signal to the industry that manufactured the CFCs that you need to innovate and come up with chemicals that have useful applications to society, but would not cause environmental degradation.  In effect, the treaty revoked the social and political licenses given to industrial sectors that made the CFCs.

We’re in 2014 now, 40 years after the science was established, and 27 years after the Montreal protocol was signed.  It is in September 2014 that reports of the first signs of recovery of the ozone layer are reported.  Why? Because CFCs have a very long lifetime in the atmosphere (140 years for CFC-12 known commercially as Freon 12 or R-12), even after stopping their emissions.  This is why we’re still experiencing ozone loss in Antarctica every winter and spring time in the Southern hemisphere.  While full recovery is projected to happen in 2050, the impacts from global climate change on ozone loss are still uncertain.

Take home messages:

  • Nature has its own recovery time that is on the order of decades when humans acknowledge their negative disturbance of natural equilibrium and gather the political will and courage to act and stop further degradation of natural ecosystems.
  • Governments take a relatively long time to formulate and enforce regulations on industrial emissions.  Why?  Because they’d rather (1) wait for a significant body of scientific data to come through rather than following a precautionary principle of ‘better be safe than sorry’ when new man-made substances are manufactured and dumped irresponsibly, and (2) have unsatisfied and frustrated citizens who demand action on environmental issues that affect people on the ground.

How could we use the above success story to understand the most pressing environmental issue of our time, global climate change?  Again, a bit of environmental history would be useful:

In 1957, increasing CO2 buildup was reported as ‘surprising’ by scientists at the Scripps Oceanographic Institute working on international geophysical year projects.

In 1979, the first major international climate science conference was held in Geneva, which led to the creation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)  in 1988.  In 2013, the IPCC started releasing reports on their fifth assessment of the status of the climate.  They announced that the planet has warmed about 0.8 deg C since the beginning of the 20th century, and that CO2 buildup is happening at a faster rate than previously projected.2

There is no debate among scientists that humans are the main driving force behind a changing climate. We are currently experiencing the disruption and impacts3: faster rates of melting ice caps, ocean acidification, depletion of fresh water resources, increased severity of storms, floods and droughts with impacts on crop production, in addition to rising surface and atmospheric temperatures.

One could argue that the success story of saving the ozone layer through the Montreal Protocol is hard to replicate for solving global climate change because the industries and consumer products that were dependent on CFCs represent a much smaller sector than the gigantic fossil fuel industry that underlies our current way of life in the 21st century.

This very statement could either depress us to no action, or motivate us to rethink our current value system to innovate our way out of a fossil fuel era.  After all, humanity did not transition from the stone age because of lack of stones!  Similarly, we have the potential to transition from a fossil fuel-dependent civilization without burning every drop of oil in the ground.  It was refreshing to read about a new fossil fuel divestment group in Canada, called “Fossil Free Faith-Canada’s Interfaith Divestment Network”4 that “aims to be a source of support and resources for Canadian faith communities and their members who are committed to or considering climate action, especially around fossil fuel divestment and clean energy reinvestment.

We’re now in 2014 (57 years after reporting CO2 buildup).  Governments of the world have met many times, 4 since 2007, in Bali, Copenhagen, Cancun and Qatar, and left with no concrete steps on how to move forward.

Determined not to lose hope and motivated to work to send a loud message to politicians, people from all walks of life will be marching on September 21 during the 2014 UN Climate Summit meetings taking place in New York City.  The ‘People’s Climate March’5 is being planned by hundreds of coordinated efforts among hundreds of social and environmental non-governmental and non-profit organizations.

Peoples Climate March
Peoples Climate March

Marches around the world will also take place outside the U.S. during September as well.  The demands are clear5: “a world with an economy that works for people and the planet; a world safe from the ravages of climate change; a world with good jobs, clean air and water, and healthy communities.”  The film, Distruption,6 features leading scientists, historians, activists and faith-based leaders and documents the planning and calls to join the largest people’s march for the climate in the history of human beings.

These critical times in history challenge us to rethink who we are, where we’re going, and what ideals and ethical principles we struggle to live up to.  It is incumbent that we stand on the right side of history as concerned people who are empowered by scientific knowledge and rich inherited and collective human wisdom.

References:

1 http://www.nasa.gov/content/goddard/international-action-against-ozone-depleting-substances-yields-significant-gains/index.html

2 https://www.wmo.int/pages/mediacentre/press_releases/pr_1002_en.html

3 ‘What We Know’ initiative on Climate Change from AAAS:http://whatweknow.aaas.org/get-the-facts/

4 http://fossilfreefaith.ca

5 http://peoplesclimate.org

6 http://watchdisruption.com

Hind Al-Abadleh is an Associate Professor of Chemistry at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, ON.  She could be reached via email: halabadleh@wlu.ca

The “Muslim” response to climate change?

INDD
INDD

By: Hind Al-Abadleh

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) started releasing reports on their fifth assessment of the status of the climate starting in September 2013.  The latest report on adaptation and mitigation came out last Sunday, April 13.  The reports are the synthesis of scientific studies on climate science from field, laboratory and modeling work, which shows with greater levels of confidence that humans are the main driving force behind a changing climate.

Mainly, the high carbon, consumer-driven life style powering industrial civilizations and those aspiring to catch up are saturating the planet with the junk we continue to pump into the atmosphere.   We are currently experiencing the impacts(1): faster rates of melting ice caps, ocean acidification, depletion of fresh water resources, increased severity of storms, floods and droughts with impacts on crop production, in addition to rising surface and atmospheric temperatures.

I’ve written before(2) on how Islamic teachings provide an ethical worldview of Nature based on Quranic verses and traditions of Prophet Mohammed – PBUH.  Motivated by these teachings, and in response to the call of the IPCC for humanity to adapt and mitigate climate change, I believe that Muslims can take a leadership role in this arena.

The goal would be to reduce their carbon footprint by 40-80% as a community inspired by its faith by staring now through practical steps to be implemented in their mosques, community centres, businesses and homes:

1)    Energy conservation:  One old-fashioned way of adapting to climate change is to conserve energy.  We need to become more efficient in energy and material consumption.  In our minds and deep in our hearts, we need to connect being conscious of God (having taqwa coupled with internal accountability) with how many light switches we keep on or off and how long we keep the cars idling for no good reason.   We need to embrace behavioral changes that monitor our energy consumption everywhere we go.  Requesting energy audits to mosques, busineses and homes are necessary, and following up on the recommendations by improving insulations, and replacing old appliances with energy efficient ones, will not only save money in the long run, but also reduce carbon emissions dramatically.

2)    Smart and environmentally-friendly Sharia investments:  To keep global warming to 2 degrees this century, we need to keep 66-80% of proven fossil fuel reserves in the ground.(3)  This means that we need to burn about 20-30% strategically as transition fuels to clean energy generation.  Currently, Sharia-compliant investment firms invest in fossil fuel energy companies because oil is considered an ‘asset’ like gold and silver.  Well, if we are to truly live up to teachings of our religion, Muslim investment firms should be among the early birds in divesting from fossil fuels, and investing instead in emerging clean energy technologies likes solar and wind, and in technologies that aim to capture carbon from large point emission sources to prevent its addition to the atmosphere.

3)    Abolishing factory farming: Muslims are among the largest consumers of red meat and poultry around the world.  As a fast growing visible minority in Canada, the halal industry is expecting to grow substantially to meet their needs.(4,5)  It has been estimated that producing 1 kg of beef results in more CO2 emissions than going for a three-hour drive while leaving all the lights on at home.(6)  The root cause of the high carbon emissions is the factory farming practices driven by high consumer demands.  I’ve written before on Muslims relationship with food, and the need to care for animals’ well being and not only how they were slaughtered.(7)  This area of the economy that is driven by Muslims consumer demand for halal food present a golden opportunity to ‘vote with our wallet’ to abolish inhumane factory farming practices that are carbon-intensive, and to encourage natural and organic ways of raising animals for food.

Climate change is symptom of a disease that infected humanity at large and threatens its survival.  Inspired by a belief system that places the human being as a steward of the Earth and the rest of God’s creation, and by a rich heritage and history that embodies how a human civilization could thrive in harmony with Nature, Muslims ought to revive the spirit of their commitment to living by the message in the Quran and traditions of Prophet Muhammad –pbuh.  I sincerely pray that Allah make us from among those who reflect and follow the best of what is being said.

References:

1)    'What We Know' initiative on Climate Change from AAAS:http://whatweknow.aaas.org/get-the-facts/

2)    Through religious lens: combating climate change: http://iqra.ca/2009/through-religious-lens-combating-climate-change/

3)    Assessing “Dangerous Climate Change”: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0081648

4)    Halal in Toronto: http://vimeo.com/16597158

5)    Canadian Halal Meat Market Study:http://www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/afu9886

6)    Meat production 'beefs up emissions': http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2007/jul/19/climatechange.climatechange

7)    Our relationship with food – should we really care?’:http://iqra.ca/2011/our-relationship-with-food-–-should-we-really-care’/

Hind Al-Abadleh is an Associate Professor of Chemistry at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, ON.  She could be reached via email: halabadleh@wlu.ca

Let’s put ‘Eco’ back into Economics

suzuki_authors.jpg

By Hind Al-Abadleh

On Wednesday October 17, 2012, environmentalist Dr. David Suzuki and economist Jeff Rubin brought their eco tour to Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo.  I had the pleasure of being among the hundreds who attended the evening, which was entitled “End of Growth: How to Achieve a Truly Sustainable Future”.  The event was hosted was CTV Provincewide’s Daiene Vernile.

Rubin is one of the first economists to accurately predict soaring oil prices back in 2000.  He started by reflecting on the histories of previous world recessions post World War II and told the audience that all laws of economics point to the fact that when oil and coal prices reach 3 digits a barrel or a tonne, we’re basically feeling the contours of the growth limits of world economies.  This translates to world economies slowing down not because the tap is closed on these natural resources, but because world economies can’t afford to continue to grow with prices in the three digits.  This is good news for the environment, he said, because when world economies slow down, they combust less, and emissions go down.  Rubin elaborates on his analysis in his latest book, The End of Growth.

Following Robin, Dr. Suzuki spoke and expressed his excitement for sharing the stage with a “real economist”.  As always in his unique and inspiring style, David reminded the audience that with the number of humans as a species, their over-consuming behavior, the nature of the global economy they invented, and the use of technology, humans on this planet have become a ‘force of nature’.  He said that our priorities are screwed: instead of working to protect the very elements that make us alive (air, water, and soil), we use them as dumpsters for the toxins generated from our efforts to grow and protect the ‘economy’.  He stressed that a paradigm shift is needed where humans recognize that they are dependent on nature and can’t afford to think of themselves as superiors any more.  He ended by saying, “Let’s put ‘Eco’ back into Economics”, and shared his observation that many young people are investing time and energy into urban farming and examining the sources of the food they eat.  In his latest book, Everything Under the Sun: Toward a Brighter Future on a Small Blue Planet, David articulates his hopes for the future and offers solutions to environmental challenges.

After addressing few questions from the attendees, Laurier’s president Max Blow reflected on what was said in the evening, and thanked the speakers for their thoughts and insights that align with Laurier’s vision to ‘inspire lives of leadership and purpose’.

At the end of the event, Daiene Vernile told the audience that both gentlemen agreed to come for an interview at Province Wide on Sunday October 21, 2012.

Dr. Hind Al-Abadleh is an associate professor of Chemistry at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, ON.  She could be reached via email: halabadleh@wlu.ca

Photo credit from The Canadian Press