Circadian rhythm and heliotropism

Best wishes for Greta Thunberg

Guest Feature

February 5, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Circadian rhythm and heliotropism

Greta Thunberg effigies burned in Delhi after tweets on farmers' protests

Greta Thunberg’s recent tweets on issues distant from her homeland go in line with her past record of making statements on all issues that can grab headlines. May be she should look at situation closer at home and make a difference to the cause that she stands up for.

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Have you heard of circadian rhythm and heliotropism? These phrases are the scientific terminologies to describe the behaviour of a sunflower in the fields. The sunflower turns to be always facing the Sun.

Greta Thunberg, who turned 18 just about a month back on January 2021, really looks like a nice little sunflower. Her head turns where there is a flash of light. Media, like bees and insects swarming to sunflower, get super-frenzy and are attracted to the sunflower with more camera flashing around Greta.

No one can doubt the passion of Greta for her campaign calling for super-urgent actions on climate change. She cared a damn for scolding by the teachers from her school which she bunked under ‘Friday for Future’ and ‘strike for climate’ slogans. She, however, regularly admonished world leaders from the podium on the United Nations Platforms for not doing their homework. World leaders, tired of the embellished and ornate speeches of their colleagues, found her scolding amusing. They heard her with their own shade of hidden smiles. The media too, weary of cyclic reporting on climate change, took to her sunflowery face and unconventional rebukes to heads of the states in UN conferences. They dotted it further by highlighting and headlining the pelting of phrases from her like ‘how dare you’ and reported profusely on Greta.

After all, asking the younger generation to speak in the UN right at the beginning of conferences has been the disruptive practices for a quite long time now particularly in the multilateral environmental conferences that have difficult agenda and unsuccessful track-record. Greta is just about a newly found Scandinavian face for climate change meetings with a smart tactical voice.

Addicted to heliotropism, Greta’s penchant for camera-flash has, however, proved to be absurd. Turn the page backwards to the year 2019. United Nations climate change conference-COP25-was originally planned to be held in Santiago in Chile in December 2019. However, at short notice, it was declared that COP25 would move to Madrid, Spain, because of massive country-wide unrest in Chile.

The unrest in Chile had its roots in the rise in the fare of the metro but soon protests by millions of citizens spread, angered over the increased cost of living, privatisation and inequality. The Chilean economy was smothering for a long time. Many attribute the unrest indirectly to climate change that has a ripple effect on the economy. But Greta did not utter a word about those protests and created a scene that would allow a focus and flash of camera on her. She was in the USA at that time and refused to fly to Madrid for COP25 as air travel meant higher carbon emissions. So she took a ride across the Atlantic Ocean in a yacht. In reality, air travel emissions are hardly 2.5 pc of global emissions. But she played a stunt with flash and heliotropism in mind. She also gave her typical official message to the media when she started from the USA, “My message to the Americans is the same as to everyone – that is to unite behind the science and to act on the science”. Well, the message is right but given in the wrong circumstances. She had an opportunity to send message to the Chilean government by supporting the protesting citizens of Chile and signal to the world that the root cause of the unrests is hidden in climate change!

Greta Thunberg arrived in Lisbon, Portugal and then went to Madrid by train. No one asked about emissions due to the train journey. After all her journey in the yacht was just symbolic, right? She declared in Madrid that her campaign of  ‘Friday for Future’ had achieved nothing. Green House Gas-GHG-Emissions globally increased by 4 pc since 2015, when she was 12, when she was squirming to do ‘something’ for climate change. As she grew, it is not known on how many occasions she used Twitter to condemn violence in Syria, Afghanistan, France, Russia, Belarus, Hongkong and north-east of China. But now that she is fully in heliotropism and enjoying the flashes, she would certainly indulge in that.

Greta forgot that the reason for the continued rise of GHGs lies in the way rich countries, including Sweden and Norway function. Clearly, she had not done her homework well, and she did not get reprimanded as she was not attending the school!

The latest ranking of the countries as per the level of implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement, done by CCPI -Climate Change Performance Index- shows that India for the second time in succession was within the first 10 countries. So also Sweden and Norway.

Rightly, Sweden, as well as Norway, also have been within first 10 ranks as regards reduction in the emissions and use of non-fossil fuel technologies. But there are ‘emission leakages’ that are not evident. Greta could have raised this issue in her own home country and close neighbour and succeeded in sealing those leaks to prove to the world that her ‘Friday for Future’ is not just about strikes but to achieve notable emission reduction.

A report, released about a year back by the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation stated that the Swedish government annually offered export credits worth millions of dollars to fossil fuel operations abroad. The intention is to promote Sweden’s export industry. In 2018, the Swedish government’s gross lending for such purpose including for fossil fuel-dependent infrastructure abroad was hefty USD 2 billion. The Swedish government-backed export credit system runs counter to the Paris Climate Agreement. The Swedish government’s ambition to make Sweden the world’s first fossil-free welfare state sounds perforated with invisible leaks. Apart from negative impacts on environments and on populations in the countries abroad, such credits also risk a lock-in to inefficient, fossil fuel-reliant technologies in the importing countries. Greta Thunberg could first ask the question ‘how dare you’ to her own government and not interfere in the sovereignty of the other countries and sing the tunes of unrelated matters to attract flash. Greta could get some credibility if she can make Sweden give up such a credit system that contribute to major investments in fossil fuel projects abroad.

Norway is the clinging neighbour of Sweden. And its story under climate change takes more obvious kink. Norway is known to have an ambition of transforming all new cars sold in the country to be electric cars by 2025. But Norway’s massive ‘electric ambition’ does not mean that it is becoming non-fossil fuel country. Experts observe a striking contradiction in Norway’s climate policy.

Norway wants to be off the fossil fuels, however, it will remain huge oil producer, nearly all of it is for export. This situation makes Norway carbon-neutral at home, but carbon positive abroad. It is like pushing pollution abroad by exporting waste. It has been reported that armed with the state subsidies, the Norwegian oil company Statoil is exploring the gas and oil fields in the Arctic, again all for export.

Greta Thunberg can focus her boundless energy to work on these contradictions in her neighbourhood first that make developing countries carbon positive. Stockholm Institute of Environment in Sweden, Greta’s home, found that emissions from Norway’s oil exports in 2021 will be 10 times as much as Norway’s domestic carbon emissions. Clearly, Greta needs some school holidays to meditate on these dilemmas.

Greta has entered into uncharted and unknown territory for her by resorting to recent Twitter exchanges. In reality, the  Indian government, engaged in well-recognised and tireless efforts to address climate change, has already given the concession to farmers on their demands of allowing to burn agricultural residue in Punjab and Haryana, which contributes to deadly air pollution and 1.7 million deaths in India as per Lancet report of 2020. This figure is much more than the deaths so far caused in India by Covid-19. Water availability to the population there is another serious question due to the underground water pumped-up for the unsustainable agriculture. Greta and Sweden can play a role to make farmers aware of their environmentally damaging practices

Let us wish that Greta matures faster. It is interesting to note, and not many are aware that when Sunflower matures, its circadian rhythm and heliotropism decreases. Let then Greta’s energy goes at the right place at the right time to mitigate climate change and not get divested in seeking a flash.

The author is chairman TERRE, IIT Alumnus and former director UNEP (The views expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Media India Group.)

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