"What I need is perspective. The illusion of depth, created by a frame, the arrangement of shapes on a flat surface. Perspective is necessary. Otherwise, there are only two dimensions. Otherwise, you live in the moment. Which is not where I want to be." ― Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale
I could smell the smoke. I could see the dark, gloomy skies filled with the burned remnants of our world. What I didn’t understand the magnitude of the damage. So, whenever I can’t understand something, I need to get out to someplace where I can pause, reflect, and reassess what I have been experiencing.
Marine Headlands are my favorite getaway. Hawk Hill is a location with a grand vista. Point Bonita Lighthouse is another stop that makes me appreciate the splendor of San Francisco and the majesty of the Pacific. On a typical day, at sunset, it is a place of serenity — a city far in the distance, bathed in pink hues, and mist. On foggy days, the new towers rise about the fog flowing like smoke from Hemmingway’s cigar. I don’t even make photos: instead, I just want to savor the moment.
Friday evening wasn’t as peaceful. You could see the smoke, like rotting yellowish-brown meat in the middle of a sandwich of blues. Out in the distance, on the Pacific horizon, you could see the smoke and the marine layers in a lock reminiscent of two wrestlers locked in a Boston crab move. The setting sun only added to the surreal reality of the moment. These photos, hopefully, give you a sense of what I saw.
According to the Weather West blog, the lightening event that caused all the fires saw 11,000 lightning strikes in 36 hours. That resulted in over 350 lightning fires, and most of them are very close to urban areas. Yesterday, I learned that friends from Fremont were getting ready to evacuate. Nearly a million acres of land is going to be burned. In his blog post, Daniel Swain notes that this is the ” largest fire on record in California–an incredible statistic, since the previous record was set in 2018 (and, before that, all the way back in 2017).”
Given that the Death Valley recorded the hottest day in history — 130 degrees, it is safe to say that we are way past the point where we can reverse climate change. It is time for mitigation, and perhaps coming up with solutions to live with the change. Oscar Wilde once said, “The optimist sees the donut, the pessimist sees the hole.” It is time to look for the donuts.
We live in strange times. Never before have science and technology needed to cope with this beyond-human scale reality, and never has society started to turn its back on science. The other day I read about this news that could help tackle the CO2 problem a tiny bit. A team of Brown University researchers found a way to “fine-tune a copper catalyst to produce complex hydrocarbons — known as C2-plus products” — from CO2 with higher efficiency.
As a chemistry student — albeit not a very good one — I use to talk to my classmates about how to solve pollution problems. Of course, my professional path took me in a different direction. Nevertheless, I still keep a close eye on the developments in the world of chemistry. The breakthrough by the Brown team is an exciting development. It is not the answer, but a piece of the jigsaw that science can solve. (If you are interested in learning more about this study, here is a link to the full document and findings.)
In a conversation with Howard Lindzon, I pointed out that the pandemic and the resulting lockdown might as well just be a beta-test for an uncertain future. A future, where it would be virtually impossible for society to function without accounting for extreme weather conditions. Whether it is delivery robots, self-driving delivery vehicles, vertical farms, new materials for everything clothing to home building materials, we have no choice but to prepare for the future.
August 24, 2020, San Francisco