Mozambique was hit by a storm (Cyclone Idai) in March 2019. Parts of the United Arab Emirates are experiencing low pressure and unexpected rain fall. The city of Bangalore is experiencing its hottest summer this year – with temperatures up by 2-3 degrees compared to the previous years. These are not isolated events. According to a UN report, even if the world adheres to the commitments set out by the Paris Agreement, winter temperatures in the Arctic are still expected to rise by 3-5°C by 2050. Climate change is here to stay…
How is climate change relevant to the ‘Future of Work?’ The answer to that question is - in many ways. First, it will impact the way we work. Second, the world as we know it today, may not exist 50 years from now and third and most important, if we act now, it can create several new opportunities that will not only help save the world, but create immense value. Take for example, China leading the adoption of electric vehicles or London’s new charge on polluting vehicles.
This interview is a candid conversation with Professor SK Satheesh, Centre for Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, and director, Divecha Centre for Climate Change. His studies on black carbon aerosols, the dark light absorbing microscopic particles in air which greatly influence the energy balance of the atmosphere over the Indian subcontinent, have enabled the elucidation of the role of these particles on climate, precipitation, and, human health over the Indian subcontinent. He is an Infosys Prize recipient among various other accolades and has more than 6600 citations to his credit.
What is the ‘Future of Work’ in the context of climate change?
The future for students and working professionals in the area of climate change is especially bright. Before, the tendency with my Ph.D. and Masters students was to aspire for a Government job or go abroad for higher studies. Now, the scenario has changed. Many students are joining industries. For example, Microsoft, Infosys or Wipro. They get into fields like weather prediction (prediction of event management), carbon budgeting and crediting. Many also get into startups. Our own institute and many other science foundations are supporting startups ideated by the students.
Why has a subject as important as climate change, not become mainstream?
If you go through school curriculum, you do not hear much about climate change. The first thing you might come across is around the 8th grade, where they talk about the different layers of the atmosphere. Even at the bachelor’s level, there is no specific climate change or environmental science degree programme – but covered only in the master’s degree as of now. Until then, students do not get introduced to this topic. Hence there is less awareness of the topic. IISc has M.Tech. and Ph.D. programmes in climate change, but it comprises of mostly mechanical or civil engineering or physics students. The discussion has to start early on at the school level as children are the most affected by the onslaught of climate change.
As a discussion, climate change is especially important in the developing countries – like South Asia and Africa. As per the United Nations Sustainable Goals, food, water and energy are the major issues.
How should discussions around climate change be brought to schools?
As a research group, I can talk about our own initiatives. We conduct awareness programmes in schools. In Bangalore, we have plans to put air quality sensors in about 100 schools. We then provide the same as projects for students, as our belief is that if we only talk about climate change, they might forget, but we prefer to get them practically involved in the process.
We also collaborate with medical doctors, as according to the medical journal Lancet, Indians have the worst lung capacity. Indians have a genetic issue, which has not been deciphered yet. It is said that school children are the worst affected by air quality issues. There are measured data available as well in a particular case. There was a school that was constructed away from the road, away from vehicular activity. Unfortunately, due to some construction, traffic was redirected towards the school and in six months, the number of respiratory illnesses of the students have doubled.
So, firstly it should be a part of the curriculum and secondly it should be measured and kids should be involved in the process.
Your comments on the kind of sustainability initiatives run by corporates and how they can create further impact?
Corporates can do a lot by setting aside a small budget for awareness around climate change. Corporates can also help in mitigation and adoption measures. A new trend that is being picked up is around ‘converting waste into resources’. We have a person working at IISc who works on converting waste into resources and further as commodities that can be sold. For example, there is a company that converts vehicle exhaust into black ink. Similarly household waste can be composted to fertilisers. Corporates can mostly lead efforts in adoption and mitigation.
What are the new opportunities that climate change can create? What would the required skillsets be?
Climate change is an inter-disciplinary subject. Qualifications can range from economics, politics, statistics, mathematics, electronics, medical sciences and aerospace engineering. For example, economics is required to assess economic viability of a mitigation strategy. Any science degree at a graduate level works. I myself am a physicist turned to climate scientist due to the impact of climate change on society.
Job opportunities can include careers in renewal energy as India has committed to derive 40 percent of its energy sources from renewal energy by 2030. That is only 11 years from now. Also, we are committed to reduce the emissions intensity per GDP by 33 percent by 2030 compared to its value in 2005. So, electric vehicles have to grow exponentially. Similarly solar energy is going to grow too. Two things will happen, one is development of solar cells (right now we mostly import solar cells from other countries) and the second is development of wind energy. Solar energy alone cannot sustain 40 percent of our energy requirements. Where we are lacking now is that all the wind turbines in India are at a hub height of 50 meters, but we have analysed wind patterns and if we go to 80 meters, 30 meters more, the energy derived will increase. This will help us harness energy even at night unlike solar energy.
The other areas are carbon trading, carbon budgeting, waste reduction and weather prediction. This holds good especially for corporates. Manpower requirement for climate change is quite high in the near future.
What are some of the challenges startups in this area can solve?
Two areas where not much initial investment is required is carbon budgeting and weather prediction. Both of these are areas where programming is required. EVs are another space, albeit the investment required is comparatively higher. The other space is the production of a wind atlas, that like bore wells, can help predict where wind mills should be.
To conclude, climate change is a largely pressing issue. Did you know that air pollution is increasing at the rate of 2% every year? It is said that by 2050, there could be a mass extinction of humans because of poor water quality and related diseases. Unless we implement the global goals set for climate change, we will reach the tipping point pretty soon. We have to have clear law enforcement guidelines to leave a better world for our next generations.
Nisha Ramchandani is the principal author of 'The Future of Work' series.
Published Date: Apr 25, 2019 02:04 PM | Updated Date: Apr 26, 2019 05:04 PM IST