“Yes, the planet got destroyed. But for a beautiful moment in time we created a lot of value for shareholders.” — The New Yorker

Quest for Elfstedentocht

By Ved Dubhashi

Very often I’m asked this question- “what convinced you to pursue a career in sustainable energy”. The innocuous question would evoke an overwhelming response from my end, I would go into a long winding explanation of how the planet needs saving as a consequence of our decadent lifestyles and lack of political will. To add to it corporate adamance to stay the course of maximising profits has set us on the path of destruction. What’s at stake? The human civilisation as we know it along with the rest of the denizens of this planet. My emotional outcry would evoke a smile or a shrug at best from the person who asked this question, I could perhaps even sense a glint of regret in their eyes for asking me this question in the first place. It took me a while to understand the true nature of emotions that people go through while trying to process what I’d said. I came to realise that either the information had overwhelmed them, and for a brief moment forced them contemplate the implications of our collective actions on the global climate. Having fallen in love with our own biases, we have a fatal flaw of underestimating the occurrence of a bad event, often refusing to confront whatever makes us uncomfortable. Thus, as soon as we are confronted with an inconvenient truth, our mind goes into overdrive to make it convenient often manifesting itself as a shrug. But the listeners who respond with a smile to my soliloquy, are a cause for worry-bear with me.

They are a cause for worry because, not only do they choose to ignore the truth about climate change, but choose to inherently deny its existence or refuse to understand the scale of it. In an age where misinformation travels faster than the truth, these individuals have the means, ability and the will to shape public opinion about climate change. The veracity of this statement is reflected in a 2018 study conducted by Soroush Vosoughi a data scientist from MIT. He goes on to say the following:
“It seems to be pretty clear that false information outperforms true information…And that is not just because of bots. It might have something to do with human nature.”
That last line is perhaps the clincher that sends shivers down the spine, primarily because we just fall prey to our own confirmation biases and forward falsehoods. This study makes a quote from Jonathan Swift seem prophetic:
“Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it.” Jonathan Swift.

When the former (yet to concede, as of writing this article) President of the United States, leader of a developed nation which is expected to lead the global community by setting an example. Through systematic divestments from legacy fossil fuels and investing heavily in the research of alternative energy sources. He refuses to acknowledge the existence of a phenomenon called climate change and does everything in his power while in office to undo years of progress made by previous administrations in the field of sustainable energy. His conduct and vision says a lot about how disconnected the majority of us still are from what is really at stake.

Off late I’ve started taking a different approach when asked this question. Instead of giving in to the urge of inundating the person with information and figures of how the CO2 levels in the last 100 years have risen solely due to anthropogenic emissions, and has already started melting the permafrost, I take a pause and smile, and revert back with an answer that fits the context and enables the person to understand the stakes and gauge the problem better. Goa, the prized jewel of the western ghats, flanked by the Arabian sea, sought after and fought over by many kings and emperors; a witness to the changing whims of rulers and policymakers. A paragon of the phrase “a land where time stands still”. A place where fish, curry & rice is not just food but an emotion. If Any fellow Goan will understand our undying love for quaint and secluded beaches, but will also agree that the task of getting sand out from our shorts is an annoying and arduous task, I ask them to consider these beach visits a luxury since without any drastic intervention, sooner or later these quaint beaches will perhaps become a relic limited to our memories and the remnants of it lost in an improperly washed pair of shorts and slippers. The smile vanishes, I observe no shrug, and reality sets in. To a person with an entrepreneurial and growth mindset, I indulge in a conversation about how despite the pandemic we’ve got Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs)  and various market indices hitting all-time highs. People have rekindled the hype about cryptocurrencies and the Venture Capitalist (VC) game of churning money and inflating valuations continues. And I see no end to this phenomenon, except when there comes a time that money might not be the most precious resource. A time when shareholder value will be for naught, a time when we struggle to feed people we will not give a damn about indices and quants, as we come to grips with the impending food security crisis caused due to climate change. The tables will flip over what we inherently value. The entire notion of creating value will just be a legend in erstwhile plush conference rooms that belonged to an era of fluff over substance. A cartoon by Tom Tomaar in the New Yorker best exemplifies this.

“Yes, the planet got destroyed. But for a beautiful moment in time we created a lot of value for shareholders.” — The New Yorker

Most Nederlanders are very aware about the effect of climate change considering how the legendary Elfstedentocht an ice-skating race that spans eleven cities in the Friesland province of Netherlands. Unfortunately, due to increasingly warmer climate even in this part of the world, the canals haven’t frozen over completely since 1997, but frozen lakes and canals are a prerequisite for a race of this sorts without which we need to live with the memory of Elfstedentocht . Till a time comes when we’ve adjusted our course and corrected for our past actions (very biblical or karma-ish) via alternative energy sources and carbon negative technologies, Elfstedentocht will continue to remain a dream for Gen Z and those that follow. 

It isn’t easy to give a straight answer to hard life altering questions. Very often they lack an objective answer, and are often filled with nuances. Nevertheless, I’ve made an effort to come to terms with my choices and the reality that we face.So, to witness this glorious race across slick ice it’s time we pull up our socks and ensure that hell does freeze over.