Long Walks On Leafy Streets

3/11/2017 Rock Creek Park, Washington, DC
It is all quiet now in the house. Night has fallen and Prashant just fell asleep. Nicole is getting the night off. She has been taking care of him by herself pretty much since yesterday afternoon. I had to work late yesterday evening and then today I went to College Park to study in the University of Marylandís engineering library. I donít know if the building is well insulated acoustically or it is just that the surroundings are quiet but I feel the silence there is stronger than any other place here. So during the weekends I often go there to study and think about my research problem. Silence is such a treasure in life. Pico Iyer writes about it often. In these days of increasing population and fewer wild and remote places silence has become such a precious commodity. Perhaps one reason retreats of all kinds are becoming popular is that it gives people an opportunity to enjoy silence, especially meditation retreats.

I must say these days I find myself retreating, in a way, into a life of work and family. My social activities such as volunteering and leading hikes are getting fewer and fewer. Partly it is out of necessity, because one does need a lot of time for family duties and I am working hard to get some publishable result from my research. But partly and perhaps without realizing it I have been in need of a retreat from the hustle and bustle of the world, especially the political world. It has been several weeks since I read a newspaper or watched the news.

Yet one cannot turn away from what is happening, either. My area of interest is protection of the environment and these days the news on that front has been only getting worse. Whatever bits and pieces I have gleaned from the email sent by various organizations has been very disturbing. On the one hand one cannot get too emotional about it and, as I have written before, one has to take a broader view of nature. We are but a tiny insignificant part of the universe. Nature will go on, regardless of what we do. But on the other hand one cannot ignore, as long as one is alive and taking sustenance provided by nature and produced by other human beings, the suffering and damage that is being caused to living beings including other humans by our activities. In particular the actions being taken by the current administration are going to be extremely harmful to the environment. The reports from climate scientists are getting more frightening by the day.

So in my own life I try to do what I can to consume less. I hope to take part in marches and protests as time permits. I also hope to organize more events for the nature loversí meetup, and to focus especially on events that will bring awareness to or raise funds for environmental issues, especially climate change. But I do wonder, quite often, what else can I do that would make a meaningful impact on the world. I have been blessed with much love and I have benefited from the toil of many people. I feel there is much more that I can do. This is a question I keep asking and I donít yet have a satisfactory answer to it. I just donít feel like I am doing enough. As they say, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

Anyway, I would like to close this with a few positive developments, both in my own immediate circle and in the wider world. In our university we are finally putting together an environmental studies program. I have taught, along with my colleague Jill McGowan, a beginning course in mathematics using examples from environmental studies and I hope this will be part of the curriculum for that program. Howard University is also getting a sizable array of solar panels installed. Nicole has been working at a residential solar installation company since January as a policy manager and enjoying her work. She goes around talking to lawmakers about making state policy conducive to the growth of solar energy generation.

Solar, wind, tidal and other renewable energy power plants are growing in number and employing more and more people. Prices of the power from those sources are decreasing so fast that they might no longer need subsidies or tax incentives to become more attractive to consumers and utilities. This will speed up exponentially the construction of power plants using renewable energy. Battery costs are also coming down fast and electric cars with driving range over 200 miles are going to become commonplace. This will have a similar effect on the share of electric vehicles in the market, increasing it exponentially. Given that transportation is now the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases this is great news for the planet. More and more people are in favor of action on climate change and young people in particular are more environmentally conscious. In my own family my nephew Nitin is majoring in environmental studies at the University of Maryland. I have high hopes that Prashant when he grows up will become a lover and protector of nature. He does seem to enjoy being outside, in nature, quite a bit.

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