Either We Change Our Ways or the Earth Will

The talk of the town today is the “People’s Climate March” that occurred today in New York and similar marches in various cities across the globe. While I could not be in any of these participating cities to physically walk  with my fellow climate conscious earth inhabitants, I am using this platform to show my solidarity.

Over the years, I have talked to various people that argue that earth goes through these so-called climate cycles where the prevailing climatic patterns undergo alterations. The following argument usually is the fact that we do not have enough climate data to confirm whether this is just another such change or actual global warming. The reason I am giving this information is to lay the foundation of my argument against it. I firmly believe that we, the human race, brought us to a time when we are witnessing these horrifying changes in climate. Summers are hotter, droughts are a common place, freak snowstorms are occurring, icecaps are melting  and hurricanes are hitting more frequently at places they wouldn’t in the past, amongst other weird phenomena that I didn’t list. We may not have the climate data for all the years of earth’s history, but what we do have the the knowledge of progression of technology and the concurrent detrimental effects on the environment. The industrial revolution may have brought the beginning of an easier and better life, but it also jump started the irreversible environmental changes that we all are paying for it some way or another. The environment has only taken a downward slide since then.

Whether it is the greenhouse gas emission or polluting the atmosphere and water bodies, we are constantly changing the earth’s environment and a lot of people don’t seem to care. The reality is staring us right in our faces and we need to do something about it. Almost every culture in the world has some lore about nature’s wrath and we have successfully invoked it. We are not just going down ourselves but taking all the species with us, maybe them before us considering the more than normal amount of extinction of species occurring lately. Now we can either continue with our ‘devil may care’ attitude about the planet and how our activities are affecting it or we can pull up our socks and do something about it. I root for the latter. There is a dire need for a global initiative to protect the earth and preserve its environment.  Every person has a part to play, so let’s all try to change our habits to as environmental friendly ones as we can, not just for us but for the many generations yet to come.

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Scientists and Forgotten Safety Protocols

Reading through the numerous news articles about the accidental exposure of about 75 scientists, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to anthrax reminded me of the lab safety trainings I sat in not so long ago (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/20/health/up-to-75-cdc-scientists-may-have-been-exposed-to-anthrax.html?hp).All of us, who work in the field of science are well aware of the atrocious safety training sessions we have to attend repeatedly over the course of our careers. But it is only on occasions like this one that we truly understand their value.

The department seems to be saying that the risk of exposure is “extremely low” and the bacteria were presumed  inactive before they were transferred to these new labs where their spores happened to get aerosolized. But why has this risk, however small or large, been brought upon the center or people at all? How, in this age of advanced scientific environment, was it wrongly concluded that the culture had been inactivated? And something that is the most bothersome is that why were the scientist handling anthrax, active or inactive, not using personal protective equipment that is meant to be used when dealing with a high risk level agent? This, to me, seems like a classic case of oopsie daisy, where someone or some people dropped the ball and now its is costing a fortune to get everything back in order. It is certainly not a cake walk to quarantine a large area and decontaminate it, not to mention watching these scientist and probably their close contacts for the possible onset of infection symptoms for weeks or even months.

There are a lot of accidents, both big and small, that can be prevented in the laboratory environment if the workers pay attention to details and follow the safety protocol. Yes, it is cumbersome to walk around the lab to fetch a specific pair of gloves required for a job and you probably can just do it very quickly with your bare hands since you have done it a million times and its relatively safe. But it can as easily go wrong and you may end up hurting yourself, others and probably wasting quite a bit of money to fix the situation created by your laziness and carelessness. There is always some incident that comes up in the news about lab accidents every so often and becomes the talk of the scientific community but is soon forgotten and we all go back to our old ways.

I don’t have all the details about how exactly this case of anthrax exposure went from start to end but it sure wreaks of negligence on the part of people working there. Why the bacteria were ineffectively inactivated or the tests to confirm their inactivation weren’t done properly or the scientists were not working with them with proper safety equipment is unknown. But this incident should be taken as a wake up call by the scientific community to follow safety regulations rigorously and pay attention to every single detail when performing an experiment. As a scientist, your negligence can lead you to not just  endangering yourself but also those around you and cost your institution a lot of money!

Release of Tesla Patents: What does it really mean?

http://www.teslamotors.com/blog/all-our-patent-are-belong-you

Tesla Motor’s billionaire owner, Elon Musk, announced today that they are releasing the patents pertaining to their electric cars for anyone to use in “good faith” and this news has quickly become the talk of the town. I have always been a fan of Elon Musk and an admirer of his role as a pioneer in bringing high-tech products and establishments like Tesla and SpaceX to this world. Tesla Motors is the single reigning queen in the world of electric cars today. While there are other companies producing electric cars, they are no where near the technical advances of Tesla. So why is it that Tesla is releasing their patents? Is it really an act of benevolence or is it a very calculated business move? Whatever it is, the inhabitants of the world of automotive technology are going to be very busy in the coming days, reading and analyzing these patents and chalking out plans to make something similar. And hopefully, people like you and me will get the joy of seeing many new models of electric cars in the market in the coming years. Now that Tesla has become the foremost name in quality electric cars and the one that performed a big act of unselfish kindness, Elon Musk will definitely garner more prestige and public loyalty to his brand, if there wasn’t enough already.

If one goes through the history of scientific discoveries, there are only a handful of inventors or organizations that decided to release the information in public domain for the greater good. The ones that release patents, have expired patents or otherwise decide against patenting their technology most likely have huge trade secrets that dictate the quality of their products. Does Coca Cola ring a bell? It is just carbonated water but Coke favor is “Coke flavor”, thanks to very carefully kept trade secret. While there are always some trade secrets. as I am sure is the case with Tesla as well, release of patents can provide enough information to a person qualified in the art to reproduce, either alone or as a part of a team, the intended product. It may be missing a few (mostly important ones) bells and whistles, placing this new product at a lower quality that the original, but at least it is a step forward in the right scientific direction.

Elon Musk’s companies have always shown commitment to advancing science and improving environment, an endeavor that has taken a couple steps at one time with the release of these patents. If more organizations start working in the direction of performing earth friendly science, as a part of a giant scientific team across the world, we may just have a chance to slow down the environmental  and climatic changes we have witnessed lately. Well done Tesla!