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A runaway greenhouse effect could turn Earth into hothouse planet like Venus: Srijan Pal Singh at AFIIM



Climate change is an ‘existential threat’ to humanity, said Srijan Pal Singh, ex advisor to former president of India APJ Abdul Kalam and the CEO and Co-Founder of the Dr. A.P.J Abdul Kalam Centre. He was the keynote speaker for Season 3 of the Apeejay Festival of Ideas by Ignited Minds (AFIIM)’ organised virtually by the Apeejay Institute of Technology – School of Architecture & Planning (AITSAP).

Singh said air pollution is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. “Air pollution causes about seven million premature deaths every year globally, including 2 million in India. Environmental degradation is a pandemic which we have been witnessing over the years. The people who are born today are more likely to suffer from pollution-related diseases than those who were born 30 years ago.”

He said human-caused climate change led to Australia’s devastating bushfire in 2019, which ran for three months to burn-out 838,000 hectares and impacted an estimated 140 million reptiles, birds and mammals.

If the Earth heats up by another 2 or 3 degrees Celsius it would lead to grave consequences, warned Singh. “The planetary weather system will completely collapse. It will lead to runaway greenhouse effect like it happened on planet Venus millions of years ago. Venus had oceans and surface temperatures similar to present-day Earth, but for unknown reasons, the planet went through a runaway greenhouse effect. It evaporated all the oceans. Today, the average temperature of Venus is 450 degree Celsius. We as humans can act as a catalyst to cause the runaway greenhouse effect on Earth.”

Still, Singh clarified we can’t destroy the planet. “The earth is pretty rugged and tough. It’s taken quite a beating in its lifetime. What we will destroy is our ability to live on the planet.”

Everything isn’t lost, yet. We still have a chance to rectify our mistakes. “It’s not as if human beings are meaningless entities waiting for their end. We are tenacious. We can do a lot of things despite being pushed against the wall. We have combated the most dreaded virus by developing vaccines within a year. It usually takes decades to invent a vaccine. Scientists have also created a new “super enzyme” that can break down plastic. So we can use science to solve a lot of our problems, provided we don’t create new ones.”

Singh gave a motivational speech on how to handle failure as he referred to the failure of ISRO’s first satellite launch in 1979. Dr APJ Abdul Kalam was then the project coordinator of SLV-3 mission and Professor Satish Dhawan the chairman of ISRO.

After the mission’s failure, Professor Dhawan informed the nation of it and also took all the blame upon himself despite knowing that he would be subjected to criticism.

The next year, on July 18, 1980, the same team led by Kalam successfully launched Rohini RS-1 into orbit. Then, instead of taking all the credit himself, Professor Dhawan asked Dr Kalam to conduct the press conference that day.

“I learned a very important lesson that day. When failure occurred, the leader of the organisation owned that failure. When success came, he gave it to his team. The best management lesson I have learned did not come to me from reading a book; it came from that experience,” Kalam had said while speaking at an event in 2013.

We currently produce about 43 Giga tonnes of CO2 every year. To put it into perspective, around 2500 Giga tonnes of carbon is stored in soils worldwide. So, if you heat the oil even by a slight degree, this 2500 Giga tonnes of carbon will slowly start getting into the atmosphere. All the fossil fuel put together under soil is worth around 3000 Giga tonnes of carbon. The oceans store nearly 38000 Giga tonnes of carbon dioxide. If oceans start losing CO2 rapidly due to human activities, it will lead to runaway greenhouse effect. Then the planet has the risk of becoming like Venus.

Srijan Pal Singh, ex-advisor to former president of India APJ Abdul Kalam

Dheeraj Sharma is Asst. Editor (Newsroom). He covers events, webinars, conducts interviews and brings you exciting news snippets. He has over 10 years' of experience in prominent media organizations. He takes pleasure in the small things in life and believes a healthy work-life balance is key to happiness. You can reach him at [email protected]