4. To take a step forward
Communication with influential individuals around the world
In 2004, Professor Ramanathan became a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in Rome after being nominated by Dr. Paul Crutzen, who had participated in the Indian Ocean Experiment. The Pontifical Academy of Sciences was created by the Roman Catholic Church, and its members are selected without regard to nationality, politics or religion to broadly transmit scientific information to the world.
While participating in a wide range of conferences as a member of the Academy, he realized the potential for this ecclesiastical body to be a mediator of change on climate and environmental issues, and decided to organize a conference.
In the Vatican, there is another academy called the Academy of Social Sciences. Professor Ramanathan suggested that each of the academies organize a conference on the theme of sustainability and encouraged them to co-organize a conference. Eventually the theme from the Academy of Sciences was decided to be "Sustainable Nature", and the Academy of Social Sciences' theme be "Sustainable Humanity", with the addition of the words "Our Responsibility." The proposal was reviewed by the Church, agreed to by the Pope, and the conference took place in May 2014 with the participation of 30 leaders from different fields.
One of the landmarks of this conference was its commitment to "Our Responsibility." Until then, there were no scientific papers that included the words, "Our Responsibility". Professor Ramanathan intended to "clarify who is responsible" for the climate problems caused by air pollution.
He presented data to show that more than 50% of the greenhouse gas pollution comes from the most wealthy one billion people, while the poorest three billion people contribute 5% or less. He persuaded the assembled group that global warming is largely due to over-consumption by the wealthy. The meeting ended with the conclusion that "humans must fundamentally change their attitude about one another and nature."
When the Pope asked him what he could do to help, Professor Ramanathan replied, "You have now become a moral leader to the world beyond Catholicism. So, in your speeches, please ask people to be good stewards of the planet."
Professor Ramanathan then laid the foundation for science and religion to work together on climate change, and for climate change to be accepted as a moral issue. Although there are areas where science and religion are in conflict, the need to protect nature is something that all religions agree on and teach. We can enjoy the gifts of nature, but should not abuse it.
Religious leaders can teach moral lessons that scientists and politicians cannot, before humans are forced to face thousands of years of adverse climate changes.
Professor Ramanathan was able to engage with the 14th Dalai Lama at a few events. The 14th Dalai Lama has said that compassion across borders is the way to solve the problem of climate change. And based on the professor's advice, he also mentioned global warming during his discourse at the University of California, San Diego, in 2017.
Professor Ramanathan has also spoken to Hindu leaders and continues to be actively involved in forming alliances with faith communities for the fight against climate change.
From research to practice
In 2004, Professor Ramanathan turned 60 and decided to shift his focus more to climate actions. There were four reasons for this. Firstly, when he looked back at his previous work, he felt that, although he had produced a series of major research papers, he had in a way only reported a steady stream of negative information about what was happening to the planet. Secondly, he saw his hometown completely covered with big brown clouds during the Indian Ocean Experiment. Thirdly, he was invited to join the Pontifical Academy of Sciences to help solve environmental issues. Fourthly, when he told the story about the brown clouds over the Indian Ocean to high school students from all over the world at the UN General Assembly, a female Ethiopian student told him that she was moved to tears by his story, but then she asked him what he was doing to solve the problem. He was shocked when he couldn't answer.
In the midst of all these events, he began to feel strongly that it was no longer enough to pursue science, but we have to translate our research into action to actually solve the problem.
So, together with his daughters, he started Project Surya to provide a non-polluting cooking method in small villages in India. It was a small first step towards a solution but indeed a life-changing experience for him.
Professor Ramanathan and his wife will celebrate 50 years of marriage in 2023. Both are from Chennai, and they married in an arranged marriage. According to his wife, Professor Ramanathan is a goal-oriented man who always puts his work first. However, he never neglected his family. Even though he was busy travelling around the world to conduct research and experiments, he always came home for his and his wife's birthdays and also anniversaries.
He also always made sure that they understood each other well by explaining to his wife about what kind of research he was doing, why he had to travel, and why he was working at night, so that she would not have any worries or doubts.
His wife says that he always tries hard and is never satisfied. No matter what prizes he wins or how many prestigious scientific journals he gets published in, it doesn't matter to him. His eyes are always on the goal. He is now driven by the need to make a difference by reducing the substances that are causing global warming, so that everyone does not suffer as a result.
Work together for the future
There are still many people in the world who believe that humanity has nothing to do with the problem of climate change, and many also think that there is nothing we can do about it. The first thing we need to do is to feel responsible, said Professor Ramanathan. If you realize that you are responsible for your own actions, you can change yourself. You can change yourself a little bit by being aware of the fact that the petrol car you drive can make people in Africa or India homeless, or that your actions can make your great-grandchildren homeless, because of drought caused by climate change. We can change ourselves little by little by being aware of our responsibility.
What can we do to slow the pace of global warming? We all need to change our attitude to nature. There are three important things we can do. The first is to educate our children. Everyone needs to learn at school that nature has a limit. It should be included in the general education curriculum at all universities so that students cannot graduate unless they have taken a course on the environment.
The second is to form an alliance with religions for providing climate/environmental literacy to the general public.
The third is for all of us to educate our friends, relatives, and neighbors about environmental issues. These actions will eventually lead to societal transformation. Societal transformation is the most important pillar for solving climate issues and is indeed Professor Ramanathan's most fervent wish.