The year 2022 ends now and year 2023 will soon begin. This is a moment of nostalgia and a hope for happiness for the times ahead.
My Professor Friend and I decided to meet at our usual coffee shop for a chat and retrospect. How will 2023 be for all of us was however a moot question. “Only COP will know” said Professor lighting his cigar and positioning the ashtray that had a head of Sphinx.
Wong, the coffee shop owner was busy instructing his staff to fix a banner on the gate. The banner was in Chinese and looked like this
We asked Wong that what did this banner mean in English and why was he putting the banner in Chinese as no one in Mumbai was going to understand.
Wong read the banner for us as gōng hè xīn xǐ (as if we were to understand spoken Chinese!) and explained that it meant “respectful congratulations on the New Year”. That’s the literal translation, he said.
“Oh, nice,” said the Professor. He seemed to have liked the term “respectful congratulations”. I too liked this translation and decided to wish my friends saying “respectful congratulations on the New Year”. I wanted to be different.
We realized that given the global impact that China caused over last two years due to Covid pandemic, and the recently reported surge, it was rather appropriate that the banner was put in Chinese while congratulating on the new year. To ensure that the world is in peace in 2023, it was important that we all understood some basics of Chinese language, Chinese culture and traditions.
Professor explained that according to the zodiac sign for 2023 in China, the new year will belong to Water Rabbit, transiting from the year of the (roaring) Tiger of 2022. The year of Water Rabbit will start from January 22nd, 2023 (Chinese New Year) and will end on February 9th, 2024. The sign of Water Rabbit is a symbol of longevity, peace, and prosperity in Chinese culture. I then understood why Wong decided to offer respectful congratulations for the new year and say that in Chinese. Very clever and appropriate.
I asked Professor why he said that “COP only Knows” when we all want to be happy in the new year. (For those who are fortunate not to know what COP means, it’s the Committee of Parties who meets at some exotic locations in the world, to express some of the global concerns e.g. climate change, threat to biodiversity etc. and make commitments and decide later whether to be honored or not)
“COP looks at happiness over a long term like Years 2050, 2060 and 2070? Isn’t it Professor?” I knew I was asking a stupid question like always. In case of India, the happy new year is going to be 2070 when we will reach the target of Net Zero. The Chinese will be happy 10 years earlier as their target for Net Zero is 2060.
[I was always curious how these years were arrived at by countries. Sure, this number was not arrived at by tossing random numbers (well, that could also be a possibility), but I was told that it was a complex mathematical modelling exercise undertaken by the climate experts of the National Think Tanks (of the NITI kind). These mathematical models were crafted with lots of assumptions made carefully, so as to arrive at the year that is politically pre-decided. I thought that the Team leader of such climate experts should be given a Padmabhushan, one of the coveted titles bestowed to gallant and noble personalities in India.]
I kept wondering however how a country can set its own net zero target without taking note of different net zero year targets of other countries. The world has no geographical boundaries when we discuss climate change. Isn’t it. I decided however not to raise this stupid concern in the interest of the Ethiopian coffee that we were served.
“Dr Modak, the fundamental question however is what happens after we reach the so called Net Zero year? And is a carbon neural year, whatever it means, a happy year?”
I thought that it was a good question that should not be asked. Is carbon the sole interest of our life’s happiness? I wondered as it could well be!
The other day, I heard someone saying that COP should start discussing nitrogen now and not carbon just to open new business. Some said that we should be moving each year from carbon economy to “hydrogen economy”. I started recalling the “periodic table” of Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev to guess which will be the next element/gas that will influence our life. Sometimes, happiness is more when you are more or less ignorant.
I sipped my Ethiopian coffee from the large cup that Peter, our usual waiter served. To make our coffee session interesting I decided to ask Peter for the menu card and ask something to munch.
But it was Wong who rushed to us with a brand new menu card. “Sirs, we have a new menu card for the new year, please have a look. You will love the change” He said this with pride.
The menu card carried the message in Chinese which was thankfully translated to help the customers
which meant “Our Low Carbon Menu”
We were impressed initially but were depressed when we did not see in the snack list our favorite crackers and instead saw “dough biscuits” that were not that interesting. When we asked why this change, then Wong’s young assistant (interning from IIT Bombay who wanted to show “community engagement” in his CV for applying to Harvard) volunteered. He said
“Sirs, crackers consume 0.508 kWh/kg energy while dove biscuits only 0.404 kWh/kg – so dove biscuit is a better choice in the interest to mitigate greenhouse gases”. He adjusted his thick spectacles while rutting out these numbers.
When the IIT Bombay boy saw us disappointed, he said that there were thinking of providing an alternative of “recycled crackers”. He apologized that this decision will however depend on the results of the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). I then realized that the boy was exploring and hinting to us “the world of circular economy” for 2023 and beyond.
There was some silence.
Professor wrote on a paper napkin while getting up and extinguishing his cigar in that Sphinx headed ashtray. Here is what we saw.
I didn’t know that Professor knew how to write in Chinese (Mandarin I guess). There were always surprises whenever I was with Professor.
I saw Wong smile. When he saw my confused face, he explained that this text meant “Good Luck to All of Us”
I thought this wish or greeting was more important than saying “respectful congratulations on the New Year”.
I am sure you would agree.
Cover image sourced from https://grist.org/fix/policy/23-predictions-for-2023-climate-justice-forecast-trends/