On Spring Cleaning And Carbon Dioxide

spring cleaning

One fine day the snow is gone and it is spring. This year, its seems alarmingly early.

What I love most about living in Scandinavia is the sharp contrast between seasons. It took me a little time to adjust to the pace. Sometimes, after four years, I still get caught by surprise. I forget how fast the scenery changes every single week. Gradually, I’m learning to listen to this perpetual reminder from nature: seize the moment, now, seize the moment. It touches me so deeply. The sense of time passing. The rhythm. The cycles.

I moved to Scandinavia on a particularly snowy winter. Here I was, in the North, where I wanted to be. I felt like the luckiest person on earth. Shortly after my arrival, I traveled to the mountains to attend a two weeks winter school. When I came back, the snow was gone, and I discovered with pleasure that the yard in front of my building had a lovely little grass patch.

Once again, I had felt this lump in my throat, this being-out-of-step feeling that accompanied me to every scientific meeting I went to. This time it was mixed with guilt. I felt it wasn’t right to be feeling out of place when I was given a chance to spend two weeks listening to great lectures, in a fancy hotel were I was served excellent food and wine every day. And there was the good salary, the tax exemption, and the chance to live in a beautiful residential area right next to the campus where I was working as a research postdoc.

Every spring, dumpsters appeared in my neighborhood, neatly aligned in the parking lots. From my kitchen window I could witness an endless procession of cars with trailers filled with stuff that people busied themselves throwing into the quickly growing pile. Kids were climbing on it, playing there, occasionally pulling out a toy in perfect condition. I might sound dangerous or unhealthy, but really it wasn’t. I can assure you that there was no risk to find a rusty nail in those dumpsters. There was almost nothing in there that was fit for the bin. It was just stuff that people didn’t want anymore. I personally remember saving a beautiful and, though a bit thirsty, perfectly alive houseplant and a couple a terracotta flower pots in which I grew basil on my balcony for two years.

Even though “applications to carbon dioxide capture and sequestration” clearly appeared on my job description, I had not given it much attention. Being a physicist and not a geologist, it wasn’t directly in my area of expertise, and I didn’t know much about it. Not only did I have no particular interest in it, but I spontaneously tended to think it was a bad idea. I still do. And most importantly, I was interested in doing basic research. I didn’t care what pretext the funding agency needed to hear this time to deign giving us some money.

As soon as a dumpster got filed, it was taken away and replaced by an empty one. On dugnad day I found myself raking leaves with my neighbors, putting them in big plastic bags and throwing them in together with outgrown children bikes. I was astonished to see that the rakes went in the dumpster, too, when we had finished.

I saw my colleagues get married, get well-paid jobs, have kids, buy apartments in nice neighborhoods. I saw young couples throwing perfectly usable Ikea furniture into these dumpsters. Buy new stuff. Throw old stuff away. It seemed to be the logical, unavoidable path. Upgrading. Taking long-distance fights to conferences at the other end of the world and short distance ones for one day meetings at the other end of the country.

I was asked to attend a seminar at the funding agency. It became very clear to me that they took carbon dioxide capture and sequestration very seriously. Their argument was that “people” would not change their lifestyle quickly enough to allow carbon emissions to drop as fast as they should to limit global warming.

“People”. How ironic.


other thoughts


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