Friday, April 7, 2017

The Sustainability Series: (Dr) Ewa Grygolowicz-Pawlak

Ewa was born and raised in a small but very polluted town in Poland. She moved to Warsaw to study and after receiving her PhD in Chemistry, she was working on chemical sensors in Perth and Geneva. After staying for some time at home with her kids, she resumed work as a research fellow in NEWRI (an environmental institute at NTU), where she finally started to feel that she might actually have an impact on the state of the environment. She can run much faster than I can, is as friendly as one can be and is extremely passionate about both her work and family. Also, not a photo person, she prefers being heard rather than being seen.

1)     How do you think you have contributed or are contributing to sustainability, professionally or personally? 
Embarrassingly, not enough. I only do the basics - recycling and reducing consumption. Even professionally, until recently I have been mainly career oriented, leaving the problem of sustainability to more competent people, who are trained and paid for dealing with it. As circumstances changed, I was given a chance to explore this field more and found my true calling in it. I believe, that an answer to sustainable future is a proper management, out of the box thinking and multidisciplinary, open collaboration between scientists, engineers, customers and entrepreneurs. I am currently working on proving the benefits of such an approach, hoping it will be adopted as a standard in future projects.
2)         Name one measure/innovation in sustainability that has impressed you in the past.
Sanitation and wastewater treatment. Lack of proper sanitation was a reason for periodic pandemics of Plague and Black Death in overcrowded cities of Middle Ages’ Europe and Asia. It is unacceptable, that such a basic human right is still not available these days for a big part of the world. It is estimated, that up to 5 million people die each year from preventable waterborne diseases due to inadequate sanitation.
3)         Mention five small steps every individual can adopt in their daily life to make our planet more sustainable.
        i.            It may seem irrelevant for sustainability at first, but let’s respect others, let’s hear them out and appreciate them for their different opinions. Only when we listen without prejudice we are able to see things from a different perspective, gain more three-dimensional and in-depth understanding of the problem, which in turn will allow us to take more accurate actions and bring more effective changes.
      ii.            Let’s be more skeptical to new trends – let’s do a quick Google search and make our own judgment before we criticize or accept a new idea. Let’s not blindly follow the majority. Unfortunately, usually it is not the majority that is right!
    iii.            Recently I have read an article on how much food is wasted just because it was not pleasing enough to our eyes. The authors blame our instinct of disgust that is protecting us from getting sick. But weird shaped veggie is no threat to our health if it is fresh. Mopping floor everyday also doesn’t make any sense from the hygiene point of view. Some of us are abusing cleaning for strictly social reasons. Things to think about…
    iv.            Reduce consumption of meat and diary products (it is the most difficult one for me). We turn jungles into meadows to feed the grazing animals that are to feed us. They also produce enormous amounts of green-house gas.
      v.            And the obvious – reduce the use of plastic bags and take away packages, recycle, reduce wastage, use public transport, etc.
4)         What are your inspirations to work towards sustainability and aspirations to contribute more to sustainability?
 I think the key fuel to work towards anything is realistic optimism. For that, the most inspiring case for me was the eradication of small pox. It has shown, that nothing is impossible, even if everyone thinks otherwise and criticizes you for being naïve and not knowing everything. It was the perfect example that out-of-the box thinking and good, global management can break any stereotype. After all, “the alternative is a self-fulfilling prophecy”. (The Serengeti Rules: The Quest to Discover How Life Works and Why It Matters, by Sean B. Carroll).
My aspiration is to show that multidisciplinary, possibly crowd sourced/sponsored, individually addressed approach to sustainable development is the most efficient one. I think, that too much research nowadays is focused on papers generation instead of practical application. It seems like a big waste of time and resources in times when we can’t afford it.
5)         If you were a renewable energy, what would you be and why? (You do not need to be technical; you can choose the one that suits your personality most.)
 Definitely - solar. They say it is not reliable, depends on the weather conditions and unavailable during the night. But they’re wrong! It is there all the time and stable. We need to learn to cooperate globally to experience its full potential. I like to think, that solar energy, will be one of the reasons we will stop being nations, races and religions and become humans instead. Beside this, the Sun is the reason life exists on Earth, so it deserves great respect. And let’s be honest – solar is hot and out of this world ;P
6)         What is your idea of a utopian world and a dystopian world?
I used to think, that in the perfect world people will know how to live independently from the nature. That technology will allow us to live in a closed carbon and water system, at no Earth surface footprint, in equality, free from hunger, poverty and disease. I still believe all of it is a key factor. But it shouldn’t be our driving force. We can see a profound technological, economic and political progress that doesn’t seem to go in pair with our happiness. “More people nowadays are dying from eating too much than from eating too little… More people die from committing suicide than crime, terrorism and war together…” (Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari). For me, the real Utopia is a place, where people realize their happiness is their own state of mind, that sometimes the things they are chasing after their whole life, is not what they really needed.

I know, that it is a horrible thing to say to people who struggle everyday to survive, but I’m sure they no longer would have to struggle if the rest of the world rethink their life goals. It is long time proven that it’s not having, but being that makes us happy. But it is not just that. The “being” alone seems to create a big social problem. People tend to hide their real personalities and pretend they are someone they think the society would accept more. We conform to belong - that is our instinct. But instincts evolved to help us survive in the world full of physical threats. We live in a completely different world now, where our instincts are no longer a good advisor, very often misleading us instead. We can’t be happy if we don’t accept ourselves the way we truly are. Therefore, I think humanity should rather focus on psychology and sociology now. Technology that already exists today is more than enough for us to create a utopian world. What we need is open and healthy minds to benefit from it.
A dystopian world to me is a world full of timid minds, conforming to ignorant ones.
7)         Would you rather (and why):
a)      Shower on alternate days or drink less water, if there was a water crisis? :P
 Neither. I would rather produce clean water on my own. The Internet is full of hacks showing how to go around water crisis.
b)     Hug a tree for a day, for preventing it from being cut or impose on someone a prohibition of eating shark fin soup for life?
Prohibitions don’t solve problems. Contrary, they give beginning to underground activity instead. And let’s be honest, how many times did you want something only because it was forbidden?
I would rather hug a tree if necessary.
c)      Be vegetarian or consume human flesh after they are dead (not from disease, let us say) to save on resources to burn/bury their body?
Oh God, this is a very disturbing one Shreya… I like it! :D My instincts are telling me to go vegetarian, but my logic says human flesh is high in quality protein, so it would be wise to eat it instead of wasting. I guess, I am not open minded enough to go for the second option yet.
d)     Dedicate your whole life fighting against pollution or spend it saving endangered species?
Fight against pollution! Pollution affects every specie and life on Earth in general. As for the endangered species, as sorry as I feel for them and for us never to see them again, that is an inevitable step in evolution. Only the fittest will survive and give a beginning to new species to come. It is the major terrestrial cataclysms that we owe our (humans) existence. It is sad, that we have to consider human era as a cataclysm, but let us at least hope it will give a rise to new, amazing species to come.
e)      Be born in this era/generation, in the past, or in the future (speaking solely from the sustainability point of view)?
Past was too chaotic and decentralized to bring about changes that would be clearly noticeable within the lifetime of a single generation. I wouldn’t like to dedicate my whole life to work on something I would never find out if it worked.
At present, things are more rapid and thanks to that, the humanity becomes more aware of the significance of their actions and become confident in making decisions of global impact. We do many mistakes, often of very drastic consequences, but we learn from them and become more and more efficient.
Utopian future, I believe in, is pleasant, but as there is nothing to fix anymore, I would find it boring. It’s like spending holidays doing nothing but laying on the beach of a paradise island…, all-inclusive…, for life… Brrrrr ;D
Seems like I am lucky to live in the most interesting times!:D Now we know what to do and there is soooo much to do for everyone. That gives people the sense of purpose. I guess, we should learn to appreciate it and enjoy ourselves until the Utopia happens. ;P
f)       Take public transport for the rest of your life or travel by plane only for business to minimize your carbon footprint?
I’ve never had a car, so there is no challenge for me to use public transport. Not to see my family and friends, or places I haven’t seen yet… that would be asking too much from me.

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