If the present generation has to write the history of the future, such an exercise could be termed as, for want of better words, digging up the past or peering into a crystal ball. I strongly felt such a need when I was in Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, just a few days back. Eighty percent of Turkmenistan is desert and nothing grows there. But ideas and concepts, visions and the dreams that grow there are plentiful.
I was in Ashgabat to participate in the 6th Regional Network Meeting of National Ozone Units of 11 countries in the Europe and Central Asia region. The year 2007 being the 20th Anniversary of the signing of the Montreal Protocol, the Network meeting was launched with much fanfare, with amazing performances by an orchestra of students dressed in traditionally colorful costumes that include the Turkmen cap placed on the top back of the head. As part of the programme, the participants visited the adjacent National Museum of Turkmenistan. One of the objects in the museum that attracted my attention was a replica of a well of an ancient castle. The guide explained that wells in the 3rd century A.D. were not only used to draw water but also to keep them cool and preserve them. The people at that time suspended food deep down in the wells. Crossbars were installed at the mouth of the wells and from there food articles were suspended deep inside to cool and preserve them. My modern 'technologist mind' was simply and literally taken aback. I expressed my astonishment for this simple method of preservation of perishable food. Unaware of the background of my 'CFC trained' mind, the guide went on to explain, "But that was not the only way to preserve the meat and vegetables at that time. People in that era, dried salted food in the sun and buried it in the ground for several days. Did you know that a few feet below the earth there is a cold zone?" the guide asked.
I remembered the ruins of the forts near my village in India which I visited as a young student. I learned that grain storage was underground. Surely there too the villagers must have used the 'deep down earth refrigerator' even for the preservation of perishable food. The storage spaces were large, which meant that they were underground 'community refrigerators'. Amazing, I thought, because the need for preservation also gave rise to community living and team spirit. The natural way to implement the Refrigerant Management Plan for the community, I thought.
Later in the night, after the meeting, I was reading a book, 'Ruhnama' written by the former President of Turkmenistan. It is the book that is omnipresent in Ashgabat, the "city of love". The book was given to each workshop participant as a souvenir. As I browsed through it, my eyes were glued to one of the thoughts expressed there. It said that modern science and its inventions contradict nature. How true! So-called science has brought us so far - from the use of ' down to earth community-refrigerator that utilized mother earth's cool affection' to the 'domestic-refrigerator that utilized CFCs tearing apart nature's protective stratospheric ozone layer high up above us'. What progress!
Adversity may be the mother of invention, but that invention has to be thoughtful. The civilization that lived in the deserts could invent methods of prosperous and sustainable living by harnessing nature. We now need the fathers of the invention to assess the contradictions of their creation and make 'natural and sustainable choices'. What we need is the regular release of a Global Civilization Outlook (GCO) just like the existing Global Environmental Outlook (GEO).
It is time, I thought, that we start collecting such not-in-kind technologies that our forefathers used without contradicting nature. Anniversaries are the occasion to reflect on the past to face the future challenges. Frankly, the past of the Montreal Protocol does not start from 1989; it goes back much farther to the time when civilization began.