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A Scientist's Love for Creation

A Scientist's Love for Creation

When he was only four years old, Peter (Chul-Un) Ro [MTS 2001] was swept up in a monsoon in his native Korea and almost drowned. He now studies acid rain, which is not as immediately devastating but equally destructive.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, North America saw the effects of acid rain in scrawny, sickly lake fish, in brown, spindly trees, and in stonework, where carefully carved details on statues were being eroded. Those were just the effects that could be seen. Acid rain also damages the atmosphere and threatens human existence. “Air pollution is more threatening than global warming,” says Peter, a senior scientist at Environment Canada for the last 25 years.

Burning coal is the main contributing factor turning rain into acid rain. Due to the weather patterns in North America, 70% of Canada’s acid rain originates in the United States. On March 13, 1991, President George Bush Sr. and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney signed an agreement between the United States and Canada acknowledging the need to reduce acid rain and exchange data. Since that time Peter and his American counterparts have been collecting data from 300 monitoring stations in Canada and the States.

Rain and snow are collected in similar receptacles—in Canada, the samples are collected daily and in the United States, weekly. Peter has been part of the Canadian team that has developed the method to standardize and analyze the data. All of the information is then entered into the NAtChem (National Atmospheric Chemistry) database that is made available to the public through the Environment Canada website. Although the scientists working together from both sides of the border have good relationships and choose to resolve rather than fight about issues, there is room to disagree about methods and challenge results. “There’s a long scientific justification for both countries to be happy,” explains Peter.

Over 20 years, the data have indicated that reduction of the amount of coal being burnt in the United States has significantly reduced the amount of acid rain in Canada. “The results are very joyful, very encouraging,” says Peter, “and the long-term success is very satisfying.”

That success could be threatened. People are asking if the economic sacrifice was worth the improvement and are making the insidious suggestion that because things are better now, coal can be burned again.

At 72 years of age, Peter’s work is not done. When a high school teacher encouraged Peter to study meteorology, he remembered his fear of monsoons and wondered if there was some way to protect the earth from them. “But I was a teenager,” says Peter, “and I wanted to be a big shot and thought monsoons were too small for me.” Peter’s thinking eventually changed. His mother was a fourth-generation Korean Christian, who, with his father’s permission, took all of her six children to church and Sunday school. Peter was the eldest, and his father raised him with the expectation that he would go abroad to study. Peter left the church and, as he puts it, “I departed from God but God didn’t depart from me.” After receiving his first degree, Peter left Korea for McGill University.

At McGill, Peter met John Hardy, an Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship staff worker, and pastor. “He was totally different from the ones [pastors] I’d met in Korea,” says Peter. “I remember thinking ‘I feel like he’s Jesus’.”

His relationship with John and other Christians helped restore his relationship with God. As Peter’s faith deepened, so did his desire to serve God. After working at Environment Canada for many years, Peter challenged God and told him he wanted to be a full-time pastor. He came to Tyndale to study, taking evening courses while working full-time, and tried to start an outreach ministry in his church.

It took some time for Peter to hear what God was telling him through his various experiences. “My work isn’t just a job,” says Peter. “A pastor takes care of people. I take care of what God created.” That is Peter’s calling. He is a pastor of God’s creation and his studies at Tyndale helped him gain confidence in God and in what he believes. “Everything is big to me now. I see Him in the details,” says Peter, referring especially to his research but also in the atmospheric layers around the earth. “It’s an amazing design of God’s to protect the earth with different layers— it’s amazingly, marvellously, beautifully created.”

His work has expanded because of this big vision. He participates with a team that has replicated the Canada/ US research project worldwide, the World Meteorological Organization, and is one of the fifteen international authors. His contributions have been recognized. Peter received the Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee medal for his achievements in acid rain studies. “It was a great honour and surprising,” says Peter. “It was recognition of my life work.”

But it is not all about work for Peter. He has a wife of 45 years, two children, and four grandchildren. The “bigness” of Peter’s life, however, is somewhat ironic. His son, Thomas, is a pipeline engineer working in the gas industry, an industry that helps create car emissions, one of the contributing factors to acid rain. Peter sees this irony as an ever-present reality of his work, but he cannot stop. “I have to do it, my heart is there, and I’ll do it till the Lord says stop.”