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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ready to play the GOOD GAME?

Last November, the IPCC established that human-induced climate change is fast attaining irreversibility – ocean warming, sea level rise and temperature rise.
Introspect on the above statement for a minute.
What does it convey?
Nature, in its pristine form has always adopted a self-sustaining mutually co-existing mechanism, which undoubtedly, is a remarkable success, for us to take note of and understand.
To understand nature, is to think beyond the present system, which is anti-self-sustenance and anti-coexistence. And for us, who have been born, brought-up and moulded into the system, thinking outside its boundaries is many a time impossible, leave alone understanding aspects beyond its regime. Therefore, fundamentally, most of us do not attempt to, nor wish to, understand the basic principle of Nature.
Humans - the most enterprising species of planet Earth, have for long taken Nature for granted and have evolved a system completely against that followed by Nature. Therefore, we aren’t bothered about our neighbour’s well water being polluted, or give a damn about the trees being felled in our cities in the guise of development, nor raise eyebrows towards atrocities committed against our fellow beings…. this list goes on. Today we have become machines, who do not understand self-sustenance; and as against coexistence, are mono-existent.  We simply want to win the race, score the highest, accumulate the maximum, become the richest and above all, earn stature and status. But friends, Nature just doesn’t work that way! Hence the mess!
The only possible solution to the sufferings that we and more importantly our children are going to endure is that proposed by Jesus, Buddha and of late Karl Marx, the same system adapted by the Jews in their Kibbutz - the system of equality and equitability. But, with big corporations and financial powerhouses ‘controlling’ those controlling the system, any proposal towards a change would be quelled and binned without even considering it.
While it is clear that the present system doesn’t offer even a single serious solution towards mitigating and surviving climate change, and because it will not allow any change in its regime, the only possible way out for ordinary folks like you and me, is a solution within the system, that in no way will adversely hurt the system and incur its wrath.
The solution is simply christened the ‘Good Game’
Is the world full of evil? Definitely no!
Human beings, however one with the system, are ‘good’ individually. Therefore, we find around us philanthropy and aid programmes, which work in their individual capacities to prevent the system from destroying the world. But even after nearly half a century of serious anti-poverty campaigns, why do we find, a majority of the world’s people, poor? And even though we until now have consistently produced enough food to feed 2 Earths, we are failing miserably to feed the people of just 1 Earth! This observation raises a serious question – what is the sum total of all the work done against poverty and against climate change? What are the results?
The work – mammoth but the results – paltry. Why so?
I could think of 2 possible answers – (1) Lack of coordination between various organizations working towards different causes, or at times the same cause, resulting is wastage of resources from multiple players aiming to achieve the same end result at the same location; and (2) Lack of participation by, and the lack of opportunities to, ordinary people to be a part of such ‘good’ activities.
Therefore, in order to bring about coordination and understanding between various ‘good’ organisations, to prevent wastage of the limited available resources towards ‘good’ causes, and to involve even ordinary folk into such ‘good’ work, we propose the ‘Good Game’ – a live, real internet based gamified platform, wherein people from across the globe help each other selflessly in their own capacities, all while working to build an equal and equitable society. To be continued….

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

How green is your city?

The last hundred years have been the most astonishing for the human civilization. We exponentially moved from being simple folk to sophisticated people. Technology has advanced to such an extent that we need to go out of our homes – rather sit in a room and manage everything from business to laundry.
These hundred years saw the biggest mass exodus of people from rural areas into cities. The city provided them with a vision of a successful future – to be rich and famous. Industries and business established themselves around them, housing blocks sprung up like trees in a forest, cars and busses flooded their roads – this was any city, and where money flowed like water.
Hundred years later, big cities still attract people. Industries still building more plants, everyday hundreds of cars add to the already congested roads – however bad, the city life still charms many.
Technological advancements have made us conscious about our lives. Health is an important concern that we carry. Hygienic food, clean water and unsullied air are luxuries we yearn about – but we are deprived of all three at times!
So do you live in a healthy city? Is your city green?
Introspect on the following points and find out!
  • A public park in each residential area:

A public park is an area that is full of greenery and has facilities for recreational activities for residents of all ages. The biggest ‘green’ advantage of a park in an area is that it helps contain the high pollution levels and provides cleaner air, and cooler temperatures to its residents.
Now consider your city – does it have a park in every area?
If yes, give it one point!
  • Factories must be away from residential areas:

 Factories are an important source of localized pollution – both air and water. By establishing industrial areas away from residential zones, localized concentration of effluents can be prevented. This in turn would aid in ensuring good health amongst the citizens.
Is the industrial area of your city away from the residential areas?
If yes, give it another point!
  • Bus terminals should be away from the city, but not far away:

If the bus terminals are inside the city, they increase traffic congestion and result in greater vehicular emissions – more pollution! It also increase noise pollution through constant hoot of these giant vehicles.
On the other hand if the bus terminals are located far away from residential areas, then more fuel would be burnt to reach them.
Now this one’s a tough one.
Decide carefully whether to give your city another point or not.
  • A good public transport system:

Having a well-connected and well-established public transport system reduces vehicular pollution and traffic congestion (and its associated problems), as people tend leave their personal vehicles at home.
This one’s easy to judge.
So go ahead and continue the count.
  • No car zone in trade hub:

A commercial zone / trade hub is generally the busiest most populated part of the city during business hours. Most traders or customers tend to bring their personal cars to work / finish their shopping. Parking becomes a big problem, and many a time most of the road is taken up by parked vehicles. This increases traffic jams and as a result increases vehicular emissions resulting in greater localized pollution.
Is the trade hub in your city car free?
If yes, your city has won another point!
  • Strict building construction norms:

Building construction norms must be environmentally friendly and strictly implemented. For examples, all buildings must have their own sufficient parking spaces; have efficient energy consumption systems; good ventilation etc. Unsustainable construction should be banned.
Go ahead, and judge your city. Does it get another point?
  • Ample space for walking:

A green city must have adequate foot path, walkways, skywalk etc. to aid people commute locally by foot. These pathways must be clean and well maintained. No parking or vending should be allowed on them.
Now, this one’s simple.
Did your city just gain an important point?
  • Separate lane for bikers:

This is applicable only for developing countries where motorcycles and bicycles are a widely used mode of transport. Having a separate lane for bikers would help increase safety standards on the road. It also helps decrease traffic congestion.
So are bikers safe in your city?
If yes, add another point to the tally.
  • Effective garbage collection and disposal system:

Now this is a very important system. An effective garbage collection and disposal mechanisms has many advantages particularly with respect to health. Accumulated heaps of garbage are excellent breeding grounds for bacteria, viruses and rodents – all of which cause diseases.
Do you have a good garbage handling system?
If yes, this one’s a big plus point. Add one to the tally again.
  • Efficient sewage water treatment plant:

 An efficient sewage treatment plant has many advantages – from reducing fresh water demand to preventing soil / water body pollution. An excellent drainage system, without any leaks is an integral part of this mechanism.
A little hard to judge, but then go ahead.
Now you have thought about it, judged your city and assigned it points for various parameters. It’s time to pronounce the judgment.

Enter your city’s name and the points out of ten against it in the comments section below. (For example: XYZ city – 5/10)
Let’s compare our cities and may this exercise help us plan and improve ours’.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

8 ways to reduce your carbon footprint

Ever calculated your carbon footprint?
Is it too large?
Confused how to reduce it?
Well, below are 10 ways of reducing your carbon emissions while living a luxurious and a comfortable life!
Buy old / vintage:
It may be an old jacket or a set of old chairs, buying vintage is always nature friendly as it eliminates the carbon emissions that go with the production of a new similar item. Please note: Avoid buying old electronic goods though, as they end up consuming more electricity – which means more emissions.
Buy locally grown / sourced food:

Buying locally grown vegetables helps the local farmer grow better and may even improve the local economy. Sourcing food a location involves transportation. The commercial transportation industry is one the largest polluters in the world. Yes, by eating locally we would harm their business, but look at the bright side – You are indirectly helping the world go green!
Have a green wedding!
Am I going a bit too far?
Did you know an average wedding creates 16 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions?
Relax, I am not advising you to go for Tofurkey canap├ęs or vegan wedding shoes! Instead register for energy certified gifts, or make your invitation card from old recycled wool or cotton. You might end up saving a lot as well!
Simple living
Are you living alone in a six bedroom mansion in a suburban area? Do you drive all the way to an office that’s inside the city?  Consider simplifying your life.
Shit to a smaller house near your office (might end up being expensive) and use public transport. Large houses use far more carbon to light it up / keep it warm than smaller condos. Using the public transport has widely known benefits that I need not elaborate on.
Wear a Cashmere sweater
Did you know 12% the world’s sulfur dioxide emissions and 1 billion metric tons of carbon emissions come from home heating systems?
This winter, buy a cashmere sweater and turn down the heating a bit. Say you keep the thermostat at 70 degrees, make it 65. This way you reduce your carbon emissions and end up reducing your heating bill by 10%
Buy carbon offsets
Well, this one’s only for those super rich folks who can afford a private / chartered jet!
Yes, all your rich folks, please buy carbon offsets before making those trips on luxurious trips. The money you pay for buying carbon offsets go into planting trees, developing greener solutions, starting clean energy harnessing stations etc. In this way you are not guilty of all the bad gasses that shoot out of your jet’s engines!
Drive an electric / hybrid
Now, I still vouch for public transportation – it’s the greenest.
But if you still have to use a car everyday – buy a hybrid or even better an electric.
And please – CAR POOL!
Switch off the lights

Its human nature to preserve what is ours and show lacksidal interest in what is not ours. We are always careful to switch off the lights in our homes – because we pay the bills.
But what are we that conscious about the lights at our office or at public places.
‘Switch off as you go’ should be our motto. It’s not about paying bills, but about reducing the carbon emissions that go into producing the electricity that lights up these buildings.
Ready to make a difference?
All set to go green?

All the best! 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Plundering the polar ice caps - a blunder in making!

Oil in the Antarctic!
Diamonds in the Arctic!

The whole world (read the business community) leaped in joy. The excitement was palpable. The search for a cheaper alternate energy source suddenly seemed not necessary. The OIL magazine – an energy industry quarterly dedicated its whole March 2013 issue to celebrate the great discovery.  Gianni di Giovanni its editor in chief remarked that the new frontier in energy procurement runs along the Arctic Circle.

Russia officially became the first country to start drilling the ice caps. And it went a step further by demonstrating its stern commitment to its efforts by labelling and convicting Greenpeace activists with piracy. And with Russia’s bold move came similar responses from other nations, who too suddenly jumped the bandwagon to claim their share of the pie. Many nations since then have even formulated a military strategy for the poles.

It’s an accepted fact that the industrial revolution has made us energy hungry. Fossil fuels are the cheapest, most economical source of this energy – another undeniable fact. The last decade has been particularly tricky with the need to find a balance between sourcing cheap energy and rejuvenating the badly damaged ecology. The various conferences and treaties signed since the Kyoto protocol seemed to be the right step forward. But then a few months back, the Russian move suddenly made all these treaties mere words writing on a worthless piece of paper.

Drilling in the remote and harsh but pristine environment of the poles poses two distinct risks:
  • Risks to human life working at the rigs
  • Environmental risks

The year 2012 was supposed to be a big year for Royal Dutch Shell. The company announced its plans to drill for oil off the coast of Alaska. The coup de grace came on New Year’s even when their rig ran aground near Kodiak. This blunder required the efforts of around 500 personnel and the coast guard working day in and out in the harsh climate to secure the rig. Soon Shell struggled to meet most of the US government’s safety requirements. And in 2013 – they abandoned the project. An independent audit later confirmed that the company did not have the equipment nor the capability to drill in such harsh climatic conditions.

The environmental risks posed by polar drilling are – (1) releasing trapped methane from the caps (2) oil spills and (3) tampering with the pristine ecology.

It is estimated that around 1700 billion tons of methane is trapped in the polar ice caps. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas and has the capacity to accelerate global warming at an exponential rate. This factor is never accounted for in the calculations that lead the big energy houses and governments to initiate the idea of polar drilling. In the event of a methane leak from the poles, the effects of climate change such as sea level rise, unpredictable climate etc. would be experienced at a much larger scale than otherwise predicted.

The next major concern from polar drilling is an oil spill. We have already seen the impacts of oil spills on marine lives and coastal communities. Today we do have technology that can be used to mitigate the effects of such spills. But as Shell’s blunder rightly pointed out – we lack the expertise and the technology to counter such an event at the poles. It would simply be catastrophic.

And finally our biggest concern is destroying the last remaining pristine ecology on earth. We in our quest for energy, power and money have plundered the entire world, messed with the ecology and experimented with the balance of nature. Through all these years of mismanagement and stupidity we have learnt the lesson and hence there now exists the need to go green. But the whole drama surrounding the oil exploration exercises at the poles suggests that we as human beings cannot change our originality, but simply put a cloak of pretentiousness.

And now we hear there is abundant coal and diamond reserves as well!

Wake up Earthizen!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Wake up Mangalore... or be damned! - Book launch

Royston Fernandes, author of “Shall We Save the Earth” unveiled his second book on climate change - adaptation and mitigation. The book is written exclusively for the people of Mangalore with a global perspective. Royston speaks of the struggles that ordinary Mangaloreans would endure due to climate change in the next few years.

The book was released by Ms. Vidya Dinkar an eminent environmentalist and social activist who reminded the gathering about the irony of the situation wherein on one end of Mangalore a book that speaks of conservation and preservation is unveiled at the other end the government representatives are inaugurating a petrochemical project that would gradually turn Mangalore into a petrochemical export hub. This would not only destroy the surrounding ecology but also leave the thriving ‘Mogaveera’ community of Mangalore who are predominantly fishermen, into a perilous situation.

Mr. Eric Ozario – social and cultural activist from Mangalore was also present at the event as a patron. He remembered Nelson Mandela and quoted Malcom Muggeridge saying “Never forget that only dead fish swim with the stream” to encourage and inspire Royston on his journey which he described as a “way of the cross.”

The book was unveiled in an unusual manner. The guests were treated to a sight of a jar (buyao/bharani) on the podium. The event’s compere Mr. Eric Ozario explained that the jar was a symbol of preservation as it is quite common for Mangaloreans to prepare for the rainy season with jars filled with pickle stashed away in the attic. He said since the book speaks about preservation this is perhaps the most fitting welcome it deserves. Ms. Vidya Dinkar then unveiled the book and presented it to the audience.

The book has been published by Notionpress Chennai and is available for sale online at Flipkart, Bookadda, Amazon and on the publisher website. All proceeds from the book would be used to fund activities aimed at educating the common man about climate change.

Written by – J.Marian.D’Souza

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Tree Credits - an idea that can save the world!

In my previous article, I put forth before you ‘Scenario 2030’ – a target date for us to adhere to. We discussed how food shortages would plague our land and decided to act immediately on this.  In another one of my article ‘What if you were paid money for every tree you plant?’ – I introduced a new concept of paying royalties to individuals who would plant and nurture trees. This was more on the lines of our obligation to save mother earth.

A lot of interested earthizens came back to me after reading these articles. A few explained their inability to find adequate land around their apartment complexes to plant a tree. A few more praised the novel idea of encouraging plantations through the payment of royalties. In this article, I will combine both these concepts into one single idea – ‘Tree Credits’.
Climate change has reached an inflection point today. It cannot be reversed, but can be reduced. The primary reason for global warming (which is causing climate change) is greenhouse gas emissions mainly from electricity generation, industries and automobile emissions. The main carbon sink to reduce the percentage of carbon di oxide (the main greenhouse gas) are the forests of the earth. Unfortunately this strategic tree cover is decreasing by the day.

The basic idea and the driving force behind ‘Tree Credits’ is to create more food, employment and simultaneously increase the green cover of the earth. This idea was conceptualized in 2009 by Ferdinand Swart, a Dutch designer and environmentalist. His intention was to extend a smaller more practical version of carbon credits to every Earthizen. Ferdinand even initiated a pilot project in India in the year 2011 in association with PSA, an NGO based out of Trichi.

Tree Credits is a unique idea that gives every Earthizen a chance to give back to nature – may be through direct planting of trees or may be through funding the project. It offers us all a great opportunity to reduce our carbon footprint and help resuscitate our ailing mother earth. Before going into the specific details of this idea, let me first brief present before you the advantages of this concept.
  • ·         Increase local food production – by practicing agroforestry.
  • ·         Increase local source of fodder.
  • ·         Improve soil fertility -decrease reliability on chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
  • ·         Create employment opportunities – particularly amongst rural women.
  • ·         Create an additional source of income in the form of royalties.
  • ·        Create a good investment which can be used as a guarantee against micro-finance loans.
  • ·         Increase density of green cover and thus avail the associated benefits.

The ultimate goal of Tree Credits is to double the tree cover and exponentially increase food production throughout the world (taking 2015 as the base year for estimation) by 2050.
My next article would detail the implementation plan of the tree credit idea. But, before we go ahead and do that – I would like to assess your support for the same. If you would in the near future come forward to participate (through monetary support or volunteering) please do leave a comment below.

The next big idea to change the world is here!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Scenario 2030 - investing in a safe future.

The year 2030 – let’s call it the target year.
The target – to adequately adapt to a changing climate and a changing landscape.
Why 2030?
By then the world’s sea levels are expected to rise by about 1.37 meters. Today around 100 million people around the world live within 1 meter of the sea levels. This is number will only increase in the next couple of years.
The rising seas will pose a variety of problems both at the micro as well as the macro level.  Resettlement of the displaced population, ensuring and maintaining adequate security, law and order, disaster control etc. would challenge every government on the face of the earth. But the one problem that would most likely suffocate these governments into giving up is food security. You can read more about this in my book ‘Wake up Mangalore… or be damned!’
I was raised in a small coastal city surrounded by lush green paddy fields and coconut plantations. But today, I can hardly see this greenery.  This is the case in most countries – wherein the lucrative real estate rates are persuading farmers into selling their fertile agricultural land. The advent of technology however has kept the demand and supply gap more or less within controllable limits. But with an unpredictable weather looming large, soil patterns constantly changing and water availability fast decreasing – keeping this gap small is a challenge.
But we need not panic, as we have plenty of solutions at hand. The only thing that needs to change is our proactiveness in implementing them.
One such solution is agroforestry.
Agroforestry can be defined as the integration of crops and livestock systems with trees. If implemented scientifically it has the potential to allow the farmer to increase the efficiency of land use, boost yields and also help in increasing the ever decreasing carbon sink.
For a farmer – agroforestry has tremendous benefits. On farm trees (the right kind) help replenish nutrient deficient soil. This eliminates the necessity to use chemical fertilizers. These trees may also bear fruit that can be used locally and sold – adding to the farmer’s revenue. These trees may also provide fodder for the livestock reducing fodder costs. In total it is a win-win situation for a farmer.
Sadly, I have no agricultural land except for a small back yard. What much can I do?
Don’t get disheartened and give up! There is a lot we can do!
To begin with, plant a few indigenous fruit trees in your yard. Consider this as an investment you are making for your children. You could also invest in agroforestry schemes and contribute to NGOs undertaking such missions. Remember the biggest challenge our children will face is finding adequate quantity of nutritious food. And we have a golden opportunity here. Let’s not let this one pass!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What if you get paid for every tree you plant?

At a time when global warming seems irreversible; at a time when an ever changing climate threatens the well-being of the most intelligent species on this planet; at a time when we increasingly notice the callous attitude of our leaders towards this issue (as in Warsaw) and at a time when the future looks grim and options few – we are confronted with a question: “What can we do?”

Plant a tree!

In India year after year we celebrate a unique festival called Vanamahotsava. Famously acclaimed as the festival of life – the intent behind it is to encourage natural conservation amongst the next generation. Schools all over the country celebrate this by planting saplings, donating saplings to students, holding awareness campaigns and drives, taking up causes etc. Indeed a remarkable imitative in its inception. Similar festivals and events are organized by various charities and NGOs around the world. TV channels, newspapers and websites cover these events; foundations and governments award prizes in recognition to the leaders and a lot of public support rallies behind them. A novel cause indeed.

Statistics indicate that the tree cover on this earth is exponentially decreasing. A simple conclusion from the previous statement – the rate of tree felling is much higher compared to the rate of replanting. Every country has legislation regarding felling of trees and afforestation. Most of these are sadly not implemented. Lack of interest? Lack of motivation? Lack of fear? After all they are trees – why should I care? Even if I give a damn, what do I get in return?

The rate of deforestation is only going to move up the vertical spiral in the years to come. Can it be stopped? I guess not. But can we undo the damage? Of course we can!
The Vanamahotsava, NGO and foundations planting trees, the afforestation programs on a small scale are all wonderful initiatives that unfortunately aren't enough.  So here’s the plan – we take this movement to a whole new level. We take it to every village, town and city on the face of this earth. But wait a minute – what will motivate people to sign up, especially in villages (most of which are ridden with poverty and illiteracy)?
What if I say – we will pay you royalty for every sapling you plant right from day one?

To be continued…………

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Weather - breaking all records since 2012!

In the last one month we have witnessed a total of three extremely disturbing events – (1) typhoon Haiyan that wreaked havoc through the Philippines, (2) The sudden flooding of Riyadh and (3) the tornado that struck Illinois.
As I sat staring at the partially filled lake outside my balcony, I began to wonder as to how all this is connected. All the three places were of special significance to me as my cousin brother lives with his wife in Illinois, another cousin sister lives with her family in Manila and in Riyadh I have a host of family and friends. Typhoons aren't a new phenomenon in the Philippines this time of the year – but a typhoon of this magnitude scares me! A cloud burst in Riyadh makes me laugh – I couldn't believe it the very first time I read it (and thought it was faking news!). Tornadoes aren't new to Illinois – but this one was remarkably different.

The best way to understand the behavior of weather systems around the world is to look at the record breaking temperatures that were seen this year alone. First let’s examine the extreme lows that temperatures have hit!
  1. An extreme cold weather alert was issued in Toronto, Canada on February 16 and 17.
  2. The US witnessed an unusual cold wave that brought the Arctic cold front to their door steps with temperatures falling rapids and winds gushing at around 56 to 80 kmph! (35 to 50mph)
  3. In the Czech Republic the falling temperatures delayed the arrival of migratory birds that usually spend their summers here. In Pribram the temperature of -9.4 Celsius observed on March 24th broke the 1883 record by being 1.8 degrees lower!
  4. In Finland, this year’s usually warm March was replaced by an extremely cold month. It was also the coldest March in history!
  5. Northern France was hit by heavy snow beginning on March 11, with Meteo France warning of "dangerous weather of an exceptional intensity"
  6. On March 22nd Budapest came to a standstill when it recorded the heaviest snow in about 400 years! At other locations Hungary deployed tanks to rescue stranded tourists and citizens.
  7. Spain witnessed heavy snowing in the month of April!
  8. In Ukraine, the Kiev State Administration declared a state of emergency in the city on March 23 due to the deterioration of weather conditions causes by heavy snowfall, blizzards and snow-banks.
  9. Last month the United Kingdom braced the worst storm in years, with most of the country coming to a standstill.
  10. In China, the average January temperature became the lowest recorded in the last 28 years. About a thousand ships were stuck in ice in Laizhou Bay, while 10,500 square miles of ice reportedly covered the surface of the Bohai Sea. China also reported 180,000 cattle deaths due to extreme temperatures by January 10th.
  11. New Delhi recorded the lowest January temperatures in 44 years, while in the state of Uttar Pradesh schools remained closed till January 12th.
  12. Seoul the capital of South Korea recorded -16.5 degree Celsius on January 3rd, the lowest in 27 years.
Now let’s examine the record highs that temperatures have reached!
  1. In June this year a heat wave struck South Western United States with Southern California experiencing a record high 50°C. This temperature is the highest ever recorded on Earth in the month of June!
  2. In July, Portugal experienced a week long heat wave with average temperatures touching 40°C and the peak temperature at 45°C.
  3. The UK recorded its highest ever temperature of 34.1°C on August 1st. Scientists and doctors claim that the record high temperatures over a period of weeks could have led at least 650 premature deaths!
  4. Shanghai recorded the highest temperatures in 140 years at 40°C
  5. Australia recorded the longest heat wave in history lasting a whopping 90 days!

The World’s weather pattern seems to be fast changing. These changing weather systems will have a tremendous influence on our lives - the agriculture on which we depend and the infrastructure that supports us.  Are we prepared to brace these fast changes around us?
As you are reading this, two heartbreaking events occurred at two different corners of the world. The government of Bangladesh (the country to be most vulnerable to climate change) unveiled its new plan of building 8 new coal powered power plants. The second blunder we witnessed was the banning of peaceful protests against oil drilling by the United States!
You better be! 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Warsaw... an opportunity wasted!

While typhoon Haiyan massacred as many as 10,000 innocent overnight, world leaders gathered and sat around a table in Warsaw discussing what to do next. Not one amongst them showed real visible grief about what had just happened in the other corner of the world. Their actions did not show any signs of the necessity to ink a deal. And after a few days of negotiations they finally acknowledged that ‘developing countries would be the most hit by climate change’.
Wait a second! What did they say?
Just a few weeks back, CNN came out with a detailed report having the list of 10 countries that would be the most hit by climate change. I can recall that at least half of this list is populated by underdeveloped countries. Fine, we don’t really care about the under developed third world.
It’s indeed a relief that they finally acknowledged that climate change is taking a toll on human life. Not really surprised by that – they have been doing this in all their summits since the Kyoto protocol! It’s been a decade and all we hear is acknowledgement of the existence of climate change and its impact on society. But what next?
Well, in this capitalistic society there is no next. Back in 2009 at Copenhagen it was agreed that countries around the world would set up a climate fund worth $100 billion! So far only $16 billion have been promised by the rich nations, most of it as loans. Poland the host nation of this year’s summit held a coal summit simultaneously with this – what an irony! And who is to be blamed?
Every climate change summit in the last few years has not delivered around two sensitive topics – the blame and the corrective action. Poland infamously exclaimed recently that ‘there should be collective action’ when questioned about their coal summit! Australia was awarded the ‘Fossil of the year!’ award at this summit. Pity that they still do not care even though climate change induced forest fires are continuously ravaging throughout the country.
The emotional speech by the Philippine climate change representative was heartwarming.   Seriously, it did touch me, but sadly it did not move even a single stone hearted diplomat sitting in that room. Rich countries who can afford the casualty of climate change make no effort at convincing the rest about the need for a change. The developing world – India and China to be precise think their development is more important, not realizing that a Haiyan like storm can flatten this development in a matter of hours. And the really affected under developed poor nations – hey, who’s even talking to you?
Kyoto, Copenhagen and now Warsaw…… an opportunity wasted!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Climate change and its impacts on a religious epicenter!

The Ganges – the magnificent symbol of culture, fertility, prosperity and civilization, on whose banks has much of India grown, developed and prospered. This 2500 kilometer long river has the water that is considered sacred by the nearly 800 million Hindus that live around the world. Its origins: the largest glacier in the Himalayas – the gangothri.

The Gangothri glacier in the form of the Ganges forms the lifeline of Nepal, much of North India and entire Bangladesh. This mammoth river apart from being the lifeline of this region is an important constituent of India’s rich mythological history and culture. Now it’s a well-known and a much ignored fact that the Ganges today is polluted beyond repair. Let’s not get into that. But what we will discuss is the much bigger problem that may eventually shut down the entire Ganges! Can you imagine such a scenario? Scary isn't it?

The ever increasing global temperatures due to global warming have begun to take a toll on this holy glacier. Scientists from around the world first started studying this glacier and its behavior in the mid nineteenth century. Around the year 1960 it was observed that the glacier was shrinking at an alarming rate of 26 meters a year! But what shocked the scientific community is what came next – by the year 2006, the shrinkage rate was 800 meters a year!
Throughout the Himalayas more such glaciers are continuously melting. While this may have some short term benefits like an increase in the fresh water flow in the rivers, the long term impacts are often disastrous. For example, the continuous melting of the Himalayan glaciers has resulted in the formation of numerous small lakes. We are aware of the fact that climate change is increasing the global precipitation rates. Imagine a cloud burst on these small lakes.  Would we be seeing at an Uttarakhand part two?

The Himalayan glaciers and the Ganges are important religious and cultural centers of India. The Amaranth Yaatra which nearly 700,000 pilgrims undertake to witness and pray to Lord Shiva in the form of an Ice Shivalinga speaks marvels of the importance attached to these holy mountains and their ice.  However, the as per the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report 2007, Himalayan glaciers are at risk of disappearing by the year 2035 if the Earth continues to warm at its current rate!
Imagine these glaciers disappear by 2035? Will there be an Amaranth Yaatra left? What about the Ganges and the fertile plains that it nourished all these years? What about the billion people depended on this water?

Wake up earthizen. Time is running out! Lord Shiva may have come down from the heavens to save us then! But why would he? We destroyed and ruined the very place where he explained the meaning of eternity? And that very place would cause our doom! What an irony!
True isn't it?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Good weather - definitely on your wish list. Isn't it?

We all love a good warm sunny day; a pleasant winter afternoon and even enjoy a cozy raining Sunday. Good weather and climate is an integral part of our worldly needs. A hurricane, typhoon, landslides, volcano or an earthquake – definitely not on our wish list! Or is it?
This earth’s climate has continuously changed throughout its million year long history. Right from the ice age, right through the great deluge of the bible to the present day, if there is one thing that has been best documented by mankind – it’s the climate / weather around him. Historically the earth’s climate continuously changed due to geophysical factors prominently the oscillation about its axis as it travels around the sun. However since the last century the climatic changes have had a new and more profound influence   The industrial and agricultural revolution fueled a greater reliance on fossil fuels, accelerated deforestation and intensive agriculture and has led to an increase in Carbon dioxide and methane levels in atmosphere which is at its highest since the last 800,000 years! Now this will have a profound impact on the climate.
Throughout the world, precipitation patterns have dramatically changed this year. I hail from a small coastal city of Mangalore on the west coast of India. Our traditional rainy season was for 4 months from June to September. This year, it’s still pouring here in November! Meteorological and climatological measurements of climate change show that precipitation world around have become severe and more intense and extremely irregular. In lay man’s language – it’s simply going to rain more, rather irregular leading to widespread destruction and loss. We may soon see long spells of dry weather with sudden heavy downpours.

This year can be infamously dubbed as the year of the typhoons (or cyclones as some call it). This year the world witnessed a record 65 tropical cyclones. With two more months left, climatologists predict that this number is going to rise by the year end. As you are reading this, more than 10,000 people died overnight as typhoon Haiyan swept through the Philippines.  Strangely just like how there isn't a definite rainy season left, there no longer exists a definite cyclone season.
The best way to quantify the impacts of climatic changes is to look at the economic damage cause. And the best people to give an accurate measure of the economic damage caused are the insurance industry. Last year the insurance industry reported that there has been a significant increase in claims over loss of life and property due to climate related incidents such as floods, storms etc. Their report categorizes Europe as the most effected of regions. Let us consider Portugal, the nation that stands to lose out the most – its coastline is eroding at an alarming rate of 9 meters per year at some places. Southern Europe and the Mediterranean regions are losing their tag of having a favorable climate with an increase in the annual precipitation levels and average temperature. Central Europe which was generally dry has begun to experience longer periods of dry, draught like climatic conditions. The overall observed dryness in Northern Europe is reflected in the annual flow rates of the rivers.
Europe is getting all the attention because it is rich and it funds most of the research required to understand and mitigate climate change. CNN recently came up with a report that listed 10 countries that would be devastated by the effects of climate change. They are Ethiopia, Philippines, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Sudan (both north and south), Haiti, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau and at the top of the list is Bangladesh. Are you a citizen of one of these countries?

The present system of society, the political establishment and economic model are all designed to ensure that they are not questioned and overthrown. We do not see any government pressing the panic button on climate change. We do not hear of any official acknowledgement of the fact that there is something called as climate change. In this system the media is powerful enough to control the knowledge of the majority. In this system the political establishment is shameless enough to conspire with the super-rich and not come forth and act on climate change. In this system the common man is filled with problems beyond comprehension that he sadly has no time or interest to foresee a devastating future. This system is a farce.

We need to change this system. I proposed a new socio-economic model in 2007 called the ‘Society without Selfishness’. If this article touches you, then y;ou should go ahead and read my book ‘Shall we save the Earth?’ in which I have explained in great detail about this new model of society.
Well, even if we wanted we cannot change this system over night. But then what are our options? A good climate is definitely on each of our wish list. But the events of this day cast doubt on that wish! Let’s not panic, instead let’s pledge to do our part.
Our part?
Yes – the simple deed of protecting the delicate local ecology around us.
So what’s it going to be dear friend?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Our 5 big mistakes!

Wasting water:

We have always taken water for granted. Ask a child ‘Where does the water come from?’ and you will receive a quick answer ‘From the tap!’
Leaving the taps running while scrubbing the dishes, leaving the water flowing while washing clothes, taking a shower for half an hour, using more than one tank full of water to flush the toilet, not recycling waste water, not practicing rain water harvesting – we are guilty of it all!
An estimated 1/3rd of the world’s population live in countries that are severely water strained. And yet it is disheartening that those in access of adequate water misuse it. We have so perfected the art of misusing water resources that in the process we have created deserts, poisoned water bodies and drained ground water tables.
I live in Bangalore. This cosmopolitan city of 10 million is at times severely water strained during summer. And I witness the drilling of at least one bore well in my locality every week. Our search for water has led us to nearly 1500ft below the surface. And it seems we are all willing to dig deeper. But in this acclaimed city I do not see adequate drainage and recycling mechanisms. I do not see concern and vision in both the people and the government officials. It’s a pitiable scene out here.
In the city of Chennai, the official claim is that only 19 of the 28 water bodies can be restored. NASA’s imagery has revealed that Middle East’s water bodies are fast disappearing. We today can count the last remaining free flowing major rivers of Europe using just one hand. And yes we made one of the world’s largest lakes, the 68000sq km Aral Sea disappear!
Taking water for granted – our first mistake.

Excessive fishing

I hail from the coastal city of Mangalore – famous for its fishing industry. I grew up watching mammoth trawlers haul in tons of fish load, processing plants tinning the fish for export and ice factories making merry.
Fishing has been one of the oldest occupations of mankind. It was always a very lucrative and rewarding profession that drew more and more people towards it. Today this trend has breached the sustainability limit. Technological advancements have made us go into deeper waters for longer periods with larger, meaner trawlers. In fact we have so exploited these benefits that today the global fishing fleet is 2.5 times larger than what the oceans can sustain-ably support. As of this day 52% of the world’s fisheries are fully exploited and 24% are over exploited! We have so exploited our coastlines that we are now towards those of poorer countries. Of course they won’t question our move or motive! We give them pittance via our aid programs. In the course of the last 60 years we have practically destroyed the fishing industry. We are now harvesting smaller younger fish thus damaging the breeding mechanisms.
The coup-de-grace of all this is that we are getting less food from the sea, damaging nature’s delicate balance and destroying a thousand year old industry. Remember the cod collapse in the Grand Banks in Canada – 40,000 people were suddenly unemployed!
Over fishing – our second mistake.

Introducing species

Throughout history man has traveled and explored the globe in his quest for various worldly possessions. And more often than not, man entered into this quest for a new land to deal with shortage of arable land back home (mostly destroyed by unscientific over agriculture). And as a result of these adventures, man discovered new continents, inhabited them and called them his new home.
The moment man started living in his new found home, he started observing his surroundings. At times he didn't like what he saw. Native plants appeared to be weeds and native animals / insects to be rodents. He remembered that back home he had a natural solution to problems like this. Thus he introduced new species of flora and fauna from his previous home here. And yes initially it did eat everything he didn't like, but slowly it started eating even what he liked! His solution turned into a problem. He was back to square one!
Rabbits were introduced in Australia as a source of food in farms. They were soon released into the wild by Europeans who missed their usual hunting adventures. The result – rabbits are officially called pests in Australia. When man discovered the islands of Mauritius, Fiji and Hawai’i he was confronted with an uncontrollable rat infestation. To counter this he introduced the Small Indian Mongoose. But soon, many other species of animals inhabiting these islands fell prey to the fast moving mongooses leaving them ‘locally extinct’. We have similarly introduced species in other corners of the world thus meddling with the delicate local ecological balance.
Invasive species – our third mistake.

Chemicals, Toxins and Pollutants

The 21st century is heralded as an era of innovation, technological advancement and better lives. In our search for a better, healthier and peaceful life we have invented, utilized and misused numerous chemicals and toxins in the form of cleaning agents, pesticides, insecticides, fertilizers, medicines etc. Today we are dependent on a range of chemicals which on the plus side offer a lot of benefits and comfort to our lives. But alarmingly most of these chemicals have severe damaging effects not just on the flora and fauna around us, but also on our health and those of our children.
Between the year 1930 and 2000, the production of man-made chemicals increased from 1 million tons to 400 million tons annually. The amount of pesticides sprayed on crops has increased 26 times in the last 50 years.
In the course of this lifetime we have polluted water bodies, poisoned the soil around us and intoxicated our own food! We have messed up badly and got it all wrong.
Chemicals, toxins and pollutants – our fourth mistake.

Climate change

The most debated topic today, the question of our survival. Will be brace this storm?
The IPCC reports time and again have categorically put the blame of climate change on the selfish attitude and demeanor of mankind.

Global warming and climate change – our final mistake!