Read the story of Robin Naiding, a wearer of two hats – headman of a farming village in Assam and eco-entrepreneur. He supplies fully degradable bamboo straws, an effective replacement over plastic or paper straws that is environmentally friendly, to megacities in India. In this article, he and the author together mull over the omniscient presence of plastic, found in even the most remote villages of the country. Robin also talks of how 'bamboo is the original plastic' and the single-use plastic ban.
Robin Naiding, the mild-mannered gaonbura, or headman, of Baga Dima, a village in the jungled hills northeastern India, isn’t sure why much of humanity enjoys imbibing drinks through a small plastic tube. But having been assured of this fact, and having been informed, moreover, that there is a global crisis of conscience about the use of plastic for such products, Naiding is happy to do his part in resolving the problem.
“A businessman from Kolkata came here last year and asked us to make bamboo straws,” Naiding said. “He said big people in the hotels don’t like drinking from plastic anymore. They want to drink from bamboo because it’s the original plastic.” He paused, as if weighing the improbability of this explanation. “They also told me plastic spoils people’s health,” he added.
Naiding and his family are pioneers in a new eco-friendly industry taking root in Assam, the sprawling green Indian frontier state that borders Bangladesh and Bhutan. With India joining a global environmental movement to restrict single-use plastics, and with Indian restaurants increasingly purging their inventories of plastic straws—the villain of disposable, plastic trash that is washing, at a rate of some eight million tons a year, into the world’s rivers and oceans—the search is on for less polluting alternatives.
Paper straws are biodegradable but, being wood-based, create their own pressures on India’s forest resources. Enter wild bamboo: The versatile grass that grows abundantly across much of the country and is both organic and sustainable.
“Bamboo straws have not only proved to be an effective replacement over plastic and paper straws for our clients but are also better economically, environmentally, functionally, and aesthetically,” said Ravi Kiran, the co-founder of Bambugo, the start-up that is partnering with villagers in Assam to harvest and process bamboo into tiny pipelines for cold drinks consumed in megacities such as Delhi, Bangalore, and Chennai. “Our customers like them.”
If sterilized after each use and stored in a dry place, Kiran said, bamboo straws can be reused up to a hundred times. They decompose in landfills and presumably don’t clog the intestines of whales. Countries such as China, Costa Rica, and South Africa all produce and consume large quantities of bamboo straws. Kiran plans to export his Indian products to Europe and North America, where disposable plastics bans are in effect.
In the hill village of Baga Dima, comprised of 47 households, the indigenous Dimasa people are poised to lead that charge. They have been manufacturing bamboo products for generations.
Villagers weave rattan, peeled bamboo strips, into sturdy furniture. They sling bamboo baskets onto their backs in lieu of backpacks. Bamboo sieves and ladles hang in their wood-fired kitchens. Even their houses are often made of cross-thatched bamboo. Standing inside a local home on a bright tropical day, sunlight sparkles through the walls’ fretwork like pinprick constellations of stars.
“We still use bamboo cups at our wedding ceremonies,” village leader Naiding said. Nobody has ever used bamboo as a straw.
Naiding and about 10 relatives and friends hack the surrounding thickets of bamboo with bush knives and saw the stems into seven-inch lengths. After sanding and boiling—sometimes with vinegar and turmeric to help sterilize and tint the plant’s cellulose—the bamboo straws are boxed and shipped by truck to the nearest airport, a three-hour drive away on appalling roads. The harvested bamboo grows back even thicker after cutting, Naiding said.
“It’s a good sideline,” said Naiding, who also farms rice, jackfruit, and lychees.
Naiding’s orders range from 1,000 to 10,000 straws. He earns about 1.5 cents per piece. (On commercial food and beverage websites, bamboo straws in India (sell for more than 10 times that.) The village’s output is less than microscopic compared to the staggering 500 million plastic straws still churned out every year in the United States alone. But Naiding hoped the idea will catch on.
Perched atop a ridge amid forests that are rapidly being converted to agriculture, Baga Dima has followed the lead of India’s federal government and imposed its own restrictions on disposable plastics. But even in such isolated hinterlands—just as at the national level—enforcement hasn’t been easy.
Plastic chairs replaced bamboo models at Naiding’s house. And as in many rural communities in India, the village footpaths were spangled with biscuit wrappers, empty shampoo sachets, and plastic bags—artifacts unseen only a generation ago.
“Everything in the shops comes in plastic now, and it’s hard to get people to stop using it,” Naiding admitted. “Maybe plastic straws are the same.”
This article is written by Paul Salopek for the National Geographic and can be found here.
This is a story of transformation showing us how villages came together in a growing movement to green a barren mountain in West Bengal. Read on to understand the origins of this story in a humble plantation effort, eventually solving problems of pollution and water security for neighbouring famers and granting a fresh lease of life to the biodiversity of the region. As villagers turned to nature with their woes of harsh summers and long walks to gather firewood, they found that responsiblyregenerating a forest upon the mountain was the answer to all their problems.
Villagers in Purulia in West Bengal were suffering from a groundwater crisis coupled with hot and humid weather conditions till two decades ago.
They eventually found a solution to their woes and have grown a lush green forest on a barren mountain which has reduced their problems and made the place biodiversity-rich.
The state government, along with an NGO, is now digging trenches to minimise the loss of rainwater and use it for groundwater recharge and farming.
Jamini Mohan Mahanty is out for a morning walk every day. At 91, he is hale and hearty. A resident of Jharbagda village in Purulia district, West Bengal, Mahanty thanks the “green mountain” in his village for having added some extra years to his life.
“I could have died long ago but the green mountain has given me a fresh lease of life. It has made the environment clean and pollution free. It really energises my soul to see birds chirping and rabbits hiding in the bushes. I come inside the forest everyday to have a brief rendezvous with nature,” he said, while resuming his walk with the help of a stick.
A few metres away, the mountain stands tall covered with extensive greenery and rich in biodiversity. The mountain exemplifies the collective efforts and hardships of the villagers. As they were grappling with depleting groundwater levels, harsh summers and trouble accessing firewood for fuel, the villagers realised that their pressing problems could only be solved by nature. Over the years, deforestation for firewood had depleted the green cover and the villagers decided to regreen the mountain.
Over nearly twenty years the community has transformed a barren mountain and its adjoining land, into an evergreen man-made forest.
Tapas Mahanty, a resident of Jharbagda in India’s eastern state, recollects the time, two decades ago, when extreme summers and water shortage made life difficult for the then 30,000-odd people residing across 20-21 villages surrounding the mountain. “We were facing severe water scarcity woes because of depleting ground water levels. Women had to walk for around a kilometre to arrange drinking water as men were out for work. There were often skirmishes and fights over sharing of water at the village taps. It disturbed the harmony of the village,” she said.
Apart from water woes, life also became difficult because of strong winds in summers that spread the heat from the barren mountain. “There was no green cover that could have obstructed the flow of hot and humid winds. Soil erosion from the mountain during rains dirtied the ponds and also affected the farming. It became difficult to live in the villages located close to the mountain and people began to think of migration,” she added.
Long walk for firewood
Another major problem that villagers, especially the women faced was the near absence of firewood as there were hardly any trees, “We had to walk for three to four kilometres for firewood and the entire day was lost in the travel. It was also risky and cumbersome for the women to walk for such a long distance carrying the firewood on their heads. Besides, some couldn’t afford the money required to buy firewood for fuel,” said another villager.
Villagers realised that turning the mountain green could save them from the torment of inclement weather coupled with water shortage issues. But it was easier said than done as the mountain spread across 376 acres of land and required extensive labour and funds for plantations.
An NGO involved in nature conservation came to their rescue. The Tagore Society For Rural Development (TSRD), a non-profit engaged in rural work, agreed to do the plantation work on the entire stretch while the community was given the responsibility of maintaining and protecting the green cover. “A group of villagers contacted us and told about the problems they were facing. We were overwhelmed by their passion to grow a forest. We then decided to do the plantation,” said Prahalad Chandra Mahato, 70, senior employee of the NGO.
Subsequently, in 1999, a village committee involving 60 members of Jharbagda village of Manbazar-1 block was formed for plantation at a community land of around 300 acres.
Another 67 acres of land was added in 2001 when four villages – Kumardih, Birsinghdih, Cheliama, Radhamadhobpur – also joined hands. Committee members went up to 90. Villagers named it Makino Raghunath Mountain in memory of two environment enthusiasts, Saiji Makino, a Japanese professor who taught at Visvabharati University at Bolpur Shantiniketan and was involved in creating awareness about plantation among the locals and Raghunath Mahanty, a well-known local resident.
Under a Japanese government-supported greening initiative, the plantations began in 1999 and continued till 2002. “During the course of three years, over 3.26 lakh (326,000) trees of 72 varieties including fruits, medical herbs and timber wood were planted in the mountain stretch and the adjoining land. Labourers were employed for plantation but villagers also worked voluntarily as they were passionate and wanted to mitigate the crisis,” added Mahato.
The stretch turned green within a few years
Within a span of a few years, the landscape, starting with five villages started changing. “The first visible sign was the easy availability of firewood for fuel. The dried leaves that fell from the trees were collected by us and used as fuel. It not only saved us from the ordeal of walking for several kilometres but also reduced our expenditure on buying wood for fuel. It encouraged us to protect the forest and shoo out anyone trying to destroy it,” said Kalyani Mahanty, 40, a homemaker in Jharbagda.
The forest also led to an increase in the groundwater level and brought down the constant quarrels among villagers, “The groundwater level that had depleted to 40-50 feet (and went down even more in summers) became normal and was available at 15-20 ft. The easy availability of water brought peace to the village,” she added.
The dense green cover also ensured the presence of biodiversity and elephants began to traverse the forest that was once barren, “We first noticed the movement of elephants in 2005. There was a sense of jubilation among villagers. There were also constant sighting of snakes and other animals. Birds are now regular here,” said Bikash Mahanty, 40, who resides at the neighbouring Radhamodhobpur village.
The dense trees have also brought down the mercury level in villages and have made the air cooler during summers, “It is comparatively cooler due to the presence of trees. We often sit under the shade of trees during summers and even spend our evenings here. The trees have also prevented soil erosion and farming is not getting hampered due to the mud carried by the rainwater from the mountains,” he added.
Villagers have repeatedly turned down the requests to turn the forest into a picnic spot. “The tourism would no doubt help in promoting the place and also open new avenues of employment but it would do more harm by destroying the environment. Tourists will ignore all norms and use of plastic and other items would destroy its natural beauty. We have ignored the repeated plea to turn this into a tourist spot,” said Dwija Pada Mahanty, former village head of Manbazar gram panchayat.
Trenches being dug to store rainwater
The state government in collaboration with TSRD is now digging trenches down the mountain to stop the wastage of rainwater and to make the soil nutritious, “The water in the trenches would make the soil nutritious while the overflowing water would be stored in a nearby pond and used for farming. It would also recharge the groundwater,” said Badal Maharana, 43, team leader, Ushar Mukti project, TSRD Purulia Unit.
He further said that around 1.5 feet deep trenches have been dug up in 50 hectares of land after the start of the work last year.
“The trenches would certainly help in storing the rainwater and would be used for multiple purposes. We are also trying to make it an animal corridor to facilitate their movement but the presence of habitation near the forest is a hurdle to the plan. The efforts of the villagers stand as a classic example of how environment conservation is vital for the survival of every individual,” said Niladri Sarkar, Block Development Officer (BDO), Manbazar-1 block in Purulia district.
This article was originally written by Gurvinder Singh for Mongabayand can be found here.
This is a popular science article that looks at the ways in which biodiversity conservation can and does affect our farming systems. The Half Earth project, which aims to quite literally hand half of our planet back to nature, is discussed with a specific focus on how this move would affect agricultural communities and food production. Different models of landscape organisation for nature conservation and how they will affect food availability are also outlined.
Every day there are roughly 386,000 new mouths to feed, and in that same 24 hours, scientists estimate between one and 100 species will go extinct. That’s it. Lost forever. To deal with the biodiversity crisis we need to find a way to give nature more space — habitat loss is a key factor driving these extinctions. But how would this affect our food supplies?
New research, published in Nature Sustainability, found it could mean we lose a lot of food — but exactly how much really depends on how we choose to give nature that space. Doing it right could mean rethinking how we do agriculture and conservation altogether.
A fair deal
OK, but how much space are we talking about here?
There have been numbers flying around since the early 1990s. Some researchers say a quarter of all the space on earth, while others say three-quarters of all land and sea. Those in the middle ground, however, seem to suggest one half.
Leading scientists are increasingly endorsing the figure, including natural scientist E.O. Wilson, who wrote a book on it, and the former chief scientist at the World Wildlife Fund, Eric Dinerstein. These individuals are mobilizing funds, researchers, computing power and social capital to see what it takes to achieve this vision — through their organizations, The Half-Earth Projectand Nature Needs Half.
The idea might seem crazy, but then again, maybe we need crazy ideas to get us to think about the better world we might be able to create. And there is something about handing over half of the planet to nature that has an air of fairness to it — well, on the side of nature at least.
The global agricultural footprint
The reality is, most people would likely want to help save other species too (aside maybe from mosquitoes and some other pesky creatures). The upside seems massive and obvious — not in the least that our children will be able to enjoy these beautiful beings for generations to come.
But is it possible to conserve so much land and still feed everyone?
Agriculture and settlements already cover 37 per cent of the Earth’s ice-free land, so it’s difficult to see how we could set aside half the planet in a way that honours the needs of other species, without losing some of our agricultural lands.
Dinerstein and his colleagues found that some locations, such as the Midwest United States produce so much food that it would be “delusional” to even suggest returning them to nature. But previous research didn’t quantify or map the scale of these trade-offs at a fine enough resolution to identify what’s really at stake.
Feeding people and conserving species
Our new research did just that.
It found that conserving habitats for other species could cost up to 29 per cent of the calories we currently produce from our food crops. But it also found that these food losses can be minimized to as little as three per cent depending on how that land is allocated to conservation.
If people manage landscapes so they are shared between agriculture and nature conservation — and make agricultural landscapes more kind to other species — it may bring effective results while avoiding large losses in food availability. The trick here is making our agricultural landscapes less hostile to other life. This is no small ask.
At the country scale, the study identified places where food losses would be large, including India (22 per cent) and China (12 per cent). These two countries have the greatest number of undernourished people on the planet, 195 million and 134 million respectively. It also identified other areas, such as in Indonesia, that may be less available for conservation than previously thought.
Clearly, conflicts between nature and agriculture need to be navigated carefully. Protecting the world’s most vulnerable, malnourished and food insecure populations must remain a priority. And synergies between conservation and poverty reduction need to be the primary focus.
Large potential co-benefits
But it isn’t all bad news.
The study also showed that giving half the planet to nature could increase temperate and tropical forest cover by 30 to 40 per cent, which would help tackle climate change and so likely reduce the agricultural losses from extreme weather.
Paula Ehrlich, the president and CEO of the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation and head of the Half-Earth Project, shared her thoughts on the scientific study:
“Identifying where conservation areas can protect the most species is key to reversing the species extinction crisis and ensuring a healthy planet for all of life, including people. Once identified, conservation protections must integrate into their planning and management systems the cultures and economies of Indigenous peoples, who are de facto the original conservationists.”
There can be little doubt that the idea of giving half the planet back to nature is visionary and aspirational. We think these new findings have important implications for how humans see their needs against those of other species.
This article was originally written by Zia Mehrabi, Erle C. Ellis, and Navin Ramankutty for The Conversation and can be found here along with other linked resources.
In this article, the author takes us through her own journey with veganism. She talks about the people, books and documentaries that inspired her and what her experience with dropping all animal products from her diet has been like. This article focuses mainly on the vegan diet and also mentions current trends in Indian consumers related to vegan produce. A lot of great resources for more information on vegan food and how it is better for your health and the environment are also mentioned here.
This February, I attended a tasting session for an upcoming brand of oats milk. My table partner at the plant-based café Greenr in Basant Lok market, Delhi, was Bharat Goel, a 29-year-old consultant with a research firm who wore a badge saying ‘Vegan’.
He talked about why we need to change our food habits if we are to save planet Earth. He shared that, at the age of 19, he had had various health issues, including obesity. But after seeing a documentary on the animal-foods industry, he decided to turn vegan.
In less than six months, he had shed 30 kg along with all his health complications. And he has stayed fit since then. “Veganism changed my life. I have never been healthier,” he says. I’m a lacto-vegetarian like many north Indians, I told him. Aren’t milk, yoghurt, butter and ghee consumption an intrinsic part of our culture?
He replied without batting an eyelid: “Culture is made by humans. We can change it too. What was applicable to society thousands of years ago does not hold true anymore, so why are we holding on to those customs?”
His words gave me food for thought. I began reading up about veganism and exploring plant-based alternatives in my kitchen. I watched the 2014 documentary Cowspiracy, a ground-breaking investigation into animal agriculture, and the 2018 film, The Game Changers, in which the fastest and toughest athletes and soldiers in the world vouch for a plant-based diet as being the secret of their strength and agility, including former movie star and politician Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Directed by Oscar-winner Louie Psihoyos, the film follows the story of James Wilks, an elite Special Forces trainer, as he travels the world to understand the science behind meat and dairy consumption, the human body’s needs, and the optimum diet for health and strength.
The film was hailed by Indian cricket icon Virat Kohli, who said, “Being a vegetarian athlete has made me realise what I have believed all these years regarding diet was a myth. What an amazing documentary… I’ve never felt better in my life after I turned vegetarian.”
Virat also gave up on dairy, thus joining the list of elite vegan athletes including tennis superstars Serena and Venus Williams and Formula 1 racing driver Lewis Hamilton.
All this led me and my husband – a Kerala-born lover of fish, eggs and mutton – to try a plant-based diet for ourselves. He gave up on his beloved meats while I switched from cow milk to other alternatives such as soya and almond milk. We began enjoying plant-based health-food brands such as Urban Platter, True Elements and Monsoon Harvest, and checked out vegan recipes on sharan-india.org. We even learnt to make oats milk at home.
Though it’s only been a month, I can confirm that our food bill and weight have been going down, while our energy levels and agility have gone up.
To know more about the vegan revolution in India, I reached out to Palak Mehta, founder, Vegan First, a three-year-old publication, and the organiser of the Vegan India Conference (VIC). Designed in collaboration with the World Vegan Organisation, VIC aims to provide a support system to vegan innovators, plantpreneurs, food technologists, investors, nutritionists, chefs, exporters and retailers. The first edition of VIC in 2019 saw more than 450 delegates from over 18 countries coming together in New Delhi.
The 33-year-old Pune-based artist-entrepreneur turned vegan six years ago when she was a schoolteacher. In her search for milk alternatives, Palak began collecting information from across India and blogging about it. “The idea was to develop a neutral brand language,” she says of her publication and website. She also began hosting dine-outs at the growing number of plant-based cafes and restaurants across India (lead image). They also certify vegan eateries.
“Global experiences show that when people don’t find a community of vegans to bond with, they go back to their meat-and-dairy consumption sooner or later,” says Palak. “So I wanted to create that community in India.”
Their efforts have paid off. Not only have hundreds of individuals – from fashion designers like Anita Dongre to movie stars like Shraddha Kapoor – switched to veganism, even food businesses once skeptical of venturing into the vegan space have developed the confidence to take the leap, says Palak, who had brands like Hershey’s, Raw Pressery, Brittania and Marico on board as sponsors and participants at VIC.
Globally, too, pressure has been mounting on governments to endorse plant-based diets, especially since meat consumption has increased fivefold in the past 60 years despite world population growing only double since then. It’s a wasteful industry: twice the world’s population could have been fed with 2019’s global harvest if humans consumed the yield themselves instead of feeding farmed animals.
American physician Dr Brooke Goldner, who suffered from lupus for 12 years until she turned vegan, made a speech at the USDA 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Fourth Meeting this year. “I beseech you to take this seriously,” she said to the room full of doctors and policymakers. “What’s recommended to the public about what they eat should not be based on what’s good for industry. It should be based on what’s good for human health. The literature is clear: when you eliminate meat, dairy and eggs, people’s health gets better. Please encourage plant-based diets.”
The US and Australia are the world’s largest consumers of meat, with over 120 kg consumed per person every year. India is second only to Bangladesh with the lowest per capita meat consumption, at 4 kg annually, a number that has not risen since 1960 despite increasing prosperity, perhaps due to cultural reasons.
That brings in the morality factor. In her book For a Moment of Taste (HarperCollins) that exposes the violence behind India’s meat and dairy industry, PETA activist Poorva Joshipura reveals how millions of hapless living beings are locked up in cruel conditions and tortured to increase their food yield – all because of a few ‘moments of taste’ for human tongues.
“These animals’ lives are unimaginably painful, miserable and lonely,” she writes. She notes that though most Indians regard cows as ‘mother’, they think nothing of the trauma that cows are put through to make them lactate up to 10 times the usual amount, and of the fact that non-lactating and male cows feed India’s thriving beef-export industry, the largest in the world after Brazil.
But if meat and dairy drive certain parts of the economy, the growing vegan culture around the world is also a business opportunity. Aarti Gill, co-founder and CEO of OZiva, a retailer of plant-based nutrition products, set up her company in 2016 after seeing a gap in the market. With a B.Tech from IIT Roorkee and MBA from INSEAD, France, she had worked in top companies around the globe before she returned to India to promote healthier lifestyles among upwardly mobile Indians. Her Mumbai-based nutrition brand has seen sevenfold growth in the past one year and has buyers in over 2000 towns and cities in India. “This is a profitable business,” she avers.
Alex Malcolm, founder of London and Cape Town-based travel company Jacada, also sees an opportunity for India: “With responsible travel decisions becoming prominent, we predict a rise in the number of people traveling on vegan-only trips, requesting vegan cooking classes or retreats. Countries like India, with 38 percent of the population being vegetarian, will benefit from a surge in travellers looking for vegan food that still packs the punch with unique aromas and flavours.”
This brings me back to Greenr, where my journey with veganism began, and with its young Kolkata-born chef Shreya Agarwal. While doing her MBA in Madrid, Shreya gained 15 kg and hit rock bottom, mentally and physically. That’s when she switched to a whole-food, plant-based diet, and overhauled her lifestyle, including doing her Master’s in food production and becoming a chef herself.
“I want to demolish the idea that vegetarian food is boring,” says the 27-year-old, who was selected to work in New York’s famed ABC Kitchen before the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted travel plans.
“Most people turn vegan for compassionate reasons – for sparing the lives of innocent animals,” says Shreya. “Many others do it for their health. Some also do it for environmental reasons as veganism is eco-friendly. And now with more brands offering plant-based products, there are so many options available to cook up a variety of flavourful recipes.”
That’s enough reasons, don’t you think?
This article was originally written by Aekta Kapoor for the eShe magazine and can be found here.
This article is a shoutout to women warriors who are playing major roles in climate action.Their work addresses various significant issues and is contributing to a more equal society. Read about these women and how they are not only an important part of the team but also leaders of successful movements towards creating a sustainable future. Here are examples 16 of such 'climate heroines' and their efforts ranging from redesigning agricultural techniques to entrepreneurship in the green energy sector.
There has never been a more urgent need to become warriors for the cause of saving the world we live in. Floods in one part of the world while the other battles drought, melting ice, soaring temperatures, multiple species of flora and fauna on the verge of extinction - We have overwhelming proof of the fact that we have gone too far, and messed way too much with the environment.
After all the alarm bells have sounded, people from across the world have woken up to see the catastrophe exactly as it is, happening right in front of their eyes. While we cannot go back and change the past, we can try to undo the damage we have inflicted upon our planet. To this effect, there are some people who are doing more than most, in order to save the world we live in. Among them, are a few women whose battle against climate change might be the inspiration we need to break our silence and act.
Here are some of the most inspiring women of all time, who are fighting against climate change:
1. Vandana Shiva
Dr. Vandana Shiva is an environmental activist; founder of Navdanya Trust; and author of more than 20 books about protecting the diversity of living resources, especially native seeds, and promotion of organic farming and fair trade. She was identified as an environmental hero by Time magazine in 2003, and Asia Week has called her one of the five most powerful communicators in Asia. She has been identified one of the seven most powerful women on the globe by Forbes magazine.
2. Sunita Narain
Ms Sunita Narain is an environmentalist and author. She is currently the Director General of Center for Science and Environment (CSE) and Editor of the fortnightly magazine, Down To Earth. In 2016, Time Magazine listed her as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Her work is to research the interface between food and the environment. She works to ensure that countries in the Southern world do not adopt highly chemical-intensive agricultural systems, as they do not have the capacity to mitigate and manage the toxic fallout on the environment and human health.
3. Saalumarada Thimmakka
A 107-year-old Padma Shri, Saalumarada Thimmakka is an Indian environmentalist who became one without any conscious thought or effort. Pained by not having children, she planted over 8,000 trees, including hundreds of banyan trees. She worked as a daily-wage labourer. Banyan trees were available in plenty in her village and Thimmakka and her husband began grafting saplings from these trees and planting them alongside the road connecting to their closest village.
4. Christiana Figueres
Former Executive Secretary of UNFCCC Christiana Figueres has been involved in climate change negotiations since 1995. She has worked with many boards of non-governmental organizations involved in climate change issues. She is a widely published author on the design of climate solution, has been a frequent adviser to the private sector, and lectures at many universities and colleges.
5. Greta Thunberg
15-year-old climate change activist Greta Thunberg has been championing the cause asking powerful world leaders to take seriously the impending consequences of climate change. She's vocal in criticizing policymakers for paying mere lip service in addressing this plaguing issue. Last year, Greta started a school strike for climate, outside the Swedish Parliament, accusing her country of not following the Paris Climate Agreement. Her protest evoked a huge response. Since then, the movement has spread all over the world with over 1,00,000 school children involved. The movement is called Fridays For Future.
6. Kate Marvel
Climate change scientist Dr Kate Marvel is an associate research scientist at Columbia University and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York. Her research focuses on climate modelling and clouds to better predict how much the Earth's temperature will rise in the future. She did her Ph.D. in theoretical physics from the University of Cambridge.
7. Ellen Page
The award-winning actress Ellen Page just made her directorial debut with There’s Something in the Water - a documentary which draws attention to the injustices and injuries caused by environmental racism in her home province. This documentary talks about indigenous and African Nova Scotian women fighting to protect their communities, their land, and their futures. Page wanted to use her celebrity platform to help shed light on the issue of environmental racism.
8. Wu Changhua
Chief Executive Officer of the Beijing Future Innovation Center Ms Changhua Wu is a specialist and policy analyst in the field of sustainability in China. She received an award for her contributions to China's low-carbon growth. She advises governments and corporations on sustainability, strategy and innovation. She's a strategist in public and private engagement for a clean energy transformation and an advocate of policy change and practice leadership.
9. Rachel Kyte
Rachel Kyte is the CEO and Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General, for Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL). Previously, she was World Bank Group Vice President and special envoy for climate change. In that role, she oversaw work on climate change adaptation, mitigation, and climate finance across the institutions of the World Bank Group.
10. Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim
33-year-old Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim is an environmental activist and geographer. She is working on behalf of her people for international high-level policy discussions on climate change. She is working to collect indigenous knowledge about natural resources in Chad as part of a 3-D mapping project, while also representing her community in climate discussions at the United Nations.
11. Anne Simpson
Anne Simpson, director of global governance at CalPERS is leading sustainability project to integrate environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors across the total fund. CalPERS is the largest public pension system in the U.S. with approximately $270 billion in global assets.
12. Miranda Wang
Miranda Wang is Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of BioCellection, that's converting plastic waste into valuable industrial chemicals used in the making of familiar products like cars, electronic goods, textiles and cleaning agents. She now plans to develop a fully-commercial processing plant and recycle 45,500 tonnes of plastic waste by 2023. In doing so, she will help eliminate 320,000 tonnes of CO₂ emissions, produce useful products from substances that people would otherwise throw away.
Sugathakumari is an Indian poet and environmentalist who has been at the forefront of environmental and feminist movements in Kerala. She played a big role in the Save Silent Valley protest. She formed Abhayagrama, aka Abhayagramam, a home for destitute women (Athani) and a day-care centre for the mentally ill. She was the former chairperson of the Kerala State Women's Commission.
14. Hilda Heine
Hilda C. Heine is first Marshallese woman and eighth president of the Republic of The Marshall Island. Low elevation, extreme floods and persistent droughts have left the Marshall Islands and its people, at risk of becoming climate change refugees. Hilda released a comprehensive climate strategy, that will help Marshall Islands become the first island nation to go carbon-neutral by 2050.
15. Dr Katharine Wilkinson
Katharine is Vice President of Communication & Engagement at Project Drawdown, and Senior Writer for the New York Times bestseller Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming. She believes that climate change is humanity's greatest challenge and it demands ambitious, swift, exponential action across society. Her aim is to help others envision what's possible for this earth and persevere to make it happen.
16. Kotchakorn Voraakhom
Ms Kotchakorn Voraakhom is a landscape architect who's tackling climate change with her works on building green public spaces that could help absorb water in storms, to reduce flooding. She wants to solve urban ecological problems through landscape architectural design. She has worked on many projects including a major urban ecological park that doubles as a water retention facility when it rains, in the heart of Bangkok, and a number of other innovative public landscape designs.
This article was originally written by BhupinderSingh for the Indiatimes Environment section and can be found here
This concept review from the Harvard center on the developing child takes a look at why it is important to understand the architecture of chidren's brains.It describes how connections between individual neurons across different areas of the brain affect our capacities in various walks of life. These neural connections which are susceptible to stress, are the foundation for the future learning, behavior, and health of a child.
Early experiences affect the development of brain architecture, which provides the foundation for all future learning, behavior, and health. Just as a weak foundation compromises the quality and strength of a house, adverse experiences early in life can impair brain architecture, with negative effects lasting into adulthood.
Brains are built over time, from the bottom up. The basic architecture of the brain is constructed through an ongoing process that begins before birth and continues into adulthood. Simpler neural connections and skills form first, followed by more complex circuits and skills. In the first few years of life, more than 1 million new neural connections form every second. After this period of rapid proliferation, connections are reduced through a process called pruning, which allows brain circuits to become more efficient.
Brain architecture is comprised of billions of connections between individual neurons across different areas of the brain. These connections enable lightning-fast communication among neurons that specialize in different kinds of brain functions. The early years are the most active period for establishing neural connections, but new connections can form throughout life and unused connections continue to be pruned. Because this dynamic process never stops, it is impossible to determine what percentage of brain development occurs by a certain age. More importantly, the connections that form early provide either a strong or weak foundation for the connections that form later.
The interactions of genes and experience shape the developing brain. Although genes provide the blueprint for the formation of brain circuits, these circuits are reinforced by repeated use. A major ingredient in this developmental process is the serve and return interaction between children and their parents and other caregivers in the family or community. In the absence of responsive caregiving—or if responses are unreliable or inappropriate—the brain’s architecture does not form as expected, which can lead to disparities in learning and behavior. Ultimately, genes and experiences work together to construct brain architecture.
Cognitive, emotional, and social capacities are inextricably intertwined throughout the life course. The brain is a highly integrated organ and its multiple functions operate in coordination with one another. Emotional well-being and social competence provide a strong foundation for emerging cognitive abilities, and together they are the bricks and mortar of brain architecture. The emotional and physical health, social skills, and cognitive-linguistic capacities that emerge in the early years are all important for success in school, the workplace, and in the larger community.
Toxic stress weakens the architecture of the developing brain, which can lead to lifelong problems in learning, behavior, and physical and mental health. Experiencing stress is an important part of healthy development. Activation of the stress response produces a wide range of physiological reactions that prepare the body to deal with threat. However, when these responses remain activated at high levels for significant periods of time, without supportive relationships to help calm them, toxic stress results. This can impair the development of neural connections, especially in the areas of the brain dedicated to higher-order skills.
For the original review page, an overview clip, links to citations and additional resources, please visit the Harvard center for developing child here.
This article explores some of the emerging trends in technology that the writer thinks will gain momentum in the upcoming decade. It takes a look at the various ways in which these technologies will benefit as well as disrupt civilisation as we know it. With topics ranging from Artificial Intelligence to 3D printing, take a look at the potential impacts of tech with a vast and varied reach.
Our human civilization has been built on the foundation of consistent scientific and technological progress. Technology has influenced our course and revolutionized the way we work and live in a persistent manner.
In recent decades the pace of progress has accelerated leading to many important breakthroughs. At the same time, it becomes more and more obvious that technology can be a double-edged sword. As it evolves faster, it becomes more challenging for humanity to adapt to the changes. This can lead to unforeseen side effects and to outcomes that fall short of their initial lofty promise.
Every technology can come with its own set of boons and curses. There are some key technologies that are set to dominate the new decade and it will be interesting to see how their impact unfolds.
AI and Robotics
One of the most significant developments of our time is in the fields of artificial intelligence and robotics. In the past years, they have both experienced accelerating growth and in the new decade, their impact in our life is going to be far-reaching.
AI gives computers the attribute of intelligence - it is the brains in the machine. AI systems can calculate driving directions, come up with new inventions, play video games like humans, manage entire cities, diagnose diseases, create new drugs, find hidden patterns in data, and much more. AI is powerful but confined within a computer.
Robotics allows machines to interact with the physical world. When combined with AI, it can create machines that can not only make calculations and decisions but also act on them just like us humans.
The benefits of these technologies can be multi-dimensional but their impact could also fundamentally shake society. Lifestyle changes may disrupt our daily routines and large parts of our activities. Massive job losses may lead to wide financial problems and social instability. But there are also deeper philosophical questions. What defines human nature and our role in a society where machines can substitute us for most of our activities?
The past two decades witnessed a rise in powerful corporations that built world-changing products and services. They helped us transition to the digital age and transform the way we live our daily lives.
The growth of these companies led to the consolidation of huge amounts of information into privately controlled centralized systems. Facilitated by a lagging legal framework this has jeopardized pillars of our society like privacy, authority, and information reliability. The now-common big-tech controversies are a constant reminder of these problems.
Blockchain technology promises to change that. It is a decentralized ledger of records that are secured using cryptography. As such, they are simultaneously transparent and secure without the need for a central controlling entity. This model could transform the way the digital age moves forward, fostering increased accountability on behalf of both the companies and the users.
Ultra-Personalization of Technology
One of the hottest fields of the near future is going to be the ultra-personalization of technology. Computing has evolved a lot and computing devices are now more ubiquitous than ever. There used to be a time when a computer was sitting on a desk. We now have them in our pockets, on our wrists, in our smart speakers and set-top boxes, and soon in wearables like contact lenses!
Thanks to AI-powered digital assistants like Siri and Alexa that can hear and respond to our voice commands, it feels like computing has become omnipresent. On top of that, our devices (and the digital assistants by extension) have access to every bit of our personal data that relates to every aspect of our lives. In the near future, a smart device may feel like a friend who actually knows us.
This may sound like a scene from a sci-fi movie, but it is slowly becoming a reality and it can transform us, humans, in ways that we cannot yet understand. The upside can be a magical and efficient world where our needs are met better and faster than ever imagined. But in a worst-case scenario, a technology that replaces or diminishes the need for other humans could threaten the very fabric of society. This one will be hard to predict!
3D printing is a technology that can single-handedly revolutionize a plethora of industries in the next decade. It entails "printing" (essentially producing) real-world physical objects from appropriate raw materials. It has applications in the medical field, construction, space, computer industry, manufacturing, and more.
The potential cost and time savings resulting from the use of 3D printing are quite astounding. Most applications are currently proof-of-concept (ie astronauts 3D-printing tools at the International Space Station) but mainstream adoption is due to happen in the new decade.
3D printing carries the promise of addressing important social issues. For instance, hundreds of millions of people in developing countries live in slums and makeshift shelters. Using 3D printing, small homes could be constructed quickly and cost-effectively. A company called WinSun provided proof of concept by 3D printing ten houses in a span of 24 hours at a cost of only $4800 per house. In the new decade, we will probably witness this happening on a much larger scale and at much cheaper costs.
As with every other technology, 3D printing has its potential risks and drawbacks. For instance, it can be used to print guns and weapons which could spread rampant violence. It could also cause a significant disruption in whole industries like manufacturing and distribution, resulting in unpredictable domino effects in the sectors, economies, and communities that depend on them.
Drone technology has become the target of numerous heated discussions. In the coming years, it will continue moving from the current scattered and specialized applications into mainstream use in a wide variety of fields.
Many consumer-facing applications are obvious. One example is product delivery and large companies like Amazon are investing heavily in this. In the coming years, drones flying around delivering pizzas and other products may become a common sight.
On the downside this is already becoming a headache for regulators. Drones can be hazardous and make it easier to breach security or conduct nefarious activities. They could result in loss of property or life, and they are expected to remain at the center of ongoing debate.
At the same time, there are exciting humanitarian uses of this technology. In underdeveloped parts of the world, like regions of Africa, common means of transportation and communication are simply not present. In such areas, drones can be instrumental in delivering physical goods. UNICEF has demonstrated this in Sierra Leone by launching a drone corridor for delivering medical supplies to remote areas.
In summary, the new decade will probably see technology becoming an even more integral part of human life. It has the potential to augment our lives in a plethora of ways. It also poses the risk of disruptions that may lead to huge shifts in society. Hopefully, humanity will keep its track record of prevailing!
This article is originally written by Christos Kritikos for TechDay and can be found here.
This article explores the benefits and challenges of juggling our own mother tongues with English as a second language. It suggests that for building a better future, it is vital that children are comfortable and confident with their local languages. The article lists various ways in which having a good command of one's local language improves one's life experience. This includes intellectual and cultural development, effective communication, better emotional bonding, etc.
It is a common belief that as we move towards a society in which the medium of teaching is English, we tend to move away from our mother tongue. The first language that a baby learns right from his or her birth is termed as the birth language and thus, plays a crucial role in our lives for a wide array of reasons. On the International Mother Language Day (February 21), let us look at these 5 reasons and understand why it is important to know your mother tongue well:
Studies have shown that cognitive development as well as intellectual development is comparatively faster in those who are fluent in their mother tongue. It has also been noted that if a student is educated in his/her mother tongue, the rate of his or her educational success is higher than someone who is taught in a different medium other than their mother tongue.
Better connection with your culture
Languages are the most important way of keeping our culture alive. Often the direct translation of one language to another might not carry the same essence as it is in the source language. Thus, the best way to thoroughly know about a culture is to know the language. Mother tongue helps us stay connected to our culture and our roots.
Second language learning
If one has a firm grasp of their mother tongue, it is easier for him or her to master a new language. When a child reads out in their mother tongue since childhood, he or she would have stronger literacy skills in other languages.
As the businesses go the local way, the importance of mother tongues has exponentially increased. Thus, in such a scenario, having a firm understanding of your mother tongue where you know how to read and write is immensely helpful if you are interested in becoming an entrepreneur. The opportunities related to monetizing with the help of one’s mother tongues are vast in today’s market scenario.
Knowing your mother tongue well is a matter of pride. It boosts one’s confidence and creates awareness in the individual’s mind while also helping them connect with their cultural identity in a better manner.
Mother tongue has a huge positive influence in defining the personality of an individual, however, the medium of education which is usually English also encourages parents to speak to their children in their second language. Thus, this leads to confusion in the minds of the children and hence, they face difficulties in mastering both first and second language.
Mother tongue is the language which a child starts hearing after being born and thus, it also helps in providing a definite shape to our emotions and thoughts. Learning in your mother tongue also is crucial in enhancing other skills such as critical thinking, skills to learn a second language and literacy skills. Thus, we can say that the mother tongue can be used as an effective tool of learning.
This article was originally published on the Reva University website in honour of International Mother Language Day, celebrated on the 21st of February, and can be found here.
This blog takes a look at the varied effectiveness of MGNREGA, a rural employment scheme. It focuses on India's agriculture sector as a vehicle for economic recovery in the country as we start to reopen after lockdowns. It asseses the different levels of demand for MGNREGA in rural agrarian communities, especially now that a lot of labour has migrated back to their hometowns. It speculates how this scheme can be an effective tool for boosting local economies in different local markets.
‘Year of COVID-19’— this is how 2020 is probably going to be remembered. It has been more than six months that the novel coronavirus disease has been dominating public discourse, news cycles, internet searches and even geopolitics.
As on July 8, 2020, India had more than 0.7 million cases. It was among the top three world economies worst hit by the pandemic.
The Union government in March announced a country-wide lockdown to contain the spread in March. The wisdom and effectiveness of the lockdown will be long debated and discussed, but there’s little doubt that the economy will need to be pulled back on track through a combination of public and private initiatives.
The Union government announced Rs 20 lakh-crore recovery package to revive the economy; one small component of this was allocated for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) as well.
Data on reported cases has shown that so far, COVID-19 is largely an urban phenomenon. The districts that are home to India’s largest 25 cities account for less than 10 per cent of the country’s population, but more than 60 per cent of the total confirmed cases. This means that other than temporary disruptions in market access and some resultant price volatility; India’s agrarian economy has been somewhat COVID-19-immune.
In any case, agriculture is arguably the least-affected sector of the economy; seen as the only ‘bright spot’ in an otherwise dismal economy, poised to gain and likely to lead the economy’s revival process. The bumper Rabi harvest is a good sign, but the one aspect of agriculture that might be adversely affected is the farm-labour economy.
There has been large-scale reverse migration of workers from urban and rural work destinations. This will, at least in the short run, add workers to the rural workforce. In the short run, wages are likely to remain sticky and we will witness a significant increase in demand for MGNREGA work, especially in source areas which are invariably the poorest. If implemented well, MGNREGA can play an important role in making sure that workers find work and contribute to improving agriculture sector’s outlook.
MGNREGA interacts with local labour markets in four different ways.
In type-I areas, reverse migration might lead to labour shortages and farming systems are likely to either respond by increasing mechanisation or shifting to less labour-intensive cropping systems. Some indication of this is evident from the rapid recovery in tractor sales.
On the other hand, in type-IV areas, where MGNREGA is already having a significant impact on rural wages and livelihoods, its role is likely to expand with larger demand for MGNREGA work and assets.
Type-II and III areas represent the geography where strengthening MGNREGA implementation is needed to deliver work opportunities close to home and create durable and effective public assets.
By offering work at government-prescribed minimum wages, a crucial feature of MGNREGA work is that it is self-targeting. However, the same does not hold true at the village or district level. MGNREGA relies heavily on the ability of village panchayats and local block and district administration to work seamlessly and execute annual labour budgeting and asset planning. Often, in places where MGNREGA is needed the most, both village panchayats and local administration tend to be weaker.
Studies have shown the poorer states also tend to have greater unmet demand for MGNREGA work. For the scheme to work for people who need it most, we must work to change this. MGNREGA has now been in play for more than a decade; it is perhaps a good time to take stock of how it has transformed rural labour markets and agrarian systems.
Much of the performance tracking at the district level relies on output indicators — number of workers, person days of work generated, quantum of assets completed, wages paid and so on. It might be useful to also look at some outcome indicators and to better understand inter-state and inter-district differences in performance.
It is widely documented as two-thirds of MGNREGA assets are water assets, which should ideally contribute to improved local water-security and resilience. Has that happened? What skills do village panchayats need to effectively undertake labour budgeting and asset planning? If the demand for MGNREGA work in a district keeps increasing every year, what causes it and is that desirable?
Addressing some of these questions can help improve implementation in areas where demand for the work exists but remains unfulfilled either because the demand is not properly articulated or because administrative bottlenecks limit its effectiveness.
MGNREGA has another important role, which becomes particularly crucial in in COVID-19 times. By adopting best practices, it acts as a beacon for establishing the terms of engagement for hiring labour in rural areas. It must, therefore, introduce steps to ensure safe conditions for workers — temperature checks, masks, hand washing facilities, minimum distancing, ensuring proper hydration and so on. Doing so will set the benchmark for safe practices.
Finally, the effectiveness of MGNREGA as a tool for post-COVID rural recovery will depend on three things: Whether local administration is equipped to implement it as a demand-driven programme; whether village panchayats are well-equipped to take advantage of it; and whether useful assets are created that boost local agrarian economy.
This article was originally written by Shilp Verma for Down to Earth magazine and can be found here.
Meet Licypriya Kangujam, an 8 year old Indian climate activist, urging leaders at COP25 to save the planet. Winner of the World Children Peace Prize and the India Peace Prize, this short read of an article tells us her journey as an activist. She founded The Child Movement in 2018 and is dedicated to seeing a climate change law pass in India to protect the rights of the current and future generations.
Born in India’s northeastern state of Manipur, Licypriya Kangujam is a young climate activist who has been campaigning for environmental action for years and has recently managed to convince two Indian states to adopt climate change as a subject in the school curriculum – all at just 8 years old. Having founded The Child Movement to mobilise more young campaigners in India to join the cause, Licypriya’s mission is to get a climate change law enacted in her home country to prevent further climate disasters and protect the rights of children.
At just 8 years old, Licypriya Kangujam is making huge strides to ignite change in India and beyond. She founded The Child Movement in 2018, a movement dedicated to pushing for a climate change law in India to protect the rights of the current and future generations, and her work has already caught the attention of many – including accolades such as the World Children Peace Prize and the India Peace Prize.
Her journey into becoming a climate activist began in the aftermath of the 2015 Nepal earthquake. Accompanied by her father, she went to Kathmandu from India by road to carry relief resources and food. Along her journey, she realised the climate connection – that many of the “natural” disasters were rooted in anthropogenic climate change.
In 2018, when she was 6 years old, Licypriya raised her voice in front of world leaders at the Asia Ministerial Conference for Disaster Risks Reduction. Soon after, she founded The Climate Movement, and dropped out of school in 2019 when the FridaysForFuture campaign went global so that she could protest outside of the Indian parliament in New Delhi every week.
While some have made comparisons to the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, Licypriya prefers to be known as a unique climate campaigner in her own right. In her home country, she has already successfully lobbied for the government of the states of Rajasthan and Gujarat to make climate change a mandatory subject in their schools.
But knowing the severity of the climate crisis, Licypriya wants more to be done. In conversation with Lifegate, she said: “Children are smarter and more concerned than our leaders. We want climate action now without wasting any more time…What we want is not about today or tomorrow, but what needs to be done now.”
Though her goals are global, she hopes to drive change in India first, the country that is soon to become the most populated in the world and is considered the 5th most vulnerable country to extreme weather events. In a report published by the World Resources Institute (WRI) last year, scientists predicted that India, Pakistan and Turkmenistan will be among 17 countries to experience extreme water shortages in the coming years due to the climate crisis.
As scientists have pressed for decades now, we are reaching a climate “tipping point”. It has left behind a trail of disaster, from pushing entire species to near extinction to mass displacement of communities due to sea level rise. With rapid urbanisation, consumption growth and population set to increase in Asia, the path that the continent takes will have impacts that reverberate globally.
It is time for the adults to listen to the children. Without real systematic change, Licypriya argues, there will be “disastrous” consequences with “deep economic and social impacts”, especially on an entire generation that had little choice about the destruction done unto our planet but are still fighting to save it.
This article was originally written by Sally Ho for the Green Queen and can be found here.
This article is a perspective on why India needs a circular economic model if it is to continue growing as an economy. It also discusses the challenges that our country faces on the levels of product design and management, governance machinery, social acceptance and availability of necessary technology. The author makes well-reasoned arguments that are not crowded with jargon to make a case for India to move towards a circular economy.
India can be clean only if there is a proper circular economy in place providing environmental, social and economic benefits. A circular economy faces global challenges, which are inherent to the process, like uncertainty in the quantity and quality of the returned products and the time uncertainty associated with product return.
However, these challenges become more pronounced in India because of the extended life and poor maintenance of the products. The big challenge for a circular economy is the disassembly of the used products as this is the first technical step for the circular economy after the collection of products. Unfortunately, the products are designed for the ease of assembly and a lot of research has been done on the ease of assembly, which has led to many tools and methodologies for economical assembly. The research on design for disassembly has also started but the outcomes are not yet mature enough to be applied by industry.
There is huge potential for the circular economy. Take the case of PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) plastic. The estimated size of the recycled PET business in India is $400-550 million.
According to NCL (National Chemical Laboratory) and PACE (PET Packaging Association for Clean Environment), India has a 90 per cent recycling rate of PET, which is higher than Japan (72 per cent), Europe (48 per cent) and the United States (31 per cent). PET waste in India is recycled by the organised sector (65 per cent), unorganised sector (15 per cent) and reused at home (10 per cent).
Challenges to circular economy
There are institutional, technical, managerial, and social challenges to the circular economy.
The institutional challenges are more important if the circular economy has to take wings. Here, the role of government or government agencies is important. The government has to plan for and create infrastructure and if required, should invest in the technology creation.
Decisions like the number of recycling centres and their location, the use of recycled material, etc are important. If these decisions are not taken properly, then recycling centres gets disorganised and become unprofitable for the organised sector.
Take the case of WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) recycling in India. Many of the designated or approved recycling centres are non-functional. But a huge amount of WEEE is recycled in the unorganised sector.
The location of recycling centres away from the cities may not be a workable solution. The concept of urban factories should be explored with proper technology. The lack of legislations, proper enforcement of legislations and uncertain future legislations are important governmental challenges leading to the lack of top management commitment at the industry level.
At the planning stage, government should not undermine the importance of technology creation, particularly indigenous technology. The government has planned for electric vehicles. But has it thought of safe battery recycling or disposal? Technological challenges are huge in the recycling sector, if recycling is to become socially acceptable, environment friendly and economically viable. There are many online videos and stories which reflect highly unsafe WEEE recycling, which is too damaging for the environment because the focus is only on the recycling of gold or some other particular metals. This is leading to air, soil and water pollution.
The story is similar for other sectors. To bring home the importance of technology, take the example of stubble burning (disposal) in the northern states of our country. Can we not develop technology for the safe recycling of stubbles? Has the government involved all stakeholders in technology development, particularly farmers?
The governments should plan proper buyback laws that clearly mention the collection, refurbishing, remanufacturing, recycling, and disposal methods for the product. This may force the businesses to partner with the government for recycling technology development.
There is a scarcity of what we can call as circular economy managers/advisors, who can plan reverse logistics or integrated logistics activities. Even developed countries like Germany are facing a human resource crunch in this sector as is evident from one of our studies in 2011. India can take a lead if there are proper technical courses in this sector. Proper courses can be designed at all the three tiers of technical education.
Two important social challenges are the lack of awareness and lack of public pressure. The public pressure to unscientific disposal of CFLs, LEDs, WEEE, etc, which are very harmful to all critical human organs when disposed of as municipal waste, is hardly evident.
Government officials, if not fully aware of the latest technologies and options available for the recycling of hazardous products, will formulate obsolete plans and wasteful public funding.
There are two important reasons for governments in India to focus on circular economy: one, there is huge potential to create jobs for unskilled/semi-skilled population; and two, Swachh Bharat.
India can be clean only if there is a proper circular economy in place providing environmental, social and economic benefits to the nation and its people. Government should bring together various stakeholders including non-profits, social scientists and technology experts to plan and design circular economies for various sectors.
The circular economy should not be thought of just in terms of environment and social benefits as it has huge economic benefits. The first priority should be economic benefits. After all, industry is not there to save the environment and society but to make money. If circular economy is planned and designed for environmental and social benefits, there is more probability that it will remain as a mission executed as pilot plans, and will never be executed in totality.
This article was originally written by Kuldip Singh Sangwan for Down to Earth magazine and can be found here.
Witness the journey of Naveen Krishna who started a company that has changed the lives of over 1,200 rickshaw-pullers in North India. This article follows the story of his enterprise, SMV Green Solutions, that brought electrically powered rickshaws to these people, helping them up their income without adding to the air pollution of our cities. Naveen provides detailed insight into how the startup has progressed since it began in 2015 and how he's received support from unlikely corporations. The article also introduces an electric rickshaw service run by women that is part of his startup.
At a time when India, among other countries, is constantly struggling to breathe clean air due to rising pollution levels, electric vehicles (EVs) hold out some hope. Not only do EVs help cut down carbon emissions, but they also reduce the consumption of fuels and facilitate the growth of employment in alternate sectors. According to a study by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the National Research Development Corporation (NRDC), transportation powered by electricity significantly decreases the release of greenhouse gases (GHG) and other air pollutants, compared to petroleum. Though there is an increasing shift towards eco-friendly transportation with the introduction of EVs in recent years, marginalised communities in transport such as rickshaw-pullers find it difficult to obtain funds and service support to access this sustainable option.
To address this gap, SMV Green Solutions, a Varanasi-based social enterprise, is looking to promote sustainable transport among rickshaw-pullers by enabling them to transition from hand-pulled vehicles (tricycles) to electric rickshaws. Founded by Naveen Krishna (37) in 2015, the startup helps rickshaw-pullers change over to EVs through a spectrum of support strategies – from mobilising the community and assisting them to access micro finance, to handling the purchase and delivery of the three-wheeler, fulfilling the registration process, obtaining insurance, and training them in steering the vehicle.
Speaking to SocialStory, Naveen, Founder, SMV Green Solutions, says, “India has over 10 million manual rickshaw and trolley-pullers who work under treacherous conditions on a daily basis. Whenever I used to come across manual pullers on the street, I was gripped with sadness. I knew the benefits of using EVs for mobility quite well – reduction in emission levels, improvement in public health, and dilution of ecological damage. Hence, I established SMV Green Solutions to aid manual pullers move to EVs.” So far, the venture has lent a hand to more than 1,200 rickshaw-pullers across Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in transitioning to e-rickshaws.
Naveen, born and brought up in Varanasi, completed his master’s in social work from Banaras Hindu University and went on to work with non-governmental organisations in the due diligence and appraisal space. Just when Naveen was at the helm of his career, he encountered an incident that put him at a crossroads and led him to take up the environmental cause.
The entrepreneur recalls his experience from a few years ago while travelling in a prime locality of Varanasi. Coming across a man handling a manual rickshaw, Naveen witnessed him being exploited by a street vendor. He recollects, “I could see the vulnerability in his eyes. That is not all; despite bearing the load of one or, sometimes, two passengers and cycling his way through the city all day, he hardly earns enough money to feed his family. The incident stayed with me for a long time, and I was thinking about how I could make their lives better. Later, the idea of enabling rickshaw-pullers to buy EVs struck me and I decided to quit my job to pursue it.”
Today, SMV Green Solutions has a 74-member team and operates in several cities across districts like Allahabad, Varanasi, Lucknow, Gorakhpur, Chandauli, Patna, and Munger.
Improving the livelihood of rickshaw-pullers
SMV Green Solutions offers a one-window solution that improves the livelihood of rickshaw-pullers and also introduces them to the green mobility segment. In order to mobilise rickshaw-pullers and create awareness of e-rickshaws among them, the startup conducts campaigns and events. As soon as a certain amount of interest is generated, Naveen’s team approaches them with their services.
Naveen explains, “We provide all the services through our collaboration with banks, manufacturers, and insurance companies. In short, SMV Green Solutions creates asset ownership using forward and backward linkages. For instance, we have partnered with banks like Avanti Finance, SVCL, and IndusInd Bank to provide loans to the rickshaw-pullers. Similarly, through our tie-ups with Mahindra, YC Electric, and Saarthi, the e-rickshaws are ordered and procured from them.”
One of the main challenges that the Varanasi-based enterprise initially faced was the hesitation of banks to provide loans to rickshaw-pullers due to a fear of non-repayment. SMV Green Solutions undertook a pilot project in the city of Munger for six months with the hope to resolve this issue.
As part of the project, banks agreed to provide 23 rickshaw-pullers with a loan of up to 90 percent of the cost of the vehicle (Rs 1.5 lakh). SMV Green Solutions later extracted the data on repayment, which showed that all of them had repaid the money in instalments on the set dates. This infused a certain amount of confidence in the banks, which led them to provide loans to a larger number of rickshaw-pullers.
“We also offer a pay-per-use battery-swap service, ‘SMART Charge’, aimed at giving the e-rickshaw drivers access to high-performance lithium-ion batteries with the objective of ensuring that they overcome issues like long charging time, battery maintenance, and less mileage,” adds Naveen.
SMV Green has also integrated an inclusive approach in its offerings by launching a programme, ‘Vahini’, to enable more women to enter the mobility arena. With this programme, the enterprise extends its services to women looking to become rickshaw drivers. As safety is a major concern deterring women from entering this space, the company has taken up the responsibility of installing their vehicles with a cloud-based camera and providing smartphones.
“We earn our revenue from certain purchase margins on the e-rickshaws, the charges levied on vehicle servicing, and the insurance commission. Most of the funds for the company’s establishment and operations flowed in from the SAR group, Yunus Social Business Fund and Shell Foundation,” says Naveen.
A positive impact on the people and environment
Among those who have benefitted from SMV Green’s solutions is 32-year-old Priyanka Vishwakarma, a resident of Allahabad. A few years ago, she was hardly able to make ends meets. However, once she signed up to be an e-rickshaw driver under the Vahini programme, her livelihood has improved significantly.
"SMV Green Solutions has brought about a huge difference to my day-to-day living. It has empowered me by providing a means of livelihood. And, now, my income has increased three-fold. I am using my earnings to support the education of my children,” she says.
Naveen’s enterprise has already set itself targets for the next five years and is looking to intensify its promotion of clean transport and provide better livelihood to around two lakh people across 40 Indian cities.
This article was originally written by Roshni Balaji for the SocialStory columns of YourStory and can be found here.
Check out this collection of posters made by the campaign for safe cosmetics! Each poster lists the chemicals to look out for when shopping for shampoo, conditioner, moisturiser, anti-aging creams, skin lighteners, sunscreen and make-up items like blush, eye shadow, face powder and hair colour. All these chemicals are proven to be toxic and should not be part of our daily use at all.
You shouldn’t need a Ph.D in chemistry to choose safe cosmetics and personal care products. That’s why we enlisted the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics scientists to make shopping for safe products easier for you.
To use our “red lists,” avoid the chemicals of concern for each product category: shampoo, conditioner, creams, sunscreen, color cosmetics, hair color and skin lighteners.
This collection of posters was first published here.
This is a brief piece on the mind-boggling array of chemicals we house in our homes. From our food to our cosmetics, there are known harmful contaminants in a lot of the stuff we buy as 'essentials'. This article lists some of these everyday hormone-disrupting chemicals, their sources and how they affect our immune system’s defenses; and thereby our ability to survive not just Covid-19 but many other infections.
During the rare moments you’ve ventured outside these days, you’ve probably noticed clearer skies and the benefits of reductions in air pollution.
Long-term exposure to air pollution increases the danger associated with four of the biggest Covid-19 mortality risks: diabetes, hypertension, coronary artery disease and asthma. It also can make the immune system overreact, exaggerating the inflammatory response to common pathogens. But there are other common contaminants in our homes that are also likely to be hacking our immune systems, which have had less attention.
You’ve probably heard about synthetic chemicals in non-stick pans, cosmetics and aluminum cans disrupting our hormones. The notion of endocrine-disrupting chemicals was only widely accepted about a decade ago, when scientific societies raised the alarm. The science of immune disruption is even newer, with a large review in a major scientific journal just out last year.
You may have heard of “forever chemicals”, or perfluoroalkylsubstances (PFAS) from the movie Dark Waters, with Mark Ruffalo. These chemicals, used to keep food from sticking to surfaces and our clothing free of oily stains, are widely found in the US water supply. We’re talking about chemicals that 110 million Americans drink each day that increase the death rate of mice exposed to influenza type A. Children exposed during pregnancy have worse immune responses to vaccines, with weaker antibody responses.Studies in Norway, Sweden and Japan have found greater difficulties in children with various infections, ranging from colds to stomach bugs to ear infections.
Bisphenol A, or BPA, which is found in thermal paper receipts and aluminum can linings, has been found in the laboratory to increase the body’s release ofa molecule called interleukin-6, or IL-6, that may be involved in the raging wildfire inside the lung that has already killed so many from coronaviruses. One of the more promising treatments for coronavirus patients is tocilizumab, an antibody to IL-6. Phthalates, used in cosmetics, personal care products and food packaging, alter levels of cytokines, which are key players in the immune response to coronavirus.
Is the evidence perfect? Hardly. And we have to rely on observational studies – you can’t run a randomized controlled trial of potentially toxic mixtures of virus and chemical exposures. There are ethical and logistical challenges to running these kinds of studies. But absence of evidence doesn’t mean absence of harm.
Long-term lifestyle changes
Will preventing these exposures now change exposure to the novel coronavirus? No. Stay home, wash your hands with soap and water at least 30 seconds at a time, and keep your social distancing game strong. Right now, we need to keep as calm as we can and carry on as best we can. We’ve overcome other disasters – 9/11, Katrina and Sandy, to name just a few. And once we return to normal, we can limit these exposures in our daily lives – using cast iron and stainless steel instead of nonstick pans, avoiding canned food consumption, and reducing the use of plastic in our lives.
But when we return to normal, we have to ask ourselves how and why we got here, just like we did for those disasters. West Nile, Zika, dengue, Ebola and other infections are on the rise, and they are attacking us when our immune defenses are being attacked by preventable contaminants in the environment. Government and industry have dragged their feet time and again to limit these exposures because of intense economic pressure. You’ve probably heard that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has used the coronavirus pandemic to waive its enforcement rules, allowing companies to pollute without consequences.
But it’s not just at the EPA where science has undermined human health over chemicals that can affect the immune system. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has failed to protect kids from known hazards in food packaging and other contact surfaces, allowing industry to vouch for safety without careful study of potential adverse effects. And when negative effects are found, the FDA is limited in its ability to require companies to stop using toxic ingredients in its materials.
Infections are not just something we vaccinate away or treat. New infections will emerge even more in the future if we don’t appreciate the consequences of messing with Mother Nature and realize our immune systems are being hacked, too.
This article was originally written by Leonardo Trasande and Akhgar Ghassabian for The Guardian. The original article and links to further relevant resources can be found here.
In this podcast episode, economic policy, which affects each of us is discussed. Economics is a sphere of life that most of us are quite unaware of as it seems too dense to dive into and too complex for us to understand. In their new book, 'In service of the Republic', Dr. Vijay Kelkar and Dr. Ajay Shah write about how to think about economic policy, even for people who find economics tedious. They join Amit Varma in episode 154 of The Seen and the Unseen podcast to share their learnings.
Please follow this link to the podcast -
This list of benefits of environmental education (EE) is compiled by an educator with over thirty years of experience in her field. It is a concise and quick look at how environmental education impacts young minds, the various life skills it imparts to them, and reinforces that EE helps foster community and tolerance.
Environmental education (EE) connects us to the world around us, teaching us about both natural and built environments. EE raises awareness of issues impacting the environment upon which we all depend, as well as actions we can take to improve and sustain it.
Whether we bring nature into the classroom, take students outside to learn, or find impromptu teachable moments on a nature walk with our families, EE has many benefits for youth, educators, schools, and communities.
As a long time supporter of environmental education and as an Adjunct Professor of EE at University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, it is my passion to inspire future educators in this field. Over the years, I have asked each of my classes to share the reasons they teach EE, what it means to them, and how it can benefit learners of all ages. Here are our top ten benefits of EE.
Imagination and enthusiasm are heightened EE is hands-on, interactive learning that sparks the imagination and unlocks creativity. When EE is integrated into the curriculum, students are more enthusiastic and engaged in learning, which raises student achievement in core academic areas.
Learning transcends the classroom Not only does EE offer opportunities for experiential learning outside of the classroom, it enables students to make connections and apply their learning in the real world. EE helps learners see the interconnectedness of social, ecological, economic, cultural, and political issues.
Critical and creative thinking skills are enhanced EE encourages students to research, investigate how and why things happen, and make their own decisions about complex environmental issues. By developing and enhancing critical and creative thinking skills, EE helps foster a new generation of informed consumers, workers, as well as policy or decision makers.
Tolerance and understanding are supported EE encourages students to investigate varying sides of issues to understand the full picture. It promotes tolerance of different points of view and different cultures.
State and national learning standards are met for multiple subjects By incorporating EE practices into the curriculum, teachers can integrate science, math, language arts, history, and more into one rich lesson or activity, and still satisfy numerous state and national academic standards in all subject areas. Taking a class outside or bringing nature indoors provides an excellent backdrop or context for interdisciplinary learning.
Biophobia and nature deficit disorder decline By exposing students to nature and allowing them to learn and play outside, EE fosters sensitivity, appreciation, and respect for the environment. It combats “nature deficit disorder” … and it’s FUN!
Healthy lifestyles are encouraged EE gets students outside and active, and helps address some of the health issues we are seeing in children today, such as obesity, attention deficit disorders, and depression. Good nutrition is often emphasized through EE and stress is reduced due to increased time spent in nature.
Communities are strengthened EE promotes a sense of place and connection through community involvement. When students decide to learn more or take action to improve their environment, they reach out to community experts, donors, volunteers, and local facilities to help bring the community together to understand and address environmental issues impacting their neighborhood.
Responsible action is taken to better the environment EE helps students understand how their decisions and actions affect the environment, builds knowledge and skills necessary to address complex environmental issues, as well as ways we can take action to keep our environment healthy and sustainable for the future. Service-learning programs offered by PLT and other EE organizations provide students and teachers with support through grants and other resources for action projects.
Students and teachers are empowered EE promotes active learning, citizenship, and student leadership. It empowers youth to share their voice and make a difference at their school and in their communities. EE helps teachers build their own environmental knowledge and teaching skills. I hope these “top ten” benefits will give you the confidence and commitment to incorporate EE into your curriculum!
This article was originally written by Susan Toth for Project Learning Tree and can be found here.
Worried about getting a cold or the flu? For many of us, the knee-jerk action is to take a big dose of daily vitamin C. For many years, C has been the vitamin with the biggest marketing budget (thanks in part to the citrus industry). Now, in the era of COVID-19, with many of us trying to figure out how to eat to best support our immune systems, let’s separate fact from speculation. Can vitamin C really help to prevent colds, flus, and other viral infections? How does vitamin C work in the immune system, and is it worth considering taking a daily vitamin C supplement? And if so, which ones are best?
What is Vitamin C?
Vitamin C, also known as L-ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin and a powerful antioxidant. Unlike fat-soluble vitamins like A and E, water-soluble vitamins aren’t stored in the body. Whatever you don’t use today is excreted through urine, so no matter how much you take today, you need to get more tomorrow and every day after that.
While most animals can synthesize their own vitamin C, humans cannot. Other exceptions include apes and other primates, guinea pigs, fruit-eating bats, insects, fish, certain reptiles, and some bird species. Since we can’t make it, and it’s critical for our health, we must eat food that contains vitamin C. This, plus the fact that vitamin C is the least stable vitamin, is why it’s an essential nutrient to eat (or supplement).
Benefits of Vitamin C
Vitamin C has a number of benefits and uses in human health.
As a potent antioxidant, vitamin C reduces oxidative stress in your body. Extensive research shows that diets rich in daily vitamin C are associated with a lower risk of many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, certain cancers, eye diseases, and neurodegenerative conditions that affect cognitive health. Vitamin C can also regenerate other antioxidants, such as vitamin E, by lowering free radicals formed when vitamin E scavenges oxygen radicals.
White Blood Cells
Vitamin C may also help to promote the production and protection of white blood cells, which help your body fight off infections. This might be especially relevant to COVID-19 because many infected patients have a low white blood cell count when they contract the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Vitamin C is part of your external defense system as well, as it plays a primary role in the health and integrity of your skin. This is because daily vitamin C is needed to produce collagen, the most abundant protein in your body’s connective tissue. It helps strengthen your skin’s barriers, which is important to fight the spread of COVID-19 and other viruses as well as protect your skin with all of the hand-washing you’re doing. (You are washing your hands a lot, right?)
Vitamin C boosts iron absorption, which can help prevent iron deficiency. For instance, eating a combination of tomatoes and lentils, or tomatoes and beans, at the same time, can enhance how much iron you absorb. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that adding 100 mg of vitamin C (as ascorbic acid) to meals boosted iron absorption by 67%.
Chronic Disease Prevention
Studies have found vitamin C to play a role in preventing heart disease, primarily by managing blood pressure. It’s also protective against oxidative stress in the brain, especially when it comes to diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia. Your eyes can benefit from daily vitamin C too, which may even help slow age-related diseases like cataracts. It may also help improve fertility in men, primarily by improving sperm quality.
How Much Daily Vitamin C Do You Need?
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of vitamin C varies between 15 mg-120 mg per day. Pregnant and lactating women, and the elderly, should aim for the upper end of that range. The average adult requires 75-90 mg of daily vitamin C, which you can easily obtain from a healthy, plant-centered diet. For reference, one large orange contains approximately 100 mg of vitamin C. Truth in advertising from the Florida Department of Citrus!
When you consume vitamin C in moderate amounts (say, 30-180 mg per day), your body absorbs around 70-90% of it. When you start taking more than 1,000 mg per day (nearly impossible to do without supplementation), absorption rates decrease to less than 50%. Leftover vitamin C passes out of your body in urine.
What Happens When You Don’t Get Enough Vitamin C?
Not getting enough daily vitamin C has well-established negative health effects. The primary consequence of vitamin C deficiency is scurvy, a disease in which people experience fatigue, skin rash, open and unhealing sores, bleeding gums, and bruising. If untreated, it can lead to death.
The Discovery of Scurvy
The discovery of vitamin C and scurvy happened at the same time, in the 1920s, when vitamin C deficiency was a serious and fairly common condition. Sailors on long sea voyages who subsisted on fish, dried meats, and hard tack (a basic biscuit or cracker), with no access to fresh or preserved produce, frequently experienced symptoms of scurvy, a disease characterized by the breakdown of connective tissues.
Historians estimate that between the first voyage of Columbus and the rise of the steam engine in the mid-19th century, over two million sailors perished from the disease. Shipping companies and governments assumed that half of the sailors would die from scurvy on any given voyage.
After experimenting with useless and often dangerous treatments like vinegar, “elixir of vitriol” (a particularly alarming cocktail of sulfuric acid and alcohol), and various potent laxatives, seamen finally discovered a solution in the mid-1700s. When a badly damaged British naval fleet made their way to Juan Fernández Island (off the coast of what is now Chile) with just a few hundred men left alive out of the original 1200, they (seemingly) miraculously reversed their scurvy once they began eating the foods readily available on the island: oats, clover, radishes, sorrel, and other vegetable foods rich in vitamin C.
While greens were impractical to sail with, citrus fruits could be taken on board and stored and distributed to sailors to keep them healthy. Once the sailors received fresh fruits and vegetables, scurvy could be reversed and prevented. Navies and shipping companies began taking oranges, lemons, and limes on these voyages to treat and prevent the sailors’ disease. The tie is so strong that “ascorbic” in the chemical name for vitamin C actually means “anti-scurvy.”
Scurvy Risk Today
Today, scurvy is very rare, especially if your diet is rich in fruits and veggies. Most scurvy cases are associated with a vitamin C intake of less than 10 mg per day. Some people are more at risk, however, including those who smoke, infants fed evaporated or boiled milk (as this can destroy vitamin C), people who consume diets of limited variety, and individuals who have absorption problems.
Can You Get Too Much Vitamin C?
If your body just gets rid of excess vitamin C every day, is it possible to get too much of it? The Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) for vitamin C is 2,000 mg, meaning that this is the amount that has been established as the highest amount generally tolerated without negative effects for most people.
The most common side effects of vitamin C, associated with excessive intake, are digestive disturbances— like diarrhea, nausea, and cramping — primarily due to unabsorbed vitamin C sitting in the gastrointestinal tract.
For a smaller number of people, excessive vitamin C can lead to more significant problems. For instance, those with hereditary hemochromatosis could be at risk for iron overload resulting in tissue damage due to the absorptive-boosting effects of vitamin C on iron. People with renal disorders may also have a heightened risk for side effects if their vitamin C intake is in excess of 1,000-2,000 mg per day. Kidney stones can form as a result of high amounts of vitamin C from supplementation, causing an increased excretion of oxalate in your urine. Though this is rare among healthy people with moderate vitamin C intakes.
Vitamin C may also have the potential to interfere with certain medications, like cholesterol-lowering statins, Adderall for ADHD, and warfarin, which is used to prevent blood clots.
For most people, however, a moderate amount of vitamin C (2,000 mg or less per day) seems to be fairly well tolerated.
Vitamin C-Rich Foods
Fruits and vegetables are very good sources of daily vitamin C. However, modern agricultural practices have depleted soil quality around the world, meaning that the soils in which crops are grown have far fewer nutrients than they used to.
An analysis of nutrient data from the Kushi Institute, conducted between 1975 and 1997, found that the average amount of vitamin C in crops had decreased by 30%. We can assume that even more depletion has occurred in the nearly 25 years since the completion of that study.
Optimizing Your Dietary Vitamin C
How do you optimize your vitamin C intake from foods? Start with choosing good sources of vitamin C (see list below). Then, pay attention to how you prepare those foods. Certain preparation methods can lower the amount of vitamin C in a food. Boiling can substantially reduce the content, whereas microwaving, surprisingly enough, preserved the most. In general, the longer and the hotter the cooking method, the more vitamin C was destroyed.
Storage methods also play a role. Fresh and frozen produce tends to have more vitamin C than canned. The longer you keep that fresh produce in your fridge or on your counter, the less vitamin C you end up with. Frozen produce is a good option as the freezing process can destroy some of the enzymes that eventually degrade vitamin C.
Though not well documented, the amount of vitamin C in fruits and veggies may also differ significantlydepending on where they’re grown, how they’re grown, how long they sit after harvest, what season it is, and how they’re stored. Even fruits grown on different branches of the same tree can vary in their nutrient content!
The best way to meet vitamin C needs is to incorporate a variety of fruits and vegetables into your diet on a regular basis. Good sources of vitamin C along with their approximate vitamin C content, are listed below. Note that some of these are also found on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list, meaning that they are often high in pesticides when grown conventionally. So it’s a good idea to buy organic produce whenever possible.
1 medium guava = 126 mg
1 medium red bell pepper = 152 mg
1 medium orange = 70 mg
1 cup of raw broccoli = 40 mg
1 small lemon = 30 mg
1 small papaya = 95 mg
1 cup of raw Brussels sprouts = 75 mg
1 cup of raw strawberries = 60 mg
1 kiwi fruit = 64 mg
¾ cup of diced pineapple = 48 mg
1 cup of frozen cauliflower florets = 21 mg
1 cup of raw cantaloupe = 57 mg
1 large tomato = 25 mg
Should You Take Vitamin C Supplements?
If you’re looking to boost your daily vitamin C intake well beyond the RDA, you can either eat a very large amount of vitamin C-rich foods like oranges, guavas, and red bell peppers, or you may want to consider supplementation. And while getting nutrients from food is almost always best, there are some compelling studies to back up the notion that for some people, vitamin C supplementation could be helpful. Perhaps especially in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vitamin C supplementation has been found to reduce severity and shorten recovery time from illnesses, including viral infections like cold and flu. It can support your body’s natural defenses and fight inflammation. And there is some evidence from animal research and case studies in humans that high dose, or IV vitamin C, can reduce lung inflammation in severe respiratory illnesses caused by H1N1 (“swine flu”) or other similar viruses.
Vitamin C for COVID-19
What about COVID-19? Some scientists believe that vitamin C supplementation could be helpful in calming the cytokine storms that often accompany this illness. Cytokines are proteins released by cells that ramp up your immune response. In some people, an overactive immune system gets stuck in a loop and releases so many cytokines that the lungs become inflamed. Severe lung inflammation with COVID-19 can result in respiratory distress and even death. Until we have studies that test the use of supplemental vitamin C in the treatment of COVID-19, specifically, we won’t know if it helps to reduce cytokine storms or not. But it seems plausible that it could.
Research is currently underway in China, as multiple studies seek to find out if high doses of IV vitamin C can shorten COVID-19 recovery time. So far, researchers have noted that it may reduce ICU length and shorten time on ventilators. Based on initial research, the Shanghai Medical Association endorsed the use of high dose vitamin C as a treatment for hospitalized people with COVID-19. However, more study is necessary to know with confidence, whether and how much vitamin C is helpful.
Best Vitamin C Supplement
One way to get very high doses of vitamin C is through intravenous, or IV, therapy. However, this can be very costly and isn’t nearly as convenient or accessible as oral vitamin C.
On the other hand, conventional oral vitamin C supplements, often in the form of vitamin C capsules, lozenges, or gummies, can have some drawbacks. For instance, they might contain highly processed ingredients, artificial fillers, and “natural” flavorings. Some also contain added sugars.
Additionally, digestive issues can accompany large amounts of vitamin C via supplements. Ascorbic acid — the supplemental form of vitamin C — has a very low pH, meaning that it’s highly acidic. When a supplement doesn’t adequately buffer the ascorbic acid, it can lead to cramping, diarrhea, and other stomach-related issues in some people.
Liposomal Vitamin C
Liposomal vitamin C is another option to consider. This form is encapsulated in liposomes or double-layered, protective fat bubbles that deliver nutrients to cells in your body. Research shows that liposomal vitamin C is more effective and bioavailable than conventional oral vitamin C supplements.
Liposomes protect the vitamin C micelles from environmental threats and absorption barriers found in the human digestive system. As they go through your intestinal tract, the liposomes gently peel away, gradually releasing the vitamin C micelles and depositing them near the gut lining where they’re better absorbed.
Support Your Immune System with Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a known antioxidant, is found in some of the healthiest foods on the planet, and seems to be good for immune health too. Eating vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables in normal quantities has no apparent downside. And taking vitamin C supplements may have some positive benefits, though there is more to learn.
Whether or not supplemental vitamin C is beneficial in the prevention or treatment of COVID-19 is an open question. But there’s little doubt that eating a diet that’s abundant in vitamin C-rich foods is good for your health — pandemic or no pandemic.
This article is written by Ocean Robbins for the Food Revolution Network and is sourced from here.
This is a concise summary of the practice of using biological agents like insects as pest control in organic farms. In brief and easy to understand terms, it introduces organic farming, discusses agents for biological control and some pest management strategies. This is a good read for someone who wants a simple overview of natural pest control practices without all the complex scientific terms.
The goal of organic farming is to produce chemical-free healthy food. Farming practices rely on methods which combine knowledge of ecology and modern technology with traditional farming practices based on naturally occurring biological processes. In order to minimize the usage of synthetic pesticides, biological pest control is used. This is a method which uses other organisms to control insects, mites, weeds and plant diseases which rely on predation, parasitism, and herbivory or some other natural mechanisms, including an active human management role. Biological pest control creates no chemical runoff in waterways or soil pollution. It targets a narrow range of pests, sometimes even a single species and other beneficial insects. As a result, animals remain unharmed. Successfully established biological control species will maintain stable populations for generations without the need for additional investment by humans.
Biological Control Agents
Natural enemies of plant insect pests and diseases are known as biological control agents. They include predators, parasitoids, and pathogens. A predator is an organism that eats another organism (animal, plant, fungi or dead organic matter) while parasitoids are most of their life attached to or within a host organism which they have a relationship. It is similar to parasitism but they ultimately sterilize, kill or sometimes consume their hosts. Major Characteristics of Insect Parasitoids:
They are specialized in their choice of host
They are smaller than their host
Only the female searches for the host
Different parasitoid species can attack different life stages of host
Eggs or larvae are usually laid in, on, or near the host
Immatures remain on or in the host; adults are free-living, mobile, and may be predaceous
Immatures almost always kill the host.
Pathogens are microorganisms, and infectious agents such as viruses, bacteria, prion or fungi which fight against other plant diseases. They prevent pathogens from colonizing crops. Biological control agents of weeds are seed predators, herbivores, and plant pathogens. Pest management in organic farming often combines biological control agents, especially in cases of massive and severe infections of invasive pests.
Pest Management Strategies
There are three basic biological pest control strategies: importation (classical biological control), augmentation and conservation.
Importation - classical biological pest management in organic farming which introduces pest’s natural enemies to the locations where they do not occur naturally. This strategy requires biological control agents with the colonizing ability and temporal persistence in order to maintain its population and rapidly exploit a pest population.
Augmentation – involves the supplemental release of natural enemies, boosting the naturally occurring population. It can include a small or large release of the control agents, depending on the pest management needs. To keep pests at a low level, to prevent a severe attack, small release controlling agents are sufficient. However, for rapid reduction (correction) of the damaging pest population, a large number of control agents is needed. Augmentation can be effective, but is not guaranteed to work, and it relies on the understanding of the situation.
Conservation – this involves the conservation of existing natural enemies in the environment already adapted to the habitat and the target pest. Conservation pest management is usually simple and cost-effective. To favor natural enemies, cropping systems can be modified to provide a suitable habitat. Shelterbelt, hedgerow or beetle banks provide shelter where beneficial insects can live and reproduce. This enables farmers to ensure the survival of populations.
This post is sourced from an article originally written by Tanja Folnovic, an agronomy expert, for the Agrivi blog, which can be found here.
Debal Deb is a celebrated activist and 'rice warrior' of India. In 25 years, he has managed to procure and conserve in his seed bank 1420 native varieties of rice. This article is the story of how he's come to do the work he's currently doing at his farm, Basudha. You will find here a lot of interesting facts about rice, its varieties, the current state of rice farming in India and therefore a case for why we need to conserve native seeds. The journey, impactful work and lifestyleof this inspirational activist are highlighted in this article.
In the 1990s when Debal Deb was working with India’s largest conservation NGO in Kolkata, he recalled how the country boasted of more than 1,10,000 folk or native varieties of rice until the advent of the Green Revolution in the late 1960s. In the two decades that followed, this number dropped to less than 7,000.
Why? The Green Revolution witnessed policy makers, agri-scientists and Indian farmers abandon landraces and chase high yielding varieties so much so that at some point, more than 75 per cent of India’s rice production was coming from less than 10 varieties. As an ecologist, Deb was rattled by this culling of rice varieties native to India.
“Every time a tiger or a rhino or any charismatic big animal was killed, millions of dollars poured in to support conservation efforts. But nobody batted an eyelash witnessing a massive genocide of our traditional rice varieties,” Deb says in an interview with The Better India (TBI).
Deb, though no agriculturist by training, was bothered with the apathy of the then agri-scientists who found it of no consequence that the native rice varieties were dying and were, in fact, actively promoting high yielding and hybrid varieties instead. Thus, in the early 1990s, Deb set out on the field to document the varieties that were left in Bengal. Though 5,500 native varieties were officially documented from West Bengal, over his journey spanning three years, he was able to collect only 350.
Sometimes on foot and mostly on the rooftops of buses, Deb travelled to remote, unirrigated villages, untouched by the perils of the Green revolution, and populated with marginal farmers. Most of the farmers couldn’t afford chemical fertilisers, pesticides or pump sets for irrigation. So they cultivated the native varieties of rice that required none of these ‘inputs’. Every time he reached a village and asked for a fistful of grains, he pleaded them to never stop cultivating the indigenous rice.
Over the past 25 years, this rice warrior has collected more than 1,420 native rice varieties from 12 states across India. He also collected a few varieties from countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Thailand, Korea, the Philippines and Italy. Apart from starting a one-of-its-kind open-access seed bank—Vrihi, for farmers, he also cultivates each of the 1,420 rice varieties on a 1.7 acre model farm, Basudha, that he set up at the foothills of Niyamgiri in Odisha.
When he started his conservation journey, Deb distributed these varieties at the doorsteps of Bengali farmers hit by the drought in 1998, flash floods and later cyclone Aila in 2009 which swept 20,000 hectare of land out of production in the Sunderbans.
But he was shocked at what the farmers did when farming activities resumed.
“All modern hybrid varieties had perished and these native varieties were the only ones that not only survived but also furnished substantial grain yield. But what was heartbreaking was, once the drought or cyclone had passed, the same farmers who were saved from hunger by these native varieties abandoned them to go back to modern varieties. They had no value for the native seeds, because they were getting it for free.”
When Deb travelled to the Chinsurah Rice Research Station to donate some of these varieties, they rejected his offer. He then approached the Director of Agriculture at the station who ridiculed him, “Being a scientist yourself, why are you trying to get the old seeds back? Do you want to push our farmers to the caveman’s age?”
Despite reiterating that these traditional varieties could yield in marginal land and climatic conditions, where no modern varieties could survive, the Director told him, they would work on transgenic varieties to tackle this. This is one of the prime reasons that, till date, Deb has never reached out to any government or private institute to fund his work.
Jaded by the lack of support, Deb quit his extremely well paying senior position in Kolkata as a Senior Project Officer in 1996 with the World Wilde Fund for Nature (WWF) Eastern Region. He then started Basudha, to conserve, grow, multiply and distribute these seeds himself. His work is mostly funded by good samaritans who believe in his vision.
While he initially spent almost two decades working in Bengal, he shifted base to Odisha a decade ago.
“There were only very few exceptions among farmers in Bengal who understood and accepted the intrinsic value of the native varieties. Majority of them were victims to the ‘develop-mentality’ where all they thought about was immediate gains and profits. After shifting to Odisha, we saw a good response. Apart from Odisha, farmers from Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka also appreciated the intrinsic value of the native seeds and gave preference to its aroma, nutritional properties, heritage and flavour, over its yield and market price.”
Deb, who is an Indian Institute of Science alumnus and a former Fulbright Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, US, adds how money was a big challenge in the beginning because he was new to the field and had no regular income flowing in. Yet he doesn’t charge the farmers a penny for the seeds.
“On principle, I do not charge anything for the seeds that I give to farmers, because those seeds are not my invention. I am only a custodian of the seeds. I share them freely because I want to reinstate the traditional system of sharing seeds as opposed to the market system of selling them at exorbitant prices.”
To ensure this, he created a living seed bank, Vrihi.
“At national and international gene banks, many varieties are dried to reduce their moisture content below 14 per cent and then stored at -20 degree Celsius, to increase their shelf life. Considering the period during which these gene banks were set up, most of these seeds have surpassed their shelf life. They are dead because they were never cultivated on a field and allowed to germinate. I have visited these gene banks and firsthand witnessed thousands of packets of these dead seeds. It is more of a gene morgue than a gene bank,” says Deb.
According to Deb, about 20 per cent of the varieties in these seed banks are still alive and even those are inaccessible to the ordinary farmers as big seed corporations have easy access to them. Vrihi was a protest against this injustice to the ordinary farmer.
While these native varieties are distributed free of cost in half kg packets, the rules are very clear. Farmers who take these packets from Vrihi, have to cultivate them, return one kg next year as proof of cultivation, and later pass the seeds on to other farmers. The rice grown from these seeds can be a commercial product. But the seeds can never be sold. They have to be shared for free only with farmers, not with government institutions or seed corporations.
Most heirloom varieties if not cultivated, lose their germination ability after one year. So you have to plant them and ensure their growth is monitored. This not only helps keep the variety alive but also helps it evolve and develop resistance to the changing climate, strains of pests and pathogens. And so, Deb cultivates each of them, every year at the Basudha farm.
After six years of field-testing he has devised a method that allows him to plant each of these varieties within the 1.7 acres of Basudha while ensuring that the genetic purity of each of these heirloom varieties is maintained and no cross-pollination occurs between two varieties, planted next to each other.
He spends 12 days and nights each year to merely design and map the manner in which the varieties would be planted. Deb published his methodology in the open-access Current Science journal in July 2006, and in his book to make the information accessible to farmers. Basudha is the only farm in India which prides itself over the genetic purity it maintains in the seeds distributed to farmers.
We assess 56 morphological characters of the plant of each variety, from the leaf length and width, leaf colour, node colour, grain colour and weight, kernel colour and so on, to ensure it matches the original variety. We go the extra mile so that the farmer who takes these seeds from Basudha is taking home the same variety that I conserved 25 years ago. Basudha is the only place in India, that is maintaining this level of genetic purity.
A Treasure Trove
When asked to shed light on some of the most iconic varieties he has preserved, Deb says, “To me, every single variety has a unique property. We are the last repository for many of these varieties.” For example, the Sateen that has three kernels in most of the spikelets. “The farmer who gave this to me passed away after which, his son did not cultivate it. Monsanto, the seed corporation, tried to acquire the variety grown in my farm, but I refused to let them do so.”
Another example is Jugal, the double-grain rice variety. Ramigali from Chhattisgarh has sterile lemmas elongated as wing-like appendages. Kharah from Odisha is another unique landrace with purple stems and leaves.
Another variety includes grains which have natural silver content. Effective in killing gut microbes, it is considered to have properties to cure gastrointestinal diseases. There are 86 varieties which are very rich in iron. A single meal of any of these can be beneficial to pregnant women and new mothers who face iron-deficiency and may suffer from anemia.
Similarly, there are varieties rich in zinc, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids too. Vrihi also has 16 native varieties that can out-yield modern hybrids without any agro-chemical inputs!
Hundreds of farmers visit Deb every year with the purpose of exchanging and borrowing seeds. Last year, Basudha saw more than 1,900 farmer footfalls. The year before, this number was 2,000. This year too, a group of 30 highly motivated farmers from Tamil Nadu will be visiting Deb to take 1,000 native varieties of rice.
Deb also imparts the training to grow these varieties to maintain their genetic purity. While success for the multiplication of each variety seems like an uphill task, he hopes this exchange will help carry forward the tradition of preserving at least 500 of these varieties.
Let’s hope Deb continues to create these little pockets of hope and inspire many more warriors to join in the battle to preserve our wealth of native crop varieties!
This article was originally written by Jovita Arahana for the The Better India. It can be found here.
The unseen fate of 15 million people per year around the globe!
Current development projects, though aimed at improving the lives of people, actually end up exacerbating poverty, social unrest, environmental degradation and loss of cultural identity. The primary reason for these issues is forcible evictions of communities and entire villages to make space for projects, conducted by the state and corporations. Through engaging videos, this page provides a voice for the people who are at the receiving end of these evictions and highlights their stories.
Forced evictions are on the rise in several parts of India. Most development projects, at face value, seem aimed at improving the lives of people: a new dam will generate more electricity to power industry; a new shopping mall will create new businesses and therefore more jobs.
However, the reality for communities living near a project is often quite different. These projects often about result in destruction of communities, the loss of jobs, and the impoverishment of people. Each year an estimated 15 million people across the globe are forcibly uprooted from their homes, farmlands, fishing areas and forests to make way for dam reservoirs, irrigation projects, mines, plantations, highways, and tourist resorts. Urban slums are bulldozed to make way for luxury condominiums, sporting facilities and shopping centres. Human rights abuses do not end after a forced eviction. A community may not be formally resettled and often find themselves living without adequate housing and without access to water, work, schools and hospitals. A forced eviction exacerbates poverty, social unrest, environmental degradation and loss of cultural identity.
Often, society accepts this collateral damage as the price the nation must pay for development. Yet it doesn’t have to be this way: it is possible to both safeguard people’s rights while also experiencing economic growth.
Here are some examples of the content you will find elaborated on and showcased here
This article was originally featured on the India Unheard platform and you can find the forced evictions page and many more similar videos here
This article discusses the key principles of environment education in simple, layman language. It gives some insight into how our lives are connected with and dependent on the ecology of our environments and therefore the need to redesign curricula to include these relationships. It adresses the need for environmental education to be holistic, to build values, to integrate into the formal system and to be centered on practical problems.
The prosperity and well-being of a nation depends on the effective utilization of human and physical resources through industrialisation based on science and technology. But there is a perennial controversy between development and environment. The question is whether we shall go for industrial or modernization or we shall protect the environment.
In one hand, we know that development of a nation depends on industrialization and on the other hand, rapid industrial and agricultural development entails much adverse effects on the environment of the countries concerned. So we have to apply our wisdom in striking a balance between these two contradictory factors. Development and environment are concerned with global ecology. We should, therefore; clearly know the basic concepts of environment or ecology and its relation with our developmental activities at macro as well as micro-level.
Everything that surrounds us and on which our life depends is our environment. Our room, our home, our village or town, our family and friends, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the sunshine and the rain – all are part of our environment. Even the environment of two individuals is different. But these environments are interrelated so closely that in a sense we all belong to the same environment.
This inter- relatedness is a matter of ecology. The term ‘ecology’ has been derived from the Greek word ‘Oikos’ which means home. So, ecology is literally, the science that deals with the home conditions of all living beings. Ecology deals with the interrelationships between living beings and their environment.
Previously, in old days, a natural balance was maintained between all living beings including men and plants. They were living together in harmony and in natural setting. Human beings live in harmony with the Nature including the Forest which was providing most of the necessities for living. But over the recent years, due to rapid industrialisation, urbanisation, the nature has been adversely affected.
The environment is seriously degraded and there is imbalance and disharmony. The water and air has been polluted to a great extent because of the destruction of the vast forest on the earth. Because, forest plays an important role in conservation of water, purification of air and supplying many useful things to the human beings.
Another disaster which is posed before us, is that due to rapid growth of urbanisation. The living conditions of the people in the cities and towns have been detoriated. There is pollution of water, air and noise etc. due to the rapid expansion of industries, power stations and motor vehicles etc. Everywhere, there is pollution. It has been proved harmful for the physical and mental health of the people.
All the Influences on the growth of the individual constitute environment. Environment includes a number of situations or experiences that influences the development of the individual. So the environment of an individual comprises all the physical and social factors around him which directly affect his living including the working conditions.
The various environmental factors are interrelated. The physical environment includes the living and non-living, the geographical landmarks, topography and climatic conditions, the man-made feature like buildings, roads, transport and other facilities like health, sanitation, nutrition aspects. The social environment consists of the family and community life, fairs and festivals, modes of production and supply of essential commodities.
The various environmental factors are inter-related. We know the environment of an individual comprises all the physical and social factors. Then only the individual can survive on his earth. For this reason our environment is to be protected.
Role of Education:
Education is regarded as an important instrument and means for generating proper awareness and adequate knowledge and skills regarding environmental protection. It is, therefore, felt essential to develop education about the environment, education for the environment and education through the environment. So as a whole, it will be environmental education.
1. Environmental education should be integrated into the whole system of formal education at all levels.
2. Environmental education adopts a holistic perspective which will examine the ecological, social, cultural and other aspects of particular problems.
3. Environmental education should be centred on practical problems related to real life.
4. Environmental education should aim at building up a sense of values.
However, it is universally agreed that environment education should be inter-disciplinary, drawing from biological, sociological, anthropological, economic, and political and human resources. It is also agreed that a conceptual approach in teaching environmental education is the best.
It also involves decision-making and development strategies for promoting environment protection. Environmental education is treated as a discipline in which various subjects like Zoology, Botany, Chemistry, Mathematics and Physics are included. This makes it imperative to train specialists in environmental education for planning,’ management, development and taking remedial measure for solving the problems.
The NCERT developed the guidelines for the school curriculum on the basis of the Education Commission, 1964-66. It has also prepared a resource material on the use of environment as a basis for meaningful learning in Primary Education.
The National Policy on Education 1986 has also given a special place of significance to education and environment. So a great need is being felt to create an awareness for the protection of the environment by redesigning the objectives, methods and curriculum in the field of education.
This article was originally shared by Z. Khan on Your Article Library and is sourced from here.
By the year 2050, 75% of the population of the world is expected to be living in urban areas; there's an urgent need to focus on building sustainable cities. This article looks at how you can start at an individual level to make your city eco-friendly. Being mindful of your consumption patterns and engaging other citizens through set-ups like a community based garbage processing unit and some other ideas are discussed. Written in an American context, this piece is still relevant and Innovative strategies for waste management, local generation of power, greener mass transit solutions, etc. are explored as key practices towards a greener city.
As individuals, we need to do our part to conserve energy and be eco-friendly. We can do that in our own homes in quite a few different ways. We can start with our energy providers. For example, it is easy to get Direct Energy rates, especially for Texas residents. Once you have access to those plans and rates, it is a simple thing to decide which one will be best for you and your family.
What about entire cities, though? What can cities do to become greener? Let's take a closer look.
It Doesn't Need to be National
Greener living doesn't always need to be done on a national level. Sometimes, the leaders of cities have more power in this arena than they might think. City leaders can institute the use of such things as local hydrogen fuel cells and local generation of power, and even smart meters just to name a few things.
It Doesn't Have to be Pretty
Currently, there are at least 4 cities that are attempting sustainable garbage processing. While this isn't the most aesthetically pleasing thing that can be done, it is something that can play a critical part in helping cities to improve their levels of energy efficiency and to become greener in the long term.
Most of the time, people probably don't think of trash as being a major component of greener living. However, using more innovative strategies for waste management can be a very effective method of addressing being more eco-friendly.
Parks, Parks, and More Parks
By the year 2050, 75% of the population of the world is expected to be living in urban areas. This means that cities will be massive contributors to CO2 levels and overall pollution, but it also gives them an opportunity to make changes that can have a deep impact. One way to do this is by creating parks. These can be considered the lungs of cities. The trees in them clean the air and the parks themselves give the citizens a place where they can relax, take a deep breath and reconnect with nature. They also act as a cooling counterbalance to the heat created by all the concrete and asphalt.
Commuters in places like Dubai, Beijing and Switzerland have brand new metro systems that they can take to work. People in Istanbul, Mexico City, and Los Angeles have been riding buses that have their own lanes. But, whether they are humble or high tech, solutions for mass transit that let people get around easily and quickly without needing their own vehicle are one of the key elements to a city going green.
Best Practices for Green Cities
Turning your city into one that is green is more difficult that just having a good urban plan and stricter codes. Here are a few of the best practices from some of the most sustainable cities in the world.
1. Goals that are ambitious and well – defined with regular progress reports
2. Generating electricity using sustainable resources
3. Strict building codes that favor green technology
4. Investment in greener public transportation
5. Policies and efforts to drastically cut water consumption and waste
6. An increase in density
7. Encouraging creative, knowledge – based economies
8. Access to healthy and affordable food
9. A city government that leads by example
10. Encouraging of grassroots efforts that will engage the citizens
While we still have quite a long way to go when it comes to making our cities green, creating competitions between cities for first place can be a good thing.
This article is written by ryank @ryankhgb for Smart Cities Dive
This article summaries the award-winning proposals of City Investments To Innovate, Integrate and Sustain (CITIIS) programme, highlighting how these Indian cities would become the country's next smart cities. Read everything from Agartala's refreshed riverfront idea to Amritsar's step towards smarter travel. Bhubaneshwar reimagines public places, Hubbali-Dharwad launches a green initiative, and Dehradun puts forth commuter and environment friendly solutions. While Surat emphasises on a transition from wastelands to biodiversity hubs, Kochi engages in a digital healthcare revolution.
In 2018, The Government of India, AFD and the European Union launched the City Investments To Innovate, Integrate and Sustain (CITIIS) program, a challenge process that called on cities around India to submit their proposals of how they would become the country’s next smart cities. Here is a look at the 12 winning projects.
Agartala Gets A Refreshed Riverfront
The capital city of the north-eastern Indian state of Tripura, Agartala sits along the Howrah River. The project called Agartala Smart City Limited (ASCL) is looking to reshape the riverfront – as well as the identity – of the city. It seeks to not only strengthen the embankments and build a responsible waste management system, but also sustain the biodiversity fostered by the river and build organic gardens. These gardens will further generate employment for the locals, especially women while preserving the area’s natural environment.
Amritsar Takes A Step Towards Smarter Travel
The holy city of Amritsar is located in the northern state of Punjab and is home to the famous Sikh shrine, the Golden Temple. The project put forward by Amritsar Smart City Limited (ASCL) is dedicated to revamping the public transport system. Their main objectives are to introduce more e-vehicles and “smart cards”, provide a feeder network for last mile connectivity, and digitize the public transport system. This will not only bring down costs and make public transport more accessible for both residents and visitors, but also benefit Amritsar’s environment in the long run.
Bhubaneshwar Reimagines Public Places
Bhubaneshwar is the capital of the eastern state of Odisha and an important cultural centre in the region. The B-Active project designed by the Bhubaneshwar Smart City Limited (BSCL) aims to reinvent the city’s open spaces and find solutions to a number of other urban issues. BSCL’s initiatives are based on developing the city’s key assets, namely streets, parks and playgrounds, waterways and heritage areas. Besides empowering citizens to manage open spaces, these measures will also prioritize active recreation and organized sports as well as public health.
Hubbali-Dharwad Launched Goes Green
Hubbali (or Hubli) and Dharwad are twin cities in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. Hubli-Dharwad Smart City Limited (HDSCL) has come up with a proposal to build a green mobility corridor along the 8.5km drainage channel, the Unkal Nala. Besides improving the condition and controlling the flow of the channel, the project also includes building bike and pedestrian tracks which would be connected to major roads of Hubli-Dharwad. This will address drainage issuesfaced by the area, and also promote environment-friendly transport options.
Ujjain Has More Room To Breathe
Ujjain is an ancient city and popular pilgrimage site in Madhya Pradesh, a central state of India. The project proposed by Ujjain Smart City Limited (USCL) aims at decongesting and developing some of the most visited areas of the city and enhancing their potential to accommodate and engage both tourists and residents in Ujjain. Among other aspects, this project focuses on strengthening roads and public pathways as well as redeveloping the open spaces in and around the Mahakal Temple, Maharajwada Complex, and the Chota Rudrasagar lake.
Dehradun Gets More Commuter and Environment Friendly
The capital of the northern hill state of Uttarakhand, Dehradun has developed into a busy and populous city over time. To tackle congested roadways, cost-ineffective transport and air pollution, Dehradun Smart City Limited (DSCL) has designed a mobility plan which is more commuter-centric, sustainable, and ICT-enabled. This involves reorganizing public transport routes, improving traffic management and building web/mobile apps for commuters. More importantly, the plan contains components to ensure the safety of children while travelling.
Surat, From Wastelands to Biodiversity Hubs
The historical port city of Surat lies in the western state of Gujarat. In order to increase Surat’s green cover and usable open spaces, the Surat Smart City Development Limited (SSCDL) proposed the winning idea of turning the city’s wastelands into an attractive biodiversity park. Not only will this clean up swathes of open spaces and turn them into flora and fauna habitats, but it will also provide a location for a public park. Moreover, the project will create and connect ponds, and help in the regulation and retention of rainwater.
The city of Kochi (also known as Cochin) is a historical trade hub and popular tourist destination in the south-western state of Kerala. Cochin Smart Mission Limited (CSML) is seeking to build a more centralized ICT-enabled healthcare sector. This e-Health service will include facilities like a digital database of medical records and managing the supply chain required for doctors and patients. This system will ensure that healthcare becomes more accessible and affordable as well as provide key insights about the city’s population with the data collected.
Chennai's Public Schools Equipped with Smarter Classrooms
Chennai is the capital of the coastal state of Tamil Nadu. Many of the city’s low-income families send their children to sub-standard public schools. To provide them with a more holistic and rewarding education, Chennai Smart City Limited (CSCL) proposes to install Smart Classrooms in these schools. Besides integrating digital learning and building science labs, the project will invest in physical infrastructure, promote extra-curricular activities, highlight gender parity in the classroom and playground, and promote capacity building for teachers and other stakeholders.
Pondicherry Wants to Empower the Community
The former French colony of Pondicherry is the capital of the Indian Union Territory of Puducherry (also Pondicherry). Believing in the motto, “Our Neighbourhood is Your Neighbourhood Too”, the Puducherry Smart City Corporation Limited (PSCCL) has designed a participatory project to empower low-income settlements. Their aim is to have a “slum-free” Pondicherry where voices from the community can reach the government easily. Primary components of PSCCL’s project include strengthening people’s forums, social housing and public infrastructure, and ICT-enabled services.
In Vishakhapatanam, A Modernisation Drive for Municipal Schools
Visakhapatnam is the largest city and commercial centre in Andhra Pradesh. Like CSCL, the Greater Visakhapatnam Smart City Corporation Limited (GVSCCL) also wants to improve the city’s municipal schools. They plan to add to their current pool of 149 schools and upgrade existing ones by turning underused land into functional spaces, building infrastructure to increase accessibility, and investing in IT to make “smart” campuses. The aim is to encourage outdoor activities and digital literacy among students, and rebrand Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation (GVMC) schools.
As 90% of global urban growth now takes place in developing countries, it has become extremely important to make cities both ecologically and economically sustainable. In India's context, during the last two decades, most cities have experienced phenomenal growth and as a consequence are faced with infrastructure problems, water & air pollution, and environmental degradation. This article looks at well-planned eco-cities as a potential solution. It also highlights how essential socio cultural aspects of sustainability are in the process of managing eco-cities.
Cities are both engines for growth and sources of concentrated environmental problems. With urbanization and economic growth, opportunities are more in the cities than in rural areas, thus encouraging immigration from rural areas to urban areas. Urbanization is increasing in many of the developing nations today and about 50 percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas and about 90 percent of global urban growth now takes place in developing countries. Between the years 2000 and 2030, developing countries are projected to triple their entire built-up urban areas. This unprecedented urban expansion also means that cities, nations and the international development community face many challenges and opportunities. Improperly planned cities and lack of plans to absorb the future growth has made most cities less livable and many developing countries are now faced with the challenge of making cities both ecologically and economically sustainable.
Some critical challenges for cities in future will be: How can cities continue to harness the opportunities for economic growth and poverty reduction offered by urbanization, while also mitigating its negative impacts? How can cities cope up with the speed and the scale of urbanization, given their own capacity and constraints? How can ecological and environmental considerations be interlinked with development, so that they produce cumulative and lasting advantage for cities? To address the above questions, Eco city concept was proposed. Richard Register first coined the term "Eco-city" in his 1987 book, Eco-city: Building cities for a healthy future. An eco-city in simple terms can be explained as an ecologically healthy city. An Eco- city builds on the synergy and interdependence of ecological and economic sustainability, and their fundamental ability to reinforce each other in the urban context (World Bank 2010). Eco-Cities are a concept to achieve this sustainability by taking the ecological principles as the central driving principles for the planning of our cities (Huang G Y et al 2002).
Eco city aims at:
• Developing an urban ecosystem which is ecologically sound minimizing the negative impact of development on the environment. • Reduction of ecological footprint of development thus shaping an improvement in the quality of life. • Achieving environmental sustainability through reduced greenhouse gas emissions, utilization of renewable energy, and green transportation. • Creation of a vibrant economy through environment-friendly production and industry that supports high capita gross domestic product (GDP) level • Maintaining high air and water quality standards and an above-average ratio of green space per capita • Social harmony with adequate educational and employment opportunities and a social safety net • Protection of ecologically sensitive habitats, physical and nonphysical cultural legacies and promotion of green lifestyles and regional integration
Eco-city initiatives in China and India
In 1994, China announced its ‘Agenda 21’ and explicitly stressed the importance of sustainable settlement. By 1996, the then State Environmental Planning Agency issued the policy document ‘Guidelines for the Building of Eco-Communities (1996-2050)’. The intention was to promote the planning and construction of eco-communities across the country. Under this directive, between 2003 -2008 three Eco-cities were planned in China:Dongtan Eco-city near Shanghai, Tianjin City in northern China, and Huangbaiyu, north-east China. In Japan starting 1997 six eco-cities have been planned: Yokohama, Kitakyushu, Toyama City, Obihiro , Shimokawa and Minamata.
In India discussions on Eco cities started in 2000 and starting 2001 six medium and small Eco-cities were planned by the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) in association with Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and with technical assistance from German technical cooperation (GTZ). The focus of the project is pollution control, improvement of environmental quality, protection of environmental resources like rivers and lakes, improving sanitary conditions, improving the needed infrastructure and creating aesthetic environs in the chosen towns. The cities included Tirupathi, Vrindavan, Kottayam, Ujjain, Puri and Thanjavur.
The Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corporation (DMICDC) has also aimed to develop smart Eco-cities along the Delhi Mumbai Corridor with investment from companies in Japan. The DMICDC and the Haryana State Industrial & Infrastructure Development Corporation (HSIIDC) have planned to develop an eco city at Manesar in Gurgaon, Haryana. This is planned as a pilot model, and if it succeeds similar models will be developed in different regions of the country in the future. This has been planned based on the Japanese Eco cities of Yokohama and Kitakyushu. Sustainable eco villages and towns are also being advocated. The Prince of Wales, through his charity Foundation for the Built Environment, is planning to construct an eco-friendly community for 15,000 people outside either Bangalore or Kolkata. The design of the new shanty town is inspired by the model village of Poundbury in Dorset, which has been the Prince of Wales’ pet project for thirty years.
Many of these projects are at various stages of implementation, however planning and developing an Eco-city is a tedious and uncertain process. In China failure of eco-cities (such as Dongton Eco-city) occurred mainly due to Implementation difficulties. Factors like land availability, economic growth, Infrastructure facilities, Investment, political stability and much more will play a critical role in making Eco-cities a success. Barriers and challenges have been experienced with regards to the Eco-Towns in Japan too. It would be difficult to adopt the process of the Eco-Town formation as-is to developing countries and cities because of lack of funds, differences in the social and industrial structures, and low environmental consciousness.
Some of the key aspects to be considered while designing Eco city models particularly in the developing countries are: - Environmentally sound technology to reduce carbon emission, recycle waste and to create sustainable transport - Land acquisition and relocation of local people - Involvement of multi stakeholders in town planning - Enormous financial requirement
During the last two decades most Indian cities have experienced phenomenal growth which the cities found difficult to cope with and as a consequence they are faced with problems in infrastructure, water and air pollution and other environmental problems. These problems are expected only to grow more in coming years. Social injustice and gap between urban rich and poor is also increasing leading to more urban poor. If we are to absorb and sustain the powerful wave of urbanization, while continuing to manage the existing built stock, we will need a paradigm shift on the approaches towards planning and managing cities.
Eco-cities have the potential to address many of the problems associated with urban development and failure of Eco-city models should not dampen the interest levels, however careful planning and implementation is necessary.
The evolution of cities takes many years. Each city has its own socio political, cultural and economic conditions and strategies adopted in shaping a successful eco city at one place may not necessarily work for other cities. Achieving greater sustainability in cities requires an in-depth understanding of the impacts of different urban forms on movement pattern, social conditions, environmental quality, and of their capacities to deliver future benefits. Success of Eco cities truly depends on planning taking, ecological and environmental factors into consideration..
Eco- cities cannot be formed in isolation. These projects: (a) need to ensure inter-linkages to the present city; or (b) should be aimed to develop present cities into Eco cities. Better planned eco-cities cannot be successful unless human development is taking place simultaneously. The socio cultural aspect of sustainability must also be taken into consideration while planning. With increasing economic growth in India, the growth of Indian cities can be expected to be high and it would be wise to start planning for Eco-cities today for a better sustainable future tomorrow.
The author Dhanapal. G, is an ecological planner working in India.
Huang, G Y et al （2002）Eco-City: Theory, Planning and Design Methods（in Chinese） (Beijing, Science Press) Eco2 Cities, Ecological Cities as Economic Cities, World Bank (2010) Pp 392 last accessed at http://www.worldbank.org/pdt. Register, Richard (1987). Eco-cities: Building Cities in Balance with Nature. Berkeley:Berkeley Hills Books. www.ecocities-india.org/
This paper gives an overview of the scenario of environment education in schools in India. It is an evaluative study of activity based programmes that focussed on orienting school children to its immediate environment using locale-specific examples and materials.
Environmental education (EE) has been introduced as a regular course in formal school education system in India following the directive of the Honourable Supreme Court of India. Prior to this directive several programmes were current in the country related to EE in schools and communities. One of such programmes was the centrally sponsored scheme "Environmental Orientation to School Education (EOSE)". Through this programme it was expected to orient school children to its immediate environment using locale-specific examples and materials. To do so a range of activities were initiated including production of locale-specific print materials, training modules, practical activities and so on. The Ministry of Human Resource Development, Govt. of India had appointed three Nodal Agencies to implement the Scheme. The present writing is the product of an evaluation study of this Scheme which was conducted by the author in the year 2000.
Sonowal, CJ. (2009). Environmental Education in Schools: The Indian Scenario. Journal of Human Ecology. 28. 10.1080/09709274.2009.11906215.
This article takes a look at the future of the electric automotive industry in India. 19 of the top 35 most polluted cities in the world are in India and we are in dire need of solutions in this time of ever increasing demand for vehicles. This article looks at the challenges and opportunities of the electric vehicle industry, specifically in the Indian context.
Switching to an entirely electric fleet can help reduce 1 gigatonne of carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, and save India $330 billion by cutting oil imports.
The explosive economic growth in the last few decades in India has given us much to celebrate, but it has also had its unpleasant consequences. Today, 19 out of the 35 most polluted cities in the world are in India. For the last two years, New Delhi has had the ignominy of being the most polluted city in the world, as a confluence of factors turns the capital’s environment into a haze of smog and potentially lethal pollutants. A Greenpeace India report indicates that 47 million children under the age of 5 years are residing in areas with hazardous pollution, especially in urban areas. While various causes and solutions are discussed, it is well acknowledged and understood that 50-90 percent of the pollution in densely-populated urban areas is vehicular. According to the Economic Survey conducted in India over the last year, an increase in available disposable income among citizens has led to an increase in the purchase of vehicles and a reduction in the use of public transport. Roads are the dominant medium of travel in the country, and as of 2016 there were 229 million vehicles on the road. With over 3 million vehicles sold in 2016-17 in the four-wheeler segment alone, the total number of vehicles burning petrol and diesel, and spewing dangerous fumes into the air is over 230 million. Despite the increasing pollution in India’s cities, vehicles that run on conventional fossil fuels continue to be sold massive numbers. How then, can we save our cities from pollution? Adoption of electric vehicles In August 2017, the Minister of State for Power and Renewable Energy Piyush Goyal indicated that the Niti Aayog was coordinating with various government ministries to create a plan to ensure that only electric vehicles are on sale in the country by 2030. During the course of his statements, the minister also indicated that hybrid vehicles were an unnecessary diversion because while they reduce fuel consumption, the benefits are marginal and the technology is dated. Even though the 2030 date was subsequently withdrawn, it seems that the Indian government is waking up to the potential benefits of electric vehicles.
Even the economics are impressive – switching to an electric fleet would also help India reduce its dependence upon oil imports, and save the country a mind-boggling $330 billion by not purchasing 876 million metric tonnes of oil. However, in spite of these numbers, the market has been slow to adopt electric vehicles. A report by market intelligence firm BIS Research indicates that the slow rate of adoption is a result of the cost of ownership being at a 45 percent premium over a conventional car. The report also identifies lack of infrastructure, government support, and incentives as being barriers to the sale of more electric vehicles in a market that it identifies as extremely promising.
The challenge and the opportunity There are positive signs for the electric vehicle sector in India. The above-mentioned statement from the minister of state indicates that the government is actively working towards encouraging the adoption of electric vehicles in the Indian market. In 2015, the government had launched a scheme named Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid &) Electric Vehicles (FAME) under the National Electric Mobility Mission (NEMM) to promote the sales of fuel-efficient cars. Under this scheme, the government is planning to assign grant up to $16 million to cities with a population of more than a million, for purchasing electric vehicles in FY 2018. Manufacturers such as Hyundai, Mahindra & Mahindra, Nissan, Maruti, Toyota and Tata are beginning to show an interest in the market, and a slew of electric vehicle models – 25, according to the BIS Research report – are likely to be launched by them by 2021. However, for the sector to reach a critical mass and begin replacing the 230 million vehicles on Indian roads, the Indian government must take more concrete steps. It can look at governments in the APAC region, mainly China, Japan and South Korea, for inspiration. The development of electric vehicles in these markets has garnered massive attention. This is thanks to the collective effort of governments and manufacturers to initiate reforms that promote the sale of these vehicles and make them more economical to use. Their efforts have led to the sector showing a sustained increase in market volume, and the economic indicators seem to point to a period of explosive growth. According to the BIS Research report, the sector will show a projected CAGR of 29.5 percent between 2016 and 2026.
Innovators, entrepreneurs, and regulators must work together to evolve new business models for successful adoption. There needs to be streamlining of equipment, a smarter distribution of fiscal incentives, and a concerted effort to develop a robust infrastructure around electric vehicles. Once these elements are in place, the market can move to reduce the cost of electric vehicle ownership and help bring about a paradigm shift in how people in India perceive and use transportation.
What is the relationship between greed, evil and spirituality?
This article looks at greed as a form of selfishness. It brings forth some insights regarding human nature and whether we are bigger than our individual selves. It points at the root of a lot of today's expressions of greed as merely being a reflection of our own self and how we perceive it.
Greed, like lust and gluttony, is traditionally considered a sin of excess. But greed tends to be applied to the acquisition of material wealth in particular. St. Thomas Aquinas said that greed is "a sin against God, just as all mortal sins, in as much as man condemns things eternal for the sake of temporal things." So greed or avarice was seen by the Church as sinful due to its overvaluation of the mundane rather than immaterial or spiritual aspects of existence. Avarice can describe various greedy behaviors such as betrayal or treason for personal gain, hoarding of material things, theft, robbery, and fraudulent schemes such as Madoff's, designed to dishonestly manipulate others for personal profit. Where does greed originate?
Both greed and gluttony correspond closely with what Guatama Buddha called desire: an overattachment to the material world and its pleasures which is at the root of all human suffering. Greed is about never being satisfied with what one has, always wanting and expecting more. It is an insatiable hunger. A profound form of gluttony. Where does greed breed? Paradoxically, greed really arises from too little inner selfishness. That's right. Greed grows from ignorance (unconsciousness) of one's self. Addiction is a form of greed. Addicts always want more of what gets them high, gives them pleasure, enables escape from anxiety, suffering, themselves. They greedily crave that which their substance or rituals of choice provide, be it drugs, sex, gambling, food, pornography, internet, television, fame, power or money. We all have our personal addictions: workaholism, rationalism, shopaholism, perfectionism etc. This is our futile attempt to fill a spiritual and emotional emptiness within, to gratify some long-buried need, to heal or at least numb some festering psychological wound. Such self-defeating behaviors are rooted in formerly unmet infantile needs, childhood and adult trauma, as well as failure to appropriately be sufficiently selfish in the present. We strive instead to avoid the Self.
Greed is a type of selfishness. And most of us are taught from childhood that selfishness is sinful, bad or evil. But is selfishness necessarily nasty? Negative? Unspiritual? Sacrilegious? Narcissistic? Antisocial? Or can selfishness sometimes be a good thing? Healthy. Necessary. Positive. Even spiritual. Can we get too selfless for our own good? Is self-abnegation always what's best for your psyche? Or soul?
Can being more selfish in the right way restore rather than reduce the soul? Shrink and regulate the grandiose ego? When does selfishness cross the line into egoism, self-indulgence, greed, sociopathy and pathological narcissism? Psychotherapy patients struggle regularly with the issue of selfishness: both with the gluttonous narcissism of excessive selfishness and the soul-starving, saintly rejection of healthy selfishness. Often, they feel conflicted and guilt-stricken about acknowledging and asserting their own selfish needs, feelings, wishes and wants. Is nurturing one's own soul or sense of self selfish? Trying to attain one's innermost needs? Actualizing one's innate creative potential? Constructively expressing one's self and will in the world? And, if so, could this sort of selfishness be positive, beneficial or therapeutic? These are vital questions for both psychotherapy and spiritual development. Because the right kind of selfishness--an honoring of the true Self--is essential to emotional and spiritual self-healing. And to finding and fulfilling one's destiny. So what is the secret to being selfish in the right way, at the right time, and in the right measure?
One of the most difficult tasks for psychotherapy patients is learning to be selfish in the proper way. I call this spiritual selfishness. Becoming more self-ish. Attentive to the Self. Selfishness that centers around, attunes to, acknowledges and honors the needs of the self is what is required. Not the selfish, neurotic, childish demands of the ego. That would still be mundane greed or narcissism. But the needs of what C.G. Jung termed the Self: the complete person, the whole enchilada, of which ego is only part. The Self represents both the center and totality of the personality. Honoring the Self is not simple. It requires persistence, patience, humility, courage and commitment. But this long-term investment in one's Self can provide a powerful antidote to greed, gluttony, avarice and addiction.
It is easy and convenient to condemn the selfish greed we see all around us. We live in a society that worships success, celebrity and money. But what of the greed within? Are we not all greedy in some way? It is when we deny and project our own greed that it becomes most dangerous. So first, one must recognize that we all have greed for something. That is human nature. Recognize it and what it says about oneself and one's life rather than righteously rejecting or denying it. Greed is about being selfish, but in the wrong way. What is the right way of being selfish? How does one become more spiritually rather than greedily self-ish?
First we must seek out the Self. This subtle process begins by listening more carefully and regularly to your own inner thoughts, feelings, impulses, perceptions and needs. Listening initially non-judgementally, without preconception or attachment. Identifying your conscious and unconsciousintentionality. Also by paying closer attention to your dreams, through which the Self speaks directly to us. If we are ready to listen. Discovering and discerning the dictates of the core Self is not easy and takes time. The right kind of psychotherapy can help in this process. So can meditation. But once the Self has been encountered and spoken, it becomes our responsibility to discerningly obey its requests. Refusal to do so is at one's own peril, as poor Jonah discovered. Summoning the courage to be selfish in the sense of religiously attending to and following the Self's sacred directions leads, paradoxically, not to greater greed and gluttony, but to a more grounded, balanced, mature, meaningful and spiritual life. A life informed and guided by the Self.
This article is written by Stephen A. Diamond Ph.D. for Psychology Today
"Illusions are not unusual or strange - they are how we interpret the world". This article has broken down, in simpe layman terms, the way our brain works and receives sensory information. It focuses on how a sense of illusion is formed in the brain as a result of how it processes information.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – When we experience an illusion, we usually have the impression we have been fooled, or that our minds are playing tricks on us. New research published in the Oct. 31 issue of the journal Science indicates our perceptions of these illusions are no hoax, but the result of how the brain is organized to process the information it receives from our senses.
Vanderbilt University psychology department researchers Anna Wang Roe, Li Min Chen and Robert Friedman have identified responses in the brain to a touch illusion that shed new light on how the brain processes sensory information and call into question long-held theories about the nature of the "map" of the body in the brain.
Walter Penfield is credited with first establishing in 1957 that a map of the human body exists in the brain, with specific areas of the cortex processing information from different body areas. Researchers have long hypothesized this map is a topographic map of the physical body.
"What is surprising about this paper is we found the cortical map reflects our perceptions, not the physical body," Roe said. "The brain is reflecting what we are feeling, even if that's not what really happened." The team completed the research at Yale University before moving to Vanderbilt this fall.
Roe's research used a well-documented illusion called the tactile funneling illusion to explore how the brain processes touch. With this illusion, an individual perceives simultaneous touches to multiple locations on an area of skin as a single touch at the center of that area. Although the perception of this illusion has been studied for decades, researchers did not know how it was processed by the brain.
Roe's team first tested the funneling illusion in humans by stimulating adjacent fingers. The human subjects confirmed that they experienced a sensation between the two fingers when both were touched simultaneously. The team then used a technique called intrinsic signal optical imaging to study the reaction to the same illusion in the brains of squirrel monkeys. Intrinsic signal optical imaging uses a specially designed video camera to detect changes in light reflectance viewed through a "window on the brain." These cortical reflectance changes are related to changes in blood flow that occur when neurons respond to specific sensory stimuli.
When the monkeys were touched on one digit alone, the researchers observed a response in Area 3b of the somatosensory cortex, the area previously determined to process information from that digit. When an adjacent digit was stimulated on its own, a response was seen in the cortical map for that digit. However, when the monkey was touched simultaneously on both digits, a single cortical location between the maps of the two individual digits responded, explaining the perceived location of the illusion. In addition, the perceived intensity of this illusion is caused by the integration of activity across all three locations (two actual, one illusory).
"The merger of signals from adjacent fingers demonstrated in this elegant study may serve an important function in hand use," Esther Gardner, professor of physiology and neuroscience at NYU School of Medicine, said. "It allows the fingers to be controlled as a single functional group centered opposite the thumb when grasping large objects, rather than as distinct individuals." In addition to establishing that the cortical map reflects perception rather than physical location, the researchers found the brain processes touch perceptions at an unexpectedly early stage.
"The cortical area we studied, 3b, is an early entry level in the cortex for information from the skin," said Friedman. "We did not expect to see perception being reflected that early. This gives us a much better understanding of how much work the brain is doing, even at this early level of processing."
"How we perceive the world is an enduring question in neuroscience," Mriganka Sur, head of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, said. "This is a fascinating study that cleverly uses a tactile illusion to demonstrate that the brain's representations of the world, and of sensory stimuli that impinge on us, are shaped by the brain's circuitry. In short, our perceptions have a great deal to do with the way our brains are wired."
Roe's team will continue to study how the brain processes sensory input and illusions, though Roe cautions against misinterpretation of that term. "Illusions are not unusual or strange--they are how we interpret the world," Roe said. "We think we know what's out there in the physical world, but it's all interpreted by our brains. Everything we sense is an illusion to a degree."
Source: Vanderbilt University. "Brain Maps Perceptions, Not Reality." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 November 2003. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/11/031104063920.htm>.
Everybody needs to get from here to there. All modes of transportation require energy but some are more friendly to the earth than others. There are a wide range of transportation options available today, with technology increasing their availability and performance. This point of view is from the American Transport system and can help us better understand the Indian counterparts
Public transportation is one of the most earth-friendly ways to get somewhere fast. With buses nearly matching the speed of cars and some trains exceeding it, the environmental cost of carrying many people all at once is greatly reduced without a major time loss. Planes, on the other hand, may consume more energy and release more greenhouse gasses into the air than any other form of transportation.
Travel by rail within cities or across long distances releases the least amount of greenhouse gasses into the air out of all forms of transportation studied by the International Energy Agency (IEA, p. 52). An article in Forbes lauded the modern railroad's efficiency, noting that trains are more efficient than the Prius car. A University of Connecticut article investigated the claim that a train could move 1 ton of cargo 400 miles on one gallon of fuel and found that they were feasible.
The U.S. Department of Energy rates intercity rail (from one city to another) and transit rail (subways and commuter rails fall into this category) as the two most efficient forms of transportation.
Pros: Highly efficient, provides great urban and inter-city transport, inexpensive
Cons: Not abundant in the U.S., not accessible everywhere, movement is restricted by timetables
Buses are only slightly more fuel-intensive than trains, according to the IEA's report. However, the US Department of Energy notes that buses are not very efficient at current ridership rates, which are often below 25% of capacity. Don't let that keep you from riding the bus, because every time you step onto one you are increasing its efficiency (because it is transporting more people with the same amount of fuel).
Pros: Efficient, popular in the U.S., a good way to get around cities without train systems, inexpensive
Cons: Wait times, low ridership rates decreases efficiency, restricted by timetables, seating not always available
According to the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), planes are one of the most fuel-intensive modes of travel. What you may not know is that there is a considerable difference between airlines regarding energy efficiency. The ICCT reports that there is a 26% difference in the efficiency of the most and least efficient US airlines. A list of all US airlines and their fuel efficiency can be found in the ICCT's report, so check it before you book that ticket.
Pros: Fast, easily transport over long distances and across water, convenient, safe
Cons: A fuel-intensive mode of transportation, airport security can be a hassle
Personal transportation is easy and convenient, and in many parts of the U.S., the only means of getting anywhere.
Because they are relatively small in size and weight, motorbikes are actually fairly efficient. They are barely more fuel-intensive (per person) than buses, according to the IEA's report. They have the added bonus of being personal transportation, which means you don't have to wait for them at the station and they can take you to an exact location. Unfortunately, motorcycles' two-wheeled nature makes them dangerous: the fatality rate per-mile of motorcycle travel is 27 times greater than that of cars, according to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety.
Pros: Very fuel-efficient, personal transportation, inexpensive (compared to a car), easier parking
Cons: Dangerous, not good for rainy or cold-weather transportation, cannot transport many people or much cargo
Cars release nearly four times more emissions than motorcycles, according to the IEA report. Decreased efficiency isn't the only problem, either. Idling time due to traffic congestion caused a wastage of 2.3 billion gallons of fuel in the year 2005, which has only increased since then. That said, cars are one of the most popular modes of transport in the U.S.
The country's infrastructure is built for and relies upon automobile traffic, and it's not going away anytime soon. Plus, it's an easy and reliable way to transport you and your family (ever tried taking a family road trip on a motorcycle?). However, there is a middle ground. Car-pooling can increase the efficiency of a car (adding a person in the passenger's seat doubles the efficiency of a trip you would otherwise take alone).
Pros: Easy to use, U.S. infrastructure is built for them, comfortable, easily transport families, personal vehicle
Cons: Inefficient, require insurance, high maintenance costs, traffic, difficulty finding city parking
Hybrid and Electric Cars
For those who treasure the ease, comfort, and accessibility of cars but want to make less of an environmental impact, there are some middle-ground options, though they don't come nearly as close to being earth-friendly as modes like railways.
Hybrid and electric cars use electricity (in the case of hybrids, a combination of electricity and gas), which reduces emissions. This is true even factoring in the fact that the electricity they use is usually produced using non-renewable, greenhouse-gas-producing methods. Many hybrids employ energy-efficient technologies such as "regenerative breaking" and "power assist," which further reduce fuel consumption. Hybrids are especially efficient in cities.
Pros: Fuel-efficient, all the ease and comfort of an ordinary car, good for cities and urban commutes, save money on gas
Cons: Less efficient than public modes of transportation, electric cars (not hybrids) have less power than conventional vehicles and require charging stations
Diesel and Biodiesel Cars
While hybrids are more efficient for city travel, diesel cars may actually be more efficient for long-distance travel, according to The Telegraph. Hybrid cars were "found to be far less efficient [than diesel cars] when accelerating at higher speeds or cruising on motorways," says the article.
Biodiesel a fuel made from natural oils and fats, is a renewable and efficient energy source. The US Alternative Fuels Data Center says this of biodiesel: "Biodiesel is a domestically produced, clean-burning, renewable substitute for petroleum diesel. Using biodiesel as a vehicle fuel increases energy security, improves air quality and the environment, and provides safety benefits." While biodiesel may not be as popular as conventional diesel or petroleum, its popularity is increasing.
Pros: Fuel-efficient on the highway; biodiesel is renewable, clean burning, and domestically produced
Cons: Not as efficient as hybrids in the city, not as efficient as public transportation, biodiesel fuel can be difficult to find
Using your body is the most earth-friendly way to transport yourself, although it may not be practical in many situations.
Walking is the original form of human transportation. It worked just fine for millions of years, so it might be worth trying. It takes a long time to get anywhere, but look at the benefits: better health, the opportunity to enjoy what you see along the way, and almost no environmental impact. In some cities, due to traffic, walking may even be faster than driving.
Pros: Almost no environmental impact, improved health, cheap and convenient, avoid traffic
Cons: Takes time and energy, can tire you out and give you blisters before you've gone too far, inefficient
Biking is perhaps one of the most simultaneously efficient and earth-friendly modes of transportation, due to its combination of body power and engineering. Costing little more to the environment than the materials required to produce a bicycle (plus a new set of tires every now and then), it gets you to where you need to be at a surprising rate of speed. Not surprisingly, biking is also much more energy-efficientthan travel by foot.
Pros: One of the fastest body-powered modes of transportation, can go long distances when desired, toned thighs, and almost no environmental impact.
Cons: Takes longer than motorized transportation, roads aren't always bike-friendly, possible injury, difficult in bad weather or cold winters.
Some cities around the world are investing in new, highly efficient transportation technologies.
New Delhi invested in a modern metro system in which regenerative braking technology reduces its energy consumption by 30%.
Stockholm, Sweden, has created an infrastructure that is friendly to sustainable modes of transportation. The result? Ninety-three percent of residents "walk, bike, or take public transportation to work."
Scientists around the world are developing technology to create self-driving cars, which would reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Whether or not any new technology is appearing in your area (and if it is, whether it's affordable), be on the lookout. Chances are it will be there soon.
Things to Remember
The way you choose to get from here to there has a direct effect on the environment. While you may not always be able to choose the ideal mode of transportation, you may be able to make changes that reduce your impact on the environment. Remember that there are many other things you can do to protect the environment, too.
This post talks about human perception and its interplay with the environment. It demonstrates, in the context of cognitive mapping, how experiences and situations changes our perception of an object or a space. It also introduces the theory of affordances. We tend to see nature and humans as separate, but are they really?
Stanley Milgram and Denise Jodelet “Psychological Maps of Paris” 
Kevin Lynch “The City Image & Its Elements” 
James J. Gibson “Theory of Affordances” 
Robert Sommer “Personal Space: The Behavioral Basis for Design” 
Perception describes the multiple ways in which people receive information from their surroundings, allowing them to know their environment. Cognition, or the way people understand the environment, occurs through immediate sensory experience coupled with memories and experiences from the past. While psychologists often treat these as different phenomena or faculties, the papers in this section challenge that bifurcation. Psychological studies of perception and cognition look at how we organize, identify, and interpret information through our senses. Other experiments, including projects by artists and designers, have shed light on how we attach meaning to particular places and spaces. Ecological psychology and other interdisciplinary research has demonstrated that human beings and their environments are produced in relation with one another. In this way, knowledge and experience are situated in the interplay between person and environment. Specific places and moments generate particular knowledge and experiences; previous experiences shade understandings and lead people to recognize particular things or respond in specific ways.
Traditionally, the environment was thought of as the context for or container of human activity, and many areas of psychology have proceeded as if what is “out there” in the environment is perceived by humans “in” our brains. However, John Dewey’s (1896) landmark critique of the reflex arcdenied the separation between external stimulus and internal response by showing the interrelatedness of events, environments, people, and actions. By the mid- 20th century, psychologist Kurt Lewin’s (1997 ) concept of the lifespace described how elements of the environment make up a sort of force field within which people live their lives. Lewin felt that the social and physical environment or field—borrowing from the Gestalt psychological framework—is dynamic and changes over time, across spaces, and with experience; as such, people change over time as well. In effect, people and space are connected and co-produce one another rather than exist as distinct, autonomous entities. In this section we have included other classics in this area of research that have further probed the relationship between people and environment through questions of perception and experience.
Where there is space, we make maps to define and navigate it. Beyond books, charts, and global positioning systems (GPS) that people frequently rely upon, human beings possess preconceived cognitive maps of many of the spaces they often traverse and which let us move through the world. The concept of cognitive mapping describes the process human beings use to think about space and the ways in which they reflect and act upon those thoughts in their everyday behaviors (Tolman 1948). In their selection, psychologists Stanley Milgram and Denise Jodelet asked participants to make hand-drawn maps—a technique termed mental mapping—in order to glean the cognitive maps Parisians have of Paris (see figure at the beginning of Section 2). This work revealed how these maps steer our actions, and speak to the deeper synchronic processes by which we receive and process knowledge. Their work displaced the idea of fixed mental maps as representations in the minds of individuals with a much more socially and culturally embedded psychological map that varies when elicited through different procedures. Milgram and Jodelet found that major elements of the city emerged and project participants linked these elements together through their everyday experiences, as well as through social representations of places that might not even be part of a particular person’s daily experience.
The ability to inform design is often limited to architects, engineers, and designers, but who knows the city better than its residents? Urban planner Kevin Lynch was the first to employ the method of mental mapping in order to design cities from the perspectives of the citizens who live in them. Rather than focusing on what is inside a person’s head, he focused on the elements of the environment that allowed a person to navigate and remember the city. Based on individual interviews and mental maps of residents of three US cities—Boston, Jersey City, and Los Angeles—he outlines five key characteristics of the urban environment: paths, nodes, landmarks, edges, and districts. For Lynch, this research on the mental markers of urban dwellers suggested that the design and planning of urban spaces should be based on people’s experience and the ways in which the city could be more legible. In his book The Image of the City, he describes legibility as the quality of an environment to offer inhabitants clues about where they are and what they can do.
Yet social representations of Paris and mental maps of Boston are different from an individual’s immediate visual perception. One of the most seemingly simple yet truly profound theoretical contributions to the work on visual perception is the theory of affordances developed by psychologist James J. Gibson. Affordances are the qualities of an object or environment that allow or afford an individual to perform an action or series of actions. For example, a bowl can afford eating for an adult, but it may also be perceived as a drum or hat by a child, thereby affording other uses. Applications of this theory of affordances today relate not only to analyzing the physical environments of inhabitation, but also in efforts opposing environmental degradation, as the question shifts from the narrow industrial perspective of what the environment can do for us to a more sustainable understanding of environmental affordances.
Both individual perception and social experience inform psychologist Robert Sommer’s notion of personal space. Personal space is the immediate area surrounding a person that is psychologically regarded as one’s own. Often conceived of as a bubble around an individual, it is a form of portable territory that can shift in size and proportion based on situation. Such space is intrinsically tied to what anthropologist Edward Hall (1966) termed proxemics, i.e., the study of human relations in layers of proximity based on levels of intimacy. Sommer extends Hall’s discursive arguments by looking at where our material comfort zones begin and end to understand our spatial preferences. In his initial studies, described in the included selection, Sommer and his colleagues investigated spatial distances related to psychological comfort through studies of situations where researchers intentionally intruded into other people’s spaces. These invasions produced varied responses, and led Sommer to conclude that there are both psychological needs and social conventions at play in human spatial interactions.
Guy Debord, a social theorist and member of a group called the Situationists, wanted to introduce a more radical way of navigating the city and sharing human spaces. His work sought to challenge conventional patterns of activity, through events called dérives, which were unplanned tours, or “drifts,” through urban environments based on misreading maps or responding to psychological cues. He called this way of navigating the environment through mood and behavior psychogeography. By picking up on the feelings evoked by the surroundings and sharing them with one another, a group can embrace a situation or reinterpret it in creative ways. For Debord, the dérive was an experimental method meant to critique or jolt our everyday experience of the environment.
Taken together, these readings suggest that for people the environment exists through interacting with it. As such, the environment is not a passive “out there” condition, but something that everyone participates in creating and defining. Rather than a simple internal– external relationship between people and the environment, there is a complex and dynamic exchange in which the environment informs human knowledge, and human experiences shape the way by which the environment is known. Like Setha Low’s description of embodied space in Section 1, Máire Eithne O’Neill (2001) describes the role of corporeal haptic experiences of space and place that are developed through movement, touch, and other senses and how they can inform design experiences. Furthermore, while scholars agree that spatial knowledge exists, they wrestle with how exactly people are able to maintain cognitive maps and whether these spatial images are analogous to visual maps, or some other type of metaphor or construct. Others argue that cognitive maps are inadequate and that only navigating through a space leads to spatial knowledge (Ingold 2011). There is increasing evidence that builds from both approaches and understands mental maps to be processual and representational, i.e., never complete and always becoming (Kitchin and Dodge 2007). This selection of readings examines environmental experience and human perception in the broadest sense to understand the human-environment interplay, and suggests some of the lively ways by which we trace how humans know and creatively interact with their environments.
This research synthesis article is sourced from 'The people, place and space reader' edited by Jen Jack Gieseking & William Mangold, with Cindi Katz, Setha Low, & Susan Saegert
This article takes a look at some homes in Bengaluru that are setting an example for eco-friendly living. It also tells the story of how each of these homes came to be and the sustainability features that make them so extraordinary.
The term sustainable homes is thrown about quite a bit these days, but there’s more to it than just segregating your waste and calling it a day. True sustainability is made up of many facets, from building materials to the use of renewable energy sources to design that strives for efficiency and harmony with the surrounding environment.
A green structure is an environmentally sustainable building, designed, constructed and operated to minimise the total environmental impacts. The carbon footprint of a home can be minimised through practices like reduced energy consumption, water conservation, and waste recycling.
In recent years, an increasing numbers of Indians have started making efforts to minimize both environmental impact and financial outlay by outfitting their homes with sustainable technology. The resulting boom in sustainable building is driving new levels of architectural innovation.
Here are 6 remarkable homes in Bengaluru that are setting an example for eco-friendly living:
From handmade mud blocks, rain water harvesting units, an organic vegetable garden, ethnic Warli art and skylights that let in a flood of sunshine, Homebelaku in HSR Layout is one of Bengaluru’s greenest homes. Karunaprasad Kanavi, 50, the son of Chennaveera Kanavi – the popular Kannada poet, and Vishakha Kanavi, 44, an artist, along with their son Kushal, are the residents of this beautiful house. The house is named Hombelaku after his father’s collection of poems.
Clay and mud blocks have been used for construction instead of bricks
The walls have not been plastered or painted to avoid usage of lead.
Simple Kota tiles and clay tiles have been used for flooring instead of mosaic tiles.
Solar water heaters and solar lanterns (for power shortages) to reduce consumption of electricity.
The house has big skylights that serve as a major source of lighting during the day time.
Waste segregation is practised and compost is made for the vegetable garden.
Efficient rain water harvesting system that supplies all the water required by the household.
Grey water recycling system that uses waste water from washing machine and kitchen to clean cars etc.
Built at a 15% reduction in cost as compared to a normal house (no plaster, paint or cement was used).
2. Kachra Mane
G V Dasarathi has truly taken the idiom “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” to a whole new level. His home is called Kachra Mane, which literally translates from Kannada into Trash Home. A man who strongly believes in “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rethink” principle, he has made his house literally from trash that he collected from demolished houses and second-hand markets. The house has been designed by the architectural firm Maya Prexis, with interiors by Vismaya Interiors.
80% of the fittings are from demolished houses, wood is from scrap dealers and most household appliances bought second hand.
Parts of the house, such as the windows, staircase, kitchen cupboards, book shelves are made from discarded pinewood packing cases that were polished using linseed oil.
Solar power systems, rainwater harvesting units and grey water recycling units have been installed.
The house is constructed on an existing building and makes use of the structure as it is, without any changes.
It took just seven months to build, with the cost being less than half of what a “conventional” house would cost.
3. Laughing Waters
When Rajesh Shah, a water conservation expert, and Vallari Shah, a passionate community gardener, moved back with family to India, they wanted to ensure that they lived a life as close to nature as possible. The result is a home in Laughing Waters, Whitefield, that they retrofitted for sustainability, one that today is intensely smart about water use and recycling, gets 90% of its vegetables from its own backyard, uses the power of the sun and has extended the philosophy to a thriving community garden project right inside their layout.
The household gets 90% of their kitchen need from their own terrace garden.
Harvested rainwater is filtered through a sand bed before being stored in underground storage tanks.
Except for a few, all electronic devices run on solar power.
An effective grey water-recycling system helps irrigate the sprawling gardens.
Mr. Jannappa Kataveeranahally’s house in Bommanahalli, Hosamane, boasts of over 100 varieties of plants, an abundance of natural light, and a state-of-the-art rainwater harvesting system. The house, designed by architect Satyaprakash Varanasi, was constructed from material purchased locally and a number of energy and resource-saving measures were put in place during the construction phase itself.
The house runs almost exclusively on solar energy
The rainwater harvesting system, installed two years ago, supplements the family’s water requirement
Grey water is used for gardening, flushing and other purposes.
The household’s wet waste is used as compost in the garden and all dry waste is sold.
5. Sanjay and Pratibha Singh’s House
When artist Pratibha Singh and her husband, fellow-artist Sanjay Singh, moved into their home in Singapura, about 13 km from Bangalore, it was to get away from the city. Their idea of simple living took the shape of an environmental friendly home that is comfortable in every season. Enter the compound and you are greeted by a virtual green cave – a Pongamia tree-covered driveway. The house itself is built using stabilised mud bricks (a mix of cement, mud and quarry-dust) that, along with the similar flooring, ensures the house is cool in summer and warm in winter.
With plenty of green around the house, and sunlight streaming in through the 8 foot-tall windows and skylights, the house has just one rarely-used fan.
The waste water from the kitchen is recycled using a natural filter – a system of gravel, sand and other sediments that doesn’t use electricity – and then used to water the garden.
The rain water harvesting facility also waters the garden for five months a year
An organic garden is nurtured by vermicompost made from their wet waste.
6. Chockalingam Muthiah’s House
A house that is completely off the grid for energy, a family that uses rain water for its everyday needs, and a lifestyle that presents a perfect blend of sustainability and traditional wisdom is what Chockalingam Muthiah’s home welcomes you with. A businessman by profession, Muthiah believes in consuming only what can either be generated or preserved.
Mud blocks have been used while use of cement has been minimized.
The house is designed in a way that allows for good ventilation and entry of abundant natural light.
All electronic devices run on solar power.
All waste is segregated; the dry waste is disposed off to BBMP while the wet waste is used to prepare biogas (in the biogas plant) and compost for the garden.
Rainwater harvesting recharges an open well that meets the family’s water needs for up to 10 months in a year.
Grey water from washing machine and kitchen is filtered through a sand bed before being used in the garden.
Bengaluru-based architect, Chitra Vishwanath, has been a pioneer in green living for over 25 years and has used her experience, to design ecological spaces that conserve and use natural resources judiciously. Her firm, BIOME Environmental Solutions Private Limited, has created over 700 mud homes in India and Nigeria and many eco-friendly homes, schools and resorts. She is also an expert on rainwater harvesting.
Vishwanath believes that the time is right for people to adopt eco-friendly lifestyles, through sustainable architecture and not wait for the future. “Our resources are getting scarce. The more we trash our environment today, the bleaker our future will be. I believe in Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy – The future depends on what you today,” she maintains.
Also, if your apartment complex or villa is eco-friendly, here is a chance to get it recognized. All you need to do is to get registered for My Place of Pride contest, an initiative of Rotary Palmville, in association with Bangalore Political Action Committee (B.PAC), to recognize eco-friendly communities in the city, encourage sharing of best practices and motivate people to adopt sustainable ones by ranking them. So far, 65 communities have registered; the process is open till February 2017.
Delia Kinzinger aka Didi contractor is a self trained architect who uses wood, bamboo and stone to create vernacular architecture in Himachal Pradesh. She's been designing sustainable homes for over 30 years, and sees it as a deeply touching and emotional process. Click to read more about her journey and creations.
Profession of architecture does not necessarily need any formal education or degree. This may seem strange to many present-day architects but it is a reality. There are many architects in the world who are/were self-taught and did not have any formal education in architecture. Prominent among these are Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Buchminister Fuller, Luis Barragan, and Tadao Ando. These are the names of just a few stalwarts who dominated the profession of architecture but there are many more who are comparatively lesser known or even not known.
One such name is Didi Contractor who is down-to-earth, self-taught architect based in Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh, India. Unlike the millions of formally trained architects, Didi Contractor has specialised in mud, bamboo and stone architecture. Now in her late eighties, she has been actively involved in the so called 'sustainable architecture' in its true sense for the last about three decades.
Didi Contractor whose real name is Delia Kinzinger, was born in 1929 in USA. Her father, Edmund Kinzinger was a German national and mother, Alice Fish Kinzinger was an American. Both of them were renowned painters belonging to the Bauhaus group in early 1920s. Delia Kinzinger had grown-up in Texas, USA, and spent some time in Europe also.
At the age of 11, she started to listen to Frank Lloyd Wright and saw an exhibition of his works along with her parents. This made a lasting impression on her mind and developed her inclination for the profession of architecture. But her parents never encouraged her to pursue architecture and resultantly she completed her graduation in art at the University of Colorado.
During her university days in 1951, she fell in love with Ramji Narayan, an Indian-Gujarati student of civil engineering. They got married, returned to India, and raised a family with three children. In the early years of their marriage, the couple stayed at Nashik in a joint family for a decade and thereafter shifted to Mumbai in 1960s and lived in a house on the famous Zuhu beach. But soon the circumstances changed and she had to part ways with her husband and decided to settle in a small village Sidhbari near Dharamshala.
Sidhbari is situated in the foothills of Dhauladhar mountains in Kangra district of the state of Himachal Pradesh. Since then she made Sidhbari her home and concentrated on pursuing her first love - architecture. With her artistic background she swiftly switched to architecture and interior design. For her, there was only a change of medium to clay, bamboo, slate and river stone. Once she learnt the properties of these materials, and the art of handling them, there was no going back.
A deep perusal of Didi's architecture reveals that her buildings seem to grow from earth and are in perfect harmony with nature. This is quite contrary to the present day modern buildings which look to be in conflict with nature. A perfect yang-and-yin relationship between her buildings and landscape around is thus an important salient feature of her architecture.
Didi herself explains, "I am very interested in using landscape as a visual and emotional bridge between the built and the natural. Look at the old buildings, they are beautiful in the landscape, and the new ones are at war with it - they say something. So, we are in conflict with nature, and nature will be in conflict with us. I imagine a building as growing, like a plant, within a landscape. Landscaping is really a key to this thing of marrying the earth to the building.”
Another significant aspect of Didi's architecture is the creative use of local materials such as mud, bamboo, river stone and slate. Over the years she has perfected the art of handling these materials in such a way that they create a feeling of belonging, cheerfulness and humbleness.
Didi elaborate this aspect as, "I would like to emphasize playfulness, imagination, and celebration. By celebrating materials, by noticing their qualities, and celebrating them as you put them into building, celebrating the quality or the plasticity of the mud, celebrating the inherent, innate and unavoidable qualities of each material. What the slate does to light, how the materials play within nature. I try to create something that is as quiet as possible. What works, should just look natural, as if meant to be."
With an aim to create an eco-friendly architecture, Didi has invented a unique approach of following the 'rhythm of universe' or the 'cycles of nature'. She always tried to synchronise the process of construction with the cycles of nature so that the end product is in harmony with environs. Explaining this approach she says, "One of the many things that’s wrong today is that people are not ready to accommodate their lives to the rhythm of the universe. We don’t see the wisdom of nature. Technology should also be consistent with a humanistic agenda of making people comfortable with themselves, with one another and nature. Eco-sensitive structures need to be built as per the season, whereas cement structures can be built quickly and at any time of the year. One of the problems with contemporary life is losing our contact with the cycles of nature. When I take something out of natural cycle, I think how it affects that cycle, and whether it can be replaced, or reused ... earth from an adobe building can be reused in a vegetable garden."
As a matter of choice, Didi is very fascinated by yet another important element of architectural design - the 'staircase'. In all her buildings one finds a very creative use of this element vis-à-vis its location, direction, and design. She says, "In stairs the architect is in control. I enjoy planning the experience of what you will pass, what you will have on both sides, and of what you are coming down or heading up towards. The staircase is often the key to organising the space in each design. In the staircases, I feel I am guiding the emotional entry of a person.”
Being an artist originally, Didi has matured the art of handling natural light in the interiors very imaginatively and artistically. An overview her buildings reveals the emphasis she gives to this vital element of design. For her, the light is the soul of architecture. It highlights the plastic forms, shapes, geometric lines, colours and textures of materials.
Didi's life and works will always remain a source of inspiration to the present and future generations of architects, artists, environmentalists, and other professionals associated with building construction. Long live the legend.
Are you aware that your office or residential building could be harming the environment? Is it possible that your building is spewing harmful pollutants without you even realising it? Read more about the need for green buildings in India and why it is the need of the hour.
Are you aware that your office or residential building could be harming the environment? Is it possible that your building is spewing harmful pollutants without you realizing it? We are well aware about various environmental issues such as global warming, water and air pollution and the measures that need to be taken to prevent them. If we switch to sustainable architecture and green buildings in India, not just for nature’s sake, but for ourselves, we could not only save the environment but also reduce our total ownership costs.
The building construction industry produces the second largest amount of demolition waste and greenhouse gases (35-40%). The major consumption of energy in buildings is during construction and later in lighting or air-conditioning systems. While, various amenities like lighting, air conditioning, water heating provide comfort to building occupants, but also consume enormous amount of energy and add to pollution. Further, occupant activities generate large amount of solid and water waste as well.
Sustainable architecture is the type of architecture that seeks to minimize the harmful impact that buildings have on the environment. Such sustainably built green buildings are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient, right from location selection to the demolition after its lifecycle ends. A green building uses less energy, water and other natural resources creates less waste and green house gases and is healthy for people living or working inside as compared to a regular structure.
Building green is not about a little more efficiency. It is about creating buildings that optimize on the use of local materials, local ecology and most importantly they are built to reduce power, water and material requirements. Thus, if these things are kept in mind, then we will realize that our traditional architecture was in fact, very green. According to TERI estimates, if all buildings in Indian urban areas were made to adopt green building concepts, India could save more than 8,400 megawatts of power, which is enough to light 550,000 homes a year. There are five fundamental principles of Green Building:
1. Sustainable Site Design
Create minimum urban sprawl and prevent needless destruction of valuable land, habitat and open space
Encourage higher density urban development as a means to preserve valuable green space
Preserve key environmental assets through careful examination of each site
2. Water Quality & Conservation
Preserve the existing natural water cycle and design the site so that they closely emulate the site’s natural hydrological systems
Emphasis on retention of storm water and on-site infiltration as well as ground water recharging
Minimize the inefficient use of potable water on the site while maximizing the recycling and reuse of water, including rainwater harvesting, storm water, and gray water.
3. Energy & Environment
Minimize adverse impact on the environment through optimized building siting & design, material selection, and aggressive use of energy conservation measures
Maximize the use of renewable energy and other low impact energy sources
Building performance should exceed minimum International Energy Code (IEC) compliance level by 30-40%.
4. Indoor Environmental Quality
Provide a healthy, comfortable and productive indoor environment for building occupants
Utilize the best possible conditions in terms of indoor air quality, ventilation, and thermal comfort, access to natural ventilation and day lighting
5. Materials and Resources
Minimize the use of non-renewable construction materials through efficient engineering and construction, and effective recycling of construction debris
Maximize the use of recycled materials, modern energy efficient engineered materials, and resource efficient composite type structural systems as well as sustainably managed, biomass materials
Sufficient technical background and an understanding of green building practices are needed for implementing these fundamental principles, so that a building can be considered a truly “green building”. CII-Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre, ITC Royal Gardenia Bengaluru and Suzlon One Earth, Pune are some of the earliest green buildings constructed in India. Check this list of top certified green buildings in India.
Green Building Certifying Agencies
There are various certifying agencies that help building developers to implement these principles and get green certification. Some of them are:
LEED is an acronym for ‘Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design’, which is an international recognized certification system for the green buildings. The LEED-India Green Building Rating System is an international benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings (provided by IGBC).
IGBC Ratings – The Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) is a division of the Confederation of Indian Industry that works closely with the government and aims at sustainably built environment. It offers four levels of rating for new buildings that is valid for 3 years: Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. Apart from new building certification, the ‘IGBC Green Existing Building O&M Rating System’ offered by the for applying sustainable concepts for existing buildings.
BEE-ECBC – The Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC) was established by the Indian Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) to set energy efficiency standards for design and construction of buildings.
TERI GRIHA – The Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment is a national rating system for green buildings that is adopted while designing and evaluating new buildings.
This article looks at how modern day construction is trying to switch to greener materials along with some innovative examples from the Indian context. While all alternatives mentioned here aren't entirely green, they have a much lesser carbon impact than cement and concrete, the most commonly used building materials today.
Construction and civil engineering activities have experienced a boom due to the rapid improvement in building material. However, the current scenario in the booming construction industry has posed many challenges due to some unsustainable aspects of the highly polluting and the exhaustive nature of building materials. At the same time, it has also created opportunities for innovative and unconventional resources to emerge due to the widening gap in demand and supply of building materials, as well as the need for energy efficient and economical methods of construction.
Way back in 1990, the central government took the initiative to set up the Building Materials & Technology Promotion Council (BMTPC) to promote cost-effective, eco-friendly and energy efficient building materials and technologies. Some of the natural materials that were considered by BMTPC as potentially viable building materials are: 27 types of agro-industrial wastes, by-products, residues, natural fibers, plantation timbers, including rice and wheat husk, bagasse from sugarcane, coir, hemp etc., that are cultivated on a large scale in Indian farms.
Among these innovative green building materials, some of them stand out due to their durability, cost effectiveness and local availability:
Bamboo as building material
Bamboo has been intensively utilized as a building material since ancient times. However, due to the scarcity of wood in recent years, bamboo has gained great importance as a source of renewable fiber as a suitable alternative to wood. Particularly, bamboo is suitable for low cost housing in earthquake-prone regions due to its sturdiness and versatility. This versatile forest produce lends itself to be manufactured into mat-based industrial products such as bamboo mat board, bamboo mat veneer composite, bamboo mat molded products, bamboo mat corrugated sheet for roofing, etc.
Among these, the bamboo mat corrugated sheet is an ideal substitute for asbestos and galvanized steel sheets for roofing purposes. The Indian Plywood Industries Research & Training Institute (IPIRTI) has developed this technique, which has proved to be a boon for the housing industries among North Eastern states. Since corrugated sheets are most versatile for roofing, development of corrugated sheets from bamboo mats was taken up at IPIRTI, under a project sponsored by the BMTPC. Sinusoidal wave platens have been designed for hot pressing phenol formaldehyde resin coated and preservative treated bamboo mats into corrugated sheets. These sheets are environment friendly, energy efficient and possess good fire resistance as well.
Rice Husk Ash Concrete
Rice Husk Ash (RHA) produced after burning of rice husks can be used as an admixture for concrete. RHA has high reactivity and pozzolanic property, which improves the workability and solidity of the cement. Portland cement contains 60-65% Calcium oxide and, upon hydration, a considerable portion of lime is released as free Calcium Hydroxide. This is primarily responsible for the poor performance of Portland cement concretes in acidic environments. Silica present in Rice husk ash combines with the calcium hydroxide resulting in excellent resistance to acidic environments.
RHA concrete also reduces heat evolution during slaking, increases strength, impermeability and durability by strengthening transition zone, modifying the pore-structure and also plugs the voids in the hydrated cement paste through the pozzolanic reaction. Minimizing the alkali-aggregate reaction, it also reduces expansion and distills pore structure and hinders diffusion of alkali ions to the surface of aggregate by micro porous structure. Silica in the RHA combines with the calcium hydroxide resulting in excellent resistance to the acidic environments. RHA mixed concrete has been found to be very workable and durable based on the several tests. RHA-concrete can prove to be boon for the cement and the concrete industry in several parts of the country because of large production of paddy in India.
The concept of plastic bricks first came up in Africa when in an experimental project financed by a European Union, plastic bags were melted and transformed into bricks with a cement mold saving both money and time. The plastic bags were used to fill the potholes in Niger in a way to solve the problem of waste disposal. These bricks are not only inexpensive but are also easily workable.
Plastic bricks have been extensively used in highway and railway infrastructure. Plastic from the millions of the bottles and bags are melted and molded in the form of bricks are used in the construction of the roads. This has considerably enhanced the elastic nature of the surface helping in more load-bearing capacity of highways. In India, this technology has been initiated on an experimental basis for railway sleepers, but was stopped since the danger to fire is a major concern.
Bagasse Particle Board
Bagasse is the residual pulp from sugarcane after the juice has been extracted. A considerable amount of excess bagasse generated from sugar mills is left to rot or burnt as fuel for boilers. This by-product is now being used as a substitute for wood in particle boards that are light and low cost. Bagasse-based composites offer potential as the core material for laminated floors, replacing high-density and expensive wood fiberboard. As such, bagasse does not have enough strength and water resistance to be used on its own. However, if it is made into a laminated particle board with resin as a bonding agent and wax as dimensional stabilizer, then it can be used for laminated floor and furniture applications.
The widest application of bagasse is in the manufacture of particle boards as low-cost construction materials and for the furniture industries. IPIRTI has developed a technology for the manufacture of Bagasse particle boards, which emits less formaldehyde and meets the requirement of strength properties for medium density particle boards.
Usage of these innovative green building materials has considerably reduced the exploitative use of concrete, wood and other traditional resources.
In an age where we are witnessing the rise of green washing, is every so called green building really green? Are the certifications and star systems authentic? Read this piece to understand better.
There is no question that India and other parts of the still-under-construction world must build green. The building sector is a major contributor to climate change and local environmental destruction because of construction materials used; energy expended for lighting, heating and cooling; and water consumption and waste discharge. This is the threat. There is an opportunity as well. Most of India is still unbuilt—over 70 per cent of the building stock is yet to be constructed—so unlike the rest of the already developed world, India can build anew in efficient and sustainable manner. But how?
This is an issue that has been troubling us at the Centre for Science and Environment. Over the past few years the idea of green buildings has gained popularity—everybody, it would seem, has turned a new leaf. Across the country large and small constructions are advertised as the greenest of green. To prove that they are indeed environment-friendly, the business of certification has also grown. There are agencies that now rate and award stars to individual buildings based on certain parameters. Many state governments are making these same standards of “greenness” mandatory. Some are even providing incentives, like exemptions on property tax, to those buildings that qualify as environment-friendly.
All this is important but do we know what green means?
When we began asking this question, what surprised us was the hostility with which it was received. Nobody wanted the new God to be questioned. Nobody wanted to be asked something as simple as what the post-commissioning performance of a green building was. We realised that the interests—of architects, builders, auditors and certifiers—in this new industry were already entrenched. It was a cozy club and nobody was keen to give us entry.
We dug in our heels. Buildings are the key to a cleaner and greener future. The building sector uses, already, some 40 per cent of the country’s electricity generation. So, every effort made to reduce energy intensity of buildings will go a long way. We wanted to know what was happening and what more could be done to reduce the material-use footprint and emissions of every construction.
What we discovered is not a convenient truth. My colleagues have put together a book, Building Sense: Beyond the Green Façade of Sustainable Habitat, to bust some myths and explore alternative approaches. What they find is as follows.
First, the general approach is to build wrongly and then “fit” in the green features. For instance, glass-enveloped buildings are certified green, simply because they install double or triple insulating glass or five-star air-conditioners to cool places that were first heated up deliberately.
Secondly, rating systems are being pushed through government and municipal schemes without any evidence that green-certified buildings are actually working. Data on the performance of the green buildings after they have been commissioned was, till very recently, not disclosed. So, even though rating agencies say that green-certified buildings save between 30 per cent and 50 per cent of the energy and reduce water consumption by 20-30 per cent, they have no corroborating data.
Thirdly, all these so-called green technologies end up hiking costs to the extent that buildings become unaffordable to most. What India needs are building standards that are appropriate and cost-effective. Green architecture should not be a barrier to inclusive growth.
This is where old knowledge has a role to play. Traditional architecture is based on the principle of “localising” buildings so that they can optimise natural elements and be efficient in resource use. This “science and art” of engineers for nature needs to be infused with the new material knowledge of modern architecture.
Many architects, engineers and builders are innovating with this old-new science. That’s how the knowledge and practice of affordable and sustainable buildings will evolve. But big builders will adopt it only if and when the façade of green buildings is lifted. This is what we hope to do.
Cob is a natural building technique that has a wide variety of uses. It allows a builder to become an artist with an entire wall or even a house as one's canvas. Check out more thoughts on this in this interesting blog.
When I first began to work with cob as a medium, I approached it primarily from a vocational angle of building with it. It is certainly a great material to build walls with. But much has changed since I discovered the joy of sculpting with it. Cob, in essence, is mud, and sculpting with mud is vastly different from building with it. When one sculpts with the material, the nature of their engagement with it changes drastically. Sculptors are bound to an intimacy with their medium, to be wedded to it in a way. A familiarity that results from hours of dialogue through direct physical contact is forged between the two. The facet of building with mud is what schooled me on its technical qualities, the more mercurial side of things. Indispensable learnings that elevate the rational understanding of the medium. What are the constituents of mud? What kind of sand aggregate is suitable for building? What causes cob surfaces to crack? These questions and the subsequent scavenging for their answers fortify a necessary base understanding of the medium. Now, a builder or an architect can go on along this trail of knowledge without ever getting their hands dirty, such as is customary in conventional construction. A cob sculptor, as an artist, wouldn’t be satisfied in the slightest were they not badly in need of a shower by the end of the day. The technical knowledge is essential for both the builder and the sculptor to acquire, generally even more so for the builder. But it is the sculptor who explores a tenor of the work that only reveals itself when bare hands run over bare mud. While I value both major aspects of the work immensely, the reader can surely tell by now that it is this tenor of sculpture that I am enchanted by.
What is Cob?
Let me begin with the basics. What is cob? As I mentioned before, it is primarily mud. When soil generally containing anywhere between 15% to 35% clay is mixed with straw or other natural fibres, and water, it produces a workable, sculptable material that is known as cob. Cob mixes are made by first putting together the soil and the fibres in their dry form, and then kneading it with the appropriate amount of water to attain a dough-like consistency. This material can then be laid out in any structurally sound form, be it as a wall, a floor, or even as an oven. Generally cob mixes are prepared by stomping on the ingredients with ones feet but even mechanical means such as a cement mixer or a tractor can be employed for the same. While the foot method can be incredibly fun and even therapeutic, for larger projects it can turn out to be quite labour intensive and time consuming. One of the biggest advantages of using cob is the diversity of shapes and forms that can be achieved with it. I find that when the fresh, wet cob mix is laid by hand, nature inspired forms begin to take shape. Curves and contours that do not tend to the clinical symmetry, straightness and uniformity of the modern world bring about a unique, simple and elegant aesthetic of their own. But if you were to build straight walls or other surfaces, cob can accommodate that too in a variety of ways. You can lay it straight on by hand with the aid of a few instruments to ensure straightness, as has been done in the case of this house in Vadakara, Kerala (see image below). You can also stuff cob into a brick shaped mould, sundry the resultant blocks to get bricks that are known as Adobe bricks. Adobe, which is a faster and more convenient method of laying walls, has been widely used in traditional construction practices all over the world. Cob is a diverse material indeed.
But natural building or natural sculpture, involves working with more materials than just mud. In fact, I would go so far as to say that there are an infinite array of materials provided by nature, which if the builder/sculptor finds to be viable, can be put to use. I find there are two main approaches to effectively uncover these materials. The first would be to look toward traditional practices. There is a wealth of knowledge that our ancestors have garnered, of tried and perfected techniques of using and building with natural materials. In, India, these traditional practices have been extant in all corners of the country, be it as the lime masonry of Rajasthan, the stone masonry of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, or the Bamboo masonry of Sikkim. Cob, in various forms has pervaded the entire subcontinent since time immemorial, only facing a startling decline in recent decades. Today, finding a skilled cob mason to work with is no easy task.
The second approach I find to studying and employing natural materials in building is through hands-on experimentation. It is the way of the adventurer, seeking the unknown, peering with limited visibility, sometimes blindly into a world of many possibilities. Very romantic in theory, often chaotic in reality. There is now an ever-growing body of resources online, invaluable to the hands-on experimentalist, that pools together knowledge from around the globe. There are prevalent, popular materials that are present everywhere on the planet, some of which are used today as they were in ancient times. Limestone, for example, was used in casing the pyramids of Egypt which are commonly dated to be 6000 years old. You can also find megaliths of limestone serving as building blocks in some of the ruins in the Americas, structures that are believed to be at least a 1000 years old. And a sibling of the same limestone was used to build the Havelis of Rajasthan, where until recent years when the modern miracle of Portland cement was popularised, slaked lime and limestone were the building materials of choice. Limestone is just one example from a universe of such materials that can be found all over the Earth. Clay is another. While varying in its properties from one region to another, clay that is suitable for building and sculpting is found nearly everywhere save for in desert regions. The modern day experimentalist, through a whole host of tests, blunders and eureka moments, can reinvent traditional practices and even develop their own technique and craftsmanship. The key to this approach is to be open to mistakes even as catastrophic as those mistakes may seem to be. I do not know a single hands on natural builder who has not at some point or the other, suffered devastating, disheartening disappointments in their line of experimentation. But each mistake points the way, nudges, even forces the frustrated individual to take note and make improvements. It is a tedious but rewarding process, and a lifelong one.
A union of these two approaches, one of established practice and the other of guided exploration, each borrowing from and supported by the other, is the preference of most natural builders including myself.
Why Do I Sculpt?
My goal with cob always has been to experiment as much as the land permits. Every day brings a different experiment that is challenging in its own way. It isn’t always fun, in all honesty, often it’s incredibly frustrating when a test or a series of tests yields no significant result to speak of. The tedium is something that every natural builder gets used to, and even revels in. When soil features and quality can greatly differ within the span of a few metres, each new project, each new land brings about with it contingent resources and a whole host of tests and experiments. It really is a taxing process. But the sight of a polished and completed work of cob replete with custom made finishes and artworks is soothing to the soul. When a sculpture is done and I step back and let its flavours sink in, there is a period of tranquil excitement. I think I can say that it’s for those moments of reward, and the fulfilment of creating, that I do this work.
This article explores how localization is a low environmental impact process in terms of carbon footprint as well as health hazards and hence is the perfect philosophy to inculcate in natural building. Click to understand what materials are available locally for those interested in sustainable construction.
Aside from the joy of sculpting with mud, the essence of natural building in my view lies in the use of local materials. The greater the degree of localisation, the better. Why? With local natural materials, the carbon cost of a structure is minimised. There is no fuel expended on transporting materials over great distances. No harmful or toxic ingredients produced that pollute the land. Local materials are largely biodegradable and the land reclaims the refuse from the site. By employing the right practices, one can build sizeable structures with hardly any impact to the surrounding; a veritable blessing in our time of ecological crisis. Then there is the visual aspect of it. The simple yet stunning aesthetic of earthen tones and textures coupled with quirky nature-inspired forms is nothing short of a feast for the eyes. And when local materials are used, natural structures blend into the environment, almost as if an extension of the land. When my partner and I set out to build this outdoor kitchen in Kusur gaon, Maharashtra, our objective was to make it an experiment in localisation. We wanted to determine for ourselves if it would be possible to sculpt functional, artistic spaces using only materials harvested from the land. In that regard the project has been largely successful.
There was of course a non-negligible proportion of the material that went into the structure that was obtained from non-local sources. Approximately 35 sacks of sand for our custom made plasters and 20 sacks of lime were brought in from Bombay (150 kms away). Nuts, bolts, nails, lightbulb sockets, switches and other such hardware accessories including equipment like sieves and trowels were purchased from the nearby market in Talegaon (40 kms away). The waterproofing of our roof was achieved with the use of repurposed PVC sheets that previously served as canopy for the greenhouses and nurseries in the region (within a 30 km radius). But apart from these, the entire structure was sculpted out of natural materials harvested merely metres from the structure itself. The cob was made with local soil dug out of a mound adjacent to the kitchen. The straw used as fibre in the cob was cut from the vicinity and thrown straight into the mix. All the wood used in the construction of the kitchen roof was deadwood that lined the boundary of the property, a majority of which had already keeled over in the face of the region’s spirited monsoon. The stone used for the foundation too was gathered from within the 30 acre property.
There were also a variety of materials that we discovered in the region that turned out to be highly useful, revealing their invaluable properties as we engaged with them more and more. I’ve prepared a library of them so that others too can make use of the same.
Library of Local Materials
Also Known As: Nirgudi (Marathi), Nirkunnchi (Tamil), Bile-Nekki (Kannada), Indrani (Malayalam), Nirgandi (Hindi), Indian Privet (English).
Native to the Indian subcontinent and widely dispersed throughout the Western Ghats, this woody shrub has been a component of indigenous medicinal and building practices for many years prior to common knowledge. Of course, I was not aware of any of this. The locals today at Kusur gaon too had no inkling of its many applications. They fashion their fences with Nirgudi and even use it in part for putting up small rudimentary structures such as shelter for their cattle and goats. It is quite ideal for its use in natural building from several facets. For one it is fast growing and invasive, renewing its foliage in no time so long as the root system is not disturbed. The woody stems and branches are supple and sturdy but do not weigh nearly as much as other wood of comparable tensile strength. Moreover, by some virtue of its chemical composition that modern knowledge has yet to identify, it repels termites, borers and other insects that typically feed on or take shelter within wood. My experiments with Nirgudi also indicate that a concoction of its leaves could potentially be a viable admixture in cob for repelling termites.
Also Known As: Karvi (Marathi, Kannada), Maruadona (Hindi).
A close relative of the Neelakurinji (Strobilanthes Callosa) of Nilgiris fame, Karvi is a flowering shrub that is endemic to the Western Ghats of India. Having a seven year growth cycle, the shrub bursts into bloom with its purple-blue flowers in the 8th year of its life. It experiences rapid green growth in the monsoons and takes on a dry brown appearance in the dry seasons, much like the rest of Maharashtra. I have read of its role in folk medicine but witnessed its use solely as a building material in Kusur gaon. The stems of Karvi are lightweight and bendy and the locals weave a framework of wall panels with it that are subsequently plastered either with cow manure or mud. A bulk of the tribal huts in the neighbouring village were built in this manner before cement took over in the region. We utilised Karvi in a similar method to weave a lattice on the roof. It was then covered with a mud plaster to render a smooth finish, similar to a plasterboard ceiling.
Also Known As: Australian Pine (English), Suru (Marathi), Saru (Hindi)
Nicknamed ‘Ironwood’, this tall, slender pine is the bender of nails and the breaker of drill bits. Dense, heavy and sturdy, most of the twin-reciprocal roof structure was built out of Suru, as it is known in Maharashtra. Although not endemic to the region, this tree has been naturalised to several parts of India and is a great contender for planting in rows to serve as wind-breaks.
Also Known As: Century Plant, Gaipat(Marathi)
This beautiful drought resistant perennial that is indigenous to Mexico has been introduced and naturalised around the world, including to the slopes of the Western Ghats. Although it is renowned today primarily for its value as an ornamental, it has a multitude of functions that the indigenous Mexican peoples had knowledge of. The fibres of its leaf and stem are suitable for rope making, thatching, matting etc. The heart of the plant produces a sweet nectar which can be used both as a sugar substitute and in the production of alcoholic beverages. Requiring to tending to at all, Gaipat is also a choice candidate as a boundary plant that forms a natural border with its long reaching thick leaves. It lives for only about 10-12 years. In the final year of its life cycle, a stem extends skywards from the heart of the Gaipat and it flowers once before it perishes. We preserved the buds of the flowers, which are edible, and use them as a substitute for artichokes on pizzas. The dried stems were utilised as rafter supports on the reciprocal roof frame.
Quartz and Amethyst Geodes
With quartz being one of the more profusely available minerals on the surface of the Earth, it came as no surprise that we are able to unearth numerous of raw quartz crystal shards and clusters from the land. One instance provided a massive geode embedded in the ground, so big that it took 3 able men to pry it out of the soil. What was more of a surprise were the Amethyst pieces we chanced upon. While it is classified a variant of quartz with its violet hue, Amethyst is considerably rarer to come by. Both were put to use in the cob kitchen, primarily for creating decorative inlays.
Better Local Than Global
My laptop on which I type these words has probably seen more of the world than I have. While Apple proudly proclaims that its conception as an idea was in California, a state that I have never been to, it also concedes in guilty minuscule text that my computer was assembled in China, yet another part of the world that my feet have never touched. Where it is that each component of this laptop was born I cannot say, but I imagine that tracing their journeys would leave a web of crisscrossing trajectories on the globe. I value this laptop greatly. To me, it is emblematic of the near impossibility of being the social animals that we are in today’s world without casting our impact indirectly over the whole globe. And I do not believe that one should strive to be local in the absolute sense of the term. But certainly a decisive departure from rampant globalisation is imminent, and vitally so in the case of material. Localisation in healthy degrees isn’t an insurmountable utopian endeavour. Rather, it proves to be efficient in every way, including economically. The total material cost of this cob kitchen came to be no more than INR 35,000 (500 USD approx), a nominal sum for the utility it provides. The main expense borne by the owners was that of labour. It stands a durable, non-toxic testament to the many varied wonders that can be achieved with local natural materials. It is time we began that departure from our current apparatus, the prevalent order, and set our sights on a more localised mode of living.
Photo Credits: Sujay Iyer
This article was first published here: http://chroniclesofmud.com/2019/09/11/localisation-the-essence-of-natural-building/
In an increasingly concretised country, these men and women are going against the grain.
Take a look at ten different architects in the country who are harnessing traditional wisdom to create sustainable homes of the future, and the various materials and styles they are using to do so.
India is in the throes of a planning frenzy and several smart cities are on the anvil. The country’s property boom, besides being hungry for sand, iron, cement and water, is quickly obliterating any nuances that existed in traditional design to address the region’s climate, environment and culture.
But there is a breed of Indian architects who are going against the grain and espousing sustainability as a defining feature of their work. Choosing to turn their back on green rating systems and sustainability certifications, these architects look instead towards honouring time-tested building techniques to create structures that interfere as little as possible with nature, both in design and materials used.
They build to suit the local socio-environmental contexts, embrace the use of reusable and renewable materials, and harness traditional building wisdom.
They show that eco-friendly does not mean shabby, dull and boring. Combining sustainability with contemporary, modern designs and a range of materials, textures, and colours, they’re making homes of the future – homes that are gaining popularity as much for their small footprint and various health benefits as for their aesthetic appeal. Spaces that reflect our culture, environment and needs rather than aping a bland Western style.
Biome environmental solutions – Bengaluru
Helmed by Chitra Vishwanath, an expert in sustainable architecture, Biome focuses on building in response to climate, using natural resources wisely and minimising waste streams. Their emphasis is on building with renewable materials such as mud and timber using energy-efficient techniques, eliminating chemical-based paints and plasters, harvesting rainwater and solar energy, preserving local biodiversity, and promoting recycling and reuse.
The Auroma Group – Puducherry
Co-founded by architect Trupti Doshi whose designs are informed by her philosophy “Buildings are meant to complement their environment, not compete with it”. This Puducherry-based architect is known for her ecologically-sensitive, vernacular architecture that incorporate natural building materials, revive traditional craftsmanship, and builds in response to local needs and harnessing local talent.
Kamath Design Studio – Delhi
Revathi Kamath of Kamath Design Studio is one of India’s most well-known proponents of earth architecture, celebrating the use of mud in all her creations. Her own house, a mud structure built on the site of an abandoned quarry, is testimony of her love for this earth-friendly material.
Thannal Hand Sculpted Homes – Tiruvanamalai
Thannal is the brainchild of natural builder Biju Bhaskar who believes that “the place we live in is a material extension of our minds”. The studio is focused on creating awareness about low embodied-energy materials and appropriate technologies, and reviving indigenous architectural wisdom.
Footprints E.A.R.T.H. – Ahmedabad
Started by ecological architect Yatin Pandya, the firm uses industrial and municipal plastic and metal waste in construction. Under Pandya’s guidance, the firm popularised several innovative building techniques that involve the repurposing of waste. For instance, recycling discarded plastic bottles filled with fly ash and waste residue as an eco-friendly, cost-effective substitute for brick in wall construction, or using empty vegetable crates as doors.
Mozaic – Goa
Behind Mozaic is Dean D’Cruz, well known for turning full time to sustainable building practices in 2012. He has since focused on environment-friendly, cost-effective architecture, conserving Goa’s heritage structures and reviving its local building traditions. He is also a staunch proponent of equitable design and including all stakeholders in the design and execution of the building process.
Benny Kuriakose – Chennai
Kuriakose is known for promoting the sustainable and vernacular architectural principles of his mentor of many years, Laurie Baker. His architectural oeuvre is highlighted by natural materials and cost-effective technologies that are also climate, environment and culture appropriate. He embraces the use of eco-friendly practices such as the use of recycled fittings and encourages making the most of the site’s natural elements – light, ventilation and greenery – using cooling clay tiled roofs, large verandahs and open courtyards.
Made in Earth – Bengaluru
Started by a team of four young architects, Made in Earth promotes low-impact architecture using locally available, natural building materials and building techniques that keep energy consumption to a minimum. Their designs boast a range of materials, creating diverse textures, colours and finishes.
Eugene Pandala – Kollam
Pandala is recognised for building with mud and other natural materials, and for his unique, free-flowing designs that incorporate the cob technique using straw, soil, and often, gravel. He is known for incorporating mud even into the furniture and fixtures of the homes he builds.
Dustudio – Auroville
Dharmesh Jadeja of Dustudio bridges traditional knowledge and contemporary practices to produce designs that are environmentally sustainable, economically viable and energy-efficient. He embraces the use of locally available materials, furthers traditional crafts and creates opportunities to promote the skills and opportunities for local artisans, all the while adapting them to contemporary sensibilities and contexts.
Other pioneering Indian architects or architectural firms building responsibly include Didi Contractor (Dharmalaya Institute, Himachal Pradesh), COSTFORD and Vasthukum (Kerala), Auroville Earth Institute (Puducherry), Gerard da Cunha of Architecture Anonymous (Goa), K Jaisim of Jaisim – Fountainhead and Sathyaprakash Varanashi of Sathya Consultants (Bengaluru).
In this article on natural buildings, the cow is intertwined with the building process. In addition to looking at how byproducts of cow rearing (cow dung, cow urine, milk) are used in natural building, this article also explores the human animal relationship perspective involved.
Traditionally in India, a home will always begin by respecting our Mother Earth with a Bhoomi Pooja. It is holy fire that symbolises the cleansing of the space of its aura; we seek permission from mother earth to build our home. Into this holy fire is added the Panchagavya; and there the relation between your home and a cow begins!
Panchgavya is a preparation made using the 5 ingredients that come from the cow directly and indirectly. It consists of milk, cow dung, cow urine and a more processed ingredients, ghee and curd. The other ingredients are jaggery, tender coconut, banana, and water. These are mixed in an order and kept covered in a shade for 27 days while being stirred periodically. It is then diluted and used in Ayuredic medicines.
Thannal has been experimenting with the miraculous healing property of Panchagavya in Natural building. It is being used in the foundations for better protection. Apart from this there are many ongoing research and experiments happening at Thannal to identify the role of Panchagavya in Natural Buildings and daily life.
As the home building starts, cow urine is poured into the dug portion before commencing the foundation and laying of stones. This cow urine is collected early in the morning and the urine collected thus is said to be the best for use. It can be collected by carefully approaching the cow while it is urinating by holding a vessel under the stream, a task which the person who takes care of the cow daily, can perform effortlessly! A desi cow’s body has a bio clock thus urine collection is a task for a person who doesn’t own a cow but who takes utmost care of one. Alternatively, it can be collected by making sloped channels in the cow shed for general use.
The link between our desi breeds of cows and the indigenous homes is more than the word indigenous.
India was once home to 130 varieties of the bovine animal, but we lost all of them after the introduction of Jersey cows for our want for vast quantities of milk. Now we have only about 30 left. You can read all about The Cock & Bull Story, an article written by Anoop Rajan & Manoj Kottoram who has been working with a Gau Bank (cow bank), which is ardently preserving the indigenous breeds of the region since more than the past decade. Their efforts have been instrumental in saving and regenerating the Zebu cow breed, KasargodanKullan, which is local to the region of Kasargod, Kerala.
Chanakam, almost like the unit of the firm cow manure is said to host a bacterial universe, but obviously, the good kind. There are around 3-5 crore completely useful microbes found in a cow’s dung per gram. A Jersey, Holstein cow’s dung contains only about 50-70 Lakh microbes per gram, not all useful. We were blessed with a variety of native cows, each region has its own. What the chemistry behind the cow’s gastric chemistry is, was figured out by our ancestors without scientific aids, but pure logic. Here’s how you can identify a traditional desi cow
When it comes to animal energy since time immemorial cows and bullocks have been resorted to for making natural buildings. As we proceed up from the foundation to the walls, we see how cows & bullocks are usually employed in trampling on. The native cow also shows great dexterity. Cows are some excellent cob kneaders when treated with care while they tread on the mud. Thus they have a great place in natural building.
Cow urine is also added into the mud while cob/adobe mix making as it enhances the property of mud and enables good curing of the soil. Urine added to mortars have also been proven to increase its plasticity. Cow urine has high regard in Indian culture. According to Sushrut Samhita cow’s urine has been since time immeasurable being used for different formulations and Ayurvedic preparations, and used to treat many ailments.
The traditional Chakku, or the mortar mixing centripetal wheel, used to be mixed by cattle in olden days. Mortar mixed in such a way is said to be of a very superior quality, even when compared to mortars mixed with modern grinding equipment. Bovine power way to go!
Cow’s 6th Sense:
Cow is an extremely intelligent animal and has a unique sense of the environment. The Desi cows are extremely emotional and attached to the people who take care of them. There have been incidents where a cow has taken a lightening instead of their owners, to save them. They are sharp animals, a great source of Satvik energy, it is said that walking in the dusty path the cow has tread is extremely enriching. Even being in the aura of a cow can drastically lighten your mood.
Natural finishes are always like an icing on a piece of cake and lot of these wall finishes would not have come into the picture if it weren’t for the cows. Araish a traditional smooth mirror finish wall finish from Jaipur, Rajasthan uses curd as one of its essential ingredients. Even the Chettinad Egg-Lime Plasterincorporates the whey from a hung curd into the final layer of the smooth almost-mirror finished plaster.
Milk of a pure breed cow is said to be one of the most enriching products that the cow yields. People around the world have been making milk paints and a broken-down product of milk, casein, as additives for plasters. The casein is a good binder and the protein present in the milk combines with the lime to give a good quality plaster.
Cow dung has traditional importance when it comes to plastering walls and floors. The bacterium Mycobacterium Vaccae , which is found in the cow dung contributes to anti-depressant properties of cow dung. When these are inhaled it enhances the growth of the neurons in our body, which in turn stimulates the growth of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain, basically the happy drug is released. This works wonders against anxiety & has shown a good learning curve .
Cow dung is not only a good binder, but the fibers present in the dung also help in creating smooth, fine floor finish; the fibres prevent cracking in floors and also increases the insulation properties of the plaster. The 3-5 Crore microbes/gram of dung means hordes of good bacteria. The cow dung is an antifungal insecticide, which is why we have been confidently using them for disinfecting our homes and floors. It has antiseptic properties and it is also a prophylactic, meaning it prevents diseases. For fibres often cow hair are added to the plasters to prevent cracking.
Apart from cow dung, cow urine is also used as an additive for plastering owing to its antifungal property; it prevents growth of harmful fungi within the walls and floors, which is a cause of harmful diseases. It is an extremely good sealant for earthen floors. Using cow urine for sealing the top most coat of floor avoids cracking of the finish. Dilution of 1:10 (cow urine: water) shows effective fungicidal property.
The fat obtained from the bovine animal, also known as Tallow is used in making waterproof natural finishes. In the old times, ox blood used to be added to the floors for an effective sealing of floors.
Bamboos are usually used as roofing members as they are abundantly available and an economical solution. It is vital that the bamboos be treated before they are used as roofing members since it increases durability. ABARI, Nepal, is currently working on using cow urine for treatment of bamboo. This involves injecting the bamboo with cow urine solution under pressure so as to replace the starch present in the vascular bundles. Devapriyan Kanjankat, a natural builder from Kerala has effectively used cow urine for the treatment of bamboos and it has worked for his building. The bamboos in this case were soaked in a diluted cow urine solution for two weeks. Cow urine is also one of the crucial ingredients in the Natural Finish Recipe that Devapriyanji uses for plastering his home walls!
A home is not complete until there is a small fire on the stove frying hot bhajjis! Cows have contributed to our fuel needs, first in the form of dung cakes and recently as gobar gas which can be piped and connected to your modern stoves for regular cooking. Dung cakes are traditionally burnt during bhogi by the children of the family which is a part of the festival of Sankranti. These dung cakes provide efficient fuel and also produce a smokeless flame! These have a good calorific value and are often used in burning limestone in the kilns; one sustainable practice leads to another we can say!
Burnt cow dung is used as bhasma in various ayurvedic preparations; people used this ash for brushing their teeth as well which made them sparky clean once.
Farmers are reusing the drums that once contained the harmful pesticide Carbofuran after coating them with cow dung for a few days. Cow dung has immense supply of nutrients and energy that host and promotes the growth of microbes which are instrumental in decomposing pollutants. According to a research the potential of cow dung is being determined as how it could be utilised as a bioremediation tool for disposing off harmful chemicals present in the soil & water bodies 
The question we need to ask ourselves now is, why are we ignoring this intricate rapport that we had one developed with our fellow organisms? A breed of cow disappearing from a place could orphan millions of earthen homes. It is said that a pure cow’s urine has small traces of gold. Looking at the way it is being used in our homes, one would certainly revere it more than gold. If only we look into our villages would we find that much that is yet to be discovered has already been experimented with, while the cow simply chews the cud away!
 Kartikey Kumar Gupta , Kamal Rai Aneja, Deepanshu Rana an article on Current status of cow dung as a bioresource for sustainable development 2016, Bioresources and Bioprocessing 2016. Available at: https://bioresourcebioprocessing.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40643-016-0105-9
 S. Khan & A. Manchur a research on Activated cow-dung slurry as a tool to pesticides bioremediation2015, Scholars Research Library, University of Chittagong, Hathazari, Chittagong.
Sincere thanks to Manoj Kottoramji for sharing some interesting information with us!
This video illustrates how eco-construction is for everyone. This is a showcase on natural farmers of Tamil Nadu understanding, learning and practicing techniques for natural building. They also in turn understand the deep rooted philosophies of it.
An analysis of Portland cement and its alternatives.
Cement has drastically changed the face of architecture on our planet. With the need to standardise, homogenise and corporatise, we have lost our indigenous architecture and lifestyles. Read this blog to understand the deep impact of cement on the planet and all those living in it. From excessive sand mining to toxic fumes released throughout its life cycle, this supposedly quintessential material of the building process has created large scale destruction of which most are unaware.
Cement is hailed as the ultra-modern building material, coming together with steel to reach new heights that mankind has never dared to reach before. In only about hundred years of its existence, cement has acquired the trust of the masses to the point where people cannot fathom the fact, that natural materials which have lasted for over thousands of years even before cement was born, can safely be used to build. This article does an investigative study of this extensively used grey matter and analyses the truth behind it.
The face of modern architecture!
Cement has dramatically changed the face of architecture on our planet and has become an indispensable part of modern buildings. Where once every region had a unique identity of indigenous buildings which responded to the climate, local resources, skills and culture, cement brought with it standardized, homogenized homes. Irrespective of the region they belong to, they all look alike. One cannot differentiate between skyscrapers in New York from the ones in Dubai. The impact that this recent omnipresent material has on us and our homes is quite damaging. The drastically changing natural landscapes and the eyesore created by artificial skylines are matters of grave social and environmental concern.
India has an exceptional diversity of natural buildings which connected people together with wisely designed spaces having courts and plenty open area. This allowed nature to be a part of the house, and offered interactions between neighbors. Verticality has now disconnected us not only from nature, but also from our fellow human beings. In the race to build more and more in less and less space due to space crunch in urban settings, many buildings are now suffering from the “sick building syndrome”. Apart from the urban scene, it has also infected our villages. All thanks to government yojna’s, that aid this infiltration, fueled by the social pressure to have a pakka home as a sign of prosperity. The issues of extensive urbanization are being identified all over and many countries are now working towards resolution of these problems, yet India again treads on the same path that the west has tried and rejected.
The most popular argument made in favor of cement is the freedom it gives buildings to touch the sky, making hundreds of story towers a reality. But to get a holistic understanding of the situation, one needs to analyze if this is the need that solves our problems or merely a want that satisfies our ego.
High rises are said to be the ultimate solution to accommodate the ever increasing population in a limited space. But the root of the problem lies much deeper. Now looking at reality of a city like Mumbai, despite the rampant construction of skyscrapers, 1.2 crore completed homes are lying vacant, even though there is acute housing shortage. Moreover the rising number of slums in cities are an indication of the failure of the current construction industry where housing crisis prevails despite of numerous skyscrapers being built. The stark disparities are clearly evident, yet we choose to look the other way. The entire system of real estate and the overall idea of such a city is questionable. Evidently, high rises are not the solution to our housing problem, and neither are rampant unplanned cities. These are uninformed opinions that have become popular because of what seems the solution when looked at problems superficially. These issues are connected with economic injustice, social stigmas and the lure of the city glitz that increases the density of these urban areas.
High in mud?
Having understood the need for tall structures, if we look back at history, many massive structures have been built using natural materials. Multistory mud structures are common in dry arid regions. Huge scale of bridges and underwater aqueducts are feats of marvel to name just a few. We still revere these wonders as a part of our heritage.
Although we question the need for a tall building to address the problem of housing shortage, it is really possible to make long lasting tall structures in natural materials. Our impenetrable forts, royal palaces and tall towers of ancient kingdoms prove this point. Earth construction techniques have been to known about 9000 years ago. Many of traditional natural buildings have withstood strong earthquakes and other natural calamities that the modern materials do not stand a chance. There are many examples that exist till date that demonstrate the durability of traditional buildings. On such is the natural buildings ‘Bhunga’ of Gujarat who with their design and material usage survived severe earthquakes. In village Sardarsheher, in Rajasthan lime is still alive and thriving, so are many untouched villages in India which are repositories for natural building solutions.
Cement: What, When, How?
The timeline of building materials used by man shows all the materials that man has been using since times immemorial. The scale of the timeline is self-explanatory where cement stands in the long life span of building materials. Portland cement as we know it arrived just about a century ago. Before the discovery of Portland cement, natural cement also known as Roman concrete was used, which was achieved by burning a mixture of lime and clay. Since the properties varied from region to region, the need for standardization for the purpose of quality control arose. Now, cement is manufactured by calculatedly combining calcium, silicon, iron and aluminum to achieve a standardized mix.
With corporatization of cement it also became a part of the 5 year plans increasing the number of manufacturing industries and consequently making it the most dominant building material. Just like how adding chemical fertilizers, green revolution began that ruined our farms and the lives of our farmers with a lure of a modern world. With a promise of increased food protection and better lives, all claims which eventually turned out to be to be hollow. They were only serving the interest of the industries manufacturing those chemicals. Similarly a grey revolution also started brewing, without any forethought of the implications these two would have on our health as well as our environment. Mono-cropping and Mono-concrete became the latest trend whose detrimental consequence no could have imagined. When companies had their interests, set up huge plants, it became necessary to spread this material far and wide. Advertisements subtly brainwashing people into believing that this cement has life there is nothing that can break it started surfacing. This message started getting ingrained in us that the only way forward into this modern era is cement.
Cement cannot work without sand, and sand mining over the years have caused major and drastic shifts in our rivers. Although sand is a natural material, the strain on it by the building industry is immense, leading to impossible quantities of sand in demand. So much so that there is illegal mining of sand happening all over our country taken over by the sand mafia. We began importing materials from different places which had available resources in abundance increasing the embodied energy of the materials.
Lime: the oldest cementing material known to man. Building before the advent of cement:
Use of lime started long back when they built palaces, forts, domes, vaults, which have lasted for thousands of years without any cement. Many techniques were implemented like grinding, beating and fermenting lime for long periods of time and other herbal juices to add strength. All this gave enhanced results while using lime. Compared to cement the processes used in lime are time consuming and labour intensive but at the same time beautiful and rewarding.
What makes lime so sustainable is that it goes through a process called lime cycle where the carbon dioxide generated during manufacture of lime from limestone is absorbed back converting the lime used in mortars/ plasters back to limestone after long period of time through a process known as carbonation. Admixtures developed throughout the world, which are natural extracts of herbs help imparting desired properties to lime mixes.
If we look back at how we used to build before cement, there are many answers. Every region in our country will have its own answer. There are designs of homes that tackled the climate perfectly, used locally available skills and resources beautifully and what’s more if they got destroyed re-used the materials to build a new one. Since building a home was a community affair, the strain of building was transformed into a pleasure of community gathering livening the space with folk songs and chats. Even if you let the debris be, the natural materials would just become a part of the soil. We could still use these solutions that have been tried and tested for millions of years as compared to a non-time tested material like cement whose negative points clearly outnumber its advantages.
In the manufacture of 1 tonne of cement 2.5 tonnes of CO2 is produced, that is 10% of the total CO2emission. Today cement has to travel an average distance of 600 kms to reach a building site! The process of manufacture of cement and the processing of raw materials used require extensive energy and high temperatures giving off gases and highly toxic particles. Studies have confirmed that cement industries are one of the fastest and major contributors of CO2 emissions. These continue to flourish, without any regulations to keep the levels of emissions in check.
What do we do?
This is the time to have this uncomfortable conversation amongst ourselves and question the conventional norms. Solutions have to be collectively formulated as individuals, community and a nation to tackle the issues at hand. We need to make more people aware that the problems we are facing are created by our ignorance and apathy. More cement is chocking up the nerves of our planet, our drainage our rivers are suffering because of our folly. One way forward to look back at the river of knowledge that our ancestors have left behind.
How much sense is there in building with cement?
Concrete cancer is a real disease that affects all buildings. The nature of concrete is to wick moisture and since it doesn’t breathe, it contains and holds back the moisture without releasing it and over years this rusts the iron in RCC and inevitably the building fails. It doesn’t show, like a secret it only reveals itself at the last moment. Sudden failures of buildings is common. Sooner or later all concrete buildings would meet the same fate. Moreover our buildings hardly need the strength that cement offers, we are over deigning exploiting the expensive (not just in monetary sense) material.
Cement in natural buildings
Nothing explains better than Babara ji’s article on cement in natural building the hazards of using a little amount of cement in natural buildings. Most of the environment friendly elitist organizations in our country are aimed at making the walls look and feel like mud, while losing out on the entire point of building with mud. Adulterating it with cement not only loses the authenticity of the mud build is unsustainable but also may be extremely dangerous for your building in the long run. Where mud buildings are supposed to be affordable, the weekend getaway home end up being more expensive than even conventional homes. A trend of hybridization is slowly picking up where natural buildings have merely been reduced to the aesthetics and a market gimmick of eco-conscious people. This trend began with following about 25 years ago, borrowing a few philosophies from the west and many researches ended up with answers to stabilize the mud with cement. The purity of mud is lost and so is the inherent nature. The mud is then unable to breathe and becomes suffocated.
On the contrary, mud and lime are self-healing, cracks are good, and you can always fill the mud cracks up with more mud, cement cracks can be highly dangerous for the integrity of the building.
Like any other consumerist goods, the need for standardization in the building industry arose, making easy machine made, mass produced factory homes. Like mono-cropping, mono-building became the fad, making match stick box homes, suffocated homes and unhealthy owners.
The hideous pineapples, dropped towels, and obscene curves and pointy lines with façade treatment have been the new trend for making buildings stand out and intimidate users. Too much use of glass heating up the building and then using air-condition 4 times more to cool the self-heated building, is an indication of where we have lost our basic common sense and that we find this quite normal. Our architecture represents our tyranny, the social injustices and lack of peace and happiness in our lives. Running in a race which no one knows the finish line is. Our building are becoming like us, generic and colorless clones of each other, bland and tasteless.
The alternative building sector in our country is relatively scarce and most add mud to cement, yet call them ‘eco-friendly homes’ The adding of cement in stem walls only wicks moisture and creates more problems than solves. Our dear natural builders need to evaluate what the term natural building is. Mud becomes suffocated and cannot go back to the earth once it break down and also cannot be reused. The need of the hour is for the conscious architects/ non architects/ people who want to build their own homes to accept natural materials the way they are and spread the message in our practices. With a collective effort of working toward the solution. We have lost much of the knowledge we had, but we may still be able to retrieve it with conscious effort. Instead of taking the easy way out, as natural builders we should seek for answers that will make us confident in using natural materials in their pure form.
When cement came, it brought a promise of a modern world, of permanence, of beautiful skylines and glittery glamour like in the west. A more analytical study with an open mind reveals that the claim is a hollow one and the shimmer is only on the surface of these façades. The life of a concrete building is 50-60 years which when compared to the embodied energy is way too little. It wouldn’t pay off its carbon footprint even if the buildings were to last thousands of years. Since the concrete buildings is a recent phenomenon, the amount of toxic debris that we’ll get is unimaginable. And there is no forethought to what happens once these humongous buildings pass their expiry date.
Only now after the result of our rampant development and mindless concretization are showing effect in the form of bad drainage causing floods and manmade calamities we are realizing that this is a real issue that needs our immediate attention and concern. All surfaces are mindlessly paved in concrete leaving no possibility of water absorption causing floods even with the slightest rainfall in cities while our villages face drought!
In the wake of environmental crisis, we need to re-evaluate our choices and make informed ones. It is not just cement as a material that poses a problem, one has to connect the dots to view the whole picture clearly. Industrialization, global warming, unsafe food, fast fashion, etc. are all interconnected issues stem from one another with the system that dictates us. And the drastic shift in our lifestyle increasingly mechanical life and other issues that are now deep rooted within our society that have graver implications. We can choose simpler over extravagant, peace comes with a harmonious society that is well rooted in its origins.
But with more herbs and hope, a revolution is possible in natural building. With a lot of positivity and encouragement, slowly the number of people who are questioning the society that we have created, are rising. We have hope as long as there are masons and old gems who will help and guide us in this journey. The Vedas prescribed methods that have worked for centuries and using their help we are able to achieve strength in our walls and our homes. Lime is such a fantastic natural building material and possibly a solution to all our cementing needs. Possibilities are infinite using our finite resources, it depends on us how we choose to use them. Consistent work is needed, taking small steps in our day to day lives, it may even take a long long time. Instead of condemning cement as a material, we should look at mud and lime as positive answers which will help us working towards constructive solutions in building resilient shelters for a safer planet with love and kindness.
An illustrated kindle book about building a cob and wattle & daub cottage
This book showcases possibilities in the world of natural building. It is an illustrated manual for those interested in experimenting with building their own home. The book gives step by step instructions for different building materials and construction techniques such as Wattle & Daub, Cob, Bamboo, Stone and Lime.
Weaving walls book intends to make interested individuals who are unfamiliar with the world of natural building aware of the possibilities that lie in using locally available materials. It is an illustrated manual for all those who wish to take on experimenting with hand -building their own home. This step by step guide will not only help the user to understand the basics of natural materials, but also the in-depth processes involved in making a natural building using cob, wattle & daub, stone, lime, and bamboo. This book is a result of a need for the common man who wants to build his own natural, cost-effective home, making it easily accessible.
While the government has ambitious plans to solve the ongoing water crisis, there is a need to clearly spell out the scheme’s outcomes and targets
If 2014-19 was the phase to drive and upscale sanitation in the country, then 2019-24 will drop the spotlight on water. Reason: the rising water emergency that’s making India listen to alarm bells and consequentially a strong political commitment coming into place.
As promised by the Bharatiya Janata Party in its election manifesto, a unified Ministry of Jal Shakti was launched in May 2019 as an immediate response to the escalating water crisis in the country.
It also saw the reorganisation of existing ministries and departments like the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation as well as the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation coming under the umbrella of this new ministry.
Within a month of announcing the Ministry of Jal Shakti, the government launched Jal Shakti Abhiyan (JSA), an intensive water conservation campaign built on citizen participation to accelerate water conservation across the country.
In the short run, the campaign will focus on integrated demand and supply-side management of water at the local level, including creation of local infrastructure for source sustainability using rainwater harvesting, groundwater recharge and management of household wastewater for reuse.
For the long run, the government launched the Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) with an aim to ensure piped water supply to all rural households by 2024.
While the government has put up broader plans to solve the ongoing water crisis, there is a critical need to spell out JSA’s outcomes and targets in a tangible and achievable manner. Rainwater harvesting is a critical intervention and should be undertaken intensively in the identified 256 water-stressed districts where groundwater availability has reached critical and over exploited levels.
However, in the absence of targets, the focus on objectives can be limited as one cannot ascertain the extent of work to be done, priority areas to be covered, and how to actually measure performance.
Wastewater, a concern
While the focus remains on creating or renovating structures for rainwater and wastewater harvesting, one needs to put in place policy measures for regulated water use and saving measures, such as water metering and pricing. With access to piped water supply in households, water use is expected to increase in rural areas, leading to more wastewater generation.
There is a dire need for wastewater policy both for urban and rural areas that promotes water use efficiency, recycling and reuse, while also ensuring financial viability and sustainability of water utilities.
With respect to wastewater generation, the Centre Pollution Control Board estimates that of the total 135 litres per capita per day (LPCD) water supplied in urban areas, 85 LPCD is goes back in form of sewage, which could be reused if planned efficiently.
With diminishing wastewater recycling and reuse by the municipal sector and increased water consumption by the growing population, wastewater treatment and reuse of reclaimed water for non-potable and industrial purposes becomes a critical alternative to fresh water production and supply.
While renovation of traditional and other water bodies is a critical step, stringent administrative action also needs to be taken to prevent and remove encroachment near water bodies.
In Delhi alone, a committee constituted by the National Green Tribunal reported that approximately 155 identified water bodies were encroached upon. According to a 2014 reply to a Right to Information (RTI) query, water-starved Bundelkhand shared a similar story where 4,020 ponds reportedly disappeared in a decade.
Likewise, a survey conducted by the Lucknow Municipal Corporation found that the city had 964 ponds in 1952, but only 494 remained by 2006. Bihar, until the early 1990s, had 2,50,000 ponds, according to official records. The number of these water bodies has now declined to a little over 93,000 — a slump of more than 70 per cent.
Though the Supreme Court has various mandates to stop land garb instances, the situation remains beyond control. Until legal provisions are implemented stringently and initiatives are put in place to regain land and restore it, these initiatives cannot prove to be successful.
Prevention of groundwater extraction
JSA cannot claim much success until excessive extraction of groundwater is prevented. While groundwater recharge is a commendable action, the actual percolation of water down to the confined aquifer is a time taking process.
In this context, measures to regulate groundwater extraction become as important as recharge. Two Bills legislated by the government that could have had a large implication in controlling exploitation of groundwater and managing river water, namely the Model Bill for the Conservation, Protection, Regulation and Management of Groundwater, 2016 and the National Water Framework Bill, 2016, are still waiting for enactment.
A major reason for increased dependence on groundwater for drinking purpose is the contamination of surface water bodies primarily due to the release of untreated wastewater discharge, both industrial and civil.
Though industries and municipalities are mandated to comply with environmental regulations, low priority is accorded to the enforcement and proper implementation of these laws. Ensuring stricter compliance for proper treatment and disposal of sewage and effluents before being discharged into water bodies, and properly implementing the punitive provisions can prevent surface water pollution considerably.
Watershed development is a long-term intervention and requires proper technical understanding for identification of sites and management along with intensive human efforts, time, and sufficient resources allocation.
Therefore, the districts need to have a different implementation strategy from the ones planned for rainwater harvesting.
Lastly, though afforestation has been on the JSA agenda, it has to be taken up with more vigour as forested catchments supply a high proportion of water for domestic, agricultural, industrial and ecological needs, help regulate climate, store carbon, and reduce flooding and storm water runoff.
In the absence of forest area, scanty rainfall would leave ponds and wells dug under JSA to remain dry, making the structure fail to meet its objective. Moreover, artificial forests cannot substitute natural ones. Artificial plantation leads to loss in biodiversity and native forests. Therefore, preventing the ongoing deforestation is a more suitable policy measure than planting trees with limited scientific and environmental understanding.
While JSA indicates government’s positive intent at water conservation through peoples’ participation, measures highlighted above can make it more impactful. Water being a means of basic survival, JSA cannot fall back in achieving timely, actionable and high-quality results.
(Nirma Bora is the policy research & advocacy officer at WaterAid India. She has worked extensively on issues related to climate change, sustainable agriculture and water resource management)
India continues to lag in proper drinking water, sanitation and hygeine facilities, according to a new study by Harvard University.
Parliament constituencies in Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh shared the highest burden of unsafe child stool disposal.
Three constituencies in Odisha — Bargarh (95.85 per cent), Jajapur (95.65 per cent) and Kandhamal (95.28 per cent) — had the highest prevalence of unsafe child stool disposal in the country, showed the study.
The findings are based on the performance of India’s 543 parliamentary constituencies on three important indicators of Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) index: Unsafe disposal of child stool, unimproved drinking water supply and sanitary facilities.
The data was collected by generating precision-weighted estimates of each indicator at the constituencies-level, based on the recently developed methodologies of linking cluster GPS data from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4), 2016, to potential constituencies.
“Unsafe child stool disposal has received limited attention in sanitation policy in India with the country’s historic focus on household toilet infrastructure,” according to the paper published in the Journal of Development Policy and Practice.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines (child) safe stool disposal as “when the child uses a toilet/latrine; and/or the faeces is put/rinsed in the toilet/latrine or buried”.
Based on mothers’ report in the NFHS-4, if the child’s faeces were left in the open/not disposed of, put/rinsed into a drain/ditch, or thrown in the garbage, the disposal was coded as ‘unsafe’.
The fourth round of NFHS conducted in 2015-2016 was based on a total sample size of 628,900 households across India. The survey was designed to provide estimates of key indicators related to population health and nutrition at the national, state and district levels.
Sanitary facilities were very poor in parliamentary constituencies in northern and eastern India. Budaun (90.69 per cent) and Ambedkarnagar (89.80 per cent) in Uttar Pradesh and Bhagalpur (87.14 per cent) in Bihar were the constituencies with the highest prevalence of poor sanitation facilities.
On the other hand, constituencies in Lakshadweep (0.19 per cent), Sikkim (0.91 per cent) and Idukki (0.96 per cent) and Alappuzha (0.97 per cent) in Kerala had the lowest prevalence of poor sanitary facilities.
Interestingly, Maharashtra, which seems to perform far better on WASH indicators than Uttar Pradesh, had far more constituencies with high burden of poor sanitary facilities than the latter, the study showed.
The paper also found a strong correlation between unsafe child stool disposal and poor sanitary facilities.
Monitoring of Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) data at the constituencies’ level will allow parliamentarians to effectively improve WASH conditions in their constituencies and the approach is better than that focussed on state or district means, the researchers suggested.
Parliamentary constituencies in north-eastern and southern India — particularly in Manipur, Meghalaya, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana — shared the highest burden of poor drinking water source.
The constituencies with the highest prevalence of poor drinking water were Inner Manipur (64.17 per cent) and Outer Manipur (59. 86 per cent) in Manipur; and Kadapa (46.62 per cent) and Kakinada (42.73 per cent) in Andhra Pradesh.
Constituencies in the northern and eastern parts of India had the lowest prevalence of unimproved drinking water sources. Fatehgarh Sahib (0.75 per cent), Ludhiana (0.58 per cent), and Jalandhar (0.35 per cent) in Punjab shared the lowest prevalence of poor drinking water.
Every household now has an extra toilet, due to SBM. Yet people are forced to defecate in the open because of acute water scarcity
In Odisha, a few villages had achieved open-defecation free (ODF) status prior to Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). But, with time, they have lost momentum.
In 2006, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was scheduled to visit Sikachhida village in Balangir district. The purpose was to see the excellent community sanitation model created by the villagers with technical and financial support from non-profit Gram Vikas. The visit was called off at the last moment due to heavy rain but the village remained the centre of attraction for quite some time.
“Many curious people came to Sikachhida to take a look at our bright yellow toilets, the open well that helped recharge groundwater, a renovated pond and the overhead tank that ensured us round-the-clock water supply in one of the most water-scarce regions of the country. Those were unique in those times,” said Bibatsa Thela, a farmer with marginal landholding.
Sikachhida has over 120 households. Though till 2006, only 111 houses had toilets, the remaining was covered subsequently and the village became ODF.
Some 15 km away, residents of Kanakpur village had also made similar efforts, constructed their own toilets at the cost of about Rs 3,000 each using locally available materials and achieved ODF just 12 days after SBM was announced in 2014. People celebrated their ODF status with much fanfare.
However, people in both the villages are now struggling to maintain their status. Under SBM, they had requested the authorities that the amount of Rs 12,000 per toilets be spent on renovating their existing toilets, and repair the water supply system that was set up in early 2000s.
“But our pleas fell on deaf years. The officials said that if we did not construct another toilet under SBM, thus we would forfeit them,” said Surekha Sai.
So every household has an extra toilet now though most use the decade-old spacious toilets. Water stress becomes acute in summers when both running tube wells and intake well dry up and people are left with no choice but to defecate in the open.
The situation in Kanakpur, which has 71 families with a population of 400, is worse. After declaring themselves ODF, the villagers had a system of fine of Rs 200 for anyone defecating in the open. The system was lifted a year after the launching of SBM because of water scarcity.
“Over 50 per cent of the village have stopped using toilets and go out for defecation during summer,” lamented Tarangini Mishra, a resident.
The district collector of Balangir, Arabinda Dakua, admitted that “the real challenge is to connect the toilets with water supply”.
“It is a tall order indeed considering that out of six rivers in Balangir, only Tel river has perennial flow and rest are dry throughout the year except the rainy season. The depleting groundwater makes the tube wells go dry in summer,” Dakua said.
The situation is peculiar in another water-stressed, yet heavily industrialised district of Sundargarh. Like in Balangir, Sundargarh shows 100 per cent individual household latrine as per the baseline survey of 2012.
To help the government meet the October 2 deadline, the officials have set up toilets but are yet to provide them with water connection.
Niranjan Sahu, executive engineer with the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Department, said all villages in nine blocks under his division have toilets.
“We have the target to connect all those toilets with piped water by March 2020,” Sahu noted.
Caught in between the Malguzaars (the local Zamindars or landlords) and the state government, the Malguzari tanks were left to die many years ago. Read how a lone Malguzaar spearheaded their revival in 2008.
Malguzari tanks were ponds made for water harvesting by the Malguzaars, who were Zamindars/tenants in eastern Vidarbha, Maharashtra two centuries ago.These tanks provided water for irrigation and also increased the availability of fish for local consumption.
Before 1950, the Malguzaars constructed, owned and maintained these water tanks but things changed after that when the Malguzari/Zamindari system was abolished. The state government took ownership of these tanks and started collecting water tax on whichever lands they irrigated. This angered the Malguzaars and prompted them to file a case in the Supreme Court saying that they were the rightful owners. The Supreme Court agreed with them but didn’t lay down conditions for who should maintain these tanks. More than 1000 tanks in the Vidarbha region bore the brunt of this decision and went unmaintained since then.
In 1983, an independent committee ruled that the tanks, which were of great significance to modern irrigation projects, were indeed the government’s responsibility to maintain. But no one took heed of this and the tanks remained unmaintained until 2008 when Shirish Apte entered the picture.
Shirish Apte, an Executive Engineer of Minor Irrigation division of Bhandara also belonged to a Malguzaar family. He had always had a great interest in water conservation and decided to initiate the process of rejuvenating these tanks. With monetary support from the government, he started this work.
The first tank that was restored in 2008 was the Janbhora Malguzari tank located 35 kms away from Bhandara. The first step was to de-silt the tank to remove the fine sand and earth that is carried by moving water and deposited as a sediment. The community got together and de-silted the tank. After the de-silting was completed, the boundary wall of the tank was strengthened. The work was fully completed in 2009 – 2010. This rejuvenation work has resulted in recharging groundwater levels and has also increased agricultural output and fish production in the area.
Employment levels have also increased because of this. The benefits of the Jambhora Malguzari tank to the region has prompted the district administration to restore another 21 Malguzari tanks in Bhandara.
The video below, shot in Vidarbha, gives a brief overview of the initiative to rejuvenate the Malguari tanks undertaken by the district administration in the area. (Click here if you cannot view the video below).
Bigger isn’t necessarily better. The revival of the Malguzaari tanks has shown that there are cheaper and simpler methods for water conservation than the construction of big dams. Smaller projects such as this aren’t as expensive to implement and more importantly, the buy-in from the community and the ownership that the people feel can’t be replicated with bigger state-run projects.
This article was written by Makarand Purohit for India Water Portal (IWP) and republished in 'the better india' portal in arrangement with IWP.
March 22nd is World Water Day. If recent reports are anything to go by, the world seems to be headed towards a serious water crisis. Here are some easy ways to conserve water and do your bit to save water at home.
Water is a strange thing. Its unusual characteristics are something that science finds utterly weird. For example, it is denser as a liquid than as a solid. Its unusual molecular structure allows it to exist as a liquid at room temperature, where similar materials exists as a gas. Even its molecular formula, good old H2O, may actually be H1.5O (but only in the realm of quantum physics). But despite its weirdness from science’s perspective, it is all too familiar to us both at an individual level and at the level of larger society. Water is a vital component of the human body, making up almost 65-70% of our body weight. It was the life blood of ancient civilizations. The Indus Valley, Chinese, Mesopotamian, and Egyptian civilizations all grew up on the banks of mighty rivers carrying precious water. Where there’s water, there’s life. Where there’s no water, life – especially of the human kind – struggles.
How Much Water Do We Have? So, how much water is available on the planet for humankind? At first glance, that may seem a rather lame question. 72% of the planet is water. But you can’t quench your thirst with salty water! 97% of the planet’s water is just that – salty. Good for the fishes but not for us. Desalination technologies which take the salt out of the water are enormously expensively and aren’t much of a solution unless you’re rich and desperate. That leaves 3%, of which 2.5% is frozen in the Antarctic, the Arctic, and glaciers. (Of course if global warming has its way, that may soon change, but that’s a whole other problem.) That leaves us with 0.5%, and only about one-hundredth of that 0.5% is available on the Earth’s surface in lakes, rivers and reservoirs; the rest is stored in underground aquifers which are expensive to get to, though that hasn’t kept them from being exploited and depleted.
The Earth is a pretty big place, so even this miniscule fraction is a big-sized chunk. But we’re 7 billion people! So it isn’t surprising that the world is heading towards a water crisis. Today, an estimated 780 million people live without adequate access to clean drinking water, and nearly 4000 children die every day due to dirty water or lack of proper hygiene. Even parts of the developed world are facing a water crisis. 56% of the land area of the contiguous United States is currently under drought – one of the worst in the US in recorded history. If global population grows, so will water demand, and at current trends, close to 3 billion people will live in water stressed areas by 2025. Mumbai and Delhi are expected to top the list of cities in terms of water demand.
Globally, several rivers are running dry due to overexploitation. While it is true that a major portion of fresh water is funneled into agriculture and industries where wastage is often rampant and policy changes are the need of the hour, we as individuals can still be aware of the problem and save water (and thus, also money) at least within our own homes. This by itself may not solve the whole problem, but it can form a basis for a large-scale movement to influence national and international policy.
Save Water At Home
Turn off what’s not in use: Running the tap while brushing your teeth can waste 15 liters of water.
Fix any leaks: Leaky faucets that drip at the rate of one drop per second can waste up to 10,000 liters of water each year.
Recycle, reuse: Everything takes water to make. Buy only when you need to and reuse what you can. It takes 2500 liters to make a cotton t-shirt and 10,000 liters for a pair of jeans. Buy fewer clothes, and when using a washing machine or dishwasher, wait till you have enough for a full-load.
Gardening: Water used in landscaping and gardening accounts for a major portion of domestic water use, especially in the developed world. Moreover, 50 percent of water used in gardening goes waste due to evaporation or runoff caused by over-watering. Consider installing a drip irrigation system rather than using a hose or sprinkler. Water your garden in the morning or evenings, ensuring that less water is lost to evaporation. Use local plants in your garden. Check if your garden actually needs watering. If the soil is still wet 2 inches beneath the surface, your plants don’t need water. Spread some mulch around your plants. This will help retain moisture and save water, time, and money.
The water you “eat”: If you are a non-vegetarian, consider reducing your non-vegetarian meals. A kilogram of chicken costs 3900 liters of water in terms of water input for chicken feed and for processing; a kilo of mutton costs 6000 liters. In contrast, a kilo of wheat needs 1000 liters. Rice is rather expensive though, a kilo needing 3750 liters. Like a cup of coffee in the morning? Think about shifting to tea. A cup of coffee needs 140 liters of water in terms of growing the necessary coffee beans, and processing; a cup of tea needs only 30.
The shrinking of the Aral Sea over 4 decades. It doesn’t take a whole lot to make a big difference in our water consumption. With awareness and a few minor changes in lifestyle, we can save water, and money as well. Unless we learn to conserve water and use it judiciously, the future of coming generations looks bleak. Take for example, the case of the Aral Sea in the former USSR, which was once the fourth largest lake in the world. Thanks to irrigation projects that diverted its two main source rivers, the Aral Sea has shrunk to a miniscule fraction of its former size. Hopefully, there won’t be any other “Arals” in the future.
This article was first published in https://isha.sadhguru.org/in/en/blog/article/6-easy-ways-to-conserve-water
Humans may be hard-wired to feel at peace in the countryside and confused in cities – even if they were born and raised in an urban area.
According to preliminary results of a study by scientists at Exeter University, an area of the brain associated with being in a calm, meditative state lit up when people were shown pictures of rural settings. But images of urban environments resulted in a significant delay in reaction, before a part of the brain involved in processing visual complexity swung into action as the viewer tried to work out what they were seeing.
The study, which used an MRI scanner to monitor brain activity, adds to a growing body of evidence that natural environments are good for humans, affecting mental and physical health and even levels of aggression.
Dr Ian Frampton, an Exeter University psychologist, stressed the researchers still had more work to do, but said they may have hit upon something significant.
“When looking at urban environments the brain is doing a lot of processing because it doesn’t know what this environment is,” he said. “The brain doesn’t have an immediate natural response to it, so it has to get busy. Part of the brain that deals with visual complexity lights up: ‘What is this that I’m looking at?’ Even if you have lived in a city all your life, it seems your brain doesn’t quite know what to do with this information and has to do visual processing,” he said.
Rural images produced a “much quieter” response in a “completely different part of the brain”, he added. “There’s much less activity. It seems to be in the limbic system, a much older, evolutionarily, part of the brain that we share with monkeys and primates.”
The effect does not appear to be aesthetic as it was found even when beautiful urban and “very dull” pictures of the countryside were used.
Professor Michael Depledge of Exeter University, a former Environment Agency chief scientist, said urban dwellers could be suffering in the same way as animals kept in captivity. He said the move to the cities had been accompanied by an “incredible rise in depression and behavioural abnormalities”.
“I think we have neglected the relationship that human beings have with their environment and we are strongly connected to it,” he said. “If you don’t get the conditions right in zoos, the animals start behaving in a wacky way. There have been studies done with laboratory animals showing their feeding is abnormal. Sometimes they stop eating and sometimes they eat excessively. How far we can draw that parallel, I don’t know.”
The study was part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund Programme and European Social Fund Convergence Programme for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Dr Frampton was one of the coordinators of the research, which was carried out by Marie-Claire Reville and Shanker Venkatasubramanian, of the European Centre for Environment and Human Health at Exeter University.
Thirty years after scientists coined the term “hygiene hypothesis” to suggest that increased exposure to microorganisms could benefit health, University of Colorado Boulder researchers have identified an anti-inflammatory fat in a soil-dwelling bacterium that may be responsible.
The discovery, published Monday in the journal Psychopharmacology, may at least partly explain how the bacterium, Mycobacterium vaccae, quells stress-related disorders. It also brings the researchers one step closer to developing a microbe-based “stress vaccine.”
“We think there is a special sauce driving the protective effects in this bacterium, and this fat is one of the main ingredients in that special sauce,” said senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry.
British scientist David Strachan first proposed the controversial “hygiene hypothesis” in 1989, suggesting that in our modern, sterile world, lack of exposure to microorganisms in childhood was leading to impaired immune systems and higher rates of allergies and asthma.
Researchers have since refined that theory, suggesting that it is not lack of exposure to disease-causing germs at play, but rather to “old friends” – beneficial microbes in soil and the environment – and that mental health is also impacted.
“The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation,” said Lowry, who prefers the phrases ‘old friends hypothesis’ or ‘farm effect.’ “That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders.”
Lowry has published numerous studies demonstrating a link between exposure to healthy bacteria and mental health.
One showed that children raised in a rural environment, surrounded by animals and bacteria-laden dust, grow up to have more stress-resilient immune systems and may be at lower risk of mental illness than pet-free city dwellers.
Others have shown that when a particular bacterium, Mycobacterium vaccae, is injected into rodents, it alters the animals’ behavior in a way similar to that of antidepressants and has long-lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain. Studies suggest exaggerated inflammation boosts risk of trauma- and stressor-related disorders, such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
One recent Lowry-authored study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2017, showed that injections of M. vaccae prior to a stressful event could prevent a “PTSD-like” syndrome in mice, fending off stress-induced colitis and making the animals act less anxious when stressed again later.
“We knew it worked, but we didn’t know why,” said Lowry. “This new paper helps clarify that.”
For the new study, Lowry and his team identified, isolated and chemically synthesized a novel lipid, or fatty acid, called 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid found in Mycobacterium vaccae and used next-generation sequencing techniques to study how it interacted with macrophages, or immune cells, when the cells were stimulated.
They discovered that inside cells, the lipid acted like a key in a lock, binding to a specific receptor, peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR), and inhibiting a host of key pathways which drive inflammation. They also found that when cells were pre-treated with the lipid they were more resistant to inflammation when stimulated.
“It seems that these bacteria we co-evolved with have a trick up their sleeve,” said Lowry. “When they get taken up by immune cells, they release these lipids that bind to this receptor and shut off the inflammatory cascade.”
Lowry has long envisioned developing a “stress vaccine” from M. vaccae, which could be given to first responders, soldiers and others in high-stress jobs to help them fend off the psychological damage of stress.
“This is a huge step forward for us because it identifies an active component of the bacteria and the receptor for this active component in the host,” he said.
Simply knowing the mechanism of action by which M. vaccae reaps benefits could boost confidence in it as a potential therapeutic. And if further studies show the novel fat alone has therapeutic effects, that molecule could become a target for drug development, he said.
Researchers have since refined that theory, suggesting that it is not lack of exposure to disease-causing germs at play, but rather to “old friends” – beneficial microbes in soil and the environment – and that mental health is also impacted. The image is adapted from the University of Colorado at Boulder news release.
Overall, the study offers further proof that our “old friends” have a lot to offer.
“This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils,” Lowry said. “We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us.”
This article was first published in Neuroscience News here
By Georgina Kenyon
More than 60 years ago, when he was a child, farmer Peter Andrews saw his first dust storm. He still remembers it. “The noise was horrendous,” he says. “We hid in the house waiting for it to pass. The whole sky was dark. And the damage we saw the next day was even more terrible.”
The wind had ripped many of the trees on his family’s property completely bare. Some of their horses and cattle asphyxiated, unable to breath in the dust.
That early experience has led him to a particular calling: trying to regenerate Australia’s land, since dust storms occur in hot, arid regions where there is little vegetation to anchor the soil.
“It really led me… to thinking about how to find solutions for keeping the land in balance,” Andrews says. “Over many decades I learned from observation how to keep the land fertile, how every landscape has its own natural system. Here in Australia, we have ravaged the landscape with European-style agriculture. We need to find a way to regenerate the land.”
In the 1970s and 1980s, Andrews became interested in sustainable agriculture. He looked at the waterways and the plants that were growing on his property and tried to avoid fertiliser and weed killer. He wanted to make the farm as resilient to the weather as possible.
One major issue was drought. Another was that weeds were growing on the property, while native plants weren’t.
He had two major realisations. First, plants are fundamental to keeping the land in balance. Second, so is water.
Every landscape, he saw, has its own contours – a point where water originates from, and a point to which it flows. To regenerate an eroding landscape, you start at the highest point, slow down the water flow, then work downwards, filtering the water with whatever vegetation there is, he explains. This was the genesis of his idea of natural sequence farming.
Weeds for water
Climate change and land clearing have driven soaring temperatures and extreme weather events in Australia
Research from Australia’s Nature Conservation Council (NCC) also warns about deforestation in Australia, especially in New South Wales “on a scale we have not seen for more than 20 years", says NCC chief executive Kate Smolski.
The NNC report explains bulldozing forests means there are fewer trees to “make rain, cool the weather and store carbon”.
It is because of these intense, and worsening weather, conditions and deforestation that Andrews calls Australia “the laboratory for the world when it comes to adapting to the weather”.
Natural sequence farming has four main elements. First, restore fertility to improve the soil; second, increase groundwater; third, re-establish vegetation, including with weeds if necessary; fourth, understand the unique needs of a particular landscape.
Some critics question if better land management and avoiding destructive farming methods (such as cutting down trees) would make the need for natural sequence farming necessary in the first place. Others disagree with his suggestion to use weeds: conservation projects usually promote planting endemic Australian plants, rather than allowing invasive weeds to grow, as they are thought to compete with native plants for scarce water.
But a pilot site of natural sequence farming, located an hour’s drive east of Canberra, seems to be proving that Andrews’ ideas about weeds can work – if only on a small scale so far. The pilot site is a 6km stretch of Mulloon Creek, which runs through a network of organic farms now using and promoting Andrews’ work.
The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Solutions Network announced in 2016 that the Mulloon Creek Natural Farms are one of the few farming sites in the world that are truly sustainable
At Mulloon Creek, I meet Gary Nairn, chairman of the Mulloon Institute, a research and teaching organisation for regenerative, sustainable farming that promotes Andrews’ work. He points to the invasive blackberries that his team cut down; the cut down and chopped up shrubs now are clogging up part of a pond, helping to filter it. The sound of running water and small birds fills the air as I get closer.
The Mulloon Institute, which is based in a barn next to a pond that has been named after Andrews, teaches natural sequence farming methods to farmers, scientists and university students. The Mulloon Institute is also working with several Australian universities to monitor the water along the creek, done with piezometers (water measuring equipment) installed by scientists from Australia National University and the University of Canberra.
“The scientists have shown that natural sequence farming does increase water flow, raising the water table,” explains Nairn.
His team is now working on a further 43km of creek running through 20,000ha of farmland to construct more weedy, leaky weirs, like a dam wall, across the creek. The weirs are made from stones; the cracks between the stones are filled with chopped-up blackberry weeds to filter and slow down the river’s flow.
Despite so little rain, the creek now is running again and pastures that once were arid soil, eroded from the drought, are turning green. This is because the weirs are working, letting the soil absorb more moisture enabling plants to grow along the banks.
“The weeds and weirs take the energy out of the water, rehydrating the landscape,” Nairn says.
The whole process is a bit like creating “giant sponges with weeds”, he says.
What we have learned is never to pull out a weed until you know what purpose that weed was fulfilling – Gary Nairn
“What we have learned is never to pull out a weed until you know what purpose that weed was fulfilling. A lot of weeds usually means there is something wrong with the fertility of the land. If you pull it out, you need to replace it with another plant,” he says.
But those weeds can be chopped up and put into a creek such as at the pond outside the Mulloon Institute.
According to Nairn, in this way, native Australian plants will slowly grow back. Indeed, some are already doing so along the creek.
The beauty of weeds is that they also act like a carbon sink: a system that takes carbon out of the atmosphere and puts it into another form of storage. These can help to control climate change.
“Forests, oceans and soils can all remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it,” says Christa Anderson, a climate researcher from the World Wide Fund for Nature in the US.
Anderson explains that the amount of carbon dioxide a given ecosystem can absorb depends on where it is and how it is managed.
There are a large number of farming practices that can also increase carbon storage – Christa Anderson
“While forests have the largest potential for additional carbon storage and therefore can help mitigate the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses, there are also a large number of farming practices that can also increase carbon storage,” Anderson says.
“We need to remove carbon from the atmosphere by improving forest management, protecting and restoring wetlands, peatlands and seagrass, and improving our farming.”
Some scientists are now wondering if even small projects like the one at Mulloon Creek could work as a carbon sink to restore habitats, if enough famers also make “giant weed sponges”.
"When you hold water in the landscape, you put carbon back in the landscape, too, and make it more productive and sustainable," Nairn adds.
This is important because so much forest is being cleared for massive scale agriculture that carbon sinks are being lost. Swathes of northern New South Wales and Queensland have been made arid from land clearing for massive farms. But, gigatonne for gigatonne, soils and plants hold twice as much carbon as the atmosphere – so more plants, not fewer, are needed to absorb our increasing production of carbon from burning fossil fuels.
The question is whether smaller projects like this will be enough to bring farms back to life, given the huge rates of deforestation and soil degradation.
Nairn believes there’s reason for optimism. “You just need the will to do it,” he says. “What we are proud of is that we are giving young people hope with natural sequence farming – hope that you can still live on the land if you manage water and plants better.”
Peter Andrews agrees, though he adds that he always disliked the term natural sequence farming.
“The name annoys me. It’s just really observing the landscape and returning it to what it used to be, to the best of your ability. Every plant has a purpose.”
While world leaders debate if, when and how carbon emissions should be cut, one sustainable farm at Mulloon Creek in Australia is proving low-tech weeds can help to sink carbon and make a river run again. It’s a small but significant solution to a serious global problem.
Increasing temperatures, changing monsoon and more frequent extreme climate events are posing a threat to food security in India. A new study has found that while almost all grain crops are sensitive to these changes, adding more coarse grains or millets in crop production mix may help make food supply withstand vagaries of climate change.
In the past 45 years, the overall monsoon rainfall has decreased, there is greater variability in daily rainfall, temperatures have risen, extreme events have gone up and so has frequency of droughts. The study quantified the impact of all these changes on crop yields all over the country during this period (1966 – 2011).
The analysis revealed that compared to rice, alternative grains (finger millet, maize, pearl millet and sorghum) are significantly less sensitive to climate variability and generally experienced smaller decline in yields under climate extremes. All these are mostly rain dependent crops and grown during the kharif season. Wheat, grown in the rabi season, was not included in the analysis.
In general, the yields of alternative grains are lower than rice, but in certain districts, coarse grains performed better than rice under rainfed conditions. For example, pearl millet and sorghum in central India and maize in many parts of the country. This means there is already an opportunity to increase climate resilience and grain production both by increasing crop area for these grains.
Since rice yields, compared to all the coarse grains, are more sensitive to fluctuations in rainfall in both irrigated and rainfed areas, replacing it with coarse grains will help stabilize grain production across a range of climatic conditions, the study has said. This, along with other strategies like building buffer stock to absorb climate shock, developing drought-tolerant varieties and boosting irrigation could help meet the climate challenge.
At present, rice accounts for 44 percent of annual grain production and 73 percent of grain production during the kharif season. The rest 27 percent of grain production during kharif comes from maize (15%), pearl millet (8%), sorghum (2.5%) and finger millet (1.5%). The study examined how far these coarse grains and rice are climate resilient.
District-level crop production and climate data was taken from various sources and database such as the ICRISAT Village Dynamics South Asia and the India Meteorological Department. Climate sensitivity of the five crops for each district was then determined through modelling. The study findings have been published in journal Environmental Research Letters.
“This study shows that yields from grains like millet, sorghum and maize are more resilient to extreme events like droughts. Their yields vary significantly less due to year-to-year changes in climate and generally experience smaller declines during droughts. But yields from rice, India’s main crop, experience larger declines during extreme weather conditions. This means reliance on a single crop – rice – during kharif makes India’s food supply potentially vulnerable to the effects of varying climate,” explained Kyle Frankel Davis of Columbia University, who led the study, while speaking to India Science Wire.
However, replacing rice with millets is not going to be an easy affair. “Agriculture is intimately linked with socio-economic factors and market forces, all of which affect crop choice. If poorer and subsistence farmers are choosing alternative crops more than rice farmers, then how can mixing crops to increase stability at a national level affect crop choices? A better option would be to incentivise poor farmers to increase their crop diversity to reduce the sensitivity of rice to rainfall variability,” commented Raghu Murtugudde, visiting professor of earth system science at IIT Bombay. He is not connected with the study.
Health and nutrition benefits of millets could be an additional advantage, according to researchers. Davis said “our study provides evidence that these crops can offer benefits to the food system beyond nutrition. In addition, increasing production of alternative grains helps save water, reduces energy demand and greenhouse emissions from agriculture. This study shows that diversifying crops that a country grows can be an effective way to adapt its food production systems to the growing influence of climate change.”
The research team included Kyle Frankel Davis (Data Science Institute, Columbia University); Ashwini Chhatre (Indian School of Business, Hyderabad); Narasimha D Rao (Yale University); Deepti Singh (Washington State University, Vancouver); and Ruth DeFries (Columbia University).
Abstract: This conceptual article presents the Head, Heart and Hands Model for Transformational Learning. The model was conceptualized from a synthesis of diverse literature, such as sustainable education, transformative learning theories, placed-based learning, indigenous learning approaches, experiential learning, eco-literacy, curriculum theory and conceptual change in science classes. Transformative processes are necessary to change the prevalent anthropocentric eco-paradigm of western culture toward more sustainable values and behaviors. Head, hand and heart is a holistic approach to developing ecoliteracy introduced by Orr (1992) and expanded by Sipos, Battisti and Grimm (2008). The model shows the holistic nature of transformative experience and relates the cognitive domain (head) to critical reflection, the affective domain (heart) to relational knowing and the psychomotor domain (hands) to engagement. Pugh’s (2002) pragmatic construct of transformational learning experience offers an analytic tool for measuring transformational experiences through expanded perception (cognitive), expanded value (affective) and active use of learned concepts (psycho-motor). This model not only represents the multi-dimensional nature of transformative processes, it also includes the importance of learning context. The context of place provides a framework of authentic experience for deeper reflection, sense of belonging and body/sensory stimulation that acts as a catalyst for deep engagement required for transformation. Literature in the domain areas are discussed as well as the importance of nature connection and love of place to sustainability values and pro-environmental behaviors.
Transforming Eco-Paradigms for Sustainable Values
Ecological sustainability, as defined by the Brundtland Commission, means to meet the resource needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The lack of sustainability values and the anthropogenic environmental paradigm of western culture are evidenced by the large ecological footprint of developed nations; therefore, education for sustainability is necessarily transformative. The goal of education for sustainability is to transform the environmental perspectives of the learners from viewing the environment as a commodity to a community, from consumer to conserver, from short-term reactor to long-term evaluator. Changing and expanding worldviews of learners is the goal of transformative learning (Mezirow, 1978; O’Sullivan, 2008; Taylor, 2007). Another perspective based on the work of Freire (2007/1970) emphasizes societal transformation. This social-emancipatory view of transformative learning fosters conscientization among participants through critical reflection for the purpose of creating a more equitable world (Freire, 1970). O’Sullivan presents a planetary view which defines transformative learning as a profound shift in awareness that alters one’s way of being in the world and one’s view of the interconnectedness of self, the human community and the natural environment (O’Sullivan, Morrel, & O’Connor, 2002; O’Sullivan, 2008). The theory of transformative learning has evolved over time, initially focusing on the individual but expanding to community and then a planetary view. From these perspectives, transformation goes beyond epistemological processes of a change of worldview to an ontological process of a change in being in the world (Lange, 2004).
Another, ancient tradition of transformative learning comes from an indigenous perspective. Indigenous education revolves around a transformational process of learning how to establish and maintain relationships between self, place and community or tribe (Cajete, 1994). Indigenous education is a life-long process of trial and tribulation that teaches an individual how to be in the world through reflection of personal or shared experience and participation in a greater community of life (Cajete, 1999). Indigenous epistemologies are grounded in the meaningful context of inter-relationships and nature experience. These ways of thinking are considered transformative because they reinforce the shaping factors of transformative learning which are critical reflection, emotional engagement and relational knowing (Taylor, 2007).
The indigenous perspective of transformative learning aligns with O’Sullivan’s (2008) planetary view of transformative learning and provides an important perspective of education for ecological sustainability (Cajete, 1999). The notion of reclaiming ancient wisdom traditions for ecological sustainability is prevalent in the literature. This approach to education also parallels the essence of place-based education which strives to reform and transform current stifling, heartless educational institutions to include the spirit of community, a re-imagined relationship to nature and a commitment to the responsibilities that grow from that relationship (Gilliam & Lane-Zucker, 1996). Critical transformative learning goes beyond the personal toward community action, even societal transformation. Approaching sustainability education through transformative experience could have pragmatic impact on the learner, the community and the environment.
Love of place and a sense of connection or belonging are foundational toward development of sustainability values. Critical ecological educators have claimed that love of place is the key to fostering sustainable behaviors (Meyers & Frantz, 2004). Leopold discusses love and respect when he describes his land ethic and land as a community to which we belong (Leopold, 1949). People care about and tend to who or what they love. Affect or emotions determine what we pay attention to, what we value, and how we make judgments and decisions. Emotions are the reasons for action and change because emotions are the context for interpreting and responding to experience. Research shows that active environmentalists attribute their commitment to the environment to love of a special place in nature as a child or adolescent, and sharing nature experiences with a beloved adult mentor (Carson, 1965; Chawla, 2006). This love of nature may need to be triggered by experience or will otherwise remain dormant. To inspire children to consider environmental behaviors and develop into adults that make ecologically sustainable decisions, it is important to provide opportunities for children to have prolonged experience in natural settings and to bond with a place rather than gloom and doom curricula about faraway places (Athman & Stanek, 2006: Semken & Freeman, 2008; Sobel, 1996). Love of nature or a special place could be critical in fueling the passion that motivates transformation of ecological paradigms.
Transformative Learning and Children
Transformative Learning Theory has been applied as an adult learning theory because it was assumed that children lack the experience, cognitive ability and critical reflection needed for transformative experience (Merriam, 2004; Taylor, 2007). However, research into how people learn has shown that children are quite capable of reflection and self-regulation of their learning; research has revealed a competence and metacognitive knowledge in young children (National Research Council, 2000). Because educators have commonly underestimated young children’s capacity for metacognition these abilities lay dormant and untapped in traditional classrooms (National Research Council, 2007). Metacognition, or thinking about thinking, involves self awareness of one’s abilities or limitations and self regulation of learning. Metacognition is essentially introspective and critically reflective. Dewey (1938/1997) claimed that reflection helps learners extract meaning through intellectual organization. With enriching experiences and opportunities to reflect, this ability can be nurtured to add meaning to school activity and sow the seeds for transformative experiences for young people.
It is believed that transformative learning requires independent, active learners while children are considered to be dependent, passive learners. Unfortunately, passive learning is fostered by the current educational system that does not utilize natural learning processes. The natural curiosity and active role of children as learners has been emphasized in various learning theories by Piaget, Vygotsky, Bruner and Dewey (National Research Council, 2000). In Taking Science to School (NRC, 2007) young learners are described as active exploratory learners and research is provided that supports that children’s thinking is surprisingly refined. Students who take responsibility and an active role in their learning are called self-regulatory learners and often possess an internal locus of control. Research in self-regulatory processes and internal locus of control has shown that these processes are teachable and can lead to increases in student motivation and achievement (Zimmerman, 2002; 2008). When people affect changes in their immediate environment, they affect changes within themselves; this can lead to greater self-efficacy and more responsible behavior in other areas as well (Rathzel & Uzzell, 2009).
Learning for children is not solely developmental in nature. There are transformational qualities involved in the maturation process that can be fostered and enhanced to make successful life transitions. Adult education is most often voluntary and tends to be authentic, more problem or project-based which gives the learning meaning and purpose. Children also need a spark of authenticity; for this engagement will lead to greater depth and meaning. The same factors that motivate adult learner engagement also motivate younger learners. Meaningful education focuses on transforming individuals regardless of age (Bracey, 2007). So it appears that transformational learning is a human process, not just an adult learning process. Looking toward the future of building just and sustainable societies, we need to include the next generation.
The Head, Heart and Hand Model
The construct of transformative experience that will be foundational to the model being presented is based on Dewey’s pragmatic aesthetics and application of learning to the everyday life and experience of the learner (Parrish, 2010, Puge & Girod, 2007, Wong, 2007). Learning has the potential to enrich and vitalize school experiences and provide aesthetic satisfaction that could lead to transformation of everyday experience (Puge & Girod, 2007). In Art as Experience, Dewey (1934) writes about the enriching possibility of an experience that can change a person’s relationship with the world, a new way of seeing, a new way of being in the world that is transformative.
Kevin Puge and his colleagues have published a series of inquiries on transformative experience in high school science students (Puge, 2002; Puge & Bergin, 2005; Puge & Girod, 2007; Puge, Linnenbrink-Garcia, Koskey, Stewart, & Manzey, 2010). Puge’s (2002) operational definition of transformative experience includes an expansion of perception, experiential value or interest and motivated use which is an active use of concepts learned during school in students’ personal lives. The idea of application of things learned in school to life outside of school relates to Puge’s definition of transformational learning (Puge & Girod, 2007). This construct of transformative experience is based on Dewey’s pragmatic aesthetics and application of learning to the everyday life and experience of the learner (Puge & Girod, 2007). Puge and Girod (2007) propose that science has the same potential as art to enrich and vitalize everyday experience and provide aesthetic satisfaction that could lead to transformation of our everyday experience. Unfortunately Puge’s work did not find large numbers of students having transformational learning experience in traditional science classrooms. A more engaging context such as a natural setting might be more effective in generating transformational experiences.
Sipos et al. (2008) explicitly link sustainability education with transformative learning through the organizing principle of head, hands and heart. The roots of this organizing principle can be found in Orr’s (1992) description of how to approach education for sustainability. He claims that such an approach not only integrates disciplines, but also intellect, emotion and body. Orr (1992) claims education should go beyond content or formal knowledge to include application and disposition of how to create meaning and value. In the Sipos et al. (2008) framework, head refers to engaging the cognitive domain through academic study, inquiry and understanding of ecological and sustainability concepts. Hands refer to the enactment of the psychomotor domain for learning practical skill development and physical work such as building, planting, painting etc. Heart refers to enablement of the affective domain in forming values and attitudes that are translated into behaviors (Sipos et al., 2008). Figure one shows the HHH model.
The Head, Heart and Hands Model for Transformative Learning
The blending of transformative learning and education for sustainability is a natural partnership because sustainability and transformative learning requires a change in perception, a change in values and active engagement. The model reflects that transformation is a multi-dimensional process and that changing sustainability values and environmental paradigms require more than a logical argument or an emotional appeal. Experience and reflection along with awareness and caring are needed to initiate a true transformational event. Reflecting can change perceptions and relation with a place changes one’s values about nature. Active engagement requires application of eco-friendly behaviors. Place offers a stimulating, authentic context for meaningful educational experiences that hold potential for personal growth for learners beyond academics.
Context of Place and Connectedness to Nature
Places are invested with meaning and shape our consciousness, social identities, attitudes and behavior (Hutchison, 2004). Place provides a context, an internal and external landscape, that frames, organizes and anchors experience which is needed to extract meaning and construct knowledge. Love of place inspires caring for place and connection to nature is associated with proactive environmental behaviors (Chawla, 2006; Meyer & Frantz, 2004). Education for sustainability, indigenous education and the planetary perspective of transformative education are related by a fundamental view of an intimate knowing of and belonging to place. Unfortunately, the majority of individuals in our society are urban dwellers who are alienated from the natural world, and therefore, have little direct connection to nature (Children and Nature Network, 2008; Louve, 2005; Orr, 1992; Pergams & Zaradic, 2008).
In addition to serving as an authentic context for transformative experiences that offers personally meaningful learning, there are many benefits to spending time in nature (Louv, 2005; Sobel, 1996). There is a large amount of evidence from studies in the area of biophilia supporting the notion that humans have a natural affinity to engage with nature and living organisms (Kahn, 1999; Kellert, 1997; 2002; Shepard, 1998). Literally, the term biophilia means love of life or living process. Nature experiences have been associated with cognitive, emotional, social and psycho-motor development as well as mental and physical health (Burdette & Whitaker, 2005; Frumkin, 2001; Kellert, 2002; Louv, 2005). Natural environments are an authentic context that many people find engaging and aesthetically inspiring (Braund & Reiss, 2006; Kellert, 1997; 2002). Learning in authentic or natural settings is a multi-sensory immersion, an immediate experience, that is compelling and often a novel experience. Natural environments not only draw students into deep and sustained engagement, nature also offers an enriching complex experience that benefits the well-being of people and even the well-being of the environment.
Through deep engagement, reflection and relational understandings, students find personal meaning and relevance in learning locally that adds purpose to their education. These value-laden educational experiences can be transformative by bringing a new perspective of relationship and responsibility to self and community with an improved attitude toward the personal growth that can result from learning (Tooth & Renshaw, 2009). Relationship with place inspires pro-environmental behaviors and sustainability values. If education began with efforts to learn about processes and places close to home, it could lead to a different understanding of ecological stewardship and sustainable community. Weaving curriculum into the community allows students to fully participate in their own world with head, heart and hands which is stimulating and engaging. Bringing the place into the curriculum puts real world learning into our schools and students’ lives and builds healthy connections among community members, young people and the environment. A key element of ecological awareness is an intimate relationship and sacred orientation to a place (Cajete, 1993). Connection and caring for natural places may be essential in developing sustainability values that underlie peoples’ environmental perspectives and behaviors (Kals, Schumacher, & Montada, 1999). Place also provides an experiential background for shared experience and reflection.
The function of reflection is to create meaning from experience by drawing connections and relations to previous experience, knowledge and ideas (Dewey, 1910; 1944, Kolb, 1984; Roberts, 2002). It is this connection to previous experience and knowledge that gives continuity and allows students to see the significance of their educational experience (Dewey, 1910; 1938). Research on how the brain learns has shown that comparing new experience to prior experience is the brain’s natural way of extracting meaning and integrating new knowledge with prior knowledge (Jensen, 2008; Ross & Olsen, 1993). Learning is not significant until it has undergone this critical process that allows the learner to incorporate the new learning into his or her behavioral repertoire (Wilson & Burket, 1989). Although both Dewey (1910) and Kolb (1984) argue that experience is the basis for learning, they also both claim that learning cannot take place without reflection (ERIC, 1992). Reflection is also an essential element of transformational experiences (Mezirow, 1978; Taylor, 2007). Critical reflection can lead to self-awareness which is necessary for change because without reflection one cannot: identify, question and reframe underlying values and beliefs; acknowledge and challenge assumptions; recognize bias and identify fears; understand strengths and weaknesses (ERIC, 1992). This inward contemplation is a part of identity formation and underlies the values and beliefs that support the views individuals hold and the behaviors they express (Cornu, 2009).
Reflection is often cited as an essential element of metacognitive and student-centered, constructivist learning practices, but is often the most neglected element when implementing these practices (Baviskar, Hartle & Whitney, 2009). There are many barriers to reflection in most classroom settings. Providing time necessary for reflection is difficult because most state curricula are a mile wide and an inch deep, which leaves little space for deep, meaningful learning (AAAS, 1990). Some practitioners may not see the value of reflection if they themselves are not reflective and some may assume that students are reflecting on their own. In addition, most teachers are not trained to prepare or guide students for reflective practices. Experiential programs in outdoor education, adventure education, restoration education and place-based education programs consider group and individual reflection of participants an essential component of the experiential learning cycle.
Reflection often occurs through interaction with others; learners process experience with place through expression to others with shared experience (Dewey, 1944; Roberts, 2002). The places we encounter and the people we share experience and thoughts with are mirrors and sounding boards for our own reflection. Re-evaluating our beliefs and values stems from critical reflections which are constructed by our place in the world and the relationships we build with others.
Relational Knowing: Heart
The Lakota people have a saying often used in ceremony, mitakuye oyasin, which means to all my relations and recognizes all living organisms as relatives. In this worldview, people are connected to all aspects of the natural world and related to all living creatures. Most native people’s worldview holds the core perception that we are connected to all life which builds a strong sense of relationship with place and all who live there (Spretnak, 1991). All people are part of social and biological systems whose lives are framed by relationships and interactions within these systems (Riley-Taylor, 2002). Our survival and quality of life are dependent upon relations with healthy environments, communities and personal bonds. The gateway to perception is a relation, an interconnection, between our senses and the world beyond (Blenkinsop, 2005).
Relational knowing can be defined as awareness of the relationships shared with community and the natural world, which seeks to overcome the dualistic separation underlying Western culture (Riley-Taylor, 2004). Alternative ways of knowing are often overlooked within Western societies which value reductionist, rational ways of knowing. From an indigenous perspective, Cajete (1999) recognizes four categories of ways of knowing: thinking, feeling, intuition and sensation. Gardner’s (1999) intelligences are examples of other ways of knowing. There are many ways to be smart yet there is a rank value attributed to them. The rational forms of intelligence, logical and linguistic, are valued over other ways of knowing such as emotional intelligence or intuition. Dualistic conceptions of existence that separate mind and body can be traced to Aristotle and more recently, Descartes, and have profoundly affected Western thought (Gutek, 2009). This dualistic separation of the human mind and the sensory world allows people to rationalize the objectification and alienation of what is perceived as not rational. This includes the sensory world of nature, women, and indigenous people (Martusewicz, 2005). In other words, the same frame of cultural values that allow for destruction and domination of the land and wildlife allow for the devaluing of women and people from different cultures, especially cultures that are considered to be primitive, uncivilized, less sophisticated or less rational by Western measures (Nabhan & Trimble, 1994). It is easier exploit a commodity than a community and to exclude the other from ethical codes attributed and granted exclusively to civilized people. This dualistic way or thinking sets humans against the larger community of life and relational knowing (Riley-Taylor, 2003).
Relationship has a powerful affect on people’s emotions, thoughts and behaviors because human beings have a fundamental need to belong (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). It is community relationships that transform pointless lives into directed, meaningful experiences (Shapiro, 2006). In Losing Heart: The Moral and Spiritual Miseducation of America’s Children, Shapiro (2006) claims that community provides: the means through which we receive recognition and affirmation of our value; nurturing, caring and compassion; connection to purpose and meaningful lives. Through service and common goals, individuals bind together and receive relational support (Blenkinsop, 2005).
Because self-awareness and identity formation occurs through continuing relationship, knowledge of self becomes distinguished as we embrace diversity, yet social and economic privilege often leads to exclusionary practices (Blenkinsop, 2005; Martusewicz, 2005). Globalization has contributed to creation of a monoculture. In the same way that human activity alters biologically diverse land communities into monocultures, lack of deep community ties atomizes people into social monocultures. There is little connection to the life systems that sustain us. People have important relations with stuff and attach identity to the value of material accumulations rather than the quality of relationships with other people and with place.
Love is associated with the affective domain. A significant emotional event is often the impetus to change, to transform. Connection of emotion to self-knowledge is an empowering resource for willingness and acceptance of the need for critical reflection and changing behaviors (Zembylas, 2003). Critical reflection, essential for transformative learning experiences, is a cognitive process, but what motivates a person to look within? One needs to be emotionally invested to engage in self-examination and transformation. Love of place fuels this emotional investment.
Deep Engagement: Hands
From Puge’s (2002) construct of transformative learning experience, active use of concepts learned refers to a learner incorporating educational experiences into their everyday life. From a sustainability education point of view, this would result in an outcome of sustainability practices as a part of daily life. Being physically present in a place, building relationship with that place, critically reflecting on the values one puts on a place can transform perspectives, change behaviors and increase engagement in sustainable community practices. Holistic involvement, body, mind, heart and place is deeply moving and deeply engaging.
To be engaged is to actively participate, to be involved and invested. Engaged learners exhibit characteristics of being attracted to their task, persistence in their task despite obstacles or challenges and take visible joy in accomplishing their task (Schlechty, 1994). As a meta-construct, engagement is conceived as an interaction between context and individual need for autonomy, relatedness, complexity and challenge balanced by competence (Fredricks, Blumenfeld, & Paris, 2004). Educational research on engagement is framed in terms of categories, measures, precursors and outcomes in a 2004 meta-analysis by Fredricks, Blumenfeld and Paris. Research tends to be divided into three areas: behavioral, cognitive and affective. The area of behavior includes conduct, on-task behaviors, participation in extracurricular activities and attendance. Diminishing engagement is included in this area and often examines dropping out. Generally, behavior approaches focus on external efforts of students. Investigations in the cognitive area focuses on motivation self-regulated learning, self-efficacy, meta-cognition and intellectual endeavors. These investigations examine internal efforts and personal qualities of students. In the area of affect, investigators look at attitudes, interests, belonging and relationships. (Fredricks, et al., 2004).
Strong, Silver and Robinson (1995) identified four goals and related needs that motivate engagement which are: success and need for mastery; curiosity and need for understanding; originality and need for self expression; relationship and need for involvement with others. Success affects a learner’s academic self-efficacy, a learners beliefs in their abilities, which influences their cognitive engagement with a learning task (National Research Council, 2007). Curiosity in a topic is related to the value and relevance of that topic personally to the learner (Strong et al., 1995). Originality and self expression are associated with autonomy and choice. People have an inner drive toward interpersonal involvement so relationships and belonging are motivating to individuals (Strong et al., 1995).
Other factors that affect engagement are related to complex, enriching learning environments. Influences outside the realm of school such as family, culture and community affect engagement. But educational context, along with teacher and peer support, also have a great influence on engagement. Ross and Olsen (1993) define an enriching environment as a stimulating setting which is alive with resources and reflective of real life. In terms of educational context, a strong and unique predictor of engagement is challenging tasks in authentic environments (Fredrick et al. 2004). In How People Learn, Bransford (2000) states that learners are more motivated and engaged when they can use what they have learned to do something that has an impact on others-especially their local community. So, we come full circle back to the notion of place as meaningful context for engagement. The simplified illustration of the head, hand and heart model does not show the myriad of relationships that place has with how an individual thinks, feels and engages with the world.
Weaving it All Together
Ecology is a multi-disciplinary study that includes all branches of science: biology, geology, chemistry, meteorology, hydrology, forestry, agriculture, soil science, etc. The interaction of people with ecology adds subjects such as psychology, anthropology, philosophy, economics, politics, etc. Blending it all together is a daunting task especially in the environment of specialization that permeates academia. A holistic framework from the personal perspective of head, heart and hands is a starting point to model changes in the approach to ecological sustainability and educational reform that offers meaning and purpose to the learner. Sustainability requires localizing by learning about the places in which we live. Because we are so far removed from life-sustaining systems, we give them little thought. If people were, not just aware, but experienced in their local bioregion, they could directly learn how ecosystems support life (Pyle, 2008). Caring attitudes expand values and the willingness to make lifestyle changes that contribute to sustainable communities. Love of place underlies the motivation to change behaviors. Local environments can serve as a resource or laboratory to investigate water issues, food production, energy, nutrient cycles, and waste flows, which will lead to eco-literate citizens who reflect upon their impact on their environment and value the reduction of their ecological footprint (Orr, 1992; Theobald, 2000).
The Head, Heart and Hands model of Transformative Learning could be an organizing principle to integrate and transform pedagogical perspectives for sustainability education (Sipos, et al., 2008). This holistic synthesis could serve as a framework for evaluation of innovative environmental education programs, evaluation of program influence on students’ green behaviors and changes in environmental worldviews and values. The essential elements of transformation– deep engagement, relational knowing and reflection can have a greater impact within an authentic context for meaning-making. Pugh’s (2002) construct offers an analytic tool for measuring transformational experiences through expanded perception, expanded value and proactive use of environmental concepts. Being able, to some extent, to quantify a qualitative experience is invaluable to researchers. Puge’s (2002) construct synthesizes nicely with head, heart and hands concept that Sipos et al. (2008) associates with sustainability education.
Relevant educational experiences are needed to reshape teaching and learning for more productive means (Sipos et al., 2008). The holistic pedagogy of engaging head, hands and heart reclaims a personal perspective which brings community into the curriculum and the real world into our schools and student’s lives. Studies have shown that students are not actively engaged in their schooling experience (Puge & Bergin, 2005), but love, purpose and authenticity can be infused into the curriculum through the context of place. Through deep engagement, reflection and relational understandings, students find personal meaning and relevance in learning locally. Bridging the gap between school, community and environment, between living and learning, allows students to develop and apply knowledge and skills in the immediate context of real life just as our ancestors did and indigenous people continue to do today. Place not only adds active engagement and a spark of inspiration to a child’s learning experience, it also encourages a pragmatic knowledge of local bioregions. Without expanded perspective of self and environment, expanded value of relational knowing, and changes in environmental behaviors, sustainability will not be obtainable. Sustainable communities will not be built through legislation or technological innovations, they will be created by committed people who are informed, who care and who take action. The framework of head, heart and hands illustrates people progressing from knowing to caring to loving to doing.
Environmental education research focuses on environmental behaviors, environmental awareness and advocacy but less on the holistic growth and development of the learner in other areas. Outdoor educators know that something intangible happens to people in natural landscapes. Because of the challenge of natural environments and authentic learning activities, individuals become more self-reliant, responsible and reflective (D’amoto & Kransy, 2005; Sheard & Golby, 2006). They change and are transformed, but this qualitative phenomenon is difficult to measure and explain. Perhaps love is the intangible piece that is challenging to researchers. Pugh’s (2002) operational definition of transformative learning experience is a new lens from which to examine outdoor environmental education experiences and place-based community projects. As our country faces rising dropout rates and low international academic ratings, the federal government is seeking innovative programs that can show positive outcomes. If something as simple as taking students outdoors and involving them in their own community can get them excited enough to personally engage themselves in sustainable behaviors, then it is worth investment.
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Chennai (formerly Madras), the capital of India's southern Tamil Nadu state, is gaining notoriety as the disaster capital of the world - floods one year, cyclone the next, and drought the year after. But it is not alone. Environmental activist Nityanand Jayaraman explains why.
As I write this, it has rained in Chennai - the first real welcome shower, but one that lasted only 30 minutes. But, still, that has been enough to flood the streets and stall traffic. The irony is that Chennai's vulnerability to floods and its water scarcity have common roots. Blinded by a hurry to grow, the city has paved over the very infrastructures that nurtured water.
Between 1980 and 2010, heavy construction in the city meant its area under buildings increased from 47 sq km to 402 sq km. Meanwhile, areas under wetlands declined from 186 to 71.5 sq km.
The city is no stranger to drought or heavy rains. The north-east monsoon, which brings most of the water to this region in October and November, is unpredictable. Some years it pours, and in other years, it just fails to show up.
Any settlement in the region ought to have been designed for both eventualities - with growth limited not by availability of land but of water. Early agrarian settlements in Chennai and its surrounding districts did exactly this.
Shallow, spacious tanks - called erys in Tamil- were carved out on the region's flat coastal plains by erecting bunds with the same earth that was scooped out to deepen them. Essentially, the infrastructure for water to stay and flow was created first; the settlements came later.
This agrarian logic valourised open spaces. Each village had vast tracts of land, including water bodies, grazing grounds and wood lots, demarcated as Poromboke or commons. Construction was outlawed in the commons. The three districts of Chennai, Thiruvallur and Kanchipuram alone had more than 6000 erys - some as old as 1,500 years.
So rather than transport water over long distances against gravity, early settlers had the technology and good sense to harvest water where it fell.
But this faded with the advent of modern technology.
As urban logic took root, built-up spaces began to be seen as more valuable than open earth. In fact, one could argue that Chennai's date with "zero water" was made in the 17th Century when it was incorporated as a city by Royal Charter. Born a colony of the British, the city rapidly became a coloniser of the countryside.
The British commandeered a small irrigation ery in a village called Puzhal, and vastly expanded its capacity to supply drinking water to the city, in response to the Madras famine of 1876. Renamed the Redhills Reservoir, this was Chennai's first centralised, big-budget drinking water project.
Reliance on a distant water source disconnected residents of the fast urbanising settlement from local water and landscapes. For the urban agenda, this was great as it freed up inner-city water bodies for real estate development.
In the 1920s for instance, the ancient 70 acre Mylapore tank was filled up to create what is now a bustling residential and commercial area called T Nagar.
The city has pursued its aspirations to become an economic hub by promoting itself as a major IT and automotive manufacturing centre. In addition to attracting new settlers to Chennai and vastly increasing the pressure on scant resources, these industries have dealt death blows to the region's water infrastructure.
Land-use planning today is a far cry from the simple principles that prevailed in medieval Tamil Nadu.
Wetlands were off-limits for construction, and only low-density buildings were permitted on lands immediately upstream of tanks. The reason: These lands have to soak up the rainwater before letting it to run to the reservoir.
It is this sub-surface water that will flow to the lake as the levels go down with use and time. Unmindful of such common sense, the IT Corridor (a road which houses a large number of IT companies in the city) was built almost entirely on Chennai's precious Pallikaranai marshlands.
And the area immediately upstream of Chembarambakkam - the city's largest drinking water tank - has now been converted into an automotive special economic zone (SEZ).
Other water bodies have been treated with similar disdain.
The Perungudi garbage dump spreads out through the middle of the Pallikaranai marshlands.
The Manali marshlands were drained in the 1960s for Tamil Nadu's largest petrochemical refinery. Electricity for the city comes from a cluster of power plants built on the Ennore Creek, a tidal wetland that has been converted into a dump for coal-ash.
The Pallavaram Big Tank, which is perhaps more than 1,000 years old, has over the last two decades been bisected by a high-speed road with the remainder serving as a garbage dump for the locality.
In Chennai, the water utility supplies are barely a fourth of the total water demand. The remainder is supplied by a powerful network of commercial water suppliers who are sucking resources in the region dry.
Along the periphery of Chennai, and far into the hinterland, the land is dotted with communities whose water and livelihoods have been forcibly taken to feed the city. The water crises in these localities desiccated by the city never make it to the news.
The world won't change unless we replace capitalism with other ways of doing business that are not premised on the exploitation of nature and people.
Our dominant economic model, with its blind faith in technology, is doomed.
Modern economy views open, un-built land as useless. It believes that value can be extracted from such lands only by digging, drilling, filling, mining, paving or building on it.
Degrading land use change is colliding with climate change in all the modern cities of the world, exposing their vulnerabilities.
Chennai's struggles with water - be it flooding or scarcity - cannot be addressed unless the city re-examines its values, and how it treats its land and water.
Further growth and more buildings are not an option - it needs to actively shrink in size instead.
By ushering in policies to promote land-friendly economies in the state's hinterland, the government can make it easier for people to migrate out of the city in a planned and feasible way.
Although difficult, this would be less painful than what would happen if they were to wait for nature to do the job.
Nityanand Jayaraman is a writer and social activist who lives in Chennai.
More than 1,000 doctors including 40 professors, several eminent public health figures and past presidents of royal colleges are calling for widespread nonviolent civil disobedience in the face of the environmental crisis.
In a letter to the Guardian, the doctors say government policies are “woefully inadequate”, and call on politicians and the media to face the facts of the unfolding ecological emergency and take action.
“As caring professionals we cannot countenance current policies which push the world’s most vulnerable towards progressive environmental catastrophe,” they write.
“We are particularly alarmed by the effects of rising temperatures on health and heed predictions of societal collapse and consequent mass migration. Such collapse risks damage to physical and mental health on an unprecedented scale.”
The doctors back the school strike movement, which was started by the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg and is calling for a general climate strike in the autumn. They also back the Extinction Rebellion protests during which thousands of people blocked key sites in London for 10 days in April.
“Governments abrogate their responsibility when pursuing grossly inadequate policies that risk environmental collapse. Nonviolent direct action then becomes the reasonable choice for responsible individuals.”
The letter was organised by Bing Jones, a retired associate specialist haematologist from Sheffield, who said it had tapped into a growing concern in the medical profession about the climate crisis.
“I am no expert in circulating or organising this sort of thing but within a few weeks we had over 1,000 doctors signed up,” he said.
“We have already lost most of our Arctic ice, most of our wild animals, and much of our productive land. Our trajectory is towards a catastrophic 3C of warming or more. To limit the inevitable damage, we must act now.”
Several doctors who signed the letter compared the environmental crisis a sick patient.
Aarti Bansal, a GP from Sheffield, said: “The planet has a fever and not unlike us, its systems are breaking down. We have a decade to prevent this fever from getting out of control and we owe it to our children and all life to act like we do in any emergency.”
Jones said the issue was like someone seeing blood when they go to the toilet but refusing to accept the doctor’s diagnosis or proposed treatment.
“The warning signs of this emergency are clear and inescapable and we have been told what the treatment is … now, in a medical situation a patient would not ignore that and neither can we ignore the environmental emergency and its dire consequences for human life,” he said.
Another of the signatories, Dr David Pencheon, from the University of Exeter, agreed the “scientific and empirical evidence of climate breakdown” was undeniable.
“All that makes life worth living is at severe risk. This is happening on our watch and will be our legacy. Historians will look back on the first three decades of the 21st century and comment, ‘They knew so much, yet they nearly did so little,’” said Pencheon, who was director of the sustainable development unit for NHS England and Public Health England.
The doctors are backing three demands similar to those outlined by Extinction Rebellion: that governments tell the truth about the scale of the crisis; that there must be “carbon neutrality within the IPCC timeframe”; and that governments “establish and are led by citizens’ assemblies to enable climate and ecological justice”.
The letter, which is signed mainly by doctors in the UK, follows a separate letter from the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, which represents all major health bodies and 650,000 healthcare professionals in the UK. Sent earlier this month, the alliance’s letter called on the government to adopt a zero emissions target by 2050.
In the US, 70 leading public health groups, including the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, have issued a statement in which they say the climate crisis is also a health emergency and call on government and businesses to take urgent action.
Jones said doctors and medical professionals around the world were waking up to the climate crisis and could become a powerful voice in demanding urgent change.
“There is a growing awareness that this environmental crisis is also a health crisis,” he said. “Doctors are scientifically literate so they understand the facts of this emergency and because they are looking after people every day they are inherently caring so they really get the likely impact.
“Politeness no longer makes sense and inaction is now negligent. Children are rising up to protect their future. We must now take direct action with them.”
Almost two-thirds of the rivers studied contained enough antibiotics to contribute to the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
EACH YEAR, HUMANS produce, prescribe, and ingest more antibiotics than they did the year before. Those drugs have done wonders for public health, saving millions from infections that might otherwise have killed them.
But the drugs' influence persists in the environment long after they've done their duty in human bodies. They leach into the outside world, where their presence can spur the development of “antibiotic resistant” strains of bacteria. In a new study that surveyed 91 rivers around the world, researchers found antibiotics in the waters of nearly two-thirds of all the sites they sampled, from the Thames to the Mekong to the Tigris.
That's a big deal, says Alistair Boxoll, the study's co-lead scientist and an environmental chemist at the University of York, in the UK. “These are biologically active molecules, and we as a society are excreting tons of them into the environment,” he says.
That leads to the potential for huge effects on the ecology of the rivers—as well as on human health.
Resistance is growing
Antibiotics prevent harmful infections, saving millions of lives each year. But the populations of the bacteria they fight against can evolve in response, morphing and changing in ways that let them evade death by the drugs designed to kill them. That means an infection by one of these “resistant” bacteria strains is harder, and sometimes impossible, to treat. The UK Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, says the problem is getting worse each year, and poses a "catastrophic threat" to doctors' ability to treat basic infections in the future.
A 2016 report found that each year around 700,000 people worldwide die of infections that are resistant to the antibiotics we have today. Scientists, medical experts, and public health officials worry that number could skyrocket as resistance to commonly used medicines increases. In 2014, a UK-commissioned study warned that by 2050, antimicrobial-resistant infections could be the leading cause of death worldwide.
And antibiotic “pollution,” in which excess antibiotics enter natural systems and influence the bacteria living there, helps speed along the development of resistant strains. It also disrupts the delicate ecological balances in rivers and streams, changing the makeup of bacterial communities.
That can affect all kinds of ecological processes, says Emma Rosi, an aquatic ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, in Millbrook, New York, because many bacteria play critical roles in river ecosystems, like helping to cycle nutrients like carbon or nitrogen.
One big problem for scientists is that no one has had a good picture of exactly where, when, and how many antibiotics are flowing into the natural world. Many countries have little or no data about antibiotic concentrations in their rivers. So Boxall and his colleagues decided to start mapping out the scope of the problem.
Fishing for antibiotics
The team—which presented their results on Monday at the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry in Helsinki—gathered a group of collaborators from around the world, each of whom sampled their nearby rivers: 72 in all, on all continents but Antarctica. The scientists would go out on a bridge or jetty and dangle a bucket into the river water, pull up a sample, carefully push some through a filter, freeze their sample and airmail it back to the UK to be analysed.
The samples were screened for 14 different types of commonly used antibiotics. No continent was immune: They found traces of at least one drug in 65 percent of all the samples they studied.
“The problem really is global,” says Boxall.
That’s not particularly surprising, says Rosi, because “anywhere people use pharmaceuticals in their everyday lives, we see the evidence downstream.”
Bodies don’t break down the drugs, so the excess comes out in urine or waste. In many developed countries, the waste—and its load of antibiotics—passes through a wastewater treatment plant, but even the state-of-the-art plants don’t clear away all of the drugs. In places with no treatment plants, the antibiotics can flow even more directly into rivers and streams.
The data matched up with those expectations. The concentrations of many of the antibiotics were highest downstream of treatment plants and river-adjacent trash dumps, and in places where sewage was routed directly into river waters.
In one river, in Bangladesh, concentrations of metronidazole, a commonly prescribed treatment for skin and mouth infections, was 300 times higher than a recently determined limit deemed “safe” for the environment. In the Danube, the second-longest river in Europe, the researchers detected seven different types of antibiotics. They found one—clarithromycin, which is used as a treatment for respiratory tract infections like bronchitis—in concentrations four times higher than “safe” levels.
“In many ways it's like the plastic pollution problem,” says Boxall. “The issue is we don't think about where our waste goes, and that it has a life beyond us.”
Even faint traces of antibiotics could have big effects on the development of resistance, says William Gaze, a microbial ecologist at the University of Exeter. Bacteria are particularly good at swapping genes around in ways that let them quickly evolve in response to a threat, like an antibiotic. That evolution can happen in the presence of even very low concentrations of the drugs, concentrations like those the research team found in rivers worldwide.
Gaze stresses that there is much more research to be done before scientists understand exactly how the evolution of antibiotic resistance works. But, he says, now is the time for communities to find solutions that will keep antibiotics from flooding into rivers, because the potential outcomes for human health are so serious.
"There's a tendency to say we should use a precautionary approach," he says. "But by the time we have all the scientific evidence, it may be too late. We may have gotten ourselves to a post-antibiotic era when people are dying after being scratched by a rose in their garden and ending up with an untreatable infection.”
A group of teens gathers quietly in the predawn darkness. Dressed in warm clothing, they meet before breakfast to help capture and pack broiler chickens to be taken to a slaughterhouse. They fed, watered, and watched the birds grow; now they prepare them for their final trip. Eventually, the birds will return as meat and be cooked for the teens to eat.
High school students at Olney Friends School, located on 350 acres near Barnesville, Ohio, witness the cycle of birth and death time and again during their four years on campus. Founded in 1837 to serve the children of Quaker families, Olney has always had a farm program and students have been involved in its operation to varying degrees.
During the past decade, Olney has integrated farm work and food production into every aspect of student life, from the barn to the kitchen to the classroom. In 2015, Olney became the nation’s first USDA-certified organic campus.
“Olney has had conservation practices to protect the environment in place for a hundred years,” says Don Guindon, farm manager. Guindon spent his childhood on the school farm, where his father served for decades in the position he now holds. He’s continued the sustainable practices—the use of crop rotation, cover crops, and contour plowing—that help maintain soil fertility and combat erosion. The farm also produces and uses about 40 tons of compost annually, utilizing manure and kitchen waste from the school as well as the autumn leaves gathered by the nearby town.
The Olney school farm has 52 beef cattle, eight goats, 150 laying chickens, and as many as 800 meat chickens. Students fatten a varying number of feeder pigs each year, produce hay for their livestock, and grow a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Constantly looking to diversify, they have recently added beekeeping to their repertoire—they currently have two active hives, and hope to have five later this year.
One week the farmers might lecture the biology class about artificial insemination. The next week the class might visit the greenhouse to help pollinate lemon trees by hand to provide a bigger harvest. An art class is working on designs to remodel a portion of the greenhouse. Farm skills are well integrated into the classroom.
The school has a diverse student body with many international students—30 percent of the student body—who speak English as a second language. Most of Olney’s approximately 50 students live on campus full time. The cafeteria serves three meals a day, seven days a week and manages to use food that derives about 40 percent from the farm or local area.
The staff is looking at ways to nudge that number up by using homesteading practices to preserve more of the harvest. Mark Hibbett, assistant farm manager, is exploring possibilities: using the farm’s cabbage to make kimchi, using strawberries to make preserves, and using eggs to make noodles. And he’s looking for ways students can be involved in each step.
Olney already adjusts the farming schedule to maximize the possibilities for student participation. Some crops are planted late so the teens, who are gone over summer break, can help with the harvest when they return to campus.
Freshman Izraa Rosa grew up in a vegan family and says his parents appreciated knowing that the food at Olney is locally sourced and pesticide-free. For Rosa, who’s from Cleveland, the biggest benefit of the farm program is that he’s nudged out of his comfort zone. “I grew up in the city, where my friends and I were careful not to get our shoes scuffed up. Now I get my hands dirty, and I love it. I’m more open-minded and open to new experiences.”
Adam Dyer, the newest member of the farm staff, says that “any time students help with morning chores, they realize how much work goes into everything. Those eggs don’t just appear on our plates at breakfast. Someone has to come down at 6 o’clock and collect them.”
Olney has always had a strong farm identity, but the school’s goal is not necessarily to graduate future farmers. Graduates go on to four-year colleges, and few if any work in agriculture later. “Our goal is well-rounded citizens who are smart consumers with social awareness. The farm is a great place to absorb lessons in the complexity of sustainable systems,” Guindon points out.
One of the most popular ways to absorb those lessons at Olney is to help tend its goats. When the babies are born, students watch the mothers clean them, then they make sure the babies are moving and active and getting milk. “When the students are there for every step of the process, they own it,” Guindon says. Six does recently gave birth to 13 kids, and a crew of 19 students trained as goat midwives took turns spending nights in the barn, watching for signs of early labor.
Antonia Sigmon is a senior who has been involved in as many farm activities as possible during the last four years, from picking potatoes to clipping goats’ hooves. During the winter of her freshman year, many of the goat kids were born, and she remembers how magical it seemed walking in the snow and the moonlight down to the barn, where she took the midnight shift to bottle-feed them.
“I’ve been excited about working with the animals ever since,” she says. “And I like being in contact with the land and everything that’s growing.”
Olney still honors its Quaker roots. Twice a week the students participate in traditional waiting worship, when the school gathers for about 20 minutes to reflect quietly as a group. Weather permitting, evening collection might be held in the orchard when the trees are in bloom, in the hay mow when the first cutting of hay is fragrant, or in the barn where the sound of the cows’ breathing is audible. And evening collection is sometimes held in the goat barn where the midwife crew brings the young goats out to play.
Congratulations to all... we have achieved 50 degree temperature this year. Let’s cut more trees to achieve 60 degrees the next year,’ a sarcastic tweet the other day came as a jolt. It was, however, hard to tell whether the quiet sarcasm was lost on a majority of the readers who are following Twitter or had made more and more people sit up and think.
Whatever had been the impact, the fact remains that while 2018 was the fourth hottest year on record in the past 140 years since the world began to keep a track on temperatures, NASA expects 2019 to be still hotter. The heat is therefore on. In India, a 22 per cent deficit has been recorded in pre-monsoon showers in the months of March, April and May — the second lowest in the past 65 years — and with monsoons delayed by a fortnight or so, daily temperatures have been sizzling. Churu in Rajasthan has already crossed 50°C thrice this season, and even Delhi burnt at an all-time high of 48°C. With nearly 43 per cent of the country engulfed in a drought, an estimated 600 million people are reeling under its fury. With temperatures soaring, water sources going dry, parched lands staring as far as one can see, ‘hundreds of villages have been evacuated as historic drought forces families to abandon their homes in search of water’, reports The Guardian. In Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district, such is the wrath of a continuing drought that over 50,000 farmers have shifted to 500 camps meant for cattle. There are 1,501 cattle camps in Maharashtra, where 72 per cent of the area is faced with a drought. Reports say village after village around the capital city of Mumbai has been deserted. More than 88 per cent of Karnataka is somehow surviving under a severe drought. With 156 of the 176 talukas declared drought hit, Karnataka has faced 12 years of drought in the past 18 years.
Karnataka’s economic survey for 2018-19 projects a growth rate of minus 4.8 per cent in agriculture. Therefore, while drought has taken a heavy toll on standing crops and also crippled the farming-led economic activity, not only in Karnataka, but also in nearly half the country, adequate attention is finally coming to the declining groundwater levels. With the conundrums of water conflicts between states, between communities within a state, and as well as individuals standing in queues increasing over the years, policy makers are now realising the importance of conservation. Already the alarm has been raised with a recent report by Niti Aayog warning that 21 cities — including the four metropolises — Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad and Delhi — will run out of groundwater by 2020. Since groundwater provides for 40 per cent of the water needs, about 600 million people may be hit. But the problem of groundwater depletion is not only confined to the cities. In fact, it is because of the unbridled exploitation of groundwater that even a short dry spell turns into a more destructive drought. At most places across the country the rate of depletion exceeds 0.5 metre a year and often touches 1 metre. Add to it the reduced availability of water from shrinking rivers; the resulting water crisis has reached worrying levels. Reports say the water availability from the mighty Narmada has declined, from 30.84 million-acre ft in 2007-18 to 14.80 million-acre ft in 2017-18. The Ministry of Water Resources estimates water levels in 91 reservoirs falling to 18 per cent of their capacity. Moreover, water from numerous dams is being diverted from agriculture to meet the needs of the urban areas, including drinking water. This has added to farmer protests, leading to rural-urban conflicts.
Over the years, the emphasis shifted from water conservation, water harvesting and groundwater recharge. Revival of traditional water bodies, which could have played a major role in drought-proofing, received lip service. Restoration of ponds and measures for recharging groundwater remained incomplete, abandoned or preceded at a slow pace. There still exist close to 2 lakh traditional water bodies, ponds and tanks across the country which need to be revived. In Punjab, where 110 of the 138 blocks are in the ‘dark zone’ (over exploited), the revival of the 15,000 ponds and traditional water bodies could not only help in recharging groundwater, but also providing irrigation. So far, only 54 such ponds have been rejuvenated. Strangely, even in Rajasthan, instead of reviving the excellent water conservation structures perfected over the ages, the emphasis is on drip irrigation. Not even a drop of rainwater was allowed to go waste in these baoris. In Karnataka, an estimated 39,000 traditional ponds and tanks existed. While nearly three-quarters of them have dried up, encroached upon or turned into sewage dumps, there is still a sizeable number that can be revived. Meanwhile, Karnataka has launched a jalamrutha scheme under which the traditional water bodies would be rejuvenated. But the pace needs to be hastened.
Although Karnataka is trying to preserve the kalyanis, and Odisha has the kutta and munda water systems, the traditional wisdom association with water harvesting has been more or less lost. Several years back, travelling to Texas A&M University, I was surprised to see the traditional water harvesting structures of Tamil Nadu being followed. The Centre for Science and Environment had published a book, Dying Wisdom, listing all traditional harvesting systems.
In the age of borewells, the emphasis has to revert to traditional harvesting. Recharging the depleting groundwater in a sustainable manner is urgently required. But this cannot be in isolation. Destroying forests, water bodies, catchment areas in the name of development must cease. Otherwise, crossing the Rubicon may turn out to be catastrophic.
Indians are water-stressed people. In 1951, per capita water availability was 5,177 cubic meters. In 2011 Census figures, this came down to 1,545 cubic metres -- a decline of about 70 per cent in 60 years.
Monsoon has picked up momentum and is expected to improve water availability in many parts of India with some places such as Mumbai facing the problem of extreme due to visible lack of preparation on the part of municipal bodies. But even a gathering monsoon would not be of much help in improving drinking water situation for the country which saves only eight per cent of rainwater.
On Monday, Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat launched Jal Shakti Abhiyan for water conservation and rainwater harvesting, renovation of traditional and other water bodies, reuse of water and recharging of structures, watershed development, and intensive afforestation.
The campaign covers 1,592 stressed blocks in 256 districts, where groundwater has been over-exploited for various purposes. Groundwater constitutes the main drinking water for people in India.
Empty metal pitchers in an opening made to filter water from polluted lake in Thane, Maharashtra. (Photo: Reuters)
Indians are water-stressed people. In 1951, per capita water availability was 5,177 cubic metres. In 2011 Census figures, this came down to 1,545 cubic metres -- a decline of about 70 per cent in 60 years.
Per-capita annual water availability of less than 1,700 cubic metres is defined as a water-stressed condition. The government's own assessment says that India is inching towards water-scarce status. Scarcity means availability below 1,000 cubic metres.
The average annual per capita water availability in 2001 was 1,820 cubic metres and the government estimates that this may reduce to 1,341 cubic metres by 2025 and 1,140 cubic metres by 2050.
So, where is drinking water going?
Wastage of rainwater
According to the Central Water Commission, annual water requirement of India is 3,000 billion cubic metres while it receives 4,000 billion cubic metres of rain every year on an average. The problem is the country of 1.3 billion people fails to utilise three-fourth of water it receives from the sky.
The National Commission on Integrated Water Resources Development (NCIWRD) report, the utilisable water is 1,123 billion cubic metres a year, comprising 690 billion cubic metres of surface water and 433 billion cubic metres of replenishable groundwater. The rest is lost.
Groundwater is the main potable or drinking water for the country. But groundwater finds maximum utilisation in irrigation that consumes up to 80 per cent of the water extracted from the aquifers. Irrigation also gets water from rain, rivers, ponds and other reservoirs but groundwater, according to a World Bank report, remains the source of 60 per cent of all irrigation in the country.
Most farmers and industries - that use about 12 per cent of groundwater - find groundwater extraction the easiest option to meet their water requirements. This has made India the biggest extractor of groundwater. India extracts more water than the second and third biggest extractors - China and the US - combined.
People of Karamdi village in Banasakantha, Gujarat offering prayer for rain in this drought hit district. (File Photo)
Ironically, only about eight per cent of extracted groundwater in India is used for drinking purposes.
Groundwater is mostly of drinking water quality while other sources need purification for drinking purposes. The situation gets more complicated given that irrigation efficiency is very low - at around 40 per cent - in the country, effectively meaning 60 per cent of all water used for irrigation is lost. Much of that is drinking water extracted from the groundwater table.
People wait to fetch water in Thane, Maharashtra. (Photo: Reuters)
The current usage of groundwater has led, according to the Economic Survey 2015-16, to decline of water table at the rate of 0.3 metres per year in India. It said India consumed more than 109 cubic kilometres groundwater between 2002 and 2008 -- double the capacity of country's largest surface water reservoir, the Upper Wainganga.
Increase in the share of irrigation water from other sources will save drinking water and ease the current and impending grievous crisis.
Being a universal solvent, coolant and cleaning agent for industry, water is extensively used in industrial units, particularly those engaged in manufacturing. Most industrial units use own borewell extracting groundwater to meet their water requirements.
Industry's relation with groundwater is mutually damaging, as experience shows. Industry's over-exploitation of groundwater contributes to water crisis, which in turn forces shutdowns in the sector.
A woman drinks water from an earthen pot in New Delhi. (Photo: Reuters)
Power, paper and pulp, textiles and automobiles sectors are among the biggest users of water, primarily extracted from the ground. A 2018 report by the World Resources Institute said 14 of 20 largest thermal power plants had to shut down their operations at least once due to shortage of water between 2013 and 2016.
A shift from groundwater to other sources of water will benefit both - the industry and people facing drinking water crisis.
Household wastage and RO purifiers
It is estimated that about 80 per cent of the water reaching households in India is drained out as waste flow through sewage. In most cases, this water is not treated for reuse or used for agricultural purposes. This is in sharp contrast to countries like Israel and Australia which have managed to treat household waste water and put to reuse. Israel treats 100 per cent of its used water and recycles 94 per cent of it back to households.
Water purifier is one of the fastest growing businesses in India. But it has raised concerns about inherent wastage of water. For one litre of drinking water from a reverse osmosis-based water purifier, four litres of water is required to pass through it.
In a 2015 study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) led Comprehensive Initiative on Technology Evolution (CITE) conducted in Ahmedabad found that RO-based water purifiers waste 74 per cent water.
Water purifiers are usually attached to the running taps in homes which sources water either from groundwater or supplied through municipal pipes. Simply put, drinking quality water is passed through to purify water.
NGT knows it
This concern came up for hearing in the National Green Tribunal (NGT), which in May this year directed the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF & CC) to issue notification prohibiting use of drinking water prepared through RO-based systems in areas where the amount of total dissolved solids (TDS) was less than 500 milligram/litre.
The NGT also ordered the ministry to lay down a rule to ensure that recovery of treated water is at least 60 per cent in RO-based systems and not more than 40 per cent should go as brine or waste. It said the recovery rate should go up to 75 per cent in future.
The tribunal, in its order, mentioned that more than 16 crore Indians have no access to clean water. This is the highest number of such population in the world.
Bottled water and other packaged beverage industry is another area where drinking water is lost in plenty. There are more than 6,000 licensed bottlers - registered with the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) - for doing business in packaged drinking water. This number does not include unbranded and unregistered bottlers. On an average, a single bottler selling packaged drinking water extracts somewhere between 5,000 and 20,000 litres of groundwater every hour.
These bottlers claim to use more than 65 per cent of groundwater extracted from aquifer in packaging as drinking water. This puts wastage of groundwater at a minimum of 35 per cent. And, the business of packaged drinking water is growing at over 15 per cent a year in the country.
According to the bottledwaterindi.org - a website that provides information about bottled water industry, consumption of bottled water in India is linked to the level of prosperity in the different regions.
"The western region accounts for 40 per cent of the market and the eastern region just 10. However, the bottling plants are concentrated in the southern region - of the 3400 + bottling water plants in India, more than 55 per cent are in four southern states. This is a major problem because southern India, especially Tamil Nadu, is water-starved," the website says.
Soft drinks too
Excessive use of groundwater by soft-drink makers is another region for fast depletion of groundwater in the country. Two cases could be cited in this regard. PepsiCo was forced to close operations at its bottling plant in Kerala's Kanjikode.
PepsiCo was extracting more than 6 lakh litres of groundwater every day for the plant at a time when Kerala faced drinking water crisis leading to protests by civil rights activists and politicians. In January 2017, Kerala had ordered industries to reduce water usage by 75 per cent.
A passenger drinks water from a pipe running along a railway track. (Photo: Reuters)
In November 2016, the Madras High Court had directed that water from Tamirabarani river in Tamil Nadu must not be diverted to Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. The order came in the wake of water crisis arising out of depletion in groundwater table and scarcity of river water for irrigation.
The governments - both at the Centre and in the states are now focusing on water conservation launching various campaigns. In December 2018, the Central Ground Water Authority issued a notification proposing a conservation fee for groundwater use. This was to be implemented from June 1 this year. With water being a state subject, implementation of water conservation fee rests with the state governments, which have shied away from notifying it fearing backlash from people.
Wondering whether your son or daughter will be able to successfully
complete the required coursework may no longer be your biggest worry
when sending your child off to college. New studies suggest dorm life
may be more hazardous than you might expect due to the presence of
extraordinarily high levels of toxic flame retardants.
According to Newsweek,1 scientists studying dust samples collected from college dormitories suggest students may be living among, and breathing in, chemical toxins that may negatively affect their health.
Why the Dust in College Dorms Is a Cause for Concern
Research published in Environmental Science & Technology2
indicates that scientists uncovered large quantities of chemicals
designed to suppress fire — also known as flame retardants — in 95 dust
samples collected from dormitory common areas and student rooms at two
Scientists found all 47 flame retardants that were targeted by the
study, some of which are believed to cause cancer and disrupt hormones.
Two flame retardants, which are classified by the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) as polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs,3 were detected in the dorm dust at record levels:
Decabromodiphenyl ether, or DecaBDE: a flame retardant largely phased out in 2013, which the U.S. EPA has tagged as a “possible carcinogen” due to it having been shown to cause cancer in lab animals
Pentabromodiphenyl ether, or PentaBDE: a chemical the U.S. EPA banned from manufacture in 2005, mainly because it is a known endocrine disruptor
Dorms Found to Contain Alarmingly High Concentrations of Flame Retardants
Certain PBDEs, which are used as flame retardants in applications
such as automobiles, plastics, textiles and wire insulation, have been
shown to be “persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic to both humans and
the environment,” states the U.S. EPA.4
Researchers suspect college dorms contain a higher level of flame
retardants because they are small, somewhat-confined spaces containing a
lot of electronics and furniture.
Due to their limited budgets, college students often use old
furniture and bedding, some of which may contain flame retardants that
have since been banned. Because PBDEs are not chemically bound to
fabrics, foam, plastics or the other products in which they are used,
they are susceptible to leaching. Chemical-laden particles from
electronics and furniture leach over time and are collected in room
In the study, levels found and cited for the primary chemical within
DecaBDE were a shocking nine times higher than anything previously
recorded. Concentrations of PentaBDE were four times higher than levels
found in any other environment.
How Do Flame Retardants Affect Your Health?
Four particular flame retardants were found in 100 percent of the
dust samples studied, and three of them are suspected carcinogens
believed to be capable of causing cancer. Of the three suspected
carcinogens, one of them, known as TCIPP or tris (1-chloro-2-propyl)
phosphate, was found in dorms at levels twice the median quantities
found in other indoor environments.
While the effects of TCIPP require further study, chemicals similar
in structure have been shown to have toxic effects on animal brain cells
and are thought to decrease sperm counts and thyroid levels in humans.5
About the fourth chemical, named TPHP (triphenyl phosphate), the
Environmental Working Group states, “[T]here is growing evidence that
the chemical could affect hormones, metabolism, reproduction and
In a 2013 study,7
rats were exposed to the flame-retardant mixture Firemaster 550®, which
is used in foam-based products and contains up to 20 percent TPHP.
Scientists found that components of the chemical accumulated in tissues
of rats, both before and after birth, resulting in obesity and early
puberty for female rats. As such, researchers suspect TPHP is an
Miriam Diamond, Ph.D., a professor in the department of earth
sciences at the University of Toronto, says it will take time to
quantify the health risks of these substances. She states:8
“One reason why it’s not possible [to quantify the health risks] is
because these chemicals tend to have effects that take a long time to
manifest. Those effects are endocrine disruption … where the strongest
evidence shows effects due to fetal exposure. The second reason is that
the effects are not known for all the [flame retardants], and
we don't know the impact of exposure to the complex mixture of chemicals
people come into contact with in the U.S. and elsewhere.”
Industry Groups Try to Make Flame Retardants Seem Better Than They Really Are
Industry groups are notorious for making product-based toxins seems
less harmful than they really are, and flame retardants are no
exception. According to Newsweek, Bryan Goodman, a spokesman for the
powerful and well-funded American Chemistry Council, an industry group,
said the threat of toxicity is outweighed by the perceived need for
flame retardants. He suggests:9
“[M]any of the chemicals found in this study have been phased
out. The quantities of flame retardants found in dust were also ‘far
lower than the levels at which toxicological responses have been
observed in animal studies.’
‘Fire is still a real threat to life and property, and college
campuses are no exception. … [F]lame retardants, which are used at times
by manufacturers to meet these flammability standards, can be an
important line of defense for those living on college campuses.’”
Do Flame Retardants Even Work?
Goodman’s comments sound well intentioned until you realize the
evidence that suggests flame retardants are effective in making fires
less deadly is actually quite weak.
In the video below, an investigative story produced by the Chicago Tribune,10
it’s clear that some household items treated with flame retardants burn
at rates similar to untreated items. Furthermore, flame retardants can
give rise to toxic fumes that are thought to cause cancer, hormone
disruption and neurological deficits.
According to Jon Whelan, director of the 2015 documentary “Stink!,”11
trade associations like the American Chemistry Council seek to
influence policymakers to support greater use of chemicals in the
baby-care products, furniture, household goods and personal products you
use every day. He states:12
“The American Chemistry Council is the most powerful trade
association anywhere, and it spends hundreds of millions of dollars to
influence public opinion, fund political campaigns and underwrite
aggressive lobbying efforts. Their goal is to avoid regulation that
would impact profits of the largest chemical companies in the world.”
Citizens for Fire Safety Revealed as Chemical-Industry Front Group
After the release of the Chicago Tribune’s investigative report in
2012, a nonprofit organization known as Citizens for Fire Safety was
outed as an industry front group. Prior to the investigative report, as
the name seems to imply, Citizens for Fire Safety presented themselves
as a band of concerned Americans advocating for fire safety.
In reality, the organization was a trade association formed by three
of the largest makers of flame retardants in the world: Albemarle
Corporation, Chemtura and ICL Industrial Products. At the time, these
three companies were believed to produce 40 percent of the flame
retardants used worldwide.13
These companies used Citizens for Fire Safety to wage what the
Tribune called “a deceptive campaign to fuel demand for the chemicals in
household furniture, electronics, baby products and other goods.”14 In terms of the activities undertaken by Citizens for Fire Safety, the Tribune said:15
“Citizens for Fire Safety played an active role in states where
legislators have proposed banning certain flame retardants. Its tactics
included distributing videos featuring ominous music, footage of burning
houses and narrators warning that restrictions on the chemicals would
endanger children. The group also sponsored witnesses who testified
before state legislators in favor of flame retardants.”
American Chemistry Council Was Backing Citizens for Fire Safety All Along
The American Chemistry Council long maintained it had nothing to do
with the enormously successful, albeit deceitful, lobbying campaigns
employed by Citizens for Fire Safety since 2007 to defend the use of
flame retardants. Notably, during the five years of its existence,
Citizens for Fire Safety was successful in defeating 58 of 60 pieces of
legislation to ban chemical flame retardants across 21 U.S. states.16
Evidence of the council’s involvement emerged in 2015. At that time,
Grant Gillham, the executive director of Citizens for Fire Safety,
revealed that although the American Chemistry Council denied
involvement, it actually helped create Citizens for Fire Safety. Gillham
said the two organizations frequently coordinated activities. “They
flat out lied about it," Gillham stated. "They denied that they ever did
anything with us."
About the flame-retardant industry overall, a seemingly disillusioned Gillham later told the Los Angeles Times,17 “I don't believe the industry has the science to support their claims that these products are safe, and that they work.”
Tips on Protecting Yourself From Flame Retardants
Regardless of your opinion about flame retardants, based on the
findings to date, it is a good idea to limit your exposure to them as
much as possible. Robin Dodson, Ph.D., research scientist at the
Massachusetts-based Silent Spring Institute, was lead author of the dust
study. She and Diamond share the following recommendations:18
When purchasing new items, seek out electronics and furniture that do not contain flame retardants
Avoid using older furniture in college dorm rooms, because the foam
padding and other materials may very likely contain flame retardants
Remind your college student to vacuum and dust on a regular basis to
remove toxic debris that leaches into their living area from
electronics and furniture (Good luck with this one!)
Ensure dorm rooms are well ventilated to avoid a build-up of leached chemicals
Take care to wash your hands after touching electronics such as cell
phones, keyboards, laptops and tablets, most of which contain flame
You should be aware that polyurethane foam products manufactured
prior to 2005 — including foam used in mattresses, pillows and
upholstered furniture — likely contain PBDEs. If you are not ready to
replace these items, at least take care to ensure the foam is in good
repair and remains covered.
Older carpet padding is another major source of PBDEs, so take precautions when removing old carpet. You'll want to isolate your work area from the rest of your house to avoid spreading it around. For best results, use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to clean up. When replacing furniture and household items, look for products filled with cotton and wool, or even polyester, because they tend to be safer than chemical-treated foam. Look for items labeled as "flame-retardant free."
High-Quality, Nontoxic Bedding Is Vitally Important to Your Health
As you replace PBDE-containing items around your home, I recommend
you select those that contain naturally less flammable materials, such
as cotton, leather and wool. This is particularly important for items
you sit or sleep on for many hours each day.
Since you spend hours a day in bed, you’ll want to give special attention to your mattress and bedding. Ideally, try purchasing organic bedding that is GOTS (global organic textile standards) certified.19 If you are concerned about toxic chemicals in your mattress, it’s worth your time to review some of my previous recommendations.
Cleaning Products Are Another Likely Source of Toxins in Your Living Space
As you attempt to clean up and keep up with leaching flame
retardants, take caution with the cleaning supplies you choose. If you
don’t, you may end up dousing your living space with even more toxic
chemicals, many of which are not clearly identified on product labels.
Concerns about the safety of cleaning products is growing nationwide.
Newsday reports New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is working on a measure
that will require manufacturers to disclose all ingredients used, as
well as any trace contaminants added during processing.20
In part, the state is focused on a chemical known as 1,4-dioxane, a
probable carcinogen, which has shown up in Long Island’s aquifers.
Although 1,4-dioxane is primarily used as a solvent in manufacturing, it
often ends up in cleaning and personal care products as a byproduct,
and eventually lands in water supplies.
During the manufacture of products like cosmetics, deodorant, shampoo
and toothpaste, 1,4-dioxane develops through a process known as
ethoxylation, which increases foaming and makes products less abrasive.21
Beyond 1,4-dioxane, the governor hopes to draw more attention to the
thousands of other chemicals that are believed to be asthma inducers,
carcinogens, eye and skin irritants, endocrine disrupters and
neurotoxins. About the pending regulation, Dr. Howard Zucker, New York
State commissioner of health, said:22
“[It] will give New York consumers the tools they need to make
informed choices for themselves and for their families, and limit
unknown exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.”
Healthy Cleaning Products You Can Make at Home
Healthy Holistic Living (HHL) provides two graphics containing tips on how to create nontoxic cleaning products for use in your home and college dorm room. You may have some of the primary ingredients in your pantry already:23
One suggested HHL “recipe” is for nontoxic grout cleaner:
In a container, mix one-half cup baking soda with one-quarter cup of white vinegar.
Use a toothbrush to apply the paste to your floor or shower grout, and scrub.
Let mixture sit for five minutes, and rinse.
Even Small Steps to Reduce Your Toxin Load Can Make a Positive Difference
While the amount of potentially-toxic chemicals in your living
environment may seem overwhelming and beyond your ability to control, I
encourage you to focus on even the smallest of areas you are able to
Start by reading the labels on your most-used personal care products and household cleaning products. As you are able to replace bedding and furniture, be sure to look for those comprised of organic, naturally flame-retardant materials in lieu of those doused in toxic chemicals. With one small, intentional step at a time, you can begin recovering your personal health and safety, whether you are at home or away at college.
Male fertility has been on the decline
for at least 40 years, with a 50 percent global reduction in sperm
quality noted from 1938 to 2011.1
A similar decline in sperm quality has been observed in dogs living in
human households, with sperm motility declining by 30 percent over a
The corresponding declines suggest that something in the environment,
and likely in our homes, could be causing the drop in fertility among
both dogs and people. In the canine study, the researchers linked
certain environmental chemicals to sperm problems and suggested they
could also be responsible for the sperm quality declines in humans — a
notion supported by a recent study published in Scientific Reports.3
The findings present one likely factor leading to fertility reductions, but it's not the only one — there are other reasons why fertility continues to decline as well — namely the pervasive influence of electromagnetic fields (EMFs).
Environmental Chemicals Linked to Fertility Declines in Dogs and People
Researchers from the University of Nottingham used sperm samples from
11 men and nine dogs from the same U.K. region. They exposed the sperm
to doses of two types of environmental chemicals, diethylhexyl phthalate
(DEHP) and polychlorinated biphenyl 153 (PCB153), currently found in
The result was reduced sperm motility and increased DNA
fragmentation. Study author Rebecca Sumner, a developmental biologist at
the University of Nottingham, said in a news release:4
"We know that when human sperm motility is poor, DNA
fragmentation is increased and that human male infertility is linked to
increased levels of DNA damage in sperm. We now believe this is the same
in pet dogs because they live in the same domestic environment and are
exposed to the same household contaminants.
This means that dogs may be an effective model for future
research into the effects of pollutants on declining fertility,
particularly because external influences such as diet are more easily
controlled than in humans."
The researchers believe dogs may act as a “sentinel” for declines in male fertility and that man-made chemicals used widely in home and work environments are the likely culprit. A previous study even detected such chemicals in dog sperm and some dog food.5
Phthalates and PCBs Harming Male Fertility
DEHP is an industrial plasticizing chemical used in vinyl-type
plastics to make them soft and pliable. Unplasticized PVC is hard and
brittle, so the DEHP polymer is added to soften it. You can be exposed
to DEHP through air, water, food, intravenous fluids or skin contact
with DEHP-containing plastics.
Phthalates and other endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as bisphenol-A
are estrogen mimickers, and when male fetuses are overexposed in utero,
it permanently alters their reproductive system, rendering them less
male and more female. In adults, the more phthalates a man has in his
system, the lower his testosterone level will be, and the lower his sperm count.
PCBs, once heralded for their ability to prevent electrical fires,
have since become known as one of the most toxic and environmentally
persistent chemicals ever created. PCBs have also been linked to
fertility, reproductive and endocrine damage along with neurological
effects, including damage to learning and memory.
The chemicals were used in many manufactured products, from
electrical equipment and plastics to flooring and industrial products,
and although they were banned in 1979, they persist in the environment
today. Other environmental chemicals have also been linked to declines
in fertility, including the endocrine-disrupting chemical ethinyl
estradiol, a synthetic sex hormone found in birth control pills.
When male mice were exposed to the chemical, it led to developmental
problems in the reproductive tract, thereby lowering sperm counts.6 While men do not use birth control pills, they're exposed to them nonetheless through contaminated water and other sources.
Men are also exposed to a number of other endocrine-disrupting chemicals in their day-to-day lives, thanks to the pernicious use of endocrine disrupting chemicals in plastics, personal care products and herbicides such as glyphosate. Advertisement
EMFs Likely Involved in Declining Fertility
The researchers have honed in on environmental chemicals as a leading
cause of fertility decline, but there could be an even more pernicious
cause — EMFs. Like environmental chemicals, exposure to EMFs is
widespread, and it could affect both humans and dogs alike, just as the
In fact, I believe this may be the most significant factor for the
observed decrease in male sperm count. Martin Pall, Ph.D., discovered a
previously unknown mechanism of biological harm from microwaves emitted
by cellphones and other wireless technologies via voltage gated calcium
channels (VGCCs) embedded in your cell membranes.7
VGCCs are activated by microwaves, and when that happens, about 1
million calcium ions per second are released. This massive excess of
intracellular calcium then stimulates the release of nitric oxide (NO)
inside your cell and mitochondria, which combines with superoxide to
Not only do peroxynitrites cause oxidative damage, they also create
hydroxyl free radicals — the most destructive free radicals known to
man. Hydroxyl free radicals decimate mitochondrial and nuclear DNA,
their membranes and proteins, resulting in mitochondrial dysfunction.
During a 2013 children's health expert panel on cellphone and Wi-Fi
exposures, it was noted, "The testicular barrier, that protects sperm,
is the most sensitive of tissues in the body … Besides sperm count and
function, the mitochondrial DNA of sperm are damaged three times more if
exposed to cellphone radiation."8
Exposure to Cellphone Radiation Decreases Sperm Quality
Writing in Clinical and Experimental Reproductive Medicine,
researchers noted that many in vivo and in vitro studies have revealed
the EMF exposure can alter reproductive function, including sperm
motility, with effects varying according to the frequency, duration of
exposure and strength of EMFs.9
"Humans in modern society cannot avoid various kinds of EMFs during
household and occupational activities, but should be aware of the
biological hazard of EMFs. The effort to avoid EMF exposure and
techniques to protect or relieve EMF radiation are required to preserve
our reproductive potential," they said.10
In a separate study, researchers collected sperm samples from 32 men
and divided them in half. Both groups were placed in a thermostat for
five hours, but one had a cellphone in standby/talk mode placed inside.
Both sperm motility and DNA fragmentation were influenced by the
cellphone exposure, with the cellphone group having decreased sperm
motility and increased DNA fragmentation.11 The researchers noted:
"That is why we consider that men readying themselves for
fatherhood, as well as women wishing to conceive a child, especially
when registered fertility problems are present, should be informed about
the different risks and probably negative direct impact of long-term
mobile phone radiation on semen quality and embryo/fetus development.
Maybe person who could be selected for assisted reproduction
techniques or even sperm donors should avoid this influence during some
time before semen extraction too.
Besides the semen parameters RF-EMR [radiofrequency
electromagnetic radiation] probably could negatively impact on sexual
communication, fertility and quality of life by reducing the erectile
function. Men with erectile dysfunction (ED) use their cell phones
longer those without ED. Men who have ED carry their cell phones
switched on much longer than men who do not have ED."
A systematic review and meta-analysis also looked into the impact of low-level electromagnetic radiation (EMR) — the type emitted by cellphones — on sperm quality, both in the lab and among male patients at fertility clinics. The analysis of 10 such studies showed that exposure to EMR from cellphones lowered sperm motility by 8 percent and sperm viability by 9 percent.12
Tips for Protecting Your Fertility
Protecting your fertility is complex, but involves leading a healthy
lifestyle while minimizing your toxic exposures. Everything from
and inactivity to your dietary choices can affect your fertility. Diets
high in sugar and other carbs lead to men (and women) becoming
increasingly overweight, which also leads to decreased sperm counts.
However, it's extremely important to try to reduce your EMF exposure using the following tips:
Connect your desktop computer to the internet via a
wired connection and be sure to put your desktop in airplane mode. Also
avoid wireless keyboards, trackballs, mice, game systems, printers and
house phones. Opt for the wired versions.
If you must use Wi-Fi, shut it off when not in use,
especially at night when you are sleeping. Ideally it is best to work
toward hardwiring your house so you can turn off the Wi-Fi at all times.
If you have a notebook without any Ethernet ports it is easy to
purchase a USB Ethernet adapter that will allow you to connect to the
internet without a wireless connection.
Shut off the electricity to your bedroom at night.
This typically works to reduce electrical fields from the wires in your
wall unless there is an adjoining room next to your bedroom. If that is
the case you will need to use a meter to determine if you also need to
turn off power in the adjacent room.
Use a battery-powered clock, ideally one without any light. I use a talking clock that I merely press a button to determine the time and never see any light at night.
If you still use a microwave oven, consider
replacing it with a steam convection oven, which will heat your food as
quickly and far more safely. Next to induction stovetop burners,
microwave ovens are likely the largest EMF polluters in your home.
Avoid using "smart" appliances and thermostats that
depend on wireless signaling. This would include all new "smart" TVs.
They are called smart because they emit a Wi-Fi signal, and unlike your
computer, you are unable to shut the Wi-Fi signal off. Consider using a
large computer monitor as your TV, as they don't emit Wi-Fi.
Refuse smart meters as long as you can or add a
shield to an existing smart meter, some of which have been shown to
reduce radiation by 98 to 99 percent.14
Considering moving your baby's bed into your room
instead of using a baby monitor, or use a hard-wired monitor. In any
case avoid any baby monitor that is wireless. There are some wired
Replace CFL bulbs with incandescent bulbs. Ideally
remove all fluorescent lights from your house. Not only do they emit
unhealthy light, but more importantly they will actually transfer
current to your body just being close to the bulbs.
Avoid carrying your cellphone on your body unless it
is in airplane mode and never sleep with it in your bedroom unless it
is in airplane mode (and especially not under your pillow). Even in
airplane mode it can emit signals, which is why I put my phone in a Faraday bag.
When using your cellphone, use the speaker phone and
hold the phone at least 3 feet away from you. Seek to radically
decrease your time on the cellphone. I probably am down to below 30
minutes a month on my cell, mostly when traveling. Instead use VoIP
software phones that you can use while connected to the internet via a
As for reducing exposure to toxic phthalates and other
endocrine-disrupting chemicals that may decrease sperm quality, you can
do this via the following:
Avoid plastic children's toys. Use toys made of natural substances, such as wood and organic materials.
Read labels on your cosmetics and avoid those containing phthalates.
Avoid products labeled with "fragrance" as this
catch-all term may include hidden phthalates, which are commonly used to
stabilize the scent and extend the life of the product. Avoid air
Use personal care products stored in glass containers.
Read labels looking for PVC-free products, including children's lunch boxes, backpacks and storage containers.
Do not microwave food in plastic containers or covered in plastic wrap.
Frequently vacuum and dust rooms with vinyl blinds,
wallpaper, flooring and furniture that may contain phthalates, as the
chemical collects in dust and is easily ingested by children.
Ask your pharmacist if your prescription pills are coated to control when they dissolve, as the coating may contain phthalates.
Eat mostly fresh, raw whole foods. Packaging is often a source of phthalates.
Buy products in glass bottles instead of plastic or
cans, and use glass baby bottles instead of plastic. Breastfeed
exclusively for the first year if you can to avoid plastic nipples and
bottles all together.
Remove your fruit and vegetables from plastic bags
immediately after coming home from the grocery store and wash them
Cash register receipts are heat printed and often
contain BPA. Handle the receipt as little as possible and ask the store
to switch to BPA-free receipts.
Use natural cleaning products or make your own.
Replace feminine hygiene products with safer alternatives.
Avoid fabric softeners and dryer sheets; make your own to reduce static cling.
Check your home's tap water for contaminants and filter the water if necessary.
Teach your children not to drink from the garden hose, as many are made from plasticizers such as phthalates.
Ian Tennant finds out why we should view the ordinary as extraordinary.
A form of science illiteracy exists amongst scientists and always has done. In the 16th century Copernicus’ colleagues outright rejected his suggestion that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Today most scientists reject the idea that mind or consciousness can exist independently of the brain or body. Instead the scientific community follows the unproven assumption that the brain produces consciousness.
Data that offends this ‘in vogue’ intelligence is often ignored. In the 18th century pathological disbelief caused the discoverer of oxygen, Antoine Lavoisier and other scientists, to deny with absolute certainty the existence of meteorites. Lavoisier assured his colleagues at the French Academy of this on the grounds that, “Stones cannot fall from the sky!” in spite of hold-in-your-had evidence to the contrary.
Science historian Thomas Kuhn described this fact-denying habit in his landmark publication The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. New scientific theories do not emerge into the mainstream from the straightforward accumulation of facts, but only when whole sets of intellectual circumstances change. Sometimes the resistance to change can be to the embarrassment and downfall of outspoken thinkers of the time. In 1848, Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweiss produced overwhelming evidence for the effectiveness of hand washing by obstetricians in reducing maternal mortality following childbirth. His colleagues didn’t believe it. At that time, germ theory didn’t exist and the evidence didn’t matter. Worse, Semmelweiss was hounded out of Vienna and eventually committed suicide in Budapest.
Hopefully, the author of One Mind, Larry Dossey is immune to such attacks. He has compiled a set of case histories (or anecdotes, as sceptics might call them), to support his thesis that mind is not localised to specific points in space such as the brain or to specific points in time. These seem to demonstrate a direct mind-to-mind connection between individual people – an overlapping consciousness.
The fact that these phenomena occur in animals as well as humans is important and Dossey draws heavily on research into the animal kingdom carried out by biologists such as Rupert Sheldrake. The group behaviour of flocks, herds and schools often cross the invisible boundary between classical physics and quantum physics. When rapid exposure films of large flocks of birds are slowed down, neighbour-to-neighbour changes in behaviour occur in 15 thousandths of a second. The changes can spread in a near simultaneous wave throughout. However, under laboratory settings the birds require 38 thousandths of a second to respond to visual stimulus. Similarly, fish that have been temporarily blinded or made insensitive to nearby pressure changes in water still have the ability to school with other fish. Sheldrake and others find evidence suggesting that a field-like, non-sensory intelligence – part of a ‘One Mind’ – can explain these sorts of organised behaviours.
The introduction to this book had me hooked. It stands out from hundreds of other titles on the similar theme of science and spirituality in that it is written by an experienced medic and has as its overarching imperative the ecological health of our planet at its heart.
Dossey’s frequent use of sarcasm when referring to disbelieving scientists may seem harsh to people unaccustomed to the day-to-day realities of science but having worked in medical research myself, I smiled at the statement “Science is like a sausage: while you may like it, you may not want to tour the factory and see how it is made.” Taken as a whole the book left me feeling humbled by Nature and human abilities. I began to view things I take for granted with a renewed sense of mystery. Indeed, One Mind may contribute to one of Kuhn’s paradigm shifts from a continuity of science committed to making Nature productive to one that makes Nature sustainable.
Ian Tennant is a therapist and Nature advocate.
Helena Norberg-Hodge outlines how localising economic activity could halt ecological breakdown.
Among environmental activists and ordinary citizens, climate change is seen as the most serious sign of ecological breakdown. But there are others: from species extinction and ocean ‘dead zones’ to topsoil loss, nuclear waste, and microplastics in the food chain, ecosystems are under assault from a deadly disease: economic globalisation.
The causes of this ailment run deep. Through a combination of aggressive subsidies, dysfunctional taxes and skewed regulations, governments around the world have spurred the growth of an international ‘free market’ that supports global corporations and banks at the expense of smaller, more rooted businesses. The costs of this process are heavy for people and the natural world.
The global food system provides many examples. Government handouts to the fossil fuel industry, for instance, facilitate long- distance transport –so food from the other side of the world can be cheaper than food from the farm next door. Worse is redundant trade: the simultaneous import and export of the same product. The UK, for example, imports and exports millions of litres of milk and thousands of tons of wheat and lamb every year, and the US does the same for beef, potatoes, sugar and other foods. Redundant trade wastes resources and is a major contributor to greenhouse emissions, but subsidies for fossil fuels make it profitable.
Propaganda from big agribusiness has convinced the public that the global food system – with its large-scale monocultural production and world-spanning trade – is the only way to feed the planet. But the ‘efficiency’ of monocultures is based solely on yield per unit of labour. Studies conducted all over the world have shown that, when the more relevant metric of yield per unit of land is measured, smaller-scale farms are typically eight to 20 times more productive than large-scale monocultures.
In fact, small farmers are feeding the world; although they control just 12% of the world’s farmland, they produce most of our food. Many of those farmers are in the Global South, where big agribusiness is relentlessly pushing the industrial farming model – leaving farmers increasingly dependent on costly chemical inputs and patented seeds, and loans to pay for it all. The result? Worsening rural poverty and farmer suicides by the hundreds of thousands – one of the most underreported tragedies of our time.
Meanwhile, agribusinesses continue to consolidate – witness the recent merger of agrochemical giant Bayer with GM seed titan Monsanto. This leaves the global food supply dangerously dependent upon a shrinking number of corporations and a dwindling diversity of food crops and seeds.
The increasing costs of globalised business are evident in other ways. Jeff Bezos’ online commerce giant, Amazon, has become an emblem of worker mistreatment and high street business closures. Nonetheless, cities across the US offered Amazon massive subsidies and tax breaks in the hope of becoming the site of the company’s second headquarters. Because the global growth imperative requires even the largest companies to grow still larger, Amazon is extending its reach to every corner of the world, including the remote Himalayan region of Ladakh, where I have worked for several decades. The undermining of Ladakh’s local economy and culture has already put its ecosystem at risk; this latest incursion will accelerate the breakdown.
Government support for globalisation benefits a handful of global businesses, but the ecological costs are borne by the planet as a whole. Most of the fossil fuels that have been burned in the past 150 years have been extracted by a select group of 90 entities, including private corporations such as Exxon-Mobil and state-controlled institutions such as Saudi Aramco. According to a 2013 study, these fuels were responsible for “nearly two-thirds of all the carbon that has been emitted into the atmosphere during the industrial era.”
What can we do to reverse the damage? Resisting corporate-backed politicians and the policies they enact is crucial, but it is only half of what is needed. We must create an economic model that can replace globalisation, so that people can feel inspired, rather than frightened, by the promise of systemic change.
This model is already being built at the grassroots, often with help from enlightened local governments. Those local governing bodies – more in tune with their citizens – are discovering that resilient localised economies need not depend on global flows of wealth and capital in order to function. This gives them the power to say ‘no’ to multinational corporations and banks.
“Rather than concentrating wealth in a handful of global monopolies, local economies disperse wealth equitably among the community”
The benefits of localising economic activity are manifold. Rather than concentrating wealth in a handful of global monopolies, local economies tend to disperse wealth more equitably among a wide swathe of the community. Local economies are also, by definition, rooted to a particular place, making the long-term health of the environment a shared concern for all. Corporate giants, on the other hand, can up sticks and move in search of higher profits elsewhere, leaving behind a despoiled environment and thousands of jobless residents.
Shrinking the distance between production and consumption also makes it easier to choose ethically: when we know the farmer who produces our food, it’s easy to know whether pesticides were used, or if farmworkers were treated unfairly. The distances involved in global trade, by contrast, make it impossible for people to know the impacts of their purchasing choices.
Across the world, communities are strengthening connections between local food producers, small businesses, local government, and other sectors, including healthcare, banking and energy. In Catalonia, the Catalan Integral Cooperative is aiming to create an ‘ecosystem’ of post-capitalist institutions, including a financial co-op, food pantry, open-access repair workshop and local currency. The French town of Mouans- Sartoux has a municipally-owned organic farm that grows vegetables for school meals, provides produce at a discount to low- income residents and donates surpluses to the local food bank. In Zimbabwe, the Chikukwa permaculture project has lifted villages out of food insecurity and environmental disaster through place-based education and training programmes. There are thousands of such initiatives worldwide – Local Futures’ series, Planet Local, highlights many of them.
Ecological breakdown is telling us that modern societies are on the wrong track. It is essential that we draw on the full range of human creativity to envision diverse alternative paths – each appropriate in a particular cultural and ecological context – rather than continuing down the road to a global monoculture. Coupled with widespread resistance to globalisation, these steps towards renewal provide a blueprint for a better world – a world that celebrates diversity not just in the biosphere, but among the human cultures that draw from it for their lives and livelihoods.
Helena Norberg-Hodge is the founder of Local Futures
Image credit | iStock, Alarmy
Poverty, climate change, the erosion of democracy, an epidemic of depression – these and other global crises are symptoms of a far bigger systemic problem.
Helena Norberg-Hodge says: “For our species to have a future, it must be local. The good news is that the path to such a future is already being forged. Away from the screens of the mainstream media, the crude ‘bigger is better’ narrative that has dominated economic thinking for centuries is being challenged by a perspective that places human and ecological wellbeing front and centre. People are coming to recognise that connection, both to others and to Nature herself, is the wellspring of human happiness. And every day new, inspiring initiatives are springing up that offer the potential for genuine prosperity.”
Helena Norberg-Hodge has been promoting an economics of personal, social and ecological wellbeing for four decades. Director of the non-profit Local Futures, she was honoured with the Right Livelihood Award (or ‘Alternative Nobel Prize’) for her groundbreaking work in Ladakh, India, and received the 2012 Goi Peace Prize for contributing to “the revitalization of cultural and biological diversity, and the strengthening of local communities and economies worldwide.”
While humans thrive on connection to the natural world and to community, Local is Our Future explains how the global economy systematically severs those connections – separating us ever further from each other and from nature. Localisation is a way to rekindle those connections, while providing profound economic, social, environmental and psychological benefits. It is the path to an economics of happiness.
Taking inspiration from a worldwide localisation movement that is already emerging beneath the radar of the mainstream media, Local is Our Futureoutlines the steps needed to move towards a world of interlinked and decentralised local economies and communities.On every continent, people are coming together to claw back control over their own economies, and in doing so are healing fractured communities, repairing damaged environments, and building a brighter future.
David Korten, author of When Corporations Rule the World and Change the Story, says:
“Helena Norberg-Hodge, one of the great visionary voices of our time, explains in clear and simple detail why you, your children, and the vast majority of the world’s people find it nearly impossible to make a decent living, while Earth dies and a few already obscenely wealthy individuals grow their fortunes by billions each year. Drawing on inspiring examples from around the world, she goes on to spell out what we the people, standing together, can do about it. A must read book for our time.”
This article was written byBrenda for the Green Familia.
THE wildness of the wolf is not readily apparent in the easy manner of Clarissa Pinkola Estes, a cheerful, soft-spoken woman who wears a red ribbon in her hair and a medal of the Virgin Mary around her neck.
"Mary is a girl gang leader in Heaven," said Dr. Estes, who has ordered the lunchtime special of meat loaf and mashed potatoes. "She is fuerte -- strong, fierce. We have been given this cleaned-up, Anglicized version of her. But the saints had calluses on their hands."
It was here in a quiet neighborhood bar and grill that Dr. Estes, a Jungian analyst for 20 years and a consummate cantadora, or storyteller, spent her afternoons writing "Women Who Run With the Wolves," a book that was scarcely reviewed after publication but has become a best-seller.
In the book, Dr. Estes has interpreted old tales in ways that merge Carlos Castaneda with Bruno Bettelheim, from Bluebeard to the Little Match Girl, that reveal an archetypal wild woman whose qualities she says have today been dangerously tamed by a society that preaches the virtue of being "nice." Like the wolf, pushed to the brink of extinction, the innate powers of womanhood have been driven deep within, she argues, but they can yet be summoned as tools in a fight for survival.
Dr. Estes found the wolf-woman parallel while studying wildlife biology, especially wolves. "Wolves and women are relational by nature, inquiring, possessed of great endurance and strength," she writes. "They are deeply intuitive, intensely concerned with their young, their mate and their pack." She also writes: "Yet both have been hounded, harassed and falsely imputed to be devouring and devious, overly aggressive, of less value than those who are their detractors." A Savage Creativity
Dr. Estes defined wildness as not uncontrolled behavior but a kind of savage creativity, the instinctual ability to know what tool to use and when to use it.
"All options are available to women," she said. "Everything from quiescence to camouflaging to pulling back the ears, baring the teeth and lunging for the throat. But going for the kill is something to be used in rare, rare, rare cases." She smiled and took a sip from a diet soda.
"Women who have always been taught to be nice do not realize they have these options," she said. "When someone tells them to stay in their place, they sit and stay quiet. But when somebody is cornering you, then the only way out is to come out kicking, to beat the hell out of whatever is in the way."
While she urges a liberation for women, Dr. Estes cringes at the label of feminist.
"No Latina woman would be called Ms. -- that's an invention of middle-class Anglo women," said Dr. Estes, who was born to Mexican parents and adopted by immigrants from Hungary in rural Indiana. "Latina women are proud to be called Mrs. That simply means that we have a family."
She added: "The soul has no gender. I wrote a book about women because I am a woman. If I were a man, I would have written about that."
The knowledge of the inner self comes mostly from hardship, Dr. Estes said. People with money and privilege have a harder time "making the connection with the natural self," she said. But Dr. Estes, who is now writing the second volume of a planned "Wolves" trilogy, said she did not believe that her own success would get in the way of personal exploration.
"No chance of that," she said. "Want to see my scars?"
While in her 20's, she found herself divorced and struggling to raise three children in poverty. "I would get up at 5 A.M. and go bake bread to get money for my children," Dr. Estes said. "There wasn't anything else I could do. But all the time, I was planning my escape." In "Wolves" she recalls difficult times, referring to "the song of the dark years, hambre del alma, the song of the starved soul."
She put herself through Loretto Heights College in Denver and later earned a doctorate. Dr. Estes, who works as a psychoanalyst in private practice, has served as the executive director of the C.G. Jung Center here.
When she received the advance for "Women Who Run With Wolves," one of the first checks she wrote was a donation to Su Teatro, a local Hispanic theater company. She also sent money to a group working with young, poor women and tries to persuade them not to have children until age 25. Another check went to Ms. magazine.
Margaret Maupin, a buyer for the Tattered Cover bookstore here, said "Wolves" has struck a chord among women who want to find more meaning in life. She calls it a self-help book, even though the author dislikes that description.
"People used to grow up in small communities where folk wisdom was passed down," she said. "But we don't live there anymore. We can't go next door to your aunt and ask her for the answers."
Dr. Estes recently founded a group of writers and artists who speak out against discrimination against homosexuals in a state that recently passed an anti-gay rights law. But she opposes a boycott of the state. Backs Arched
"In general, Colorado is a very tolerant place," she said. "I think we need to stand up for basic human rights. But the boycott is not the answer.
"You must become an activist if you are going to live the natural life," she added, referring to being closer to one's true self.
During the 1991 Senate confirmation hearings on the nomination of Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court, she said, she looked on angrily at the treatment of Anita Hill, who charged him with sexual harassment.
"The denigrating way that these Anglo men treated her was so familiar to me," she said. "It was familiar to my mother. It was familiar to my grandmother. It was familiar to my daughters."
Dr. Estes said the strong, wild nature of women was revealed in the protests that surrounded the hearings. "I remember a photograph of Pat Schroeder and many other women marching to the Senate to tell these men what they thought of all this," she said. "I saw their backs arched, and their legs climbing the steps. And I thought, 'Ah, the pack is going after them.' "
But she did not see any evidence of discrimination against a woman in the recent hearings with Zoe Baird, who withdrew as nominee for Attorney General in the uproar over her hiring illegal immigrants for child care and help at home.
"How foolish for this woman to think she is above the law," she said. "You know, there isn't anything better or worse about being a woman. If women were in charge of everything, there would be women tyrants. If black people were in charge, there would be black tyrants. If Hispanics were in charge, then Hispanic tyrants."
After lunch, Dr. Estes strolled a block and a half down Gaylord Street, exulting in the sunshine on a surprisingly warm winter day.
"Here's my house," she said, pointing to a cream-colored brick and stucco home. "You know the best thing about having a house? You get to plant whatever you want in the yard and watch it grow."
This article was written by Dirk Johnson for the New York Times.
Baby steps. That’s all it takes to make less waste. Here are 10 no-to-low cost changes you can start today!
JUST SAY NO– no to plastic straws, no to disposable napkins, no to plastic utensils and bags. Saying no is free, boosts your confidence, and prevents tons and tons of waste!
Say bye to new clothing. Buying new clothing can be incredibly wasteful and environmentally detrimental. Over 25 billion pounds of clothes go to waste every year in the U.S. alone. Using the clothing that you already have in your wardrobe, try switching around where they are in your closet, or invite a friend over to help coordinate new outfits. It’s a great way to recycle pieces you forgot you had and make them new again. Any clothing that you don’t want or don’t wear anymore can be sold at consignment stores for some extra $$$.
Make your coffee and meals at home. Bring out that inner chef and explore new recipes. Making food and drink at home is a great way to reduce using wasteful takeout containers, and it also ensures that you can eat with real dishes and utensils, can compost any scraps and save the leftovers. More delicious, more healthy, more budget-friendly AND zero waste!
Do a book trade with your friends. If you’re a big reader, always buying new books can be cost-heavy and wasteful. Get a couple of like-minded friends together and trade books you’ve already read. New reads, zero waste and zero cost.
Avoid plastic grocery bags. Stick some cloth bags in your car or bag, or store them right by your door so you don’t forget them when you hit up the grocery store.
Forget about paper towels. An easy swap? Your dish rags and dish towels can double as reusable napkins or rags to wipe down messes. Have white washcloths that you used for makeup that are full of mascara? Use them for cleaning and compost them after (if they’re 100% cotton), or send them to textile recycling. Or use old t-shirts that are either too stained or ripped for reselling or donating, cut them up and use them as rags as well.
Skip plastic water bottles. Staying hydrated is important, so if you don’t have a reusable water bottle, you can easily use empty watertight peanut butter jars, coconut oil jars, etc. that are lying around and use that to bring water and other beverages with you.
Go au naturale or simplify your beauty routine. Too many times we impulsively buy cheap makeup with plastic packaging, use it a few times, then throw it out because it’s the wrong shade. Imagine the time AND money you would save if you skipped wearing makeup a few days a week, or simply cut some items out of your daily routine. Or try sustainable, natural alternatives like using coconut oil for makeup remover, lotion and lip gloss.
Make your own cleaning products. You probably have very effective cleaning products in your pantry and you don’t even know it! Apple cider or distilled white vinegar, citrus and baking soda all work beautifully to clean your home, saving you a trip to the store. Here’s a great recipe for a homemade all-purpose cleaner.
Become one with your trash. Get to know exactly what you’re throwing away. You may find that a lot of what you throw away is compostable or recyclable. From there you can start to be mindful of the waste you can easily swap for sustainable choices.
No matter how much money you make, we can all make simple changes to help the environment. I’d love to hear some no-cost changes you’ve made to live more sustainably!
This article was first published in Trash is Tossers here.
The phrase “fast fashion” has been lampooned around quite a lot lately. For those who don’t know, it refers to the blink-and-you-miss-it speed with which apparel is being produced and purchased. The upside of this phenomenon is that clothes have indeed become cheaper and more readily available than ever before. The downsides, however, tell a far darker and more sinister side to the story.
Put simply, the fast fashion industry is wielding detrimental effects upon our environment, and ultimately to humanity at large. “How is it doing this?” you ask? Well, let us explain.
Cheap stuff is great, and getting the latest trends as soon as they hit the catwalk is exciting. But take a second to consider the corners that must be cut in order to facilitate the low price and short turnover time that fast fashion embodies.
As the price of our clothes go down, more often than not, so too does the wage paid to those who make our clothes. Many of the lowest paid employees in the world are working in the biggest names in fast fashion, and roughly 85% of them are women. What’s more, these factories regularly see the violation of human rights as regulations are lax, ignored, or simply nonexistent.
"Cargo ships burn colossal amounts of low-grade fuel that is said to be 1,000 times dirtier than highway diesel"
Transport & climate
We’re all aware of how most of the world’s clothes are manufactured in countries that promise cheap labour (e.g Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Vietnam, etc). However, to enable the low prices on clothing tags, raw materials also need to be sourced from wherever they are cheapest (e.g. China, the U.S. and India).
This means that the journey from plant-to-pant can require long-distance travel, often in huge cargo ships. These ships are cost-effective, sure, but they burn colossal amounts of low-grade fuel that is said to be 1,000 times dirtier than highway diesel. Once the clothing is manufactured in the factory, it is then transported back to the retailer by any combination of journeys via cargo ship/ rail/ trucks. Sometimes the destination is right back to where the original material came from.
Greenhouse gas emissions
According to a report by Quantis, an environmental consultancy, the global apparel and footwear industries account for an estimated 8% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions (almost as much as the European Union’s entire climate impact combined) and the excessive transportation outlined above is largely to blame. However, the factories themselves are also to blame in this regard, as they are often coal or generator-powered and so produce huge amounts of carbon emissions every day.
"Did it ever occur to you that your own spandex leggings might be contributing to this problem?"
Have no doubts about it — the fast fashion industry has a lot to answer to when it comes to water pollution throughout the world. When not managed correctly, the industry's use of pesticides on farms and chemicals in factories cause immeasurable damage to the health of local communities, as these substances leech (or are dumped) into the surrounding water systems.
Textile dyeing alone is the second largest pollutant of clean water throughout the world (coming in short only to agriculture). An example of how potent the effect of textile dying has on local water can be seen in the Citarum River in Indonesia, which is said to be one of the most polluted rivers in the world largely due to the hundreds of textile factories that line its shores.
There is also the issue of microplastics (or “microfibres”); the perils of which have been widely discussed of late. Did it ever occur to you that your own spandex leggings might be contributing to this problem? Oh, you better believe it.
A huge percentage of today’s fast fashion is made from cheap, synthetic,non-biodegradable, plasticmaterials such as polyester, nylon, and spandex. The trouble with these fabrics is that when they are washed, they release plastic fibres into the water which are so small that they pass through wastewater filtration systems and flow into our rivers and oceans.
Sending cast-offs to developing countries collapses indigenous textile industries and offshores our waste problem
Waste & the disposability of clothes
The cheap cost and quality of today’s garments make them seem as disposable as a coffee cup and affords them the lifespan of a plastic bag. Why hold on to last season’s dress, when you can get a new one for next-to-nothing? Why mend a top when getting a new one is so much less time-consuming? Who cares about why this skirt is cheap — let’s just rejoice that it was a bargain.
To make matters worse, these clothes are not merely sitting dormant; over time as they start to decompose, clothes actually begin to release methane (which is the worst of all the greenhouse gases).
Even donating has a dark side
But what if it’s not sent to the dump? What if a person decides to donate their pre-loved clothes to a local charity shop? According to environmental scientist Dr. Cara Augustenburg: “There's a misconception that donating our unwanted clothes to charity is nothing but a good thing, but less than 30% of those clothes are re-sold internally. The remainder ends up in developing countries, collapsing indigenous textile industries and offshoring our waste problems.”
So what do we do?
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my clothes to fill me with guilt, nor do I fancy finding lumps of plastic in my salmon at dinner tonight. But as the world keeps turning, fast fashion keeps churning, and it’s up to us to use our voices (be it via social media, petitions, rallies or in letters to our state representatives) to tell the industry that we demand change.
From sourcing fabric sustainably; respecting the health and wellbeing of factory workers; utilising environmentally-sound transport methods; spearheading ethical waste management and helping to support the local environment, every part of the fashion creation journey needs to be considered if positive change is to happen.
And when you think about all the horrors mentioned throughout this article, you might agree that change really does needs to happen.
This article is reprinted courtesy of Image. Read the original article here.
Fashion revolves around the latest trends but is the industry behind the curve on the only trend that ultimately matters - the need to radically alter our patterns of consumption to ensure the survival of the planet.
The fashion industry produces 20 per cent of global wastewater and 10 per cent of global carbon emissions - more than all international flights and maritime shipping. Textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of water globally and it takes around 2,000 gallons of water to make a typical pair of jeans.
Every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned. If nothing changes, by 2050 the fashion industry will use up a quarter of the world’s carbon budget. Washing clothes also releases half a million tonnes of microfibres into the ocean every year.
Then there is the human cost: textile workers are often paid derisory wages and forced to work long hours in appalling conditions. But with consumers increasingly demanding change, the fashion world is finally responding with A-listers, like Duchess Meghan Markle, leading the way with their clothing choices and designers looking to break the take-make-waste model.
“Most fashion retailers now are doing something about sustainability and have some initiatives focused on reducing fashion’s negative impact on the environment,” says Patsy Perry, senior lecturer in fashion marketing at the University of Manchester. For example, last year, Britain’s Stella McCartney teamed up with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to launch a report on redesigning fashion’s future.
“However, there is still a fundamental problem with the fast fashion business model where revenues are based on selling more products, and therefore retailers must constantly offer new collections. It would be unrealistic to expect consumers to stop shopping on a large scale, so going forward, I would expect to see more development and wider adoption of more sustainable production methods such as waterless dyeing, using waste as a raw material, and development of innovative solutions to the textile waste problem,” she says.
Pioneering solutions to address environmental challenges will be at the heart of the fourth UN Environment Assembly next March. The meeting’s motto is to think beyond prevailing patterns and live within sustainable limits—a message that will resonate with fashion designers and retailers seeking to reform their industry.
At the March meeting, UN Environment will formally launch the UN Alliance on Sustainable Fashion to encourage the private sector, governments and non-governmental organizations to create an industry-wide push for action to reduce fashion’s negative social, economic and environmental impact and turn it into a driver for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.
And some entrepreneurs are already designing the fashion of the future:
Spain’s Ecoalf creates shoes from algae and recycled plastic as part of its Upcycling the Oceans collection. Founded by Javier Goyeneche in 2012, Ecoalf collects ocean plastics from 33 ports and turns the trash into shoes, clothing and bags.
In Amsterdam, GumDrop collects gum and turns it into a new kind of rubber, Gum-tec, which is then used to make shoes in collaboration with marketing group I Amsterdam and fashion company Explicit. GumDrop says around 3.3 million pounds of gum end up on Amsterdam’s paths every year, costing millions of dollars to clean. It takes around 2.2 pounds of gum to make four pairs of sneakers.
Outdoor gear retailer Patagonia, based in California, has been producing fleece jackets using polyester from recycled bottles since 1993, working with Polartec, a Massachusetts-based textile designer. Patagonia also encourages shoppers to buy only what they need, and mends and recycles older items.
Gothenburg-based Nudie Jeans uses organic cotton for its jeans and offers free repairs for life. Customers also get a discount if they hand in their old jeans.
Cambodia-based Tonlé uses surplus fabric from mass clothing manufacturers to create zero-waste fashion collections. It uses more than 97 per cent of the material it receives and turns the rest into paper.
In the Netherlands, Wintervacht turns blankets and curtains into coats and jackets. Designers Yoni van Oorsouw and Manon van Hoeckel find their raw materials in secondhand shops and sorting facilities where donations are processed. San Francisco- and Bali-based Indosole turns discarded tyres in Indonesia into shoes, sandals and flip-flops, while Swiss firm Freitag upcycles tarpaulins, seat belts and bicycle inner tubes to make their bags and backpacks.
In New York, Queen of Raw connects designers, architects and textile firms with dead stock of sustainable fabrics from factories, brands and retailers. Queen of Raw says more than US$120 billion worth of unused fabric sits in warehouses, waiting to be burned or buried.
Novel Supply, based in Canada, makes clothes from natural and organic fabrics and is developing a take-back programme to find alternative ways to use garments at the end of their life. For founder Kaya Dorey, winner of UN Environment’s Young Champion of the Earth award in 2017, the aim is to create a zero-waste, closed-loop fashion model.
Retailer H&M has a successful garment collection scheme and in October, lifestyle brand and jeans manufacturer Guess said it was teaming up with i:Collect, which collects, sorts and recycles clothes and footwear worldwide, to launch a wardrobe recycling programme in the US. Customers who bring in five or more items of clothing or shoes, will receive discounts. Wearable items will be recycled as secondhand goods, while unwearable items will be turned into new products like cleaning cloths or made into fibres for products like insulation.
Some argue that recycling is itself energy intensive and does not address our throwaway culture—the number of times a garment is worn has declined by 36 per cent in 15 years. An alternative might be found in a viable rental market for clothes. Pioneers in this field include Dutch firm Mud Jeans, which leases organic jeans that can be kept, swapped or returned, Rent the Runway, Girl Meets Dress and YCloset in China.
“The rental model is clearly a winner for the higher end of the market where consumers may have no intention of wearing an occasion dress more than once… but at the lower end, it’s all too easy to go online and be able to buy outright any trend or item,” says Perry. “For rental to be a success at this market level, companies need to offer sufficient choice of brands and styles that would engage consumers and tempt them away from outright purchase, and the rental service needs to be smooth and faultless.”
Her best fashion advice? Less is always more.
“Keep your clothing in use for longer to reduce its environmental footprint, as well as reducing the amount of new stuff you need to buy and the consequent use of resources. This also reduces the impact of the disposal of perfectly good but unwanted clothes.”
This article is reprinted courtesy of the United Nations Environment Program. Click here for the original article
The localization of economic activity can be a “solution multiplier” for many of the dire problems that confront the planet today, writes Helena Norberg-Hodge.
All around the globe, there is a rising sense that we are entering a time of historic change. Whether this change will be brought on by a destabilizing climate or a chronically collapsing economy, a peaking of oil supplies or intensifying geopolitical tensions, more and more people are concluding that the current system is broken and needs to be replaced.
Awareness is also growing that the same global economic system that threatens the ecological fabric of our world has a profoundly negative impact on our personal lives. The ability of mobile corporations to cut wages, to move jobs elsewhere and to subvert the political process is not only responsible for a widening gap between rich and poor but also for increasing psychological breakdown. Depression and addiction are accelerated by economic processes that erode community while promoting a consumer mindset in which material gain equals happiness.
People want change. But imagining a genuine alternative to the corporate-led global economy is a huge challenge for people who have only known a “modern,” industrial way of life—it’s like trying to imagine a new color. Viable options are ignored by the media, which instead focuses on market-based pseudosolutions that attempt to reconcile growth with sustainability. Meanwhile, governments, wedded to the belief that a rising GDP will solve all problems, continue to cater to the wishes of large corporations.
“Imagining a genuine alternative to the corporate-led global economy is a huge challenge for people who have only known a ‘modern,’ industrial way of life—it’s like trying to imagine a new color.”
We need an enlightened vision that moves beyond the economic growth paradigm. At the same time, we need to abandon the old rhetoric of capitalism vs. communism and instead address the process that shapes our world today—namely globalization, the continued deregulation of global banks and corporations through trade treaties. This furthers other processes—centralization, urbanization and standardization—that we have been told are inevitable and evolutionary, despite the fact that they are actually driven by policy choices.
Oxfam activists making a point about the devastating impact that climate change is already having on the world’s poorest people [Photo by Ainhoa Goma/Oxfam/CC BY-NC-ND]
A Deep Shift
For nearly 40 years, our organization Local Futures has been promoting a fundamental shift in direction—away from globalizing and toward localizing economic activity. Localization, which shortens the distance between production and consumption, is a “solution multiplier”: it dramatically reduces CO2 emissions, energy consumption and waste; it lays the groundwork for the widespread restoration of cultural and biological diversity; it’s a way to create meaningful and secure jobs for the entire global population; and, perhaps most importantly of all, it rebuilds the fabric of connection between people as well as between people and the natural world. It’s the economics of happiness.
I had my eyes opened to the key ways in which the economy affects every aspect of our lives while working as a linguist in Ladakh, or “Little Tibet,” in the Indian Himalayas in the mid-1970s. This region was quite unique in that it was completely sealed off until 1974, when it was thrown open to the outside economy. While traditional life in Ladakh was not perfect, the village-based economy was founded on the principles of collaboration and interdependence, which bolstered the connections between people, their community and their local environment. It gave rise to peace, sustainability and the most remarkable joie de vivre I had ever experienced.
“In Ladakh, I saw how a government-subsidized fossil fuel-based infrastructure for global trade completely undermined the local economy and the livelihoods it created.”
But over the next decades, I witnessed the social upheaval and environmental destruction brought by conventional development. In Ladakh, I saw how a government-subsidized fossil fuel-based infrastructure for global trade completely undermined the local economy and the livelihoods it created. An example of this was enabling heavily subsidized, chemically preserved butter from the other side of the Himalayas to be sold for half the price of local butter. I saw how, after just a few years, the undermining of the local economy led to unemployment, pulled people into intense competition for scarce jobs in an urban center and ultimately resulted in conflict and violence.
The products that flooded the region created an environmental crisis that remains unsolved today—plastic waste, air pollution and pesticides. Even more importantly, the glossy, westernized images of perfection used to advertise these products worked to destabilize the Ladakhi sense of self, leading to heartbreaking psychological and spiritual insecurity. This trend was compounded by the introduction of Western-style schooling, which pulled children away from family and community. It replaced the location-specific knowledge that had sustained Ladakhi culture for centuries with a degraded version of an education suitable for an urbanized consumer culture.
In the same way that globalization created unemployment in Ladakh, job security almost everywhere is threatened by “free-trade” treaties that give giant corporations the right to scour the globe in search of the cheapest labor, lowest taxes and weakest environmental standards. Just as the Ladakhis’ self-respect was eroded by glamorous images of westernized perfection, advertisers and marketers in the West continue to drive rampant consumerism by making us feel inadequate without the latest smartphone or the perfect figure, leading to crippling insecurities. And just as local production in Ladakh was rendered uneconomic by heavy subsidies for distantly produced goods, subsidies provided by nearly every government for fossil fuels and trade-based infrastructures work to the advantage of large, global players at the expense of their smaller, more localized competitors.
Seeing the Bigger Picture
For too long, we have been kept blind to this system, distracted by a theater of media scandals and politics that plays with our emotions and obscures the root causes of our social and environmental problems. We have been made to believe that our only means of resistance to the exploitation of both workers and the environment is to buy “ethically produced” or “green” products, thereby allowing ourselves to be reduced from citizens to mere consumers.
“We have been made to believe that our only means of resistance to the exploitation of both workers and the environment is to buy ‘ethically produced’ or ‘green’ products.”
Because Local Futures believes that it is mainly blindness that has allowed this destructive system to escalate, our priority has been to expose the system’s workings while promoting a systemic shift in direction. Working with other like-minded groups, we are paving the way for a worldwide people’s movement toward localization. Localization requires action at both the community and policy levels. We need to reregulate transnational corporations and banks while working at the local level to rebuild place-based economies.
We have always been convinced that if enough thinking, caring people are exposed to a big-picture global-to-local analysis, single-issue campaigns will unite to form a movement that is strong and diverse enough to challenge the existing political and economic order. This is already beginning to happen, as demonstrated by the fight against the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) trade deal: environmentalists, labor unions, small farmers, social justice activists and indigenous rights activists all stood together, united against corporate deregulation.
“One study showed that the average shopper at the farmers’ market has 10 times more conversations than the average shopper at the supermarket.”
Meanwhile, hundreds and thousands of on-the-ground localization initiatives have sprung up around the world. Farmers’ markets, transition towns, community gardens, local business alliances, time-banking schemes, alternative schools and many more have proliferated in recent years and are already demonstrating the profound benefits of strengthening local ties. In these places, the fabric of interdependence is being rewoven and ethnic, racial, socio-economic and intergenerational rifts mended.
One of the most heartening examples of localization in action is the local food movement, which has grown by leaps and bounds in the last decade. Central to the vision is the right of every human being to have fresh, local food at a reasonable price, which means prioritizing local production for local needs over production for export. The economic structure that facilitates this agenda is the local market. This demands of producers a diverse variety of products rather than a massive quantity of a single globally marketed commodity, thereby supporting agricultural and ecological diversity. A diversified farm, in turn, requires less chemicals and less machinery and instead requires the care of human hands, simultaneously reducing reliance on energy and providing many more jobs. Finally, social ties are strengthened on both the production and consumption sides: while work on the small, diversified farm is by nature social, so is shopping at the local market—one study showed that the average shopper at the farmers’ market has 10 times more conversations than the average shopper at the supermarket.
“In these places, the fabric of interdependence is being rewoven and ethnic, racial, socio-economic and intergenerational rifts mended.”
Localization is not a guarantee for peace, joy and sustainability, but it is indeed a prerequisite for these things. Just as the global economy tends toward harmfulness through the structures that perpetuate blindness, greed and tunnel-vision economics, local economies structurally confer increased visibility of the effects of our actions as consumers as well as citizens and foster closer connections to people and to the Earth. There is no blueprint for localization, only the insistence that societies and cultures be allowed to develop according to the dictates of the local climate and place, respecting their own priorities, needs and local conditions rather than the profit imperatives of global banks and corporations.
A Path to Change
In just the past few years, there has been an international awakening to the need for fundamental change. Sadly, rising dissatisfaction with the status quo has provided opportunities for the emergence of demagogues who speak to our fears and anxieties with the language of xenophobia and scapegoating. This is not the change we want or need, and we should be clear about that with ourselves and with others.
If we wish to build a truly better world, we need to engage in both political resistance and community-level renewal, linking hands with those in our own communities and across the world. We can point to the far-reaching benefits of revitalizing local economies that have already been felt in every corner of the globe. These have been hugely hopeful signs, and they should give all of us reason to hope that if we manage to build the enlightened movement for localization on both the political and grassroots levels, the change we bring will not only be revolutionary but will come with the speed necessary to tackle our global crises before it’s too late.
To be part of this worldwide localization movement, we posit the following five steps to action:
Connect: Change the “I” to a “we.” Find a group of like-minded individuals in your area to enhance the impact of your work and to offer each other strength.
Educate: See education as activism. Increase your own and others’ economic literacy. Go beyond dominant sources to find materials produced by activist groups and alternative media.
Resist: Join other groups in your region or country who are resisting economic globalization on a policy level by campaigning against trade treaties and against the further expansion of corporate power in all its manifestations. Spread the word about these movements and engage others in your community.
Renew: Focus on rebuilding local economic and social structures—from community gardens and local business alliances to localized renewable energy projects—and experience the immediate benefits. Work to your strengths!
Celebrate: Revitalize the practices, festivals and celebrations that connect us to nature, to others and to ourselves. This is a spiritual awakening that will not only give you the stamina to continue your work, it will encourage others to join you.
The remote region of Ladakh, in northern India, seemed idyllic at first, recalled Helena Norberg-Hodge of her first visit to the area in 1975. She worked as a linguist in this part of the world known as “Little Tibet.”
“It’s a part of Tibet that belongs politically to India and it was opened up to the outside world very late in the mid-1970s. I came out there ... and encountered people who were not only so much better off than I had ever thought was possible without economic growth, without the modern economy, but also the happiest, most vital and even healthiest people I had ever met. I became totally fascinated.”
She has worked with the people of Ladakh for 40 years now, she said.
“But after about [the first] 10 years, I started seeing the dramatic changes that happened when Ladakh was opened up to the outside economy, which really is a global economy. And I got a bird’s-eye view of how, in a systemic way, this consumer culture that’s being promoted worldwide – from Port Townsend to Beijing to North Africa – is really a global consumer monoculture that everywhere destroys the unique identities of our children, and their cultural and national and regional identities, in an extremely destructive way, creating insecurities and, with that, addictions and anxiety, depression.”
CONFERENCE IN PT
Norberg-Hodge is to share more about what she learned from Ladakh during an Economics of Happiness conference, Oct. 27-29 at 200 Battery Way, Fort Worden, in Port Townsend.
“We’re going to be talking especially about the movements around the world that are showing we can actually have much more happier lives, much more meaningful lives. And we could transform what has become a very dangerous and a very toxic economic system into economies ... that really work for both people and nature,” Norberg-Hodge said.
“We call this the ‘Economics of Happiness,’ and what we’re describing is not just a theory of how – if we supported local economies worldwide – we would have these multiple benefits. We are now able to report from all over the world that these things are happening and that they really work. I think it is a very hopeful message.”
To Norberg-Hodge, her experience in Little Tibet was clear how the change had taken place.
“It wasn’t to do with what the parents were doing ... it really was to do with an economic system.”
She shared what she learned in a book and movie called “Ancient Futures,” which she said has been translated into 50 languages.
“And from all over the world ... I kept getting this message from people, ‘The story you’re telling from Ladakh is our story, too.’”
That led to another book and film, “The Economics of Happiness,” which aims to bring voices from every continent to show that the crises being faced are connected.
“And it’s so helpful when you can see it that way, rather than what just seems like an endless list of problems. Many people feel depressed and overwhelmed by that,” Norberg-Hodge said.
EFFECTS OF CONSUMERISM
Western systems have greatly impacted “less developed” areas of the world, Norberg-Hodge said.
“When the consumer culture comes in, it leads so dramatically to these negative effects of obesity, but also with that: drug addiction, alcohol addiction.
“We’ve seen it in Native American communities in America, too, and, of course, now obesity is becoming a problem, a widespread problem, not just in indigenous communities, but it’s particularly in these remote areas where people have no information about the detrimental effects about these foods. In Mexico, they put more sugar in the Coca-Cola, and people don’t know how bad it is. They’ll give that really sugary Coca-Cola to babies.
“We’ve often taken community leaders on what we call ‘reality tours’ to the west, because they’re getting the impression in the media that our life is a complete paradise, that we don’t do any work and that we just have these incredible lives of leisure. And when they come and see how hard the average American is working just to pay the rent or the mortgage ... and when they come and see how much we long for community, for connection, connection to each other and connection to nature, it’s a huge eye-opener for them.”
WATER AND LAND
Natural resources can be better managed, she said, by using land and water carefully.
“That would require more people doing the farming. More people doing the teaching. More people caring in health care,” she said.
“We’re not saying that everyone should be out on the land farming, but we’re saying that we need many, many more people in the important work, particularly of food production, forestry, fisheries. But we also need more caretakers for our children. We need more caretakers for the elderly. We need more caretakers for the infirm. Instead of doing that, we’re actually creating a job scarcity.”
The global economic system is subsidized to use more energy and more technology and to “dump people on the rubbish heap,” she said.
“It’s deep in our system because it goes back to the beginning of industrialism and the beginning of thinking we had plenty of fossil fuels and that it was efficient to replace people with oil and machinery. Well, today, we have a bit of a problem with climate and we have a bit of a problem with employment. We should be reversing those subsidies.”
The existing systems aim to push everyone into larger cities, she said.
“Even in the United States, the smaller towns and cities are dying, and all the jobs are concentrated in these enormous, suburbanized conglomerations and more and more high-rise buildings.
“We must rethink that in order to revitalize smaller towns and cities, and decentralize work and jobs. With that comes a very different form of consumerism. We’re looking at people who are starting to value a whole array of really fresh, healthy food, who really enjoy knowing where it comes from, and who value a hand-made plate from pottery rather than mass producing. They value knowing someone who has actually made the clothes they wear.
“Now, all of that would be less expensive if we got off this industrial track, which really is an extractive model that’s linked to making five people so wealthy that they own more than half the global population.
“As I see it, we are on this sort of automatic pilot based on really outdated assumptions,” she said, such as the idea that using fossil fuels and technology, supermarkets and large farms are efficient.
“It’s highly inefficient on a crowded planet with limited water, limited land.... I see it being led by blind fundamentalist thinking that is constantly scaling up and speeding up a direction toward a globalized economy which concentrates production and power in the hands of fewer and fewer. So, we’re sort of ruled by a few media conglomerates, banking conglomerates, and the financial casino that links the banks, the media, the seed companies, the food corporations.”
BOTH LEFT AND RIGHT
The system is blindly accepted and promoted by both sides of the political spectrum, she said.
“But I don’t think it’s a question of good guys and bad guys. It’s not like everybody who works in HSBC bank is a nasty, greedy person and everybody who works in a small business is a good guy. It’s really about structures.”
Financial deregulation has wreaked havoc on the world, she said. The solution isn’t “narrow nationalism,” but understanding and international collaboration.
“Society needs to be involved in taking some of these decisions. But unfortunately, both left and right, politically, have been pursuing the same path” of energy-intensive, toxic and wasteful systems across the globe.
That path is being followed “even in Sweden, where I come from,” she said, “what people are calling a neoliberal economy. And it’s been promoted by socialists as well as conservatives.”
UNDERSTANDING IS KEY
By stepping back and seeing the big picture, she said, citizens of the world can enact change.
“It is leading to movements in other parts of the world,” she said, adding that there is a lot of grassroots action that is shifting food production away from giant corporate monocultures to diversified farms.
That sort of change can happen at the local community level, she said, and need not only happen at the higher political level.
“The real economy is the living earth, and we’ve got to get back to the basics. We mustn’t get lost in this techno-utopian world where we somehow think we’re going to live off information and that money represents our real wealth.”
“That GDP – the measure that our governments use to measure success – actually measures breakdown. Literally, it is true that if our water is so polluted we need to buy water in bottles, that helps GDP. If we clean up the water and people aren’t buying water, that’s bad for GDP. The same thing, if we stay healthy, that’s bad for GDP, where it would be really good if we all get cancer and need years of chemotherapy. GDP simply measures economic transactions.”
If you’re seeking some good news during these troubled times, look at the ecologically sound ways of producing food that have percolated up from the grassroots in recent years. Small farmers, environmentalists, academic researchers, and food and farming activists have given us agroecology, holistic resource management, permaculture, regenerative agriculture and other methods that can alleviate or perhaps even eliminate the global food system’s worst impacts: biodiversity loss, energy depletion, toxic pollution, food insecurity and massive carbon emissions.
These inspiring testaments to human ingenuity and goodwill have two things in common: They involve smaller-scale farms adapted to local conditions, and they depend more on human attention and care than on energy and technology. In other words, they are the opposite of industrial monocultures — huge farms that grow just one crop.
But to significantly reduce the many negative impacts of the food system, these small-scale initiatives need to spread all over the world. Unfortunately, this has not happened, because the transformation of farming requires shifting not just how food is produced, but also how it is marketed and distributed. The food system is inextricably linked to an economic system that, for decades, has been fundamentally biased against the kinds of changes we need.
Put simply, economic policies almost everywhere have systematically promoted ever-larger scale and monocultural production. Those policies include:
Massive subsidies for globally traded commodities. Most farm subsidies in the US, for example, go to just five commodities — corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton and rice — that are the centerpieces of global food trade. At the same time, government programs — like the US Market Access Program — provide hundreds of millions of dollars to expand international markets for agriculture products.
Direct and hidden subsidies for global transport infrastructures and fossil fuels. The IMF estimates these subsidies and ignored environmental costs at $5.3 trillion per year — the equivalent of $10 million every minute.
Health and safety regulations. Most of these have been made necessary by large-scale production and distribution — but they make it impossible for smaller-scale producers and marketers to compete and survive. In France, for example, the number of small producers of cheese has shrunk by 90 percent, thanks in large measure to EU food safety laws.
These policies provide a huge competitive advantage to large monocultural producers and corporate processors and marketers, which is why industrially produced food that has been shipped from the other side of the world is often less expensive than food from the farm next door.
The environmental costs of this bias are huge. Monocultures rely heavily on chemical inputs — fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides and pesticides — which pollute the immediate environment, put wildlife at risk and — through nutrient runoff — create “dead zones” in waters hundreds or thousands of miles away. Monocultures are also heavily dependent on fossil fuels to run large-scale equipment and to transport raw and processed foods across the world, making them a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, scientists estimate the greenhouse gas toll of the global food system at one-third of total emissions.
There are also risks to food security. With global economic policies homogenizing the world’s food supply, the 7,000 species of plants used as food crops in the past have been reduced to 150 commercially important crops, with rice, wheat and maize accounting for 60 percent of the global food supply. Varieties within those few crops have been chosen for their responsiveness to chemical fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation water — and for their ability to withstand long-distance transport. A similar calculus is applied to livestock and poultry breeds, which are skewed toward those that can grow rapidly with inputs of grain and antibiotics in confined animal feeding operations. The loss of diversity even extends to the size and shape of food products: harvesting machinery, transport systems and supermarket chains all require standardization. The end result is that more than half of the world’s food varieties have been lost over the past century; in countries like the US, the loss is more than 90 percent. The global food system rests on a dangerously narrow base. Without the genetic variety that can supply resilience, the food system is vulnerable to catastrophic losses from disease and the disruptions of a changing climate.
The Benefits of Local Food
The solution to these problems involves more than a commitment to ecological models of food production, it also requires a commitment to local food economies. Localization systematically alleviates a number of environmental problems inherent in the global food system, by:
reducing the distance that food travels, thereby lessening the energy needed for transport, as well as the attendant greenhouse gas emissions;
reducing the need for packaging, processing and refrigeration (which all but disappears when producers sell direct to consumers, thus reducing waste and energy use);
reducing monoculture, as farms producing for local or regional markets have an incentive to diversify their production, which makes organic production more feasible, in turn reducing the toxic load on surrounding ecosystems;
providing more niches for wildlife to occupy through diversified organic farms;
and supporting the principle of diversity on which ecological farming — and life itself — is based, by favoring production methods that are best suited to particular climates, soils and resources.
Local food provides many other benefits. The smaller-scale farms that produce for local and regional markets require more human intelligence, care and work than monocultures, thus providing more employment opportunities. In the Global South, in particular, a commitment to local food would stem the pressures that are driving millions of farmers off the land.
Local food is also good for rural and small-town economies, providing not only more on-farm employment, but supporting the many local businesses on which farmers depend.
Food security is also strengthened because varieties are chosen based on their suitability to diverse locales, not the demands of supermarket chains or the requirements of long-distance transport. This strengthens agricultural biodiversity.
Local food is also healthier. Since it doesn’t need to travel so far, local food is far fresher than global food; and since it doesn’t rely on monocultural production, it can be produced without toxic chemicals that can contaminate food.
Countering the Myths
Although local food is an incredibly effective solution-multiplier, agribusiness has gone to great lengths to convince the public that large-scale industrial food production is the only way to feed the world. But the fact is that the global food economy is massively inefficient.
The global system’s need for standardized products means that tons of edible food are destroyed or left to rot. This is one reason why more than one-third of the global food supply is wasted or lost; for the US, the figure is closer to one-half.
The logic of global trade results in massive quantities of identical products being simultaneously imported and exported — a needless waste of fossil fuels and a huge addition to greenhouse gas emissions. In a typical year, for example, the US imports more than 400,000 tons of potatoes and 1 million tons of beef, while exporting almost the same tonnage of each. The same is true of many other food commodities, and many other countries.
The supposed efficiency of monocultural production is based on output per unit of labor, which is maximized by replacing jobs with chemical- and energy-intensive technology. Measured by output per acre, however — a far more relevant metric — smaller-scale farms are typically 8 to 20 times more productive. This is partly because monocultures, by definition, produce just one crop on a given plot of land, while smaller, diversified farms allow intercropping — using the spaces between rows of one crop to grow another. What’s more, the labor “efficiencies” of monocultural production are linked to the use of large-scale equipment, which limit the farmer’s ability to tend to or harvest small portions of a crop and thereby increase yields.
Making the Shift
For more than a generation, now, the message to farmers has been to “get big or get out” of farming, and a great number of the farmers who remain have tailored their methods to what makes short-term economic sense within a deeply flawed system. To avoid bankrupting those farmers, the shift from global to local would need to take place with care, providing incentives for farmers to diversify their production, reduce their reliance on chemical inputs and fossil fuel energy, and to seek markets closer to home. Those incentives would go hand-in-hand with reductions in subsidies for the industrial food system.
After decades of policy bias toward global food, some steps in this direction are being taken by local and regional governments. In the US, for example, most states have enacted “cottage food laws” that relax the restrictions on the small-scale production of jams, pickles and other preserved foods, allowing them to be processed and sold locally without the need for expensive commercial kitchens.
In 2013, the government of Ontario, Canada, passed a Local Food Act aimed at increasing access to local food, improving local food literacy and providing tax credits for farmers who donate a portion of their produce to nearby food banks.
Even bolder action is needed if there is to be any hope of eliminating the damage done by the global food system. A crucial first step is to raise awareness of the costs of the current system, and the multiple benefits of local food. No matter how many studies demonstrate the virtues of alternative ways of producing and distributing food, the destructive global food system is unlikely to change unless there is heavy pressure from the grassroots to change the entire system. That needs to start now.
This article was first published by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Masahiko Yamada, formerly Japan´s Minister of Agriculture and now one of the country´s foremost food sovereignty activists. We met at an international Economics of Happiness Conference in Prato, Italy, where Yamada delivered a keynote speech about the birth of a new citizens’ movement to protect Japan´s food-crop heritage from corporate take-over.
Keen to learn more, I ask Yamada for an interview before he departs Italy. With only an hour to spare, we rush off to find a caffetteria with a spare table. Joining us as translator is Keibo Oiwa, author of Slow is Beautiful: Culture as Slowness, the book that inspired the Slow Living movement in Japan. Over a strong cup of Italian coffee, Mr. Yamada responds to my many questions.
From traditional farming to post-war industrialization
Yamada tells me he was born on a farm in Japan’s countryside during the Second World War. At the time, Japanese farmers practiced mixed farming – the growing of crops combined with the raising of livestock, for the added benefit of both.
“Everybody in the countryside owned a few pigs and a cow or two, and grew several arable crops. The main cereals – rice, wheat and soya – were alternated on the fields throughout the year. Rice and wheat would be followed by the nitrogen-fixing soya. This was our traditional way of farming,” says Yamada.
However, this started to change after the American post-war occupation of Japan and the extensive restructuring that followed. On the one hand, conditions improved for many farmers, as land reform redistributed agricultural land from absentee landlords, via forced sales to the government, to tenant farmers who worked the land and paid a proportion of their crops in rent. To avoid a return to the concentration of land in a few hands, the government limited farm size per household to what a family could farm without outside labor – approximately 1-4 ha (2.5-10 acres) depending on the region. The reform resulted in better conditions for Japanese farmers and a legally protected landscape of small family farms that remains today.
At the same time, the US occupation – amounting to several hundred thousand soldiers – led to a rapid process of industrialization, along with the emulation of the American lifestyle, including food habits. This meant a shift away from the traditional diet of rice, fish, vegetables and soya-products, towards a diet rich in meat and oils. Over a fifty-year period (1955-2005), the consumption of meat increased nine-fold and oil consumption rose five-fold; meanwhile the consumption of rice fell by half. “Americanization” also led to the rapid adoption of “modern farming” – large-scale specialized and industrialized agriculture – and a growing dependence on imported foods.
From farmer to visionary politician
As a young adult, Yamada followed the new trend of specialization and became a monocultural pork producer, with 5,000 pigs. Things went well at first, he says, but his business, like that of many other “modern” Japanese farmers, failed during the 1970s oil crisis. By then, Japanese agriculture was heavily tied to a volatile global fossil-fuel based economy. The oil embargo of 1973-74 led to a rapid rise in the cost of animal feed, coupled with a drop in the price of meat, as consumers tightened their purses during the crisis. Like many Japanese farmers at the time, Yamada was caught in a fatal squeeze between high costs for inputs and low prices for his production. He tried shifting to retailing, with a butcher business, but still could not survive economically.
Yamada’s hands-on experience as a modern farmer in a volatile global economy led him to question the way agriculture was changing, and to appreciate the value of Japan´s traditional small-scale diverse farms that operated without dependence on expensive inputs or big bank loans. He became convinced that the way forward was to strengthen and improve Japan´s diversified and integrated farming culture, including its many family farms, rather than pursuing further industrialization and specialization.
He took a drastic step and re-schooled as a lawyer. Later on, he entered politics and was elected to the House of Representatives in 2003. Six years later he became Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), and was officially appointed Minister of MAFF in 2010.
As Minister, one of the first things he did was to publically declare:
“The highly industrialized agricultural model has been a mistake and a failure…we need to strengthen small scale, family-based agriculture instead”.
Yamada took immediate steps to act on this belief by instituting a guaranteed minimum income for farming families. As is true in most places today, decades of low farm incomes had led young people to shy away from a life on the land, leaving the old to farm alone. The average age of farmers had by then reached 65 (it’s now 67), while the number of people engaged in farming had dropped from a steady 14 million people between 1870-1960, to a mere 2.2 million farmers by 2015. Not only that, two-thirds of these relied on secondary jobs and pensions to make ends meet.
The guarantee of a basic income had the desired effect: a marked increase in the number of young people engaged in farming. It had suddenly become possible for younger generations to return to their family farms without risking everything.
Out in the cold
Yamada´s agricultural vision – a more localized model based on diversified family farms – was not in line with the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) government, led by Prime Minister Shinzō Abe. This was not the only thing they differed on. Yamada was also highly critical of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – the “free trade” agreement that the Japanese government was seeking to join at the time. As Agriculture Minister, Yamada warned that the TPP would undermine Japan´s food sovereignty and further squeeze small farmers. Not surprisingly, Yamada was pushed out of office at the end of 2011, after only two years as Minister.
I ask Yamada what happened to the guaranteed basic income after he left office. He gives me a small smile and says, “It was abolished, or rather phased out, ending in 2018…But there is good news: the main opposition party [the Constitutional Democrat Party] plans to bring it back this year. The guaranteed minimum income for farming families is their number one goal”.
Japan’s crop seed heritage under threat
Yamada is one of those people who doesn’t give up. With his background in farming, law and politics, he was the perfect person to kick-start a bottom-up citizen-led movement to protect Japanese crop seed production. This had come under threat when the Japanese government moved in 2013 to abolish the Main Crop Seeds Law – a 67-year-old law protecting native seed production. According to Yamada, this move (along with other deregulatory steps), was an “admission fee” for joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership and a goodwill gesture to lobbyists for transnational agribusinesses.
The Main Crop Seeds Law, created in 1952, requires each of Japan’s 47 prefectures to maintain good quality seeds of the main staple crops: soya, rice, wheat, barley and oats. To this end, the prefectures run agricultural experimental stations that reproduce a wide range of varieties adapted to different locations and growing conditions. The agricultural stations, supported by the federal government, have for the past seven decades sold locally adapted high-quality open-pollinated seeds at an affordable price. The law is an example of visionary policy-making: it recognizes a key fundament of the long-term health of any society – its ability to feed itself. For that purpose, there is hardly anything more important than maintaining the production of native crop-seeds, rather than relying on a narrow range of commercial one-size-fits-all seeds.
On April 1, 2018, the Main Crop Seeds Law was revoked. The abolition went hand in hand with a recently enacted “Agricultural Competitiveness Strengthening and Support Law”, which mandates the “sharing” of information on seed production – or more accurately, the no-cost transfer of know-how from public-sector institutions to the private sector. This essentially amounts to the expropriation of an intellectual commons for the benefit of private, for-profit interests. The opposite situation would have been considered an infringement of agribusinesses’ intellectual property rights.
Farmers, food cooperatives, NGOs and other citizens’ groups are extremely worried about the consequences for farmers and for the country’s food security. With the seed protection law gone, many experimental stations will likely cease to exist, as will support for the production of native seeds, something that will hit the country´s small producers particularly hard. Meanwhile, transnational seed giants are waiting to take over seed production and marketing. In all likelihood, farmers will come to depend on big agribusiness for their seeds. As the corporate-commercial seeds tend to be hybrids (i.e. their attributes are not passed on to the next generation and many are designed to be sterile), farmers will have no choice but to buy new seeds year after year.
Yamada’s greatest concern, though, is for Japan´s rich seed diversity – in particular its chief crop, rice, which has been grown in Japan for over 2,500 years. There are over 300 varieties that vary in terms of taste, fragrance, and texture, and in their adaptability to the wide range of bio-climatic conditions that exist in Japan.
While local seed production inevitably leads to high diversity, seed production at the hands of a few transnational agribusinesses leads to the polar opposite – a small range of commercial breeds. Japan therefore is at risk of losing its crop diversity for good.
This is a very real threat. According to FAO, 75% of crop seeds disappeared between 1900 and 2000. In the US, where agribusiness and large-scale specialized farms have long dominated, the loss is estimated at 93% in only 80 years.
After the recent-mega mergers of the world´s largest agricultural agribusinesses, only three conglomerates now control half of all seed sales in the world: DowDuPont, Bayer-Monsanto, and Syngenta-ChemChina, which will mean a further decrease in seed diversity. The biggest revenue source for these companies, however, is not from the sale of seeds but from the agricultural chemicals that go with them. As investigative journalist Mark Schapiro puts it, “The combination of chemical and seed companies is giving rise to seeds that are born addicted to chemicals for their survival – entire generations full of crack-baby seeds.”
Yamada tells me that after he was pushed out of government, he joined forces with an impressive group of 150 lawyers that has challenged as unconstitutional both the TPP agreement and the government’s decision to abolish the seed protection law. Challenging the TPP in court is a hefty job. Like all “free trade” treaties, the written agreements are over-complicated and designed to confuse. Yamada explains that the 30 chapters of the most recent version of the TPP agreement contain more than 8,000 pages. When asked about the outcome of the court case, he says:
“First we took them to the local court and then to the national court. We lost both times. But the court did acknowledge that the TPP is behind the abolishing of the Main Crop Seeds Law. We are not giving up: we are now taking the case to the Supreme Court, as TPP violates articles 25 and 13 of our constitution. It is not only our seeds that are at risk, but our water, which is now in the process of being privatized and sold to foreign companies.”
Yamada is employing a two-prong strategy. Along with the fight at the very top of the legal system, he is mobilizing a grassroots movement to initiate change from the bottom. For a year he has traveled across the country, from one small rural town to the next, to encourage and organize local and regional groups to resist the transnationals and to pressure local government (on a prefecture level) to issue ordinances that protect Japan’s native seeds, in the absence of adequate national laws.
In Japan, any citizen may submit a suggestion to their local government. By law, the local government is obliged to discuss and consider suggestions submitted to them by citizens. Thanks to this direct democracy practice, it has been possible for individuals and groups to propose local laws to protect their seeds.
The bottom-up strategy has been hugely successful. In less than a year, hundreds of requests have been sent to local governments across the country. Three prefectures (Niigata, Hyogo and Saitama) have now passed seed-protection laws, while Nagano, Toyama, Hokkaido and Yamagata – prefectures with large farming communities – are in the process of doing the same. Reports from across the country indicate that another twelve will follow suit before long. Yamada´s aim is for all 47 prefectures to take legal protective action.
In support of the campaign, a broad “Coalition to Protect Japanese Seeds” has been formed by food coops, citizens’ groups, NGOs and farmers. The national Agricultural Association, which previously supported the Liberal Democrat Party´s free trade policies, has now joined the campaign to protect Japan´s seed heritage.
Is water next?
Yamada points out that it is not only agriculture and seeds that are threatened under the “free trade” agenda: water is the next “commons” in line to be privatized and commercialized. Until recently, water in Japan was managed by the prefectures, but both the TPP and the revised CCTPP agreement are opening up the privatization of water on a massive scale.
In July 2018, a new law allowing water privatization was passed in the lower house of Parliament. Whether it will pass the upper house remains to be seen, but the present government has been urging cities to privatize their water-works for some time, to avoid the fiscal burden of replacing aging water and sewage systems.
The transfer of water rights into the hands of foreign corporations, Yamada believes, is a short-sighted solution to the limitations of the public purse. Citizens, local businesses and even public institutions will henceforth have to pay more for their water, in order to provide distant share-holders with a steady profit in a speculative market.
The Asian Development Bank is already helping to privatize water in many Japanese cities. So far Matsuyama City has sold its water to a French company. “Water is now five times more expensive,” Yamada tells me. “Before, poor people could get water in the public parks, but even that has now become illegal”.
Yamada is ready to kickstart another citizen’s movement to protect water, using the same bottom-up strategy as the one being used to protect Japan´s seeds. “If we can do this here, then it can be done in other countries as well,” Yamada concludes, before he rushes off to his next destination.
Japan´s situation is not unique: the corporatization of the commons is happening everywhere, as the result of heavy corporate lobbying and the direct involvement of big business in the drafting of trade treaties. The TPP is a good example of this skewed process: 600 official corporate “trade advisors” took part in closed-door negotiations from the very beginning, while civil society was left to depend on leaked documents for information. Yet, most governments are willing participants in this rigged “trade game” as part of an endless quest for further economic growth.
Despite the limitations of a finite planet, there is still an almost-religious belief in the growth model, both as a recipe for “economic health” and as a broad-spectrum cure for all ailments, from poverty to climate change. So far, the results have been the opposite – an economy that primarily benefits the 1% and environmental breakdown on all levels, including soaring CO2 emissions.
The privatization of the commons is part of the same story. Clearly, the biggest beneficiaries aren´t people or even nation-states, but global business enterprises and their shareholders.
It’s time for us to wake up and practice direct democracy – to join with others to stop further corporatization and regain control over our commons, our communities, our cultures and our economies. Because if we don’t, who will? Masahiko Yamada and the new citizens’ movement in Japan have come up with a few tricks we can learn from.
 The TPP was revised after the USA pulled out, and is now named the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). It is also known as TPP11, as 11 countries remain: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam. It is the third-largest free trade treaty in the world, calculated by the countries’ combined GDP, after the North American Free Trade Agreement and Europe´s Single Market.
Laura Rival is enticed to hear the forest’s vast and timeless symphony.
Written by a Yanomami shaman and a French anthropologist united by more than 30 years of friendship (as well as a shared passion for both Yanomami culture and philosophy, and spiritual ecology), this beautifully crafted book gets its title from a myth about the cataclysmic end of the world. In fact, it would not be wrong to say that the ‘falling sky’ invaded by deadly smokes of metal and fuel is the book’s main protagonist. It is this anthropomorphised entity, at once threatening and ever so fragile, that the Yanomami urge us to take seriously:
“Beyond our own fate, we also worry about the entire world, which could well turn to chaos. Unlike us, the white people are not afraid to be crushed by the falling sky. But one day they may fear that as much as we do! The shamans know a great deal about the bad things that threaten human beings. There is only one sky and we must take care of it, for if it becomes sick, everything will come to an end.”
The long shamanic chant that makes up the book opens up a multitude of interior journeys and provides a new consciousness of the world as a whole. For humanity to progress, the chant goes, the entire forest, the great forest-land-earth must be defended, “including the one human beings do not inhabit”. Yanomami shamans protect Nature in its entirety, by defending “the forest’s trees, hills, mountains, and rivers, its fish, game, spirits, and human inhabitants”. They do so with the help of their xapiri auxiliary spirits. Relentlessly and awesomely, shamans and their xapiri battle against the dark forces that lurk all over and threaten the good health, wellbeing, and balance of the forest universe, making it cool and beautiful, even when the rains become scarce.
Yanomami wisdom is acquired through dreaming. All Yanomami, shamanic initiation requires a deeper kind of dreaming; a dreaming that goes beyond the things of the moment. In the first section of the book, Davi Kopenawa recounts the details of how Lourival, his father-in-law, along with other seasoned shamans, guided his spiritual growth. Cosmological knowledge and shamanic arts are not so much disclosed as they are generously shared out with the readers. Shamanic initiation, an inner journey carried through embodied transmission and loving imitation, links the old to the young, recreating time and space as they have always been for those who think long and wide, and for long enough. Through its careful repetitions and seductive metaphors, the chant gives life to a multitude of beings who, along with their luminous paths and dazzling mirrors, find steady shelters within webs that link the shamans’ chests to the primordial sky. Without the xapiri, there would be no realisation of the vital solidarity between all that is alive.
The second part of the book exposes the reasons why the Yanomami people will not survive without shamanic expertise, and the third part is about how the message is spread to the white people. The white people too depend on the shaman’s hard labour, even if “they only pay attention to their own speeches, [as] it never crosses their minds that the same epidemic smoke poison devours their own children”. The protection offered by Yanomami shamanism is universal; it applies everywhere and at all times, for there is only one sky, and it is shared by all humans. Having reached full spiritual maturity, Davi Kopenawa now feels confident enough to warn us all, whether we are Westerners consumed by materialist desires or young Yanomami with empty thoughts ‘full of smoke’. Instead of a love of merchandise, what we all need most of all is to regain the ability of dreaming the forest.
Few Indigenous groups have suffered from deadly epidemics, land dispossession, and aggressive missionarisation as much as the Yanomami have. In our ever-expanding world society, Indigenous and tribal peoples are severely affected by poverty, and, increasingly, climate change. In the Amazon region and beyond, a break in the flows of knowledge exchange between older and younger generations, a lack of communication between Indigenous and non-Indigenous interlocutors, and a general loss of connection with the natural environment are common problems.
Despite remarkable political gains in the last 30 years, including the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2007, a health and social crisis is deepening within many Indigenous communities. As this book makes plain and clear, this crisis is rooted in the symbolic violence exercised by dominant society, which fails to recognise the value (rather than just the right) of being different and of living in a distinct human collectivity.
The Falling Sky, which initially appeared in French in 2010, is based on hundreds of hours of interviews and enriched by an essay by Bruce Albert on the complex cross-collaboration that gave birth to the book. The story contains a multiplicity of voices. In addition to highlighting the partial fusion of the two authors sharing the same ‘I’ (a sign if there is one of mutual recognition and true friendship) the resulting text has a musical quality, which adds to the eloquent beauty of the message. What better way to entice readers away from everyday forgetfulness than to invite them to hear the forest’s vast and timeless symphony?
For more information on the Yanomami and the work of Survival International which has supported the Yanomami for decades, visit www.survivalinternational.org
Laura Rival is Lecturer at Oxford University, where she teaches various courses relating to the Anthropology of Nature, Society, and Development.
This article was first appeared in the Resurgence website here.
By Michael Pollan
Why bother? That really is the big question facing us as individuals hoping to do something about climate change, and it’s not an easy one to answer. I don’t know about you, but for me the most upsetting moment in “An Inconvenient Truth” came long after Al Gore scared the hell out of me, constructing an utterly convincing case that the very survival of life on earth as we know it is threatened by climate change. No, the really dark moment came during the closing credits, when we are asked to . . . change our light bulbs. That’s when it got really depressing. The immense disproportion between the magnitude of the problem Gore had described and the puniness of what he was asking us to do about it was enough to sink your heart.
But the drop-in-the-bucket issue is not the only problem lurking behind the “why bother” question. Let’s say I do bother, big time. I turn my life upside-down, start biking to work, plant a big garden, turn down the thermostat so low I need the Jimmy Carter signature cardigan, forsake the clothes dryer for a laundry line across the yard, trade in the station wagon for a hybrid, get off the beef, go completely local. I could theoretically do all that, but what would be the point when I know full well that halfway around the world there lives my evil twin, some carbon-footprint doppelgänger in Shanghai or Chongqing who has just bought his first car (Chinese car ownership is where ours was back in 1918), is eager to swallow every bite of meat I forswear and who’s positively itching to replace every last pound of CO2 I’m struggling no longer to emit. So what exactly would I have to show for all my trouble?
A sense of personal virtue, you might suggest, somewhat sheepishly. But what good is that when virtue itself is quickly becoming a term of derision? And not just on the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal or on the lips of the vice president, who famously dismissed energy conservation as a “sign of personal virtue.” No, even in the pages of The New York Times and The New Yorker, it seems the epithet “virtuous,” when applied to an act of personal environmental responsibility, may be used only ironically. Tell me: How did it come to pass that virtue–a quality that for most of history has generally been deemed, well, a virtue–became a mark of liberal softheadedness? How peculiar, that doing the right thing by the environment–buying the hybrid, eating like a locavore–should now set you up for the Ed Begley Jr. treatment.
And even if in the face of this derision I decide I am going to bother, there arises the whole vexed question of getting it right. Is eating local or walking to work really going to reduce my carbon footprint? According to one analysis, if walking to work increases your appetite and you consume more meat or milk as a result, walking might actually emit more carbon than driving. A handful of studies have recently suggested that in certain cases under certain conditions, produce from places as far away as New Zealand might account for less carbon than comparable domestic products. True, at least one of these studies was co-written by a representative of agribusiness interests in (surprise!) New Zealand, but even so, they make you wonder. If determining the carbon footprint of food is really this complicated, and I’ve got to consider not only “food miles” but also whether the food came by ship or truck and how lushly the grass grows in New Zealand, then maybe on second thought I’ll just buy the imported chops at Costco, at least until the experts get their footprints sorted out.
There are so many stories we can tell ourselves to justify doing nothing, but perhaps the most insidious is that, whatever we do manage to do, it will be too little too late. Climate change is upon us, and it has arrived well ahead of schedule. Scientists’ projections that seemed dire a decade ago turn out to have been unduly optimistic: the warming and the melting is occurring much faster than the models predicted. Now truly terrifying feedback loops threaten to boost the rate of change exponentially, as the shift from white ice to blue water in the Arctic absorbs more sunlight and warming soils everywhere become more biologically active, causing them to release their vast stores of carbon into the air. Have you looked into the eyes of a climate scientist recently? They look really scared.
So do you still want to talk about planting gardens?
Whatever we can do as individuals to change the way we live at this suddenly very late date does seem utterly inadequate to the challenge. It’s hard to argue with Michael Specter, in a recent New Yorker piece on carbon footprints, when he says: “Personal choices, no matter how virtuous [N.B.!], cannot do enough. It will also take laws and money.” So it will. Yet it is no less accurate or hardheaded to say that laws and money cannot do enough, either; that it will also take profound changes in the way we live. Why? Because the climate-change crisis is at its very bottom a crisis of lifestyle–of character, even. The Big Problem is nothing more or less than the sum total of countless little everyday choices, most of them made by us (consumer spending represents 70 percent of our economy), and most of the rest of them made in the name of our needs and desires and preferences.
For us to wait for legislation or technology to solve the problem of how we’re living our lives suggests we’re not really serious about changing–something our politicians cannot fail to notice. They will not move until we do. Indeed, to look to leaders and experts, to laws and money and grand schemes, to save us from our predicament represents precisely the sort of thinking–passive, delegated, dependent for solutions on specialists–that helped get us into this mess in the first place. It’s hard to believe that the same sort of thinking could now get us out of it.
Thirty years ago, Wendell Berry, the Kentucky farmer and writer, put forward a blunt analysis of precisely this mentality. He argued that the environmental crisis of the 1970s–an era innocent of climate change; what we would give to have back that environmental crisis!–was at its heart a crisis of character and would have to be addressed first at that level: at home, as it were. He was impatient with people who wrote checks to environmental organizations while thoughtlessly squandering fossil fuel in their everyday lives–the 1970s equivalent of people buying carbon offsets to atone for their Tahoes and Durangos. Nothing was likely to change until we healed the “split between what we think and what we do.” For Berry, the “why bother” question came down to a moral imperative: “Once our personal connection to what is wrong becomes clear, then we have to choose: we can go on as before, recognizing our dishonesty and living with it the best we can, or we can begin the effort to change the way we think and live.”
For Berry, the deep problem standing behind all the other problems of industrial civilization is “specialization,” which he regards as the “disease of the modern character.” Our society assigns us a tiny number of roles: we’re producers (of one thing) at work, consumers of a great many other things the rest of the time, and then once a year or so we vote as citizens. Virtually all of our needs and desires we delegate to specialists of one kind or another–our meals to agribusiness, health to the doctor, education to the teacher, entertainment to the media, care for the environment to the environmentalist, political action to the politician.
As Adam Smith and many others have pointed out, this division of labor has given us many of the blessings of civilization. Specialization is what allows me to sit at a computer thinking about climate change. Yet this same division of labor obscures the lines of connection–and responsibility–linking our everyday acts to their real-world consequences, making it easy for me to overlook the coal-fired power plant that is lighting my screen, or the mountaintop in Kentucky that had to be destroyed to provide the coal to that plant, or the streams running crimson with heavy metals as a result.
Of course, what made this sort of specialization possible in the first place was cheap energy. Cheap fossil fuel allows us to pay distant others to process our food for us, to entertain us and to (try to) solve our problems, with the result that there is very little we know how to accomplish for ourselves. Think for a moment of all the things you suddenly need to do for yourself when the power goes out–up to and including entertaining yourself. Think, too, about how a power failure causes your neighbors–your community–to suddenly loom so much larger in your life. Cheap energy allowed us to leapfrog community by making it possible to sell our specialty over great distances as well as summon into our lives the specialties of countless distant others.
Here’s the point: Cheap energy, which gives us climate change, fosters precisely the mentality that makes dealing with climate change in our own lives seem impossibly difficult. Specialists ourselves, we can no longer imagine anyone but an expert, or anything but a new technology or law, solving our problems. Al Gore asks us to change the light bulbs because he probably can’t imagine us doing anything much more challenging, like, say, growing some portion of our own food. We can’t imagine it, either, which is probably why we prefer to cross our fingers and talk about the promise of ethanol and nuclear power–new liquids and electrons to power the same old cars and houses and lives.
The “cheap-energy mind,” as Wendell Berry called it, is the mind that asks, “Why bother?” because it is helpless to imagine–much less attempt–a different sort of life, one less divided, less reliant. Since the cheap-energy mind translates everything into money, its proxy, it prefers to put its faith in market-based solutions–carbon taxes and pollution-trading schemes. If we could just get the incentives right, it believes, the economy will properly value everything that matters and nudge our self-interest down the proper channels. The best we can hope for is a greener version of the old invisible hand. Visible hands it has no use for.
But while some such grand scheme may well be necessary, it’s doubtful that it will be sufficient or that it will be politically sustainable before we’ve demonstrated to ourselves that change is possible. Merely to give, to spend, even to vote, is not to do, and there is so much that needs to be done–without further delay. In the judgment of James Hansen, the NASA climate scientist who began sounding the alarm on global warming 20 years ago, we have only 10 years left to start cutting–not just slowing–the amount of carbon we’re emitting or face a “different planet.” Hansen said this more than two years ago, however; two years have gone by, and nothing of consequence has been done. So: eight years left to go and a great deal left to do.
Which brings us back to the “why bother” question and how we might better answer it. The reasons not to bother are many and compelling, at least to the cheap-energy mind. But let me offer a few admittedly tentative reasons that we might put on the other side of the scale:
If you do bother, you will set an example for other people. If enough other people bother, each one influencing yet another in a chain reaction of behavioral change, markets for all manner of green products and alternative technologies will prosper and expand. (Just look at the market for hybrid cars.) Consciousness will be raised, perhaps even changed: new moral imperatives and new taboos might take root in the culture. Driving an S.U.V. or eating a 24-ounce steak or illuminating your McMansion like an airport runway at night might come to be regarded as outrages to human conscience. Not having things might become cooler than having them. And those who did change the way they live would acquire the moral standing to demand changes in behavior from others–from other people, other corporations, even other countries.
All of this could, theoretically, happen. What I’m describing (imagining would probably be more accurate) is a process of viral social change, and change of this kind, which is nonlinear, is never something anyone can plan or predict or count on. Who knows, maybe the virus will reach all the way to Chongqing and infect my Chinese evil twin. Or not. Maybe going green will prove a passing fad and will lose steam after a few years, just as it did in the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan took down Jimmy Carter’s solar panels from the roof of the White House.
Going personally green is a bet, nothing more or less, though it’s one we probably all should make, even if the odds of it paying off aren’t great. Sometimes you have to act as if acting will make a difference, even when you can’t prove that it will. That, after all, was precisely what happened in Communist Czechoslovakia and Poland, when a handful of individuals like Vaclav Havel and Adam Michnik resolved that they would simply conduct their lives “as if” they lived in a free society. That improbable bet created a tiny space of liberty that, in time, expanded to take in, and then help take down, the whole of the Eastern bloc.
So what would be a comparable bet that the individual might make in the case of the environmental crisis? Havel himself has suggested that people begin to “conduct themselves as if they were to live on this earth forever and be answerable for its condition one day.” Fair enough, but let me propose a slightly less abstract and daunting wager. The idea is to find one thing to do in your life that doesn’t involve spending or voting, that may or may not virally rock the world but is real and particular (as well as symbolic) and that, come what may, will offer its own rewards. Maybe you decide to give up meat, an act that would reduce your carbon footprint by as much as a quarter. Or you could try this: determine to observe the Sabbath. For one day a week, abstain completely from economic activity: no shopping, no driving, no electronics.
But the act I want to talk about is growing some–even just a little–of your own food. Rip out your lawn, if you have one, and if you don’t–if you live in a high-rise, or have a yard shrouded in shade–look into getting a plot in a community garden. Measured against the Problem We Face, planting a garden sounds pretty benign, I know, but in fact it’s one of the most powerful things an individual can do–to reduce your carbon footprint, sure, but more important, to reduce your sense of dependence and dividedness: to change the cheap-energy mind.
A great many things happen when you plant a vegetable garden, some of them directly related to climate change, others indirect but related nevertheless. Growing food, we forget, comprises the original solar technology: calories produced by means of photosynthesis. Years ago the cheap-energy mind discovered that more food could be produced with less effort by replacing sunlight with fossil-fuel fertilizers and pesticides, with a result that the typical calorie of food energy in your diet now requires about 10 calories of fossil-fuel energy to produce. It’s estimated that the way we feed ourselves (or rather, allow ourselves to be fed) accounts for about a fifth of the greenhouse gas for which each of us is responsible.
Yet the sun still shines down on your yard, and photosynthesis still works so abundantly that in a thoughtfully organized vegetable garden (one planted from seed, nourished by compost from the kitchen and involving not too many drives to the garden center), you can grow the proverbial free lunch–CO2-free and dollar-free. This is the most-local food you can possibly eat (not to mention the freshest, tastiest and most nutritious), with a carbon footprint so faint that even the New Zealand lamb council dares not challenge it. And while we’re counting carbon, consider too your compost pile, which shrinks the heap of garbage your household needs trucked away even as it feeds your vegetables and sequesters carbon in your soil. What else? Well, you will probably notice that you’re getting a pretty good workout there in your garden, burning calories without having to get into the car to drive to the gym. (It is one of the absurdities of the modern division of labor that, having replaced physical labor with fossil fuel, we now have to burn even more fossil fuel to keep our unemployed bodies in shape.) Also, by engaging both body and mind, time spent in the garden is time (and energy) subtracted from electronic forms of entertainment.
You begin to see that growing even a little of your own food is, as Wendell Berry pointed out 30 years ago, one of those solutions that, instead of begetting a new set of problems–the way “solutions” like ethanol or nuclear power inevitably do–actually beget other solutions, and not only of the kind that save carbon. Still more valuable are the habits of mind that growing a little of your own food can yield. You quickly learn that you need not be dependent on specialists to provide for yourself–that your body is still good for something and may actually be enlisted in its own support. If the experts are right, if both oil and time are running out, these are skills and habits of mind we’re all very soon going to need. We may also need the food. Could gardens provide it? Well, during World War II, victory gardens supplied as much as 40 percent of the produce Americans ate.
But there are sweeter reasons to plant that garden, to bother. At least in this one corner of your yard and life, you will have begun to heal the split between what you think and what you do, to commingle your identities as consumer and producer and citizen. Chances are, your garden will re-engage you with your neighbors, for you will have produce to give away and the need to borrow their tools. You will have reduced the power of the cheap-energy mind by personally overcoming its most debilitating weakness: its helplessness and the fact that it can’t do much of anything that doesn’t involve division or subtraction. The garden’s season-long transit from seed to ripe fruit–will you get a load of that zucchini?!–suggests that the operations of addition and multiplication still obtain, that the abundance of nature is not exhausted. The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world.
This article was first published in Dr. Pollan's website here.
By Dr. Mercola
I believe many of our country's chronic health problems would simply disappear if greater attention was paid to the root problem — the food you eat.
Americans' reliance on processed foods is a major factor that drives the rampant disease increases in the US, such as diabetes. According to a new report from the American Diabetes Association,  an estimated 22.3 million people were living with type 1 or type 2 diabetes in 2012, up from 17.5 million in 2007.
But why do Americans buy so much processed food and junky snacks? Well, first of all, junk foods are heavily promoted by the US government via agricultural subsidies for crops like corn and soy.
Add to that misleading yet highly effective marketing, and — the focus of this article — the addictive nature of junk food, which is a science in and of itself.
In order to protect your health, I advise spending 90 percent of your food budget on whole foods, and only 10 percent on processed foods. Most Americans currently do the opposite, and this will undoubtedly have an effect on your health, especially in the long term.
The Food Industry's Role in America's Health Crisis
In the featured New York Times article,  investigative reporter Michael Moss writes about the extraordinary science behind taste and junk food addiction, and how multinational food companies struggle to maintain their "stomach shares" in the face of mounting evidence that their foods are driving the health crisis.
In it, he mentions a 1999 meeting between 11 CEO's in charge of America's largest food companies, including Kraft, Nabisco, General Mills, Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, and Mars. He writes:
"James Behnke, a 55-year-old executive at Pillsbury... was anxious but also hopeful about the plan that he and a few other food-company executives had devised to engage the C.E.O.'s on America's growing weight problem. 'We were very concerned, and rightfully so, that obesity was becoming a major issue... [T]here was a lot of pressure on food companies.'
...[Behnke] was engaged in conversation with a group of food-science experts who were painting an increasingly grim picture of the public's ability to cope with the industry's formulations — from the body's fragile controls on overeating to the hidden power of some processed foods to make people feel hungrier still. It was time, he and a handful of others felt, to warn the C.E.O.'s that their companies may have gone too far in creating and marketing products that posed the greatest health concerns."
The Parallels Between Cigarettes and Junk Food
On that day in 1999, Michael Mudd, vice president of Kraft, did "the unthinkable" during his speech — he drew a connection between processed foods and cigarettes. We no longer condone cigarette ads for teens, having clearly established the health hazards associated with smoking, despite decades-long denials from the industry.
Yet we now blindly accept the same kind of misleading tactics being applied to junk food, even though the health ramifications rival, if not surpass, those of smoking. Mudd presented a plan to address the obesity problem, which would help defuse the criticism building against the food industry.
In my view, the criticism was, and still is, justifiable. As just one example, General Mills created Yoplait that same year (1999), which "transformed traditional unsweetened breakfast yogurt into a veritable dessert," to use Moss' own words. In fact, Yoplait yoghurt contained 100 percent more sugar per serving than the company's Lucky Charms cereal! Yet everyone recognized yoghurt as a wholesome food, and sales of Yoplait soared.
Mudd proposed employing scientists "to gain a deeper understanding of what was driving Americans to overeat." Once they knew that, products could then be reformulated; salt, sugar and fat use could be reined in, and advertising could be repositioned. The 1999 meeting didn't go well. It effectively ended when Stephen Sanger, head of General Mills, allegedly stated he would not jeopardize the sanctity of the recipes that had made his products so successful in order to appease the critics.
Fast-forward a decade and we now have novel biotech flavor companies like Senomyx, which specializes in helping companies do what Mudd proposed — finding new flavors to reduce sugar and salt content in processed foods.
These "flavor enhancers" are created using secret, patented processes, and they do not need to be listed on the food label. The lack of labeling requirements is particularly troublesome and will most likely become an issue in the future. As of now, they simply fall under the generic category of artificial and/or natural flavors. What this means is that the product will appear to be much "healthier" than it might otherwise be, were a flavor enhancer not used. The question is, are chemical flavor enhancers safe? Or are food companies simply exchanging one harmful substance for another? That remains to be seen.
The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food
Canadian and American obesity statistics are now neck-to-neck, with about one-quarter to one third of adults in the obese category. A staggering two-thirds of Americans are overweight. This in turn drives skyrocketing diabetes rates. According to the latest report from the American Diabetes Association, an estimated 22.3 million people were living with type 1 or type 2 diabetes in 2012, up from 17.5 million in 2007. Last year 246,000 deaths were attributed to diabetes. The UK also recently released updated statistics, showing a record three million Britons are now diagnosed with diabetes,  which equates to 4.6 percent of the British population. Another 850,000 Britons are believed to have undiagnosed Type 2 diabetes.
The total cost of diagnosed diabetes in the US last year was $245 billion, a whopping 41 percent increase from the $174 billion spent in 2007. Obesity also drives rising rates of heart disease, kidney failure, gout, and blindness, just to name a few associated health problems, all of which contribute to soaring health care costs.
So who or what is to blame? As it turns out, poor will power is NOT the heart of the matter.
According to Moss' four-year long investigation, interviewing more than 300 people in or formerly employed by the processed-food industry, there's a conscious effort on behalf of food manufacturers to get you hooked on foods that are convenient and inexpensive to make. I recommend reading the featured article in its entirety, as it offers a series of case studies that shed light on the extraordinary science and marketing tactics that make junk food so hard to resist.
Finding Your Bliss Point
Moss' work also resulted in the book Salt Sugar Fat, in which he dissects the $1 trillion processed food industry. Sugar, salt and fat are the top three substances making processed foods so addictive. In a Time Magazine interview  discussing his book, Moss says:
"One of the things that really surprised me was how concerted and targeted the effort is by food companies to hit the magical formulation. Take sugar for example. The optimum amount of sugar in a product became known as the 'bliss point.' Food inventors and scientists spend a huge amount of time formulating the perfect amount of sugar that will send us over the moon, and send products flying off the shelves. It is the process they've engineered that struck me as really stunning.
When it came to fat, it was the amazing role of what the industry calls the 'mouth feel.' That's the warm, gooey taste of cheese, or the bite into a crisp fried chicken that you get. It rushes right to the same pleasure centers of the brain that sugar does...
When it comes to salt, what was really staggering to me is that the industry itself is totally hooked on salt. It is this miracle ingredient that solves all of their problems. There is the flavor burst to the salt itself, but it also serves as a preservative so foods can stay on the shelves for months. It also masks a lot of the off-notes in flavors that are inherent to processed foods."
One of the guiding principles for the processed food industry is known as "sensory-specific satiety." Moss describes this as "the tendency for big, distinct flavors to overwhelm your brain, which responds by depressing your desire to have more." The greatest successes, whether beverages or foods, owe their "craveability" to complex formulas that pique your taste buds just enough, without overwhelming them, thereby overriding your brain's inclination to say "enough."
"Vanishing calorie density" is another term used to describe foods that melt in your mouth, which has the effect of making your brain think it doesn't contain any calories. End result — you keep eating. Cheetos is one such example. In all, potato chips are among the most addictive junk foods on the market, containing all three bliss-inducing ingredients: sugar (from the potato), salt and fat. One 2011 study cited by Moss determined that the top contributors to Americans weight gain included red meat, processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, potatoes, and topping the list: potato chips.
"The coating of salt, the fat content that rewards the brain with instant feelings of pleasure, the sugar that exists not as an additive but in the starch of the potato itself — all of this combines to make it the perfect addictive food," Moss writes.
Sugar — One of the Most Addictive Substances Known
While food companies abhor the word "addiction" in reference to their products, scientists have discovered that sugar, in particular, is just that. In fact, sugar is more addictive than cocaine. Research  published in 2007 showed that 94 percent of rats who were allowed to choose mutually-exclusively between sugar water and cocaine, chose sugar. Even rats who were addicted to cocaine quickly switched their preference to sugar, once it was offered as a choice. The rats were also more willing to work for sugar than for cocaine.
The researchers speculate that the sweet receptors (two protein receptors located on the tongue), which evolved in ancestral times when the diet was very low in sugar, have not adapted to modern times' high-sugar consumption. Therefore, the abnormally high stimulation of these receptors by sugar-rich diets generates excessive reward signals in your brain, which have the potential to override normal self-control mechanisms, and thus lead to addiction.
Even more interesting, their research found that there's also a cross-tolerance and a cross-dependence between sugars and addictive drugs. As an example, animals with a long history of sugar consumption actually became tolerant (desensitized) to the analgesic effects of morphine. Today, prescription pain killers have surpassed illegal drugs as the preferred "high," and pharmaceutical drug overdoses now rank second only to motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of accidental death in the US. Unfortunately, since it's all legal, no one is really cracking down on this growing drug problem that is wrecking lives each day. According to Moss:8
"[T]he food industry defends itself by saying true narcotic addiction has certain technical thresholds that you just don't find in food addiction. It's true, but in some ways getting unhooked on foods is harder than getting unhooked on narcotics, because you can't go cold turkey. You can't just stop eating."
It's important to realize that added sugar (typically in the form of high fructose corn syrup) is not confined to junky snack foods. For example, most of Prego's spaghetti sauces have one common feature, and that is sugar — it's the second largest ingredient, right after tomatoes. A half-cup of Prego Traditional contains the equivalent of more than two teaspoons of sugar.
Two Moms Take on Kraft
In related news, two moms have taken on Kraft. They started an online petition, calling for the food giant to remove two artificial food ingredients, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6, from its Macaroni and Cheese. These artificial dyes have been linked to hyperactivity in children, and are banned for use in the UK. More than 220,000 signatures have been collected so far. Kraft's response?
"... in the US, we only use colors that are approved and deemed safe for food use by the Food and Drug Administration."
If you, like so many others, aren't impressed by this response, feel free to sign the petition, available on Change.org.
This is a Flash-based video and may not be viewable on mobile devices.
Troubled Meats Get a Makeover
Another food many don't automatically view as health-harming is processed meats. Moss includes the case story of Bob Drane, vice president of Oscar Meyer, who in 1985 was tasked with figuring out how to contemporize their processed meat offerings. Interviews with harried mothers revealed that the most important issue for them was time, which resulted in the development of a convenient prepackaged lunch containing the company's pre-sliced bologna and ham, better known as Lunchables. A later line of the lunch trays, called Maxed Out, contained, two-thirds of the maximum recommended sodium allowance for kids, and a staggering 13 teaspoons of sugar.
The Atlantic recently reported that "consuming processed meat went along with other unhealthful lifestyle choices, such as eating few fruits and vegetables, being more likely to smoke and, for men, consuming large quantities of alcohol."
The new study, which reconfirms results from previous studies, found processed meat consumption was strongly associated with premature death. According to the researchers, reducing daily processed meat consumption to less than 20 grams a day could reduce mortality rates across Europe by three percent annually. This includes bacon, sausage of all kinds, sandwich meats (cold cuts), and any other processed "meat product."
In 2011, the World Cancer Research Fund came to the sobering conclusion that no one should eat processed meats, ever, due to its cancer-causing potential. Hot dogs, bacon, salami and other processed meats may also increase your risk of diabetes by 50 percent, and lower your lung function and increase your risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). A 2007 analysis by WCRF found that eating just one sausage a day can significantly raise your risk of bowel cancer. Specifically, 1.8 ounces of processed meat daily -- about one sausage or three pieces of bacon -- raises the likelihood of the cancer by 20 percent. Other studies have also found that processed meats increase your risk of:
Another interesting tidbit offered up by Moss is the eating habits of the food scientists and processed food company executives themselves, whom he met while researching his book. Just like many of our American Presidents, they apparently know more about maintaining their own health than they want you to know about.
Last year, I wrote about political supporters of genetically engineered (GE) foods insisting on all organic fare for themselves and their families while promoting unlabeled GE foods for everyone else. This includes President Obama, who vowed to label GMO's if elected, but then spent the first four years appointing one Monsanto shill after another into key federal positions that wield near-absolute power over agricultural issues, and never took affirmative action on the labeling issue, even during the height of the California Prop 37 campaign. In the same vein, Moss discovered that many of the food executives and scientists he met avoid their own foods for a variety of health reasons:
"It was everything from a former top scientist at Kraft saying he used to maintain his weight by jogging, and then he blew out his knee and couldn't exercise, his solution was to avoid sugar and all caloric drinks, including all the Kool-Aid and sugary drinks that Kraft makes," Moss says.
"It ranged from him to the former top scientist at Frito Lay. I spent days at his house going over documents relating to his efforts at Frito Lay to push the company to cut back on salt. He served me plain, cooked oatmeal and raw asparagus for lunch. We toured his kitchen, and he did not have one single processed food product in his cupboards or refrigerator.
...One reason they don't eat their own products, is that they know better. They know about the addictive properties of sugar, salt and fat. As insiders, they know too much. I think a lot of them have come to feel badly..."
As Moss says, it's not that these companies have the demise of your health as a defined business goal. But they do want you to buy their product, and the more the better. Taste is a major, if not overriding factor here, and processed food without generous amounts of sugar, salt and unhealthy fats (like trans fat) would simply be too unpalatable to most. So while some companies, such as Kraft, have tried to alter their formulas to make them "healthier," the fact remains that processed food is inferior to the real thing no matter how you finagle it. You simply cannot compete with the nutrition found in whole, unprocessed foods.
"Ultimately, they ran into the problem that the whole industry faces, which is the huge pressure from Wall Street and the investment community to increase profits," Moss says.
How to Eat Real Food on a Budget
This concerted effort by the industry is further enhanced by stimulating your metabolism to burn carbs as its primary fuel. As long as you are in primary carb-burning mode you will strongly crave these types of foods. But once you start decreasing your carbs and protein and replace them with high quality fats, and start to engage in intermittent fasting, your cravings for these junk foods, no matter how cleverly enhanced, will dramatically diminish, if not vanish altogether.
In order to protect your health, I believe you should spend 90 percent of your food budget on whole foods, and only 10 percent on processed foods (unfortunately most Americans currently do the opposite). This requires three strategies, especially if you're working with a tight budget:
Become resourceful: This is an area where your grandmother can be a wealth of information, as how to use up every morsel of food and stretch out a good meal was common knowledge to generations past. What I mean is getting back to the basics of cooking -- using the bones from a roast chicken to make stock for a pot of soup, extending a Sunday roast to use for weekday dinners, learning how to make hearty stews from inexpensive cuts of meat, using up leftovers and so on.
Plan your meals: This is essential, as you will need to be prepared for mealtimes in advance to be successful for if you fail to plan, by default you are planning to fail. Ideally this will involve scouting out your local farmer's markets for in-season produce that is priced to sell, and planning your meals accordingly, but you can also use this same premise with supermarket sales. You can generally plan a week of meals at a time, make sure you have all ingredients necessary on hand, and then do any prep work you can ahead of time so that dinner is easy to prepare if you're short on time in the evenings.
Avoid food waste: According to a study published in the journal PloS One,  Americans waste an estimated 1,400 calories of food per person, each and every day. The two steps above will help you to mitigate food waste in your home, You may also have seen my article from earlier this year titled 14 Ways to Save Money on Groceries. Among those tips are suggestions for keeping your groceries fresher, longer, and I suggest reviewing those tips now.
When choosing real foods to feed your family, remember that some of the healthiest foods are incredibly affordable, even under $1 a serving, such as:
These consequences will follow because both the available systems of organic certification – third party certification as well as Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) of quality assurance – are beyond the reach of a common farmer, especially those farmers who do not have any NGO, or government agency or private company supporting them. Individual certification is very expensive. Group certification is possible only if there is an external facilitator who is collectivizing the farmers. The expenditure involved is not affordable for an ordinary farmer. Governments are spending on such certification only if a farmer is covered under their schemes, that too usually for a 3-year period during which the scheme is run. There is also the tedium of paperwork and records to be maintained which is not in the capabilities of most farmers. The PGS system requires organic farmers to form themselves into groups of at least 5 farmers each, and committing to monitor each other’s farms. This is not always possible, and therefore is not a solution for farmers who are plodding ahead all alone, on the path of organic farming.
Meanwhile, with only 29 accredited certification bodies in the country and hundreds of Regional Councils of the PGS-India system suspended or inactive, it is clear that there is no institutional readiness to support the growth of organic movement in India with mandatory certification.
There are other reasons why many organic farming enthusiasts are concerned. Organic farming has been adopted by thousands of farmers as an uphill task they had to undertake. This did not receive much support from governments, while a destructive, chemical-and-water-intensive paradigm receives large subsidies from governments. It is indeed ironical and unfair that a paradigm that is beneficial to human beings and their environment, a paradigm that will conserve and revive our natural resources for the next generation is being forced to spend more monies to prove itself to be that, while there is no certification being asked from a paradigm that is polluting and poisoning our resources, to show that it is indeed complying with regulations.
Further, it is not out of place to point out that certification is not a fool-proof mechanism to ensure that something is organic. In fact, there is an inherent shortcoming in the revenue model adopted by certification bodies, in that they need to certify more and more farmers as organic for raking in revenues – this then leaves scope for bad quality work, including willful inclusion of non-organic farmers in their certification process. It is well known that Transaction Certificates issued by certifiers are being misused, with the certifiers not ascertaining whether the amount paid by an organic food procurer is actually going to the so-called certified operation, or someone else in the open, non-organic market on the same TC. PGS, while being more facilitative, while building informal institutions of organic farmers for mutual learning and peer collateral for quality assurance, suffers from the fact that it too has a similar inherent shortcoming. It also does not provide any solutions to individual farmers struggling to turn organic on their own. In fact, PGS in India had evolved in the civil society-led organic farming movement, and a voluntary code of conduct, overseen and coordinated by PGS-OC (PGS-Organic Council) did not find any recognition in the FSSAI regulations.
We are aware that FSSAI has exempted “organic food which is marketed through direct sales by the small original producer or producer organisation… to the end consumer”. However, this relief is not enough because as per usual official definition, a farmer with more than 5 acres is not considered a small farmer. Even for a farmer owning 6-7 acres, the cost of certification is prohibitive. When quality assurance is being made effective through the direct relationship that a farmer and consumer have in a direct sales transaction, then it is unclear why non-small-farmers are being excluded from the exemption clause. Moreover, it is generally not possible for farmers to sell all their produce directly, without the help of an intermediary – whether a retail shopkeeper or an institution – to the consumer. Farming operations are adversely affected by concentrating on direct selling. Therefore, without exemptions being provided for sales that are one step away from the end consumer, through a retailer, the exemption provided to a small farmer is also meaningless.
We also believe that “fake organic” is not something that makes our food any more unsafe than the conventionally-produced food out there. There are existing laws for cheating consumers, like the Consumer Protection Act. In fact, it is worth remembering that organic food is less than 0.1% of total food consumption in India. The fact that FSSAI, which has not taken up any effective regulation of truly unsafe foods like GM foods and pesticides-laden foods is in fact worrisome, while it is over-zealous in regulating organic foods.
It is not out of place to point out that Seed, which is an “Essential Commodity” as per an Indian statute, when sold commercially, is not required to be certified, and that seed certification is only voluntary. An overwhelmingly large proportion of seed trade in India is “truthfully labeled”. If the regulatory approach to an essential and critical commodity like Seed can be that of voluntary certification, it is unreasonable that organic foods should be mandatorily certified.
It is apparent that organic farming will not spread the way it should, if marketing avenues are not available to organic farmers. It is such marketing opportunities that are directly and adversely affected by this new FSSAI regulation. Under these circumstances, by making organic certification mandatory, organic farming movement will wither away before blooming, which in turn will deprive ordinary consumers of safe food; organic produce will become all the more expensive and hence much more elitist.
Some of the best and pioneering organic farmers of India, the ones who have inspired hundreds of others to shift to organic farming, are in fact un-certified. There is no way that they can get certified by July 1st2018, if one were to follow the rule book related to certification. The FSSAI notification did not take into consideration any of these implementation issues either.
The organic farming movement in India believes that we need win-win solutions for both organic producers and consumers, and therefore, opposes the new notification of FSSAI. The new regulations brought in do not protect the interests of organic farmers or consumers, and instead favour organic industry interests, certification bodies as well as big organic food brands. This article should not be misinterpreted as one that seeks to counter any regulation of organic foods.
Prior to making certification mandatory for all organic foods, governments should have made organic certification easily accessible by making it free, time-bound and simple. Until this happens, all organic farmers should be exempted from mandatory certification and allowed to sell directly to consumer or through one step away shopkeepers/intermediaries (who procure directly from farmer and are willing to maintain traceability of the organic produce).
When government provides adequate infrastructure for separate storage, processing units and retail outlets for organic foods, regulation will be easier in terms of ensuring traceability and therefore, verifying the organic production practices as and when needed.
FSSAI/Government should also ensure that all food products, whether they are organic or not, should be safe. All food sold to consumers, whether organically produced or conventionally produced, should meet safety standards. To ensure this, there should be facilities provided where any farmer or consumer can get any food product tested for free or at nominal charges. This will be more effective in ensuring safe food to all.
In this era of oil, technology and information, all of us are busy all the time. There is so much to do, so many demands from within and without, and we need all the comforts and entertainment we can get to avoid falling off the treadmill of daily work. It is also an era of specialization and division of labour. Engineers know little of social sciences, eye specialists don’t know the work of bone specialists, and most of us in cities do not know how the farmers grow our grain, where our food comes from or what exactly is in it.
During the last decade, however, we are getting subjected to constant jolts. Climate change, predicted long ago by some scientists, seems to be signalling to us that the party is over (or more meaningful, and grounded life is about to begin, which is another way to look at it). Terrorism and climate crises keep jolting us now and again. And now, several scientists, journalists and nutritionists are giving us another jolt – that our food is not something we can take for granted.
Thanks to two thirds of Americans having become overweight or obese, and suffering from an increasing incidence of cardiovascular diseases, strokes, diabetes, cancers etc., several researchers and activists have been prompted to share with the world the truth about the foods we eat.
Seeing the whole picture about food is difficult for most of us because, with our present complex globalised economic system, we have no idea, for instance, if the soft and juicy corn we get at the malls and movie theatres today is genetically modified corn from the US (which is producing double the corn it needs, and more than half of its corn is GM); neither do we know what role the WTO, various food companies or various politicians have played to make it available everywhere; nor do we know which chemicals have been used to make the corn tasty and attractive…
Consider what is happening to food and our health today –
Typical American fast foods, known to cause obesity and several lifestyle diseases are now becoming popular in India – and are sold even in educational institutions and hospitals.
During the last three decades there have been several research studies and books, revealing the dangers of trans-fats, excito-toxins, sugar substitutes and other chemicals used in processed foods.While the west is beginning to worry about its processed foods, countries like India are happily embracing them.
Very few shops in cities sell pesticide- free vegetables; and wheat,rice, meat etc. Often have pesticide and antibiotic residues in them which we are not aware of. Chemicals in foods are said to be one of the causes of cancers today.
More than 2000 chemicals are used in processed foods like jams, cheese, sausages, biscuits, chips, beverages, etc.Several of these, which are banned in some western countries are being used with insufficient or no regulation in India.
Many of these chemicals are used in Indian, Chinese and other restaurants and in street foods like ‘chats’ etc. These together with excess salt, sugar and fats make for reduced nutrients and increase in empty calories in these foods.
Polished grains, particularly polished rice and maida are used extensively in India., and a recent research study says that these are responsible for the high incidence of diabetes in India, adding to our supposedly genetic predisposition to it.
Genetically Modified Foods are expected to enter India in a big way – while the campaign against GM Foods the world over is intensifying because of its known and unknown potential for disaster.
Information and rational arguments alone do not help us see all the complex issues regarding our foods. Our irrational desires, our compulsions of the mind and addictions of the body all play amore important role in our difficulty in seeing the larger picture.
Facts about slow poisoning versus our compulsions
“Well, I have been eating all kinds of foods for several years and I like good food – I’m fine, so why make a fuss?” Such statements are common in response to the kind of information given above. But what is good food? Good food has come to mean certain kinds of tasty food, irrespective of its true nutritional value, harmful ingredients or its food miles.It does not seem to matter if food has been made tasty with excessive salt, sugar, fats and chemicals. Also by default, truly nutritious “good food” is considered non tasty – without actually verifying this assumption. Certain kinds of foods, be it polished rice or fried foods have become addictions or compulsions – it is difficult therefore to change our food habits unless we suffer a drastic health problem and are practically forced to do so. Even then there is usually a strong sense of missing out on indulgence for the rest of our lives.
The problem with the modern food system is that its negatives show up slowly. We don’t drop dead or always break out with a rash soon after eating the processed or chemical ridden foods, nor even in a decade sometimes; moreover, these foods do not affect all of us in the same way. The slow poisoning by these foods leads to a range of diseases, and only when we fall prey to illness many of us wake up.
The connections between particular foods and specific diseases are not linear, cause-effect connections. When we do suffer migraines, fatigue, unexplained body pain, indigestion, constipation, or more serious illnesses, we are unable to trace their cause, so we either look for medicines or short term diet change. It has taken America about three decades to become obese and sick to wake up to the dangers of processed foods, excessive meat eating and unhealthy foods in general.
Isn’t this fact enough to make us take charge of our foods – to understand and search for a way of life and a “way of food” ?
Systems approach: Organic Agriculture
At least 35% of greenhouse gas emissions are created by the chemical agriculture, meat and food industry.
The figure may well be over 35%, since we do not have precise information about the carbon emissions produced by the long distance transportation of food, by factory processed foods etc. According to the United Nations (FAO Report, 2006), the meat industry alone is responsible for 18% of GHG emissions.
With the food sector contributing about a third of the carbon emissions today, there is no option but to review our food habits and change them. While there is certainly a need to look at food politics and the globalised free market economy, the actual process of agriculture and agricultural commerce cannot continue as at present, if we are to seriously attempt carbon mitigation.
Chemical agriculture requires production in factories and transportation, needs several times more water than organic agriculture and is responsible for more nitrous oxide emissions which is 296 times more potent than carbon-dioxide for global warming. And finally, the chemicals used degrade the soil, the pesticides pollute the water and there is a growing amount of scientific proof that they cause cancers and various congenital and other problems.
There is a large body of scientists and thinkers who are convinced that organic agriculture is the only long term solution to both carbon mitigation and food security. What we need to understand is that respecting Nature’s cycles are essential for a sustainable way of living. Only through organic agriculture can the cycle of sowing seeds, growing plants on soil and replenishing it back with organic matter for another cycle of growth be possible.
We need a systems approach to deal with agriculture in our world of fragmented, reductionist science and economics that externalizes costs. Trying to deal with insects eating up the harvest by spraying a pesticide is a piece-meal solution which does not take into account the unintended consequences of pesticides in food and water and does not see all the connections and patterns in nature and agriculture. Dealing with the same insects by understanding the relationships between different plants, using biodiversity to reduce crop loss, using bio-pesticides to avoid pollution of the land and water, taking into account a fair price for farmers etc., – all this is possible through small organic farms and would be more holistic – it is a systems approach that would be respectful of the ways of nature.
Organic agriculture is also labour intensive – and has the potential of slowing down urbanization which is part of the many ecological crises we face.
In other words, organic agriculture can simultaneously solve many problems, although during the first few years of transition from chemical agriculture, the farmer is likely to make losses because the soil richness takes time to develop from the years of abuse.To work with the farmers to go through this phase, communities in many parts of the world have begun to form tie-ups with them. Such farmer-city-community cooperatives helps the community get good food and the farmers get a fair living. Such arrangements are necessary and in India, a few organisations have begun procuring organic food items from farmers and supplying them to a niche market.
Satish Kumar, Jonathon Porritt (Forum for the Future), Wendell Berry, Vandana Shiva, Thomas Moore, Devinder Sharma, Claude Alvares are some of the many scientists and thinkers who advocate organic farming as well as a low or no meat diet as essential for dealing with the climate crisis. Several farmers’ organisations which are slowly growing all over India are also proving that organic agriculture in the long run does not lower yields if multicultural crops are taken into account. It istime we stopped romancing the world of consumer goods and valued the work that is important for our food security in the long run.
The issues about food are much more complex than they seem – but one thing is definitely true – what is good for the earth is good for our bodies too.
The Alkaline way: Following Nature’s wisdom
“We are not just a part of nature, we are nature”
As we have neglected to understand nature without, we have also overlooked nature within us: aspects that are crucial for our own health and well being. Yet again, we find that following Nature’s wisdom is the only real wisdom for us.
Homo Erectus evolved on earth about 200 million years ago and lived largely by eating fresh and raw fruits and vegetables and possibly a little small meat and fish. Our teeth, our jaws, our digestive system with intestines more than 60 feet long were designed to get as much nourishment as possible from leaves and fruits.
About 10,000 years ago, human beings began agriculture. While human beings adapted to their environment –be it in the Arctic or the Sahara, gradually agriculture enabled urban life and civilisations to flourish. Industrialisation and now, the globalised free market economy has led to a situation where our food consists largely of cereals and extracted oils, salts, sugar and chemicals with a limited quantity of fresh and raw foods.
Has the human body, which evolved through eating leaves and fruits for about 200 million years, learnt to adapt itself to eating the kind of foods we eat today?
An increasing number of scientists, nutritionists and authors on food are telling us that the best foods to eat are still plants – leaves, vegetables and fruits with reasonable amount of other foods such as cereals, beans meats, fish and milk. Many scientists also spell out the need to maintain the body’s alkaline-acidic balance which is possible through such plant foods, (while oxygenation through deep breathing, having enough of water and amino acids from nuts, seeds, beans etc are also important for maintaining alkalinity).
What is alkaline – acidic balance ? Alkalinity and acidity are measured as ph levels of body fluids like blood and saliva. ‘Ph’ stands for Potential for Hydrogen. Ph levels range from 0 to 14. A ph value of 7 is neutral- water is normally neutral. Ph values less than 7 are acidic and ph values of more than 7 are alkaline.
Science is clear that our blood needs to be maintained at a ph level between 7.35 and 7.45. The ph level of blood is critical to our very survival – if it goes slightly above or below this range, we will die. When the ph of arterial blood is less than 7.41, the body is said to suffer from acidosis, when it is above 7.41, the body is said to suffer from alkalosis. This narrow range of ph level is as important for survival as the narrow range of temperatures within which our bodies have to be maintained. Our body does everything in its power to maintain the blood ph level within this range.
As in everything in nature, self- regulation is the key to sustaining life. Our bodies have this amazing ability of self-regulation so that if our food is very acid genic (ie if it leaves acidic residue in the body) the digestive process borrows alkalizing materials or electrolytes from other parts of the body; electrolytes containing calcium, potassium etc help to maintain this ph value. When different parts of the body lose electrolytes, we feel weak, get headaches or body pains, have an ‘acidic’ stomach, and in severe cases, over a period of time, we may get ulcers, cancers or other diseases.
While there is no scientific dispute about the significance of ph for the body, this fact has not been emphasized. We do not learn in school for instance, about the kind of foods we need to eat to maintain the slight alkalinity that we need for our health. The alternative health systems like naturopathy and some others, stress on the importance of maintaining a proper acid-alkali balance in the blood and the body, and therefore on eating foods that are about 60% alkaligenic and 40% acidgenic . Examples of alkaligenic foods and acidgenic foods are given in the table below.
The connection between acidosis and ill health is quite simple: our cells need to be healthy for all our organs to function well, and cells need an alkaline environment to function well. Interestingly, the alkalinity of the soil is essential to grow healthy plants and the alkalinity of the oceans are essential for life to be sustained in them. Human milk is also slightly alkaline.
Without focusing on the importance of maintaining our bodies at a slightly alkaline level, over the last 200 years, our food has become more and more acid-genic, eroding our strength and our immunity to a host of diseases. The Food Pyramid ‘A’, which is used as a guide to good eating is simply not sufficient and is actually misleading. It has led to a situation where the foods eaten by a large majority are as shown in ‘the failed food pyramid C’. Recently, doctors have warned us of increasing juvenile diabetes, even in rural areas in India. Modern medicine has been extremely successful with respect to communicable diseases. But now the bigger health problems we are faced with are what are called the non-communicable or lifestyle diseases – which we can deal with only if we respect nature within us, the nature of our bodies.
A major issue in India is our fondness for polished rice which is very acid- genic and according to recent research is responsible for increasing the incidence of diabetes in India. While storage of polished rice with most of its nutrients removed keeps it more insect-free, we are addicted to its taste as well. Several groups are promoting millets as a more healthful option which would also consume less water and other resources during its cultivation.
We have been carried away by the pampering of our tastebuds – be it through home-cooking, street foods or through the processed foods marketed by food giants. The media and consumerism as a way of life has enabled the monoculture of the American Diet to gradually make inroads into traditional food cultures around the world, leading to a situation where over a billion people are considered obese.
We need to recognize that the era where “consumer is king” needs to end, and accept that it is actually Nature or Mother Earth that rules over us.
Governmental Action and Individual Initiative
While certainly governmental action regarding food and agriculture can be more powerful and quick, its entrenchment in the nexus of various power centres will not allow for much change soon. Processed Foods and Chemical Agriculture increase the GDP, whereas Organic agriculture and discouraging packaged-processed foods will decrease GDP. So, no matter what the benefits of these to individual health, the Government is unlikely to change tracks in a hurry. In fact, our Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, has announced an allocation of Rupees One Lakh Thirty thousand crores for the processed food industry.
Moreover, the fact that almost two lakh farmers have committed suicide in India over the last decade, makes it clear that the Government is helpless in the face of the free market system, and the power of just the six Food corporates who control food in the world -Monsanto, Cargill, Syngenta, Bunge, Bayer and DuPont. These multinational corporates, with a huge number of their subsidiaries around the world, control 60% to 90% of the trade (not just production) in cereals, seeds, fertilizer, pesticides and also in the field of giving loans to farmers to buy their high priced products. The Government is clearly unable to think clearly and act decisively in the interests of the people.
If we cannot depend on the government to understand food, agriculture, food security, ecology, pollution, water, climate change, and much more, simultaneously, what can individuals do?
There is no way except to wake up and get concerned about our food at least at the individual and family levels. We need to search for information, make all the connections and educate ourselves. It also helps to critically understand about our own become aware of our ‘food print’ (carbon foot print for the food we eat), and be able to understand the whole picture including food politics, economics and media etc helps.
Then comes the classic advice by all experts in this area – Be the Change, eat local and seasonal foods, eat more plants, read labels and be wary of processed foods, reduce meats and food miles.
Finally, can we work if possible, not only to change our own food habits and perspectives on food, but also work for collective action which, hopefully, over time, can change the power centres of the world. Let us also remember that the Obamas have begun organic gardening at the White House and opened a farmers’ market just outside it.
This article is an approach paper written by Seetha Ananthasivan for the Conference on Food, Health and Climate Change organized by Bhoomi Network for Sustainable Living, on 4th and 5th December 2009 at Bangalore.
(References: “In Defence of Food” by Michael Pollan, “Gaia – A New Look at Life on Earth” by James Lovelock, “Soil not oil” by Vandana Shiva, “The Battle for Health is over Ph” by Gary Tunsky, website of Dr Russell Blaylock)
An interview with Wangari Maathai
For many years, before humanity became aware of the dangers of climate change, Wangari Maathai was advocating the planting of trees. Her work was based initially in her home country of Kenya in order to redress the imbalances created by the imposition of a Western paradigm of progress on a country and people whose inherent wealth and wisdom went unrecognised. Wangari’s intuitive understanding of ecology began when she observed a pristine stream in her childhood village become dry and barren as the forests around her home were cleared; she realised that the wellbeing of her people depended on the wellbeing of the natural world. This innate understanding of the interconnectedness of all life led her to found The Greenbelt Movement in Kenya, which has in the intervening years planted millions of trees. I asked Wangari if she felt The Greenbelt Movement was a model that could be replicated throughout the world.
“The fact that trees can sequester carbon is really a miracle,” she replied, “but when we started planting trees, that was not foremost in our minds. But the more I now think about climate change, the more I know for sure that trees are our best friends in the global effort to mitigate climate change. So, yes, at Copenhagen (in 2009) we will be strongly advocating that forests must be part of the solution.”
Despite Wangari’s Nobel Prize and her high-profile work (and that of many others) to save the world’s remaining forests, the message still seems to fall on deaf ears. “How is it”, I asked, “that well-educated politicians and economists still cannot see the link between healthy environments and healthy people and economies?”
“Part of the problem is that the underpinning science is very abstract and the majority of people don’t quite understand it,” Wangari explained. “What is needed is to have the science translated into a language that people can comprehend, so that we can create a movement of citizens who understand that the planet is under threat and who are willing to take action and put pressure on politicians to make the right long-term decisions.
“We also need to educate politicians and business leaders. President Obama is promoting a lot of excellent initiatives, and it was very encouraging to see the US Secretary of Energy, Dr Steven Chu, at the recent Symposium on Climate Change convened by HRH The Prince of Wales. Dr Chu attended the conference from the beginning to the end and that is clearly a demonstration that, at long last, the US government is committed to addressing climate change.
“But once we understand the nature of the problems we face, then we need to do two things. Firstly, we must change our own lifestyles because unless we practise what we preach, no-one will listen to us. We have to ‘be the change we want to see in the world’. And secondly, we must put pressure on our governments to take action and to commit to supporting that change via policy and economic infrastructure.
“I think that, ultimately, it is the collective conscience of citizens that will eventually change the politicians’ minds. Politicians respond to public opinion and unless public opinion is informed, it cannot put pressure on politicians. So, education for politicians and the public alike is of the utmost importance. The more people who get to understand the science, the more people who get to commit, the more we create a critical mass or movement for change that puts pressure on the government to commit politically but also financially.”
Wangari’s work to educate people about the link between our cultural values and the wider environment is backed up by an initiative called the Billion Tree Campaign, launched in Nairobi in 2006 in association with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). By the time Wangari went to the Climate Conference in Bali the following year, a billion trees had already been planted. Now, she tells me, more than three billion trees have been planted worldwide as part of this campaign.
“Achim Steiner, the Executive Director of UNEP, has just launched a Seven Billion Tree Campaign,” says Wangari. “That’s seven billion trees by the time we reach the Copenhagen Climate Conference in December this year, as a way of mobilising public opinion and raising awareness. But it’s also a way of saying that we can all help in the fight against climate change – by planting a tree. Everyone can do this, and every tree that is planted sequesters atmospheric carbon. It means that anybody – poor or rich, man or woman, educated or uneducated – anybody can plant a tree.
“I also encourage the protection of standing trees. We have not yet appreciated the true value of the tree: it stabilises the soil; it gives us shade; if it is a fruit tree it gives us fruit. The tree fixes carbon for us; gives us oxygen; regulates the composition of the air… Trees are a wonderful gift to humanity!
“Trees also have spiritual meaning. I come from a tradition where our ancestors prayed and made offerings to trees. My people were particularly respectful of the fig tree. To them it was a symbol of the power of god – a gift that god gives. And trees are a symbol of plenty. In most other traditions around the world, trees have always been symbols of plenty. In the Bible it’s a symbol of knowledge. So a tree is a wonderful gift.
“The Greenbelt Movement has been going for thirty years now, and as people can see the reality of improved environment and lifestyles thanks to trees and forests, there has been an upsurge in interest in this campaign – not only in Kenya but in many other parts of Africa and elsewhere in the world. In the beginning people thought we were a little bit crazy! But now people realise that there is wisdom in what we are trying to do.
“It is because of the work of The Greenbelt Movement that I was able to speak with Gordon Brown recently about the plight of the second largest forest in the world, the Congo forest, which is approximately twice as big as France. Prime Minister Brown pledged fifty million pounds from the British government to help us in our multifaceted work to help protect this forest region, and he also talked to his colleague in Norway, who gave another fifty million pounds. My work with The Greenbelt Movement and the precedent we have set in reforesting and protecting forest habitats were fundamental to that agreement. We have now established a Congo Fund, based in Geneva, which will continue to negotiate strategies with the international community to value and protect this critical ecosystem. I know that if the politicians accept and include this and similar models of forest protection as part of the climate solutions at the Copenhagen conference, then we stand a real chance of mitigating climate change.”
Wangari’s ultimate message is that forests must be part of the solution, and a financial mechanism must be established so that it is no longer economically viable to cut forests down. She believes that the governments of forest nations must commit to monitoring to ensure that there is no misuse of the potential remuneration packages intended to reimburse the economies of countries that have agreed to keep trees in the ground, providing ecosystems services for all of humanity in perpetuity rather than destroying the forests for the short-term financial gain of a rich elite. But her message is also that trees are the givers of life, the teachers of wisdom, the gifts of god, and our greatest allies in the race to mitigate the effects of climate change.
By the end of 2009, more than 7.4 billion trees were planted as part of ‘the Seven Billion Tree Campaign’ in excess of the 7 billion target. For more information visit www.unep.org/billiontreecampaign
Professor Wangari Maathai is Founder of The Greenbelt Movement and 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. www.greenbeltmovement.org
Printed with permission from Resurgence Magazine, U.K.
“Indian civilization has been distinctive in locating its source of regeneration, material and intellectual, in the forest, not the city. India’s best ideas have come where man was in communion with trees and rivers and lakes, away from the crowds.”
– Rabindranath Tagore
My ecological journey started in the forests of the Himalaya. My father was a forest conservator, and my mother became a farmer after fleeing the tragic partition of India and Pakistan. It is from the Himalayan forests and ecosystems that I learned most of what I know about ecology. The songs and poems our mother composed for us were about trees, forests, and India’s forest civilizations.
My involvement in contemporary ecology movement began with “Chipko,” a nonviolent response to the large-scale deforestation that was taking place in the Himalayan region.
In the 1970s, peasant women from my region in the Garhwal Himalaya had come out in defense of the forests.
Logging had led to landslides and floods, and scarcity of water, fodder, and fuel. Since women provide these basic needs, the scarcity meant longer walks for collecting water and firewood, and a heavier burden.
Women knew that the real value of forests was not the timber from a dead tree, but the springs and streams, food for their cattle, and fuel for their hearths. The women declared that they would hug the trees, and the loggers would have to kill them before killing the trees.
A folk song of that period said:
These beautiful oaks and rhododendrons,
They give us cool water
Don’t cut these trees
We have to keep them alive.
In 1973, I had gone to visit my favorite forests and swim in my favorite stream before leaving for Canada to do my Ph.D. But the forests were gone, and the stream was reduced to a trickle.
I decided to become a volunteer for the Chipko movement, and I spent every vacation doing pad yatras (walking pilgrimages), documenting the deforestation and the work of the forest activists, and spreading the message of Chipko.
One of the dramatic Chipko actions took place in the Himalayan village of Adwani in 1977, when a village woman named Bachni Devi led resistance against her own husband, who had obtained a contract to cut trees. When officials arrived at the forest, the women held up lighted lanterns although it was broad daylight. The forester asked them to explain. The women replied, “We have come to teach you forestry.” He retorted, “You foolish women, how can you prevent tree felling by those who know the value of the forest? Do you know what forests bear? They produce profit and resin and timber.”
The women sang back in chorus:
What do the forests bear?
Soil, water, and pure air.
Soil, water, and pure air
Sustain the Earth and all she bears.
From Chipko, I learned about biodiversity and biodiversity-based living economies; the protection of both has become my life’s mission. As I described in my book Monocultures of the Mind, the failure to understand biodiversity and its many functions is at the root of the impoverishment of nature and culture.
The lessons I learned about diversity in the Himalayan forests I transferred to the protection of biodiversity on our farms. I started saving seeds from farmers’ fields and then realized we needed a farm for demonstration and training. Thus Navdanya Farm was started in 1994 in the Doon Valley, located in the lower elevation Himalayan region of Uttarakhand Province. Today we conserve and grow 630 varieties of rice, 150 varieties of wheat, and hundreds of other species. We practice and promote a biodiversity-intensive form of farming that produces more food and nutrition per acre. The conservation of biodiversity is therefore also the answer to the food and nutrition crisis.
Navdanya, the movement for biodiversity conservation and organic farming that I started in 1987, is spreading. So far, we’ve worked with farmers to set up more than 100 community seed banks across India. We have saved more than 3,000 rice varieties. We also help farmers make a transition from fossil-fuel and chemical-based monocultures to biodiverse ecological systems nourished by the sun and the soil.
Biodiversity has been my teacher of abundance and freedom, of cooperation and mutual giving.
Rights of Nature on the Global Stage
When nature is a teacher, we co-create with her – we recognize her agency and her rights. That is why it is significant that Ecuador has recognized the “rights of nature” in its constitution. In April 2011, the United Nations General Assembly – inspired by the constitution of Ecuador and the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth initiated by Bolivia – organized a conference on harmony with nature as part of Earth Day celebrations. Much of the discussion centered on ways to transform systems based on domination of people over nature, men over women, and rich over poor into new systems based on partnership.
We need to overcome the wider and deeper apartheid – an eco-apartheid based on the illusion of separateness of humans from nature in our minds and lives.
The U.N. secretary general’s report, “Harmony with Nature,” issued in conjunction with the conference, elaborates on the importance of reconnecting with nature: “Ultimately, environmentally destructive behavior is the result of a failure to recognize that human beings are an inseparable part of nature and that we cannot damage it without severely damaging ourselves.”
Separatism is indeed at the root of disharmony with nature and violence against nature and people. As the prominent South African environmentalist Cormac Cullinan points out, apartheid means separateness. The world joined the anti-apartheid movement to end the violent separation of people on the basis of color. Apartheid in South Africa was put behind us. Today, we need to overcome the wider and deeper apartheid—an eco-apartheid based on the illusion of separateness of humans from nature in our minds and lives.
The Dead-Earth Worldview
The war against the Earth began with this idea of separateness. Its contemporary seeds were sown when the living Earth was transformed into dead matter to facilitate the industrial revolution. Monocultures replaced diversity. “Raw materials” and “dead matter” replaced a vibrant Earth. Terra Nullius (the empty land, ready for occupation regardless of the presence of indigenous peoples) replaced Terra Madre (Mother Earth).
This philosophy goes back to Francis Bacon, called the father of modern science, who said that science and the inventions that result do not “merely exert a gentle guidance over nature’s course; they have the power to conquer and subdue her, to shake her to her foundations.”
Robert Boyle, the famous 17th-century chemist and a governor of the Corporation for the Propagation of the Gospel Among the New England Indians, was clear that he wanted to rid native people of their ideas about nature. He attacked their perception of nature “as a kind of goddess” and argued that “the veneration, wherewith men are imbued for what they call nature, has been a discouraging impediment to the empire of man over the inferior creatures of God.”
The death-of-nature idea allows a war to be unleashed against the Earth. After all, if the Earth is merely dead matter, then nothing is being killed.
As philosopher and historian Carolyn Merchant points out, this shift of perspective—from nature as a living, nurturing mother to inert, dead, and manipulable matter—was well suited to the activities that would lead to capitalism. The domination images created by Bacon and other leaders of the scientific revolution replaced those of the nurturing Earth, removing a cultural constraint on the exploitation of nature. “One does not readily slay a mother, dig into her entrails for gold, or mutilate her body,” Merchant wrote.
What Nature Teaches
Today, at a time of multiple crises intensified by globalization, we need to move away from the paradigm of nature as dead matter. We need to move to an ecological paradigm, and for this, the best teacher is nature herself.
This is the reason I started the Earth University/Bija Vidyapeeth at Navdanya’s farm.
The Earth University teaches Earth Democracy, which is the freedom for all species to evolve within the web of life, and the freedom and responsibility of humans, as members of the Earth family, to recognize, protect, and respect the rights of other species. Earth Democracy is a shift from anthropocentrism to ecocentrism. And since we all depend on the Earth, Earth Democracy translates into human rights to food and water, to freedom from hunger and thirst.
Because the Earth University is located at Navdanya, a biodiversity farm, participants learn to work with living seeds, living soil, and the web of life. Participants include farmers, school children, and people from across the world. Two of our most popular courses are “The A-Z of Organic Farming and Agroecology,” and “Gandhi and Globalization.” (for details on the courses, see page 52)
The Poetry of the Forest
The Earth University is inspired by Rabindranath Tagore, India’s national poet and a Nobel Prize laureate.
Tagore started a learning center in Shantiniketan in West Bengal, India, as a forest school, both to take inspiration from nature and to create an Indian cultural renaissance. The school became a university in 1921, growing into one of India’s most famous centers of learning.
The forest teaches us enoughness: as a principle of equity, how to enjoy the gifts of nature without exploitation and accumulation.
Today, just as in Tagore’s time, we need to turn to nature and the forest for lessons in freedom.
In “The Religion of the Forest,” Tagore wrote about the influence that the forest dwellers of ancient India had on classical Indian literature. The forests are sources of water and the storehouses of a biodiversity that can teach us the lessons of democracy—of leaving space for others while drawing sustenance from the common web of life. Tagore saw unity with nature as the highest stage of human evolution.
In his essay “Tapovan” (Forest of Purity), Tagore writes: “Indian civilization has been distinctive in locating its source of regeneration, material and intellectual, in the forest, not the city. India’s best ideas have come where man was in communion with trees and rivers and lakes, away from the crowds. The peace of the forest has helped the intellectual evolution of man. The culture of the forest has fueled the culture of Indian society. The culture that has arisen from the forest has been influenced by the diverse processes of renewal of life, which are always at play in the forest, varying from species to species, from season to season, in sight and sound and smell. The unifying principle of life in diversity, of democratic pluralism, thus became the principle of Indian civilization.”
Teachers for a Living World
While Ivy League schools marvel at India’s economic growth, Vandana Shiva’s University of the Seed looks to the earth—and Gandhi—for guidance.
It is this unity in diversity that is the basis of both ecological sustainability and democracy. Diversity without unity becomes the source of conflict and contest. Unity without diversity becomes the ground for external control. This is true of both nature and culture. The forest is a unity in its diversity, and we are united with nature through our relationship with the forest.
In Tagore’s writings, the forest was not just the source of knowledge and freedom; it was the source of beauty and joy, of art and aesthetics, of harmony and perfection. It symbolized the universe.
In “The Religion of the Forest,” the poet says that our frame of mind “guides our attempts to establish relations with the universe either by conquest or by union, either through the cultivation of power or through that of sympathy.”
The forest teaches us union and compassion.
The forest also teaches us enoughness: as a principle of equity, how to enjoy the gifts of nature without exploitation and accumulation. Tagore quotes from the ancient texts written in the forest: “Know all that moves in this moving world as enveloped by God; and find enjoyment through renunciation, not through greed of possession.” No species in a forest appropriates the share of another species. Every species sustains itself in cooperation with others.
The end of consumerism and accumulation is the beginning of the joy of living.
The conflict between greed and compassion, conquest and cooperation, violence and harmony that Tagore wrote about continues today. And it is the forest that can show us the way beyond this conflict.
Dr. Vandana Shiva wrote this article for What Would Nature Do?, 2012 issue of YES! Magazine.
If like me you have grown up listening to children stories from India, you might remember that forests have always been an essential part of them. May it be the Ramayana, the Mahabharata or the Panchatantra stories, all of them are set extensively in forests. Forests are mysterious, large and formidable; forests are, we are told, where the magic happens.
24% of our country’s terrain is covered with the forests replete with th