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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?

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

little girl using oranges as glasses

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.

Skin Health

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?)

Iron Absorption

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?

vitamin c rich foods

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

infographic vitamin c 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?

vitamin c supplement with orange halves

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

little girl holding an orange slice

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 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).

Vendors selling used garments in Delhi's Raghubir Nagar. Photo: Vikas Choudhary

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.

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 responsibly regenerating 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.

(L) A view of the barren mountain in 1996 and (R) a restored landscape as seen in 2006.

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.

Committee members representing the villages for plantation on the barren mountain. Photo by Gurvinder Singh.

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.

Villagers can now collect dry leaves for fuel from the forest on the Makino Raghunath Mountain. Earlier, they would have to walk long distances to get firewood. Photo by Gurvinder Singh.

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.

Greening the barren mountain has helped recharge groundwater levels in the villages. Photo by Gurvinder Singh.

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.

The overflowing water from trenches would flow into the nearby pond and would be used for farming. Photo by Gurvinder Singh.

This article was originally written by Gurvinder Singh for Mongabay and can be found here.

Swachh Bharat Mission
 Bibatsa Thela of Sikachhida village, Odisha in front of his toilet constructed in 2006. He says it is much better and spacious than the one made under SBM in 2014. Photo: Priya Ranjan Sahu

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.

This article was first published here

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. 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

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. 

This article was first published 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. 

Licypriya leading a climate protest to demand a climate change law in rural India (Source: The Child Movement / Licypriya Kangujam)

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.”

Licypriya meets fellow youth climate activist Greta Thunberg (Source: The Child Movement / Licypriya Kangujam)

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.

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 -

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.

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)

This article was first published here

An Illustration by Grade 4 students (Mallige)

In this article, the author, Satish Kumar, explores how to move beyond our anthropocentric beliefs and learn to take on our role as stewards of the Earth. He proposes a new trinity of ‘soil, soul and society’ to help us in this process of living a more harmonious life. He talks about how using these three concepts as a basis, we can view and work with the inner and outer landscapes of not only all beings, human and non-human, but also the earth as a whole. We can heal ourselves and the planet all in one go!

Many historical movements in the world have three key words that express their spirit. During the French Revolution, for example, the key words were liberté, égalité, fraternité and in the American Declaration of Independence you find the words “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.

‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité’ is a very nice trinity but it is very human: human liberty, human fraternity, human equality. In the same way, in the Declaration of Independence, life is primarily human life, liberty is human liberty and happiness is human happiness. These words represent a more anthropocentric worldview. We have come to think that somehow human beings are at the centre of the universe. It is as if we are the most important species and that the Earth’s other species are all in our service. This is a very human-centred worldview.

But this worldview is no longer valid. Especially once we realise that we are utterly dependent on other species; we are not the rulers of the world, here to do what we like, but we have to take care of the other species because we are all made of each other, we are not separate, we are all related, we are members of one Earth community.

So we need a new trinity to replace those human-centred ones. (Even the trinity adopted by the New Age movement, ‘mind, body, spirit’, refers to the human mind, human body and human spirit.) We need a new trinity that is holistic and more inclusive, that embraces the entire planet Earth and not just the human species. We need a philosophy, a science, a religion and a legal system that will benefit all living beings, not just human beings.

So I propose a new trinity. And at the top of this trinity is the word ‘soil’, which represents the entire natural world. Without soil there is no food and without food there is no life, no trees, no forests. So soil represents life on Earth.

In our human-centred worldview, in our education systems, in our study of science and technology, we have come to think that soil simply means dirt, and that dirt means dirty. But dirt is not dirty: dirt is the source of life. Without dirt there is no life.

Soil, therefore, represents all natural life. And the fact that we are related to and dependent on the soil. We think food comes from the supermarket; we don’t grow food these days. If somebody grows food, we think: “Oh poor man, peasant, labourer; he is not educated so he has to grow food.” If you are educated then you don’t grow food. Growing food has no dignity. You sit at your computer and your food comes from some poor country. You don’t want to grow food because growing food is a sign of backwardness. If you are advanced, educated, rich, then you manufacture cars or televisions or computers or some other gadgets.

Growing food has become a sign of underdevelopment. The word ‘peasant’ itself has become a term of an insult. I want to change that. I want to say that we must touch the soil; we must put our hands into the soil. How many times do you touch your mobile phone every day? Maybe 100 times? How many times do you touch the soil? Hardly ever! I want to give dignity to peasants, to those who grow food, to farmers and gardeners.

Soil is so important, yet we have forgotten it. Yes, we humans are important too, but the human species is only one of the 7.8 million species on Earth. We are not the kings. We are not an imperial power and the Earth is not a human colony. At the moment, we behave as if we can do what we like. We can cause global warming, we can change the climate, we can alter the soil, we can destroy the rainforests, we can overfish the oceans, we can interfere with seeds through genetic engineering. This attitude must change.

This is why I put the soil first. We are all part of this healthy web of life maintained by soil. It makes us humble; to be human is to be humble. The Latin word humus means soil. ‘Humid’, ‘human’, ‘humility’ and ‘humus’ all come from the same root. The soil is so fertile, yet humble. When humans lose humility they are no longer humans.

Once, the Buddha was sitting in meditation, with his right hand above the palm of the left hand, and someone came to him and asked: “Lord Buddha, you teach compassion, forgiveness, love and forbearance – from where did you learn all these wonderful qualities? Who is your teacher?” The Buddha lifted his right hand in the bhūmiśpara mudra, which means ‘touch the Earth’ posture. Pointing towards the soil, he said: “I learned my forgiveness, compassion, friendship, kindness and all the wonderful qualities of love, beauty, unity and generosity from the Earth.”

Do you know where the Buddha was enlightened? Sitting under a Bodhi tree. My mother used to say that Buddha only got enlightenment because he was sitting under a tree!

A tree has intrinsic value. That is, a tree is good not because it gives me food, wood, shade or aesthetic pleasure. No, the tree is good in and of itself, even if nobody goes and looks at it, even if nobody ever says: “Wow, look at those beautiful cherry blossoms!” Even if no one ever sees it, the tree will still blossom. This is divine grace appearing on the Earth. Trees, animals, plants, rocks, mountains, rivers, worms, butterflies, honeybees – all creatures upon this Earth have intrinsic value. They have the right to be as they are, who they are, what they are. We talk about human rights, and that’s fine. But Nature also has rights. The trees have a right to exist. We have no right to cut them down without proper purpose. When we understand this, when we recognise the rights of the trees, of all Nature, then we are truly ecologists and have understood the meaning of the word ‘soil’.

The second word in my new trinity is ‘soul’, which sounds similar to ‘soil’. Soul is something we cannot see. The human body you can touch, hug, kiss and admire, but in order to touch your soul I have to close my eyes. It’s not something I can see. Everything – trees, animals, worms and humans – has a soul. Soil is the outer landscape, and soul, the inner landscape.

We need to take care of the soul, as we take care of the body. But we can only take care of the soul when we slow down. No computer. No car. No shopping. Just sit in your room with tea and flowers: elegantly simple, without clutter. Go into a room without noise, no mobile phone. Take time for yourself. Meditate on the fact that you represent the totality of the universe. There is nothing in the universe that is not in you, and there is nothing in you that is not in the universe. The universe is the macrocosm and you are the microcosm. You are earth, air, fire, water, imagination, creativity, consciousness, time and space – you have this all in your genes and in your cells. You are billions of years old. You have been recycled and recycled, again and again. You are a beautiful example of the total recycling principle of the universe.

So if you want to take care of the universe, you start with yourself. Care of the soul is for self-realisation. Meditation is for self-realisation. As is gardening. In mindful gardening you are in meditation. When you are cooking mindfully you are also in meditation because you are not just cooking to feed yourself or your family, you are cooking for self-realisation: taking care of yourself, being at ease with yourself, being happy with yourself, being fulfilled in yourself. Whoever I am, I am. Self-realisation will make you at ease with yourself. Everything you truly need and want is within you. You are capable of solving every problem in the world with your inner wisdom. Wisdom is a soul quality, as are generosity, love and friendship, unity and beauty.

You will discover that all you need is here: the air, fire,food, water, trees, soil, sun and sky. What more do you want? If you want more possessions and more clutter, it is because you have lost touch with your soul. That’s why your soul is hungry or empty. That emptiness will not be filled by computers, cars or mobile phones. Slow down and take care of your soul. Without a happy soul you are the poorest of the poor. Spiritual poverty is the greatest poverty, greater than any physical poverty. And as you take care of the soil, you take care of the soul. Your outer body is soil, and your inner being is soul. When you also take care of both you have self-realisation, you achieve wellbeing.

Caring for the soul has nothing to do with our ego. This is why we include the third word of our trinity: ‘society’. First and foremost, we are members of the Earth community. Then we are members of the human community.

I walked from India to America without money. When I came to the border between India and Pakistan – where three wars have been fought – I was joined by 35 people who had come to say goodbye. One of them said: “At least take some food with you.” I said: “Thank you, but no thank you. I’m going for peace. And peace begins with trust. These packets of food are not packets of food, they are packets of mistrust. What would I tell my Pakistani hosts? That I did not trust them to feed me.”

My friend began to cry. I said: “Why are you crying, my friend?” she replied: “Satish, this might be our last meeting. I may never see you again. You are going to Muslim countries, Christian countries, capitalist countries, communist countries, mountains, jungles, deserts, snow. No money, no food. Walking. How are you going to survive?” At that moment, I said: “My friend, from today I’m not afraid of death. If I die while walking for peace, then that is the best kind of death I can have. And I’m not afraid of hunger. If I don’t get food, I’ll say this is my opportunity to fast.”

Then I walked into Pakistan, and to my astonishment there was someone on the other side of the border waiting. He said: “Are you the man who is coming to Pakistan for peace?” I was surprised. “How do you know?” I asked. He said: “I read about you. And I thought that if you are coming for peace, then I should welcome you. This war between India and Pakistan is complete nonsense.”

At that moment, I realised the unity of the human family. If we come here as Indians then we will meet Pakistanis. If we come here as Hindus then we will meet Muslims. But if we come here as human beings, then we meet human beings. This way I was able to rise above my narrow identity and identify myself instead with all of human society.

Mahatma Gandhi said that there is enough in the world for everybody’s need but not enough for anybody’s greed. At the moment, 1% of the population is greedy, while 99% are suffering. This 1% wants to be the superpower. But we need to embrace all of society. We need to solve social problems of poverty and wars with imagination and creativity, forgiveness. How much can you give? How much can you take? All problems can be solved by negotiation, friendship, giving in, letting go of ego and going into eco. Eco means home, eco means relationships. Let us make a shift from ego to eco, from self interest to mutual interest of whole human society.

If we can have a holistic view of soil, soul and society, if we can understand the interdependence of all living beings, and understand that all living creatures – from trees to worms to humans – depend on each other, then we can live in harmony with ourselves, with other people and with Nature.

‘This article is an edited extract from a talk Satish Kumar gave at Kyoto University in 2012, and forms the backbone of his more recent Ted talk 

This article is reprinted courtesy of Resurgence & Ecologist.

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.

“Dal chawal. Aloo sabzi.”
“Roti. Chawal. Aloo fry.”
“Aloo paratha. Maggi.”

In August last year, I spent nearly two weeks in Uttarakhand. For the most part, I ate on the go – in roadside dhabas, train stations, and guesthouses. Whether I was in Almora or Ranikhet or on the way to Munsyari, a hill station at 7,200 feet, whether I was in Dehradun or in the village of Tipli in Tehri Garhwal – the meal on offer was essentially the same. White rice, wheat (in the form of roti or instant noodles), and some variation of potato. I was travelling across the state on a reporting assignment, and nearly everywhere I went, pahadi khana seemed to have been supplanted by a starchy sameness.

In local homestays too, potatoes, rice, and wheat were equally ubiquitous, but I did get to try regional specialties like rajma, bhatt ka dubka (a dal made with black soybeans) and pathyud (colocasia leaves fried with gramflour), usually accompanied by cups of very sweet chai. Simple meals were served with delicious condiments, sometimes bhaang ki chutney, sometimes flavoured salt, hand-ground with garlic and chilli. But in both commercial establishments and home kitchens, millets were nowhere to be found.

Along with Karnataka, Uttarakhand has long been a stronghold of millets. While ragi mudde and jolada rotti are traditional staples of the south, madua ki roti (made with finger millet) and jhangore ki kheer (made with barnyard millet) is considered typical Kumaoni and Garhwali fare. However, it’s clear that tastes have changed.

“Now we don’t eat as much madua as we used to. Only the older people still like it. We know it’s good for health and it makes you stronger, but the children won’t eat it,” said Lakshmi Adhikari, a member of Umang, a collective of self-help groups in Almora. I met a group of women farmers in a village near Ranikhet who echoed her sentiments. Their children wouldn’t even look at madua, they said. Some would even check their plates to make sure there were no millets in their food.

The story, by now, is a familiar one. During India’s Green Revolution in the 1960s, high-yielding varieties of wheat and rice were quickly adopted, displacing coarse grains on our plates and fields. Cereal output grew rapidly; in a few years, India was no longer importing grain.

But this productivity came at a cost. Those high-yielding varieties depend on irrigation, and they’re hungry for chemical inputs like fertilisers and pesticides. Today, groundwater is scarce, soils have been degraded, our waterways are polluted with agricultural runoff. Hundreds of traditional seed varieties have disappeared, and with them, we’ve lost diversity in our diets too. In just a few generations, unprocessed, unrefined grains began to be viewed as “coarse”; what was wholesome was pushed aside. The country’s nutritional security suffered – hunger is still present, while rates of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease have soared.

Finger millet’s dense, earthy flavour is unpalatable to those who’ve become used to the bland softness of wheat and white rice. These days, its colour is considered unappetising too, said Suman Sahai, the founder of Gene Campaign, a research and advocacy organisation that works to conserve genetic diversity and promote millets in Uttarakhand. “I was in a meeting one day, and I asked one little girl why she didn’t eat madua ki roti. ‘Because I’ll get dark,’ she told me. I said to her, ‘Your grandmother, who has eaten only millet rotis, is very fair. And fair and dark is hardly something you should be bothered about. Are you healthy? Your grandmother is very healthy,’” Sahai recounted.

If the Green Revolution took its toll on millet production – diminishing its value, and therefore its cultural standing – India’s Targeted Public Distribution system, designed to address food insecurity among the poor, marginalized these grains even further. As part of the PDS, the government currently supplies 5kg of highly subsidized rice and wheat per person per month to around 81 crore people. These food grains are purchased from farmers at a Minimum Support Price, which is higher than the market price. Unsurprisingly, this skewed production heavily towards resource-intensive wheat and rice, and disincentivised farmers from growing low-input crops like pulses and millets. (The National Food Security Act of 2013 deemed that “coarse grains” should be included in the food basket at Re 1/kg, but in practice, this rarely happens. Procurement is patchy, and so far, Karnataka is the only state to have included ragi as a ration under PDS.)

Of course, there are several other factors that have contributed to the decline of millets. We can look to liberalisation in the ’90s, India’s rapid urbanisation, the explosion of packaged foods in even the most remote areas of the country – all these, too, have played a part in making traditional grains less appealing to younger generations. Subrat Sharma, a climate scientist at the GB Pant Institute National Institute of Himalayan Environment and Sustainable Development in Almora, put it this way: “Maggi, pasta, pizza: these are the new development markers.”

So even as ragi enjoys a revival of sorts in some urban pockets, millets continue to fall out of favour. In Uttarakhand, just as in other parts of the country, the area under millet cultivation has been steadily declining in recent years. In 2011-12, according to data from the Directorate of Economics and Statistics, Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, finger millet covered 125,000 hectares of agricultural land in the state. By 2015-16, this had dropped to 107,000 hectares. Put another way, in just four years, the equivalent of more than 25,000 football fields fell out of finger millet cropping.

Supported by a grant from the Earth Journalism Network, I was in Uttarakhand to produce a three-part audio report focused on climate change in the mid-hills, and its impact on farming communities in the region. The state falls in the central region of the Himalayas – which, like the poles, is on the frontlines of climate change. Several climate modelling studies indicate that the higher the altitude, the faster the rate of temperature rise. The mountains are heating up much faster than the plains, and communities in these regions – where agriculture has always been rainfed and marginal – find their livelihoods to be increasingly threatened.

Many have abandoned farming entirely. In fact, Uttarakhand has some of the highest rates of out-migration in the country; today, hundreds of “bhootiyan gaon” or ghost villages dot its slopes. Those who remain face a struggle ahead. Some farmers, like those in Tipli, have set up informal “climate farmer schools”, and are actively monitoring weather patterns to ready themselves for the changes to come. Many are turning to horticultural crops, like plums and pears (and potatoes), chamomile tea, and aromatic herbs – which for now, seem to be commercially viable. Non-government organisations like Umang and Central Himalayan Rural Action Group (CHIRAG) help these farmer groups market their produce. The state government, for its part, is seeking to curb the crisis in the hills by introducing Green Revolution techniques to these areas. I met with scientists at The Indian Council of Agricultural Research – Vivekananda Parvatiya Krishi Anusandhan Sansthan (ICAR-VPKAS) in Almora, who are developing high-yielding, disease-resistant varieties for the hills, that they say will be more tolerant of the vagaries of the climate.

Ironically though, millets, those much-maligned crops, appear to be the most sustainable solution in a future characterised by warming temperatures, reduced snowfall and erratic rains. Crops like rice and wheat adapt poorly to these conditions; millets thrive.

Advocates like Vandana Shiva have long maintained that the crops and farming practices of the past are the only way forward. In 2017, even Radha Mohan Singh, the Union Minister of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, stated that “In times of climate change, [millets] are often the last crop standing and, thus, are a good risk management strategy for resource-poor marginal farmers.” Recent research indicates that biodiverse conservation agriculture – the kind that millets have traditionally been a feature of – can actually mitigate the effects of climate change, as it sequesters carbon from the air into the soil. But without robust policy support, it’s no easy task to expect farmers in Uttarakhand – resource-poor, marginal, or otherwise – to grow more madua, or to feed it to their families.

Farmers have to think it’s good to eat – which, in reality, often has more to do with taste than nutrition. And they have to know that it will sell. That’s why proponents of millet cultivation in Uttarakhand, like geneticist Suman Sahai, have resorted to rather unorthodox, creative measures to boost its popularity among local communities. “We have done lots of little trainings and workshops with kids and mothers together, making fun stuff with millets. We’ve made mixtures, namkeen, even millet kurkure. I thought, let them eat it in whichever way they want, but let them start eating it,” she said.

The upside, of course, is that value-added millet snacks fetch a far better price in the market than the grain. It’s an income that farmers could count on in an unstable climate. And if it’s an appealing proposition for people – not just the planet – we might potentially see madua return to these hillsides. “The other runaway hit here is Maggi. If we can make millet noodles, which is what we intend to try, then why not have your Maggi? But have a millet Maggi,” said Sahai.

For more details, listen to the three-part podcast on climate change in Uttarakhand on

This article was written by Amrita Gupta for the Bhoomi magazine.

This article takes a critical look at the advocacy of protein rich diets. The author takes us through what our real protein needs are and what are the best food sources to fulfil these, supporting all his claims with evidence and studies that have looked at protein consumption. The article shows us how even though well-intentioned, the focus on protein in modern diets is actually causing us serious harm. A comparison between animal and plant based sources of nutrition is also made.

Protein – Some commonly held perceptions

When it comes to diet and health, nowadays there is a lot of focus on Protein. Protein is considered an essential building block for a healthy body, and rightfully so. There is also a general apprehension that vegetarians in general and people on vegan/WFPB diet in particular, do not get enough protein. The source of this fear being an underlying assumption that the best sources of protein are animals products – meat, fish, eggs and milk and plant based foods do not have adequate protein. It is this apprehension that has led even many vegetarians to start consuming eggs and call themselves eggitarians.  

So, in the case of vegan or WFPB practitioners, who consume neither eggs nor milk, it is widely held that they are protein deficient. It is the same apprehension that drives many people who adopt vegan/WFPB diets, to resort to protein supplements or continue to give milk to their kids, on the assumption that they, especially their kids, need lots of protein and plant-based foods do not provide enough of it.

Given such a widespread apprehension it’s important to dispassionately examine the scientific facts pertaining to protein in general, and plant – animal protein in particular, to arrive at an informed decision on this crucial matter. Let’s start by examining some undisputed facts pertaining to protein.

Protein: Some basic facts

Protein is one of the 3 macro nutrients (the other two being carbohydrates and fat) present in our food that comprise majority of the weight of the food.

In the naturally occurring plant based whole foods, by and large, protein does not exceed 8% to 10% of the calories, except in case of some nuts and seeds. Bulk of the calories i.e. around 80% or more will be carbohydrates and the rest being fat.

Fat and carbohydrates mainly provide the energy for our physical activity, keeping the body warm, and many other functions. So, fat and carbohydrate are the macronutrients that contain the energy in fairly concentrated forms.

Protein is the other macronutrient, a nitrogen-containing chemical, that is used to create body tissue as well as enzymes and hormones.

Protein and carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram, while fat is calorie dense and provides 9 calories per gram.

It is important to note that all these 3 macro nutrients along with micro nutrients and phytochemicals in our food work in tandem, in a wholistic manner, to meet the nutritional needs of our body and maintain health. The reductionist approach which focuses on each nutrient in isolation is fundamentally flawed and is doing a lot of harm to our health and wellbeing, only benefitting the multi-billion dollar supplement industry.

Need to demystify the protein cult

We are today constantly bombarded with messaging that we need to consume more and more protein. Carbs are considered as bad and responsible for weight gain and diseases (heart disease, diabetes, etc). A Protein cult has been created and its projected as the magical health promoter. There are protein-only diets floating around which are being followed by many well-intentioned people with the hope of losing weight and gaining health. With so much noise and hype on this topic its important for us dispassionately examine two important questions

Q1 – How much protein do we need?

Firstly lets examine what science says on how much protein is required to maintain good health.

EAR: Protein requirement per day, EAR (Estimated Average Requirement), also known as Minimum Daily Requirement (MDR), is 0.5g to 0.6g per kg of body weight i.e. 4% to 5% of calories as protein. Approx. 30g to 36g for a person of 60kg weight.

RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance), on the other hand, is arrived at after taking into account standard deviations from the average to ensure almost the entire population is covered by such recommendation. The RDA for protein is 0.8g per kg of body weight, which translates to 8% to 10% of total calories as protein. Approx. 48g for a person of 60kg weight.

Also just to put things in perspective, mother’s milk which is sole source of wholesome nutrition during a time we are doubling and tripling in size, rapidly building body tissue and bones, contains only 5% protein!

Q2 – Is excess protein beneficial?

Having established how much protein is required, lets examine whether excess protein is beneficial as is being promoted widely.

It’s a commonly held misconception that RDA is only the minimum and higher the protein you consume the better it is for your health.

A 1904 Yale study concluded that decreasing protein intake from 100g to 64 g a day increased athletic performance by 35%.

Several studies conclude that 10% of calories from protein is enough to put athletes and endurance runners into positive nitrogen balance, that is the optimum protein level for best athletic performance.

Studies also concluded that protein intake beyond 10% actually adversely impacts performance of endurance runners.

The excess protein needs to be broken down and eliminated and this process stresses our bones, kidney and liver.

Studies also show that excess protein, beyond the 10% threshold, especially the animal protein, is strongly linked to higher rates of cancer and several other chronic diseases.

The China Study (the most comprehensive mega study  ever conducted globally on the link between diet and chronic diseases) as well as several other studies across the world (like the Blue Zone study), clearly establish the fact that excess protein, especially animal protein, promotes cancer.

Dr. Colin Campbell’s Rat Experiments 

Here I would like to refer to a series of lab experiments involving rats conducted over 3 decades by Dr. Colin Campbell, highly respected veteran cancer researcher, leader of the team involved in The China Study and author of the book The China Study.

The experiments involved 2 sets of rats. Both sets were injected with aflatoxin a known class 1 carcinogen. Then one set was fed a diet consisting of 5% protein and the other set a diet of 20% protein. The protein used was casein, milk protein.

The result – 100% of the rats on 20% protein diet developed cancer vs ZERO rats on 5% protein diet.

In yet another experiment, when aflatoxin dosage was progressively increased from 200mcg/kg body weight/day to 350mcg, rats on 5% protein diet showed no cancer response at even the highest dosage of aflatoxin, whereas rats on 20% protein diet showed a rapidly increasing cancer growth.

When the experiment was  run over a 100 week period, 100% of the rats on 20% protein diet were dead vs none of the rats on 5% protein diet!

When researchers tried switching diet at every 4-week intervals between 20% & 5% across the 2 groups, they observed that diet literally worked as a Switch, turning cancer ON-OFF-ON-OFF as the diet switched from 20%-5%-20%-5%

In another experiment when Hepatitis A & B were injected into the rat liver, to check response to viral induced cancer, the same results as with aflatoxin were observed. 20% protein diet causing liver cancer and 5% diet showing no signs of it

In another experiment when the percentage of casein was progressively increased from 4%, in steps of 2%, upto 20%, gradual increase in Foci response was observed upto 10%. But above 10% threshold a sharp and rapid increase in response was observed.

In The China Study the same result was observed vis-à-vis prevalence of lifestyle diseases amongst the Chinese population above 10% protein threshold!

However remarkably, in all the experiments, when Casein was replaced with plant protein (Gluten or Soy Protein) – even a 20% protein diet did not lead to cancer growth!

Hence based on tons of independent peer reviewed scientific research we can safely conclude that there is no benefit by consuming excess protein, but only potential harm.

Here its important to clarify that in plant based whole foods the ratio of protein is always maintained at a maximum of 10% by nature and its only through consumption of animals products or protein supplements that we can end up consuming excess protein.

Do plant-based whole foods provide enough protein?

This is the obvious next question. There are lots of myths floating around on this topic. So, lets examine the facts

Most plant based whole foods contain protein in the range of 4% to 10% of calories, except nuts which go upto 25%. Thus, a diverse whole food plant-based diet automatically meets our daily protein requirement without any detailed planning or calorie counting. Nature has designed it as such.

The chart here provides a nutrition comparison between a plant based and animal-based food blends


As you can observe from the chart the vegetable blend matches the meat-milk blend in terms of protein. But is way ahead, (no comparison almost), when it comes to other vital nutrients like beta-carotene, vitamin C, folate, vitamin E, Iron, magnesium and even calcium.

Vegetable blend is also fibre rich and contains very low fat and zero cholesterol.

So, plant-based foods lack in protein is a mere myth propagated by the vested interests, the powerful meat and dairy lobbies.

Important qualifier

Having said that its important to note that only plant based whole foods provide the adequate protein and wholesome nutrition, and not the plant based refined/processed foods. 

Hence refined/processed plant foods like polished rice, refined flour, white sugar, fruit juices, potato chips, white bread, etc., while being plant foods, are nutritionally depleted, as in the process of refining several nutrients are lost and we are left with primarily carbohydrates and sugars.

This article is written by Merwin Fernandes as a blog post for Savera Naturals and can be found here along with a wealth of information on plant-based diets as well as the author's own journey with food and farming. We highly recommend that you check out the Savera Naturals website.

The eco-feminine tends to be subtle, dispersed all over and non-monetised. Like Nature, women and their offerings are externalised in the economic system. And exploited.

As yet another example of the desperate ‘science’ of Monsanto, it is now being argued that genetically engineered Bt cotton – introduced in India in 1997 – has liberated Indian women. In a paper* authored by Arjunan Subramanian, Kerry Kirwan, David Pink and Matin Qaim, the argument is that the crop produces massive gains for women’s employment in India.

But this argument is false on many grounds.

Firstly, women have traditionally been seed keepers and seed breeders, which means that the knowledge and skills related to seed conservation and seed breeding have been women’s expertise. The seed economy was a women’s economy. As long as seed was in women’s hands, there was no debt and there were no suicides. Women have acted as custodians of the common genetic heritage through the shortage and preservation of grain.

In a study of rural women of Nepal, it was found that seed selection is primarily a female responsibility. In some 60% of cases, women alone decided what type of seed to use. As to who actually performs the task of seed selection, in cases where the family decides to use their own seeds, this work is done by women alone in more than 80% of the households, by both sexes in 8% and by men alone in only 10%.

Throughout India, even in years of scarcity, grain for seed was conserved in every household, so that the cycle of food production was not interrupted. The peasant women of India have carefully maintained the genetic base of food production over thousands of years. This common wealth, which has evolved over millennia, has been defined as ‘primitive cultivars’ by the masculinist view of seeds, which sees its own new products as ‘advanced’ varieties.

The replacement of traditional varieties of seeds with genetically engineered Bt cotton is an appropriation of women’s skills, knowledge and decision-making. This is disempowerment of women, not empowerment. Moreover, women have always played a significant role in agriculture: most farmers in India are women.

The replacement of biodiverse cropping systems evolved by women with monocultures of Bt cotton leads to a decline in food production. This undermines women’s food sovereignty and erodes food security, which in women’s hands is women’s empowerment. Further, it destroys women’s work relating to agricultural production and post-harvest food processing. Interestingly women’s work in relation to food sovereignty has been defined as ‘femimanual’ work.

The growing of food is the most important source of livelihood for the majority of the world’s people, especially women. It is also the most fundamental economic right. Women were the world’s original food producers, and they continue to be central to food-production systems in the Third World in terms of the work they do in the food chain.

The worldwide destruction of feminine knowledge of agriculture, evolved over four to five thousand years, by a handful of white male scientists in less than two decades has not merely violated women as experts, but gone hand in hand with the ecological destruction of Nature’s processes and the economic destruction of poorer people in rural areas.

Women make the most significant contribution to food security. They produce more than half the world’s food. They provide more than 80% of the food needs of food-insecure households and regions. Food security is therefore directly linked to women’s food-producing capacity. From field to kitchen, from seed to food, women’s strength is diversity, and their capacities are eroded when this diversity is eroded.

In India, cotton was not traditionally grown as a monoculture: it was grown with sorghum and pigeon peas and chillies. The knowledge of these biodiverse systems was women’s knowledge – a knowledge that has declined as a result of the introduction of Bt cotton. But it is a decline that is perversely hidden. The monoculture of the mind, focusing only on Bt cotton, falsely projects women’s dependence on cotton-picking as an increase in employment and empowerment.

The FAO reports that women use more plant diversity, both cultivated and uncultivated, than agricultural scientists know about. In Nigerian home gardens, women plant up to 57 different plant species. In sub-Saharan Africa, women cultivate as many as 120 different plants. In Guatemala, home gardens of less than 0.1ha have more than ten tree and crop species.

In a single African home garden, more than 60 species of food-producing trees have been counted. In Thailand, researchers found 230 plant species in home gardens. In Indian agriculture, women use 150 different species of plants for vegetables, fodder and health care. In West Bengal, 124 ‘weed’ species collected from rice fields have economic importance for farmers. In Mexico, peasants utilise more than 430 wild plant and animal species, of which 229 are eaten.

Women are the biodiversity experts of the world.Women’s work in cotton-picking (which Monsanto projects as an increase in absolute terms) has increased because monocultures have replaced mixed cultivation of cotton with food crops. The increase in cotton is because of the replacement of biodiverse farming with cotton monocultures, and the expansion of acreage under cotton. It is not because of higher yields of Bt cotton.

The introduction of the Bt gene into crops is not a yield-increasing technology. It is a toxin-producing technology. In addition, even though Bt cotton is supposed to control pests, the bollworm has become resistant and new pests have emerged. Now cotton farmers are using 13 times more pesticides than they did for conventional cotton. High costs of seeds and pesticides lead to debt and debt leads to suicides – creating Bt cotton widows, not liberated ‘housewives’.

Dr. Vandana Shiva

Image from

Government Must Make Organic Certification Accessible For All, Before Making it Mandatory – Other Better Ways of Weeding Out Fake Organic Should Be Adopted.

With effect from July 1, 2018, Food Safety & Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is making certification mandatory for organic foods, and hence effectively for organic farmers.While it might limit fake organic to an extent, it will also throw out common consumers and small farmers from the organic market, which will have deleterious effect on the health of the public and the environment.

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.

Kavitha Kuruganti

This popular science article shows how the middle ranges of the Himalayas are the most vulnerable to climate change in the near future. It takes a look at what this might mean for the people living in the Himalayan landscape at different altitudes. Communities living at different heights in the states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal were studied for their capacity to cope with imminent changes in climate. The article describes the findings of these studies and the diversity of ecosystems found in the Himalayas.

Altitude and ecology are important factors in the ability of people in the Himalayas to adapt to climate change. That is the conclusion reached by three studies on communities in the Indian Himalayas, published over the past year.

Scientists studied communities living at different heights in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal. All found that communities’ capacity to cope with the impacts of climate change is generally low. But two of the three studies identified those who live in the middle altitudes of the Himalayas as the most vulnerable to a changing climate, as high population density puts pressure on already-fragile ecosystems.

In June this year, the Indian government’s Ministry of Earth Sciences published the country’s first climate change assessment report. It states that the Hindu Kush Himalayas (HKH), which span eight countries from Afghanistan in the west to China in the east, warmed by about 1.3 degrees Celsius between 1951 and 2014. Snowfall is declining and glaciers are retreating in several parts of the HKH.

The 50 million people living in the Indian Himalayan region share certain vulnerabilities. “Steep slope and terrain conditions limit the capacity of mountain agriculture systems to withstand even a small degree of disturbance,” wrote the researchers who conducted the study in Himachal Pradesh. They attributed this to “a rapid increase in population in the past few decades which has led to depleting resources, increased stress on critical environmental components like water, land and forest.”

Nakul Chettri is regional programme manager of transboundary landscapes at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), a regional research institute based in Kathmandu, Nepal. He explained that the vulnerability of a community depends on how exposed it is to a risk, how sensitive it is to the risk and its capacity to adapt to the situation.

“Settlements along riverine ecosystems may face flash floods… people living on steep slopes with fragile areas may face landslides… Settlements near protected areas may be more vulnerable to wildlife attack and crop depredation,” Chettri said.

He said there are “a few worrying indicators” of the vulnerability of mountain communities to climate change. Temperatures are rising, with warmer winters, and precipitation patterns are changing: rainfall is more intense and over shorter periods. Fruit and flowers are appearing earlier; vegetation normally found at lower altitudes with warmer temperatures is growing higher up the mountains.

Images by: Tapuu / Wikimedia commons, CC BY 3.0; Debojyoti Dey / Wikimedia commons, CC BY-SA 4.0; Janak Poudel / Wikimedia commons, CC BY-SA 4.0; Dinesh Valke, CC BY-SA 2.0; PabloEvans, CC BY 2.0

The three new reports show what this broad trend means for specific mountain communities in three of the 12 Indian states in the Himalayas.

Foothills of West Bengal

Scientists from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Kharagpur studied communities in the foothills (less than 1,200 metres above sea level) of West Bengal. Their report, which was published in June, said there is overall “low adaptive capacity” to climate change.

Between July and September 2018, the researchers assessed 384 households in these areas of eastern Himalayas. They looked at four indicators of household vulnerability caused by climate change: income loss, crop loss, housing loss and overall livelihood loss. The findings showed vulnerability across the board.

The families surveyed were poor and earned a living from farming. The report found that every household in this sub-Himalayan region loses a significant amount of crops every year due to heavy rainfall or flooding – despite several adopting flood-resilient varieties.

Vulnerability to climate change by occupation in West Bengal

Researchers asked households how they believe their livelihoods have been affected by climate change and climate variability

The region experiences “heavy rainstorms and catastrophic floods”, the authors said, with flash floods due to “unprecedented rainfall” in neighbouring Bhutan. Between 2015 and 2017, cloudbursts stranded over 4.4 million people and inundated over 293,000 hectares of crops and houses.

Smallholder farmers were particularly affected; they lease land from farmers with larger landholdings twice a year: during the monsoon season to grow rice and during winter to grow maize and potatoes. The report noted that the increasing difficulty of farming and limited employment opportunities was causing young men to seek work in cities like Guwahati, Delhi, Bengaluru and Thiruvananthapuram. This has “indirectly pushed the women and the children towards a more vulnerable condition during the climatic disasters especially floods.”

“There is an urgent need to develop physical infrastructure like bridges over rivers, proper roads, housing infrastructure [most houses are built using mud or partially built from concrete], as well as a need to strengthen the existing flood management strategy,” the authors wrote.

Vulnerability across regions in Himachal Pradesh

Another study, published in February this year, assessed farming communities at different altitudes in Himachal Pradesh. The researchers focused on ‘biogeographical’ zones, studying how the distribution of plants and animals varies and how this impacts people’s livelihoods in the western Himalayan state.

They found that “geographical location of zones played a decisive role in distribution of [inherent vulnerability]”, with the ‘Middle Himalayas’ most vulnerable “due to fragile inherent biophysical and socio-economic conditions”.

Middle Himalayas most vulnerable to climate change

The highest proportion of villages with heightened inherent vulnerability to climate change are found at 250–6,524 metres above sea level in Himachal Pradesh.

The scientists, from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and research organisation The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in New Delhi, analysed data from 13,877 villages. They divided the villages into three zones: the ‘Lower Himalayas’ (250-6,444 m above sea level, with sub-tropical temperatures and moderate rainfall), the ‘Middle Himalayas’ (250-6,524 m, ranging from warm temperate to cool temperate, and with moderate rainfall) and the ‘Trans-Himalayan Tibetan Plateau’ (2,289-6,582 m, a cold desert with very low temperatures and little rainfall).

The variations in the type of plants and animals found, which depend on the height, terrain and climate of each zone, give rise to different agricultural practices.

Agriculture is crucial in Himachal Pradesh: 88% of the population has marginal landholdings (of less than one hectare) and is involved in agriculture and horticulture.

The scientists found that the Middle Himalayas are the most vulnerable due to the fragility of the landscape, combined with overcrowding of communities and socio-economic conditions. Communities in the lower zones are more able to adapt as they have better infrastructure and are less crowded. In the higher range the sparse population and lesser dependence on agriculture (people’s incomes mostly come from livestock and tourism) means communities are more able to cope, the report said.

Pawan Joshi, a professor at JNU’s school of environmental sciences and one of the study authors, said, “It is the first study to look specifically at the agricultural or farming community’s inherent vulnerability in different biogeographical zones in the Himalayas,” which would be further aggravated by climate change.

Squeezed middle in the Garhwal Himalayas

A third study explored the social and economic vulnerability of communities living at different altitudes in the Garhwal Himalayas in Uttarakhand. It found that those living at 1,000-2,000 metres above sea level in the mountain ranges of the west Himalayan state are the most vulnerable to climate change.

The study, published in October 2019 by scientists from the Forest Research Institute in Dehradun, surveyed 403 households across four altitude zones. The researchers defined these as ‘low’ (less than 1,000 m above sea level), ‘middle’ (1,000-1,500 m), ‘high’ (1,500-2,000 m) and ‘very high’ (more than 2,000 m).

About 3.9 million people live in the Garhwal Himalayas, about 30% of whom are under-nourished due to poverty and the subsistence economy. With limited employment opportunities, communities at all altitudes are dependent on agriculture.

All the zones are affected by climate change. But the researchers identified the temperate ‘middle’ range as the most vulnerable. Rajiv Pandey, a scientist at the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education in Dehradun and one of the report’s authors, told The Third Pole that the main reason for this is exposure to extreme weather events such as rainfall, floods, landslides and droughts, which disturb agriculture. High population density also means greater demand for natural resources, putting pressure on the ecosystem.

The researchers found the farmers most sensitive to climate change were those in the ‘high’ zone. They said this was mainly due to heavier soil erosion, caused by erratic rainfall pattern and steep slopes.

Communities living in the ‘very high’ zone were the third-most vulnerable to climate change. The report said they were more exposed than other groups to fluctuations in climate and extreme weather events. However, it added that higher-altitude communities’ livelihoods have improved because of opportunities from tourism and subsidies provided by the government through social schemes, such as cooking gas.

Plan for change

Pandey said that the study of the Garhwal Himalayas had identified hotspots for vulnerability in the mountains of Uttarakhand. “A single package of adaptation measures for climate change across the Himalayas would not be effective,” he said. Rather, communities need customised strategies based on altitude, that integrate natural resources, strengthen farming and consider livelihoods.

By the end of the century, India’s Ministry of Earth Sciences has said the average temperature across the HKH could rise by 5.2 degrees Celsius under the worst-case scenario. This will have huge consequences for the millions of people in the already-stressed mid ranges of the mountains.

Pawan Joshi from JNU said the next step is to identify villages that need immediate adaptation planning. “The findings of this study [on Himachal Pradesh] will aid in better resource management for farming communities in vulnerable zones,” he said.

Joshi pointed out that often development initiatives overlap with adaptation planning and “such ranking of villages will be of great value to policymakers. In fact, such assessment should be done for entire Himalayas for better understanding and application.”

This article was originally written by TV Padma for The Third Pole and can be found here, along with many links to relevant in-depth articles about the water crisis in the Himalayas.

Cover image: Terraced apple orchards in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh. Climate change means fruit is appearing earlier in the year [image by: travelib india/Alamy Stock Photo]

Image courtesy better

Food has been a network of relationships which has evolved over time in a geographical context! Traditional food recipes have woven in folk wisdom drawn from observing and relating to a context. Thus, it enables  the body to adjust to changes in the seasons. Cooking and eating  seasonally grown vegetables and fruits adds to one’s physical  well being  because seasonal fruits and vegetables contains the nutrients needed for that particular season. It also makes ecological sense!

Here are a few monsoon recipes to keep you healthy.

Colocasia Gravy (Stem with Leaves)


  1. 1 tbsp rice (soaked)
  2. 1 tbsp dal (soaked)
  3. 4 tbsp moong dal (soaked)
  4. ¼ tsp methi (soaked)
  5. Stem & leaves of colocasia- 8
  6. Coconut oil- 5tsp
  7. Juice of lime – 3 big lemons (or) Tamarind pulp- 50gm
  8. Garlic – few pods (Optional)
  9. Salt – to taste

Masala for grinding:

  1. Dry chilli- 4 big (Bydegi)
  2. Curry leaves- 15
  3. Grated coconut -1/2 cup
  4. Jeera- 5 tsp
  5. Coriander seeds- 4 tsp
  6. Poppy seeds – 4 tsp
  7. Turmeric – 1/2tsp


  1. Remove the top skin of the stem. Wash and clean the stem and leaves. Chop them fine.
  2. Cook them with garlic and very little water. Mash the cooked leaves and stem into coarse paste.
  3. Pressure cook all the soaked items and  keep aside.
  4. Grind all the masala mentioned in the ingredient list.
  5. Add the ground masala powder to the colocasia paste and cook it with lime juice/ tamarind pulp.
  6. Add salt and 3 spoon of coconut oil. Boil it till the raw taste disappears.
  7. Remove from fire, pour coconut oil over it and stir well.

** Please add good amount of lime juice/ tamarind pulp to avoid the itchiness in throat.

Jackfruit Sweet Idly


  1. Pods of Jackfruit- around 10 big and over ripe
  2. Rice rava- 1 cup
  3. Finely chopped coconut pieces- 2 tbsp
  4. Jaggery according to taste
  5. Salt to taste
  6. Cardamom powder – 3 pinches


  1. Soak 1 cup of rice rava for an hour
  2. Grind pods of jackfruit to get a cup of puree
  3. After an hour mix all ingredients together to a idly batter consistency
  4. Pour it in idly moulds and steam  it

This can be eaten with ghee.

Variation: Same batter can be poured on to a banana leaf, folded and steamed.

Hurul Saaru (horse gram)


  1. 1 tsp horse gram
  2. ½ cup grated coconut
  3. A marble size tamarind
  4. 2 pinches asafoetida
  5. A pinch of turmeric powder
  6. 1 tsp saaru powder (instructions given below)
  7. 2 green chilly
  8. 2 tsp chopped coriander leaves
  9. Salt to taste

For seasoning:

  1. 1tsp mustard seeds
  2. 4 broken pieces of red chilly
  3. 8 curry leaves
  4. 2 tsp oil


  1. Roast horse gram in a frying pan till the colour changes
  2. Grind this to a fine paste with grated coconut and saaru powder
  3. Add turmeric powder , tamarind juice and jaggery to 4 cups of water and bring to boil
  4. Add the ground masala, asafoetida, slit green chillies and salt. Boil for 5 minutes
  5. Garnish with coriander leaves and season

Saaru powder


  1. 100 gms red chillies
  2. 75 gms coriander seeds
  3. 25 gms fenugreek seeds
  4. 25 gms cumin seeds
  5. 4 sprigs of curry leaves
  6. 100 gms coconut oil


  1. In a frying pan, fry red chillies, cumin seeds (until it splutters), coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds(till golden) and curry leaves separately in oil
  2. Powder to a fine consistency

** Saaru powder can be stored for 7 days.

This article was originally written by I M Pushpa for the Bhoomi magazine

You use hing (asafoetida) in your cooking, but do you know what it actually is? No? Then go and find out.

This challenge was given to a group of 25 children, ages 12 to 18, from different low-income areas around Delhi, during the week-long Slow Food Junior Chef’s Academy Summer Camp hosted by the Creativity Adda at Commercial School (government-aided) and the Indian Slow Food Chef’s Alliance.

Wait you might ask, do 12-year olds really use hing in their cooking? Well, these 12 year olds do! The Creativity Adda is an ‘unschool’, a self-designed learning space initiated by Shikshantar Andolan and DS Group. It aims to nurture children’s creativity, self-confidence, intrinsic motivation and peer-to-peer collaboration. The Adda also seeks to reconnect learning with everyday life and make it practical and relevant by taking education out of classrooms and into the complexity of the real world. Children attend the space voluntarily (without compulsion or bribe) and explore and learn things that interest them from cooking, organic farming, music, dance, filmmaking, website designing, sports, upcycling and designing. They lead their own learning projects and guides help facilitate and challenge them along the way. Several interesting initiatives have emerged as a part of the Slow Food Junior Chef’s Academy: an urban farm on the school campus, daily cooking workshops with the kids, a monthly Dariya Dil Community Café run and managed by the kids, and a local food walk organized by the kids. There have also been visits to many food festivals and innovative restaurants of Delhi. The Junior Chef’s Academy has been developed with the guidance of Slow Food India Board members Mrs. Himanshu Kapoor and Akhil Kapoor.

The Creativity Adda and the Chef’s Alliance are concerned about many issues including: the onslaught of junk food, the spread of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, the increase in packaging, the carbon footprint involved in transporting food which is not grown locally, genetically modified seeds, and the additives found in processed foods. They are also concerned with the loss of many traditional food recipes and cooking processes. Most importantly, they are concerned with the condition of local farmers and local biodiversity. The motto of the Slow Food Movement is to promote food that is “Good, Clean and Fair”.

Kids attending the summer workshop learnt many recipes and asked many questions about the food they are eating as well as healthy alternatives. They were also given several challenges including cooking on a traditional chula and creating a menu for the entire group of 50 people with a limited budget of Rs. 150. They took some of their food creations onto the streets to serve rickshawalas, labourers and homeless people in the neighbourhood in the spirit of kindness and empathy.

During the week-long workshop, the children met master chefs from some of the top restaurants and hotels in Delhi. Slow Food Chef Achintya shared his personal journey from chef to organic farmer and answered questions about where our food comes from. He now runs a farm on the outskirts of Delhi. He brought in some micro herbs and seasonal vegetables that he had grown for the children to touch, taste and smell, and to experiment with new recipes and presentations. He made fresh pesto with the kids using basil from the urban farm at the school. He spoke to the junior chefs about the necessity for a good chef to know where his or her ingredients come from. Chef Achintya told the kids, “A good chef must know and support his local farmers. He must try to source as many products locally as he can.” He hopes to take the children to his farm during the next workshop. He was very happy to see the kids working on the urban farm at the Creativity Adda.

Chef Vaibhav Bhargava, from the Sheraton Hotel came to Creativity Adda and ran a Japanese-themed workshop. He took the children on a tour of special markets in Delhi where they identified ingredients they had never seen before and used them to make exotic sauces and dishes. He then took them to the Sheraton Hotel to spend a day getting acquainted with all the steps which lead to running a 5-star experience, from procurement and quality control, to kitchen management, presentation and service. He talked about the importance of keeping our different diverse regional cuisines alive while at the same time wanting to expose the children to different diverse international cuisines. Chef Vaibhav is also working diligently to find more local substitutes for his Japanese cuisine rather than importing materials from abroad. Junior Chef, Labansh Bharadwaj class 9, took away many important lessons on how to maintain hygiene and cleanliness in the kitchen. He went on to share, “Sometimes other kids used to tease me because of my interest in cooking. So it was really good to see so many men working as chefs during our visits. I feel more confident now.”

In the neighbourhood of Qutub Minar, the kids were invited to visit Chef Dhruv at the Olive Bar and Restaurant, famous for its pizzas. Chef Dhruv challenged the kids to a little pizza-making contest. He was impressed by how quickly the children learnt to roll pizza bases. The students really enjoyed the beautiful Mediterranean décor and came away more interested in how to improve the presentation of the food that they make.

At Lavaash Armenian-Bengali Restaurant, the students were fascinated by the preservation of the traditional lavaash bread from Kashmir. It is the only bread featured in UNESCO’s list of world intangible cultural heritage. There are 200 Armenians settled in India, mostly in Kolkata, hence the Armenian-Bengali fusion. Chef Saby shared his personal life journey where he had started as a coal worker and worked himself up to the top position of executive chef at Lavaash, where he has worked for the past 35 years. The children were invited to sample a three-course meal including the restaurant’s signature hummus, roasted tomatoes and herb rolls. Junior chef Shashank Bharadwaj class 11, was inspired that more than formal education, what matters most is passion and dedication: “Cooking is not a very hard task. There are no cans and can’ts. The main thing is practice. The more you practice, the more you will be perfect.”

One of the qualities of an educated person in the 21st century will be to know about the local and global food systems. For example, know your farmer, know where your food comes from, know what is in your food, know how far it has travelled, how our food habits are connected with our health. The Slow Food summer camp certainly left the junior chefs with many questions about the food system they were part of in Delhi. They also completed the workshop with a much deeper understanding of what is involved in getting into careers as chefs and restaurant-owners. Most importantly, they gained a greater sense of self-esteem and confidence to explore and experiment with food on their own. The junior chefs are eager to continue their explorations of slow food at Creativity Adda as the new school year begins.

This article was first published in teacher

This article was written by Rowan Salim Manish Jain

This is a brief and inspiring story of the work of Padma-Shri honourees from Odisha who run Sambhav, an organic farming resource centre. Radha Mohan and Sabarmatee have worked tirelessly to help farmers convert to profitable organic agriculture practices, revive indigenous varieties of crops and facilitate seed exchanges. Their journey of decades began at a time when organic agriculture was a new and untested concept in India. This article provides insight into how they have overcome odds and transformed their land into a food forest in the process.

A small piece of land withered toward its imminent death with each passing day. Once home to a dense forest in the interiors of Odisha, this land had witnessed a gradual degradation.

From being stripped-off its cherished trees to being subjected to extensive farming, pesticides and fertilisers, with each year, a layer of this land wrinkled away. Violated over the years, it stood barren and ‘wasted’.

It was one patch among the large expanse of wasteland that lay all around the Nayagarh district. They all were used, violated and left to die as barren wastelands until a man and his daughter decided to do the almost impossible – bring them back to life.

“My father and I never believed them to be wastelands. But, they were being ignored and wasted. So we stepped in to change that,” says Sabarmatee, who along with her father, Radha Mohan dedicated their lives towards the ecological restoration of the area.

And this was almost 32 years ago when her father, Radha Mohan, bought that patch of land to revive it using organic techniques.

“When we bought the patch of land, it was almost dead. Degraded and eroded, it did not even have any grass or vegetation growing. The topsoil was completely lost. And this used to be a dense forest before people indulged in extensive farming to meet growing urban food demands. But we were ready for the challenge,” says Radha Mohan.

At the time, it was almost unheard of and so throughout the journey, they had to face continuous speculations and discouragement. But nothing was truly strong enough to get the duo down.

Source: Sambhav/Facebook

“Initially, almost everyone was against our decision. Every expert we met discouraged us to take up this mission. No one believed that we could revive such a land through organic methods. But, I was confident and continued to experiment with various organic techniques. After 3 years of hard work, the results slowly became visible. Soon it was covered in lush green grass which encouraged insects to come in, and eventually, the ecological balance was restored,” he adds.

But this success was just the beginning for the duo. From that one patch of land, they have now expanded to more than 90 acres of organic cultivation, where they grow over 100 varieties of vegetables and more than 500 varieties of rice. They have built 3 rainwater harvesting ponds in the area, while also conserving 5000 acres of forest area that is home to more than 1000 species of plants.

One Name, Many Ways of Social Change

An Economics Professor to a now-retired State Information Commissioner, an advocate of organic farming and environmentalist, the 77-year-old Radha Mohan has amassed a humongous impact with respect to environmental conservation in the last many decades.

“Throughout my life, I have travelled through several roles, including that of a father. And, in all those roles the common factor was always that of nurturing and guiding social change. Hence after retirement, my turn towards organic farming and the environmental conversation came naturally. Although I was continuously criticised for what I was doing, I knew that their definition of impossible was only my gateway to more possibilities. The first patch of barren land was the best canvas to work on and prove them wrong,” he says.

So just a year after taking up the seemingly impossible task, Radha Mohan, with the help of his daughter Sabarmatee, started a non-profit organisation called Sambhav (meaning possible). It is a resource centre for farmers from across the nation, to educate themselves about organic farming techniques and exchange seeds.

Source: Sambhav/Facebook

Through its relentless efforts, Sambhav has also been able to revive indigenous varieties of staples, grains and vegetables like black rice, winged beans, hack beans, t-clove beans, sword beans, etc. not only in the 60 villages in and around of the Nayagarh district but also across the state as well as the country.

“Sambhav has been able to transform thousands of farmers into organic farmers, slowly and steadily changing the common perspective that organic farming is not profitable enough,” says 51-year-old Sabarmatee who quit her job in 1993 as a Project Officer at OXFAM, to dedicate all her time to Sambhav.

A National Win for Organic Farming

Source: Sambhav/Facebook

On 25th January 2020, the eve of Republic Day, the duo was declared among the few Indians who are being conferred with India’s fourth-highest civilian honour- the Padma Shri- for their work in the field of agriculture. Their feat in transforming a patch of degraded land into a vast food forest, along with Sambhav’s work in other areas like sustainable development and gender justice was recognised nationally.

“It is an honour but not just an individual one. This award is for all those organic farmers and environmentalists who have dedicated their lives to helping the earth revive. What makes me happy that after decades of struggle, organic agriculture techniques are finally receiving its deserved recognition,” says Radha Mohan

After having dedicated more than 3 decades to build the blueprint of India’s future in organic farming, the septuagenarian continues to do his bit as the founder and honorary member of Sambhav.

Talking about Sambhav and the body of her father’s incredible work, Sabarmatee concludes, “Sambhav is, in fact, a small dot in my father’s entire journey of making the environment a bit more healthy. His fight has not just moved me towards this cause, but has inspired many more to join the battle against time and man-made degradation.”

This article was originally written by Ananya Barua (and edited by Saiqua Sultan) for The Better India and can be found here.

Nowhere is the disconnect between science and spirit felt more intimately than in matters of mental health.

We can speak empirically on this by saying things like, “America spends over $113 billion a year on mental health treatment,” or “depression affects over 14.8 million adults,” but, cold data marginalizes actual human experience, so if you’re suffering, this doesn’t really help much.

The statistical view does, however, tell us that mental illness is epidemic in our culture, that an enormous economy has risen around the mainstream medical approaches to treating mental illness, and that this industry does not appear to be effective in reversing the growing epidemic of mental illness.

What is Madness?

The influential book on Western mental health, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, presently lists some 300 mental disorders that a doctor, psychiatrist or psychologist can choose from when diagnosing a patient. Given that many of the symptoms of poor mental health are overlapping, like mood swings, depression, and anxiety, psychiatry is a subjective science at best, and the pathological model to matters of the mind and spirit doesn’t always work.

There is, of course, another perspective on mental wellness, one much older than the DSM and the American Psychiatric Association. Many of the world’s indigenous cultures would view our mental disorders not as symptoms of something wrong with a person, but rather as evidence of the arrival of incompatible psychic energies into the person’s life. Energies that must be dispelled or integrated, rather than ignored or subdued.

Another way to say this, which may make more sense to the Western mind, is that we in the West are not trained in how to deal or even taught to acknowledge the existence of psychic phenomena, the spiritual world. In fact, psychic abilities are denigrated. When energies from the spiritual world emerge in a Western psyche, that individual is completely unequipped to integrate them or even recognize what is happening.

In this context, the role of the shaman as healer is much different than that of a psychiatrist, psychologist or counselor. The healing task is not to correct or remedy anything, but is instead to facilitate change and integration within the patient. To help the flow of psychic and spiritual energy around and through the patient. Assisting them in aligning their thoughts and behaviors with their life purpose.

The plant medicines Ayahuasca and Iboga are revered as agents of profound healing and personal transformation. We don’t fully understand how or why they work, but they do. Clinical studies are backing up the enormous volume of anecdotal evidence of their power to quickly interrupt depression, anxiety, and addiction, and the shamanic healing experience is now both credible and accessible to Westerners.

The Healing Journey

In darker days I’ve called on Western physicians for support, and since those days I’ve had many opportunities to journey with plant medicine masters. The differences between the two systems and experiences are profound, but both have been integral to me in knowing happiness and peace of mind.

Below are my personal reflections on how the experience of modern mental health care and the experience of ancient indigenous medicines compare. As a disclaimer, this is not to be taken as medical advice, as it is only a collection of personal observations intended as a small contribution to the big conversation about mental health.

The Call 

I was driven to counseling and psychiatry during a time of serious personal crisis, my own dark night of the soul, if you will. By the time I decided to actually seek help I was terribly distraught, panicked even. Friends and family recommended I see a doctor, as did the advertising campaigns on TV, so I worked up the nerve to do so. It was a tough and frightening decision that I’ll never forget.

When shamanism came to me I was, gratefully, in a better frame of mind, but still restless and troubled to a degree. Uneasy and discontent in general. Not happy and unfulfilled. I knew nothing of shamanism or plant medicines until a friend mentioned them in conversation, which instantly awoke within me some latent curiosity that stayed with me. The idea began to call me, it seemed.

The Search for a Healer

To find my psychiatrist I first called my health insurance company, then sifted through advertisements. After narrowing the candidates down to those whom I could afford and those who were conveniently located, I chose a professional doctor covered by my HMO. A rational process, but tedious and embarrassing.

During the year after first hearing about shamanic plant medicines my life seemed to fill itself with a series of fabulous coincidences and synchroncities. I knew something big, something crucial was about to happen to me, but not what. I was being called to discover some important, yet so far uncovered piece of fate. It was a very exciting and very cosmic time, and without wanting it, without asking around or seeking it, I found myself in contact with the shamanic healers who have since had such a positive impact on me. With no effort from me, they appeared exactly when they were supposed to.

The Clinic

The psychiatrist was close to my office, so I didn’t have to take any extra time off work. Parking was easy, the receptionist pleasant, and other anxious patients waited as pharmaceutical sales reps came and went. All very clinical, business-like and professional. White jackets, neck-ties, manila folders, magazines, that sort of thing. I filled out paper work, handing over intimate personal and financial details. The walls of the doctor’s office were covered in plaques, certificates, diplomas, war memorabilia and golfing photos. My co-pay was next to nothing.

At considerable expense and some alarm to my family, I signed up to go deep into the jungle to have ceremony with a group of shamans whom I’d never met. It was costly, inconvenient and irrational, taking me way out of my element, beyond my comfort zone, and deep into nature. The ceremonial lodge was a sacred healing space, and very much felt so. A place where the sounds and smells of fire, incense, flutes, rattles, and nature combine. A purifying, healing, spiritual place to heal.

The Doctor

My psychiatrist lived in a mansion in the best part of town. He drove a Mercedes-Benz, owned vacation homes in the Rockies and Acapulco, plus a private airplane. He was extremely confident and well-respected in the medical community. He made over $450 thousand dollars a year. His type of healing paid well, he had plenty of clients and lots of repeat customers.

The shaman I know are all deceptively strong and powerful people, especially the elders. Their open-air houses have thatched roofs and are built on stilts with wooden plank floors and next to no furnishings, set deep in the jungle aside rivers. Their clothes are simple, worn, and often dirty, but you hardly notice because their smiles are so big and they always seem to be laughing and enjoying life. They know every plant, tree, animal and insect in the rainforest. They are unflinchingly kind, sensitive and humble people who are a joy to be around.

The Treatment

My psychiatrist asked many intimate questions, and the conversations felt forced, rigid, impersonal and mechanical. Like taking care of business. I was diagnosed as having depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, ADHD, borderline schizophrenia and insomnia. The remedy was antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds, and other psychotropics, along with weekly appointments with the doctor… all to continue for as many years as needed. This also included the warning that it was extremely dangerous to stop taking these medications.

Before a night-time medicine ceremony, the day is spent mentally and spiritually preparing. Fasting, meditation, reflection, introspection and concentration. A process of gathering intention and focusing energy. Plant medicine journeys can induce indescribably harrowing and enlightening visions and experiences. The shaman never asks about my troubles, but I sense that he knows of them, perhaps even better than I. He sings instead of speaks and the journey ends in deep in meditation, as powerful and transformative insights appear from some unknown spiritual source. It feels like both a purge and a download. The following day is like a gift, a new beginning, completely renewed in body, mind and spirit.

The Results

I took my doctors recommendations and took the pills, but I quickly realized that the side-effects and the personality changes that the drugs induced in me were not something that I, nor my family, could live with. I dumped them, cancelled all remaining appointments and resolved to heal myself. It was not easy.

My time with sacred medicine always feels like going home to some very special place of physical and spiritual renewal. The visions and experiences from ceremony always prove challenging to integrate into daily life, but the journeys are a continuing source of inspiration to improve myself and enjoy life to the fullest. I’ve come measure the results of this type of healing with a simple metric: am I happy? The answer is yes. Finally.

This article was originally created and published by Waking Times and is published here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Dylan Charles and It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this copyright statement.

Dylan Charles

E.F. Schumacher was one of the pioneers of the movement towards sustainable living and a follower of Gandhiji. His classic book “Small is Beautiful”- Economics as if people mattered”, published in 1977 is still a must read for anyone interested in sustainability.

‘Right Livelihood’ is one of the requirements of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. It is clear, therefore, that there must be such a thing as Buddhist Economics.

Buddhist countries have often stated that they wish to remain faithful to their heritage. So Burma: “The New Burma sees no conflicts between religious values and economic processes. Spiritual health and material wellbeing are not enemies: they are natural allies.” Or: “We can blend successfully the religious and spiritual values of our heritage with the benefits of modern technology.” Or: “We Burmans have a sacred duty to conform both our dreams and our acts to our faith. This we shall ever do”.

All the same, such countries invariably assume that they can model their economic development plans in accordance with modern economics, and they call upon modern economists, from so- called advanced countries to advise them, to formulate the policies to be pursued, and to construct the grand design for development. No one seems to think that a Buddhist way of life would call for Buddhist economics, just as the modern materialist way of life has brought forth modern economics.

Economists themselves, like most specialists, normally suffer from a kind of metaphysical blindness, assuming that theirs is a science of absolute and invariable truths, without any pre suppositions. Some go as far as to claim that economic laws are as free from ‘metaphysics’ or ‘values’ as the law of gravitation. We need not, however, get involved in arguments of methodology. Instead, let us take some fundamentals and see what they look like when viewed by a modern economist and a Buddhist economist.

There is universal agreement that the fundamental source of wealth is human labour. Now, the modern economist has been brought up to consider ‘ labour’ or work as little more than a necessary evil. From the point of view of the employer, it is in any case simply an item of cost, to be reduced to a minimum if it cannot be eliminated altogether, say, by automation.

From the point of view of the worker, it is a ‘disutility’; to work is to make sacrifice of one’s leisure and comfort, and wage is a kind of compensation for the sacrifice. Hence the ideal from the point of view of the employer is to have output without employees, and the ideal from the point of view of the employee is to have income without employment.

The consequences of these attitudes both in theory and in practice are, of course, extremely far- reaching. If the ideal with regard to work is to get rid of it, every method that ‘reduces the work load’ is a good thing.

The most potent method, short of automation, is the so-called division of labour, and the classical example is the pin factory eulogized in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. Here it is not a matter of ordinary specialization, which humankind has practiced from time immemorial, but of dividing up every complete process of production into minute parts, so that the final product can be produced at great speed without anyone having had to contribute more than a totally insignificant and, in most cases, unskilled movement of their limbs.

The Buddhist point of view takes the function of work to be atleast three fold: to give individuals a chance to utilize and develop their faculties, to enable them to overcome their ego- centeredness by joining with others in a common task; and to bring forth the goods and services needed for existence.

Again, the consequences that flow from this view are endless. To organize work in such a manner that it becomes meaningless, boring, stultifying, or nerve – wracking for the worker would be little short of criminal; it would indicate a greater concern with goods than with people, an evil lack of compassion and a soul – destroying degree of attachment to the most primitive side of this worldly existence.

Equally, to strive for leisure as an alternative to work would be considered a complete misunderstanding of one of the basic truths of human existence: namely that work and leisure are complementary parts of the same living process and cannot be separated without destroying the joy of work and the bliss of leisure.

From the Buddhist point of view, there are therefore two types of mechanization which must be clearly distinguished: one that enhances a person’s skill and power and one that turns the work of a human over to a mechanical slave, leaving the human in a position of having to serve the slave.

How to tell one from the other?

“The craftsman himself, wrote Ananda Coomaraswamy, a man equally competent to talk about the Modern West as the Ancient East, “ can always, if allowed to, draw the delicate distinction between machine and tool. The carpet loom is a tool, a contrivance for holding warp threads at a stretch for the pile to be woven round them by the craftsman’s fingers; but the power loom is a machine, and its significance as a destroyer of culture lies in the fact that it does the essentially human part of the work.

It is clear, therefore, that Buddhist economics must be very different from the economics of modern materialism, since the Buddhist sees the essence of civilization not in a multiplication of wants but in the purification of human character.

Character is formed primarily by work. And work, properly conducted in conditions of human dignity and freedom, blesses those who do it and equally their products.

The Indian philosopher and economist J.C. Kumarappa summed the matter up as follows:

“If the nature of work is properly appreciated and applied, it will stand in the same relation to the higher faculties as food is to the physical body. It nourishes and enlivens the higher man and urges him to produce the best he is capable of. It directs his free will along the proper course and disciplines the animal in him into progressive channels. It furnishesan excellent background for man to display his scale of values and develop his personality.

A person who has no chance of obtaining work is in a desperate position, not simply because of lack of income but because of a lack of this nourishing and enlivening factor of disciplined work, which nothing can replace. A modern economist may engage in highly sophisticated calculations on whether full employment ‘pays’ or whether it might be more economic to run an economy at less than full employment so as to ensure a greater mobility of labour, a better stability of wages, and so forth. That economist’s fundamental criterion of success is simply the total quantity of goods produced during the given period of time.

“ If the marginal urgency of goods is low”, wrote Professor Galbraith in The Affluent Society,“ then so is the urgency of employing the last man or the last million men in the labour force.” And again: “if…. we can afford some unemployment in the interest of stability – a proposition, incidentally, of incredible conservative antecedents – then we can afford to give those who are unemployed the goods that enable them to sustain their accustomed “standard of living” .

From a Buddhist point of view, this is standing the truth on its head by considering goods as more important than creative activity. It means shifting the emphasis from the worker to the product of work, that is, from the human to the sub-human – surrender to the forces of evil.

The very start of Buddhist economic planning would be a planning for full employment and the primary purpose of this would in fact be employment for everyone who needs an ‘outside’ job: it would not be the maximization of production.

While the materialist is mainly interested in goods, the Buddhist is mainly interested in liberation. But Buddhism is ‘The Middle Way’ and therefore in no way antagonistic to physical well being. It is not the wealth that stands in the way of liberation but the attachment to wealth: not the enjoyment of pleasurable things but the craving for them.

The keynote of Buddhist economics, therefore, is simplicity and nonviolence. From an economist’s point of view, the marvel of the Buddhist way of life is the utter rationality of its pattern – amazingly small means leading to extraordinary satisfactory results.

This is very difficult to understand for the modern economist, who is used to measuring ‘ the standard of living’ by the amount of annual consumption, assuming all the time that someone who consumes more is  ‘better off’ than someone who consumes less.

A Buddhist economist would consider this approach excessively irrational: since consumption is merely a means to human well-being, the aim should be to obtain the maximum of wellbeing with the minimum of consumption.

Thus, if the purpose of clothing is a certain amount of temperature comfort and an attractive appearance, the task is to attain this purpose with the smallest possible effort; that is, with the smallest annual destruction of cloth and with the help of designs that involve the smallest possible input of toil. The less toil there is, more time and strength are left for artistic creativity.

It would be highly uneconomic, for instance, to go in for complicated tailoring, like in the modern West, when a much more beautiful effect can be achieved by the skilful draping of uncut material. It would be the height of folly to make material so that it should wear out quickly and the height of barbarity to make anything ugly, shabby or mean.

What has just been said about clothing applies equally to all other human requirements. The ownership and consumption of goods is a means to an end, and Buddhist economics is the systematic study of how to attain given ends within minimum means.

Modern economics, on the other hand, considers consumption to be the sole end and purpose of all economic activity, taking the factors of production – land, labour and capital – as the means. The former, in short, tries to maximize human satisfaction by the optimal pattern of consumption, while the latter tries to maximize consumption by the optimal pattern of productive effort.

It is easy to see that the effort needed to sustain a way of life that seeks to obtain the optimal pattern of consumption is likely to be much smaller than the effort needed to sustain a drive for maximum consumption. We need not be surprised, therefore, that the pressure and strain of living are very much less in, say, Burma than in the United States, in spite of the fact that the amount of labour-saving machinery used in the former country is only a minute fraction of the amount used in the latter.

Simplicity and nonviolence are obviously closely related. The optimal pattern of consumption, producing a high degree of human satisfaction by means of a relatively low rate of consumption, allows people to live without great pressure and strain and to fulfill the primary injunction of Buddhist teaching: “Cease to do evil; try to do good.”

As physical resources are everywhere limited, people satisfying their needs by means of a modest use of resources are obviously less likely to be at each other’s throats than people depending on a high rate of use. Equally, people who live in highly self-sufficient local communities are less likely to get involved in large-scale violence than people whose existence depends on worldwide systems of trade.

From the point of view of Buddhist economics, therefore, production from local resources for local needs is the most rational way of economic life, while dependence on imports from afar and the consequent need to produce for export to unknown and distant peoples is highly uneconomic, and justifiable only in exceptional cases and on a small scale.

Just as the modern economist would admit that a high rate of consumption of transport services between a person’s home and place of work signifies a misfortune, and not a high standard of life, so the Buddhist economist would hold that to satisfy human wants from far away sources rather than from sources nearby signifies failure rather than success.

The modern economist might take statistics showing an increase in the number of ton/miles per head of the population carried by a country’s transport system as proof of economic progress, while to the Buddhist economist the same statistic would indicate a highly undesirable deterioration in the pattern of consumption.

Another striking difference between modern economics and Buddhist economics arises over the use of natural resources. Bertrand de Jouvenel, the eminent French political philosopher, characterized ‘Western man’ in words which may be taken as fair description of modern economist.

“ He tends to count nothing as an expenditure, other than human effort; he does not seem to mind how much mineral matter he wastes and, far worse, how much living matter he destroys. He does not seem to realize at all that human life is a dependent part of an ecosystem of many different forms of life. As the world is ruled from towns where men are cut off from any form of life other than human, the feeling of belonging to an ecosystem is not revived. This results in a harsh and improvident treatment of things upon which we ultimately depend, such as water and trees”.

The teaching of the Buddha, on the other hand, enjoins a reverent and nonviolent attitude not only to all sentient beings, but also, with great emphasis, to trees. Every follower of the Buddha ought to plant a tree every few years and look after it until it is safely established, and the Buddhist economist can demonstrate, without difficulty, that the universal observance of this rule would result in a very high rate of genuine economic development independent of any foreign aid. Much of the economic delay of South-East Asia (as of many other parts of the world) is undoubtedly due to a heedless and shameful neglect of trees.

So, modern economics does not distinguish between renewable and non- renewable materials, as its very method is to equalize and quantify everything by means of a money price. Thus, taking various alternative fuels like coal, oil, wood or water power, the only difference between them recognized by the modern economist is relative cost per equivalent unit. The cheapest is automatically the one to be preferred, as to do otherwise would be irrational and ‘uneconomic’.

From a Buddhist point of view, of course, this will not do; the essential difference between non – renewable fuels like coal and oil on the one hand and renewable fuels like wood and water- power on the other cannot simply be overlooked. Non-renewable goods must be used only if they are indispensable, and then only with the greatest care and the most meticulous concern for conservation. To use them heedlessly or extravagantly is an act of violence, and while complete non violence may not be attainable on this Earth, there is nonetheless an ineluctable duty on humans to aim at the ideal of non-violence in all they do.

Just as a modern European economist would not consider it a great economic achievement if all European art treasures were sold to America at attractive prices, so the Buddhist economist would insist that a population basing its economic life on non-renewable fuels is living parasitically, on capital instead of income. Such a way of life could have no permanence and could therefore be justified only as a purely temporary expedient.

As the world’s resources of non renewable fuels – coal, oil and natural gas – are unevenly distributed over the globe and limited in quantity, it is clear that their exploitation at an ever- increasing rate is an act of violence against Nature which must almost inevitably lead to violence between people.

This fact alone might give food for thought even to those people in Buddhist countries who care nothing for the religious and spiritual values of their heritage and ardently desire to embrace the materialism of modern economics at the fastest possible speed. But before they dismiss Buddhist economics as nothing better than a nostalgic dream, they might wish to consider whether the path of economic development outlined by modern economics is likely to lead then to places where they really want to be.

As far as the masses are concerned, the results appear to be disastrous – a collapse of the rural economy, a rising tide of unemployment in town and country, and the growth of a city proletariat without nourishment for either body or soul.

It is in the light of both immediate experience and long-term prospects that the study of Buddhist economics could be recommended even to those who believe that economic growth is more important than spiritual or religious values. For it is not a question of choosing between modern growth and traditional stagnation. It is a question of finding the Middle Way between materialist heedlessness and traditionalist immobility; in short, of finding ‘Right Livelihood’

This article is printed with permission from Resurgence Magazine, UK.

It is an edited extract from a longer essay first published in Resurgence in 1968. The full text is available in Schumacher’s classic book Small is Beautiful. See for more details.

E.F. Schumacher

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.

Why High?

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.

Environmental impact:

In the manufacture of 1 tonne of cement 2.5 tonnes of COis 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.


Reality of real estate:

Cement and CO2Emissions:

Bhunga –earthquake resistant homes:

Why cement should not be used with natural buildings:

Building materials of ancient India:

This article is written by  Natural builder Musharaff Hebballi  & Biju Bhaskar.

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Is the sharing economy the first part of a New Economic Paradigm or is it capitalism’s latest trick to survive at all costs? Arthur De Grave shares his views.

Access over ownership. After decades of excessive consumerism, this prospect sounded revolutionary at first. Now that the sharing economy has become mainstream, more critical voices are appearing. So, what will it be? Empowerment or exploitation? A revolution or business as usual?

Before getting to the heart of the matter, I’d like to set something straight: the collaborative economy and sharing economy (or collaborative consumption) are not the same concept. The sharing economy is just one part of the collaborative economy, as is distributed production, P2P (peer-to-peer) finance and the open source and knowledge movements.

What these phenomena have in common is their reliance on horizontal networks and distributed power within communities, as opposed to the competition between hierarchical organisations that has dominated economic life since the second industrial revolution. For a number of reasons, I believe this old economic framework is rapidly becoming obsolete. A new economic paradigm is needed, and this could be the collaborative economy.

But still, there are several contradictions in the collaborative economy that are currently becoming most obvious in the sharing economy as it goes mainstream. Let’s take a closer look at what these are. And guess what? They have something to do with inequality.

Empowerment in an era of growing inequalities

An economy where people value access over ownership? It sounds — literally — revolutionary. Karl Marx would be thrilled. Indeed, if you look at it closely, it is the exact opposite of capitalism, a system that encourages people to accumulate more wealth and goods than they could possibly use and “put it to work for them”.

“Sharing” on the other hand, is a nice sounding word and the expression of pure morality, the exact opposite of homo economicus’ iconic egotism. So, after having believed for centuries that man is wolf and to have built entire political and economic systems upon this very assumption, it may turn out that we were wrong after all, and that humans are pure, altruistic beings. Right!

Why, then, all this growing discontent towards the so-called sharing economy? Two main groups of criticism have emerged: one on ownership structures and the other on employment. These two matters are of course related if one is to consider the context in which the sharing economy was born.

We are living in the post-2008 world, a time when we are not completely sure that capitalism will be able to once more reinvent itself.

What is the most obvious characteristic of our current economic era? Growing economic inequalities (if you doubt that, I recommend you read Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty First Century), fueled both by patrimonial inequalities (capital ownership) and income inequalities (jobs). Capital distribution is roughly at its pre-WWI levels, which means the 1 percent are doing pretty well. Such levels of inequality might eventually drive our civilization to collapse.

Even Eric Schmidt — the chairman of a company whose private buses are being thrown rocks at by angry impoverished locals in San Francisco — thinks inequality will be number one issue for democracies in the future. And even the rich and powerful of the world that gathered at the World Economic Forum in Davos — not exactly a group of dangerous leftists — are worried about the growing gap between rich and poor!

So, are we to take the sharing economy seriously? If we want to assess whether it should be seen as the first part of a new economic paradigm or as capitalism’s latest trick to survive at all costs, we have to analyze its likely effects on inequality.

Should you really free yourself from all earthly possessions?

From a collective standpoint, it might well be better to have access to a resource rather than owning it. Compared to the baby boomers generation’s obsession with hoarding, maybe younger generations indeed show less of an urge to possess things (but of course, they also cannot afford it anymore).

But if someone asks you to free yourself from all earthly possessions, you should always ask: if it’s not mine, then who owns it? Remember that for Aufklärung thinkers, private property was perceived as something inherently positive: a safeguard against greater forms of oppression. Back in medieval times, serfs did not own the land they were working on. In Antiquity, slaves did not even own themselves, for that matter. Sometimes, owning is a way not to be owned! It is quite normal that we are witnessing the beginning of a backlash towards the sharing economy: after all, it mostly consists of venture capitalist-backed startups, old-fashioned centralized ownership structures. When I was sitting on the bench at business school, I was told one thing: the purpose of any company is to maximize shareholder value. Employees and customers are but a means to an end, and in general, a good way to maximize return on investment is to get your customers to pay as much as possible (non-price competitiveness) and on the other side to pay your employees as little as possible (price competitiveness).

Simply put, under a modern capitalist mindset, shareholders are not peers (from Latin par, “equal”), but overlords. And if your business model is based on your ability to sustain a community, it is not absurd to expect a contradiction between your duty to serve your investors a high return on investment and the egalitarian spirit of P2P services. In the end, you will have to choose one or the other.

Sharing: crowd-sourcing taken to the next level?

This point is the most controversial of all. Sharing economy services could accelerate the phenomenon of job destruction. For people like Evgeny Morozov, the so-called sharing economy is nothing but the logical continuation of the digital economy and crowdsourcing. Despite all those nice speeches about empowerment and entrepreneurship, people in the sharing economy are nothing but an extreme precariat (they just don’t know it yet). And they may actually have a point. Do you remember the last time the economic system went haywire? It was in the early 70s, when the oil price suddenly rose. This is what happened:

Real wages started stagnating while productivity per capita continued to increase. To keep the system running, a new deal had to be made: people would no longer be paid according to the value they actually produced, but they would get — seemingly — unlimited access to credit. This new deal had a name: debt. In the post-2008 world, we all know this deal is now null and void.

So, what do we do now? If someone tells you he knows for certain, chances are high he is lying.

One cannot help but notice one interesting fact: while allowing wages to stagnate and inequalities to skyrocket, the neo-liberal revolution has left the basic structures of welfare — all those perks associated to wage labor such as social security and healthcare — relatively untouched. These are precisely the benefits Lyft drivers or Airbnb hosts will never have: they are not employees. In a way, these services are based on crowdsourced solutions. Is the sharing economy truly about that? As Morozov puts it, does the sharing economy “undermine the workers’ rights”? Most probably. Will it destroy jobs? Of course it will! But to be honest, computers and robots will soon replace most human labor anyway. Wage labor cannot be saved, and rather than fighting long-lost battles, people should start thinking seriously about solutions such as Universal Basic Income.

After reading this, you are probably convinced that the sharing economy is nothing but capitalism’s latest and sexiest outfit that will not solve, but worsen our inequality issues. But guess what? You might be wrong.

“The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk” (Hegel)

It is impossible to understand the meaning of something before it is over. And at dusk, it is hard to tell dogs — man’s best friends — from wolves. Considering the economic cycle which started in the early 70s and ended in 2008, the sharing economy may be the next monster born out of Reaganian economics. But let’s not forget that dated intellectual frameworks usually fail to predict the future. We are at dusk, remember? Old ways of thinking do not shed enough light on current economic and social problems.

What happens next, no one can tell. Are Silicon Valley venture capitalistss currently being fooled into creating the embryo of a P2P economic paradigm, in which they will lose most of their influence? Or are the enthusiasts talking about empowerment being tricked into creating a new kind of serfdom?

There is absolutely no way to know. In such cases, ancient Skeptic philosophers had an interesting way of proceeding:epoché, suspension of judgment.

If you cannot predict something with a reasonable amount of certainty, stop arguing endlessly about it and start acting towards the outcome you would like to see.

What do we do next?

It would then be dishonest from an intellectual standpoint to give this long article any kind of conclusion (epoché!). Instead, I will make two — in my own humble opinion — important remarks.

First, we should avoid using the concept of a “sharing economy” as much as possible: it is tricky and raises the bar too high. It leads people to expect too much from new business models and their users. Of course it’s not really about sharing! Don’t expect any kind of moral revolution (historically, revolutions that want to change human nature end up badly). There is no such thing as pure altruism (come on, even early Christians who happily ran into the lion’s den seeking martyrdom thought their sacrifice would eventually be repaid a thousand times!). Men are both altruistic and egoistic, and that’s perfectly fine.

That being said, “If you think it’s just about winning in the collaborative economy, and that “sharing is the new buying”, you should probably think again.” Will big companies be able to face new competition from startups and win over new customers? If that is your main concern, you should probably stop talking about communities and peers. If the collaborative economy cannot help you solve our growing inequality problem, it should be of no interest to you. It’s not about protecting market share, it’s about building an economic paradigm that can make it to the 22nd century. Things will change no matter what, the only question is: how smoothly?

Arthur De Grave

Source text and images courtesy creative commons.

In his talk at Bhoomi Network’s  Yugaantar Conference, Satish Kumar says that the name Yugaantar is very symbolic of what we are experiencing today; the time is now to look for answers within for all the mess we have created on this bountiful planet.

Though I left India for England 40 years ago, I carry India in my heart and soul and continue to nurture the Gandhian way of living through the magazine Resurgence. It happened to me by chance when I met with the great E F Schumacher who had been looking for an editor for ‘Resurgence’  and he felt I would fit in well for the role and persuaded me to stay back and make ‘Resurgence’ a Gandhian magazine.  ‘Resurgence and ‘Bhoomi’ are in that sense closely related as our mission is one and the same.

Coming to the theme of this conference, the name ‘Yugaantar’ has been very aptly coined. If we split it into two words ‘Yuga’ and ‘Antar ’, the word ‘Antar’ has many meanings to it,  one of them being to go deeper within.  This is very symbolic of what we are experiencing today; the time is now to look for answers within for all the mess we have created on this bountiful Earth.  What are we made up of?  We are the ‘pancha bhootas’ (the five elements) Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Sky; We have for some time now completely ignored these facts and have begun to imagine ourselves as the “masters of Nature”.  This is a farcical notion that we are living with.

Ecology and Economics

The root of this notion is our inability to understand that Ecology and Economics go together. The word Economics is derived from the ancient Greek words ‘Oikos’ and ‘Nomos’.  ‘Oikos’ means home, our planet and ‘Nomos’ means management, so the word Economics symbolizes management of planet earth. And Ecology means knowledge of the Earth.  However Management schools around the world are churning out graduates who have no clue about the working of Earth.

They are flying to different parts of the world only to make a mess of the ecosystem.  This trend continues in London School of Economics (LSE) as well. During one of my visits to the University, I was surprised to find out that they did not have a department of Ecology. The Professor there was offended with my enquiry and defended her stance by saying they only dealt with Economics and the rest was not their concern. Ecology and Economy go hand in hand and should not be ignored. The focus should be on what is spiritual, artistic; friendship and growth in relationships, and not just economic growth.

Devendra Sharma earlier mentioned Earthworms and their benefits. These amazing creatures toil from dawn to dusk to nurture the soil. They work without expecting any wages or leaves for round the clock hard labour.  They work on the earth very gently and compassionately to turn about 6 tonnes of soil every month, where as tractors ruin the soil. Today these tender creatures have totally lost their well being.

 The Rights of the Earth

Human Rights are the most talked about and discussed topic in today’s world, but I am deeply saddened to see that nobody ever broaches on ‘Rights of the Earth’ or ‘Earth Rights’. How can we have a healthy humanity on a sick planet? Well-being of a person and well being of a planet are interconnected. In this age of chronic consumption we have left our common sense behind. By plundering the resources in terms of drilling the earth, polluting the rivers and deforestation we are only walking towards doom. Human Civilization is more than 6000 years old and our ancestors kept our nature intact until the age of stupidity dawned in the form of Industrialization.

Now the big question looms over us as to where is this industrialization taking us? Are we going to only wake up when the pristine nature around us is totally ruined?

 Alternative Paths

There are many interesting organizations started around the world to help nurture the idea of co-existence.  Brilliant work has been done by Ashish Kothari through Vikalp Sangam which lists more than 100 alternative organisations across India; and ‘Blessed Unrest’, a book by Paul Hawken has listings of over thousand examples around the globe on Ecology and holistically just movements. These portals discuss the initiatives taken by thinkers and activists who are working closely towards reviving Nature.

James Lovelock created a science called ‘Gaia’, in this science, Earth is a body and we are organs of the same hence we constitute tiny bits of this cosmos. It also reminds me of Buddha’s concept of ‘Śūnyatā’ which means emptiness; the absence of an independent and substantial “self”.  Hence we are not separate beings but one energy form.  So, when this is the case even slight disturbances can leave lasting impacts on generations to come.  Most of which we are experiencing at this moment itself.

We should move from the Anthro-pocene era, to what Thomas Berry calls Ecozoic era. Our local economies should be nurtured and encouraged. Our cottage industries have their roots in sustainability which harness goodness in Nature. This will help in bringing massive changes to the environment we are living in.

Time to Change

It is distressing to see the city of Bangalore being reduced to a garbage heap. The city’s vanishing lakes and disappearing flora and fauna speak volumes of the residents’ priorities. There is no magic wand coming from anywhere to clear up the chaos, each one of us has to work towards it. It’s time now to make the change. It’s time now to inculcate the fact into our children that nature and human beings are ‘One’.  ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’, whole world is a family, should be the epitome.

(This article includes extracts from Satish Kumar’s inaugural talk at the Yugaantar Conference organised by Bhoomi College at Bangalore, April 2016)

Satish Kumar

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.

Shop at: IndiaUSAUKBrazilAustraliaCanadaFranceDenmarkItalyJapanMexicoSpainNetherland

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Conversion of urban green spaces to built spaces in Bangalore. Photo: Harini Nagendra

Once considered a predominantly rural country, India is rapidly urbanizing. Although less than 1/3rdof India’s population now lives in cities, in the next two decades we are expected to cross the threshold where more than half of the country’s people will live in cities. How will this rapid progress towards urban ways of life shape ecology, natural resources and biodiversity in India? Unfortunately, we have very little information to draw on. The attention of Indian ecologists and conservation biologists has largely focused on understanding “natural” ecosystems such as forests in protected areas. Urban researchers rarely study ecology, while ecologists rarely consider cities worth of attention. Thus urban biodiversity remains a double blind spot, even as crises of urban ecology gain force across the country.

Bangalore constitutes a characteristic example of a growing Indian city, famous internationally (even spawning new words such as “Bangalored”) as well as within India for its software industry. Yet many readers may not be aware that Bangalore has a much longer history of settlement from millenia in the past. The city itself has been an important Indian urban commercial center from the 16thcentury onwards. Well known for its green spaces and lakes, Bangalore was once called “India’s Garden City”. In recent years it has witnessed accelerated and highly unequal growth, transforming a landscape with forests, orchards, lakes, wetlands, pastures and fertile agriculture into a sea of concrete apartments and commercial complexes.

Bangalore is known to host to an impressive list of other plant and animal species. A checklist of fauna compiled by S. Karthikeyan in 1999 lists as many as 340 species of birds, 160 species of butterflies, 40 species of mammals, 38 species of reptiles, 16 species of amphibians, and 41 species of fish in the city, with reports of a new ant species identified in Bengaluru as recently as in 2006 – highlighting the unexplored nature of these city environments.

As with many Indian cities such as Pune and Delhi, Bangalore is fortunate in having a number of academic and religious institutions, government and military areas, in addition to areas formally established by city municipalities for urban greening such as parks. These different types of land use support biodiversity in different ways. Human choice, behaviour and policies directly impact plant diversity in particular. For instance, the landscape of Bangalore was quite dry and scrubby prior to the mid-19thcentury, when settlers began to find that urbanization lead to increased temperature. Extensive tree plantation was then conducted across the city to provide shade, greenery and visual relief. The species selected were a careful mix of local and exotic, with a focus of ensuring that at any point in time, some species of trees would be flowering, providing a spectacular visual pageant across the city.

Cubbon Park, Bangalore. Photo: Harini Nagendra

Apart from streets, great attention was paid to improving the condition of Bangalore’s two historical botanical gardens – Lal Bagh, created in the 18thcentury by the former rulers of this region, Hyder Ali and Tippu Sultan, and Cubbon Park, established in the 19thcentury by British administrators. An 1891 British book by John Cameron, “Catalogue of Plants in the Botanical Garden, Bangalore (Second Edition)” describes 3,222 species planted in Lal Bagh alone. In addition to these and a few other mid-sized parks established several decades ago, the city also hosts a number of small neighbourhood parks that are landscaped with manicured hedges and greater lawn area, with fewer trees. These parks are small but play an important role in supporting biodiversity, especially for mobile taxa such as birds and butterflies. Most flora in parks is exotic – only one out of every five trees in parks is a native species.

For those with determination, any place can be converted into a green corner. Photo: Madhumitha Jaganmohan

Home gardens form another variety of pocket green space that is critical for biodiversity support in Bangalore. We studied 328 domestic gardens and apartments in Bangalore, and documented over 1668 trees belonging to 91 species, in addition to 192 species of shrubs and herbs. Of these, only the coconut is widespread, encountered in more than 30% of locations. Bangalore’s domestic garden owners seem to value the unusual, with 90% of the tree species and 80% found in less than 5% of the gardens. Compared to many other studies in domestic gardens in western countries which report a focus on ornamental plants, we found that many species planted for their food, medicinal or religious properties, including trees such as jackfruit, mango and drumstick, and plants such as papaya, banana, coriander and sacred basil. Domestic gardeners are creative, finding ways to host plants even in congested homes. In contrast to parks, which are heavily landscaped and sprayed with pesticides and insecticides, most home gardeners avoided using chemical sprays because of health concerns. Thus home gardens are more sustainable, and more bird and insect-friendly. Many home owners also make special efforts to support biodiversity, by placing rice out to feed birds, providing water baths, and leaving sugar out for ants. Slums constitute rich pockets of biodiversity as well, with a very high proportion of native plants, and use of plants with medicinal properties for home health remedies.

Unfortunately, in many parts of Bangalore, gardens, wetlands and other green spaces are being converted to corporate campuses and upscale gated residential communities, dominated by manicured landscapes, with exotic turf grasses, non-flowering variegated shrubs and herbs, and hybridized small sized flowering trees and exotic palms that do not provide fruits, flowers, insect habitat and nesting areas for butterflies, birds, and insects. The extensive use of pesticides in these landscapes also impacts bird feeding, nesting and breeding.

The pressures of urbanization on Indian cities are not unique to Bangalore, nor are they new. Yet the impacts are certainly spreading to other parts of India where villages are growing into small towns, towns into cities, and cities into megapolises. The role and influence of ideas of the sacred are however unique to Indian cities, and may provide a path forward for some conservation. For instance, historic cemeteries serve as sites for heritage tree protection in many Indian cities, as well as sacred traditions of conservation of aspects of nature such as anthills. Mosques constitute sacred locations associated with feeding of species such as pigeons and goats. Many cities and towns also contain centuries old temples with embedded with characteristic architectural features such as ponds, and protection of tree species such as the Ficus. Our recent study of sacred spaces across Bangalore recorded 5504 trees from 93 species in 62 temples, churches, and Hindu, Christian and Muslim cemeteries in central areas of Bengaluru. One in two tree species were of native origin, as compared to the dominance of exotic trees in parks. The density of trees in sacred sites was also much higher than that in parks, home gardens and slums. The rich diversity of cultural and spiritual traditions of worship in India thus holds promise for the future of biodiversity in Indian cities. Yet new paths of conservation need to be forged that can integrate these traditional approaches with modernization, ensuring their continued importance in urban management practices.

Biodiversity is essential in cities. We need trees and plants to clean our polluted air and water, help in ground water percolation, ensure continued monsoons, cool the overheated concrete city, provide medicine and fuel, fruits, flowers and grazing material. Urban biodiversity is also essential for good physical and mental health, providing safe spaces for exercise and recreation, and relaxation and relief in stressed city environments. Sadly, despite the multiple benefits they provide, urban ecosystems are the most endangered of land use categories in a city – considered as “waste” spaces that can be taken over to build apartments and malls, roads and airports. The story of Bangalore is the story of biodiversity beleaguered, under threat, but still holding on in brave pockets of resistance – in slums, sacred spaces, home gardens and parks. We need to understand the importance of biodiversity and work together to protect our urban ecological heritage. Only then can India’s new urban era prove to be an era of ecological and human wellbeing.

Note: This article is a modified version of H. Nagendra (6th February 2013). Biodiversity and the city— challenges for India. The Nature of Cities collective blog, 

Harini Nagendra

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 these very stories; we are a country of immense biodiversity and we always have been. We house around 4500 varieties of animal species and 15000 different types of flowering plants. It really is magical, what a forest can do. Forests can create microclimates and stabilize macro-climates. By rooting deep they arrest soil erosion and help streams and rivers to flow. They are wonderful carbon sequesters as well and they create conditions for thousands of species to cohabitate.

The original home of Homo sapiens used to be a forest before our shift towards an agrarian society, and even today we rely heavily on forests to provide for our everyday needs. A lot of the fuelwood for the use of tribal and forest dwelling communities comes from forests, some forest areas are used for grazing and collecting food crops, other everyday products like rubber and wax are also sourced from forests. And these are just a few things that forests provide for us. Yet, with increased urbanisation and industrialization, our forests are disappearing.

The tricky balance of sustaining life on earth relies profoundly on our forest ecosystems. 80% of our terrestrial biodiversity reside forests but our collective actions do not seem to reflect this gravity: every year, mainly due to our actions, we lose 18.7 million acres of forests, which is like losing 27 football fields every minute.

However, in the past there have been people who strived to protect forests; people like the Mauryan king, Ashoka. He put laws in place to safeguard our forests and wildlife. In the preserved edicts that talk about his constitution, burning chaff and hunting certain wildlife are clearly banned. These edicts elaborate his efforts to introduce mangroves and medicinal fauna to the local biodiversity, as well as to construct ponds and sheltering tree species that help to maintain the micro-climate. Back in the 3rd century, even before today’s widespread ecological destruction, Ashoka imbibed a progressive ideology on forest conservation that led him to protect our natural resources.

Fortunately, like Ashoka, even in modern times, we have our own “green guardians” who are working diligently to protect and revive forests. One of them is SayTrees.

SayTrees is an NGO based in Bangalore that has taken upon itself to do extensive restoration of urban and rural forest spaces. In urban localities, they conduct large scale volunteer driven plantations that allow them to plant several trees at one go. In 2016, they planted more than 5000 saplings in a day, around the periphery of Kyalasanahlli Lake in Bangalore, with the help of over 1500 volunteers. In this way the largest stakeholders of the urban ecology are able to take charge of the wellbeing of their own surroundings.

SayTrees is great at making urban citizens voluntarily participate in these efforts in a significant way. Being a small group of conscious urbanites themselves when it started, they really know how to speak the language of city dwellers. What they ultimately want is, “to sensitise and empower people to give back to nature and live in an environment conducive to their health and well-being.”

At the same time, they have worked hard with rural communities and their respective local NGOs to revive the ecology of the commons in village settings. Strictly speaking, one such project of restoring the commons of Sidalghatta in Karnataka is not so much of a forest than 600 acres of hilly grasslands. However, the 62 thousand saplings that they planted in this arid, rain-hungry region will really kick-start the revitalization of biodiversity in the zone. In such areas, they find that planting right before monsoon can help to increase the survival rate of these plants. However when circumstances permit, they prefer to use the very effective Miyawaki method of tree plantation.

Alaap, a social enterprise in Uttarakhand, also swears by the Miyawaki method. In this universally proven technique, one only uses native plant species, and the major hard work goes into increasing soil nutrition. “By having a nutrient rich soil, you cut down on the preliminary stages of that a naturally occurring forest would go through and give it a head start,” says Sheeba Sen, the co-founder of Alaap. Their 100 square meter prototypes of the Miyawaki forests have shown great results, and Alaap too is looking at implementing these results to revive the local commons with the help of resident communities. Their main focus is on working in afforestation through eco leadership.

Youngsters attending a Youth Workshop at Alaap

What Alaap wants is for the local communities to take ownership of their forests. They wish to educate the locals so that there is a fundamental shift in the way they perceive their environment. Then, protecting and reviving local forests becomes an innate part of their behaviour.

Alaap feels that the youth of the country has the capacity to help them bring about this change. With this in mind, they are now designing a fellowship that will bring the urban and rural youth together. Educating and mobilising the local communities and conducting community-afforestation drives through the youngsters will be primary on the agenda of this fellowship. By adopting a “two birds – one stone” strategy, they are looking to not only change existing behaviours but at the same time also equip young individuals to become future guardians of the ecology.

Today, Sheeba says, that while the mountain ranges of Uttarakhand look lush with pine forests, not many people know that these trees are not native to this area. The British Raj saw a lot of tree plantation that stemmed out of the desire to get a piece of the timber market pie, but what it also meant was that our local resilient species were out-competed.

“In the Nilgiri Forests of southern India, exotic tree species have left no space for our native plant ecology to grow,” says our local green guardian, Godwin Vasanth Bosco, of Ooty, Tamil Nadu. Vasanth works on reviving the Shola trees there, which are the native forest species of this locality. Today the landscape is dominated by pine, eucalyptus and wattle trees that are crowding out the Shola.

Native species are important to reforestation and afforestation efforts because, not only do they create a better habitation for the native wildlife, but protect the freshwater of that area and reduce forest fragmentation.

When we think of a forest, we imagine a stratification of towering trees and green lushness. But not all regions are tropical. The vegetation that is native to a region is also what is the best suited to it. In the case of the Nilgiris, this is the Shola-grassland mosaic.

Vasanth has worked hard to jumpstart the revival of grasslands that are under tea estates and other exotic plant occupations around Ooty. With trial and error he has engineered his own process of plantation to ensure a high survival rate of saplings. He now manages a nursery where he germinates the seeds of native plants that he finds whenever is out on the forest trail. While the grassland plants will need protection and aid for a year, they will eventually become self-reliant and bring back native biodiversity.

Vasanth is about to publish a book called Metaphor Island, which is about the Nilgiris and the importance of looking at patternsin its ecology. The book will be a guide for what our next steps should be in a rapidly changing environment. In the future, he plans to engage in a coordinated effort to drive more attention towards his cause. He wants to eventually work with the indigenous people of the Nilgiris and get them more involved in the revival of their homeland.

The local community in the periphery of a forest is one of the biggest stakeholders in its survival. They rely on it for livelihood, for fuel and for food. But it is not only the people that benefit from the forest, the forest can benefit from the people too. People can protect their forests from being exploited by third parties. They can even aid the biodiversity of a forest by arresting the advent of monoculture and by only taking from the forest what it can naturally regenerate.

“Afforestation should address the triple bottom line,” says Sheeba. When an activity improves not only the environment, but also the lives of the people and the economy that it is tied to, it is then a holistic solution to a complexity of issues. And finally, it may become an irreplaceable part of their lives.

This is why so many people working in reforestation choose to engage with local communities. The Timbaktu Collective of Andhra Pradesh has restored 9,000 acres of revenue wastelands into thriving savannah grassland and tropical thorn forest ecosystems. The Kalpavalli Community Conservation Area initiated in the early 1990’s is now protected by 10 villages, each one of them having their own Forest Protection Committee or Vana Samarakshana Committee. These Committees are federated into a Cooperative called Kalpavalli. The members of Kalpavalli alongside the staff of the Timbaktu Collective protect, regenerate and restore these lands. The conservation activities undertaken at Kalpavalli include patrolling by community forest watchers who stop poaching and logging.

Indian Grey Wolf at Kalpavalli

They also practice rotation grazing, sustainable harvest of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) and control fire. To top it all off, the Timbaktu Collective works with over 2,500 children and youth through their conservation education programme to influence the next generation of local conservationists.

Today the Kalpavalli Community Conservation Area is one of the largest restored landscapes in the country supporting threatened species of wildlife like the Indian Grey Wolf while also providing local communities with essential ecosystem services.

Fruit Tree Plantation with Farmer

Similarly, SayTrees of Bangalore is also trying to engage villages by creating a solution that addresses the triple bottom line. In their initiatives related to agroforestry, they offer fruit trees to select farmers who plant them around their farmland. On the one hand, this helps in increasing the green cover of the area, and on the other it can become a source of secondary income for a farmer that struggles to make ends meet.

In a future project, SayTrees would like to take up bigger projects by aiding village level development in the form of infrastructures such as roads, electricity, hospitals and schools, and to assist them in meeting their basic needs.

SAI Sanctuary, South Kodagu

While some organisations focus on mobilising villages, Save Animals Initiative or SAI Sanctuary Trust of the South Kodagu District in Karnataka looks into adopting forest lands in order to protect and revive them. They have a process which they call their “three-pronged approach”. First they reclaim forest lands that have important water source origins and wildlife, then they rehabilitate it with the use of native species, and finally they then work hard on spreading awareness about the necessity of preserving our environment. Their 300 acre area is located in the in the Western Ghats, in one of the biodiversity “Hotspots” of the world. This means that it hosts plant and animal species that cannot be found anywhere else, and they are in a dire need of protection.

Anyone working for environmental protection knows that it is an upward slope. Climate change is raining down hard on us (literally in some cases), and with each passing day it becomes even more difficult to save what is left. But even when it seems like all might be lost, there are a few stubborn folk amongst us who will keep sowing the seeds of biodiversity, within us and in nature.

You too can help those seeds to take root in small and big ways:

  • Use recycled paper, reduce your use of regular paper, and reuse whatever you can.
  • Ban products that use palm-oil as an ingredient. Palm-oil production causes loss of forest land in large numbers around the globe.
  • Support the work of organisations such as the ones mentioned in this article by donating your time or money.
  • Create a small group of “green vigilantes” in your locality to help protect the trees that exist and to plant more trees where ever you can.

These are our forests and this planet is our home. We as humans can only inhabit this world as long as it remains habitable by all of its members, forests included. “We need to become more kind to everything on this planet: the trees, the rivers, the animals and even each other,” says Durgesh. He strongly believes that any big change is only possible if we all decide to make a small change in the choices that we make. So why not choose to celebrate our green covers by protecting and expanding them?

Mahi Baid


“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.

Beyond Monocultures

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.

Vandana Shiva

Women readying saplings at the Tumutumu Nursery in Kenya. Photograph by Ariel Poster

An interview with Wangari Maathai

Photograph by Martin Crowe

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

Professor Wangari Maathai is Founder of The Greenbelt Movement and 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

Printed with permission from Resurgence Magazine, U.K.

Satish Kumar

A video from Thannal Hand Sculpted Homes

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.

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.

cow and natural building -Bhoomi pooja

Panchagavya flooring experiment


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, Kasargodan Kullan, 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:

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 [1].

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.

Roof and Bamboo Treatment:

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!

Home Use:

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 [2]

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!


[1] 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:

[2] S. Khan & A. Manchur a research on Activated cow-dung slurry as a tool to pesticides bioremediation 2015, Scholars Research Library, University of Chittagong, Hathazari, Chittagong.

Sincere thanks to Manoj Kottoramji for sharing some interesting information with us!

Featured image from

Article by  Anushree Tendolkar & Biju Bhaskar.

This article was originally published here:

Update: Read on to see how this innovator has successfully recycled masks and PPE waste generated by the pandemic into bricks. Binish Desai, innovator, environmentalist and India’s ‘Recycle Man’, makes bricks from waste. Read the story of how his dream of building the world's cheapest house has resulted in many brilliant solutions to tackle the waste crisis we face. His work has managed to divert thousands of metric tonnes of waste away from landfills. It has also empowered underprivileged women by providing them with employment opportunities.

An old adage goes as: “You’re never too young to change the world”. Twenty-six-year-old Dr Binish Desai stands as an exemplar to this.  Born in Valsad, Gujarat, Binish was always very inquisitive and keen on learning new things. Just like any other child, he used to revel in outdoor games, cartoons, and comics. However, his favourite pass time among them was watching Dexter’s Laboratory – an act about a boy who ran a secret science lab at home. The show not only entertained Binish, but also inspired him to think innovatively. 

In all likelihood, it served as a seed for the then 10-year-old to perform his own little experiments. From there on, there was no looking back for Binish. Right from inventing his first machine to convert vapour into water in his mother’s kitchen, building P-bricks from industrial paper waste to becoming the ‘Recycle Man’ of India, he did it all.  His insatiable curiosity, divergent thinking, and industrious nature helped him don multiple roles that he fulfills even today as an entrepreneur, environmentalist, and innovator.  

“Since I was a kid, I always believed in doing what I love the most. And I landed up sticking to it even while growing up. I never wanted to be an engineer or a doctor, but had a deep desire to do something good for the community. It was that thought that drove me to be where I am today,”

Binish Desai

The opening gambit 

The year 2004 was a turning point in Binish’s life. Binish was studying in grade six at St. Josephs ET High School when his friend stuck some chewing gum to his pants. So, he used some paper to pull it out and enclosed it in the same. Just when he was about to leave home, he observed that the sealed gum and paper had hardened into a chunky block. 

Binish Desai giving a TED talk about his journey. 

“I still remember that day very vividly. I took that ingot home for further experimentation with the conviction that something useful would come out of it. Every other day, I would add some ingredients and binders to keep it steady. After a certain period, the idea of making a brick struck my mind. It also resonated with my dream of building the world’s cheapest house. Consequently, I continued my endeavours towards it,” recollects Binish. 

It took Binish two long years of hard work to build a low-cost brick that could be used for infrastructural purposes. He was just 16 then. However, he was sure about taking the leap, traversing the entrepreneurial route, and establishing an enterprise of his own. Nonetheless, his journey was not easy. 

The P-bricks made by Binish using paper waste, chewing gum and other ingredients. Image credit: Rotary International

Binish did not have sufficient funds nor resources like land and labour to run his company. But he had to make a start somewhere. The P-bricks that he had developed was mainly made from paper waste, leftovers of chewing gum, some organic binders, and plant extracts. Hence, he first approached a few paper mills to request for scrap as well as some space within their premises to build the bricks. 

Binish experimenting with various kinds of waste to produce usable items.

Over a period of time, Binish’s firm BDream landed up constructing 11,000 toilets, houses, and buildings in rural Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Andhra Pradesh. 

Binish conducting a workshop for students about waste management.

Despite these efforts, very soon, things went tumbling down. In 2016, a few of the investors started coercing Binish to give away the patent he had earned for the P-brick. So, he couldn’t help but step down from his own enterprise. It took a couple of months for Binish to bounce back to normal. He kept to himself, avoided social interactions, and even spent some sleepless nights.  Before long, he picked himself up and kicked off afresh with Eco Eclectic Technologies in the same year.

Creating waves of transformation

Binish forayed into waste management with his new firm. His work and research earned him a whole lot of appreciation as well as funds in the form of grants. The 26-year-old not only set up a manufacturing facility but also a dedicated research lab to experiment and innovate new methodologies to recycle industrial waste. 

“I did not want to confine my efforts to recycling paper waste to make P-bricks. Hence, myself and my team began working with 50 other types of industrial waste including metal, wood, and textile trash. We broke it down, analysed it, and then managed to use them to make a range of products like artificial wood, fabric lint, precast roofs, soundproofing panels, acoustic panels, wall panels, absorbents like crude oil, etc,” 

Binish Desai

Women making products with waste as part of Binish's Eco Light Studio. Image credit: Rotary International

Another venture that Binish initiated was Eco Light Studio. The intention behind this was to empower widows and uneducated rural women by providing employment opportunities. He conducted training sessions for many of these underprivileged women in and around villages in Gujarat to make clocks, bags, and other accessories from waste. 

In the last one year, Binish has been able to divert around 1996 metric tonnes of waste from entering the landfills by merely recycling trash into usable commodities. Consecutively, this also resulted in the reduction of 3,592 tonnes of carbon emissions.  

Products made from recycled waste.

Binish was also featured as part of the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list of successful Social Entrepreneurs in 2018 for this feat.  The entreprenuer and author, Nikhil Chandwania documented Binish's journey in the form of a book titled, 'The Recycle Man,' in the same year. Binish says, he owes a large part of his success to Rotary International, a not-for-profit organisation that brings people together to provide humanitarian service. 

“Rotary International played an integral role in shaping my personality and channelising my thought process towards contributing to the society at large. Since the number of COVID-19 cases in India is still on the rise, I have decided to build affordable, multi-purpose portable isolation facilities made of light weight panels with high insulation properties. I really hope they can help in areas where there is a lack of medical facilities,” says Binish.

This article is originally written by Roshni Balaji for Social Story and can be found here.


Following are excerpts from this article in the The Hindu, outlining how Binish Desai has been working on making bricks out of the mounting Covid-19 related waste. He has succeeded in this endeavour and speaks of his idea and journey with 'Brick 2.0'.

Binish Desai’s latest invention — Brick 2.0 — comes at a time when the plastic crisis has snowballed the world over. The ‘Recycle Man of India’, who shot to fame in 2010 for designing P-Block (bricks from industrial paper and gum waste), spent the last few months working on converting discarded face-masks into bricks and is now gearing up for commercial production.

He started studying the material the masks are made of, a non-woven fibre, by collecting used masks from his family. “I dumped them in a bucket of disinfectant for two days before starting work,” says Desai. He then mixed them with “special binders” created in his lab. “To check the material’s tenacity I conducted small prototype experiments and explored various combinations of binders. For these bricks, the successful ratio was 52% PPE + 45% paper waste + 3% binder”, says Desai.

The Brick 2.0  

Next, he created Eco Bins to collect PPE waste. He has contacted municipal corporations and local bodies to set these up across Surat and Valsad, and is also trying to tie up with private hospitals, malls and salons to place the bins. “We are in the process of obtaining a NOC from Gujarat Pollution Control Board to conduct mass collection and recycling of the waste,” says Desai.

After following proper sanitation protocols, the material will be shredded, added to industrial paper waste procured from paper mills, and then mixed with binder. “The mix is kept for 5-6 hours before being set in moulds. The bricks are naturally dried for three days and the product is then ready for use,” he says.

Safety and hygiene are paramount when dealing with medical waste, and Desai explains that they follow Central Pollution Control Board guidelines. Since PPE waste must be kept untouched for 72 hours before disposal, the Eco Bins will be opened 72 hours later and the waste will first be washed in a pool of disinfectant.

 “The new variant, Brick 2.0, is stronger and more durable, which makes it three times stronger than conventional bricks at twice the size and half the price. It is also fire retardant, recyclable and absorbs less than 10% water”

Binish Desai

He plans to start production from mid-September. The new bricks will be sold at the same rate as the P-Block, at ₹2.8 per piece. Desai says he has started receiving enquiries and pre-orders from architects and interior designers.

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.

Photo credit: Biome solutions

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.

Photo credit: Trupti Doshi

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.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

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.

Photo credit: Thannal/ Facebook

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.

Photo credit:

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.

Photo credit: Goa Streets

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.

Photo credit: Made in Earth

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.

Photo credit: Christine Graf/ Wikipedia

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.

Photo credit: Dustudio/ Facebook

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). 

This article was sourced from 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, [1] 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, [2] 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.

junk food and cigarette connection

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,[3] 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, [4] 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.[5] 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 [6] 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 [8] 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

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[9] 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.[10] 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:

What Do Processed Food Company Executives Eat?

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, [11] 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:

  • Raw organic milk
  • Raw nuts and seeds
  • Two cage-free organic eggs
  • Avocado, berries and broccoli
  • Fermented foods you make at home

 Sources and References

This article was first published in Dr. Mercola's website here.

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

Vitex Negundo

Also Known As: Nirgudi (Marathi), Nirkunnchi (Tamil), Bile-Nekki (Kannada), Indrani (Malayalam), Nirgandi (Hindi), Indian Privet (English).

Vitex Negundo growing wild

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.

Nirgudi as a structure for the cob oven door

Nirgudi as wattle framework for the kitchen counter.

Carvia Callosa

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.

Thin Karvi reeds lain across the reciprocal roof framework 

A blanket of Karvi on the roof as seen from above.

Roof prepared for plastering, bundle of Karvi on bottom right corner

Casuarina Equisetifolia

Also Known As: Australian Pine (English), Suru (Marathi), Saru (Hindi)

Casuarina Equisetifolia

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. 

 Twin Reciprocal roof framework using Casuarina Equisetifolia

Agave Americana

Also Known As: Century Plant, Gaipat(Marathi)

Agave as a border living fence plant 

Agave in bloom

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.

Flower buds of Agave Americana fit for harvesting.

Quartz and Amethyst Geodes

Raw Quartz cluster in the centre flanked by two Amethyst geodes in the foreground and a decorative crystal inlay in the backdrop.

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

The Cob Kitchen at Kusur Gaon in its finished form.

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:

Educator Sonam Wangchuk has dedicated his life to exploring alternative education systems that respect the diversity of cultures and environments in our country. A staunch advocate of context-based education and the need to redesign the way we teach in our schools, Sonam's work at HIAL and SECMOL has won him many honours and awards. In this interview,Sonam talks about the purpose of education, the place of innovation in the field on education and the various roles that factions of society play in preparing our children for the future.

The following is an excerpt of the transcript of the interview conducted by Pukhraj Ranjan originally for hundrED. You can find the entire original published transcript as well as the video clips for the interview here.

What is the purpose of education? 

I think education is a discovery of the outer world and the inner world. It may need a teacher or not, but it is learning, a discovery. And then equipping the students with the skills to help make the world a better, happier place. That happens when you are happy yourself. I think when education is used just as a ritual, sometimes even with unknown goals (because you copy some other place and some other people). That is one challenge facing most of the world that you don't know why (you educator) and you just do it as a mindless ritual because some others did it that way. It may have helped their context or may not even, but you are made to repeat it. Most of the colonized world is put through this process. 

So, the purpose of education is to let the young ones discover the world around himself or herself, and the world within. And then learn to be happy in it and make the world happier. Now, this discovery is best when it is in tune with how we have been on this planet for millions of years and through evolution, we have learned to adapt. When education is in tune, it is more engaging and is happier, that is when children flourish.

What are the biggest challenges facing education today?

We have been on this planet much longer than the last few 100 years of the industrial revolution and yet our methods of learning are all geared and designed towards these last few 100 years. Whereas I feel, nature has designed us through evolution to learn in very very different ways. For example, babies learn by playing. Playing is not a light thing, it is quite serious. It is the software nature has packed in every young one of humans and animals. When you see kittens, puppies - nature has designed them to play, learn that way and prepare for life. But we cut that all and think children will learn without play. It is not how we are designed. 

We have to have the flavor and spices of play at a very young age. As teenagers, I believe nature has designed us to take real, physical challenges, just like those that were taken by hunter-gatherers, farmers, etc. But because we could out-source everything to fossil-fuels, we have made our education system into these passive classrooms with lectures, paper assignments, etc. Today, we are not able to come out of this into how we have been on earth for millions of years. So I feel that this dependency is a challenge that kills the learning spirit in many children.

What does a good learning environment look like?

A good learning environment is happy and safe, but calculated challenges should be there. A good learning environment shouldn't be so safe that there is nothing challenging left. It should be mainly about things the students can put into practice, apply their learning by using more senses than just what it takes to hear or read. It is important to apply what you learn to see the magic - those experiences become memorable. I always say - rather than giving a hard time to children for forgetting their lesson, let's make an environment that makes lessons unforgettable.

So, learning is more than chapters of textbooks. It should be whole systems of living, and being with others. It could have experiences from cooking to gardening to taking care of others like animals, etc. What we try at SECMOL is exactly that. You could be gardening and the joy of it will be there but you could also apply trigonometry, mensuration of flower bed area, the depth and volume of water needed than just memorizing the formula of volume. In real scenarios, you get to see what volume is in different shapes and sizes. So making learning relatable to a person and for a purpose makes the activity a great learning environment. 

What do you think the role of innovation is in education? 

Over the years, learning has become boring - an intellectual exercise or ritual. I don't think you can call education an innovation even - innovation is trying new things. The most ancient thing I know about learning is how young ones learn by playing or by experimenting. So, bringing back what we always knew, what nature has programmed us for - which we have forgotten or have gotten distracted, we need to bring it back. We need to learn from how nature works. If you want to learn a language, look at how a 1-year old baby learns. The way is much better than what school tries for ten years, and still, we stammer. Whereas a baby with no support of a language learns in one year what schools find hard to train in ten years. So going back to learning from nature, how it has designed us and how we have evolved doesn't sound like innovation as it has been around since time immemorial.

Doing things in tune with nature sounds like innovation but it is not. I am often surprised by how we do things differently, to innovator, but it takes us away from what works best for us. It is crucial to not forget who we are on the planet and tuning learning to that rhythm.

How can we prepare students for the future? 

We need schools where young adults get to do things and use their energy that nature has provided in plenty. As I said, we have evolved to take challenges in nature. Still further young adults in their 20s, in colleges and universities, should be able to apply their learnings and learn by doing. What we are trying to do in our work in Ladakh is to have a University of a different kind, and therefore, for now, we call it an "alternative" university. Hopefully, it won't remain an alternative. At HIAL, we believe young people in their 20s have much more capabilities than just sitting in a classroom, listening to lectures and scribbling notes. We believe they can make so many things happen. Young people used to be a very important part of society since time immemorial.

So if you have a school of, say, tourism in this university, we hope to have these young people run projects on tourism- they can run hotels, homestays, and other new programs where they can be developing these ideas and see how their learning come alive. When you apply so much, you are not only learning but could fetch a young person or the institution some income. When that happens you don't need to charge students high fees for sitting in classrooms. The university ventures can bring in income through real-life projects, then education can be free for everyone. So the students still pay but not in the currency of dollars or rupees but they pay through their sweat, their imagination, and their effort. Such students are prepared for real lives and as soon as they come out of the university, they can start their own ventures or add value to an employer, unlike what is happening in universities now who work to only educate their students in an intellectual way and turn the students into a liability than an asset. The employers have to train such passive students again at their own expense, which is a waste and this I see as a thing that needs to change for the future.

What skills should we teach more of (and which less)?

Seeing what is happening in schools in many parts of the world, I will start with "what less". We need to stop mindlessly doing rituals like memorizing things without knowing why and do more of self-directed, self-driven learning, stemming out of curiosity and interest. The skills of thinking originally, critically and having curiosity - nature's gifts received by every child is a great skill but we end up killing it in most schools. It is very important to be engaging and enhancing this skill of wanting to know about the world and helping children with the ownership of their own learning journey.

What role does community play in the future of education? 

I think learning is always a collaborative exercise. You can not learn much alone. Alone you don't get the stimulus that comes from your peers and other people. This applies to children as much as it applies to other stakeholders int the sphere of education. We are all learning how to learn and therefore, schools and governments need to learn to collaborate and put into practice this 'learning to learn' from one another. This is how things grow. When you have a mass of initiatives in different places and they get distributed to each other, we got further. Rather than duplicating things and spending all our energy and resources in doing the same thing as somebody may have done, it goes without saying that we need to go forward. Our help in furthering someone else can help another person move even further and that is going to help everyone move deeper and higher at the same time. 

Therefore, schools need to learn from one another and need to collaborate with one another. Similarly, governments to ensure that children in their respective countries are happy, have all the skills and where their childhoods are not sacrificed only to boost the economy, need to learn from one another, work together and collaborate as a way forward.

This transcript is an excerpt from the hundrED's interview with Sonam. Please visit hundrED to know more about their work in child-centric education and the visionary educators they support.

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.

Cob oven with a carved plaster mural on its base

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.

Cob house construction in progress at Vadakara, Kerala

A handful of wet cob ready for application

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.

Photo of the kitchen on completion with focus on carved plaster mural artwork

 A roof in progress with myself in the centre

This article is written by Amarnath Duleep

This article was first published 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?

I do.

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.

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.

This article is written by Sunita Narain

This article was first published here:

Laura Rival is enticed to hear the forest’s vast and timeless symphony.

Davi Kopenawa, Brazil © Fiona Watson/Survival International
Davi Kopenawa, Brazil © Fiona Watson/Survival International

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

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.

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 Building – IPIRTI

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 brick -

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.

Plastic Bricks

Plastic Bricks –

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 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.

This article is written by Levine Lawrence

This article is sourced from here:

Ian Tennant finds out why we should view the ordinary as extraordinary.

Photo by Matthew T Rader

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.

Photo By Michelle Spencer

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.

This article was first published here

This article is a case study that shows how far the ripple effects of a simple intervention like installing solar panels can reach. PRADAN, a non-profit organisation, implemented solar power interventions in various districts in Jharkhand, giving their residents access to clean, inexpensive, and renewable power. These interventions are designed to offer a range of necessary services including lifting water for irrigation, water purification set ups, and reliably lighting up homes after dark.

A resident of Dhangaon village in Jharkhand’s Gumla district, Anirudh Gope used to cultivate paddy during monsoon on his one-acre farm. He was bound by seasonal farming and single-crop cultivation that relied on the rains for irrigation. However, when a solar-powered lift irrigation project was launched in the village in April 2019, Gope was able to transition to growing multiple crops to augment his income. Currently, he grows watermelons, wheat, peas and tomatoes.

The project has opened up the option of irrigation for the farmers, which has changed their fortunes. “In the absence of rainfall, farmers lift water from the nearby Dhangaon Gaja Toli dam. The weekly cost of irrigation stands at Rs. 250-300 roughly. There is a fixed rate of Rs. 30 per hour,” he said.

Another resident, Mungia Devi, cultivates mangoes and strawberries. “Now, we can easily fetch water from the dam, which is about 400 metres away, she informed. Another farmer, Radhe Shyam Baradih explained that before the advent of solar power in their lives, farmers could not grow crops for six months in a year and rearing cattle was the only option. “Now, we can cultivate wheat and vegetables. On my 1.5 acres of land, I have grown beans, peas and cauliflowers,” Baradih said.

Solar infrastructure projects offer a host of benefits to people in villages Srihari Chity, team coordinator for resource mobilisation, communications and partnerships at PRADAN (Professional Assistance for Development Action), a grassroots level non-profit, tells Mongabay-India.

The solar electrification grid at Kashitoli Gumla block. Photo courtesy PRADAN.

Apart from irrigation, solar panels atop wells supply drinking water to households and solar microgrids light up homes. PRADAN is the implementing partner of this project in Jharkhand aided by its technical partner, Gram Oorja Solutions Private Limited, which is responsible for grid installations.

“In 2016-17, PRADAN started a project with the Tata Trusts in Khunti district to supply solar energy. The Bank of America agreed to fund a similar project in Gumla. Now, we have also extended it to Godda district in the Santhal Parganas,” Chity added.

Prasanna Jha, part of PRADAN’s team in Godda, said that the process of launching solar lift irrigation is on in a few villages in the district. “We wanted to boost the income of farmers, as PRADAN works for rural livelihood options. In Godda, farmers gradually gave up diesel pump sets for irrigation after fuel prices soared.” Godda is one of the six districts in the Santhal Parganas. In several villages in this region, electricity poles are still absent, Jha added.

A lift irrigation outlet at Jokari. Photo courtesy PRADAN.

In Godda’s Mahuatarn village, resident Master Murmu said that due to the lack of irrigation water, we decided to have solar lift irrigation. Murmu informed currently pipes are being laid and it may take up to a week for the work to achieve completion. Another resident Jasinta Besra said there is a large check dam nearby. “So, we thought that solar lift irrigation will be a good option as diesel is too costly.”

Water, water everywhere

In Jana village of Gumla district, Sukhanti Oraon has to turn on the kitchen tap to get piped water supply for cooking. Before the solar project to facilitate drinking water for homes, came to her village, she used to fetch water from wells for drinking as well as for household chores. Wells have now been cemented at the top and solar panels fitted on them. Pipes are connected from the wells to the water tank from where water is then supplied to each household. There is fixed supply time in the morning and evening, which helps conserve water.

In Gumla, the solar microgrid project has entered its fourth phase (2019-20) after starting off in 2016-17. Gumla block currently has five villages and Raidih 11 villages under the solar microgrid, covering a total population of 3343 in 4003 households. Seventeen villages are using solar-based lift irrigation and in eight villages, there is a solar-based drinking water system.

And then there was light…

Aside from irrigation and supplying drinking water, the project has a solar microgrid that’s lighting up homes. “Even though we had power lines, we got electric supply only for 10-12 days in a year. There was darkness all around. After the solar microgrid started working, I purchased mixer grinder, fans and TV. I pay up to Rs. 250 per month for power,” said Debmani Devi of Jana village. Devi added that Rs. 100 is the fixed rate for electricity, over and above which the charge is Rs. 10 per unit.

Anjan Kasi Toli village chief Ranjan Oraon narrated how his children found it hard to study in the kerosene lamp and his wife had to cook in the dim smoke-filled kitchen. “Now, I have lights and fans in all my four rooms, apart from a TV set and mixer grinder.”

Sanitation well for storing drinking water. Photo courtesy PRADAN.

Oraon recalls the initial excitement when the project was launched. The residents collected Rs 1,000 per head from 65 families, which amounted to Rs 65,000 in total. There are 51 solar panels in the village, besides a control room. The villagers also helped labourers during the construction phase. Today, Oraon’s electricity bills range from Rs 150 to Rs 200 per month.

Anjan Kasi Toli has a committee, which looks after the maintenance work. Resident Premchand Oraon informed there are nine members in it. “We took out rallies for ensuring power supply, but nothing happened for years. After that the solar microgrid transformed our lives,” he said.

Solar microgrids comprise panels and control rooms. The total budget is Rs 28 lakh for a whole set up. The panel life is 25 years and batteries have to be replaced every five years. Committees have been formed in every village for maintenance and repair.

Jharkhand-based regional executive Bibhubanta Barad of PRADAN said as Gumla is a tribal district, many interior villages lacked power connection. So, a few villages were chosen for the solar project.

Spreading solar power

Besides Gumla, there have been three kinds of solar power interventions in Khunti district too. These are household power supply through solar microgrids in nine villages, solar-based drinking water supply in four villages and solar lift irrigation projects in 11 villages, said Rajani Kant Pandey, team coordinator at PRADAN in Khunti. This year also, micro-lift irrigation projects are on in Khunti in six irrigation sites, he added.

A lift irrigation solar grid at Bhinjur. Photo courtesy PRADAN.

Saridkel resident Kalyan Munda said solar lift irrigation has increased his income from a monthly earning of Rs 2,000-3,000 to Rs 10,000-12,000. His plot of land is far away from the river and he had to use a diesel pump set to irrigate his fields. Now, he pays Rs 25 per hour for using solar lift irrigation.

According to Pratha Jhawar, deputy programme manager at Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment, “Despite grids reaching every household in the country, the reliability of electricity, both in terms of quantity and quality, still remains a question. There is 100 percent household electrification in Jharkhand. But people living in the hinterlands face acute problems. The situation worsens during the evenings, which is the time for peak demand (5 pm–11 pm).” In Hazaribagh district for example, a report, by Prayas (Energy Group) says that the domestic customers of Bhatbigha in the district received electricity supply for an average of 02:36 hours during 6 hours in the evening for October 2019.

Jhawar added that solar-based mini-grids are filling such gaps and transforming the lives of rural people, who have mostly lived their lives in darkness. “Solar pumps are helping farmers shift from costly and polluting diesel pump sets to a dependable source of daytime power.”

This article was originally written by Deepanwita Gita Niyogi for the Mongabay newsletter and can be found here.

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.

Suzlon One Earth, Pune via

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:

Green building ITC Royal Gardenia Bengaluru via

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:

Green building CII Godrej GBC via

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 is written by Rishi Rawat

This article was first published here:

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.

People gather to get water from a huge well in the village of Natwarghad in the western Indian state of Gujarat. (File photo: Reuters)

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

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 - 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.

This article was originally published in India Today.

Helena Norberg-Hodge-HR
Helena Norberg-Hodge

Local is Our Future book cover

Poverty, climate change, the erosion of democracy, an epidemic of depression – these and other global crises are symptoms of a far bigger systemic problem.

So reports Local is Our Future: Steps to an Economics of Happinessthe new book by Helena Norberg-Hodge, author of the inspirational classic Ancient Futures and producer of the award-winning documentary The Economics of Happiness.  Due to be published on Monday 1 July, Local is Our Future

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 by Brenda for the Green Familia.

This article was first published here.

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.

Photos courtesy of

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.

Photo courtesy of

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.

During the last about three decades, she has designed and built more than 15 houses in and around Dharamshala and some institutions like Nishtha Rural Health, Education and Environment Centre at DharamshalaDharmalaya Centre for Compassionate Living at Bir, and Sambhaavnaa Institute of Public Policy and Politics at Kandwari.

Photo courtesy of Joginder Singh

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of Joginder Singh

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.”

Photo courtesy of Joginder Singh

Photo courtesy of Sangha Seva

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."

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of Sangha Seva

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of Joginder Singh

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."

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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.”

Photo courtesy of Joginder Singh

Photo courtesy of Joginder Singh

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Photo courtesy of Steffi Giaracuni

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.

Photo courtesy of Steffi Giaracuni

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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. 

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This article is written by  Sarbjit Bahga.

This article is sourced from here:

By Anja Lyngbaek, originally published by Local Futures

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.[1] “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 failurewe 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.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4] 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.[5] In the US, where agribusiness and large-scale specialized farms have long dominated, the loss is estimated at 93% in only 80 years.[6]

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.”[7]

Fighting back

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.

Image credit: Climate Action

[1] Nagata, Kazuaki, “Japan needs imports to keep itself fed“, Japan Times, February 26, 2008.

[2] Yutaka, Harada, Japan’s Agriculture and the TPP, The Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research, November 21, 2013; “Japan’s Farming Population Rapidly Aging and Decreasing”,, July 3, 2018; Kasahara, Shigehisa, “The Role of Agriculture in the Early Phase of Industrialization: Policy implications of Japan’s experience“, UNCTAD, February, 1996; Statistical Handbook of Japan 2018.

[3] 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.

[4] “Abolition of Main Crops Seeds Law puts nation at risk“, Japan Times, March 20, 2018.

[5] What is Happening to Agrobiodiversity? FAO Factsheet.

[6] Infographic: In 80 Years, We Lost 93% Of Variety In Our Food Seeds,

[7] Schapiro, Mark, “Seed diversity is disappearing — and 3 chemical companies own more than half“, Salon, September 16, 2018.

Photo Courtesy istock

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.

Local Produce Alarmy

Undermining cultures

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.

Common good

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

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:

1. Hombelaku


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.

Sustainable Features:

  • 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

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.

Sustainable Features:

  • 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

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.

Sustainable Features:

  • 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.

4. Hosamane


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.

Sustainable Features:

  • 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

Pratibha and Sanjay 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.

Sustainable Features:

  • 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

Chockalingam Muthiah’s hous

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.

Sustainable Features:

  • 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.

This article is written by Sanchari Pal

This article was first published here:


By Helena Norberg-Hodge

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 agroecologyholistic resource managementpermacultureregenerative 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.
  • “Free trade” policies that open up food markets in virtually every country to global agribusinesses. The 1994 NAFTA agreement, for example, forced Mexico’s small corn producers to compete with heavily-subsidized large-scale farms in the US; the recent re-negotiation of NAFTA will do the same to Canadian dairy farmers.
  • 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 social and economic costs as well. In the industrialized world, smaller producers can’t survive, their land amalgamated into the holdings of ever larger farms — in the process decimating rural and small town economies and threatening public health. In the Global South, the same forces pull people off the land by the hundreds of millionsleading to povertyrapidly swelling urban slums and waves of economic refugees. In both North and South, uprooted small farmers easily spiral into unemployment, poverty, resentment and anger.

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 same logic leads to shipping foods across the world simply to reduce labor costs for processing. Shrimp harvested off the coast of Scotland, for example, are shipped 6,000 miles to Thailand to be peeled, then shipped 6,000 miles back to the UK to be sold to consumers.

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.

Several towns in the state of Maine have gone even further. Seeking to bypass the restrictive regulations that make it difficult to market local foods, they have declared “food sovereignty” by passing ordinances that give their citizens the right “to produce, process, sell, purchase, and consume local foods of their choosing.”

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.

Dinesh C Sharma

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).

This article first appeared in the Hindu Business Line

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?

Psychological map of Paris.
Referenced in: Milgram, Stanley and Denise Jodelet. 1970.

Stanley Milgram and Denise Jodelet “Psychological Maps of Paris” [1970]

Kevin Lynch “The City Image & Its Elements” [1960]

James J. Gibson “Theory of Affordances” [1979]

Robert Sommer “Personal Space: The Behavioral Basis for Design” [1969]

Guy Debord “Theory of the Derive” and “Preliminary Problems in Constructing a Situation” [1958]

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 [1943]) 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 was first published here:


A community garden in Brooklyn, New York, that grows organic vegetables for the surrounding community [© Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images]

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.


A vendor sells his wares in the city of Leh in Ladakh, India [© Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg via Getty Images]

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.


As well as providing a market for local producers, farmers’ markets encourage sustainable farming practices and help strengthen the fabric of community [© Rolf Brenner/Getty Images]

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.

Helena Norberg-Hodge. Courtesy photo
Helena Norberg-Hodge. Courtesy Chris Tucker [email protected]

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.”


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.


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”

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

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.

Rail Travel

Commuter Businessman

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

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

Ordinary Cars

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

Electric Car

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

Body Power

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


Female commuter cycling

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.

New Technologies

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%. 
  • European aircraft manufacturers are experimenting with a technology that uses hydrogen fuel cells to power airplanes instead of fossil fuels. 
  • In Dublin, smartphones and tablets are used to increase traffic efficiency by using an integrated system of information sharing. 
  • 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 article is written by Nicholas Tippins

This article was first published here:

Photo Credit: Rich Lewis

By Julia Singleton

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.


Figure 1

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.

Reflection: Head

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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As the pandemic hit, the farmers were one of the most vulnerable communities. Since lockdown, several online platforms have been helping farmers in selling their crops and getting a good price for their efforts. This article tells the story of Harvest Farmer's Network, one such organisation. With farmer's issues being highlighted across the countries, these virtual communities that connect farmers directly with their costumers, proferring them a certain dignity, could be a possible transition measure.

A few weeks ago, 22-year-old Dhananjay KC was worried that thousands of kg of grapes grown at his family’s farmland would go waste. The crop was ready but its sale had become nearly impossible due to the nationwide lockdown imposed to control the spread of coronavirus. 

Like many farmers across India, he reached out to online crop markets and groups to sell their produce directly to consumers. “I found [out] about an online platform, Harvesting Farmer Network [or HFN] that was helping farmers in selling their crops and getting a good price for it. I contacted them, posted details of the crop and soon, we sold nearly half of our crop to a buyer in Bengaluru,” Dhananjay told Mongabay-India.

Dhananjay and his family live in Gudihalli, on the outskirts of Bengaluru. He is a mechanical engineering student at an institute in the city and was visiting his family when the lockdown was announced on March 24. Since then, it has been extended twice, up till May 17.

Better prices

HFN’s Twitter post a month ago, which shared information about his crop, has garnered more than 600 retweets and 1,000 likes. “We got many calls and soon found a good deal,” said Dhananjay. “We sold the entire produce of grapes – about 20-25 tonnes – to a buyer in Bengaluru through HFN and the rest to some local nearby dealers. The best part is that the price we got from the buyer in Bengaluru is much better than the usual non-lockdown price.” 

He explained that he sold one kg of grapes for about Rs 25 and after deducting all expenses, including taxes and transport, they were able to make a profit of Rs 8-9 per kg. “This is certainly a better return than what we usually get. For instance, last year, this margin was only about Rs 4-5 per kg. This can certainly be a viable model for farmers like us,” he said.

Dhananjay is among many farmers around the country left in the lurch by authorities to fend for themselves during the lockdown. Many of them, however, had decided not to give up. The HFN, for instance, emerged during the lockdown as one such online network for farmers to avoid exploitation by middlemen and earn better money for their crops.

Dhananjay K.C. sold around 20 tonnes of grapes using social media during the lockdown. Photo from Dhananjay K.C.

The network, on which about 2,000 farmers have posted details of their crops so far, was developed by 41-year-old Ruchit Garg, a Silicon Valley professional who returned to India a few months ago after working with major firms there. “During the lockdown, we all saw what the farmers were facing. I thought why can’t farmers and consumers be mobilised and directly connected. On April 12, the HFN’s Twitter handle posted six tweets with farmers looking to sell their crops and from there, it just took off. 

“The phones have not stopped ringing since then,” Garg said. “We are working round the clock and we are not complaining about it. In less than a month, we have listed 1.5 million kg of crops on our social media platforms and as per our initial estimates, we have already facilitated the selling of about 250,000 kg. With farmers sharing their experience with their peers, the network is growing rapidly,” Garg told Mongabay-India.

Prior to launching its Twitter handle in April, HFN had an interface where farmers only connected with each other. It is now spread across 22 states and has a reach of about one million farmers. 

Explaining the supply chain process, he said that a farmer’s crop goes through at least five to six layers of middlemen before it reaches the final consumer and at every layer, the price increases without proportionate value addition.

Asked about the initiative’s economic model, HFN founder Ruchit Garg said that “in the future, as we put a lot of pieces of buying directly from farmer puzzle together, we will be able to deliver fresh local produce to consumers at a very affordable price while providing farmers with a lion share of income. To build, sustain and grow such a platform, we plan to charge a very nominal fee per transaction, but only for transactions we handhold.”

“If a consumer is buying a fruit or vegetable for about Rs 100 per kg, then the share of the farmer in probably less than Rs 15, while most go to the layers of the middlemen,” he said. “The system has not changed for ages. Not all middlemen are bad but our idea is to increase the share of farmers and find a way around the traditional nexus and supply chain route. It is also important as farmers need to be independent – like in the case of lockdown, they had nowhere to go after mandis [local markets] were closed during the lockdown. The plan is to define the whole process in such a way that if a farm product is being sold at Rs 100 per kilogram then Rs 70-75 should reach the farmer.”

Direct contact

The Union home ministry’s guidelines about activities allowed under lockdown, which coincided with harvest season, were not clear about agricultural activities. Subsequently, after several reports highlighted problems faced by farmers, the government granted relaxation in the nationwide lockdown for the sector. It permitted activities related to the procurement of agriculture products, work in mandis, farming operations, and intrastate and interstate movement of machinery.

Going by numerous testimonials shared by Garg, the initiative benefitted not just farmers but also some bulk-buyers. Ashish Kumar, who lives in Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh and runs a food business for students in Delhi, started dealing with farmers directly. His food outlets were shut down as students had returned home.

“Like many others, I was just reading and sharing things online when I saw a tweet from the HFN about a farmer in Mansa [Punjab] who was trying to find a buyer for 5,000 kg of capsicum at just Rs 7 per kg. I contacted him and tried finding buyers. It was not economically viable for the farmer to sell in a small quantity and transport. I am still trying,” said Kumar.

Kumar also saw a post about a farmer in Karnataka who was looking to sell papayas. “I contacted a friend in Patna who was willing to buy them. I got them talking and they soon cracked a favourable deal for both of them. The farmer sold 18,000 kg of papaya. In this case, the time was of value as it is a perishable item.” 

In another case, Kumar ensured delivery of bananas, directly from a farmer in Andhra Pradesh, to his friend in Delhi who works with an online fruit and vegetable delivery service.

When asked why he is doing this if he is not earning any profit from these deals, Kumar said it is about the experience. “I am in the restaurant business. It makes sense for me to have better supply chain options. Also, we all talk about supporting farmers, so such a model can be a win-win situation for everyone,” Kumar said.

Ruchit Garg, founder of the Harvesting Farmers Network. Credit: Ruchit Garg/Mongabay

In addition to the HFN, Garg said there are several such small or big platforms and they all are witnessing a lot of traction both from buyers and sellers. Social media, Twitter in particular, has been important for facilitating many of these transactions. For instance, one Deshraj Choudhary posted a tweet seeking a buyer for 600,000 eggs for Rs 3 per egg in Jaipur, while in another case, a buyer is looking to buy 5,000 pieces of green coconut every week. In one case, an individual posted for selling 40 sheep.

HFN also highlighted some basic rules and suggestions for those engaging through the platform like calling a local farmer only as they won’t be able to deliver if they are far off, buying in bulk to make it economically viable and to be fair to each other. Asked how they ascertain if someone’s post is genuine, Garg said, “if we feel suspicious, we ask the farmers to post proper pictures of his fields. Based on the learning of the past one month, connecting farmers with customers, we will be implementing more processes in place so that only genuine farmers and serious buyers get connected and do business in a trustworthy fashion.”

The HFN is also looking to serve all kinds of customers. For example, it is soon launching a section for “no-pesticide leafy vegetables” to attract people who are looking for “healthy and local vegetables directly from farmers.”

Papayas from a farmer in Karnataka were sold to a buyer in Patna. Credit: Ashish Kumar/Mongabay

Some hurdles

However, not everyone is lucky as social media is abuzz with pictures and videos of farmers destroying their crops due to the absence of buyers and market support in the lockdown. Vinay Ketkar, a 60-year-old Maharashtra-based mango grower, used the messaging platform Whatsapp to connect to customers in Mumbai and sold about 30,000-40,000 Alphonso mangoes

“Our farms are in Ratnagiri region, the coastal area of Maharashtra, and many farmers from my village and four to five other adjacent villages sold our mangoes to customers in Mumbai. But transportation of our produce to major cities is the biggest hurdle. Once a driver visits the cities to deliver and returns, he is not allowed to re-enter and asked to go for two weeks of quarantine. In such a scenario, it becomes nearly impossible for farmers to sell all the full produce,” Ketkar told Mongabay-India.

HFN’s Garg echoed similar views. “There are many issues that need to be addressed but I hope people this direct contact with farmers is maintained to ensure it is a win for everyone.”

 This article was originally written by Mayank Aggarwal for the Mongabay newsletter and can be found here.

Title image by Ashish Sharma.

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.

Photo by Reuters

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.

Across the United Nations, agencies are working to make fashion more sustainable, from the Food and Agricultural Organization protecting arable land, to the Ethical Fashion Initiative set up by the International Trade Centre to the work of UN Environment in fostering sustainable manufacturing practices.

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.

Kaya Dorey Photo by UN Environment

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 RunwayGirl 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

By Devinder Sharma
Food & agriculture specialist

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.

This article first appeared in the Tribune

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:

Intellectual Development

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.

Commercial benefits

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.

The Pride

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.

The ugly side of fast fashion: This is the scary impact it's having on our world

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.

Local communities

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?"

Water Pollution

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.

Every year, our clothes release half a million tonnes of these microfibres into the ocean (the equivalent of more than 50 billion plastic bottles). Fish unknowingly eat these fibres and are dying in their droves as a result. In fact, it’s been said that if things continue at the rate they are now, then by 2050 we’ll have more plastic than fish in the ocean. It’s scary stuff.

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.

Every second, the equivalent of an entire garbage truck of textiles is sent to landfill or burned, and The Copenhagen Fashion Summit reported that fashion is responsible for 92 million tons of solid waste dumped in landfills each year. What’s more, nearly 60% of all clothing ends up in incinerators or landfills within a year of being produced.

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 written by Geraldine Carton

This article is reprinted courtesy of Image. Read the original article here.

Founded in 1837 to serve the children of Quaker families, Olney Friends School has always had a farm program and students have been involved in its operation to varying degrees.
Photo courtesy of Mark Hibbett

By Mary Ann Lieser 

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.

Photo courtesy of Mark Hibbett

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.

Photo courtesy of Mark Hibbett

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.

Photo courtesy of Mark Hibbett

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.

The article first appeared in YES Magazine.

Baby steps. That’s all it takes to make less waste. Here are 10 no-to-low cost changes you can start today!

  1. 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!
  2. 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 $$$. 
  3. 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! 
  4. 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.
  5. 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. 
  6. 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. 
  7. 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. 
  8. 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.
  9. 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
  10. 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 is written by Hannah Harrington.

This article was first published in Trash is Tossers here.

By Alejandra Borunda

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.”

This article first appeared in the National Geographic.

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.

This article is written by  Faisal Ahmad

This article was first published here:

Indian women with empty plastic pots protest as they demand drinking water in Chennai on June 22, 2019.

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.

In this photo taken on June 20, 2019, Indian residents collect water from a community well in Chennai after reservoirs for the city ran dry.

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.

That tank was part of a larger complex called the Long Tank that extended nearly 10 km (6.21 miles) to the north. Now all that remains of these tanks are thoroughfares named Spurtank Road and Tank Bund Road.

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.

Indian workers collect water from the Puzhal reservoir on the outskirts of Chennai on June 20, 2019. - Water levels in the four main reservoirs in Chennai have fallen to one of its lowest levels in 70 years, according to local media reports
Image captionPuzhal reservoir was Chennai's first centralised, big-budget drinking water project / GETTY IMAGES

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.

Indian residents queue with plastic recipients to get drinking water from a distribution tanker in the outskirts of Chennai on May 29, 2019.

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.

This article first appeared in the BBC.

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

Way ahead

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
Register, Richard (1987). Eco-cities: Building Cities in Balance with Nature. Berkeley:Berkeley Hills Books. 

Image(s) Courtesy:
La Citta Vita

This article is written by Dhanapal G

This article was first published here:

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

© Valentine Lenfant / AFD

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

© Bernard Gagnon / Wikimedia Commons

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

© Rikkylohia / Pixabay

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

© Kailash Giri / Flickr

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.

Amaravati Rebuilds the Basics

Amaravati is the new and developing capital of the southern state of Andhra Pradesh (after it split to form Telangana in 2014). The identified territory has a large number of people living in poverty. This is why Amaravati Smart and Sustainable Corporation Limited (ASSCL) intends to tackle essential developmental issues such as: building basic physical and social infrastructureproviding electricitysafe drinking waterhealthcare and education, setting up waste management and sewerage systems, and engaging the community in these processes, with women in leadership roles.

Kochi Engaged in a Digital Revolution

© Prashanth Vishwanathan / AFD

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

© Nicolas Fornage / AFD

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.

This article 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.

Getting Around

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 is sourced from here:

Photo by Alok Shenoy

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

It has been the driest and hottest year on record for most of Australia. One recent scientific report outlines how the last summer in Australia was characterised by “prolonged, continental-wide heatwaves and record hot days, bushfires throughout Australia and heavy rainfall and flooding in northern Queensland”. Climate change and land clearing have driven soaring temperatures and extreme weather events in Australia, the report says, and “the past four years have been the four hottest years on record for global surface temperature”. Many people, unable to grow crops or feed cattle or sheep, are leaving their farms as a result.

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.

Andrews’s ideas aren’t universally accepted. For decades, he was been seen by many as a maverick. He is not a scientist, and it took until 2013 before scientific evidence showed that natural sequence farming can be effective.

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

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, and commended the model of natural sequence farming.

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.

Carbon sink

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.

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

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 Delivery

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 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.

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.

The development of a child’s brain architecture provides the foundation for all future learning, behavior, and health.

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.

It is easier and less costly to form strong brain circuits during the early years than it is to intervene or “fix” them later.

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.

Photo by Seth Cottle

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

Photo by Nandhu Kumar

By Ian Johnston

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.

The article first appeared in the Independent

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.

13. Sugathakumari

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 Bhupinder Singh for the Indiatimes Environment section and can be found here

By Dr. Joseph Mercola

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
26-year period.2

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 environment.

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