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The Autonomous Farmer

India is poised to become the world’s most populous nation in a few years, surpassing China (which is witnessing a steady drop in birth rates recently). The agricultural sector in India only accounts for 14% of its GDP but employs close to 50% of the country’s workforce and hence from a view of national income generation via employment, agriculture is very important. Currently, around 38% of total land surface is used for crop production and with degrading soil health and water scarcity, how do we ensure that we continue to feed and employ our burgeoning population?

‘Smart’ agriculture has an answer as we see a lot of technologies that are transforming industrial agriculture across the world. These new technologies leverage how human brain thinks, how humans learn, make decisions, and work while solving a problem, with intelligent software and systems that are fed with training data and these intelligent devices provide us with desired output for every valid input, just like the human brain. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the science behind making intelligent machines and its use in industrial farming has transformed today’s agriculture systems to a new level all together.  

How do these robots work and where?

Agriculture uses more than 70% of all global fresh water supplies, and yet 4 billion people live in global regions with water scarcity. By 2050, majority of world’s population will live in urban areas, and hence there is a need to lessen the burden on farmers, automate several agri-processes and provide farmers with comparatively easy and efficient farming methods. In India, weather plays a key role in agriculture, with short periods of drought and flooding combined with its unpredictability making it extremely hard to optimize water usage for irrigation.

This is where the robots come in.

Field robots are already being deployed to help farmers measure, map, and optimize water and irrigation use. Likewise, robots that use precision technologies to apply fertilizers and pesticides, automatic crop monitoring via drones, smart agricultural equipment are here to help that are backed by Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Weeding Operations:

Weeds are the strongest competitors for water, they grow tall and block light for regular plants and it is estimated that India loses agricultural produce that is more than the government’s annual budgetary allocation for agriculture due to weeds . So, to remove weeds from fields is the greatest priority in farming. The table below shows a summary of agri-applications that benefit from robots, use AI algorithms for crops such as Rice, Sugarcane, Cotton etc.  

Drones in agriculture:

In precision agriculture, drones are a boon to farmers to see things that are not in the noticeable range. Drones are being implemented for irrigation equipment and crop health monitoring, weed identification, herd and wildlife monitoring, and disaster management to name a few. Equipped with sensors and micro-controllers, these un-manned vehicles have been extremely popular as substance sprayers with high precision. Read this scenario where manual spraying of fertilizers and pesticides in an acre of land takes 150 liters of water and when farmers use drones, the same job can be done with just with 10 liters of water.

Vertical farming:

Vertical farms can be installed in densely populated areas with minimal water consumption (up to 95% less water than traditional farming) providing year-long fresh and healthy food to millions of people. These farms are setup in a closed environment and use smart sensors to monitor temperature, CO2,oxygen,lighting, humidity, pest control etc. utilizing cameras, thermal imaging and AI technologies and have been highly effective in growing leafy greens, herbs, vegetables such as tomatoes, melons, sweet corn, peppers, cucumbers to name a few.

India is one of the most promising markets for vertical farming with a 29% growth rate and an increasing demand for organic products resulting in more companies and startups entering the vertical farming market each year.

Vertical Indoor Farming
Feasibility in Indian environment:

India has embraced robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) as solutions to several practical problems that are facing farmers today. Given the acute water shortage, risks associated with climate change and the good reason that new technologies would also help attract skilled workers and graduates to the sector, agriculture in India is being re-vamped.

But precision agriculture and robot-aided operations are happening in smaller farms. Prohibitive costs and limited real-world data that prove these methods work in large scale agriculture are main challenges. When farmers realize they can make more profit through more sustainable techniques and leveraging AI based tools would help reduce fertilizer and herbicide costs while improving the quality of land, keeping yield up, then adoption of these methods will increase exponentially. Government policies will boost adoption of AI technologies, but an increased demand from consumers like us for more sustainably produced agricultural products will drive farmers to embed latest technology in their daily work.

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Plastics are Vessels for Land Pathogens

A lot is talked about the effects on marine wildlife, formation of microplastics, toxic containments due to prolonged exposure to sea water and damaging the aesthetic value of tourist destination caused by the careless disposal of plastic waste in the oceans, but what is less known is that this same plastic serves as carrier for harmful land-based pathogens.

According to a study published in 2014, gelatinous polymers such as extracellular polymeric substances (EPSs) or other aquatic polymers bring forth their own mechanisms for carrying and transmission of pathogens into the food webs of these ecosystems (with particle aggregates and biofilms), more specifically EPS biofilms on macroalgae such as kelp capture Toxoplasma gondii, a protozoan parasite that infects animals and humans worldwide which is transported to the coastal waters through fresh water runoff. These are obtained, concentrated and retained by kelp-grazing snails which are then transmitted through consumption to California Sea otters.

Toxoplasma gondii

As a result of this research, it is logical to be concerned whether synthetic polymers have similar capabilities of ‘trapping’ pathogens due to the ubiquitous nature of microplastic and protozoan pathogen pollution in sea water. These concerns were raised in a recent study conducted in 2022 whose main purpose was to investigate the association of zoonotic protozoa with microplastic surfaces in contaminated sea water. Cryptosporidium parvum, Giardia enterica and Toxoplasma gondii (similar protozoan parasite examined in the 2014 study) were the pathogens selected for this experiment due to their recognition by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an underestimated cause of illness due to shellfish, and due to their persistence in the marine environment, and the synthetic plastics taken into consideration for the bench experiment were two types: polyethylene microbeads and polyester microfibers.

The results demonstrated that over a 7-day period, in the case of microbeads the parasite count increased for all three of the test pathogens while in the surrounding seawater the parasite count decreased with the exception of Cryptosporidium parvum that remained relatively the same. Similar findings were found in the microfibers with parasite count associated with it, generally increasing over time but Cryptosporidium parvum remained the same till the third day, and this variation by Cryptosporidium parvum was also observed in the seawater count where it decreased significantly on the third day. Another set observations were noted in this experiment in regards to size of plastic, where it was overall observed that more protozoan oocysts tended to adhere to larger microfibers than the other microplastics.

Upon looking at available research, the implications of this readily occurring phenomenon’s severity cannot be understated. Microplastics have a pandemic ability to be consumed by a bulk of the living organisms in an ecosystem and that combined with the deadly symptoms brought about by these aforementioned pathogens create an alarming cycle that effect both aquatic organisms and the humans that consume them, that minimal effort has been done to combat

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Story of Hidden Deep Sea Monsters

Story of hidden Deep Sea Monsters

Deep sea monsters or the Deep sea creatures are the animals that live below the photic zone of the ocean.

What is the photic zone of the ocean?

Photic zone also known as sunlight zone or limnetic zone is the uppermost layer of the ocean receiving sunlight and allowing photosynthesis to happen, forming the basis of food chain in the upper water column. The zone is 80m(260 feet) in depth and is home to majority of aquatic life.

What is deep sea? How deep is the deep sea?

Deep sea is the lower most layer of the ocean existing below thermocline and above the seabed. It is the darkest region of the ocean. The water is between 3-10 degree Celsius and has low or no oxygen. About three-fourths of the area covered by ocean is deep, cold, and permanently dark. Pressure of upto 1,000 atmosphere can be experienced in this zone.

The ocean is divided into three vertical zones of the water column based on the amount of light and pressure it experiences and these are: Sunlight zone, Twilight zone, Midnight zone.

Twilight zone – only faint light reaches this zone. Due to lack of sunlight, bioluminescence can be observed in creatures. No plants grow in this layer, one can find some strangest sea animals such as octopus, crab, krill, swordfish, wolf eel, and catshark.

Midnight zone or the deep sea consists of two zones abyssal or hadal zone.

Abyssal zone is 4,000-6,000 metres in depth with perpetual darkness with very little oxygen. Has higher concentration of nutrient salts, like nitrogen, phosphorus, and silica, due to the large amount of dead organic material that drifts down from the above ocean zones and decomposes.

Abyssal zone is above Hadal zone. Hadal zone is lying within oceanic trenches. Found at the depth of around 6,000-11,000 metres, making it a deepest region of the ocean.  Most hadal habitat is found in the Pacific Ocean.

How do the deep sea creatures survive without light?

As there is no sunlight, the microbes depend on chemicals that come out of the vents. The process is termed as chemosynthesis and the microbes capable of this process are called chemoautotrophs. The chemoautotrophs oxidizes hydrogen sulphide, hydrogen and methane, readily available from the hydrothermal fluids and creates an energy surplus In the form of sugar which the bacteria then utilizes to produce organic matter. The bacterial mats formed in this process serve as  sole food source for the crustaceans, that then in turn are eaten by larger organisms, which then are also eaten by even larger organisms.

What is bioluminescence which the creatures in deep sea exhibit? What is its relevance?

Bioluminescence is the ability of living organisms to produce light. The light is produced by bacteria within light-emitting cells called photophores. It is the same phenomenon which is observed in fireflies and mushrooms. In the deep sea ocean it is commonly observed in squids, siphonophores, jellyfish, and comb jellies.

Bioluminescence helps organisms to deter or hide from predators, helps them to find food by luring the prey and to find a mate for reproduction.

                     Deep Sea Creatures exhibiting bioluminescence

What is deep sea gigantism observed in deep sea creatures?

Deep sea gigantism refers to the large body size of the creatures. There are multiple factors causing gigantism in deep sea creatures.

  • The drastic fall in temperatures leads to increased cell size which results in continual growth of the organisms through out their life.
  • Lack of oxygen at greater depths leads to a slower metabolism rate, helping them to conserve energy which is another factor behind their increased body sizes.
Colossal squid – weighs 750kg
Lion’s Mane Jellyfish – 120 feet
                                                   Giant spider

How have deep sea creatures adopted to such high pressures?

The pressure at Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of all the world’s oceans is around 1,000 bars or more. Deep sea creatures here have adapted to such pressure and this is because deep sea creatures are largely made of water having minimal or no air gaps in the body. Water, being in-compressible, leaves their bodies unaffected by such great underwater pressure.  

Example: Hadal snailfish, the deepest dwelling species of fish which can be found at about 8,200m depth.

How are creatures in the deep sea living at such lower temperature?

According to researchers, an antifreeze protein is observed in fish’s blood which affects the water molecules in its vicinity such that they cannot freeze, and everything remains fluid.

Are deep sea creatures immune to threats?

Despite living at such greater depths, deep sea creatures are not immune to anthropogenic threats.

  • Deep sea mining is scooping away the sea beds damaging the deep sea ecosystem.
  • Global warming is making the ocean temperatures warm and it’s affect has been felt at the deep sea as well. Deep sea creatures have adapted to cold waters since centuries, sudden rise in temperature will disrupt their biological cycle leading to their death.
  • Fertilizers, pesticides, oil spills are other issues which badly damages the deep sea ecosystem killing the marine life instantly.
  • Microplastic is another menace to deep sea creatures.

Given the vast size, only 4% of the ocean is explored.

Introducing some of the deep sea creatures:

Frilled shark

Prefer to remain in the depths up to 5,000 feet (1,500 meters). They are considered living fossils, who swam the seas in the time of the dinosaurs. It’s a 5.3-foot species.

Fangtooth

The fangtooth is the deepest-living fish ever living at a depth of 6,500 feet-16,500 feet. It’s about 6 inches long.

Six-Gill Shark

Six-gill sharks is found at 8,200 feet (2,500 meters) depth and surface at nights to feed. These  are of 16 feet(4.8 meters) long.

Pacific Viper fish

Pacific Viper fish has jagged, needlelike teeth so outsized it can’t close its mouth. These are only about 8 inches (25 centimeters) long. They troll the depths up to 13,000 feet (4,400 meters) below.

References:

https://www-zmescience-com.cdn.ampproject.org/v/s/www.zmescience.com/science/biology/deep-sea-giant-creature/amp/?amp_gsa=1&amp_js_v=a9&usqp=mq331AQKKAFQArABIIACAw%3D%3D#amp_tf=From%20%251%24s&aoh=16557548020134&referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com&ampshare=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.zmescience.com%2Fscience%2Fbiology%2Fdeep-sea-giant-creature%2F

https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/facts/light-distributed.html

https://www.livescience.com/why-deep-sea-animals-are-giants

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Let the water not runoff …

Our world’s soil is facing an existential crisis, its health has declined sharply and ruptured the fragile skin of the Earth. Land degradation has affected over 33% of top-soil and 90% could become degraded by 2050. An astonishing fact: It can take up to 1000 years to naturally form just two to three centimeters of top-soil.

Soil health decline can be due to a variety of causes: Soil erosion, excessive usage of chemical fertilizers without organic manure and an imbalance in fertilizer nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium) to name a few. Widespread soil erosion due to water, wind induced erosion and chemical degradation affects both arable and open forest lands with estimates that suggest annual loss of 5.3 billion tons of top-soil and 8.0 metric tons of plant nutrients through water erosion in India.

Sponge cities as solutions: Green + Blue + Grey Infrastructure:

Our future is moving more towards urbanization and the proportion of world’s population living in cities is projected to grow two-thirds. Increased opportunities in cities, the flight from conflict, poverty and climate change events are driving more people to live or move to urban areas.

Is there an answer to livable cities that are sustainable despite frequent flood disasters, environment deterioration, water resource shortage and water ecological destruction?  There is good potential in the concept of ‘Sponge’ cities.

Sponginess of a city is determined by its natural ability to absorb rainwater and have least water run-off. A city’s assets can be classified as green and blue assets: its grass, trees, bushes, lakes, ponds, water bodies and grey assets: buildings, hard paved surfaces, concrete pipes etc. By calculating the % of green, blue, grey infrastructure, soil type and water runoff potential, a city’s natural absorbency from its green and blue spaces gives a higher sponginess ranking.

India faces extreme climates and Mumbai has a history of flooding during the monsoons with the heaviest-ever recorded 24-hour rainfall figures in the world. But the city benefits from a large quantity of green infrastructure, particularly tree cover. This is driven by large areas of woodland to the northeast and a large quantity of trees interspersed around buildings. The integration of green infrastructure across the urban areas helps give Mumbai city some resilience to storms but also urban heat island effects. Let us look at the sponginess score of Mumbai when compared to Auckland, Singapore, and few others.

Sponginess of Top Cities

Agricultural run-offs:

India has very high arable land (land that has a lot of crop rotation and is ploughed or tilled regularly) and hence the topic of soil erosion due to water, wind, deforestation, overgrazing and faulty methods of agriculture is critical to address.

Soil is eroded at an average annual rate of 16.35 tons per hectare which means around 5 billion tons per year for the country. Out of this, about 29 per cent is permanently lost to the sea, nearly 10 per cent is deposited in reservoirs (which means the storage capacity in lakes/rivers and waterbodies is reduced by 1-2 per cent annually) and the remaining 61 per cent of the eroded soil is merely shifted from one site to another.

Conservation or regenerative agriculture:

Conservation agriculture as a strategy to invert the soil degradation spiral is the preferred method adopted by most countries today. No-tillage systems which eliminates intensive tillage, maintaining crop residue cover to ensure water does not run-off with the soil, and proper crop rotation using native and perennial crops have reported to improve soil organic matter (SOM) levels with carbon accumulation in diverse soils that are resilient to climate change. The recent heat wave in India resulted in an abrupt decline in wheat outputs (The average temperature in April was consistently above the 40°C mark across Punjab) and all exports of wheat was prohibited. Sustainable residue management options where crop residues were not burnt making the land bare and exposed to soil erosion, but rather keeping the soil surfaces covered with crop residue during heavy rainfall/erratic heat conditions, nutrients in the soil would make the crops more resilient to such heat waves.

Parched land due to water runoff

Natural solutions for sustainable water resilience:

Our cities are not equipped to cope with the amount of water that needs to be treated in a short period of time during extreme rainfall. Our sewer systems cannot be stretched as in most cases it is financially unfeasible, and so what is the solution?

Stone wool usage in water management of urban areas:

Stone wool is a natural product made from rock basalt and sourced directly from our earth. It is sustainable and almost inexhaustible as basalt is produced naturally and 100% recyclable. Stone wool elements have been used in largescale water storage facilities in public areas and as infiltration systems in wadis and under large, paved surfaces. Stone wool has a remarkable insulation capacity that it does not absorb water but provides resistance that delays the water to be pushed down to sewer systems in a delayed manner.

Due to the delayed discharge, water slowly permeates below the ground and thanks to its high load bearing capacity even small spaces can be designed with stone wool filtration elements in urban areas to prevent flash flooding. Instead of dealing with water by trying to get rid of it quickly, sponge cities slow water, absorb rain and halt runoff, a major source of pollution in urban waterways.

Bio-diversity parks in cities, restoring our water bodies, installing rain gardens, green roofs , green infrastructure combined with strict urban planning that prevent encroachments can help save our ever-expanding cities.

In Conclusion: Moving away from traditional hard infrastructure methods of flood barriers, concrete walls, old sewer systems, traditional methods of farming and over application of chemical fertilizers , we need to bring in solutions that mimic nature as a sustainable way of securing our soil future. Natural disasters when they happen are overwhelmingly destructive and mother nature has shown us the right path and we just need to follow it.

Sponge city construct
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Day Zero: Avoiding a Global Water Crisis

From the air we breathe to the water we drink, pollution has pervaded every activity essential for human beings. With the current state of water pollution and climate-change-induced drought, the world may be heading towards a water crisis. Certain pockets of the world have already confronted severe water shortages, leading up to Day Zero. Day Zero refers to the “day when a city’s taps run completely dry, forcing people to stand in queues to collect their daily quota of water.” Several cities such as Cape Town in Africa and Chennai in India have been the closest victim of the crisis. Day Zero has been prominently occurring in multiple cities such as Cape Town and Chennai, India.

The first crisis

In 2018, South Africa’s Cape Town suffered from severe water shortages and received worldwide attention. It was at this point that Cape Town was heading towards Day Zero. The city has a high demand for water and inadequate supply which is the major cause of the water shortage.

The pertinent question as to how Cape Town tackled the water shortage is of utmost relevance. If there had been in action, 4 million inhabitants could have been left without water (Harding, 2021). One of the foremost and the most logical measures taken by the city was to ration water at 50 liters per person per day, with punitive tariffs for those who exceeded the rationed amount, which proved to be effective in keeping Day Zero at bay (Khan, 2019). The rationed quote of water was far less than the global average of 185 liters per day per person. Additionally, water consumption was also drastically reduced by 40 percent for agricultural activities. Collectively, these efforts helped the city overcome Day Zero.

As per predictions for January 2020, some rain has been recorded across Southern Africa which has filled up reservoirs. But, the forecast is for dry weather which does make several cities in the African subcontinent vulnerable to the water crisis making them face Day Zero. Some cities have even taken to cutting down trees – deforestation – so as to divert the water from these plants towards human consumption. Sadly, these are not effective long-term measures. The key issue to be targeted is the gap between the supply and demand of water. Second, the management of water within the city through effective policies and taking preventive action to conserve water.

Thus, Day Zero is any city’s worst nightmare. With climate change getting worse, it is important to raise more awareness about the situation. The city of Chennai is also in no better position to tackle water shortages.

Chennai’s crisis

It was not too long ago when Chennai invited Hollywood’s Oscar-winning actor Leonardo di Caprio’s attention owing to its water crisis. Di Caprio’s tweet, “’Only rain can save Chennai from this situation” (‘Only Rain Can Save Chennai From This Situation’: Leonardo DiCaprio, n.d.) in 2019 was probably the talk of the country back then until Covid-19 took over.

Chennai as a city has been confronted with water shortages ever since the colonial days and it has become more pronounced with climate change. Due to its geographical location, it is highly dependent on external support to procure water from neighboring states like Kerala and Karnataka. In 2019, the city officials on June 19th declared Day Zero when almost no water was left for the inhabitants. The primary cause of the water crisis was the shortage of rainfall during the preceding two monsoon seasons which was further made worse by the heat waves that summer. That very year Chennai witnessed good rainfall, but getting past the summer drought was an arduous task on the city’s part. The entire situation was further aggravated by the mismanagement on the government’s part.

Regardless of the area under consideration, water shortages are a concern worldwide and these two cases of Cape Town and Chennai are a lesson to be learned by cities. Day Zero is almost a reality for several countries owing to the present demand for water, climate change, pollution, and other allied environmental concerns.

References

Avoid another “Day Zero” water crisis by Saving Water. (2021, March 21). EarthFokus. Retrieved June 2, 2022, from https://earthfokus.com/blog/day-zero/

Harding, A. (2021, November 10). Cape Town’s Day Zero: ‘We are axing trees to save water’. BBC. Retrieved June 2, 2022, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-59221823

Heggie, J. (n.d.). Day Zero: Where next? National Geographic. Retrieved June 2, 2022, from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/partner-content-south-africa-danger-of-running-out-of-water

Khan, A. (2019, January 17). Cape Town’s ‘Day Zero’: Where Are We Now? China Water Risk. Retrieved June 2, 2022, from https://www.chinawaterrisk.org/opinions/cape-towns-day-zero-where-are-we-now/

‘Only rain can save Chennai from this situation’: Leonardo DiCaprio. (n.d.). Twitter. Retrieved June 2, 2022, from https://twitter.com/i/events/1144122363971330048?lang=en Sunder, K. (2021, January 6). How to stop another ‘Day Zero’. BBC. Retrieved June 2, 2022, from https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20210105-day-zero-how-chennais-wetlands-could-save-it-from-drought

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The Tragedy of Commons

The concept of Tragedy of Commons revolves around an individual’s motives to act according to benefit oneself without taking into account the interest of the whole community or society. The theory of Tragedy of Commons was first developed by the American ecologist, Garret Hardin who defined it as “a situation where shared environmental resources are overused and exploited, and eventually depleted, posing risks to everyone involved.” (Earth.org, 2020)

Background

The model developed by Hardin can be understood with the following example. Let us take a piece of land, a common good that every individual has access to. If the common resource, in this case, the land, is devoid of regulations to monitor the usage of the land by the people, then it will be exploited by one and all in the pursuit of short-term benefits in the short run. This action, in the long run, will result in the destruction of the resource (Boston University, n.d.). This is the basic idea of the tragedy of commons, wherein the common good faces destruction due to the over-exploitation by individuals which reflects on the society in a negative way.

The theory of commons may have its roots in the Classicists. The Classical Economics believed that if every individual worked in the self-interest of his own well-being, then collectively the society would be benefited. The tragedy of commons is a model, which defies the ideology of the Classical Economists.

The theory is well-established in the field of environmental Economics and Science and lays out a strong foundation for the most-pivotal concern of the 21st century – Climate Change. If you would take a country, every country acts in its own self-interest to have a strong economy, thriving industry, and the cheapest energy possible. But, chasing the goal with a parochial outlook results in a disastrous result for the only planet we know life exists. It is indeed crucial to understand the importance of an international community collaborating to solve burning issues like Climate Change.

According to Ashurian, a research scientist, “issues of global climate change have to do with the people that are in charge of different countries, the decisions that they make and the moral outlooks of people. Philosophy is just the understanding of the ethical viewpoint, and political science is about looking at this modern issue from an international and political standpoint.”, thus emphasizing the need to combine the knowledge of philosophy and political economy to make sense of the environment and our world.

The Tragedy of Commons is typically individuals acting in their self-interest without collectively looking at the resource and population as a whole. The COVID-19 pandemic is in itself a suitable example of the tragedy of commons. During the initial days of the health crisis, people were scared to step out of the comfort of home as they were suspicious of everyone. Although this was the scenario on one hand, parallelly, the pandemic was also the time when individuals started stocking up on essentials. Every person thought that everybody will stock and possibly tried to solve the problem by overstocking. People thought logically, from an individualistic point of view, rather than collectively. Hence, the relevance to the tragedy of commons. Individuals took their own benefit into account at the cost of consumption in society.

Chennai’s groundwater

As mentioned earlier, the primary cause of the tragedy of commons is the lack of clear property rights over the resource. The tragedy of commons can also be understood with an example of Chennai’s groundwater resource. A person owning a piece of land in Chennai, claims ownership over the groundwater below that piece of land. Though ownership over the groundwater is not legally established, he/she digs a bore and consumes the groundwater on the assumption that he/she has a right over the water flowing below the land he/she owns. The primary reason why such a scenario occurs is due to the fact that the property rights over a public good/ common pool resource like that groundwater are not clearly defined. As a result, every individual goes on consuming without paying any cost for it, as the good is non-excludable. Ultimately as every individual keeps consuming for his/her benefit, it leads to the depletion of the groundwater resource and the entire society suffers.

Tackling the issue of Tragedy of Commons

The possible solutions to counter the issue of the tragedy of commons include the enforcement of laws and regulations that give property rights to private individuals in such a way that the private parties take ownership of the environmental resource. Secondly, legal institutions should be strengthened in order to ensure that anybody exploiting an environmental resource (in the present case, illegal construction of borewells in Chennai) without prior approval from the Government, or the respective regulatory authority faces legal sanctions in terms of penalty or imprisonment.

 References:

A Look at Undergraduate Research: Tragedy of the Commons & Climate Change. (n.d.) Boston University of General Studies. https://www.bu.edu/cgs/2017/04/05/a-look-at-undergraduate-research-tragedy-of-the-commons-climate-change/

Anukwonke, C. (2015). The Concept of Tragedy of the Commons: Issues and Applications.

ResearchGate. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.1.4977.9362 What is ‘Tragedy of the Commons’? (25th August 2020). Earth.org. https://earth.org/what-is-tragedy-of-the-commons

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The Montreal Protocol

Depletion of the ozone layer began in the 1960s and there was an immediate need to draw the world’s attention to it. Some of the primary warnings on the threats to the ozone layer came from the Nobel laureates Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina in 1974 in their publication “Stratospheric sink for chlorofluoromethanes: chlorine atom catalyzed destruction of ozone” (Rowland & Molina, 1974). Post their findings, there was a universal cry to bring forth legislation to regulate the usage of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other ozone-depleting substances (ODS). Emanating in this backdrop was one of the earliest global conventions on environmental protection – the Montreal Protocol (1987).

The Montreal Protocol falls under the ambit of the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, 1985 (Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer – DAWE, 2021). The Vienna Convention initiated the academic discussions and scientific discoveries in the province of human activities and their impact on the stratosphere. Ensuing the Convention, the Protocol came into force.

Purpose

The Montreal Protocol, the only treaty to have been ratified by all the 198 United Nations member countries, is an environmental global treaty that aims toward the gradual elimination of substances that lead to the depletion of the ozone layer (About Montreal Protocol, n.d.). The ozone (O3) is the atmospheric layer that protects the Earth and the life on it from the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun. Many chemical substances including chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) have the potential to break down the ozone layer.

Essentially, these ODS were largely used in the manufacturing of refrigerators, foams, and aerosol sprays, and the supply chain was congested with them in the 1950s and 60s (History of the Ozone Layer, n.d.). To offset this growth and break the chain of causation in the damage to the ozone layer, the Montreal Protocol came into existence and identified close to 100 such man-made ODS. Under the treaty, each member was bestowed with a specific duty with the goal of phasing out the usage of ODS.

Historical Significance

One of the first nations to identify the threat to the ozone layer was the United States of America who was largely influenced by Rowland and Molina’s study (International Regime Formation: The Politics of Ozone Layer Depletion and Global Warming – LSE Theses Online, n.d.). While the European countries were still working on the uncertainties that revolved around the ozone layer and the impact of CFCs on them, the US had already begun ozone protection policy regulations. Likewise, the Japanese joined the negotiations only in 1986 because certain compounds of CFCs were used in the electronic industry, a vital source of income for the Japanese economy.

In 1977, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) addressed the first international meeting on ODS in Washington DC.  Subsequently, the US industry started working towards alternatives for CFCs and initiated several restrictions, especially the aerosol ban. The ban alone cost the US economy over USD 3 billion.

In light of this, more studies were being conducted across the world. In 1986, there was a report submitted by the Environmental Protection Agency of the US highlighted the prevalence of skin cancer among people due to the use of consumer products made of CFCs. Several companies were afraid that lawsuits would be filed against them on the grounds that their products caused lung and skin care diseases. This also persuaded the American industries to look for alternatives. Additionally, scientist Susan Solomon’s expeditions in Antarctica reiterated the threats of ODS in 1986 and ‘87 (Waxman, 2019). Thus, the push from the US played a major role in executing the Montreal Protocol.

Citizen Activism

Both prior to and post the Montreal Protocol, citizen activism played an active role in environmental policy-making (Cook, 1990). Consumers of the day as a mark of protest, even before the government introduced the ban, had boycotted the spray cans.

April 22, 1970, marks the day when millions of US citizens demonstrated on the streets to voice out against corporations and organizations that harmed the Earth. It was a milestone in the drive toward environmental protection which led to the enactment of the Clean Air Act, of 1970 in the US. Similarly, when the US decided to build supersonic transport planes (SSTs) during the same period, environmentalists refused to fund the project for the sole reason that SSTs flown into the stratosphere can damage the ozone layer. These actions culminated and reflected the mission of the Montreal Protocol.

Targets and Funding

The targets set by the Protocol are of several stages (Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer – DAWE, 2021) . The first target was to get rid of CFCs. The developing countries achieved it by 1995 while the developing countries by 2010. Every year, the members met and set their goals towards gradually phasing out a particular percentage of ODS from the system. One of the ongoing targets among developed and developing countries includes the phasing out of hydrofluorocarbons (HCFs) by 2036 and 2045, respectively. Thus all countries, both developing and developed, have equal and diversified commitments which are “binding, time-targeted and measurable” in nature (About Montreal Protocol, n.d.).

To smoothen the transition towards an ozone-friendly production and consumption methods, in 1991 the Protocol established a Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol to provide technical and monetary aid to developing countries. Ever since it came into being, it has funded over USD 3.9 billion in more than 8,600 projects across the world (About Montreal Protocol, n.d.).

The way-forward

The success of the Montreal Protocol is evident from its long-standing impact in the field of environmental protection. It has lived through three decades and it continues in its purpose with the Sustainable Development Goals of 2030. Not only has it paved the way for the protection of the ozone layer, but the Protocol has also indirectly helped in fighting global warming and climate crisis (Velders et al., 2007).

With the Protocol, it is expected that the ozone layer will replenish by the middle of the 21st century. The coronavirus pandemic has also catalyzed the process. With the lockdown across the world, man-made emissions into the atmosphere were halted, including ODS. Consequently, a small hole spotted in the ozone above Antarctica in 1982 closed last year (Coronavirus Lockdown Helped the Environment to Bounce Back, 2020). These developments are proof that the Montreal Protocol is a commendable environmental initiative for a sustainable future.

References

(n.d.). Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol. Retrieved May 31, 2022, from http://www.multilateralfund.org/default.aspx

About Montreal Protocol. (n.d.). UNEP. Retrieved May 31, 2022, from https://www.unep.org/ozonaction/who-we-are/about-montreal-protocol

Cook, E. (1990, October). Global Environmental Advocacy: Citizen Activism in Protecting the Ozone Layer. Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4313729?origin=JSTOR-pdf

Coronavirus lockdown helped the environment to bounce back. (2020, June 29). NCBI. Retrieved May 31, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7323667/

History of the Ozone Layer. (n.d.). Ozone Layer History. Retrieved May 31, 2022, from https://www.albany.edu/faculty/rgk/atm101/o3histor.htm

International regime formation: the politics of ozone layer depletion and global warming – LSE Theses Online. (n.d.). LSE Theses Online. Retrieved May 31, 2022, from http://etheses.lse.ac.uk/122/

Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer – DAWE. (2021, October 3). Agriculture.gov.au. Retrieved May 31, 2022, from https://www.environment.gov.au/protection/ozone/montreal-protocol

NOAA Global Monitoring Laboratory – Halocarbons and other Atmospheric Trace Species. (n.d.). NOAA Global Monitoring Laboratory – Halocarbons and other Atmospheric Trace Species. Retrieved May 31, 2022, from https://gml.noaa.gov/hats/publictn/elkins/cfcs.html

Rowland, S., & Molina, M. (1974, June 28). Stratospheric sink for chlorofluoromethanes: chlorine atom catalysed destruction of ozone. 1974 Nature Publishing Group. Retrieved May 31, 2022, from https://websites.pmc.ucsc.edu/~pkoch/EART_206/09-0312/Molina%20&%20Rowland%2074%20Nature%20249-810.pdf

Velders, G. J. M., Andersen, S. O., Daniel, J. S., Fahey, D. W., & McFarland, M. (2007). The importance of the Montreal Protocol in protecting climate. Retrieved 2022, from https://www.pnas.org/doi/pdf/10.1073/pnas.0610328104 Waxman, O. B. (2019, September 23). In the 1980s, the World Acted to Save the Ozone Layer. Here’s Why the Fight Against Climate Change Is Different. TIME. Retrieved May 31, 2022, from https://time.com/5681661/climate-change-ozone-history/

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Principle of Preventive Action

Among the several principles of environmental studies, preventive action is an important principle that focuses on the oft-quotes proverb, “Prevention is better than cure.”

Historical significance

The approach to Preventive Action can be traced back to the London Convention, named ‘Convention Relative to the Preservation of Fauna and Flora in their Natural State’, of the year 1933 (Convention Relative to the Preservation of Fauna and Flora in Their Natural State, n.d.). This multilateral treaty was signed by 11 countries, including the United Kingdom, Belgium, South Africa, Italy, and India, among others. The basic aim of the treaty was to preserve the natural fauna and flora from exploitation and extinction across various parts of the world, particularly Africa.  This was to be achieved through the establishment of National Parks and Natural Reserves, and by regulating hunting practices and collection of species for commercial purposes. All these activities point toward a Preventive Approach as flora and fauna protection is beginning early and is aimed to mitigate future concerns of extinction and irreversible damage.

Preventive Action in Conventions

The Principle of Prevention laid the foundation for the “Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal” (1989) which addressed the issue of hazardous waste and its disposal (Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, n.d.). The discharge of toxic substances into the environment needs to be reduced to an environmentally sound level, to prevent serious or irreversible damage to the ecosystem. The Convention suggests that action should be taken at an early stage before any actual harm has ensued rather than waiting to restore the damaged resources. This principle plays an important role in “laws regarding generation, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous waste and laws regulating the use of pesticides.” Additionally, the concept of Transboundary Effects was also introduced to the Principle of Prevention via the Basel Convention; this concept states that a state may be under the obligation to prevent damage within its own jurisdiction’ (General Principles Of International Environmental Law, n.d.).

Preventive Action also featured in The Stockholm Declaration on Environment (1972) where

Principle 6 and 7 of the Declaration address the actions to be undertaken by the citizens and the state towards halting the dumping of harmful substances and also necessary steps to be adopted to reduce the pollution levels (More, 2019).

The Indian context

As far as India is concerned, the Preventive Action principle has been adopted in many contexts. One such scenario is the case of Ajeet Mehta v State of Rajasthan (Mathur, n.d.). In this case, the defendant lived in a residential part of Rajasthan and was involved in the provender business. Due to his employment, he was responsible for creating pollution from the transportation and stoking of his fodder. A petition was filed against the defendant on the grounds that the inhalation of dry and burnt fodder particles was a hazard to the health of the residents living in the surrounding area. The City Magistrate acknowledged the same and ordered the defendant to stop stoking fodder and the business to be shut down. In response, the defendant filed a revision petition before the Sessions Court and the Additional Sessions Judge reversed the order thus ruling in favor of the Defendants. Thereafter another revision petition was the complainant’s wife and that judgment was in favor of the complainant. Followingly, the High Court of Rajasthan also ruled against the defendant, showing how the principle of preventive action was upheld by the state in order to prevent more damage.

In essence, preventive action as a principle lays down an important foundational pillar to the study of the environment and its conservation. It has the potential to catalyze the fight against the climate crisis as it is primarily based on the idea of acting before the damage is caused. Preventive action is crucial in addressing environmental concerns, as it wholly is intended to prevent risks of acts that may have an impact on the environment, rather than reacting after the environmentally unfriendly act has been done.

References

Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal. (n.d.). ECOLEX. Retrieved June 2, 2022, from https://www.ecolex.org/details/treaty/basel-convention-on-the-control-of-transboundary-movements-of-hazardous-wastes-and-their-disposal-tre-001003/?q=Basel+Convention+on+the+Control+of+Transboundary+Movements+of+Hazardous+Wastes+and+their+Disposal

Convention Relative to the Preservation of Fauna and Flora in their Natural State. (n.d.). ECOLEX. Retrieved June 2, 2022, from https://www.ecolex.org/details/treaty/convention-relative-to-the-preservation-of-fauna-and-flora-in-their-natural-state-tre-000069/

General Principles Of International Environmental Law. (n.d.). NSUWorks. Retrieved June 2, 2022, from https://nsuworks.nova.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1069&context=ilsajournal

Mathur, A. (n.d.). Smt. Ajeet Mehta And Ors. vs State Of Rajasthan And Ors. on 9 May, 1989. Indian Kanoon. Retrieved June 2, 2022, from https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1423131/ More, H. (2019, April 9). 26 Principles of Stockholm Declaration on Environment Protection. The Fact Factor. Retrieved June 2, 2022, from https://thefactfactor.com/facts/law/civil_law/environmental_laws/stockholm-declaration/871/

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Tobacco is killing us and the planet

As of 31st May 2022, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has raised concern over the impact of the Tobacco Industry on the environment and human health. Annually, “the tobacco industry costs the world more than 8 million human lives, 600 million trees, 200 000 hectares of land, 22 billion tonnes of water, and 84 million tonnes of CO2 (WHO Raises Alarm on Tobacco Industry Environmental Impact, 2022).” They have raised an alarm calling out for the industry to become more environmentally conscious. In this light, it makes it necessary to bring attention to this industry and the issues emanating from the operation of the industry.

Environmental impacts of the tobacco industry

Most of the tobacco units are set up in developing countries and the industry is highly carbon-intensive. Many forest areas are cut down to provide space for tobacco harvesting which inevitably impacts the environment. Approximately, 200,000 hectares of land are cleared for tobacco agriculture which is equivalent to almost half the entire land area of Cabo Verde, an archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean. 

Most of these tobacco plants are deadly in the sense that it harms the domestic indigenous biodiversity of a region. Secondly, the entire industry, both production, and consumption of tobacco emit large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere amounting to 80 million tonnes per year.

Thirdly, tobacco agriculture is also highly dependent on water. According to the WHO, a single cigarette consumes close to 3.7 liters of water during its entire life cycle from growing to disposal after usage (Tobacco: Poisoning Our Planet, 2022). Roughly, every year 22 billion tonnes of water are used globally for the production of tobacco. Sadly, as mentioned earlier, since most of these tobacco units are set up in developing countries, it is these countries that are the most vulnerable. With the global targets of climate change, these countries are under the burden of meeting the climate targets with limited resources and maximum vulnerability.

Tobacco’s negative externalities

Tobacco as an industry has several environmental hazards that can also affect human health. At the outset, tobacco whether it is smoked or smokeless can cause cancer, cardiovascular disease, respiratory illness, diabetes, hypertension and other allied health issues. But, the larger issue with tobacco is that it also affects passive smokers who may constitute a good number of the population. These are also called negative consumption externalities in economics. These externalities arise when the consumption of good results in the social cost outweighing the private benefit. Consumption of a cigarette causes damage to the environment and also to passive smokers, which collectively constitute the societal impact. These social costs outweigh the benefits procured from the industry in terms of economic profits. Tobacco may generate good income for private parties, but in the long run, it will completely destroy the environment and the society within it.

However, despite their negative impact on the environment and human health, tobacco companies engage in greenwashing tactics to put out to the world they are eco-friendly.

Greenwashing strategies

Tobacco companies engage in greenwashing tactics to cover up the detrimental effects of tobacco on the environment and human health by the usage of words like “organic” and “natural” in advertisements which misleads smokers and the general public that these are relatively harmless. ‘Greenwashing’ in simple words refers to the advertising strategy adopted by industries and organizations and companies to better market their goods as environmentally friendly, by diverting the public’s attention from their environmentally damaging acts.

These tobacco companies often as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) fund schools, health systems, environmental and disaster relief organizations, and clean-up programs for tobacco product waste. The irony is, that it is these very tobacco companies that are one of the root causes for issues faced in these institutions and other environmental concerns arising from it. They are part of both the problem and the solution which inevitably nullifies the efforts taken toward resolving the issue.

In this backdrop, it is an alarm raised by the WHO towards targeting this tobacco industry in the larger public interest and for the world to hasten the process of climate mitigation by cutting down on carbon footprints, concerning water, and overall building a more sustainable world for the future.

References

Leppan, W., Lecours, N., & Buckles, D. (n.d.). Greenwashing – TobaccoTactics. Tobacco Tactics. Retrieved May 31, 2022, from https://tobaccotactics.org/wiki/greenwashing/

Negative Externalities – Overview, Types, and Remedies. (n.d.). Corporate Finance Institute. Retrieved May 31, 2022, from https://corporatefinanceinstitute.com/resources/knowledge/economics/negative-externalities/

Tobacco: poisoning our planet. (2022, May 30). WHO | World Health Organization. Retrieved May 31, 2022, from https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240051287 WHO raises alarm on tobacco industry environmental impact. (2022, May 30). WHO | World Health Organization. Retrieved May 31, 2022, from https://www.who.int/news/item/31-05-2022-who-raises-alarm-on-tobacco-industry-environmental-impact

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The Global Menace of E-waste: A General Overview

Annual e-waste production is estimated to exceed 74,000,000 tonnes in 2030 and is expected to weigh more than 203 Empire State buildings (Graham, 2020). It is alarming and there is a dire need to address the global menace of e-waste in light of the growing advancements in the field of science and technology.

What is e-waste?

E-waste includes the waste materials from any product with a power source such as a cable or battery which has reached its end of life. According to the International Labour Organisation’s report of 2012 (The Global Impact of E-Waste: Addressing the Challenge, n.d.), it was recorded as the largest growing waste stream that is harmful to the planet as well as those who call it home.

Eventhough there is not a standard definition for the term e-waste, the well-established one is “electrical or electronic equipment, which is waste … including all components, subassemblies, and consumables, which are part of the product at the time of discarding” (The Global Impact of E-Waste: Addressing the Challenge, n.d.) given by the European Commission. The lack of a universal definition leads to challenges around quantification, identification, and categorization of waste under electronic waste. This raises the need for a common definition at the international level. Nevertheless, e-waste in its ordinary sense needs attention in terms of management with the exponential rate of growth in the electrical and technical industry in the past few decades.

Problem statement

Waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) or e-waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the world according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). E-waste is made up of more than 1000 diverse materials of which some are hazardous and others non-hazardous. Materials like plastic, glass, wood, circuit boards, and rubber among others are used in building an electronic product, of which 50 percent is made of iron and steel, 21 percent from plastic, and 13 percent from other non-ferrous materials (copper, gold, palladium, tantalum, etc.) (ELWASTE VOLUME I, n.d.). These are extremely toxic and can impact both human health and the environment if improper management and recycling of e-waste are adopted. However, recycling is a profitable business and there are trade associations that work in the industry to recycle e-waste.

E-waste generated is often traded to developing countries as they are easy and cheap to recycle (Electronic Waste Facts, n.d.). Unfortunately, they are not recycled due to lack of infrastructure, financial constraints, and ineffective anti-dumping policies. They either end up in landfills or are burnt down which degrade the quality of the soil and the ecology. 

The world over

China is the largest producer of e-waste worldwide with over 10,000 metric tonnes followed by countries including the United States, India, Japan, Brazil, Russia, Indonesia, Germany, the United Kingdom, and France (Tiseo, 2021). However, countries like China and India have a huge population and the per-capita generation is not as worrisome as the rest (Which Countries Produce the Most E-Waste? 2018). The per capita generation of e-waste is the highest in Europe with 16 kilograms per person while Africa has the lowest with 1.7 kilograms per person (Electronic Waste Facts, n.d.). With the expected increase in population, the distribution of e-waste will only increase further.

Regardless of the per-capita production of e-waste, safe recycling of e-waste is imperative to protect the environment and those dependent on the natural environment. As mentioned earlier, e-waste is a global problem and there is a strong linkage between the developed and developing worlds. According to the ILO, the transboundary mobilization of e-waste places the burden on developing countries with a lack of infrastructure to recycle the waste. This is primarily due to the cost of recycling being cheaper in developing countries. Meanwhile, the developed countries use the opportunity to avoid disposal responsibilities on the domestic front. This further raises the issue of equity and questions the disproportionate burden placed on developing countries to recycle as against each country taking account of their production of e-waste and the subsequent management of the same.

The United Nation’s Basel Convention on Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Waste was one of the significant international initiatives to protect human health and the environment from the production, transboundary movement, and management of hazardous and toxic waste (Electronic Waste: A Growing Concern in Today’s Environment, n.d.). In addition, several national legislations also aim to address the same, the most well-known being the European Union’s directive on the use of certain substances in electrical equipment (RoHS) (Electronic Waste: A Growing Concern in Today’s Environment, n.d.), which provides the guidelines on the management of a few chemical substances used in the electrical devices. Despite these regulations, the supply chain does not fully come under the purview of the legislation and there is still a high flow of e-waste from countries like the US, Canada, Europe, Japan, and Korea to developing countries such as China, India, Pakistan, and several African countries.

Figure 1 gives a brief illustrative framework that countries can adopt to address the recycling of e-waste (Electronic Waste: A Growing Concern in Today’s Environment, n.d.).

Source: M. Khurrum S. Bhutta et. al. (2011)

References

Bhutta, M. S., Omar, A., & Yang, X. (2011). Electronic Waste: A Growing Concern in Today’s Environment. Economics Research International. https://doi.org/10.1155/2011/474230

Electronic Waste: A Growing Concern in Today’s Environment. (n.d.). Hindawi. Retrieved June 1, 2022, from https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecri/2011/474230/

Electronic Waste Facts. (n.d.). The World Counts. Retrieved June 1, 2022, from https://www.theworldcounts.com/challenges/planet-earth/waste/electronic-waste-facts/story

ELWASTE VOLUME I. (n.d.). greene.gov.in. Retrieved June 1, 2022, from https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/7857/EWasteManual_Vol1.pdf?sequence=3&isAllowed=y

The global impact of e-waste: addressing the challenge. (n.d.). Green Jobs. Retrieved June 1, 2022, from https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@ed_dialogue/@sector/documents/publication/wcms_196105.pdf

Graham, E. (2020, September 29). 10 Shocking facts from The Global E-waste Monitor – S2S News. S2S Electronics. Retrieved June 1, 2022, from https://s2s.uk.com/news/10-shocking-facts-from-the-global-e-waste-monitor/

Tiseo, I. (2021, March 4). • E-waste generation globally by key country 2019. Statista. Retrieved June 1, 2022, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/499952/ewaste-generation-worldwide-by-major-country/ Which Countries Produce the Most E-Waste? (2018, June 25). Envirotech Online. Retrieved June 1, 2022, from https://www.envirotech-online.com/news/health-and-safety/10/breaking-news/which-countries-produce-the-most-e-waste/46470

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Climate Finances – A brief overview

In order to meet the global targets of climate change and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, every member nation requires funds in order to meet the objectives. These funds allocated towards climate change mitigation are called climate finances.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) defined climate finances as those “local, national or transnational financing—drawn from public, private and alternative sources of financing—that seeks to support mitigation and adaptation actions that will address climate change.” (Introduction to Climate Finance, n.d.)

The rationale for climate financing

The primary raison d’etre for climate change financing is that large investments are required in order to reduce global carbon emissions. There are some countries that are economically sound while others that are not so financially sound. However, regardless of financial stability, every country is required to meet the global climate targets of the Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement. This makes it necessary even for the poor countries to make efforts toward climate change mitigation. In order to bridge the economic inequalities between countries, the developed and developing world come together towards equitable reallocation of funds to make investments for climate change mitigation. These funds can be towards developing environmentally sound technologies, initiating policies in countries that address climate change, or even building resilience against climate change.

Green Climate Fund

In order to engage in climate financing at the global level, Green Climate Fund was founded under the aegis of the UNFCCC in 2010. It is a platform established by 194 governments that aim to respond to climate change by investing in low-emission and climate-resilient development. The funds raised by the GCF target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in developing countries by seeking economic aid from developing countries. These funds would not only address the larger goal of climate change but also help in supporting vulnerable and marginalized communities from the impact of climate change.

Commitments made by the developed countries

The industrialized parts of the world have made several commitments toward climate finances. At the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference of 2009, the industrialized countries had committed to mobilizing as of 2020 an additional annual 100 billion US dollars from public and private sources for climate change mitigation and adaptation in developing countries. Similarly at the Paris Conference which led to the Paris Agreement of 2015, developed countries promised to continue to provide 100 billion US dollars per annum until 2025 which has increased further in the recent past owing to the urgency of the climate crisis.

References

(n.d.). Green Climate Fund (GCF). Retrieved May 30, 2022, from https://www.greenclimate.fund/

Climate finance: Germany remains a reliable partner. (n.d.). Climate finance | BMZ. Retrieved May 30, 2022, from https://www.bmz.de/en/development-policy/climate-change-and-development/climate-financing Introduction to Climate Finance. (n.d.). UNFCCC. Retrieved May 30, 2022, from https://unfccc.int/topics/climate-finance/the-big-picture/introduction-to-climate-finance

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What Ghazipur’s Trash-Mountain can Learn from Brazil’s Estructural Dump?

Brazil and India may have their differences, but they are surely similar on one point. While Brazil’s capital had the Estructural dump, India’s capital is home to the Ghazipur trash mountain.

With an increase in population and urbanization, the amount of garbage has also increased over the years across the world. The problem of garbage dumping has risen owing to the lack of infrastructure to meet the disposal needs in comparison to the rate of consumption. In other words, the rate of consumption and waste generation is much higher than the rate of disposal. This slowly paves the way for dumping grounds and trash mountains, the most unpleasant and gloomy sight to watch. It is from such a background that the Ghazipur trash mountain and Brasilia’s Estructural dump came into existence. Of the two, one has been closed and the other continues to grow. It is in light of the same that we need to understand how the story of one dump can help the other to make the environment a better place to live in.

The Estructural dump

The place was known for processing close to 1000 tonnes of garbage per day (BBC, 2018) and was considered the largest dumping site in Latin America. After over 60 years of providing a space for garbage accumulation, it was closed in 2018 by the Government of Brazil with the help of local scavengers.

The entire dump was to be transferred to a new landfill so as to close the open wound of the country. The local government’s idea was to employ local pickers at new centers in warehouses where the accumulated garbage can be segregated for recycling. The initiative primarily sought to provide monetary compensation to all the scavengers who worked in the zone in cleaning up the mess in better working conditions. Though the scavengers of the region were not too happy about the move, considering relocation of the dump would reduce their earnings from scavenging on the garbage, it eventually happened. The entire process provided a source of livelihood for the scavengers in achieving a goal that brings overall benefits to society. By the fag end of the clean-up, many of the scavengers were even given government jobs which unfortunately had generated lesser income for them compared to the scavenging (Boadle, 2018). This move was again not welcomed by the scavengers.

Figure 1: The Estructural dump at Brasilia, Brazil

Source: (BBC, 2018)

Despite criticism faced by the local communities, this is a commendable initiative by the Government toward addressing environmental issues. With Brazil known for its Amazon forest and destruction of the same, this is a laudable effort. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that countries should also respect and take into account the concerns of the public. Brasilia is one example where a policy initiative brought a good result alongside making a few members of the community unhappy. For the reason that members are unhappy, it should not be the sole ground for not taking action toward environmental conservation and protection. In fact, after the closure of the dumping ground, the country has also taken initiatives toward sustainable waste management, making it a role model for other cities to adopt their strategies (Kopsch, 2019). 

India is no exception in taking inspiration from Brazil in clearing dumps, especially the one growing in the heart of the city of Delhi, the Ghazipur trash mountain.

Ghazipur trash-mountain

The Ghazipur center was opened for garbage collection in 1984 and ever since then it has only grown and is probably now as high as the Taj Mahal in Agra. It is called a mountain for it resembles one to a large extent. No tourist can be blamed if they happen to go back to their hometowns and tell their friends and family about the presence of a mountain in a place like Delhi.

It reached its full capacity in 2002 and it ought to have been closed then. Sadly, it has been two decades since then. In addition to the air pollution that looms over the city, the garbage mountain has bestowed Delhi with the title, ‘one of the most polluted capitals’. The garbage produces large amounts of methane and has caught fire on many occasions, the most recent being the three fires that broke out in a month from March to April 2022.

Figure 2: Ghazipur trash mountain on fire

Source: (Dhar, 2022)

One thing Ghazipur can learn from Brazil is to take environmental action to protect and conserve the biodiversity of the planet and the natural resources. There are going to be groups of communities dependent on the trash mountain for their livelihoods. But that cannot be a ground to not clear the dump. Just like how trash accumulated over 60-odd years was cleared in Brazil by involving local residents, the same has to be implemented in Delhi using the support of the government and the public. The cleaning efforts can happen in a phased manner. The efforts should also ensure the locals are provided an alternative source of livelihood with sufficient monetary compensation. With these initiatives, environmental concerns of waste dumping among others can be tackled paving the way for a cleaner and greener Delhi.

References

BBC. (2018, January 20). Huge Brazil rubbish dump closes after six decades. BBC. Retrieved May 21, 2022, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-42757085

Boadle, A. (2018, January 19). Brasilia closes Latin America’s largest rubbish dump. Reuters. Retrieved May 21, 2022, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-brazil-dump-idUSKBN1F82VI

Dhar, A. (2022, April 20). Another major fire breaks out at Delhi’s Ghazipur dumping yard; eight fire tenders at spot. Hindustan Times. Retrieved May 21, 2022, from https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/delhi-news/another-major-fire-breaks-out-at-delhi-s-ghazipur-dumping-yard-eight-fire-tenders-at-spot-101650458592565.html

France-Presse, A. (2019, June 4). Garbage mountain at Delhi’s Ghazipur landfill to rise higher than Taj Mahal by 2020. Hindustan Times. Retrieved May 21, 2022, from https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/garbage-mountain-at-delhi-s-ghazipur-landfill-to-rise-higher-than-taj-mahal-by-2020/story-RC0kwZdUmdHHfDs3rJGngI.html

Kopsch, B. (2019, November 13). Cleaning up Brazil′s waste management | Global Ideas. DW. Retrieved May 21, 2022, from https://www.dw.com/en/cleaning-up-brazils-waste-management/a-51136452

Reeves, P. (2018, January 20). As A Massive Garbage Dump Closes In Brazil, Trash-Pickers Face An Uncertain Future. NPR. Retrieved May 21, 2022, from https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2018/01/20/579105943/as-a-massive-garbage-dump-closes-in-brazil-trash-pickers-face-an-uncertain-futur

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Pallavaram’s Open Dump Cannot Become the Next Trash Mountain

While on one hand, Chennai Corporation has collected an estimated amount of INR 24 lakh from the imposition of penalty on open garbage dumping (The Hindu, 2021), the same entity is ironically a contributor to a growing garbage mound in Pallavaram. This is of serious concern. Chennai has been confronted with the problem of waste management for decades now. Despite initiatives of the Corporation like open dumping penalty and collaborative efforts by tying up with Spanish company Urbaser Sumeet to better manage solid waste, the problem of accumulation of garbage and an overall reduction in waste has not been addressed. Starting with Pallavaram, the pertinent questions are what is the situation in Pallavaram, how did it come to grow as an open dump, and what are steps to be undertaken to clean the same.

The roadblock

Close to 150 metric tonnes of garbage per day is reported to have been dumped along the Pallavaram-Thoraipakkam radial road (MD, 2022). This is how sadly a trash mountain comes into existence. It is even sadder to know that the trash mountain is growing in the middle of a road in an urbanized center that commuters use day in and day out.

It has to be noted that this is not the first time Pallavaram is confronted with this issue. A couple of years ago, garbage was dumped daily on the Thoraipakkam-Pallavaram radial road. This garbage dumped daily on the radial road was shifted to the Vengadamangalam dump yard every week. However, owing to protests from the local residents, it was closed and consequently, garbage began to accumulate on the radial road. The Vengadamangalam dump was closed in the direction of the National Green Tribunal (NGT). In light of the same, the District Collector of Chengalpattu (though Pallavaram now comes under Tambaram jurisdiction) ordered for the garbage to be relocated from the Pallavaram-Thoraipakkam road to Aapur on a daily basis. This initiative, it provided a decent model for waste management whereby the waste is at least not dumped on the road causing a roadblock.

It is unfortunate that the same mistake has repeated itself with the recent dumping at the radial road. It is a breeding ground for diseases and health hazards alongside making the entire environment look unpleasant.

Figure 1 captures the growing garbage mound at Pallavaram. The waste dumped in the region comes largely from the nearby interior locations of Pallavaram and Pallikarnai.

Figure 1: Garbage mound at Pallavaram

Source: Times of India (MD, 2022)

Infrastructural challenges

One of the biggest challenges Pallavaram faces is the lack of infrastructure to segregate garbage and manage the waste. This was the reason why initially the garbage had to be sent to the Vengadamangalam dump. Even though there were promises made to set up incinerators in Pallavaram to manage the waste efficiently, it has not yet come into operation. As of May 2022, according to news reports, activists have voiced that neither segregation is carried out by the Greater Chennai Corporation nor there is sufficient manpower and infrastructure to carry out the same in Pallavaram. These challenges further aggravate the situation in Pallavaram.

What can be done?

Firstly, there must be efforts taken by the State Government to ensure no local district corporations fail in their duty to keep the city clean while discharging their daily functions. Like how penalties are imposed on the residents and local public for dumping garbage in the open, the same must be done at the district level against local authorities in order to bring accountability and transparency to the entire system. Thirdly, the urban local bodies must be entrusted with the task of finding regions to safely discard and dispose of waste. One of the primary root causes of the creation of waste mounds is poor city planning. If cities are well-planned, then the allocation of land resources and other natural resources would be well-distributed. Further, more investments should flow into solid waste management technology. Lastly and most importantly, every person should work towards reducing waste. The state must bring awareness about solid waste management among the public and set targets for reducing the per capita waste generated in the State. From these initiatives, not only will Pallavaram become clean, but the entire State.

References

AHMED, M. (2021, April 28). Pallavaram-Thoraipakkam road dump yard closed for good || Pallavaram-Thoraipakkam road dump yard closed for good. dtnext. Retrieved May 22, 2022, from https://www.dtnext.in/city/2021/04/28/pallavaramthoraipakkam-road-dump-yard-closed-for-good

Chennai Corporation imposes Rs 13.85 lakh fine on those dumping garbage in open | Chennai News – Times of India. (2022, May 6). Times of India. Retrieved May 22, 2022, from https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/chennai-corporation-imposes-rs-13-85-lakh-fine-on-those-dumping-garbage-in-open/articleshow/91376951.cms

The Hindu. (2021, October 27). Chennai Corporation collects ₹26.4 lakh in fines for dumping of garbage, debris in public. The Hindu. https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/chennai-corporation-collects-264-lakh-in-fines-for-dumping-of-garbage-debris-in-public/article37185941.ece MD, O. (2022, May 3). pallavaram: ‘garbage On Pallavaram Radial Road A Health Risk’ | Chennai News – Times of India. Times of India. Retrieved May 22, 2022, from https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/garbage-on-pallavaram-radial-road-a-health-risk/articleshow/91272680.cms

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Impact of Heatwaves in India on Bird Mortality

Climate change has made heat waves a normal event and a household conversation. But, the impact is not just on human health. It has dehydrated and exhausted birds too (Clarke, 2022). In India temperatures across the country have reached close to 49 degrees causing heatwaves in several cities. It has been reported that bird mortality has been on the rise with birds coming down with heat strokes (Carleton, 2022).

Heatwaves and impact on biodiversity

Heatwaves are essentially unusually high temperatures outside of the usual temperature range that last for a few days over a particular region. They are primarily caused by the movement of high atmospheric pressure into an area and winds are almost non-existent making the environment hot. These heat waves have the potential to be fatal to human health as they can dehydrate and change the potassium-sodium ratio of the body, confusing the nervous system and leading to even a stroke (Explained: What Are Heatwaves & How Do They Occur? 2022).

Several reports reveal that the temperatures in India have already risen by 0.7 degrees celsius which is expected to further increase four-fold by 2100. If the temperature continues to rise causing heatwaves in the country, then several regions which are global biodiversity hotspots with numerous endemic species of plants and animals would face a rapid unusual pace of evolutionary adaptability which may threaten their very existence (Aggarwal, 2020).

The impact on biodiversity is thus inevitable in a region. Heatwaves affect the biodiversity of a region. As far as marine life is concerned, warmer waters can change their food habits, and lifestyle and affect the competition that exists between invasive and native species of fish and underwater plants. Furthermore, extreme heat can also cause psychological stress affecting the growth patterns of plants (Macinnis, 2022).

Bird mortality in India

The impact of heatwaves on birds has been on the rise in the northern part of the country in cities like Ahmedabad and Gurgaon. In Gurgaon, hospitals reported an increase of 50 percent in the number of bird patients to the hospital tracing the illness to the heat. In Gujarat, dehydrated and exhausted birds were reported to have fallen from the sky inviting treatment from animal hospitals across the state. Rescuers recorded a ten percent increase in the number of birds rescued amidst the heatwave (Clarke, 2022). The heatwaves have specifically affected the high-flying birds like kites and pigeons. Health officials across the state have advised hospitals to set up wards to particularly treat heat strokes and other illnesses caused due to heat waves both for animals and humans.

Way forward

One of the foremost solutions to tackle the heat is obviously to address the primary challenge of climate change. However, this is a long-term solution. Some of the ways to protect these birds from becoming victims to the heatwave are to keep water on the terrace and veranda for birds to rest and drink water to keep themselves hydrated. Secondly, lesser consumption of air coolers and conditioners can also prevent the heat generated from the appliances from aggravating the heat which inevitably affects the birds. Thirdly, as mentioned earlier, hospitals should be equipped with all the wherewithal needed in order to treat these birds affected by the heat, requiring treatment.

References

Aggarwal, M. (2020, June 23). India’s heatwaves will intensify four-fold by 2100, says its first climate assessment report. Scroll.in. Retrieved May 20, 2022, from https://scroll.in/article/965275/indias-heatwaves-will-intensify-four-fold-by-2100-says-its-first-climate-assessment-report

BirdLife Data Zone. (n.d.). BirdLife Data Zone. Retrieved May 19, 2022, from http://datazone.birdlife.org/sowb/casestudy/catastrophic-bird-mortality-events-will-increrase-during-extreme-heat-waves

Carleton, A. (2022, May 5). India Is Getting So Hot That Birds Are Coming Down With Heatstroke. VICE. Retrieved May 19, 2022, from https://www.vice.com/en/article/qjbyk5/birds-heat-stroke-deadly-heat-wave-india

Clarke, B. (2022, May 12). Dehydrated birds falling from sky in India amid record heatwave. Al Jazeera. Retrieved May 19, 2022, from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/5/12/dehydrated-birds-falling-from-sky-in-india-amid-record-heatwave

Explained: What are heatwaves & how do they occur? (2022, April 30). Hindustan Times. Retrieved May 19, 2022, from https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/explained-what-are-heatwaves-how-do-they-occur-101651295233710.html

Macinnis, C. (2022, January 18). How do heatwaves affect biodiversity? The Big Q. Retrieved May 19, 2022, from https://www.thebigq.org/2022/01/18/how-do-heatwaves-affect-biodiversity/

Wallace, D. (2022, May 17). Opinion | Climate Change Has Made Deadly Heat Waves Normal. The New York Times. Retrieved May 19, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/17/opinion/india-heat-wave-pakistan-climate-change.html

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The Basel Convention

Introduction

The 1980s witnessed a tremendous leap in the global commitments toward environmental protection. One such initiative to counter the problem of environmental dumping, countries adopted the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Waste and their Disposal in 1989, under the mandate of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) (Basel Convention, n.d.). The Convention, named after the location at which it was adopted, came into effect in 1992. Today, 188 member states are parties to the Convention (UNTC, n.d.). The Convention is also supplemented by a Protocol on Liability and Compensation for Damage Resulting from Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes. The Protocol elaborates an already extensive Convention by bringing into action the 13th Principle of the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, which mandates the development of domestic laws regarding liability and compensation for the victims of pollution and other environmental damage, as well as calls for “expeditious” and “determined” cooperation among states to further international law regarding liability and compensation for adverse environmental impacts (Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, 2006). Basel Convention emanated in the backdrop of environmental dumping. Environmental dumping is the act of shipping waste generated from one country to another to get rid of the same. The Convention provides universal guidelines for the transshipment of waste.

The COP and the Secretariat

To enhance the prospect of global exchange of information and cooperation on the matter, Articles 15 and 16 of the Convention establish a ‘Conference of the Parties’ (hereby referred to as COP) and a Secretariat respectively (The Convention > Conference of the Parties > Overview and Mandate, n.d.). The main function of the COP is to oversee implementation of the Convention, the Protocol, and their provisions.  Further, if the need for an amendment to the Convention arises, the party states will have the opportunity to discuss the nature and relevance of the amendment through a COP, and then route the consensus through the Secretariat and incorporate it into the Convention text. Fifteen COPs have been conducted so far, the latest being in July 2021.

Convention

The aim of the Convention is to protect human health and the environment against the adverse effects resulting from the generation, transboundary movements, and management of hazardous wastes and other wastes. It regulates the movements of hazardous wastes and other wastes (toxic, poisonous, explosive, corrosive, flammable, ecotoxic, and infectious wastes) across boundaries and makes it binding on its Parties to ensure that such wastes are managed and disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner. Since the Convention is binding on the parties, each member has an obligation to minimize the quantity of waste generated within their jurisdiction and further treat, transport, and then dispose of the waste to other countries.  The Convention also underwent amendments.

The Amendments to the Convention

The Ban Amendment was introduced to the Convention during the 1994 COP and adopted in 1995. It specifically bans the export of hazardous wastes from three entities, namely the European Union, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and Liechtenstein (a European principality) (Implementation > Legal Matters > Ban Amendment > Overview, n.d.). The amendment mandated so because the mentioned entities collectively contributed to the largest amounts of hazardous waste exports in the world, especially electronic and plastic wastes that led to pollution in receiving states across Africa and Asia. In 2019, the Amendment came into force and became Article 4A of the Convention. In the 14th COP in 2019, the Convention underwent another amendment to expand the scope of hazardous plastic waste (Overview, n.d.).  Titled the “Plastic Waste Amendment,” it came into force on 24 March 2020.

India’s Commitments to Basel

India became a party to the Basel Convention in 1992 itself, and since then, has rallied for various provisions of the Convention as its foreign policy priority. India enacted the Hazardous Waste (Management & Handling) Rules in 1989 under the mandate of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), even before the Basel Convention came into the picture, to regulate the transboundary and internal movement of hazardous wastes. After ratifying the Convention, India upgraded the Hazardous Waste rules in 2000 and 2003, and finally, in 2008, the MoEFCC released the final notification of the Hazardous Waste (Management, Handling, and Transboundary Movement) Rules, in line with the Basel provisions. The 2008 rules were once amended in 2016 as well (CPCB, 2021).

Since the beginning of discussions on the transboundary movement of hazardous waste, India has been a significant voice for developing countries across various Basel COPs, as well as joint COPs for Basel, Stockholm, and Rotterdam Conventions. India’s main arguments on hazardous waste revolve around the opposition to the export of such waste to developing countries (India Sets the Tone at COP Meetings of Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm Conventions Held in Geneva., 2019). India banned the dumping of solid plastic waste into the country and has taken significant steps to phase out the use of single-use plastics as well. The renewed focus of the MoEFCC and other Ministries like Agriculture, Chemicals, and Electronics and Information Technology is on phasing out e-waste dumping in developing countries as well. To that end, India established the 2016 E-Waste Management Rules.

Conclusion

The Convention also addressed the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.  The Convention is a landmark international instrument to regulate and control the transboundary movement of hazardous waste. Its various COPs have yielded significant technical and academic reports that expand our legal and political understanding of waste traffic management in the international arena. The Convention does not cover radiological and nuclear waste material, because it relies on other multilateral and regional arrangements to cover the movement and control of such hazardous wastes. Nonetheless, the provisions of the Convention are essential standards to help in waste management and climate change mitigation.

References

Basel Convention. (n.d.). Cambridge Dictionary | English Dictionary, Translations & Thesaurus. Retrieved May 24, 2022, from https://www.basel.int/Portals/4/Basel%2520Convention/docs/text/BaselConventionText-e.pdf

The Convention > Conference of the Parties > Overview and Mandate. (n.d.). Basel Convention. Retrieved May 24, 2022, from http://www.basel.int/TheConvention/ConferenceoftheParties/OverviewandMandate/tabid/1316/Default.aspx

CPCB. (2021, December 28). CPCB | Central Pollution Control Board. Retrieved May 24, 2022, from https://cpcb.nic.in/rules/

Implementation > Legal Matters > Ban Amendment > Overview. (n.d.). Basel Convention. Retrieved May 24, 2022, from http://www.basel.int/Implementation/LegalMatters/BanAmendment/Overview/tabid/1484/Default.aspx

India sets the tone at COP meetings of Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions held in Geneva. (2019, May 16). Press Information Bureau. Retrieved May 24, 2022, from https://pib.gov.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=190019

Overview. (n.d.). Basel Convention. Retrieved May 24, 2022, from http://www.basel.int/Implementation/Plasticwaste/Amendments/Overview/tabid/8426/Default.aspx

Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. (2006, November 13). Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. Retrieved May 24, 2022, from https://www.cbd.int/doc/ref/rio-declaration.shtml

UNTC. (n.d.). UNTC. Retrieved May 24, 2022, from https://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=XXVII-3&chapter=27

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Wangari Maathai: Environmental Conservation, Women’s Rights and World Peace

Throughout history, women have taken up prominent roles in spearheading environmental activism. Led by Amrita Devi, 363 people lost their lives saving Khejri trees by hugging them. It was their form of peaceful protest against the king’s men who were ordered to axe down the Khejri trees. In central India, Medha Patkar headed the Narmadha Bacho Andholan to give voice to the people who were affected by the Sardar Sarovar dam project. In the late 90s, Julia Butterfly sat on a 180-foot tall California Redwood tree for over two years to guard it against the loggers of a rubber company. The 110-year-old Karnataka woman Saalumarada Thimakka single-handedly planted more than 8000 trees, especially banyan. Today, 19-year-old Greta Thunberg confronts world leaders to give climate change the attention it needs. Innumerable contributions by women are buried unearthed in history under the vice of patriarchy.

In a quintessentially patriarchal setting, from collecting water to gathering fuel and firewood for cooking, women often bear the task of providing nourishment for the family. As primary caretakers, women act as a bridge between nature and the health of their families. Thanks to gender roles, when there’s water scarcity or water pollution in the local well, or difficulty in acquiring fresh herbs or vegetables, women are going to be the first to notice. Natural resource depletion and deterioration, therefore, become their problem to deal with to meet their basic needs.

Kenyan environmental activist Wangari Muta Maathai initiated the Green Belt Movement in Africa which went forth to plant more than 51 million trees across the nation to date. She not only became the first African to receive a Nobel Prize, but it was also the first peace prize given to an activist who was concerned with environmental preservation.

Several scholars and common folk alike were skeptical of the 2004 Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decision to name an environmentalist as a global peacemaker. Conventionally, Peace prizes have always been reserved for people involved in humanitarian action. From Nelson Mandela to Aung San Suu Kyi, peace prize winners were deeply and politically engaged in their struggle for democracy and equality between people.

So how exactly does Wangari Maathai, whose contribution to the community ends with the seemingly non-political practice of planting trees, fit into this narrow category? To this hungry question, Maathai answers in her Nobel acceptance speech, “In this year’s prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has placed the critical issue of environment and its linkage to democracy and peace before the world. For their visionary action, I am profoundly grateful. Recognizing that sustainable development, democracy, and peace are indivisible is an idea whose time has come.”

Acknowledging that environmental deterioration unfairly and systemically marginalizes the women and the poor more than it does an archetypal upper-class man is crucial for challenging inequality amidst people. The United Nations Millenium Development Goals (MDG) lays out its targets for holistic socio-economic and political upliftment. Gender equality and a Sustainable environment are named to be two of the key objectives of MDG. Essentially, Maathai claims that the ties between these three intersectional entities – gender, democracy, and the environment – are intricate.

The Green Belt Movement was purely women-driven. “Tree planting became a natural choice to address some of the initial basic needs identified by women,” says Maathai. From this statement, we can derive that the catalyst for the Green Belt Movement may not solely be rooted in eco-conservation itself. Tree plantations cleared a number of obstacles that African women were facing, especially acquiring food and firewood. Additionally, since tree planting is simple and guarantees successful results within a reasonable time period, Maathai was able to hold the interest and commitment of the local women.

Through their involvement in the movement, several women got to attain financial freedom, and that not only gave them dignity and purpose in the society but also promoted solidarity amidst these women and allowed them to question their agency within the patriarchal setup for the first time.

By also questioning the apathy of a government that deprioritizes the welfare of the women and the poor (since they are the most affected by climate change and resource depletion), Maathai’s movement is a fight for democracy and human rights itself. With time, the tree turned into an emblem for peace and conflict resolution. GBM used these peace trees to reconcile disputing communities during the ethnic conflicts in Kenya as well as during the re-writing of the Constitution to foster cultural peace.

References

  1. Wangari Maathai – Wikipedia
  2. Green Belt Movement – Environmental Justice and Women’s Rights: A Tribute to Wangari Maathai by Mechthild Nagel, SUNY Cortland and IAD fellow, Cornell University
  3. Green Belt Movement – Wikipedia

https://www.open.edu/openlearn/nature-environment/environmental-studies/wangari-maathai-standing-women-and-the-environment

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The Brainy Octopus is a Quick Adapter to Climate Change, But the News is Not as Good as You May Think

Did you know that an octopus has 3 hearts and 9 brains? These mollusks have complex cardiovascular and nervous systems. Two hearts regulate blood to the gills, and the other pumps blood to the rest of its body. One brain is located in the organism’s head, and the others are distributed across its eight arms. This allows each limb to act independently to some extent. Even limbs that are fully detached from the rest of the octopus are reported to show mobility and sense smells and tastes.

With great memory retention, and the capability to navigate mazes and distinguish between even human faces, Octopuses stand their ground as one of the most intelligent species on Earth. Not only can they camouflage by changing colors within spans of milliseconds, but they can also rearrange their body to imitate other fish species or the texture of the rocks they hide among. These truly mind-boggling cephalopods have shown clever adaptability based on their evolving living conditions, and some of these are telltales of the present and future scenarios of the world in terms of climate change. 

With the astronomical amount of garbage that is getting dumped into our oceans and other water bodies, it is no surprise that these artificial, human wastes are infiltrating the living habitats of these octopuses. New studies reveal that several species of these cephalopods are inclining toward taking these discarded human junk like glass bottles, ceramics, metal pipes, plastic pots, beer cans, etc as their shelter. As soft-bodied and flexible organisms that can contort into really small spaces, bottles especially provide them a comfortable environment that additionally provides safety from deep-sea predators.

However, in recent decades, several octopus species, especially the coconut octopus and pygmy octopus, seem to be preferring human waste as their shelter more than their natural counterparts – like seashells. Ironically, the Coconut Octopus was named this way because of their affinity towards using coconut shells as shelter.

Although scientists expected different results, most Octopus seemed to favor glass bottles over any other type of waste as their humble abode. This poses the threat of injury to these soft-bodied creatures if the glass breaks. The biggest menace to the species population itself is that in conditions where human wastes are scarce, these octopuses are recorded to be competing for these artificial shelters. This man-made situation is pushing its limits to a point where only the fittest of the kind can survive.

Similarly, due to the rising temperature of seawater, Octopus vulgaris, typically known as the Common Octopus due to how prevalent they are found in the sea, might become uncommon in the coming boiling years. High ocean temperature is also detrimental to the octopus eggs. These mollusks habitually lay eggs in shallow regions where the temperature is higher than the deep sea. When climate change additionally elevates heat in these regions, the eggs are maturing in a dangerous environment where all conditions aren’t optimal for healthy growth. To combat this challenge, the clever adults swim searching for places with a more appropriate location for egg-laying and hatching, thereby endangering themselves to predators in previously unexplored places.

Ocean suffocation, meaning the startlingly increasing amount of carbon dioxide choking our oceans due to global warming and the growing release of greenhouse gases, leads to ocean acidification. Marine biologist Dr. Kirt Onthank warns “If we continue on the path we are going right now emitted carbon dioxide, by the end of this century, our oceans are going to be two and a half times more acidic than they are right now.” After an initial period of shock, the octopuses under survey – Octopus rubescent Ruby Octopuses – showed remarkable realignment to the conditions within two weeks.

However, what we need to keep in mind (or minds, if you’re an octopus) is that the stride of climate change every year is larger and scarier than the last. Quick adjustments to unexpected change consume immense energy to let them regulate their physiology. The adaptability of such creatures may reach a threshold, after which point they might not be able to keep up with the race.

References

  1. https://theswaddle.com/octopuses-are-using-human-garbage-for-shelter/
  2. Octopuses and climate change with Kirk Onthank – Youtube
  3. https://adapt136.ucsc.edu/taxa/invertebrates/the-common-octopus-may-stop-being-common-due-to-climate-change#:~:text=With%20higher%20temperatures%20due%20to,with%20slight%20changes%20in%20temperatures.
  4. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/01/210113144507.htm
  5. Octopus – Wikipedia
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Mother Nature’s Locus standi Recognised by Madras High Court

Only when there is a right, can one seek remedy. The Latin maxim “ubi jus ibi remedium” is a principle that means that the law provides one remedy when there is a violation of a right. However, the question of whether the environment can have the status of personhood to seek remedy when its rights are violated is a scope of discussion. When environmental resources are destroyed for human benefit, the remedy is often from an anthropocentric angle. For example, if an oil leak happens due to the negligence of a ship in the ocean, the remedy will largely take into account the impact on human life in the region. Victims seeking compensation and clearing the split oil will be two of the most significant burdens placed on the polluter. But, the question remains – does the environment have a locus standi in court?

In a judgment dated 19th April 2022, the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court invoked the principle of “parens patriae jurisdiction” and recognized Mother Nature as a person with rights, duties, and liabilities to protect, preserve and conserve the environment (Madras High Court Grants Mother Nature ‘Living Being’ Status With Rights and Duties, 2022). 

Jurisprudentially, with the ever-growing environmental challenges, recognizing the rights of nature has been a subject of debate across the world. This has resulted in the development of ‘ecocide’ over the years which is soon expected to be introduced into the Roman Statute as a fifth international crime after the genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression. Such is the relevance of the rights of nature. With climate change being a critical issue for this century, there is a need for understanding what the rights of nature are and the importance of recognizing the same in mitigating environmental problems. 

‘Rights of Nature’ movement

It is important to fundamentally change the relationship between humans and the environment for the larger good of the planet which is precisely what the “Rights of Nature” movement does. According to this doctrine, just like how a human has the right to approach a court of law when his/her rights are violated, an ecosystem is entitled to the status of legal personhood with rights which can protect itself by defending in a court of law when harm is caused (Challe, 2021). In several countries, nature has been recognized as a person. An example is a mountain named Mount Taranaki in New Zealand was bestowed with legal personhood status in 2017 (Satish & Satish, 2021). This implies that if the mountain is exploited or damaged for any reason, it has the right to approach a court of law and defend itself. Thus, the rights of nature provide room for nature to exist, flourish, rejuvenate and evolve without human interference. The primary objective of bestowing nature with such rights is to provide the natural environment with the highest level of protection in order to ensure the ecosystem is not disrupted.

But, how exactly does nature go to court and represent itself? When ‘nature’ goes to court, it is represented by a guardian who acts and argues the case on behalf of the environment. This is the principle of parens patriae which the Madras High Court discussed.

What did the Madurai Bench have to say?

The case decided by the Madurai Bench was a common order for two writ petitions filed by the petitioner, A.Periyakaruppan against the respondents the Principal Secretary to Government of Tamilnadu and the Additional Chief Secretary and Commissioner of Revenue Administration seeking for payment of pension which was cut by the respondents as a punishment for the petitioner’s act of giving land deed (pattas) for forest land (A.Periyakaruppan V. Principal Secretary to Government of Tamilnadu & Ors., 2022). In discussing the case, the court identified nature has the right to be represented by the State by the doctrine of “parens patriae jurisdiction” and directed the State and Central governments to undertake initiatives to protect the environment. In the present matter, the court observed that the petitioner, a government official, had failed in duty to take the necessary steps to protect the Government lands. According to the acts done against nature, the court held that sanction must be imposed on the petitioner whereby “compulsory retirement ought to be modified as stoppage of increment for six months without cumulative effect and consequential monetary benefits shall be conferred on the petitioner.” (A.Periyakaruppan V. Principal Secretary to Government of Tamilnadu & Ors., 2022)

This judgment has the potential to pave the way for more judges and judgments to align towards protecting and conserving mother nature. This judicial activism of the courts shows the role of the judiciary in hastening the process of environmental conservation. When more issues are addressed from the perspective of the environment, it becomes easier to bring forth accountability and proactivism towards climate change mitigation for after all mitigation measures are collective efforts of humankind.

References

A.Periyakaruppan v. Principal Secretary to Government of Tamilnadu & Ors. (2022, April 19). Live Law. Retrieved May 15, 2022, from https://www.livelaw.in/pdf_upload/mother-nature-416320.pdf

Challe, T. (2021, April 22). The Rights of Nature — Can an Ecosystem Bear Legal Rights? State of the Planet. Retrieved May 15, 2022, from https://news.climate.columbia.edu/2021/04/22/rights-of-nature-lawsuits/

Kalia, S., Naraharisetty, R., & Rakshit, D. (2022, May 2). Madras HC Grants Nature ‘Living Being’ Status, Noting Its Legal Rights. The Swaddle. Retrieved May 15, 2022, from https://theswaddle.com/madras-hc-grants-nature-living-being-status-noting-its-legal-rights/

Madras High Court grants mother nature ‘living being’ status with rights and duties. (2022, May 1). The Indian Express. Retrieved May 15, 2022, from https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/chennai/madras-high-court-grants-mother-nature-living-being-status-with-rights-and-duties-7895543/

Satish, K., & Satish, H. (2021, September 6). Nature’s locus standi: Taking the Environment to Court – The FinReg Blog. Duke Law Sites. Retrieved May 15, 2022, from https://sites.law.duke.edu/thefinregblog/2021/09/06/natures-locus-standi-taking-the-environment-to-court/ Surma, K., & Gross, L. (2022, May 4). Indian Court Rules That Nature Has Legal Status on Par With Humans—and That Humans Are Required to Protect It. Inside Climate News. Retrieved May 15, 2022, from https://insideclimatenews.org/news/04052022/india-rights-of-nature/

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How can Biodiversity Parks help in Urban Green Recovery?

With cities ever-expanding, rivers, lakes, and floodplains within urban stretches are encroached upon leading to the destruction of the water body and its biodiversity. This is a growing concern and in order to rehabilitate and restore such regions, biodiversity parks can be established to bring a balance between economic development and environmental conservation. 

Conceptualizing a biodiversity park

The Delhi Development Authority (DDA) is an agency of the Government that is responsible for authorizing, planning, developing, and monitoring land-owning, land management, and development projects in the city. In 2012, the DDA and the Centre for Environmental Management of Degraded Ecosystems (CEMDE) of the University of Delhi collaborated with a team of scientists under the guidance of Professor C.R. Babu to develop Biodiversity Parks.

Biodiversity parks are a holistic methodology developed by the DDA to rejuvenate rivers and restore their water quality, volume, and floodplain (Singh & Rosencranz, 2022). It usually works with a three-stage action plan which includes restoring the urban water bodies, bioremediation the wastewater, and using the land adjacent to the waterbody to clean and store floodwater. These efforts will not only help in reviving the biodiversity but also aid in keeping the floodplains and waters clean. In the long run, this initiative can help recharge the groundwater and also ensure that there is a sufficient supply of water throughout the year. Essentially biodiversity parks, with the benefits they offer, will create a self-sustaining ecosystem which will further pave the way for improving the urban environment. (Kumar & Sinha, 2015)

There are 6 biodiversity parks developed across Delhi namely – (i) Yamuna Biodiversity Park, (ii) Aravalli Biodiversity Park, (iii) Neela Hauz Biodiversity Park, (iv) Northern Ridge (Kamla Nehru Ridge), (v) Tilpath Valley Biodiversity Park and (vi) Tughlaqabad Biodiversity Park. (Biodiversity Parks: Examples of Innovation and Best Practices for Biodiversity Conservation Centre for Environmental Manageme, n.d.). Among these 6 parks, the pilot project was the Yamuna Biodiversity Park which has significantly helped in rejuvenating the floodplains.

Components of a biodiversity park

Biodiversity includes flora and fauna and all the other living species of the region. A biodiversity park can consist of a “nature conservation zone that has terrestrial biological communities, and a mosaic of wetlands interspersed with grasslands all of which represent the natural heritage.” (Kumar & Sinha, 2015). Further, the parks can also include botanical gardens, herbal gardens, and conservatories to house threatened species of plants in the region. This way a biodiversity park can hasten the process of rejuvenation of the urban water bodies.

In October 2020, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change published an extensive guideline for setting up biodiversity parks across rivers in India including River Ganga. The guideline was a result of the order passed by the Principal Bench National Green Tribunal (NGT) dated 14th May 2019 which recognized the environmental objectives of biodiversity parks and directed the CPCB and MoEFCC to delineate the approach to be adopted to set up biodiversity across India using the Delhi model and provide a framework for stakeholders to design such parks in urbanized locations. Biodiversity parks come under the forest ministry and thus, the development of parks can add to the forest cover and render multiple services including “carbon sequestration, recharge of groundwater aquifers and educational as well as recreational benefits to the urban society” (Concept of Biodiversity Parks, 2021).

Aravalli Biodiversity Park: A success project

On the occasion of World Wetlands Day, 2022, the Aravalli Biodiversity Park was declared India’s first “other effective area-based conservation measures” (OECM) site (Kumar & Roy, 2022). This shows the success and potential benefits of a biodiversity park.

Aravalli Biodiversity Park is located in Gurugram spread across 390 acres and is home to approximately 300 native plants, 101,000 trees, 43,000 shrubs, and several species of birds. It was initially a barren mining site that was transformed into an urban green cover with the help of the Biodiversity Park initiative by the Government. Other organizations also lent their support towards protecting and preserving the ecology of the Aravalli considering it is the lungs of the Delhi-NCR region providing up to 7.07% of the oxygen required (Kumar & Roy, 2022).

With the example set by the Aravalli Biodiversity Park, biodiversity parks have ecological implications that can bring back flora and fauna into the urban infrastructure paving the way for greener and cleaner cities.

References

Biodiversity Parks: Examples of Innovation and Best Practices for Biodiversity Conservation Centre for Environmental Manageme. (n.d.). Delhi University. Retrieved May 3, 2022, from http://du.ac.in/uploads/06032018_Biodiversity_Parks.pdf

Concept of Biodiversity parks. (2021, July 14). DDA. Retrieved May 3, 2022, from https://dda.gov.in/concept-biodiversity-parks

Kumar, V., & Roy, S. (2022, February 3). Aravalli Biodiversity Park in Gurugram declared as India’s first OECM site. Hindustan Times. Retrieved May 3, 2022, from https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/gurugram-news/aravalli-biodiversity-park-in-gurugram-declared-as-india-s-first-oecm-site-101643834401345.html

Kumar, V., & Sinha, R. (2015). Biodiversity Park: An innovative approach for conservation and protection of natural heritage. The Biobrio. Retrieved May 3, 2022, from http://www.thebiobrio.in/contentj/3_%20Biodiversity_Park.pdf Singh, G., & Rosencranz, A. (2022, April 29). Urban floodplains must become biodiversity parks. Retrieved May 3, 2022, from https://www-deccanherald-com.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/www.deccanherald.com/amp/opinion/urban-floodplains-must-become-biodiversity-parks-1105153.html

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The Science of Biomimicry

India enters summer and has been recording one of the highest temperatures in decades across cities. Whether ice-creams are part of the day or not, air conditioners have become indispensable. Sadly, air conditioners are one of the most unsustainable innovations of humankind for they emit ozone-depleting substances into the atmosphere. Though air conditioners may temporarily relieve us of the heat, in the long run we are warming the planet every time we switch it on.

We as a species, the homo sapiens, have over centuries learned the art of protecting ourselves at the cost of the environment which has inevitably led to climate change and us acquiring, in the words of Richard Dawkins, the ‘selfish gene’. This raises a curious question: how do other animals that have lived on this planet humans have exploited for years, counter the heat? How do termites fight the heat in the desert in their mounds and how do giraffes not sweat despite living in warm and arid regions of the globe? If we throw our minds into understanding how nature works, we will learn to protect ourselves and nature, without compromising one for another, paving the way for sustainable living.

Nature is a tool for human development and taking inspiration from nature enables the establishment of a balanced relationship. One such way to bring sustainable development is by adopting the science of biomimicry.

Biomimicry: Imitating nature

Mimicking ideas from our environment through engineering creates a medium to resolve human needs in a sustainable and nature-friendly manner. Such technology that comes into existence by learning and copying natural processes is called biomimicry. For example, the spider’s web-spinning method is nature’s way to deter collisions and the spider’s technique can be used by man to spin silk and other materials.

Architecture from the 6th and 7th centuries are probably some of the olden day examples wherein biomimicry was used. Much of the rock sculptures and wood carvings present today from centuries ago incorporate natural beauty into the structures. The interiors at the Gloucester Cathedral in the United Kingdom represent rib-like structures that were inspired by tree forms. Similarly, the columns of the Temple of Luxor in Egypt are inspired by the buds of a papyrus tree. The pillars of the rock-cut caves of Aurangabad, India take inspiration from lotus.  However, much of the architecture took only inspiration from nature in terms of the design but did not consciously aim to incorporate the sustainable processes. Nevertheless, the fact that architectural designs had a component of natural beauty shows that the aspect of biomimicry has been existent for long enough.

One of the earliest human inventions through biomimicry was velcro, developed by Swiss engineer George de Mestral in 1941 which was inspired by burrs clinging to his trousers while going out on a walk in the woods. (Elakhya, n.d.) Biomimicry scientists with the present advancements in technology and engineering are constantly looking for materials and mechanics that nature has adopted in order to build products and machines for meeting human needs.

Some of the recent innovations using biomimicry include air-cleaning equipment inspired by marine creatures developed by Tunghai University in Taiwan; a coastal defense system based on tide pools and oyster beds by Israel’s Tel-Aviv University and a mosquito controlling device by Cornell University (Banchariya, 2020). India too has joined the race and the Indian Institute of Technologies offer courses to bring more specialized engineers into this science.

Nature teaches sustainability

Today, a large number of industries, companies, and organizations have taken interest in biomimicry to research natural processes not only for its designs, but also for innovating eco-friendly technology to do away with unsustainable practices and bring forth a paradigm shift to promote sustainable mechanics that provide solutions for better products, recycling, and economic systems (Bonime, 2020).

Some of the modern technologies like the Japanese Bullet train, on account of creating noise pollution, were redesigned by engineers by replacing the nose of the train to resemble the beak of a Kingfisher which helps the birds dive into water silently. Similarly, PowerCone Wind Turbines looked at maple tree seeds to design better airflow. Likewise, many technological advancements have taken place over the years consciously or unconsciously by looking at how natural ecosystems function. Instead of just using biomimicry to bring about innovations based on design and appearance, it can be used to specifically target sustainability and environmental protection that can help in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals of 2030. With the field of biomimicry entering mainstream science, it has prospects to ensure conscious efforts are undertaken to bring man and nature closer and bring sufficient harmony between economic development and environmental conservation. 

Biomimicry is not a product, but a process that seeks to emulate and imitate nature’s forms and ecosystem. Instead of air conditioners, if we can seek to develop a technology that uses the termite’s technique to keep ourselves cool during summers, nothing more would be sustainable than that. 

References

Banchariya, S. (2020, August 18). Biomimicry can be the road to sustainable development. Times of India. Retrieved May 6, 2022, from https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/education/news/biomimicry-can-be-the-road-to-sustainable-development/articleshow/77608721.cms

Bonime, W. (2020, July 12). Biomimicry: Using Nature’s Perfect Innovation Systems To Design The Future. Forbes. Retrieved May 6, 2022, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/westernbonime/2020/07/12/biomimicry-using-natures-perfect–innovation-systems-to-design-the-future/?sh=1e193cb4174e

Carlson, R. (2016, May 4). From an “aha” moment to a thriving network: A look at Biomimicry India – Biomimicry Institute. The Biomimicry Institute. Retrieved May 6, 2022, from https://biomimicry.org/blog-biomimicry-india/

Elakhya, N. (n.d.). Biomimicry – Better Ideas Inspired By Nature – Lavasa. EcoIdeaz. Retrieved May 6, 2022, from https://www.ecoideaz.com/innovative-green-ideas/biomimicry-better-ideas-inspired-nature

Sharma, A. (n.d.). 15 Instances of Biomimicry In Ancient Architecture. RTF | Rethinking The Future. Retrieved May 6, 2022, from https://www.re-thinkingthefuture.com/rtf-fresh-perspectives/a950-15-instances-of-biomimicry-in-ancient-architecture/

20 Incredible Ways Animals Keep Cool. (n.d.). The Air Conditioning Company. Retrieved May 6, 2022, from https://www.airconco.com/news/20-incredible-ways-animals-keep-cool/What is Biomimicry? (n.d.). Biomimicry 3.8. Retrieved May 6, 2022, from https://biomimicry.net/what-is-biomimicry/

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Adaptive Reuse: A Path to Sustainability

It is possible that we might have heard engineers suggest refurbishing a shelf in a room using discarded wood from other furniture. It essentially promotes the idea of recycling. But this very same technique can be extended to the field of architecture wherein buildings can be entirely transformed from one purpose to another with minimal modifications. This method of reusing and repurposing in the field of architecture is called adaptive reuse or building reuse wherein old buildings are repurposed for a use other than for which it was originally built or designed. Adaptive reuse is a prospective field of study in terms of sustainability and circular economy.

To cite an illustration, we can take the example of Switzerland. Back in the 1940s, fearing Nazi invasion of the country, the Government built several underground bunkers for military use. Even today there are more than 20,000 bunkers that are spread across the region (Shahrestani, 2022). Many of these bunkers have over decades been transformed into residences and restaurants. This is adaptive reuse. The benefits emanating from such modifications for commercial use include economic, cultural, and ecological benefits. It provides a source of income, helps in the preservation of cultural and historical heritage, and also adopts an eco-friendly developmental approach that reduces the dependence on the extraction of virgin materials.

Sustainable architecture

Architecture requires the need for constructions, born out of it, to be strong and durable. But, building such an architecture consumes a large amount of energy, contributing to the existing environmental concerns. It becomes even more polluting and environmentally destructive when an old building needs to be demolished to sand and dust. However, when an old building is redesigned, modified, and repurposed, it consumes a lesser amount of energy and raw material. With carbon emissions also cut down, it acts as an attractive alternative for new constructions. It does take creativity to find new purposes for existing constructions, but the benefits arising from the technique can aid in fighting the climate crisis by providing a path to building a circular economy and in achieving sustainable development. 

Advantages of adaptive reuse

As mentioned above, adaptive reuse has economic, social, and ecological benefits. Since adaptive reuse is based on reusing and recycling materials, the process is cost-efficient. It saves on demolition costs, labor charges, and costs involved in procuring virgin raw materials. Secondly, the adaptive reuse technique also helps in preserving cultural heritage, especially in areas rich in historical buildings. The original architecture and culture can be preserved by making minor latent changes. In Switzerland, the bunkers are not only valued for their commercial earnings but also are known for their role in history. In fact, it is by virtue of their association with the past that also attracts tourists and travelers. Further, they also help speed up the entire construction process owing to no structural changes to be incorporated while repurposing the building. Thirdly, by slowing down ‘urban sprawl’ it reduces environmental destruction and exploitation of natural resources. Urban sprawl refers to rapid urbanization which involves procuring new lands for expanding cities to meet the demands of population growth. In other words, since it largely relies on used raw materials, it dramatically impacts the environment and prevents over-dependence on virgin materials.

The Indian jugaad

As a country, we have always managed to find multiple purposes for a single object which over the years has become a separate field of innovation called the Indian jugaad. Jugaad is a generic term applicable to any frugal innovation or engineering. This concept can be extrapolated to the field of architecture since India has its own set of records in adaptive reuse. The reason why India is rich in these adaptive reuse methods can be attributed to the rich cultural heritage and history of the country.

Some of the earliest buildings which adopted adaptive reuse were the grand palaces of Rajasthan. The Neemrana Fort built in the 15th century was converted into a luxury hotel in the 1990s (Sinha, 2019). Many such palaces which were once residences of kings, queens, and nizams, are now transformed into museums, restaurants, and hotels. The chain of luxury hotels owned by the Tata Group, the Taj Hotel, has established its hotels across the country in locations that were palaces earlier. One such palace-turned-hotel restored and owned by the Tata Group is the Taj Lake Palace at Udaipur, which once belonged to Maharana Jagat Singh, in 1746. Similarly, in Delhi, Haveli Dharampura, more than 200 years old was restored and is now a luxury heritage hotel (Sinha, 2019).

Thus, adaptive reuse has several prospects in bringing collective benefit to society. With India having adequate infrastructure and knowledge in this area, it can help meet the global targets of climate change and build a circular economy. The Budget 2022 had also highlighted the need for transforming into a circular economy, and addressing infrastructural projects to adopt adaptive reuse methodologies can help in achieving the same without compromising on economic development.

References

Baldwin, E. (2021, November 2). Adaptive Reuse: Rethinking Carbon, Sustainability and Social Justice. ArchDaily. Retrieved May 8, 2022, from https://www.archdaily.com/971194/adaptive-reuse-rethinking-carbon-sustainability-and-social-justice

Experience Royalty at Heritage Palace Hotels in India – Travel Inspiration | Taj Holidays. (n.d.). Taj Hotels. Retrieved May 8, 2022, from https://www.tajhotels.com/en-in/blog/travel-inspiration/experience-royalty-at-heritage-palace-hotels-in-india/

Shahrestani, V. (2022, April 5). 16 haunting pictures of Switzerland’s secret bunkers. Time Out. Retrieved May 8, 2022, from https://www.timeout.com/switzerland/things-to-do/swiss-bunkers-tours-and-museums

Sinha, D. (2019, December 7). Check out breathtaking examples of adaptive reuse in five Indian cities. Hindustan Times. https://www.hindustantimes.com/art-and-culture/check-out-breathtaking-examples-of-adaptive-reuse-in-five-indian-cities/story-AuXRN4ydcDyvOEF4FFEDrK.html

What Is Adaptive Reuse Architecture and Why It’s Important – 2022. (2020, November 8). MasterClass. Retrieved May 8, 2022, from https://www.masterclass.com/articles/adaptive-reuse-architecture-guide#how-does-adaptive-reuse-work

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Cows and Pigs have no Wings …

P G Wodehouse was an English author and one of the most read humorists of the 20th century. His book ‘Pigs have Wings’ was a classic and in a hilarious set of plots, his pet pig named ‘Empress of Blandings’ wins the first prize in the ‘Fat Pigs’ category and was a much loved and an adored pig …………..Moving from fiction to reality, the world’s farmers now annually raise roughly 1.7 billion cows and buffalo, 1 billion pigs, 2.2 billion sheep and goats, and 61 billion chickens, and use more than 3 billion hectares of pastureland and hundreds of millions of hectares of cropland to do so.

Indeed, cows, pigs and chickens have no wings to fly away from slaughter!

The real food-gap:

As our population crosses 9 billion by 2050, overall food demand is expected to increase by more than 50%. Simply increasing land usage to produce additional food is not sustainable as deforestation is most destructive to the environment. Most of the land cleared for agriculture (in the tropics) does not contribute much to the world’s food security but is instead used to produce cattle, soybeans for livestock (cattle, sheep, and goats), timber, and palm oil. Another important factor is the increased prosperity of people across the world especially India and China increasing the demand for higher meat, eggs, and dairy consumption.

We are in a catch-22 situation to close the food-gap we need to achieve the almost impossible :

  1. increase food production without increasing agricultural land and
  2. reduce growth in demand for food and other agricultural products

Shifting to more sustainable diets :

Around the world and in India, diets are increasingly more processed foods, refined carbohydrates, added sugars, fats, and animal-based foods. As people become richer, they are looking to eat more dairy and meat and convenient access to food outside the home encourages ‘fast food’. The per capita consumption of beans and other pulses, vegetables, coarse grains, and fiber is declining.

This is creating the following challenges:

  1. Consumption of meat, poultry, pork, farmed fish, and dairy are by far the most resource intensive food requiring more land, water and generating more green-house gas emissions when compared to pulses, staple crops, fruits, vegetables, and vegetable oils.
  2. Most people also consume more protein than they need, while the average daily protein requirement is around 50 grams per day, its consumption is around 71 grams/day and expected to increase resulting in an over consumption of protein from animal-based foods

Meat from beef, sheep, and goat is by far the most resource-intensive food (needs more land and water to grow). Meat requires over 20 times more land and generates over 20 times more GHG emissions than pulses per gram of protein. Relative to dairy, it requires four to six times more land and generates four to six times more GHG emissions per calorie or gram of protein ultimately consumed by people.

Water-footprint of plant and animal based foods:

The table below shows the water consumption between diary,animal and plant based foods . Beef,fish,sheep and goat consume highest water . Nuts (Pistachios,almonds,walnuts,cashews) require more water and deplete ground water fast and dairy,pork and poultry need a lot of water not only for feeding and growing ,but clean-up of facilities and handling of waste water.

Social concerns on treatment of animals :

The livestock sector in India has grown over 8% in the last five years with dairy the single largest agri-commodity in India contributing to 5% of GDP employing around 80 million dairy farmers directly . Industrial beef, pig and poultry farming is one of the most profitable livestock business and a lot has been written around the poor treatment of farm animals that are reared for slaughter. More recently McDonalds, the fast food giant was sued for sourcing bacon and pork products from suppliers who continue with a practice of using crates to house pregnant pigs so they cannot move.

Factory farming is the main cause of animal suffering and government supported meat-reduction strategies are required that enable farmers reduce animal stocking densities and move to free-range organic farming such as cage-free pigs, hens, grass-fed cows and avoiding use of antibiotics for their growth and disease prevention.

Gold Rush in Cow manure and poultry droppings :

Old-fashioned animal manure is now a hot commodity due to a global shortage of commercial fertilizers made worse by the Russia-Ukraine war (with Russia being a major Potash producer- a key ingredient in producing nitrogen fertilizer). Apart from being used as fertilizer, usage of cow manure for biogas is gaining popularity.

Cow manure is flushed out from the cow farms into a covered lagoon called as a digester, and the emitted raw biogas which has over 60% of methane is collected and piped to a central facility that collects biogas from all dairy farms in that area and purified, sent to the local utility pipelines. India is planning to build 5000 bio-plants by early next year to offset demand for natural gas.

In Conclusion:

Agricultural waste from poultry, cow and pig farms result in too much of nitrogen and phosphorus entering the environment and damaging the quality of groundwater , reducing oxygen in the water, killing aquatic life as well as causing gastrointestinal illnesses , skin reactions and neurological effects in people.

Even if India and the developing world were to reduce meat consumption in the coming decade, the demand for global meat consumption is expected to grow 32% by 2050 due to the sheer growing population. Hence several strategies can be tried out by consumers : Consciously balance protein and meat consumption with plant-based foods , explore alternate plant-based protein foods and be aware of the health risks associated with red meat. Strict guidelines around industrial farming with animal waste management plans and usage of biofuels such as biogas from decomposing animal manure can go a long way in making our food more sustainable from the farm to our plate and saving water for our thirsty population.

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Cloud Seeding: Seeding New Hope for Positive Environmental Action

In our favorite superhero universes, the capacity to control nature is an overpowering theme. Marvel character Storm was powerful enough to conjure fogs, tornadoes, and even mighty foods. The Varuna Yajna is a popularly performed ritual in India to appease the Rain Gods during extreme conditions of famine or drought. Rishis and priests immersed themselves in water and chanted mantras, urging the gods to show sympathy. The importance of rain for the well-being of a society is very evident in how most cultures have a similar spiritual practices. When Udupi faced a heartless rainless streak in 2019, the locals conducted a marriage between two frogs to invite the rains. But did you know that humans have found a way to control and manipulate even rainfall with the assistance of modern science?

The technique is called Cloud Seeding. Although the procedure cannot ‘create’ rain, it can help in the enhancement of natural precipitation. Clouds are basically water droplets or ice crystals floating in the sky. These droplets are too tiny to fall as rain but are big enough to form clouds that are visible to the naked eye. When they find a particle of dust or smoke, the droplets collide together and form a blob around it. The particle is known as the ‘condensation nuclei.’ What ‘cloud seeding’ does is introduce more of these particles that these droplets can latch onto, and eventually pour down as rainfall or snowfall.

The primary seeding agent used in this process is silver iodide. This is majorly due to the closeness of silver iodide to the hexagonal structure of ice. Dry ice (solid carbon dioxide) and simple salts like sodium chloride are other common seeding agents. The seeding agent is presented in the desired region through pyrotechnic flares attached to aircraft, and it performs its job of catalyzing more collisions and groupings.

We are well aware that mindless human intervention is driving us towards an unavoidable climate crisis. However, “If human activities could change the climate, why not change it on purpose, to suit us better?” says one article released by the American Institute of Physics.

The first instance of cloud seeding can be traced back to 1946 when scientists at General Electric, America effectively seeded clouds with dry ice and witnessed the first-ever artificially induced snowfall. Presently, about 56 countries across the globe have cloud seeding programs working actively, including India.

In December 2021, China employed cloud seeding in its capital city Beijing to assure quiet and rainless weather on the day of the centenary celebration of its ruling party. Hydropower organizations incorporate this technique to acquire more snowfall in winter since it would facilitate more runoff during spring and that in turn aids in the production of hydroelectricity. Some wineries have begun using seeding agents to protect their vineyards from heavy hailstorms. Variations of cloud seeding have forever been used for storm and hurricane prevention.

Historically, we have more handy examples of climate modification by humans for greed and evil than for the betterment of the world. In Actor Suriya’s movie Kaappaan, we see geoscience used to initiate what is essentially a biowar. A locus attack is executed on crop fields to destroy the hard-earned yield of the farmers. The attacking party also cleverly makes sure the locusts do not increase their population and spread uncontrollably by selectively sending only male insects, thereby putting a cap on reproduction. From bug bombs to purposefully contaminating water or spiking food, our world’s history is a cesspit of countries trying to eliminate their enemies by slightly modifying the course of nature in warzones. To restrain further investment of human beings in warfare, Climatological modification in warfare has been banned by the UN.

However, how eco-conscious is the concept of climate modification, even if it uplifts and depollutes the environment? When posed with the question, Dr. Emmanuel DiLorenzo, Professor, and Director at Georgia Tech call climate modification an equivalent to taking a climate pill. He argues that a patient who has cholesterol has two options they could adopt: either changing their lifestyle healthier to prevent cholesterol or taking an anti-cholesterol pill to control their illness. They are more likely to take the pill, and so is humanity’s approach to climate change. Artificial weather modification counters the damaging effects of climate change without removing the root cause itself. But it might be too late for humanity to adopt an entirely new lifestyle, so artificial climate modification is a more viable option at present. Most scientists agree that climate modification is progressive and sound science, and will relieve us from the woes of climate change when used consciously.

References

  1. Weather Modification – Wikipedia
  2. What is seed clouding? – india.mongabay.com
  3. How One Country ‘Modified’ Its Weather to Create Artificial Rain and Lower Pollution – theswaddle.com
  4. Climate Modification: Good or Bad? – The Weather Channel
  5. Climate Modification Schemes – history.aip.org
  6. Brief history of insects in entomological warfare – entomologytoday.org
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The Worrying Space Case: How is Space Junk affecting us?

We no longer only litter and pollute our land, water, and air. The human way of exploiting our surroundings has reached a new height, literally, as we have transcended beyond earthly boundaries and are invading Space itself.

Launched in 1957 by the Soviet Union, Sputnik 1 was the first successful artificial satellite to orbit around the Earth. Subsequently, the United States and the Soviet Union, the two Cold War rivals, immersed in an elaborate space race to establish dominion over the other. The space race effectively ended a few years after the United States’ successful landing on the moon in 1969 and the Soviets incurring four failed moon-landing attempts in the years following this. Sixty years since Sputnik 1, humanity has bowled numerous spacecraft and rockets into the vast expanse of space enveloping our earth.

The status quo of space junk according to The World Economic Forum is that 6,000 satellites are presently orbiting our planet, of which 3,600 are dysfunctional or dead. These statistics lead us to the jarring realization that more than half of the satellites lodged around the Earth are space junk. At present, thousands of tiny screws and nuts to broken parts from collisions or explosions to enormous, complete satellites that are no longer in use traverse the realm of our Space as debris. 

Reports show that about a thousand satellites will be dispatched into space per year in this decade. This number is four times that of the previous decade and is bound to keep increasing in the future. When it comes to the generation of debris of any kind, the more is never the merrier option. The more man-made space projects and ventures, the more space debris we are generating. Researchers predict that the Earth might soon have rings made of space junk orbiting around it like the planetary dust rings of Saturn. In short, we humans are preparing for a self-induced war that we do not stand a chance at winning.

Ron Garen, who worked on the International Space Station for 6 months has observed the beauty of life the way most others can only dream about. He records that the Earth is a truly stunning sight with all its diverse sweeps of terrains and forests, snow-capped mountains, vast blue seas, as well as the evidence of human existence in the actively twinkling cities during the night. “Because our planet is surrounded by this cloud of space debris,” he says, space pollution is developing an unprecedented impediment in observing the earth from space and vice versa. Space junk reflecting sunlight is proving to be a major hindrance in the day-to-day study of astronomers.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s milestone ‘trip’ to Space in 2021 is certainly the first of many such travel expeditions to come by. The giant space stations, space travel, tourism and entertainment zones, and even space civilizations are no longer only absurd imaginations from the pages of your sci-fi novels. Considering the direction we are headed in terms of astronomical and space exploration, these might become very normal and quintessential parts of human life that nobody questions, like how mobile phones did not exist a century ago but have become integral parts of our life in the 21st century. The more commercialization and privatization that Space undergoes, the more profit-oriented the scenario is going to be, and a new kind of ‘space race’ is doomed to take over. become and the more space junk we are bound to create.

But why does space junk matter so much? How much can these floating metals that are miles away affect us? Major Paul Land gives us the answer with his warning that “Everyone here should care about what’s going on with space objects and space debris,” because humans largely rely on technology more than anything else nowadays. If a satellite incurs damage due to fast-moving space debris (They can reach up to 29,000 kilometers per hour.) which is hardly even the size of a bolt, any technology-dependent system like ATM withdrawals to GPS tracking internet usage might completely crash. Damage to satellites is a threat to the use of technology itself.

Or worse, the increasing Space pollution might trigger a domino effect of space junk collisions that will increase the density of unwanted litter around the planet, making Earth’s orbit basically unusable to satellites.

Trey Livingston, an Orbital Space Analyst states to our shock that “Even a piece of debris the size of a small screw could destroy a Space Station. You can think of a two-centimeter ball bearing up in space, traveling at 17,000 miles per hour. That force is equivalent to a Jeep Wrangler traveling at 70 miles per hour.”

The adverse threat that space junk poses to our livelihood is only now beginning to get attention in serious discourses. Scientists have started sending space whips to jolt debris out of the Earth’s orbit using giant magnets, nets, and harpoons, as well as working on obliterating space junk with the help of Earth’s atmosphere. Japanese space scientists are trying their hand at constructing the world’s first wooden satellite. However, the noose is tightening ever so slightly every single day. To ensure that we do not damage our Space beyond repair, we can no longer afford to be ignorant of space pollution and its impacts. The world’s nations need to roll up their sleeves and act on resolving this issue immediately.

References

  1. “Space is not a trash can,” says scientist about worsening debris problem – The Swaddle
  2. Space Junk Around the Earth – DCODE by Discovery
  3. space.com
  4. Space Race – Wikipedia
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Green Weddings: The Zero-Waste Trend that Couples Need to Hop on

As a country known for its elaborate festivities and celebrations, India’s obsession with big, fat, and extravagant weddings does not come as a surprise. The Bollywood union of Alia Bhatt and Ranbir Kapoor has flooded social media platforms and will continue to be romanticized until the next big thing. With wedding planners and consultancy firms that take into their own hand several tasks – like booking venues, hotels, decor and furniture, hiring professionals like DJs, photographers and videographers, caterers, florists, make-up and hair stylists, etc – many have had their fairytale fantasies precisely come to life on their big day.

However, underneath the laughter and tears of a wedding scene, the enormity of these celebrations comes at a massive cost. An average Desi wedding produces about 300 kilograms of plastic waste and 200 kilograms of food waste. As the renowned comic Rohan Chakravarty puts it in his comic strip,  instead of a bride and a groom, we could indeed imagine two huge landfills tying the knot.

It is estimated that more than 10 million weddings happen in India every year, each occurring over a stretch of three to five days. With the industry growing annually at a startling rate of 30%, we humans are not prepared to deal with the tricky issue of waste disposal. The biggest concern with the wastes generated at weddings is that they are in the form of “Mixed garbage.” The term Mixed garbage is used to refer to the inseparable clump of garbage that includes cutlery, paper, foil, and wet food waste all mixed together, which makes reusing and recycling an impossible task.

The large quantities of waste generated also leave a massive carbon footprint on the earth. One wedding might seem too small to drive a significant change in our environment, but the cumulative effect of all the weddings that occur over a year added together substantially accelerates global warming and climate change.

Having said that, today’s eco-conscious millennials are emerging as a new ray of hope for the environment. With greater awareness of the role of humans in climate decline, many millennials are opting for a minimalist wedding which proves to go easy on their wallets as well. A young couple, Dadawala and Aravind, took an oath to make their marriage waste-free and green. They were able to divert over 900 kilograms of waste from landfills due to their efforts and directed 710 kilograms of wet waste for bio-methanation at Carbon Masters India Pvt Ltd. It only takes a little extra effort to pull off a green wedding.

The first step in arranging a wedding is the distribution of invitations. Instead of printing out a multi-page invitation, you could opt for a minimal one-page invite. An even better option is creating an e-invite. You could splash around with a variety of colors, explore a range of designs and animations and make it personal. More couples today are leaning towards intimate weddings, inviting only close relatives and friends. You could likewise limit the count of your guests, and conduct a virtual live stream of the event to the remaining guests. This will ultimately reduce the wastage that your ceremony is going to leave behind.

Instead of booking a grand hotel as your venue, try picking an open space like a beach, lawn, garden, or farm that will help you cut down on electricity by providing natural lighting and breeze. For decorating your venue, use locally sourced flowers instead of plastic or paper decorations. By choosing a location that already presents you with an aesthetic setting, like a garden or lawn, you can again avoid spending on decoration. Abandon plastic chairs and instead rent wooden chairs or floor cushions that can be reused later.

Hire a ‌catering company that serves dishes made of locally sourced ingredients. It is also best to use stainless steel cutlery and biodegradable banana leaves instead of plastic spoons and plates. Reports claim that about 40% of the food prepared for weddings gets dumped. Therefore, make sure you tie up with an NGO to distribute the leftover food to the needy. Feeding India, Robin Hood Army, and No Food Waste are some non-profit organizations that operate in India. Pack off your vegetable and floral wastes to a compost pit.

‌Flaunting our wealth with our clothing and accessories is the Indian convention. We buy one set of clothing and jewelry exclusively for each ceremony of the wedding. But if you’re hoping to make yours a green wedding, it is best to reuse or upcycle your ancestors’ sarees and jewelry instead of the go-to Kanjipuram silk or Sabyasachi. Select organic and cruelty-free makeup products like Ruby organics, Biotique, Lotus Herbals, etc.

Gifts are a big deal at Indian weddings. But oftentimes, you find gifts that you received collecting dust in your attic as they are of very less use to you. To avoid the wastage of such gifts, you could create a ‘gift registry’ for your marriage where you list out the presents you would like to receive from your guests. Your guests will now have an idea of what specifically you’re looking for. As a return gift, you could offer saplings that your relatives and friends can cherish for years. Eatable wrapped in seed paper is another delectable option. When planted into the soil and water, seed paper germinates and sprouts seedlings. You could further ask your guests to donate to environmental conservation programs and organizations instead of buying a gift.

By systematically arranging and regulating a green wedding, not only are you being an eco-conscious couple, you’re also seeding awareness in a gathering of 100-400 guests. By allowing people to witness that it just takes a little effort to pull off a zero-waste wedding, you’re also helping clear their misconceptions about how tedious a green wedding could be. You could additionally engage your guests by organizing a plantation activity, seed ball-making activity, or an impromptu street play to keep your audience entertained.

References

  1. Make your wedding a low waste affair – Times of India
  2. 7 perfect ideas to celebrate your perfect zero-waste wedding – thebetterindia.com
  3. 17 Green Wedding Ideas for an Eco-Friendly Celebration – brides.com
  4. The wedding industrial complex – theweek.com
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Fast Fashion: A Fast-Growing Pandemic to the Environment

Imagine you are shopping on a hot Monday afternoon and an adorable shirt catches your eye through the shiny, sanitized glass panes of your favorite clothing store. The cheap rate of Rs 199 on the price tag is tempting, but having already purchased beyond your budget for the day, you make a mental note to return to the store the coming week to buy the shirt. While you are home catching up on youtube, you see that two of the influencers you subscribe to have bagged this shirt in their clothing mega-haul videos, which further invigorates you to get your hands on it too. However, when you walk back through the same glass panes on the following Monday, you quickly realize that the shirt is long gone. The store is now swamped with a fresh collection of clothes, with no trace of what you saw the previous week.

The 90s fashion schema of people eagerly awaiting the biannual autumn and spring clothing launch has long divorced itself from the scene of the 21st century. In hopes of staying relevant in the market, today’s fashion stores churn new clothes almost on a weekly basis. The term ‘fast fashion’ is used to depict this rapid cycle of revamping that the retail floor goes through in such a limited time. Fashion giants like Zara and H&M move from the birth of a design idea to the sale of the product in a mind-bogglingly short span of 14 to 21 days.

Here’s the catch. Since the inherent objective is to keep people up with the fluid trends of fashion as well as to keep them as frequent customers, the quality of the clothes is poor. The low quality of material used reflects on the prizes as well. The greatest appeal of fast fashion is that the garments are cheap. Even if the cost of manufacturing and transport happens to exceed the selling price, the overspill is compensated with reduced salaries and inhumane working conditions for their employees.

On a global average, a person buys about 70 clothes per year, which means each of us is bound to buy more than one piece of clothing per week. More than 56 million tons of clothes are sold every year in the world. Among this, India itself singlehandedly generates more than 1 million tonnes of textiles per year. For the first time in the history of human existence, customers can very easily take their wardrobe “To the salon” in the time it takes to bat an eyelid.

Although fast fashion has allowed us to experience a new form of freedom – since our self-expression and clothing preferences have started becoming a symbol of our identity – the mass production of cheap clothes has high environmental consequences. The fashion industry is the eighth-most polluting industry in the world. Not only does this ceaseless pattern feed to over-consumption, it concurrently keeps leaving longer and longer trails of clothes that go to the dump every day. 92 million tonnes of textile waste is discarded into landfills per year, which comprises 4 percent of the world’s solid waste.  This is equivalent to saying a truckload of abandoned clothes reaches a landfill every single second!

Zooming into the materials used to produce clothes, Polyester poses a major threat to microplastic accumulation in the ocean. It is a petroleum-based fiber that makes manufacturing clothes abundantly easier and cheaper and therefore has outpaced the production of the usual cotton or wool. However, polyester is also a non-biodegradable substance that sheds fibers every time it is washed. These fibers trickle into our soil, ocean, and other water bodies eventually and can take from 20 to 200 years to decompose.

Several fast fashion brands have now taken up ‘Greenwashing,’ which is the practice of maintaining a sustainable image of their brand. With pompous advertising of their efforts for sustainability with recycling baskets or donation baskets in their stores, quality and cruelty-free products used in their manufacturing, safe and healthy working conditions, etc, fashion brands capitalize on consumers’ consciousness. Their slogans are oftentimes empty rhetorics with the central objective of attracting more sales. Barely one percent of the clothes that fall into H&M’s recycle bins are actually used for the said purpose. As for charity and donations, we certainly generate more unwanted clothes than the needy even need. “It takes twelve years to recycle what they sell in 48 hours,” says Claudia Marsales, a Senior Manager from Waste Management and Environment, City of Markham.

Patagonia’s campaign slogan is a classic case of employing reverse psychology. Following the launch of a blue jacket captioned with “Don’t buy this jacket,” Patagonia claimed in a press release that their campaign was an initiative to address the growing issue of over-consumption. However, the caption did the expected trick of attracting more buyers.

As individual consumers, we can resist the motion of fast fashion by simply not participating in its system. Buying less is the ultimate objective, so it’s best to be mindful of how much we’re consuming. Thrifting, swapping clothes with our friends and family members, upcycling our clothes to trendier styles by ourselves, and buying from better options than from fast fashion giants are some sustainable alternatives. In this age of technology, one can explore an array of YouTube videos to find inspiration.

References

  1. The environmental prize of fast fashion by Krisi Niinimaki, Greg Peters, Helena Dahlbo, Patsy Perry, Timo Rissanen and Alison Gwilt
  2. Fast fashion in the retail store environment by Liz Bernes
  3. Climate Change: How Fast Fashion Hurts the Environment – indiaspend.com
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The Role of Nature Stories and Folklore in Cultivating Eco-Consciousness

We have all heard the Aesop fable about the woodcutter who accidentally lost his axe in a river. The sentient river is moved by the weeping woodcutter and produces a golden axe, then a silver axe, from its depths, asking if it was the one he lost. The honest woodcutter shakes his head no for each of them and only accepts when the river fetches his own, inexpensive wooden axe. Impressed by his nobility, the river showers him with rewards. Although not explicit, the inherent moral that this fable is successfully propagating is that natural resources aren’t abundant and should be consumed mindfully and sustainably.

A similar folktale traveled between the ears of the Kokama people of the Peruvian region. The Kokama people considered their lakes as their magical madre or mother. The story believed that these enchanted lakes were capable of morphing into enormous boa constrictors and swallowing the greedy fishermen who might overfish. As the myth is cemented deeply in their culture, the locals often avoid overstaying at the bank of these lakes. Instead of adopting an anthropocentric logic where humans are the focal point and the rest of the environment exists simply to benefit them, traditional myths and legends largely tended to employ a more ecocentric approach where humans and non-humans coexisted in a mutually beneficial relationship.

Like how our mothers always warned that a Poochandi will steal us away at night if we didn’t finish our meal, several indigenous tales nurture the importance of conserving and protecting nature by seeding in a fear of punishment or death. By further assigning a higher, spiritual power to the elements of nature, these stories built respect for natural resources among the community, however tall and superstitious their claims were.

Several spiritual beliefs and religions of the world revolve around nature worship – from the Pagans who believed that the natural cycle of birth, growth, and death entailed deeper, spiritual meanings, to your local Maariyamma (Maari means Rain) who slowly took the form as a goddess, even though the practice initially began as simply Rain worship.

In Riders to the Sea, author JM Synge catalogs the lifestyle of the Irish fisher community and their perception of the ocean in harrowing detail. Not only is the sea their major source of income and livelihood itself, but it is also their biggest threat to life in the form of rash floods and cyclones. In such stories, we are reminded of the fragility of human life in front of the enormity of nature.

Unlike the anthropocentric, majorly-western and capitalist viewpoint, humans are not the ones that are wielding absolute power over and exploiting the ecosystem. The environment isn’t simply a backdrop in these stories. It plays an active role in moving the plot and amply influences the lives of the human characters. In this way, local myths also paint the Environment as an unpredictable force that would not only provide protection for humanity but can also turn into a destructive force at times. Instead of trying to assert dominance over their habitat, these stories showed how humans could accommodate the unchangeable ways of nature.

Another significant way through which storytelling encourages eco-consciousness in people is by employing Anthropomorphism. Anthropomorphism can be defined as the practice of attributing human characteristics, emotions, and behavior to non-human entities, in this case, Nature. The closer we are able to relate our human experiences with nature, the better we allow ourselves to appreciate it. Even when it comes to eco-centric literature, we cannot forget that they too are creations of the human mind. Therefore, Nature’s stories are every bit more human than their own. From Indian Panchatantras to Samaniego’s Spanish fables, animals have forever been sentient beings who can think, feel and act human. Who could forget the bedtime Panchatantras about clever monkeys, wicked crocodile wives, and wise old owls?

In these ways, local stories have been cogs in shaping an eco-conscious and eco-sensitive mindset in people across the world. However, the new wave of scientific thought that is studied largely through a myopic lens of western ideas has led to the rejection of these myths. The fantastical elements of these traditional stories become illogical and useless in its eyes. Regardless, these stories always find a way of being passed and revisited – be it in storytelling conferences or under the nightlamp in your grandmother’s tender voice.

References

  1. Keeping indigenous stories alive – mongabay.com
  2. “Man is the Story-Telling Animal”: Graham Swift’s Waterland, Ecocriticism and Narratology by ASTRID BRACKE
  3. The Influence of Environment upon the Religious Ideas and Practices of the Aborigines of Northern Asia Author(s): M. A. Czaplicka

The Honest Woodcutter – Wikipedia

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The Himalayan Great Thaw

A little bit of history to begin with: The Pleistocene Epoch, also referred to as the ‘Ice Age’ is a period that started around 2.6 million years ago and lasted until around 11,000 years ago. This was the time when extensive ice sheets, ice caps, large lakes and glaciers were formed repeatedly on landmasses with about 30% of Earth’s land area covered in ice.

As temperatures began to rise, the planet altered between glacial and interglacial (warmer) periods with fluctuations in sea levels. We are currently in a warmer interglacial period called the ‘Holocene Epoch’ where frozen ground is thawing at an accelerated rate and referred to as ‘Permafrost Melt’.

What is Permafrost ? The soil that remained frozen year-round over the millions of years came to be known as permafrost. These permanently frozen grounds are most common in regions with high mountains and in Earth’s higher latitudes—near the North and South Poles and lies deep beneath nine million square miles of Earth’s surface. Russia has the world’s largest share: two-thirds of the country’s area sits on permafrost. In the Asian sub-continent, the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) mountain ranges spanning across 8 countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan have extensive permafrost and glacial covers and the melting of this ice due to global warming is a critical topic to address.

What happens when permafrost melts ? Think about food in a refrigerator when there is a power cut for a longer period. Food gets spoilt and freezer items start to thaw and emits smelly gases. This is exactly what happens when permafrost melts. Deep inside the frozen earth are remains of dead plants and animals and as the ice thaws, microbes in the soil awaken and thrive on the defrosting biomass. This microbial digestion releases carbon dioxide and methane and is an alarming scenario as warmer conditions results in more carbon emitted out into the atmosphere. An increase in the amount of carbon dioxide creates an overabundance of greenhouse gases that trap additional heat. This trapped heat leads to melting of glaciers, increases risk of dangerous glacial lake outburst floods, rising ocean levels, which in turn cause flooding.

The Third Pole: The Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) is one of the greatest mountain systems in the world, covering 4.2 million sq km and home to the world’s highest peaks. It contains the largest area of permanent ice cover outside of the north and south poles and referred to as the ‘Third Pole’ and has:

  • Nearly 1.9 billion people depending on HKH for water, food, and energy
  • Source of 10 major Asian river systems and called the ‘water tower of Asia’
  • High biodiversity: 330 important bird and diversity areas documented and crucial to protect (because we have already lost 70-80% of biodiversity hotspots relative to 1500AD)
  • Approximately 35% of the world population benefits indirectly from HKH resources and ecosystem services

Permafrost warming in the HKH regions has resulted in reduced ground stability, increased occurrences of rockfall, and outburst of glacier lakes. Even if we manage to limit global warming to around 1.5 degree Celsius, it is projected that glacier volumes would decline substantially under current green-house gases emission scenarios that may result in the complete disappearance of glacier mass in the coming decades.

What are the current gaps?

  • More research is needed with international cooperation: The HKH region has a complex topography covering eight countries and hence consolidated snow data prior to year 2000 is unavailable. Satellite imagery is required to build out climate models and re-construct snow cover both historical and for predicting future trends with long-term snow course monitoring sites, data collection and the development of cryosphere-related hazard warning systems.
  • Increased focus on water governance: India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and China together account for more than 50% of the world’s groundwater withdrawals. These withdrawals mostly take place in the plains of river basins that originate in the HKH. Groundwater is used mostly for irrigation and in other sectors like urban water provisioning. The eight countries that share the Himalayas have poor government cooperation in terms of knowledge sharing as well as recurring geopolitical standoffs. Increased collaboration at local levels and formal collaboration at state, national and country levels can help ensure water security.
  • Restore nature to order by allowing grasslands to reappear: During the ice-age, these regions were covered by grasslands which acted as a safety net for the permafrost. The HKH has numerous examples of good practices in conservation and restoration of degraded habitats that go together with community development. These practices need to be scaled up and scaled out. Rewilding and reforestation practices can help restore nature to earlier times.

In Conclusion:

Imagine a hypothetical scenario where temperatures on earth move to an extreme of the ‘Ice Age’ where the global average was colder by 10 degrees. In this case, life will cease to exist as it would be too frozen to live. Now fast forward to the 20th century, we are almost 2 degrees warmer, with accelerated glacier melts and ocean levels rising.

Visualizing a worse-case scenario of getting to 5 degrees warmer, would be catastrophic as permafrost melt would be irreversible leading to cities and societies falling apart, risking our entire humanity and future generations. Neither the ‘Ice Age’ or a ‘Scorched Age’ is an answer as we try hit middle ground for an inclusive, species and habitat focused approach for our mere existence.

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Scientific Study on the Chembarambakkam Lake

Introduction and Background

The district of Kancheepuram is located in the state of Tamil Nadu. The district spans an area of 36.14 square km. This district houses one of the State’s well-known artificial lakes which formed due to the collection of rainwater over the years – the Chembarambakkam Lake (Eri). The full tank capacity of the lake is 108 million cubic meters. In reference to Chennai, the Kanchipuram district is around 40km from the city lying between 13º0’22’ North 80º3’35’ East. (Figure 1)

Figure 1: Chembarambakkam lake – Location

Source: (Narain, 2015)

Geologists and archaeologists trace the history of the lake to over thousands of years. According to the stone-tool evidence found on the banks of the Chembarambakkam Lake, scientists believe that early humans migrated from Africa to India over a million years ago, where they might have moved from West Asia in small groups to the South Asian region. This mobilization could have expanded to the Chembarambakkam Lake region. Evidence of such a settlement along the banks of the lake can be seen from the palm-held axes of the Lower Palaeolithic found in the lakebed (Chandrasekaran, 2018). This suggests that some water bodies existed at that time, and it could have been a lot different from what the lake appears today.

Studies published later suggest that the lake was built by Rajendra Chola I, the son of Rajaraja Chola, and Thiripuvana Madeviyar, prince of Kodumbalur, which was filled with water during subsequent rainfalls. Chembarambakkam was known as Puliyur Kottam and was one of 24 villages during the Chola period in Thondai Mandalam, in which Kancheepuram was the capital. For centuries, the water-fed the paddy fields along its banks and was used for irrigation purposes.  The Adyar river originates from the lake and presently, automotive companies dot the fringes of the lake.

Present condition & issues pertaining to the Chembarambakkam lake

As mentioned above, initially the water from the lake was used for irrigation and helped about 13,500 acres of land in 39 villages. Over the years, due to rapid urbanization, the agricultural lands have been covered with concrete and the lake presently provides only drinking water (Kumar, 2020). Environmentalists and scientists have also identified that the capacity of the lake has been reduced to 60% of its initial capacity due to sedimentation and waste dumping (Vithaspa, 2020). In 2019, first time in several decades, efforts to clear silt were taken which would eventually make room for 536 million cubic feet of water storage. (The Hindu, 2019)

Water from the lake is distributed through canals after treating the water. There are two pipelines existing from the lake’s water treatment plant. The existing one on Poonamallee Road can only convey half of the lake’s capacity and hence, the Chennai Metrowater proposed the construction of the third pipeline at INR650 million (Barath, 2019). The new pipeline is under construction and is expected to be completed in 2022 (The Hindu, 2021).

In 2018, Physico-chemical parameters of the Chembarambakkam lake in summer and monsoon were recorded and the results are tabulated below.

Table 1: Physico-chemical properties of Chembarambakkam Lake

ParametersPermissible LimitSummerMonsoon
Colour (Hazen)1.01.0
OdorNoneNone
pH@25ºC: Alkalinity is good for the growth of aquatic organisms.6.5 – 8.57.678.78
Turbidity (NTU): Increased turbidity causes decreased light penetration, plant growth, and oxygen production in the water, which can reduce the survival of aquatic animals.5.090.10.2
Electrical conductivity (µS/cm): EC is controlled by the geology of the area where the water body is situated, the size of the watershed, wastewater from sewage treatment plants, wastewater from septic systems, urban runoff from roads, and agricultural runoff.488205
Total hardness (Mg/l): High values of hardness are probably due to the regular addition of large quantities of detergents draining into the water bodies.6005156
The distribution of nutrients (Ca, Mg, Fe, Cl, S) is due to the season, tidal conditions, and freshwater flow from land sources.   
Calcium (Mg/l)20013.414.4
Magnesium (Mg/l)1004.34.9
Iron (Mg/l)1.07.10.3
Chloride (Mg/l)100010220.9
Sulfate (Mg/l)4009245.6
Total dissolved solids (Mg/l)200036094
Biochemical oxygen demand @25ºC (Mg/l): The high BOD might be due to the decomposition of organic matter and decay of vegetation in rivers that mixed seawater during the rainy season.6.86Below Detection Limit
Chemical oxygen demand (Mg/l): High COD due to runoff from the surrounding areas of the lakes.95.139.2
Dissolved Oxygen (Mg/l): The partially dissolved oxygen in water depends upon the partial pressure of gas in the air close to water, the rate of photosynthesis, and the oxygen holding capacity of water.0.981.1
Fluoride (Mg/l)1.50.40.6
Manganese (Mg/l)0.3Below detection limitBelow Detection Limit
Source: (Thangamalathi & Anuradha, 2018)

Figure 2: Lake through the years from 2016 to 2019 and the percentage of water area

During the water crisis of 2019 in Chennai, the Chembarambakkam Lake dried up and the city was parched. Figure 3 gives a comparative picture of the lake in 2018 and 2019

Figure 3: A satellite view of Chennai’s water crisis of 2019

Source: (Chakravartty, 2019)

Several concerns have been raised as to how the effluents have resulted in the poor water quality in the lake (Chembarambakkam Water Treatment Plant, n.d.). In addition, the water itself has dried up owing to rapid urbanization and exploitation of the water. The main cause of the water drying up in 2019, can be attributed to urbanization and the unreasonable run-off of rainwater into the sea during the 2015 floods. Lack of proper water and disaster management has impacted the water in the lake. It is important to note that the lake itself is dependent on rainwater and thus, there is a need for water management through policy-making to ensure that rainwater is collected and distributed with no wastage across the State from the lake. Further, the water collected in this lake keeps the Adyar river alive, impacting the biodiversity around the river.

Biodiversity of the Chembarambakkam lake

  • Zooplankton Species (Altaff, 2019)

Rotifers, Cladocerans, Ostracods, Nauplii & Copepodids, Calanoids, Cyclopoids, Harpacticoids, Mysids

  • Reptile Species (Tsetan & Ramanibhai, 2011)

Ahaetulla nasuta (Common Vine Snake), Atretium schistosum (Olivaceous Keelback), Bungarus caeruleus (Common Krait), Coelognathus Helena (Trinket Snake), Daboia russelii (Russell’s Viper), Dendrelaphis tristis (Common Bronzeback Tree Snake), Gongylophis conicus (Common Sand Boa), Lycodon aulicus (Common Wolf Snake), Naja naja (Spectacled Cobra), Oligodon arnensis (Common Kukri Snake), Ptyas mucosus (Common Rat Snake), Xenochrophis piscator (Checkered Keelback Lizards), Calotes versicolor (Indian Garden Lizard), Hemidactylus brooki (Spotted Indian House Gecko), Hemidactylus frenatus (Southern House Gecko), Lygosoma punctata (Dotted Garden Skink), Eutropis bibronii (Sand Skink), Eutropis carinata (Common Skink), Eutropis macularia (Bronze Grass Skink), Sitana ponticeriana (Fan-throated Lizard), Varanus bengalensis (Common Indian Monitor Turtle), Lissemys punctata (Indian Flapshell Turtle)

  • Molluscs (Johnpaul et al., 2010)

Pila, Thiara, Sulcospira, Paludomus, Indoplanorbis

References

Altaff, K. (2019, June 20). Zooplankton diversity of freshwater lakes of Chennai, Tamil Nadu with reference to ecosystem attributes. International Journal of Life Science, 7(2), 236-248. https://oaji.net/articles/2019/736-1561403054.pdf

Barath, E. (2019, December). Degradation of Chembarambakkam Lake’s Water Surface Area. International Journal of Engineering Research & Technology (IJERT), 8(12). https://www.ijert.org/research/degradation-of-chembarambakkam-lakes-water-surface-area-IJERTV8IS120060.pdf

Chakravartty, A. (2019, June 25). One of India’s biggest cities has almost run out of water. The Independent. Retrieved February 26, 2022, from https://www.independent.co.uk/climate-change/news/india-chennai-water-reserve-lake-puzhal-drying-up-monsoon-a8971211.html

Chandrasekaran, A. (2018, October 10). Tamil Nadu’s Chembarambakkam Lake Foretells an Aridity in the Sands of Time. The Wire. Retrieved February 26, 2022, from https://thewire.in/the-sciences/tamil-nadus-chembarambakkam-lake-foretells-an-aridity-in-the-sands-of-time

Chembarambakkam Water Treatment Plant. (n.d.). Water Technology. Retrieved February 26, 2022, from https://www.water-technology.net/projects/chembarambakkam/

The Hindu. (2019, September 12). After decades, government begins desilting Chembarambakkam lake. The Hindu. https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/after-decades-government-begins-desilting-chembarambakkam-lake/article29395875.ece

The Hindu. (2021, June 19). Work to lay pipeline from Chembarambakkam water treatment plant will be accelerated, say Metrowater Managing Director. The Hindu. https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/work-to-lay-pipeline-from-chembarambakkam-water-treatment-plant-will-be-accelerated-say-metrowater-managing-director/article34861585.ece

Johnpaul, A., Ragunathan, M. B., & Selvanayagam, M. (2010). POPULATION DYNAMICS OF FRESHWATER MOLLUSCS IN THE LENTIC ECO – SYSTEMS IN AND AROUND CHENNAI. Recent Research in Science and Technology, 2(4), 80-86.

Kumar, V. (2020, November 25). Chembarambakkam holds freshwater and scare for Chennai. The Federal News. https://thefederal.com/states/south/tamil-nadu/chembarambakkam-holds-freshwater-and-scare-for-chennai/

Narain, S. (2015, December 4). Why better sewage management in Chennai will help fight floods. Down To Earth. Retrieved February 26, 2022, from https://www.downtoearth.org.in/coverage/why-better-sewage-management-in-chennai-will-help-fight-floods-51993

Thangamalathi, S., & Anuradha, V. (2018, September). Seasonal Variations In Physico – Chemical Parameters of Seven Different Lakes In Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India. IOSR Journal of Environmental Science, Toxicology and Food Technology, 12(9), 11-17. 10.9790/2402-1209031117

Tsetan, C., & Ramanibhai, R. (2011, September 21). Reptilian fauna of agricultural landscapes of Chembarambakkam Lake, Chennai, Tamil Nadu. Retrieved February 26, 2022, from https://www.zoosprint.zooreach.org/ZoosPrintNewsLetter/Reptile_Rap_13_Sep2011.pdf Vithaspa, S. (2020, December 11). The Phenomenon called Chembarambakkam – Lakes of India. Lakes of India. Retrieved February 26, 2022, from https://lakesofindia.com/2020/12/11/the-phenomenon-called-chembarambakkam/

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Frugal, Fine Fashion …

The fashion industry (apparel, footwear, and accessories) is huge with a market size of around $2.4 trillion-a-year and growing exponentially. USA and China are the among the largest markets for clothing with India not too far behind at around $108 billion-a-year and India also amongst the world’s largest producer and exporter of textiles valued at around $36 billion. Given that this is a multi-billion-dollar industry with appetite for more, India is in the spotlight to be a ‘responsible’ fashion consumer and producer.

Synthetic versus Natural fibers:

Majority of the garments and textiles made today are from fabric fibers that are synthetics (polyester, rayon, acrylic etc.) due to a booming demand for affordable and fast fashion. Easy to mass produce in factories, synthetic fibers are cheaper, stain and water resistant and most popular. However, these synthetics slowly break down into smaller pieces called micro plastics and make their way into our oceans, our own food and water supplies. Severe health issues arising from ingesting these tiny micro plastics has been well documented along with negative impacts of plastic pollution on wildlife and biodiversity.

Natural fibers (cotton, silk, wool) are far more eco-friendly having a smaller environmental impact with fewer chemical additions and more durable, absorbent, and anti-bacterial making them ideal for sensitive skin. But natural fibers are also not truly sustainable. Let’s take cotton as an example that needs massive amounts of water to farm and produce cotton. It takes an average 10,000 liters of water to cultivate 1 kilogram of raw cotton and 2700 liters of water to produce a cotton t-shirt.

Textile dyeing and finishing:

Extremely a thirsty business, the fashion industry uses 1.5 trillion liters of water each year. Textile manufacturing uses more than 8000 chemicals in various processes from the fabrication of yarn to finished product and water is the main ingredient to wash off chemicals and dyes. Textile mills discharge millions of gallons of effluents as hazardous toxic waste, full of color and organic chemicals from dyeing and finishing salts. According to evaluations of the World Bank, around 20% of all present water pollution is solely induced by coloring and finishing patterns. Nearly 72 unique toxic synthetics are stated to be available in water only for coloring patterns.

Tiruppur, India’s most famous textile city is an environmental dark spot with the city’s dyeing and bleaching units that add color and flair to its apparel turning the once-beautiful Noyyal river into a toxic sewer, and destroyed vast areas of agricultural land the water body once sustained. Industrial pollution has ensured agricultural farming operations are unsustainable due to extensive groundwater contamination.

  • Reduce Impulse buying: Shopping over the internet has taken impulse buying to a whole new level where we have a hunger for newness and buying new clothes is also a way of self-appreciation. Forcing ourselves to give away, reduce clutter and understanding the concept of ‘less is more’ and fashion minimalism is a good thing. Iconic Paris fashion brand YSL famously states: ‘fashion fades but style is eternal’ and so getting creative by picking up a needle, getting crafty, investing in an automatic sewing machine and repurposing or adding some fancy patterns to our clothes are great concepts. Here are some neat ideas for creative clothing designs.
  • Move from fast fashion to slow fashion – ‘Slow’ fashion is made of quality material that is made to last from locally grown materials often domestically manufactured or sourced on a relatively small scale. India’s leading luxury fashion designer Sabyasachi talks about how fashion fulfills the role of functionality, helps you express your dreams within a budget and how to consume less but the best fashion.
  • Sell what you have in your cupboard: Used clothing in good condition (referred to as pre-loved) can be sold on social platforms like Poshmark India as an example. Instagram has several thrift stores selling used clothes, home décor and new beauty items and very appealing to people who are increasingly becoming conscious of their water and environmental impact. The second hand/resale market is expected to double in the next 5 years.
  • But wait, there’s more! Here is a link to a fashion footprint calculator that looks at your fashion habits and indicates your contribution to carbon emissions.

In Conclusion:

To align with the goal to limit global warming to around 1.5-degrees Celsius targeted by the Paris Climate Change agreement by 2030, it is imperative that our fashion industry must focus on transparency and traceability of products, chemicals and materials being used including production practices such as sorting, remaking and recycling and more importantly efficient re-use of water.

Adapting to a circular economy for fashion, where products and their materials are designed and manufactured to be disassembled so that they can be reused, remade, recycled, and – where applicable, and after maximum use and cycling – safely composted. Thus a ‘zero-waste’ fashion economy will contribute to a resilient and thriving industry helping regenerate the environment and saving water for generations to come.

Remember the 7Rs of sustainable fashion: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Repurpose, Repair, Research & Rent.

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Cryptocurrency and their impact on the environment

Cryptocurrencies are digital assets that are mined and traded on super-computers which consumes large amounts of energy and fuel, which is detrimental to the natural resources. A single bitcoin transaction can leave behind carbon footprints worth 1088.94 kgCO2, electrical energy of 2292.50kWh and electronic waste of 289.80g.

Can it be made more sustainable?

Efforts to make the crypto platform more sustainable can be made by generating the energy required for mining and transacting crypto coins using methane gas and other alternative energies rather than fossil fuels. Initiatives like co-locating bitcoin mining operations with zero-carbon resources (nuclear, hydro, wind, and solar) can help reduce the carbon emissions associated with mining the bitcoins. Global initiatives like Bitcoin Mining Council and Crypto Climate are working on developing ways to make the process more sustainable. However, not too many efforts are taken to tackle the amount of e-waste generated from mining and trading in cryptocurrencies.

Environmental laws put in place to monitor the environmental impact of cryptocurrencies

As of now, there are debates to make it more sustainable by relying on renewable sources of energy to mine and trade the coins, but there are no laws that specifically address the regulation of supercomputers and the environmental impact of cryptocurrencies. Both national and global laws can be drafted to regulate the use of supercomputers and manage e-waste generated from mining and trading in cryptocurrencies. India already has E-Waste Management Rules that can be expanded to include waste generated from cryptocurrencies. However, specific guidelines and penalties must also be imposed so as to bring accountability among those involved in the cryptocurrency market. At the global front, the Basel Convention International Treaty seeks to address hazardous waste and its management. These can further be amended for countries to incorporate laws on managing e-waste generated from the cryptocurrencies market.

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Local water sports & their ecological and economical impact to the regional habitat

In the present day, when IPL and World Cup gain international attention, it is evident that sports as an industry has substantial potential to grow with both economical and social benefits. In line with the same, water sports also have a considerable amount of support and a business in this sector can have its positive and negative effects on the ecology and economy. This article aims to understand how local water sports and their development impact the ecology and economy of the beach or ocean habitat, as the case may be.

It is inevitable that when humans interfere with the natural environment for personal gains, it would leave behind a broken environment with no biodiversity and life. However, environmentally conscious activities will provide room for growth and development of the country and also provide scope for local communities to protect their water resources by engaging in profitable initiatives.

Just like how cricket grounds are well maintained, and pitch protected at all costs for a game, so will a business in water sports impact the way water bodies are maintained and conserved. Recreational activities related to water would enable the conservation of the water body, for with water there would be no income generated which would further impact the livelihoods of those dependent on it. Having a well-structured business involved in water sports and allied tourism would provide a space for water conservation, protection, and preservation. Even though the primary reason for protecting the water body is based on economic reasons and not rooted in ecological one, it is still a system that could ultimately lead to conservation of India’s water bodies including lakes, ponds, coastal waters, and rivers.

In order to understand the linkages that exist between the local communities and developing water sports activities in regional water resources, let us consider an example. For instance, let us consider the Marina beach, located in the heart of the city of Chennai. Marina beach is on the coast of the Bay of Bengal is India’s longest beach and is considered the second-longest in the world. Despite the historical and geological significance, the beach is unpopular due to poor maintenance and is often strewn all over with a thick plastic cover. The Bay of Bengal has several scopes for water sporting activities, but sadly the water is unclean and maybe do more harm than good when one soaks their feet in the chill waters. As of 2018, scientists from the National Centre for Coastal Research found extremely high levels of fecal coliforms like E-coli in the water which may be due to the garbage and sewage dumped into the waters (Tejonmayam, 2018). As a result, the fish from the water may not also be healthy for consumption, and a beach of wonder which has the potential to generate income remains yet another poorly developed region of the country.

However, if the city management involves the local public in maintaining the beach, it would generate income and would attract tourists. The money collected in the form of tickets can be further used to expand the businesses around the region to provide room for recreational activities like water sports including boating, kayaking, yachting, swimming, and the like. These recreational activities would over a period of time provide an incentive for the local communities to preserve and protect the natural environment for it generates a reliable source of income. In other words, the economic benefits will provide scope for the preservation of the water resources so as to maintain the income levels and the resultant standard of living from beach tourism.

In addition to these processes at a local level, initiatives at the individual front will also further help in the conservation of water resources. Many joggers and surfers across the world, utilize their time jogging, to pick up plastic and trash strewn around the community, which again helps in ensuring that this waste does not end up in water bodies.

In essence, for a water body to be used for recreational purposes, conditions focusing on the physical, chemical, and biological attributes determine whether the water is capable of supporting recreational activities. The sporting activities would generate economic benefits and thus, there would be an imposed pressure to maintain the various determining factors of water quality at the optimum level. In the larger picture, this would protect the water resource. The conservation efforts would further nurture and nourish the flora and fauna dependent on the water body. With the entire system well-planned and executed, it would make the ecosystem of the region sustainable.

References

How are water-sports groups aiding cleaner oceans? (2019, April 26). Open Access Government. Retrieved March 5, 2022, from https://www.openaccessgovernment.org/water-sports-cleaner-oceans/63972/

Raj, V. (2020). India and Water Sports: A theoretical study. Zeichen Journal, 6(12), 360-367. http://www.ezeichen.com/gallery/1597.pdf

Recreational Waters | US EPA. (2021, September 7). US Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved March 5, 2022, from https://www.epa.gov/report-environment/recreational-waters

Tejonmayam, U. (2018, April 20). Marina: Why a dip off the Marina may be bad for your health | Chennai News. Times of India. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/why-a-dip-off-the-marina-may-be-bad-for-your-health/articleshow/63837350.cms

Zhang, B. (2020, October 5). The Social Benefits of Water Sports Events and Their Impact on Environmental Pollution. Journal of Coastal Research, 104(1), 111-115. https://doi.org/10.2112/JCR-SI104-020.1

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Urban forestry using the Miyawaki technique

The Greater Chennai Corporation is making plans to restore the Kadapakkam lake into a recreational spot with several benefits including a bird island flooded with trees using the Miyawaki technique (DTNext, 2022). As green and novel the term ‘Miyawaki’ sounds, it has its own set of advantages and challenges. This article aims to give an overview of the Miyawaki technique and further understand the role of this technique in light of the developments in Chennai.

What is the Miyawaki technique?

Miyawaki is a man-made afforestation technique to grow natural forest cover native to a particular region developed by a Japanese Botanist by the name, Akira Miyawaki (Shekar, 2020). Akira Miyawaki was the recipient of the Blue Planet Award for his contributions to the unique method of afforestation by which plants could be grown in regions where no plants existed before. This method has been in practice in Japan since the 1990s and has been used to restore and revive degraded land. The concept helps in bringing green cover to cities and has now been adopted in several Indian cities like Bengaluru, Delhi, Hyderabad and Chennai.

The biggest asset of the Miyawaki technique is growing a wide range of species native to the land, within a small area in a short period of time. In other words, a multilayer of shrubs and trees are planted at an average distance of 60 cm (Daniels & Vencatesan, 2021). To provide an example, a backyard in a house can be transformed into a forest teeming with flora and fauna. In 2010, a family based in Kashipur, a city in Uttarakhand converted their backyard into a forest cover using the above technique. A 75 square metre space, turned into a home for 224 saplings of 19 species of shrubs and trees (Nargi, 2019). Against the conventional method, this method provides room for growing plants 30-times densely in a small space with an aesthetic appeal.

This method has great potential in terms of addressing climate change and mitigating the amount of greenhouse gases. However, the methodology is not a one-size fits all solution to deforestation and may work counterintuitively in Indian cities. 

Challenges with the Miyawaki technique in India

‘Nothing can substitute natural forests’ is the place to begin with when it comes to understanding the effectiveness of the Miyawaki technique in certain regions. As far as cities like Bengaluru and Chennai which are witnessing great transformations in urban forestry, the novel method is trying to replace natural forests in the regions. The Miyawaki technique was developed in Japan in that particular climate to handle calamities like earthquakes and may not be suitable for a tropical country like India. Several environmentalists argue that this method is giving an impression to people that they can replace forests altogether to the extent where citizens have remarked that even if trees are cut down, it can be replaced with the Miyawaki technique.

Sadly, plants grown with this technique cannot run an entire ecosystem. A natural forest is built over millions of years, and the quick remedy Miyawaki provides is not an alternative to the green cover of nature. Scientifically, it may not be sustainable in the long run to force plants to photosynthesize fast (Kaushik, 2019).

Further, even though Miyawaki helps in climate mitigation, trees will be able to do so only if they are allowed to grow to their full capacity. In the Miyawaki technique, trees are made to grow straight uniformly. It is important to note that different plants can sequester carbon based on size, leaf shedding habits among others. If all shrubs and trees are made to grow uniformly without paying heed to its natural characteristics, the Miyawaki forests may not benefit in climate mitigation.

Specific to Chennai, this method again may not be suitable for the city’s conditions. The first Miyawaki forest in Chennai was established in 2020 at a cost of INR 20 lakhs. Chennai is a coastal city with native species like the Indian laurel (Calophyllum inophyllum), banyan (Ficus bengalensis), Indian beech (Pongamia pinnata) and portia (Thespesia populnea) (Daniels & Vencatesan, 2021). These do not have a natural structure to grow tall and straight, but rather spread wide and it is not advisable to force them into the fixed pattern of the Miyawaki technique. Secondly, much of the vegetation introduced in the Miyawaki zones in Chennai, insufficient efforts are taken in terms of planting the native species. The technique specifically stipulates that only native species ought to be grown in the method. Experts voice out that the technique will work only if the species chosen for growing is native to the region (Gautham, 2021). A deviation from the same can further aggravate the ecological disruptions prevalent due to various environmental crises. Thirdly, Miyawaki forests do not help in rain and can again add onto the climatic woes the city faces. As much as they can supplement and complement existing green cover, they cannot replace them. 

References

Daniels, R., & Vencatesan, A. (2021, July 9). Why the Miyawaki Method Is Not a Suitable Way to Afforest Chennai – The Wire Science. The Wire Science. Retrieved March 13, 2022, from https://science.thewire.in/environment/why-the-miyawaki-method-is-not-a-good-way-to-afforest-chennai/

DTNext. (2022, March 12). GCC plans to restore Kadapakkam lake into a recreational spot. DTNext. https://www.dtnext.in/News/City/2022/03/12142013/1357719/GCC-plans-to-restore-Kadapakkam-lake-into-a-recreational-.vpf

Gautham, K. (2021, September 17). miyawaki: Civic body getting its strategy on Miyawaki forests all tangled | Chennai News. Times of India. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/civic-body-getting-its-strategy-on-miyawaki-forests-all-tangled/articleshow/86286075.cms

Kaushik, T. (2019, June 13). Miyawaki forests are no substitute for natural ones: Experts. The Economic Times. Retrieved March 13, 2022, from https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/miyawaki-forests-are-no-substitute-for-natural-ones-experts/articleshow/69766810.cms?from=mdr

Nargi, L. (2019, July 24). The Miyawaki Method: A Better Way to Build Forests? JSTOR Daily. Retrieved March 13, 2022, from https://daily.jstor.org/the-miyawaki-method-a-better-way-to-build-forests/

Shekar, A. (2020, October 5). A jungle in the heart of Chennai: The story of the city’s latest ‘Miyawaki forest’. The News Minute. https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/jungle-heart-chennai-story-city-s-first-miyawaki-forest-134567

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“Glocal”:- Local solutions for Global problems

The global politics around environmental actions faces the paradox of an impending doom and inefficient conservation. The Conference of Parties 26 is an example reflecting the global voice of environmental activism, while the continued destruction of the Amazon Forest and the lack of awareness of battery waste management post the advancing electric vehicles revolution reflects the slow the entire fight against climate change.

The contradiction is often rooted in difference in culture, the socio-economic scenario and other external factors beyond the word “climate” that shapes how we look at our environment. A person living in the Netherlands, cycling to work every day has a completely different outlook to what environmental action means as against a commoner from the city of Chennai, India who is unequipped with the skill of segregating waste at the source. Thus, there is a dire need to build smaller closer-knit activist and action groups to address regional issues that have a global impact with the support of national and state governments.

A Glocal model would ideally provide an informal forum for individuals to make an impact at the community and city level which can overall reduce the carbon footprints. Thoughtfully empathising and resonating with the emotion of the local communities and policymakers will help build stronger, vocal and environmentally conscious cities. These efforts can start from choosing to consume locally produced food that overall reduces the cost of transportation and waste generated in the supply chain to reducing the energy consumption at buildings from minimising the use of air conditioners.

Local initiatives and the path to global mitigation of environmental crisis

  • Travel: Logistics and transportation of resources from one place to another is a significant contributor to the carbon footprints generated by individuals. One of the most common modes of travel that generates the maximum amount of pollution is air transport and pollution generated from fossil fuel run vehicles. It is rather ironic that climate policy makers at the international front often commute in an airplane to address climate change conferences. The intention is not to do away with air transport and cars altogether, but to reduce the generation of carbon as best as possible. To encourage surface transport, most cities across the world have a public transport system that can connect regions together alongside providing room for residents to use cycles and other environment friendly modes of commutation.

To assist and strengthen this individual fight, governments can incentive the use of eco-friendly modes of transportation that address a small group of individuals which inevitably impacts the larger goal of climate action. In the Netherlands, the Dutch Government in 2017-18 came up with a national policy for companies to pay employees who cycle to work. According to the European Cyclists Federation, “driving a car emits about 271 g CO2 per passenger-kilometer” while taking the bus or any equivalent public transport will reduce it by half. Contrarily, cycles generate only one-fourth of the greenhouse gas a car produces, making it one of the most eco-friendly commutations. As far as India is concerned, several cities including Chennai have joined hands with the cycles4change initiative as part of the Smart City Mission. This has the potential to bring forth change in the travel sector in India.

  • Food: The diet of an individual, an essentially physiological need, is yet another big contributor to carbon footprints. While most diets involve the consumption of dairy products and meat, veganism proposes a plant-based diet. The former diet leads to a loss of millions of gallons of clean water and forested land during the production process while the latter uses relatively less of these resources and emits up to 90% less greenhouse than a meat-based meal. Shifting from an animal-based diet to a plant-based can trigger the restoration of pasture lands to forests and grasslands which has the potential to capture carbon and provide space for the native species to thrive.

In an article titled, “A New Veganism: How Climate Change Has Created More Vegans”, the author concluded that 8 out of 12 vegans cited environmental concerns as one of the major reasons they practice veganism. Thus, taking initial steps of eating a plant-based meal once-a-day or once-a-week can overall bring a balance in the individual and collective net carbon footprint.

  • Sustainable consumption: Yet another contributor to environmental damage has been due to the heavy reliance placed on plastic packages and other environmentally unsafe packaging materials. Several local stores address the issue by substituting plastic with bamboo, paper bags and other sustainable materials. This would provide a platform for consumers to choose the more sustainable option instead of purchasing consumer goods sealed in plastic, in turn leading to reduction in disposability.

In Mylapore, Chennai, Ecoindian is a sustainable store that sells consumer goods from toothbrush made from bamboo to coconut shell soup bowl. Similar stores are step-up across the country in small-scale, including Bare Necessities at Bengaluru.

In addition to reusing containers and choosing sustainable alternatives, consumption also extends to the fashion industry. Just wearing clothes longer is a path to sustainability. Sustainable fashion does not necessarily mean spending on expensive fashion brands, but rather wearing clothes one already owns for longer, thrifting, purchasing from sustainable brands, mending, washing with care, turning old clothes into rags and borrowing.

  • Education and awareness: The awareness of what climate change has instore for the people is varied across different classes of the society. As far as developing countries are concerned, when the basic needs of food, water, shelter and clothing are a question, the idea of climate change and pollution becomes secondary to many. In order to bridge this informational gap about environmental damage, awareness needs to spread as to how climate change could further impact their socio-economic standards through stories and relatable content.

The bleaching of coral reefs in the Australian coastline may mean nothing to a commoner in Chennai who works day-in and day-out trying to feed a family of five. But for that commoner, if a story of how Chennai faces the impact of climate change in the form of floods in November and drought in May, it could provide sufficient basis to involve more number of people within the ambit of environment protection.  In 2021, a climate change campaign was organised in the city of Chennai which gained attention among a few activist groups. The story they shared on climate change was not about what was happening in the USA or UK, but rather very specific to what Chennai was confronted with.

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Intergenerational equity – Rights of human and natural capital

The well-known environmental principle of Sustainable Development as defined in the Brundtland Report makes room for ambiguity and questions the fundamental idea of  ‘Why does this generation get to decide the future generation’s consumption standards of world’s natural resources?’. This intergenerational disparity needs attention to ensure there is an equitable distribution of wealth in a just and fair manner. The value idea that focuses on the rights of the future generations emanating in this backdrop is the principle of intergenerational equity.

What is equity?

Before delving into the nuances of intergenerational equity, there is a prerequisite to understand the difference between equity and equality for they are an alliteration used interchangeably, despite them not being so. While equality emphasises on treating everybody the same way, equity involves an ethical component of treating everybody fair and just. In other words, equity aims to satisfy the needs of individuals based on their socio-economic status, while equality aims to treat everybody in the same manner irrespective of external factors like socio-economic status. 

Intergenerational equity and environmental sustainability

Intergenerational equity refers to satisfying the needs of every generation in terms of economic, psychological, and sociological contexts in a fair manner. (Summers & Smith, 2014) From an environmental perspective, intergenerational equity provides the principles to preserve the natural resources and environment for the benefit of the future generations. (Venn, 2019) . This is the aspect of environmental sustainability as propounded in the Brundtland Report which aimed to address intergenerational inequity in order to ensure that the present and future generations have equal accessibility to environmental resources.

In the Indian landscape, several Supreme Court judgements recognise the significance of sustainable development and intergenerational equity. In the writ petition, State of Himachal Pradesh v Ganesh Wood Products (1995), the Apex court observed that the present generation has no right to interfere with the safety of the future generation by highlighting the duty of every citizen to protect and preserve the environment. (State of Himachal Pradesh and Others (Appellants) V. Ganesh Wood Products and Others (Respondents) | UNEP Law and Environment Assistance Platform, n.d.). The matter essentially involved the Government of Himachal Pradesh refusing the establishment of a wood factory that proposed to run the business by felling khair trees for raw materials. The court found merits on the Government’s part and restricted the establishment of factories on the grounds that it will adversely impact the ecology and environment of the region.

In S. Jagannath v Union of India (1997), the Supreme Court ruled that all industries prior receiving permission to establish the business, must undergo Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) taking into account the intergenerational equity in order to ensure the future is not devoid of the natural resources (S. Jagannath V. Union of India & Ors | UNEP Law and Environment Assistance Platform, n.d.). Two year post the above judgement, in A.P. Pollution Control Board v Prof, M.V. Nayudu, Justice Jagganda Rao starts the order by quoting A. Fritsch, “The basic insight of ecology is that all living things exist in interrelated systems; nothing exists in isolation. The world system is weblike; to pluck one strand is to cause all to vibrate; whatever happens to one part has ramifications for all the rest. Our actions are not individual but social; they reverberate throughout the whole ecosystem” (1994 (3) SCC 1). The court traced the entire significance of the principle of intergenerational equity by referring to the Stockholm Declaration among others to reiterate that the environment is to be viewed as a resource basis for the survival of the present and future generations, whereby the present have no overbearing right over the future. (AP Pollution Control Board V. Prof. MV Nayudu (Retd.), n.d.)

Environmental dynamics cannot be substituted by human capital

Taking account of intergenerational equity paves the way for a strong sustainable model. Within the environmental system, there are social and economic components which work hand-in-hand, implying that human capital cannot substitute the environmental resources. Contrarily, the view of weak sustainability assumes that there is substitutability between human and natural capital, suggesting that depletion of environmental resources can be offset by human capital. If the latter is incorporated into the system, it may lead to exploitation of the resources today and leave the future generation with the burden of finding substitutes to natural processes which may not even exist.

It is vital to understand that there are certain processes such as ozone layer formation and the carbon cycle in nature that cannot be replaced or substituted with any man-made services. The human actions of the past, the emission of greenhouse gases from commercial activities led to the hole in the ozone layer. The absence of the ozone layer will make the existence of life precarious on Earth. It is the present generation confronted with the task of finding sustainable alternatives and initiatives to protect the ozone for their survival with icebergs melting away and heatwaves engulfing cities. The same will continue into the future, if the present generation does not respect and acknowledge the rights of the future generations.

The environment as an entity has a function beyond merely providing resources needed for development. They help the overall balance in the global ecological cycle and ensure the stability in the chain reactions. If the balance is disrupted, it may cause severe alterations in the global ecological cycle impacting the life system of the planet. The equity across generations needs protections of these natural processes and a balance in the critical levels of the cycles to ensure there is an overall balance in the ecological cycle. (Padilla, 2002). The presence of a weak sustainable model in the present day-and-age might impact the future generations in contravention to the intergenerational equity principle. Maintaining a strong sustainable model does not necessarily discourage green innovation altogether, but rather they can supplement the natural processes. This way, intergenerational equity can be established whereby the action of today’s generation does not negatively impact the future.

References

AP Pollution Control Board v. Prof. MV Nayudu (Retd.). (n.d.). InforMEA. Retrieved February 25, 2022, from https://www.informea.org/en/court-decision/ap-pollution-control-board-v-prof-mv-nayudu-retd

Padilla, E. (2002). Intergenerational equity and sustainability. Ecological Economics, 41(1), 69-83. 10.1016/s0921-8009(02)00026-5

S. Jagannath v. Union of India & Ors | UNEP Law and Environment Assistance Platform. (n.d.). UNEP’s Law and Environment Assistance Platform (UNEP-LEAP). Retrieved February 25, 2022, from https://leap.unep.org/countries/in/national-case-law/s-jagannath-v-union-india-ors

State of Himachal Pradesh and others (Appellants) v. Ganesh Wood Products and others (Respondents) | UNEP Law and Environment Assistance Platform. (n.d.). UNEP’s Law and Environment Assistance Platform (UNEP-LEAP). Retrieved February 25, 2022, from https://leap.unep.org/countries/in/national-case-law/state-himachal-pradesh-and-others-appellants-v-ganesh-wood-products

Summers, J. K., & Smith, L. M. (2014, January 9). The Role of Social and Intergenerational Equity in Making Changes in Human Well-Being Sustainable. NCBI, 43(6), 718-728. 10.1007/s13280-013-0483-6

Venn, A. (2019). Social justice and climate change. In Managing Global Warming: An Interface of Technology and Human Issues (pp. 711-728). Academic Press. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-814104-5.00024-7

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The mere memory of the Long Tank of Mylapore

The remains of the Long Tank Lake at the heart of the city of Chennai is now what the city-dwellers call as T.Nagar. The lake once occupied 70 acres to the west of the Mount Road and was largely replenished by the Lake Area of Nungambakkam, which too has now taken the form of Tank Bunk Road and New Tank Street. (Sriram V., 2014)

The lake’s vanishing journey began prior to the 1920s with a surge in population. To make room for this population which had grown from 398,000 in 1871 to 527,000 in 1921, by the Madras Town Planning Act of 1920 the lake was sealed with concrete to accommodate new dwellings (Muthiah, 2015). With the Mambalam Housing Scheme Town Planning Trust, the faster the water from the lake was ousted making way for Theagaraya Nagar or T. Nagar (Ramakrishnan, 2019). The region was largely bought by Justice Party leaders and personalities and takes its name after the father of the Justice Party, Sir Pitty Thyagaraya (Keerthana, 2012). For all those wondering why Mambalam was hit hard with 2016 floods or Vardah among other lakes to cement localities, well it is because water is finding its way to where it belongs.

Once T.Nagar was established, the feeder was not too far from urban development since the stagnant water became a breeding ground for mosquitoes. By 1971, the Nungambakkam lake too was filled up and the land became Valluvar Kottam. (Keerthana, 2012)

The lake was boomerang-shaped, spreading over 6 km in length. Much of today’s Boat Club activities happened on this lake. Until this lake was present, it was considered the western limit of the city and the region beyond the tank was categorised as another village – Mambalam village. The southern point of the tank was called the Mylapore Tank and it has been recorded in history through the words of Robert Bruce Foote in the early quarter of the 20th century who referred to it as the “Mylapur tank” (Ramakrishnan, 2019). As a geologist, Foote on observing numerous marine shells close in the tank’s vicinity proposed that the lake “could have been a saline lagoon in the distant past which later became a freshwater lake after the sea receded.” (Ramakrishnan, 2019) 

The region on the western part of the tank was home to trees called Maha Vilva Ambalam and paddy fields (Madras Musings, 2016). In line with the same, considering it is a freshwater lake, it ought to have also contributed to the water demands in the city for essential purposes. By the 1970s no evidence of the lake existed and with rapid urbanisation, the region is now surrounded by concrete.

Looking at the history, it might be too late to recover the tank owing to the fact that it is close to a hundred years since the lake began to be encroached upon. Recovering the lake would cost the city heavily for the entire region’s population of approximately 2 lakhs would have to be relocated and the economic activities would be disrupted. However, once a lake area, it is always one, and efforts can be taken to capture the surplus water received in these regions during the monsoon season to meet the ever-growing demand for water in the city.

References

Keerthana, R. (2012, May 1). Once upon a time in Thyagaraya Nagar…. The Hindu. https://www.thehindu.com/features/downtown/once-upon-a-time-in-thyagaraya-nagar/article3436296.ece

Madras Musings. (2016, December). Rambling in West Mambalam … with Janaki Venkataraman « Madras Musings | We Care for Madras that is Chennai. Madras Musings. Retrieved February 17, 2022, from http://www.madrasmusings.com/vol-26-no-16/rambling-in-west-mambalam-with-janaki-venkataraman/

Muthiah, S. (2015, October 24). Better in Madras than at Essex. The Hindu. https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/madras-miscellany-better-in-madras-than-at-essex/article7800117.ece

Ramakrishnan, V. (2019, June 16). The price that Chennai continues to pay for Long Tank and T Nagar. DTNext. https://www.dtnext.in/News/City/2019/06/16042057/1152290/The-price-that-Chennai-continues-to-pay-for-Long-Tank-.vpf

Sriram V. (2014, June 6). Locating a lost lake of Madras. The Hindu. https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/locating-a-lost-lake-of-madras/article6089792.ece

Thiyagaraya Nagar, Chennai | Locality. (n.d.). GeoIQ. Retrieved February 17, 2022, from https://geoiq.io/places/Thiyagaraya-Nagar/6t9w98G4P0

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Is solar energy as sustainable as it sounds?

Solar energy is sustainable, but solar panels are not. Solar energy is captured using panels manufactured at 2000ºC made using metals that have limited supply (Chen et al., 2019). It is a sad truth that the carbon footprints not generated using solar energy are offset by the amount of carbon footprints left behind in the process of manufacturing and disposing of solar panels. This article aims to look into the environmental impact of solar panels and to further highlight the importance of using life cycle analysis in green technology.

Life-cycle analysis

Life-cycle analysis (LCA) is a method to evaluate the environmental impacts of a product by taking account of the raw materials used in manufacturing, the impact of the product on humans and the ecology among several other determining factors (Hill, 2013). The LCA methodology has been used for decades as a primary tool for assessing a technology or a product as environmentally sustainable for sustainable development (Brusseau, 2019).

More often than not, life-cycle assessment is ignored or overlooked when one portion of the analysis is “green”. In other words, every stage of the cycle is looked at in isolation of the next.  Unfortunately, this may not prove beneficial in the long run. It is crucial that the entire technology is assessed holistically to understand its impact on the environment. What is “green” in one part of the cycle may not be sufficient to negate the environmental damage the entire technology, innovation or product can cause to the planet.

In the case of solar energy, or the energy from the sun that can be used as an alternative to energy produced from fossil fuels is confronted with inadequate understanding of the technology used in collecting the energy from the sun.

Photovoltaic cells

The technology that has been developed to capture solar energy has failed to appreciate the environmental hazards of processing a photovoltaic cell. In other words, every technology or product has a life cycle, and looking solely from one beneficial angle would do more harm than good. This is precisely what happened with photovoltaic cells. Even though the aspect of solar energy is sustainable, the life cycle of the technology from creating a solar panel to getting rid of the waste from the technology is ignored creating a mindset among people that solar panels are ‘green’ enough. 

Manufacturing a product at 2000ºC requires tons of energy. With the present status of technological advancement, it is not fossil free to create such an environment for building solar panels (Chen et al., 2019). Secondly, at the end of its useful life, only a small portion of it can be recycled. The usage of rare earth materials like copper, nickel and cadmium for manufacturing solar cells created geopolitical tension due to the scarcity of the resource and this dependence on chemicals can also trigger chemical pollution (Mulvaney, 2014). The mining of these metals (silver, lithium, silicon etc), regardless of their scarcity, is in itself a very unsustainable process.

Thus, solar energy is a renewable source of energy with its own set of downsides when it comes to extracting the same. It is undeniable that they are a renewable resource, but more technical advancements need to be made in order to make the whole process from manufacturing till disposing, eco-friendly and sustainable.

Role of governments

As much as solar energies are beneficial, solving the issue of reducing the dependence on fossil fuels should not result in the creation of new problems like waste management and chemical pollution. (Gonçalves, 2019). More science and research should aim towards addressing green technology by looking into the life-cycle analysis.

The role governments could play in mitigating the side effects of using solar panels or any other alternative technology that is often considered “green” should be from the perspective of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR). Before issuing the patenting license for green technology, governments could take the initiative to ensure that the entities seeking the same have gone through the LCA of the products or technology. Eventhough it may raise the standard or bar for science and technology, which may further disincentivize companies and individuals from investing in green technology, it would at least help in creating quality technology that truly aims to address the global challenges of climate change and global warming. It would help break myths and will prevent the creation of new problems arising from resolving one.

References

Brusseau, M. L. (2019). Chapter 32 – Sustainable Development and Other Solutions to Pollution and Global Change. Environmental and Pollution Science (Third Edition), 585-603. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-814719-1.00032-X

Chen, C., Milne, C., Carlquist, K., & Paulos, B. (2019, January 31). Solar energy is green. Solar panels are not. AI can revolutionise their design. Energy Post. Retrieved March 18, 2022, from https://energypost.eu/solar-energy-is-green-solar-panels-are-not-ai-can-revolutionise-their-design/

Gonçalves, A. (2019, February 7). Solar Energy Is The Future. Right. But Is It Really 100% Green And Sustainable? Youmatter. Retrieved March 18, 2022, from https://youmatter.world/en/solar-energy-green-sustainable-27596/

Hill, J. (2013). Life Cycle Analysis of Biofuels. Encyclopedia of Biodiversity (Second Edition), 627-630. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-384719-5.00365-8 Mulvaney, D. (2014). Solar Energy Isn’t Always As Green As You Think. IEEE Spectrum. Retrieved March 18, 2022, from https://spectrum.ieee.org/solar-energy-isnt-always-as-green-as-you-think

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Water technology to protect and preserve freshwater bodies in India

India is home to 18 percent of the world’s population and stores only 4 percent of the world’s renewable water resources (Mishra, 2019). As the population continues to increase and societies get more urbanised, these water resources are prone to exploitation, depletion and toxicity. Some of the primary water conservation strategies include – limiting consumption, reusing and recycling, elimination of losses and pollution prevention (Fedkin, n.d.).

To conserve, protect and save these water resources, innovation and technology can assist in reviving, recycling and overall conserving these water resources. Here are a few such water-related technologies that have been or can be used to conserve freshwater resources:

  • Lamaara Technologies: The company developed a cartridge using activated carbon, the size of an index finger with pores that act as micro-reservoirs to eliminate foul smell, harmful metals and colours from the water. The organic water filter can cleanse 30 litres within a few hours and the replaceable cartridge is priced at INR60. This technology can be used to convert sewage or unclean rainwater to clean drinking water. (Singhal, 2019)

During the Kerala floods of 2018, the company had donated around 2000 water purifiers to the Kottayam district.

In addition, the company has used the same technology to build a silicon bottle that can filter water called iBo or ‘Intelligent Bottle’. Essentially, dirty water can be collected in the bottle and pure water can be extracted using the three-layer filtration system that consists of Nano-fibre membrane. (Singhal, 2019)

  • Adopt an Island: This is an initiative started by Tarun Nanda, an engineer in Delhi which aims to transform the existing lakes and river into a water-purifying wetland ecosystem that can cope with the amount of waste dump instead of building more failing sewage treatment plants. (Adopt An Island – Bring Life To Hauz Khas Lake, n.d.)

The initiative involves constructing wetlands inside existing drains and water bodies and hence, there is no additional land requirement (Karelia, 2019). This also creates an attractive recreational as well as a natural habitat for plants, birds and fish. This will help have a clean lake, full of plants and wildlife, free from odour and pollution. 

  • Taraltec Disinfection Reactor: This water purifying device was developed by Anjan Mukherjee, a marine engineer. It is technology developed using biomimicry which allows the device to kill 99% of the microbes in the water. These are fitted into pump-sets and while these pumps extract the groundwater, the device purifies the same by instantaneously killing the germs. (Gupta, 2017)
  • Wi-Fi mounted Microcontroller: This particular system developed by students of National Institute of Technology Andhra Pradesh can automate the process of water storage, reduction in water-borne disease and efficient storage. It aims to address mismanagement of water in cities by monitoring wastewater and supply systems such as rainfall recorded, water remaining in the storage tank, water quality index and water supply in a given area. (Financial Express, 2021)
  • IBM’s IoT and AI technology: Lake Sembakkam in Chennai is a wetland which has now degraded to a wasteland over the years due to sewage disposal, untreated solid waste dumping and excessive accumulation of salt. In this project IBM volunteers partnered with The Nature Conservancy India to build a technical design for an Internet of Things (IoT) system with sensors for measuring and monitoring water quality, while also enabling remote sensing capabilities and spatial datasets. The system design includes an alert when water quality reaches concerning levels. The goal of this system was to “help maintain the health of aquatic resources by preventing and minimising pollution with regular monitoring of wetlands, bringing the wetlands to a condition where wildlife and fish would thrive.” (Balachandran, 2021)
  • Mira: To keep a check on the water quality of the lakes in Bengaluru, Mira, a combination of a smartphone-based application, reagents and an online dashboard as data repository has been developed (Prashar, 2019). It was instituted by the Foundation for Environmental Monitoring, a not-for-profit company that creates open-source products for field use, and NextDrop, a startup creating mobile technology for solving water issues. Further, the entire initiative welcomed support from The Centre for Social & Environmental Innovation, ATREE, Biome Environmental and Friends of Lake funded by Oracle. The goal of the initiative is to decentralise the process of restoration of lakes by involving the public working towards revival of waterbodies in getting real-time data on pollution status of the water bodies under consideration. Though Mira is not a direct water purifying system, it aids and helps in understanding the needs of the waterbody in order to restore and revive the same.

Freshwater is a finite resource with the present rate of development. In order to overcome the challenges society would face without freshwater, these technological advancements are crucial in bridging the problem of water scarcity and in further paving the way for water conservation for a sustainable future.

References

(n.d.). Lake Monitoring Dashboard. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from http://blrlakesdashboard.org/atree/lakes/#/app/map

Adopt An Island – Bring Life To Hauz Khas Lake. (n.d.). Ketto. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://www.ketto.org/fundraiser/adoptanisland

Balachandran, M. (2021, December 15). IOT and AI help save one of India’s most polluted lakes. IBM. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://www.ibm.com/blogs/corporate-social-responsibility/2021/12/water-conservancy-project-india/

Fedkin, M. (n.d.). 6.2 Water conservation and protection technologies | EME 807: Technologies for Sustainability Systems. John A. Dutton e-Education Institute. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://www.e-education.psu.edu/eme807/node/642

Financial Express. (2021, June 21). Conserve water: Modern tech to help save water. The Financial Express. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://www.financialexpress.com/industry/technology/conserve-water-modern-tech-to-help-save-water/2275255/

Gupta, S. (2017, August 4). This device will kill 99% of microbes in water and end waterborne diseases. The Economic Times. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/small-biz/startups/this-device-will-kill-99-of-microbes-in-water-and-end-waterborne-diseases/articleshow/59905197.cms?from=mdr

Karelia, G. (2019, October 23). Adopt An Island – Bring Life To Hauz Khas Lake. Ketto. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://www.ketto.org/fundraiser/adoptanisland

Mishra, G. (2019, October 23). Wetlands, Human Hair & More: 5 Innovations By Indians That Curb Water Pollution! The Better India. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://www.thebetterindia.com/201010/india-water-pollution-cleaning-complaints-robot-hair-innovation-hair-technology/

Prashar, G. (2019, January 5). A new tech allows citizens to test water quality without expert help. Can it save Bengaluru’s lakes? Scroll.in. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://scroll.in/article/908086/a-new-tech-allows-citizens-to-test-water-quality-without-expert-help-can-it-save-bengalurus-lakes

Singhal, S. (2019, April 15). Kerala Students Build Low-Cost, Organic Purifier That Makes Sewage Water Drinkable! The Better India. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://www.thebetterindia.com/179089/kerala-student-innovation-low-cost-water-filter-organic-india/

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Circular Economy and the Indian jugaad

For the Indian jugaad, ‘doing more with the less’ is not a new concept. Be it using a cycle to generate electricity or making a multi-purpose rope with mother’s old sarees, circularity is a concept ingrained and embedded naturally in the Indian minds, mostly without the intention of environmental conservation. With the circular economy being one of the buzzwords in the Budget 2022, it is befitting to highlight the importance of a circular economy, the present development towards the same and the Indian attitude towards the global initiatives.

What is a circular economy?

A linear economy is one where we take resources from the planet, use them and throw the waste back into the environment. Contrastingly, a circular economy is one where we aim to reduce waste by reusing and recycling the resources back into the system (Ellen Macarthur Foundation, n.d.). The circular economy model aims to address climate change, pollution, ecological damage and allied challenges by working towards the protection of people, the planet and the economy.

Every system can incorporate a circular economy model – from governments to organisations to businesses since it largely aims to design a model that eliminates waste and pollution by circulating the materials within the system and regenerating nature in a cyclical fashion (Ellen Macarthur Foundation, n.d.).

Figure 1: UNCTAD’s circular economy model and the benefits from the model

Source: (Pacini & Attafuah, n.d.)

A circular economy model helps in optimising the use of natural resources and helps in achieving the goals of sustainable development. Figure 1 captures the benefits of a circular economy as given by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

Circular economy is the solution

According to a recent report, humans consume 1.6 Earths annually to make room for providing the resources we need, and to absorb the consequent waste generated (MacArthur, 2022). In other words, it takes the planet 1.8 years to regenerate what we consume in one single year (MacArthur, 2022). At this rate, even if we meet the targets of the Paris Agreement – the most idealistic scenario – the global temperature rise would be inevitable.

Ellen Macarthur highlights that circular economy is the need of the hour to meet the net-zero targets of the Paris Agreement and the Conference of Parties 26. In her recent publication, she has put forth the need for various stakeholders including designers and architects to initiate the shift to a circular economy. (MacArthur, 2022)

In order to hasten and assist the entire fight against the climate crisis, a circular economy might be the tool to not only mitigate pollution, waste generation and biodiversity loss but also to create employment and other opportunities for a more resilient future.

India and circular economy

Budget 2022 included the term circular economy and this is indicative of the country’s outlook towards a circular model from a ‘take-make-waste’ model (Chauhan et al., 2022). According to studies conducted by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the adoption of circular in India has the potential to bring an annual benefit of INR40 lakh crore in 2050 and reduce GHG emissions by 44 per cent (Chauhan et al., 2022). This reiterates the importance of the circular model in meeting the CoP 26 targets and puts India in the right direction in playing its part in climate action.

India, as per the Budget, has decided to incorporate a circular economy across ten sectors (Chauhan et al., 2022) which will further provide the impetus for a green economy. Through the initiatives of PM Gati Shakthi which aims towards “inclusive development; productivity enhancement & investment, sunrise opportunities, energy transition, and climate action” (Sharma, 2022) and battery swapping policy to make room for the electric vehicles market, it has proved to be in line with the country’s promises made at CoP26.

As mentioned above, the circular economy is not a new concept to Indian households; but what we need presently is to grow the microcosmic impact to a macrocosmic one.

References

Chauhan, S., Raghuram, S., & Aryan, I. (2022, March 10). Putting India on an accelerated path to build a circular economy. Business Today. Retrieved March 18, 2022, from https://www.businesstoday.in/opinion/columns/story/putting-india-on-an-accelerated-path-to-build-a-circular-economy-325489-2022-03-10

Chavan, R. (2022, February 1). Budget 2022: Circular economy will help transition to sustainable economic progress. Firstpost. Retrieved March 18, 2022, from https://www.firstpost.com/business/budget-2022-circular-economy-will-help-transition-to-sustainable-economic-progress-10337301.html

Ellen Macarthur Foundation. (n.d.). What is a circular economy? Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved March 18, 2022, from https://ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/topics/circular-economy-introduction/overview

MacArthur, E. (2022, March 18). “The circular economy is needed to get to net-zero emissions”. Dezeen. Retrieved March 18, 2022, from https://www.dezeen.com/2022/03/18/circular-economy-ellen-mac-arthur-opinion/

Pacini, H., & Attafuah, K. (n.d.). Circular Economy. UNCTAD. Retrieved March 18, 2022, from https://unctad.org/topic/trade-and-environment/circular-economy Sharma, M. (2022, February 3). Budget 2022’s vision: A long-term, structured approach towards sustainability. The Financial Express. Retrieved March 18, 2022, from https://www.financialexpress.com/budget/budget-2022s-vision-a-long-term-structured-approach-towards-sustainability/2424267/

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Impetus Chennai requires in waste segregation and management

One of the biggest challenges to waste management in Chennai is the lack of separation of waste at the source. The issue that primarily arises in such a scenario is that the unsegregated waste often ends up in landfills where they are burnt away to give room for new waste, polluting the environment. Pallikarnai marshlands, a wetland within the city limits, is a victim of such waste dumping. This article aims to analyse the system of waste management in Chennai alongside the role to be played by consumers and citizens in order to holistically address waste problems.

Background

In 2017, the City Corporation made it mandatory for individuals to segregate waste at the source in accordance with the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016 published by the erstwhile Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (Gopalakrishnan et al., 2017). Further, the Solid Waste Management Department has also issued by-laws to provide guidelines to segregate waste. Yet, has it changed the scene of waste disposal in Chennai?

Chennai generates around 5600 tonnes of waste every day (Prabhakar et al., 2020), and in 2014 it was recorded that Chennai had the highest per capita waste in the country (Times of India, 2014). These are infamous records the city has created for itself over the years. As of 2014, with 730 hospitals, the city generated on average 9,898kg of biomedical waste (Times of India, 2014). With the pandemic and the heavy reliance placed on masks, gloves and medical equipment, it is highly likely that the problem of waste has only increased in the recent past.

As a matter of fact, in 2021 post-Diwali, Chennai Corporation collected 40 tonnes of additional waste from the previous year (ABP News, 2021). This happened to be the highest amount of waste collected in 5 years. This is the reality despite legislative regulations that aim to address waste.

Role of the City Corporation

Confronted with the problem of waste, the City Corporation has taken various measures to tackle the same. In 2020, the Corporation collaborated with a Spanish company by the name, Urbaser Sumeet, in an 8-year contract to assist the city’s waste management department in handling waste (The New Indian Express, 2020). The initiative aimed to achieve 100 per cent waste segregation at the source. Though the target has not been achieved to its full potential, the efforts are laudable in light of the present circumstances.

In 2018, the city corporation joined hands with TERI under the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) project to train ‘animators’ to monitor waste segregation at the ward level. The role of the ‘animators’ was primarily to bring accountability at each ward and distribute the role of the waste management department. Chennai took the above initiative as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan whereby it introduced 200 animators across 200 wards in the city.

Nevertheless, waste management is still a challenge in Chennai and the role of the Chennaiites is indispensable. 

Role of citizens

Among all the waste generated, 68 per cent of it comes from households and it is thus imperative for citizens to play an active role in mitigating waste. (Gopalakrishnan et al., 2017)

Firstly, choosing the right alternatives. There was a time when children were taught to put trash in the trash can. But today there is a dire need to rephrase it all together – put less trash in the trash can. With the amount of waste generated, it is not just about using paper bags over plastic bags or using glass bottles over plastic bottles, but to overall reduce the waste regardless of the nature of the materials. Nevertheless, given the choice to make between paper and plastic, it is very crucial that one makes the former choice naturally.

In light of the above, consumers can never become sustainable consumers, without the supply chain becoming sustainable. In other words, a consumer becoming sustainable lies in the hands of the supplier. To fill this gap, sustainable stores can help. Sustainable stores ideally provide a platform for alternatives to all consumer products taking into account environmental sustainability. As far as Chennai is concerned, it is home to several organic stores including EcoIndian which works towards giving consumers sustainable choices in achieving their day-to-day tasks.

Apart from these supply-centric initiatives, it is equally important that citizens are educated about waste segregation at the source. As mentioned above, lack of waste segregation is one of the primary reasons why waste ends up in landfills. If waste is segregated at the source as per the guidelines given by the legislative bodies, it would provide a solid impetus to recycling of waste.

Apart from these individualistic initiatives, social entrepreneurs (or ‘waste entrepreneurs’) have also entered the market to spread awareness about waste segregation. Ventures including Paperman and Kabadiwalla Connect conduct these awareness sessions from household to household to include more citizens within the ambit of waste segregation.

In this backdrop, waste management is the need of the hour. It not only helps the city become greener and cleaner, but it also protects the ecology of the city. If waste management is executed efficiently, animals like goats, dogs and cows of the city giving company to our urban lifestyle will no longer feed on papers and plastics strewn across the city. A good waste management system will ensure the environment is healthy and protected.

References

ABP News. (2021, November 6). Diwali 2021: Chennai Corpn Collects 40 Tonnes Of More Waste Than Last Year, Highest In 5 Years. ABP LIVE. https://news.abplive.com/tamil-nadu/diwali-2021-chennai-corporation-collects-40-tonnes-of-more-waste-than-last-year-highest-in-5-years-1491771

DTNext. (2019, August 20). Urgent need to shift dump yard from Pallikaranai marshland. DTNext. https://www.dtnext.in/News/City/2019/08/20003735/1172397/Urgent-need-to-shift-dump-yard-from-Pallikaranai-marshland.vpf

Gopalakrishnan, S., Natarajan, A., Raju, S., & Shekhar, L. (2017, November 10). Waste segregation: The challenge Chennai must overcome. Citizen Matters, Chennai. Retrieved March 12, 2022, from https://chennai.citizenmatters.in/chennai-waste-segregation-and-urban-flooding-2924

The New Indian Express. (2020, October 1). Spanish company to manage Chennai’s wastes from Thursday. The New Indian Express. https://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/chennai/2020/oct/01/spanish-company-to-manage-chennais-wastes-from-thursday-2204178.html

Prabhakar, B., Kumar, M., & Abraham, K. (2020, November 19). Where does the waste generated in your home go? Citizen Matters, Chennai. Retrieved March 12, 2022, from https://chennai.citizenmatters.in/chennai-where-does-our-garbage-go-21148

Sujatha, P., & Janardhanam, P. (2012). Solid waste management in Chennai city. Indian Journal of Education and Information Management, 1(3), 115-125. http://ijeim.iseeadyar.org/articles/solid-waste-management-in-chennai-city

Times of India. (2014, January 2). Chennai’s per capita waste at 0.7kg highest in country | Chennai News. Times of India. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/chennais-per-capita-waste-at-0-7kg-highest-in-country/articleshow/28256852.cms

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Kuttanad: The Rice Bowl of Kerala

by Goutham Krishna

Kuttanad is a region covering the Alappuzha, Kottayam, and Pathanamthitta Districts, in the state of Kerala, India, well known for its vast paddy fields and geographical peculiarities. The region has the lowest altitude in India and is one of the few places in the world where farming is carried on around 1.2 to 3.0 meters (4 to 10 ft) below sea level. The Kuttanad region is broadly classified into Lower, Upper, and North Kuttanad. Some of the well-known villages that form Kuttanad are Kainakary, Ramankary, Chennamkary, Nedumudi, Kumarakom, Edathua, Kavalam, Pulinkunnu, Kidangara, Muttar, Neerettupuram, Thalavadi, Champakkulam, Payippad, Karichal, Cheruthana, Karuvaatta, Narakathara, Mamkompu and Thayankary. The villages of Kuttanad are gorgeous and a photographer’s and birdwatcher’s paradise. Rice cultivation is the main source of income in this region. Locals in Kuttanad use the backwaters and canals in the region to transport goods and people.

Country boats ranging from the size of small canoes to that of huge rice barges are used for water transport. According to Census, the Kuttanad region is completely rural with 100% of the area’s population is rural. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has declared the Kuttanad Farming System as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS). Four of Kerala’s major rivers, the Pamba, Meenachil, Achankovil, and Manimala flow into the region.  It is well known for its boat race in the Punnamada Backwaters, known in Malayalam as Vallamkali. Kuttanad in Malayalam means ‘small town‘.

According to historical notes, the Kuttanad region was formerly a forested area that was later devastated by a forest fire, earning it the name Chuttanad (burnt spot). Kuttanad is thought to have evolved into Kuttanad through time. Kuttanad was a region under the Chera dynasty, which ruled over ancient Kerala, according to history. Cheran Chenguttavan, one of the dynasty’s most prominent monarchs, is claimed to have controlled his enormous realm from Kuttanad. At the time, the location was also a well-known Buddhist center. As a result, there are arguments that suggest it’s also known as Buddhanad, which may have evolved into Kuttanad later.

The importance of Kuttanad can be numerous but the fact that Kuttanad is below sea level stands out, Kuttanad Wetland Agriculture System is unique, as it is the only system in India that favors rice cultivation below sea level in the land created by draining delta swamps in brackish waters. Kuttanad is a delta region of about 900 sq. km situated on the west coast of Kerala State, India. The area is a larger mosaic of fragmented landscape patches and varied ecosystems such as coastal backwaters, rivers, vast stretches of paddy fields, marshes, ponds, garden lands, edges, corridors, and remarkably networked waterways. The Kuttanad Below Sea-level Farming System (KBSFS) is unique, as it is the only system in India that practices rice cultivation below sea level. The major land use structure of KBSFS is flat stretches of rice fields in about 50,000 ha of mostly reclaimed delta swamps. The rice fields, which are popularly known as “Puncha Vayals” exist in three landscape elements:  Karapadam (upland rice fields), Kayal (wetland rice fields), and Kari (land buried with black coal-like materials). Farmers of Kuttanad have developed and mastered the spectacular technique of below sea level cultivation over 150 years ago. They made this system unique as it contributes remarkably well to the conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services including several livelihood services for local communities.

Traveling to Kuttanad is a must for visitors who don’t want to miss the scenic beauty of this verdant backwater destination in Kerala. Kuttanad is crisscrossed with waterways that run alongside fields of cassava, banana, and yam, as well as emerald green fields of paddy. A unique feature of Kuttanad is that many of these fields where farming is done are below sea level. The fields are surrounded by earthen bunds and crops are grown on the low-lying ground. This is similar to the polder regions of the Netherlands where land is reclaimed from the sea and crops are grown. You have to see the amazing below-sea-level fields of Kuttanad to get an actual feel of the place. Kuttanad is a backwater paradise and an ideal destination for a backwater cruise in Kerala. Its innumerable streams, channels, waterways, and lakes make it possible to drift along in a houseboat and enjoy the scenic view of the Kerala countryside to take back home a memorable holiday experience.

Kuttanad is a region that has made a stamp of its own in the cultural domain of Kerala. It continues to captivate the minds of people from different walks of life. And travelers invariably find Kuttanad a land that never ceases to amaze them. Cruises on houseboats, the scenic beauty of paddy fields and coconut groves, flocks of local as well as migratory birds, paddling of domesticated ducks cruising on the backwaters, a refreshing swig of toddy, backwater delicacies, the many facets of backwater villages and their people, all make Kuttanad a unique land with never-ending vistas and experiences.

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நந்திவரம்-கூடுவாஞ்சேரி

by Aswin Sankar

சென்னை சென்ட்ரல் ரயில் நிலையத்திலிருந்து செங்கல்பட்டு நோக்கி பயணிக்கும் போது வண்டலூர் உயிரியல் பூங்காவை கடந்த ஓரிரண்டு கிலோமீட்டரில் “கூடுவாஞ்சேரி பேரூராட்சி தங்களை அன்புடன் வரவேற்கிறது” என்ற வரவேற்புப் பலகையை காண இயலும். கூடுவாஞ்சேரி என தமிழகம் முழுவதும் அழைக்கப்பட்டாலும் இன்றும் இப்பகுதி வாசிகளும், அரசு ஆவணங்களும் “நந்திவரம்-கூடுவாஞ்சேரி” என்றே குறிப்பிடுகின்றன. இப்பகுதி ஏன் அவ்வாறு குறிப்பிடப்படுகிறது என்பதை அறிய நாம் ஓர் சிறு வரலாற்று பயணம் செல்வோம்.

வரலாறு:

நந்திவரம்-கூடுவாஞ்சேரி இன்று பல அடையாளங்களைக் கொண்டிருந்தாலும் 1500 ஆண்டுகளாக இப்பகுதிக்கு அடையாளமாக நின்று கொண்டிருப்பது நந்தீஸ்வரர் கோயில் தான். இக்கோயில் பல்லவ காலத்தில் கட்டப்பட்டது என்றும் அக்காலத்தில் வாணிபக் கூடமாகவும் இருந்ததற்கான ஆதாரங்கள் பல கல்வெட்டுகளில் உள்ளன. இக்கோவிலின் பெயரே மறுவி இப்பகுதிக்கு “நந்திவரம்” என்று பெயர் வரக் காரணமாயிற்று.

பொருளாதார வளர்ச்சி:

நந்திவரம்-கூடுவாஞ்சேரி என்று அழைக்கப்படும் இப்பகுதி தெற்கிலிருந்து சென்னையை வந்தடையும் தேசிய நெடுஞ்சாலை 45யில் (NH45) அமைந்துள்ளதால் இப்பகுதி சென்னையின் நுழைவாயிலாகவே கருதப்படுகிறது. இக்காரணத்தினாலும் சென்னைக்கு மிக அருகில் இருப்பதினாலும் இப்பகுதி குறைந்த காலகட்டத்தில் பொருளாதார அளவில் அசுர வளர்ச்சியை அடைந்தது. கடந்த மூன்று தசாப்தத்தில் இப்பகுதி ஊராட்சியில் இருந்து ஊராட்சி ஒன்றியம், மாவட்ட ஊராட்சி ஒன்றியங்கள் போன்ற வளர்ச்சிகளைக் கண்டு தற்போது பேரூராட்சியாக உள்ளது.

நந்திவரம் ஏரி:

ஊர் பகுதி நகரத்தின் அருகாமையில் இருந்து அனைத்து வசதிகளை பெற்றிருந்தாலும் தகுந்த நீர் வளம் இல்லையேல் அப்பகுதியின் வளர்ச்சி கேள்விக்குறியாகவே இருக்கும். நந்திவரம்-கூடுவாஞ்சேரி அசுர வளர்ச்சி அடைந்ததற்கு பல காரணங்கள் இருப்பினும் அப்பகுதி பெற்றிருந்த நீர்வளம் ஒரு முக்கிய காரணமாக இருந்தது. நந்திவரம் ஏரி சுமார் 304 ஏக்கர் பரப்பளவில் கிட்டத்தட்ட 6.1 கிலோமீட்டர் சுற்றளவுடன் 10 அடி ஆழம் உடையது. இந்த ஏரியின் நீர்வளத்தை சார்ந்தே நந்திவரம், கூடுவாஞ்சேரி, சீனிவாசபுரம், விஸ்வநாதபுரம், ஊரப்பாக்கம் என பல ஊர்களும் இவ்வூர்களில் இருக்கும் நீர்நிலைகளும் உள்ளன. அருகில் இருக்கும் சிறு நீர் நிலைகளின் வடிகால் நீரும் பருவமழையும் தான் இந்த ஏரியின் நீர்வரத்து காரணம். இந்த ஏரியின் நீர் ஏரிக்கு வழக்கிலிருக்கும் கால்வாய் வழியாக கூடுவாஞ்சேரி, ஊரப்பாக்கம், ஆதனூர், மண்ணிவாக்கம் போன்ற ஊர்களை கடந்து முடிச்சூரில் அடையாறுடன் கலக்கிறது.

முந்தைய காலகட்டத்தில் விவசாய நிலங்களாக இருந்த இந்த ஏரியின் வடக்குப்பகுதி இன்று மக்கள் வாழ்விடமாக மாறியிருப்பதால் இந்த ஏரியில் இருந்து வெளியேறும் நீர் பயணிக்க அமைக்கப்பட்ட கால்வாய்கள் சுருக்கப்பட்டும் ஒரு சில இடங்களில் வழி மாற்றப்படும் காணப்படுகின்றன. மக்கள் குடியிருப்பில் இருந்து வெளியேறும் கழிவுநீர் ஏரியில் கலப்பதால் ஏரியில் பல களைச்செடிகள் வளர்ந்துள்ளன. அதுமட்டுமின்றி ஏரி பலவருடங்களாக தூர் வாராமல் இருப்பதாலும் தகுந்த நீர் வெளியேற்றம் செய்ய கால்வாய்கள் இல்லாததாலும் ஏரியின் வடக்கில் அமைந்திருக்கும் குடியிருப்புகள் வெள்ளத்தால் சூழப்படுகின்றன.

இவ்வாறான வெள்ள அபாயங்களிலிருந்து மீளவும் பகுதி நிலத்தடி நீரை பாதுகாக்கவும் இந்த ஏரி தூர்வாரி சுத்திகரிப்பு படுத்துவது மட்டுமின்றி ஏரியின் நீர் வெளியேறும் கால்வாய்களும் சரி செய்யப்பட வேண்டும்.

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The Neem and the Nomad snail

by Srivatsan R

I am a nomad here. I am not sure how I came here. My ancestors traveled all across the world from our native land in Africa and somehow we ended up here. 

However, I don’t feel safe here. I have heard stories and seen my kind being trampled to death and even torture us for eating their food supply. You know, these overpopulated species of Primates call me an invasive pest! The irony!

After crawling slowly all night without getting into the sight of these humans, I came to this place. The Neem tree. I have a special relationship with this tree in Kollappanchery Lake.

This Neem tree is a loner on this place, standing tall and dancing to the rhythm of the wind, giving shelter to many birds. Spiders use this as a hunting ground, as a lot of insects are attracted to the flowers it blooms.

This is a wonderful place to be under the sun and enjoy the scenery. Here I am peaceful. I can sleep all day long and go hunt for food at night. There is no place for ego or judgment. Although I must live in fear of these humans to survive.

We, Humans, are not like this nomad snail! When threatened, we use our minds, assess the problem, and find a solution. We are capable of growing our own food, to heal ourselves and survive even deadly diseases.

The largest threat to us, the human race, is now Climate Change. Our needs and self-centered actions have disrupted the balance of the natural world.

We are no different from the Giant African snails. We have conquered foreign lands and spread in numbers, thus exploiting the available resources. Being part of a highly intelligent race, we must find solutions to reduce the exploitation of our resources for our survival. Implementing sustainable practices is the need of the hour for a safe future.

We could learn a thing or two from the Giant African snail by not causing harm to others for our own needs. It is our responsibility to conserve and protect our planet and its beings for a green future.

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Story of a Holy River that became a Sewage

by Aswin Sankar

Cooum which had several names in history like Pali River, Thames of South India, Triplicane River, etc. has got another name ‘Sewage’ in the 21st century and also it has been declared as a dead river. Tamil literature and Saivite Puranas say Cooum is a holy river. Even Cooum has its own holy book called Koova Puranam. Let’s see the journey of this holy river and how it has become sewage.

It is said that Cooum had its origin in Dharmapuri district and due to changes in earth crust its origin has been changed. Now Cooum is a tributary of Kosasthalaiyar which flows for 72km from Kesavaram Dam to the Bay of Bengal. Cooum river has a lot of historical stories to say. A song by Saiva saint, Thirugnanasambandar wrote in the 7th century has references to Cooum and villages in its bank. Being named after the village Koovam, inscriptions in a temple at koovam talk about the Battle of Takkolam (949CE) in which Chola prince Rajaditya was defeated by Rashtrakuta king Krishna III. Another inscription says a huge resource and land has been used at the time of Chola king Rajendra II (11th century) to construct a canal that brings water from the river to the Koovam water tank. Inscriptions at the same site say in 1112CE during the period of Chola king Kulothunga I funds has been allocated for maintenance of Koovam tank.

Fast-forwarding to the arrival of Europeans, Britishers are the last to visit Madras. Britishers want to build a fort in Madras and all the European forts are built only to the northern bank of a river joining ocean whether its Pulicat, Pondicherry, Santhome, or Nagapattinam, so the only option Britishers had was Cooum. British Built a fort at the bank of Cooum river mouth in the year 1639 which still stands in the name of “Fort St. George”.  In the year 1734, then British governor of Madras George Morton Pitt created a village with 230 weavers in the bank of Cooum called “Chinna Thari Pettai” which became Chintadripet now.  

Since Madras has become a city and trade hub, Nawab of Arcot, Muhammed Ali Wallajah VIII wants to build a palace in Madras, that too within the limit of Fort St. George. As Muhammed Ali Wallajah VIII became an ally of the British, with the help of the British in 1768 he built a palace for 117acres in the southern bank of Cooum which is called Chepauk Palace.

In the last three decades of the 18th century, a ferocious series of wars happened which is known as Anglo-Mysore Wars. On 10th September 1780 as a part of the second Anglo-Mysore war, a battle between Tipu Sultan and the British happened at a village called Pullalur which is near the starting point of river Cooum.  Tipu Sultan made history at the Battle of Pollilur that Britishers were defeated decisively and no other Indian kingdom has ever thrashed Britishers like he did. But at the end of the Anglo-Mysore Wars Tipu Sultan was defeated and the treaty was signed called the Treaty of Srirangapatnam in 1792. As per the treaty Tipu Sultan has to pay 33million Indian rupees as indemnity. Since Tipu Sultan couldn’t pay the indemnity, two of his three sons were taken and kept as war hostages in the southern bank of Cooum. On 2nd February of 1835 one of the iconic buildings in Chennai was established at the bank of Cooum by then Governor of Madras, Sir Fredrick Adams which is the first institution in the world to allow women to pursue MBBS. It is Madras Medical College and it has a record of women students in 1875. Even women from western countries sail to Madras for pursuing MBBS.

India’s first-ever zoological park was established in the bank of Cooum as Madras Zoo where today’s Egmore Museum is located. It was established in the year 1855 and it had around 300 animals which include mammals, birds, and reptiles. After several complaints from the locals on untimely roars and unpleasant smells, it was shifted to another place called People’s Park by 1863 which is also in the bank of Cooum.

Madras was on a strong empire built by the British and during the second world war, the British had a fear that the Japanese might bomb the city. They are scared that a bomb on Zoo would set all the animals free which will put all the city resident’s life in danger. So the British decided to vacate the Zoo on People’s Park which unfortunately became impossible and on 12th April 1942 at the bank of Cooum it resulted in one of the cruel acts in world history. All the carnivorous in the zoo were shot dead within one hour. There were three lions, six lionesses, four tigers, eight leopards, four bears, and a black panther. Later the Zoo was shifted to Vandalur in 1985.

In 1876-1878 India faced a great famine which also affected the Madras Province. To save people in and around Madras, then governor of Madras “The Duke of Buckingham and Chandos” came up with an idea to employ people. He decided to join the Cooum river with the Adyar river by building an 8 km-long canal. With a budget of 3million rupee, he successfully completed the canal. This 8km canal is known as the Buckingham canal which was later renamed the entire 796km long canal from Cochrane’s canal to the Buckingham canal. In the northern bank of Cooum lies Egmore Child and Women Hospital at which, on 7th March 1886 a Burmese Princess, Myat Phaya was born.

The entire world knows that The Wright Brothers invented and flew their first Aeroplane in 1903, the first-ever flight of airplanes in Asia and India was at Madras. In 1910, seven years after the Wright Brothers invented the airplane, an Italian chef named Giacomo Maria De Angelis who is a friend of Madras’s governor, built a biplane in Madras and made it take off from the island ground in Cooum which flew over Cooum. De Angelis tested it before and arranged a public viewing at island ground.

Madras which is now known as Chennai is one of India’s metropolitan cities. The headquarters of this city’s corporation is called Greater Chennai Corporation. But in history, this headquarters has another name called “Ripon Building”. Ripon Building which is also located on the bank of Cooum is one of those iconic buildings in Chennai. With a budget of 7.5lakh rupees, Ripon Building was constructed in the year 1913 and since then it functioning as headquarters of Chennai corporation. Kesavaram Dam which was built around the 1940s in the origin of Cooum is one of the major for saving Chennai from becoming day zero. This dam diverts the water to Poondi lake instead of flowing to the sea. In 1953, after several struggles and disputes, the Indian government has decided to bifurcate Madras province and create a state called Andhra. But dispute arises on drawing a border between Tamil Nadu and Andhra.

Both the states wanted Madras to be on their side and after almost a year-long debate Andhra came up with an idea to have Cooum as a border, whichever in the north belongs to Andhra and in the south belongs to Tamil Nadu which also failed for Andhra. This idea of Andhra proves how the river Cooum played a major role in history. Naduvankarai is a small village in the northern bank of Cooum where India’s first industry-oriented International Trade Fair was held in 1968. The Anna Nagar Tower Park was actually built for this trade fair.

With these many historical stories, Cooum is running through our Chennai but we have never lent our ears to hear these stories, instead, we gave the never a new name “Sewage”. Is Cooum really sewage? Is that how it runs from the origin?    Cooum which starts in Kesavaram Dam has around 66 urban and rural areas in its bank. Cooum which flows like fresh water in rural areas has been used for agriculture.

Areas in the bank of Cooum

NorthSouth
TakkolamUriyur R.F.
Uriyur R.F.
AnaikattuputhurAnaikattuputhur
KalambakkamKottur
Kalambakkam
PerambakkamPerambakkam
KavankolathurKavankolathur
SatharaiSatharai
PuthumavilangaiPuthumavilangai
Pinjivakkam
KasavanallathurThandalam
KadambathurAthigathur
EgatturEgattur
ManavalanagarManavalanagar
Periyakuppam
KakkalurDevi nagar
PuthurAronvoyal
TirurTirur
Kovil KuppamMurukancheri
PerumalpattuPerumalpattu
PonniammanmeduPuduchatram
Korattur
AgraharamelAgraharamel
KarunakaracheriKarunakaracheri
AmudurmeduAmudurmedu
ThanduraiAnaikattucherry
AvadiSorancheri
PallipattuAyalcheri
ParuthipattuKannampalayam
ThiruverkaduViraraghavapuram
Thiruverkadu
VadanoombalVelappanchavadi
MaduravoyalVanagaram
Chinna NolamburMaduravoyal
MogappairNerkundram
ThirumangalamKoyambedu
Anna NagarArumbakkam
Shenoy NagarAminjikarai
AminjikaraiChoolaimedu
ChetpetNungambakkam
EgmoreThousand lights
Anna Salai
Park TownChintadripet
Anna Salai
Fort St. GeorgeTriplicane
Chennai Port TrustMarina Beach

All these areas in the bank of Cooum had a massive development which resulted in building several bridges across it. Cooum has around 45-48 bridges out of which few are not in use. Within the city limit, there are some major bridges like Chennai ORR bridge, Maduravoyal bridge, Koyambedu bridge, Periyar bridge, and Napier bridge. Cooum also has two railway bridges, a metro bridge, and a metro track 30m below the river.

Sl.No.Bridge name
1.Uriyur R.F. bridge
2.Anaikattuputhur bridge
3.Narasingapuram road bridge
4.Perambakkam old bridge
5.Perambakkam new bridge
6.Kondanchery road bridge
7.Satharai bridge
8.Pudhumavilangai bridge
9.Kodambattur-Athigathur bridge
10.Cooum river bridge, Thiruvallur high road
11.Railway station road bridge
12.Thiruvur bridge
13.Perumalpattu-Kottamedu road bridge
14.Chennai ORR bridge
15.Poonamalle-Pattabiram road bridge
16.Kannapalayam road bridge
17.Kamaraj nagar-Kannapalayam road bridge
18.Paruthipattu bridge
19.Thiruverkadu bus depot road bridge
20.Velappanchavadi bridge
21.Vanagaram-Ambattur road bridge
22.Union road-Mumbai highway bridge
23.Maduravoyal bridge
24.Chinna Nolambur bridge
25.Golden George Rathnam salai bridge
26.Golden George Rathnam bridge
27.Rail nagar bridge
28.CMRL bridge, Koyambedu
29.Koyambedu bridge
30.Arumbakkam bridge
31.Anna nagar bridge
32.Aminjikarai bridge
33.Choolaimedu bridge
34.Choolaimedu high road bridge
35.Nungambakkam railway bridge
36.Nungambakkam bridge
37.Egmore bridge
38.Ethiraj road bridge
39.Cooum bridge, Anna salai
40.Chintadripet bridge
41.Park town railway bridge
42.Park town flyover bridge
43.Periyar Bridge
44.Anna salai-Muthuswamy road bridge
45.Napier bridge
46.Underground Metro track

Cooum has four check dams and another check dam under construction.

Dams in Cooum

Sl.No.Dam name
1.Kesavaram Dam
2.Pudhumavilangai check Dam (under construction)
3.Putlur Water havering Dam
4.Koratur check Dam
5.Viraraghavapuram check Dam

These check dams are one of the major reasons for Cooum becoming sewage. By these check dams, Cooum water has been stopped before entering the city and it has been consumed by the whole city. Since water has been stopped, the drainage and industrial waste which were released in Cooum are getting exposed. These untreated drainage and industrial waste are another major reason for Cooum being sewage. Cooum which starts its journey as a holy river takes a massive transformation as sewage when it enters the city. Cooum which used to be a boon for the city has been slowly converted into bane by the same city itself.

Source: Wikipedia, TheMadrasMinutes, The Hindu, Google Earth

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Ashtamudi Lake: The Gateway to Kerala Backwaters

by Goutham Krishna

Ashtamudi lake which is called as the gateway to Kerala backwaters is one among the most visited back water lake in the country. It is situated in Kollam district of Southern Kerala with surface area about 61.4 Km square. Kallada river is the major source of water for Ashtamdui lake. The lake has an opening to the Arabian sea in the west at Neendakara and Sakthikulangara which is accountable for the brackish water present in the lake. It is also the deepest and second largest estuary in Kerala with a maximum depth of 21 feat at its confluence.

Google satellite map of Ashtamudi lake

The word Ashtamudi means Eight braids in Malayalam which can be explained by the palm-shaped topography of the lake with multiple branches. The Ashtamudi wetlands are included as one of the 42 Ramsar sites of international importance in India.

The historical significance of Ashtamudi lake date back to the 14th century when the lake surroundings were the important port connecting the ancient city of Quilon to the rest of the world. Historical records of the Moroccan explorer Ibn Battuta highlights Quilon city, in the banks of Ashtamudi lake as one of the major trading centers in the ancient period. Kollam aka Quilon still is one of the important cities in Kerala and is considered as the entry city towards the lake. A 1000-year-old temple and a 200-year-old church situated in the lakeside also highlight the socio-cultural importance of the lake and its premises in the ancient periods.

The presence of various populated islands in the lake is also a specialty of Ashtamudi lake. The Chavara South Island in the lake premises is widely known for its high titanium and other mineral deposits in the soil. Several factories and industries functioning for mineral extraction and their commercialization are present on this island. Munroe islands are another famous group of islands present in the confluence of Ashtamudi Lake and Kallada River. It is a famous tourist spot in the lakeside where rare migratory birds can be spotted on a seasonal basis. Boating is the major mode of transportation interconnecting these groups of islands together. The Ashtamudi estuary is famous for its diverse biodiversity and ecological peculiarities. The presence of 43 different species of marshy mangroves was reported in the region, including two endangered species called Syzygium travancoricum and Calamus rotang. Moreover, the lake system hosted rare and diverse aquatic fauna including migratory species. About 40 wetland-dependant bird species, 45 insect species, and 9 phytoplankton were reported in the area according to different studies. Apart from these, the scenic villages in the lakeside are abundant with coconut and palm trees which are also considered as an economic resource for the local communities.

Mangrove species in Munroe island, Ashtamudi- source:tripadvisor

Even though the lake and its ecosystem are very much important in the socio-economic sphere of Kerala, presently it is facing the threat of environmental degradation. The ever-increasing population pressure on the lake, disposal of sewage, pollutants, and even human excreta into the water along with the oil spilling from fishing boats lack spawning facilities in the lake premises, etc. are seriously deteriorating the lake environment. The extinction of Kanjirakode creek in the lake due to uncontrolled dumping of waste and clay is a scary example of the threats faced by Ashtamudi lake. In this context restoration plans and actions in the affected areas are mandatory for the conservation of the lake environment. Already studies have been conducted by national and international bodies regarding the environmental damage of the Ashtamudi lake eco-system and the possible redressal mechanisms that can be adopted to tackle the same. All of these studies are suggesting to bring about changes in the waste treatment methodology practiced in the locality and to reduce the practice of encroachment and reclamation of land for varied reasons. Sustainable and conservation-oriented approaches in sectors like tourism, coir production, mineral extraction, etc. should also be ensured so as to maintain the natural serenity and tranquillity of Ashtamudi lake and associated ecosystem.

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Vembanad: The Paradise

by Goutham Krishna

Vembanad lake is a backwater lake situated in central Kerala Coast, covering an area of 2033 Km square and a maximum length of 96.5 Km, which makes it the longest lake in India. The lake is fed by source water from four rivers – Meenachil, Achan kovil, Pampa, and Manimala and has an outlet to the Arabian Sea in the west. The lake is separated from the Arabian sea by a narrow reef of islands, hence making it a popular backwater stretch in the country.  It is also known as Punnamada Lake in the Kuttanad area and as Kochi Lake. The lake is directly or indirectly linked to the livelihood and economy of about 1.6 million people who are living on the banks of Vembanad lake. The scenic beauty of Vembanadu lake and its backwaters are major tourist spot in the country and hence is of high economic importance.

A mix of historical and mythical records suggests that the name Vembanad is derived from the ancient kingdom of Vempoli Nadu, through which the holy river Pampa was flowing. In the 12th century AD, Vempoli Nadu, along with a part of Pampa was sunk into Earth’s interior. It is believed that Vembanad lake is formed as a result of these geomorphological changes. There is a portion beneath the lake, called “Kappal Chal” which is believed as a continuation of Pampa by many of the local residents.

The lake and associated Vembanad wetlands host a rich biodiverse ecosystem having birds, fishes, aquatic vegetation, and various other life forms. A recent study conducted by experts identified 90 different fish species in the lake and surrounding ecosystem. But comparing it with the figures of the 1980s, the disappearance of 40% of species from the ecosystem was reported. Due to their high ecological importance, the Vembanad wetlands were included in the list of wetlands of international importance, defined by the Ramsar convention. It is the second-largest Ramsar site in the country and is also recognized by the Government of India under its National Wetlands Conservation Program. The people living on the shores of Vembanad are highly dependent on the lake and its ecosystem for their lives and livelihoods. The Kumarakom bird sanctuary, situated on the east coast of Vembanad lake hosts many migratory birds on a seasonal basis and is a favorite spot for birding enthusiasts.

Kuttanad, the lowest-lying geographical region of India is situated on the banks of Vembanad lake. The geographical region is well known for its paddy production and geographical peculiarities. A major part of Kuttanad is situated below sea level and is one of the rare places in the world where farming is carried on below sea level. The large paddy fields in the Kuttanad area are reclaimed from the shallow parts of Vembanad lake and the agriculture in the area is highly dependent on the water availability from Vembanad lake. Water transport through Vembanad lake is a common site in Kuttanad villages and different types of boat structures ranging from snake boats to houseboats are tourist attractions. Kochi- the biggest city and economic hub of Kerala is situated on the banks of Vembanad lake. The Willington Island in the city is an artificial construction carved out in Vembanad lake during the British regime.

The famous Nehru trophy boat race is held in Vembanad lake attracts national and international sports enthusiasts to the lake every second Saturday of the month of August. This fiercely fought boat race is named after Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who inaugurated the first edition of the annual event in 1952. The Chundan vallam (Snake boat) race is the major attraction of the event and the winners of the same is awarded a trophy named after Jawaharlal Nehru. The cultural and social significance of the Nehru trophy race for the people residing near the banks of Vembanad lake is paramount, and it is considered as a festival for the lake. Apart from the Nehru trophy, various other small and large boat races are common in the lake and their importance in the cultural context of the region is unparallel.

Image from the Nehru trophy boat race- source: Kerala Kaumudi

Thanneermukkom bund and Thottapalli spillway are some other distinct features of Vembanad lake. The former is a 1252-meter-long barrier constructed across the Vembanad lake in 1974 to prevent the entry of saltwater and tidal action into the low-lying Kuttanad areas. The bund divides the lake into two parts where one is brackish due to the presence of the sea and the other is of fresh water draining from the nearby rivers. Thanneermukkom bund is key in ensuring agricultural activities in Kuttanad but on the other side, it has created ecological disturbances in the lake and its surroundings including the increasing presence of water hyacinths and the disappearance of several fishes from the freshwater part of the lake. Thottapalli spillway is another artificial construction for enhancing agricultural activities in the Kuttanad region. The spillway drains excess fresh water in the lake into the Arabian sea and thereby helps to maintain the water levels and prevent flooding in the low-lying agricultural areas. The spillway started functioning in 1955 and has a capacity to spell out 600 cubic meters of water per second.

Even though the Vembanad lake has this much ecological and social importance, unregulated human actions have resulted in posing various threats towards the lake and its surrounding ecosystem. Land encroachments for agricultural and infrastructural processes are the primary issue present in the region and it has shrunk the area of the lake into manifolds. Various resorts that were constructed in the lakeside illegally were demolished recently but still, the practice of encroachment for human greed is still ongoing. Apart from that the entry of industrial pollutants into the water, the presence of water hyacinths and weeds in the lake, etc. have resulted in a huge decline in the water quality of the lake. A recent study constituted by Cochin University of Science and Technology found that the level of contamination in lake water in premises of Kochi area is alarming due to the disposal of pollutants and garbage. Being a Ramsar site with this much socio-ecological and economic significance, Vembanad lake deserves better. Hence sustainable conservation of Vembanad lake needs to be considered as an urgent priority and long-term actions for the same need to be taken immediately at an individual, social and institutional levels.

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Time to ‘cool’ down

The harsh reality of climate change is our Earth moving from being hot, hotter to hottest. Demand for cooling is rapidly increasing and as incomes and standards of living increase, people want to buy and use air conditioners to keep cool for health, well-being, and economic productivity.

So, why is this topic of global energy cooling demand of utmost importance? There are only two ways to achieve our temperature goals:

i) Reduce and ii) Remove Green House Gases (GHG) that deplete the protective ozone layer and allows for harmful solar radiations to impact our health. One of the biggest opportunities in reducing GHG emissions is by optimizing the energy demand for space cooling/air conditioners (ACs). Today, the electricity required to power ACs give rise to huge carbon emissions (mainly from fossil fuels like coal and gas) and leakage of refrigerants from ACs traps heat leading to extreme hot conditions.

Here are some facts to know:

  • Of the 2.8 billion people living in the hottest parts of the world, only 8% currently possess ACs, compared to 90% ownership in the United States and Japan.
  • Global sales of ACs have been growing steadily: since 1990, annual sales of ACs more than tripled to 135 million units. There are now about 2 billion ACs in use that consumes over 2000 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity every year, which is two and a half times the total electricity usage of Africa.
  • 10 ACs to be sold every second for the next 30 years.
  • The highest demand in energy use for space cooling by 2050 comes from the emerging economies, with just three countries – India, China, and Indonesia contributing half of global cooling energy demand growth.

Sustainable ‘cooling’:

The most practical and effective methods of residential cooling are ‘Active’ cooling using household fans, packaged air-conditioners (ACs), split ACs, large chillers that need electricity from the power grid to function.

‘Passive’ cooling requires no electricity and use sustainable methods to cool. Learning from both ancient as well as modern ideas, passive cooling techniques are increasing being used to keep buildings cool. One such example is ‘cool roofs’ method that coats roofs with materials and products that strongly reflects sunlight and cools itself by efficiently emitting heat and resulting in the roof literally staying cooler thereby reducing amount of heat conducted to the building below.

In North India where temperatures become scorching in summer, in shaded courtyards, traditional Indian stepwells lead to pools of collected water that absorbs heat and circulates fresh cool air. Evaporative cooling that provides an air flow together with circulation of dripping water such as ‘bee-hive’ systems using terracotta pots have been cost effective as well as requiring low maintenance.

Wind-catcher designs: Another example is in Iran (also known as a ‘windcatcher’ city) that uses an ancient Persian method to keep houses cool. Towers on top of flat-roofed buildings catch the breeze and channels down air, with the cooler and more dense air flowing through the interiors of the building.

Left pic: Bee-hive pattern of terracotta water cooling in Delhi;                                                             Right pic: Natural wind catchers in Iran

Active Cooling using District Cooling Systems (DCS):

The latest technologies that will become the backbone of cities transition to sustainable cooling and reduce reliance on power grids and usage of more renewable power (such as solar and wind) are DCS (District Cooling Systems). A DCS can serve a wide variety of loads for commercial offices, hotels, residential, industry units, data centers, cold chain, sports arenas, malls, schools, institutional buildings, and hospitals. DCS distributes (supplies and collects back) cooling energy in the form of chilled water from a central district cooling plant to multiple buildings through a distribution network of insulated, underground pipes for space cooling.

India is taking inspiration from leading district energy cities and countries such as Dubai where 40% of all buildings (residential and commercial) will be connected to DCS by 2030 and Denmark where almost all buildings in large cities are connected to district heating systems and customers enjoy some of the lowest heat prices in Europe showing it is possible and affordable but requires strong government support to reach such levels. Look at the chart below that shows how other countries are leveraging district cooling systems (DCS) to keep their cities cool.

With India’s water scarcity, where is the water for running the cooling systems?

India is the 13th most water-stressed country globally with several of its cities, including the industrial hub Chennai, are at “extreme risk” of experiencing water shortages. Water for cooling can be sourced in multiple ways:

a) Municipal or borewell water, which is a precious commodity that could rather be used for drinking purposes

b) Ground water or treated sewage water recycled from sewage treatment plants

c) Sea water or brackish water treated using reverse osmosis (RO), forward osmosis (FO) or other technologies

Over 90% of industrial wastewater generated every day across India is untreated when discharged and flows into rivers (As an example Ganga river alone receives around 1.3 billion liters of raw sewage and 250 million liters of industrial effluents daily). There are tremendous opportunities to re-use wastewater and is a win-win for tackling extreme heat conditions with cooling systems that can use treated wastewater.

In conclusion:

India (and South Asia in general) is already seeing the dangers of extreme heat waves among other weather-related calamities and rapid migration to cities is expected in the coming decade. It is of utmost importance to improve energy efficiency in our country by providing sustainable energy/cooling and investing in the right infrastructure for smart cities to function. As we learn from developed countries : Public sector, private sector, city, and state administrations to collaborate with technology companies, financial institutions, and industries (such as real estate and utilities) to bring in change and make life in cities bearable for all.

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Chennai’s Water Paradox and the Solution

by Goutham Krishna

It’s been a few weeks since Chennai went through another November of Heavy downpour!

The average annual rainfall of Chennai city is about 10 times greater than the national average. North-East and South-West monsoons are the major contributing factors to the total rainfall of the city. The city is also blessed with 3 major rivers and numerous large and small water bodies which all point towards the high-water storage potential of the city.

But it’s ironic to find that a large section of the population in the city; mostly the underprivileged, suffers from water scarcity and drought in the summers. The major factor behind this paradox is the lack of water security and management mechanism followed in the city.

In this context, this article is a hypothetical attempt to quantify and understand the relation between annual rainfall and the annual water requirement of the city and to check whether any feasible mechanism is suitable to improve the water security of Chennai city.

The table given below visualizes annual rainfall received by Chennai city from the year 2015 to 2021 (For 2021, data till 3rd December is considered)

Year2015  201620172018201920202021
Annual Rainfall (mm)2285.06977.41447.2933.341228.9217261999.1
Table 1 Annual rainfall statistics in Chennai Source: IMD

From definitions, any location with 1 mm rainfall recorded will receive 1 liter of rainwater per square meter.  i.e. If a geographical area of 1 square Kilometre receives a steady rainfall of 1 mm, 100,00,00 liter of rainfall is precipitated there.

The geographical area of Chennai city is 426 square kilometers; That means 426*100,00,00 liter of rainwater will be received in the city if it receives rainfall of 1 mm.

Now, the total of annual rainwater received by the city can be easily calculated with the above data.

Year2015  201620172018201920202021
Annual Rainfall (mm)2285.06977.41447.2933.341228.9217261999.1
Total rainwater In Litre97343,55,60,00041637,24,00,00061650,72,00,00039764,28,84,00053089,34,40,00074,63,20,00,00086361,12,00,000
Table 2: Total rainwater received in Chennai

An estimate of average rainwater received in Chennai on a daily basis can be inferred from the above data (by dividing total rainwater by 365).

Year2015  201620172018201920202021
Annual Rainfall (mm)2285.06977.41447.2933.341228.9217261999.1
Total rainwater In Litre97343,55,60,00041637,24,00,00061650,72,00,00039764,28,84,00053089,34,40,00074,63,20,00,00086361,12,00,000
Average rainwater per day in Litre266,69,46,739.7114,07,46,301.4168,90,60,821.9108,94,32,558.9145,45,02,575.3204,28,27,397.3236,60,58,082.2
Table 3 Average rainwater received per day in Chennai

Considering 150 litres as the average water requirement per head per day, we can derive into the following findings. (Population of Chennai is approximated to 1,00,00,000)

Average rainwater per day in Litre266,69,46,739.7114,07,46,301.4168,90,60,821.9108,94,32,558.9145,45,02,575.3204,28,27,397.3236,60,58,082.2
Maximum number of people can be benefited1,77,79,644.976,04,975.31,12,60,405.572,62,883.796,96,683.81,36,18,849.31,57,73,720.5
% Of Chennai population178761137397136158

From the above findings, it is crystal clear that proper conservation of rainwater alone can account for a good share of the water requirement of Chennai city. Hence actions to store and harvest maximum rainwater is an optimal solution to address the water scarcity faced by the city. Chennai is blessed with numerous water bodies, major canal systems, and three lakes which all can be managed properly for sustainable water conservation and management.

Hence an integrated framework, encompassing maximum storage of rainwater, proper conservation of water bodies, and sustainable consumption of water should be implemented which will definitely improve the water security statistics of the city for the long term.

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Gem in the River – Ganges River Dolphins

by Arun M.

What comes to our mind when we say dolphin? A bunch of dolphins chase a fast-moving boat in an ocean, isn’t it?

Are you heard about a Dolphin in a river, this article is about one such.

Ganges River Dolphins are not the average everyone known dolphin. These are found only in freshwater-like rivers that too in South Asia. These were once seen in many countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, and India. But it has become extinct in many places. Now it can only be seen in the river Ganges.

Curious about how it looks, they are chocolate brown at birth, and then as an adult, they have hairless skin and grey-brown smooth. They won’t travel in groups you can see at a maximum of a mother and a calf together. They prefer to travel single. Male look smaller than the female. Such Female dolphins only give birth to a calf once every two to three years.

Ganges river dolphins are now on the endangered list. Can you guess what made it so? You were right if you thought of pollution. Yes, pollution is one of the major contributors to the decrease in the population of such dolphins. Human, industrial and agricultural wastes are directed to rivers causes pollution, and destroys the habitat of species and dolphins. These made river dolphins have high toxic chemicals in the bodies

Construction of dams and irrigation-related projects along the river is also a reason for the decrease in population. How? Such constructions divided the dolphins into groups, these affected their inbreeding process and the food chain.

The main threat is hunting. Dolphins are hunted for meat and oil which are said to have medical benefits. But many dolphins are accidentally got into fishing nets cause a higher number of dolphin deaths.

Such activities for a long time pushed Ganges river dolphins on the endangered list. In 1991, a protected area for endangered Gangetic dolphins of Asia was created in Bihar and named as Vikramshila Gangetic dolphin sanctuary which stretches 60 km. At present, there are only 41 Ganges river dolphins.

Let’s join our hands to save such Gems. Volunteer for India and her Environment with E.F.I!

Fun Fact Ganges River dolphin is our national aquatic animal and also the official animal of Guwahati city

Twin Pond of India’s Water Capital

There are urban centers in the world that proudly talk about their natural landscapes. Their water bodies, hills, gardens and more. Water bodies such as rivers & lakes/ponds often become the identity to a certain city. The tom-tomming is usually about the kind/type or number of these water bodies. There are even cases of exaggeration and exploitation in a few where a given natural landscape is used/promoted beyond saturation. Amidst all this charade quietly sits the champion city of Chennai with her endless list of water bodies. She is a water world to be explored, the large reservoirs of Poondi-Puzhal-Chembarambakkam-Cholavaram, the mega lakes of Madambakkam-Sithalapakkam-Korattur & more, the neighborhood ponds of Ennore-Tambaram-Ambattur-Madhavaram, this truly is an endless list of water bodies that adorn the landscape of a coastal city.

Of the zillion water stories from Chennai, here is a story that would bring in double delight. Simply because it is the story of a twin pond set up at Kosapur-Chettimedu in Northwest Chennai.

In the peak summer of 2022, E.F.I was approached with a special request to revive two ponds adjacent to each other in the fast growing neighborhood of Kosapur. A quick web search revealed a set of well concealed ponds with a canal to themselves sitting in a rapidly changing urban landmass. The usual excitement of reviving another set of water bodies gripped the team at E.F.I, but what made this project extra special was the fact that here are two ponds with no encroachments, with a defined boundary and an effort that would give us immediate results.

Why is it a big deal to have two ponds one adjacent to the other?

Simple, land as we know it is not levelled- or an easy gradient as we see it. There is so much to geography that a naked eye misses. The undulation, the undercurrent, the ubiquitous flow makes every watershed an exciting research phenomenon. The Chettimedu ponds despite being one adjacent, have a directional flow unique to each other. The inward Northern flow and the Western flow that impacts the Chettimedu ponds are drained eastwardly towards a canal that flows southwardly towards the Kosasthalayar surplus channel. This multidirectional inward-outward game of flow is what makes this a blockbuster.

Imagine a double pan balance, Chettimedu ponds resemble that. The two ponds being the either plates, the canal being the needle balancing the weights. A perfect balance system where water from either directions is captured and stored thereby enabling ground water recharge in opposite ends.

The wider expanse of the water holding area

Human neglect and exploitative use meant that these water bodies were turning into pits of despair. A collaborative restoration effort is today turning them into ponds of hope. Removal of legacy trash, invasive thorny shrubs, regularising the water holding area and optimising capacity, strengthening the peripheral embankment, creating new recharge wells with a percolation trench and above all adding native vegetation that would feed dependent lives.

Restoration work in progress

Chettimedu’s twin ponds are undergoing this restoration for the last 2 months and will be ready in time for the NE Monsoons of 2022. A twin pond system that was not meeting its true potential, is all set to recharge in a kinetic mode upon completion in 2 weeks.

Chettimedu ponds, are more like two peas in a pod in this case two ponds that bring peace.

Administrative Partner: Greater Chennai Corporation
CSR Partner: Karur Vysya Bank
Executing Partner: Environmentalist Foundation of India (E.F.I)