31 March 2009

faced with a food and energy crisis, how can society improve its well-being?

This is the essay I submitted for the Vinyl Essay Competition which I didn't win. Oh well! there's always next time.

Moving away from the consumerist mental-makeup and towards one where happiness and thereby contentment are priorities is social well-being. Re-assessing the way we use natural resources, eating locally and investing in alternative energy sources play an important role in achieving this. Global forums that co-ordinate and encourage these improvements should be given priority within every governmental institution. Awareness about the role of individual responsibilities should become an educational movement. These are the precepts on which our sense and intelligence have to act upon – this tipping point has to be hastened as the clock is ticking.
Many attempts have been made to describe social well-being when this is simply a state of affairs where the basic needs of the populace are met. A healthy society is one where income levels cover basic needs; unemployment is insignificant, easy access to social, medical and educational services are available and where individual dignity is revered. The disparity between a want and need-based society is the reason for underlying unrest, world-over. Rampant consumerism and free-market economics have skewed a contented society where the socio-economic balance is finely calibrated. This is most apparent in the way the food and energy crisis is mismanaged.

We have put ourselves in a predicament because of our complacency and energy intensive lifestyles. The misuse of fossil fuels is finally threatening the well-being of ‘Our Home’ and its biodiversity. Climate changes due to global warming looms like an ominous cloud ready to rain us under. Solutions to prevent this flood of problems call for a mass revolution where society reassesses the choices made, governments the way they prioritize and industrialists the way they manufacture, market and distribute.

The pressing need currently in order to achieve the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) is a council of individuals in every country dedicated solely towards alleviating our problems. International bodies that regulate food distribution and control manufacture should be more aggressive in their approach in order to overcome these crises. Import of food that is energy intensive should be controlled; instead, resources should be spent on boosting local producers. This in turn supports small-scale farms and reduces fuel use for transportation. Movement of food should only be encouraged where surplus production is redirected towards an area when there is a shortfall, at subsidized rates.

A body that oversees, categorizes, quantifies and regulates alternative sources of energy should be set up. It should become mandatory that every country should start investing in alternative sources of energy and weaning itself away from fossil fuel with clear targets set for the next 10 years. Mass consumerism has led to over-production of many goods with tonnes of waste produced. A forum that constantly re-assesses and controls manufacture of all products and ways to curb raw material usage and energy expenditure is essential. Greening every aspect of human-lifestyle should become a priority if we are to meet these targets.

Regardless of economic situation, GDP of nations, education and lifestyle, it is time for people of the world to accept their responsibility in contributing towards these problems. Education should play a role in impressing upon the minds of children and young adults the importance of societal responsibility. Change will come rapidly and surely, if every person takes accountability to reassess the way they use the planet’s resources; without expecting the next person to pick up the slack.

Consumer choice plays an enormous role in managing the food and energy crisis. In order to make this a powerful tool, there has to be increased awareness of food production which is not only energy intensive but also puts enormous pressure on natural resources in every step. It is essential to reassess and revert to simpler ways of growing food - small-scale, organic farms that have been proven to increase yield per acre; reduce top soil loss and maintain soil fertility should be encouraged. Organic meat farms which manage animals in humane ways; do not add antibiotics, growth-hormones to their feed reduces associated problems like antibiotic-resistance, cancer etc. Government subsidies to such farms will reduce costs to make healthier eating more affordable.

A World Bank estimate states that there has been an 83% increase in food prices due to growing of biofuels in the last 3 years. Using agricultural land to support the production of crops for biofuels should be condemned as biofuels are not as carbon efficient as other sources of energy. Bio-waste from food production can be diverted towards production of biogas, cost-effective sources like algae which yield up to 10,000 gallons/acre of biofuel is not fully explored. Landfill mining for resources and tapping of methane should be explored.

The developing world’s priority is to conserve agricultural land, curbing sale of agricultural land for housing and industrial development and reclamation of contaminated land. The World Bank figures that 33 million can face unrest from food shortages and we have already seen riots in parts of the world. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon warned up to $20bn a year was needed to alleviate the crisis. People will not divert attention towards uplifting other social plagues like over-population, pollution, disease control, education etc unless these needs are met. Compromising on quality nourishment causes countries already burdened with epidemics like AIDS, malaria, Hepatitis-B etc to increase their health budget or get international aid which puts their economies in further debt. Distribution channels should be re-assessed and made more effective so that starvation is prevented. There are people living on less than $2 a day and when food prices increase, they are horrendously affected so rich countries should bear in mind that their food wastage can feed people in poorer parts of the world.

Old adages like ‘think local, act global’; ’waste not, want not’ should become slogans for the impeding revolution. Ultimately there has to be a major catalyst to act as a precursor to change, to bring about a paradigm shift in the way that social well-being is assessed. On the perilous road filled with indecision, arguments and power-play on one side; there are people dying without food and rioting for fuel on the other. Food and energy, fuel global economy and unless people are fed and their well-being taken care of, ‘business as usual’ will grind to a halt faster than the current financial crisis.

28 March 2009

switch off... for an hour

Today is Earth Hour. Flick off the switch, sit in the dark... whatever. This is a cool thing - to go sit in a café and listen to some guy sing 'Heal the world' with his guitar. The place probably doesn't serve ethically-sourced food or fair-trade coffee, but hey! we're sitting in candle-light and making a difference, right? Sure we are! God knows what kind of carbon footprint candles have but it raises awareness, right? It affirms that people can come together for the common good. It makes you feel like you're doing something worthwhile with your time... doesn't it?

Today I am skeptical, probably more so than usual. The same folk who flick off their switches today, will leave the light on for hours on end, tomorrow. People have short memories. There are groups on Facebook and MySpace and Orkut and everywhere else to advertise 'Earth Hour' when the Earth needs more than an hour. I mean, seriously: an hour?! It needs days, months, years even; of consolidated, collective effort to undo and prevent current levels of damage. And even then we don't know.

Today I want to rant because basically Earth Hour encourages mass hypocrisy. It is an easy way out for people who don't make an effort and simply think that environmental consciousness is something you can pen into your social calendar. It is no more something that frivolous. It is a moral issue. An obligation to humanity if you will, to owe more than an hour every so often to preserve, for want of a cliché, 'Our Home'. The time for raising awareness is well past us. It is time now, for action. It is time for the greatest kind of courage to fight what is possibly a losing battle.

Today, sadly we still don't have better means with which we can cut through the mind-numbing apathy around. Ultimately the people who do most harm are the ones that look the other way. Personally I don't understand this attitude but do recognize that environmentalism is not something that can be force-fed. It is simply accepting scientific facts. It is sometimes being ridiculed. It is bucking trends. It is giving. It is choosing not to be a self-absorbed me-monkey. It is choosing to do something, anything. It is coming back to Nature.

Today we are so far removed from our 'source' that the collective human race just feels discontented. The more money, technology, convenience we have, the less happy we become. This disconnection is the reason. Environmental responsibility or consciousness is not something that can be learnt from a Playstation or driving a four-wheel or wearing designer clothes. It comes from playing in the dirt, talking long walks in the woods and bringing tadpoles home in a jar.

Today I wish for every hour to be Earth Hour; every day to be Earth Day. Because really, it shouldn't be any other way. So good going for the guy with the guitar who sings for the world...but what about the rest of us? What exactly are we doing?

the rise of super bugs

Three years ago I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on horizontal gene transfer, transposons and antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Whilst that was written from a genetic point of view, this post aims to explore the environmental stresses that contribute to the rise of antibiotic resistances. There are several reasons for this and the most important ones:
  • medical abuse of antibiotics
  • usage of antibiotics in animal feed
  • genetically modified crops
  • usage of antibiotics in personal and household cleaning products
  • mutations occurring in bacteria
Antibiotic use in hospitals:
One of the major causes for the rise of resistant strains is the careless use of antibiotics by patients and prescribing physicians. Antibiotics should not be prescribed in the case of viral infections. Patients should be told to complete the full course of antibiotics. Medical practitioners should observe basic hygiene measures to prevent the spread of multi-drug resistant strains around the hospital and between patients.

Usage in animal feed:
Antibiotics can be administered to livestock as part of therapy for an animal or group of animals obviously exhibiting clinical signs of the disease or they can be administered as part of control or prevention. Growth promotion is the case in which antimicrobials are added to the feed over a period of time, which results in improved physiological performance. Antibiotic resistance can very quickly percolate through the food chain and through meat and other food products ultimately affecting humans. Animals that carry resistant strains are a direct hazard to those that work with them.

The use of antibiotics in food animals selects for bacteria resistant to antibiotics used in humans and these might spread via the food to humans and cause human infection. By avoiding meat that is grown on farms that most likely use antibiotics, you can protect yourself and the environment. Eat organic, reduce your meat intake - both of which are healthier options.

Genetically Modified Crops:
Antibiotic resistance markers are used in modifying crops in order to track whether the inserted gene is properly taken up by the host. This means that the antibiotic resistant gene is still active in the crop which if consumed can easily interact with gut bacteria to increase antibiotic resistance. Additional interactions with soil bacteria is also very possible. The answer to avoid this is easy - eat organic food and if your government is considering introducing GM food, then use your voice to stop the influx of unsafe food.

Usage of antibiotics in personal and household cleaning products:
Out of all the utterly pointless use of antibiotics, this takes the cake. I'm talking about soaps and kitchen product that are advertised as 'anti-bacterial' -- most of these contain low-grade antibiotics in minute quantities, usually Triclosan. Releasing low-grade antibiotics into the environment only worsens the situation as it gradually builds up antibiotic resistance. Studies have proven that this only temporarily kills bacteria on surfaces and within an hour old bacterial levels are present again. Soap and water still works! It's better for your skin and the environment.

Bacterial Mutations:
Bacteria are organisms which mutate very easily. They do have DNA proof-reading abilities much like our cells but due to short generation spans, mutations arise far more quickly. In addition bacteria also have a system of gene transfer which occurs cell to cell across generations and across species which makes the spread of antibiotic resistant strains extremely easy.

Initially when resistant strains of bacteria were discovered, it was found that they acquired resistance to only to a single antibiotic. As time went by and environmental selection on bacteria increased, they developed the ability to code for different antibiotic resistances on their genome. When this was transferred to other strains, these strains also became resistant to several drugs at the same time with only a single genetic transfer. This poses an incredible advantage to bacteria because it renders them resistant to a vast number of antibiotics. On the other hand, it is a terrible disadvantage to medical science because most antibiotics are ineffective and the use of very powerful antibiotics must be resorted to.

There are some antibiotic resistances which occur due to point mutations and are therefore, not transferable. However, in most cases, antibiotic resistances in bacteria result from the acquisition of a foreign resistance gene. As bacteria multiply and adapt rapidly, the threat of new antibiotic resistant strains looms even greater. This is especially relevant where there is increasing environmental pressure for bacteria to adapt. To avoid the occurrence of antibiotic resistance and outbreaks of resistant strains, prudent use of the available antibiotics is necessary. The use of antibiotics in the food and agriculture industry also contributes to resistant strains.

Just sixty years ago people died of very minor infections that can be cured today with an of antibiotics. Even today there are people in parts of the world with limited access to antibiotics to treat severe infections and there are some others who abuse it by adding it to hand-wash. Since the discovery of penicillin, bacteria have adapted to the onslaught of antibiotics and will only continue to do so. They are equipped with mechanisms of survival that we are only beginning to comprehend. It is the prudent use of existing, as well as any new antibiotics that might be discovered, that will ultimately alleviate the situation.

18 March 2009

tyger! tyger! burning bright

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

William Blake's poem aptly describes the sheer awesomeness and force of a tiger. I read this poem in the fifth grade, saw my first real live tiger in sixth grade; in eight grade I collected money to send to WWF for their tiger conservation project. Tigers are probably one of the animals that fascinate me the most. Perhaps, I am again being subliminally influenced by Disney.

The plight of this apex predator is well known world-over. Already three subspecies of tiger are extinct. The two largest subspecies currently in existence are the Royal Bengal and Siberian tigers.

Typical tiger country has three main features: It will always have good cover, it will always be close to water and plenty of prey. Bengal Tigers live in all types of forests, including Wet, Evergreen, semi-evergreen of Assam and eastern Bengal; the mangrove forest of Ganges Delta; the deciduous forest of Nepal and thorn forests of the Western Ghats. Tiger prefers denser vegetation, for which its camouflage is ideally suited. Tigers are often found bathing in ponds, lakes, and rivers. Tigers are excellent swimmers and can swim up to 4 miles.

Tigers are mostly solitary and territorial animals. A tigress may have a territory of 20 square kilometres while the territories of males are much larger, covering 60–100 km2. The ranges of males tend to overlap those of several females. They need in larger territory in order to breed without problems.

Habitat destruction and poaching are the primary threats to tiger populations.At the start of the 20th century, it is estimated there were over 100,000 tigers in the world but the population has dwindled to about 2,000 in the wild. The tiger is India's national animal and India habours the world's largest number of tigers. Unfortunately, it also has one of the biggest populations. A major concerted conservation effort known as Project Tiger has been underway since 1973, spearheaded by Indira Gandhi. The fundamental accomplishment has been the establishment of over 25 well-monitored tiger reserves in reclaimed land where human development is categorically forbidden. The program has been credited with tripling the number of wild Bengal tigers from roughly 1,200 in 1973 to over 3,500 in the 1990s. A recent census taken in 2007 states that tiger numbers have fallen to 1,411 which indicates that poaching is the primary reason for drop in numbers.

The Siberian tiger was on the brink of extinction with only about 40 animals in the wild in the 1940s. Under the Soviet Union, anti-poaching controls were strict and a network of protected zones were instituted, leading to a rise in the population to several hundred. Poaching again became a problem in the 1990s. When the economy of Russia collapsed, local hunters had access to a formerly sealed off lucrative Chinese market and logging in the region increased. While an improvement in the local economy has led to greater resources being invested in conservation efforts, an increase of economic activity has led to an increased rate of development and deforestation. Current conservation efforts are led by local governments and NGO's in consort with international organizations, such as the WWF and the Wildlife Conservation Society. Currently, there are about 400-550 animals in the wild.

In Maharastra the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR) is one of the havens for tigers. However the jungle sits on rich coal reserves about to be mined. Apart from destroying tiger habitat, this will also disturb the local ecosystem which supports many other animals which include leopards, sloth bear, wild dogs and some 70 other species along with many plant varieties.

Ecosystems such as this cannot be subjected to a cost-benefit analysis. There are cleaner ways of obtaining fuel and it is a pity that industrialists and governments alike look for the quick-fix solution. The life of the working mine is projected to be 40years by which time the 'sanctuary' set aside for tigers will be desecrated.

hail the pollen jocks

I've long been a fervent admirer of animation. Growing up with a steady diet of Disney, it's hard not to be. The movies coming out of Pixar and Dreamworks in the recent past like Finding Nemo, The Bee Movie, Wall-E, A Bug's Life, Madagascar etc all have an underlying eco-message which is enchanting once you cut across the funny voices and outstanding imagination of the moviemakers.

There has been an extinction happening that few people know about and not many have noticed. Bee species across the world are declining in number due to habitat loss, insecticide use, temperature change, disease and other factors. Most people only connect bees with honey but there are nearly 20,000 known species of bees, in nine recognized families. They are found on every continent except Antarctica, in every habitat on the planet that contains insect-pollinated flowering plants.

Bees are the major type of pollinator in ecosystems that contain flowering plants. They either focus on gathering nectar or on gathering pollen depending on demand, especially in social species. Bees gathering nectar may accomplish pollination, but bees that are deliberately gathering pollen are more efficient pollinators. It is estimated that one third of the human food supply depends on insect pollination, most of which is accomplished by bees, especially the domesticated European honey bee.

The Bee Movie takes the concept of the lack of bees to a new level. Without giving away the plot (for those of you who haven't seen it) it shows the drastic consequences of what happens when pollination fails to occur. Since the movie is extremely colourful, funny and made in a way to keep even little children entertained, the consequences of no pollination is a message it gets across with litle effort. Even children cannot imagine a world without trees and flowers.

Already we are seeing drop in yields of agricultural crops and further drop in bee populations will make the situation drastic. Many fruit, nut, vegetable, legume, and seed crops depend on pollination. Some crops that require pollination are: apples, avocados, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, cucumbers, melons, oranges, grapefruit, pumpkins, squash, sunflowers, tangerines, and watermelon. Also, forage plants like clover and alfalfa need pollination (cows feed on clover).

Perhaps the greatest value of honey bee pollination is seeds destined for worldwide distribution: 20 vegetables produce seeds only if their flowers are pollinated. Direct and indirect effects cannot be estimated: ornamental shrubs and trees, wild plants (on which wild animals and birds forage), beeswax, honey. Drop in bee population is going to have a direct impact on food production and ultimately global economy.

Scientist also say that the drop in population is also linked to the Bt toxin in GM plants which interfere with their systems leading to collapse of whole colonies - another reason to go organic. All of this only shows that human activities on the planet affect entire ecosystems with ultimate drastic effects on our survival as a species. The kingdom of heaven does indeed belong to the meek.

17 March 2009

geo-engineering - the great big hope?

Recently almost all the enviro articles that I've been reading involve the topic of geoengineering so its about time that its blogged. Geoengineering would involve the deliberate modification of Earth's environment on a large scale 'to suit human needs and promote habitability' according to wiki. Typically, the term is used to describe proposals to counter the effects of human-induced climate change.

Some techniques are based on carbon sequestration that seek to reduce GHGs in the atmosphere. They also include ocean iron fertilization, solar radiation management etc. Ocean iron fertilization is at the final stages of research and so far no large-scale geo-engineering projects have been planned.

Ocean iron fertilization is introduction of iron to the oceans. Fertilization supports the growth of marine phytoplankton blooms by physically distributing microscopic iron particles in nutrient-rich, but iron-deficient, ocean waters. An increasing number of ocean labs, scientists and businesses are exploring it as a means to revive declining plankton populations, restore healthy levels of marine productivity and sequester billions of tons of CO2 to reduce global warming and ocean acidification. Since 1993, ten international research teams have completed ocean trials demonstrating the effect. However, controversy over its safety and efficacy remain. Whilst increasing plankton population in the oceans will solve one half of the problems associated with climate change, the problem of already acidic oceans cannot be solved through this method.

In order to neutralize the oceans, scientists now propose adding limestone to restore the oceans to their previous alkaline state. Limestone mining however is an energy intensive process. Adding iron to oceans can increase algal blooms. My head refuses to wrap itself around the avoidance of negative affects by adding stuff to over 70% of the Earth's environs or even how you can experimentally prove the same on a scale as large as this with so many parameters for control.

Other geoengineering projects in the pipe-line include brightening clouds in order to increase cloud reflectivity so the albedo of the Earth is altered. Whilst I applaud all the technology and acknowledge that in the times of little hope, this offers a glimper of something like it; I remain dubious on the side-effects - are we planning on jumping from the frying pan into the fire?

16 March 2009

fiddler on the green roof

Chicago City Hall green roof. Photo: www.greenroofs.com

The next big bit of eco-architecture is the onset of green roofs and roof-top gardens. Especially in cities where greenery is hard to come by, this idea of bringing in some of the green stuff is an awesome idea. Green roofs can be used for a variety of purposes like:
  • Grow fruits, vegetables, and flowers
  • Reduce heating (by adding mass and thermal resistance value) and cooling (by evaporative cooling) loads on a building — especially if it is glassed in so as to act as a terrarium and passive solar heat reservoir
  • Increase roof life span
  • Reduce stormwater run off
  • Filter pollutants and carbon dioxide out of the air
  • The soil and plants on green roofs help to insulate a building for sound; the soil helps to block lower frequencies and the plants block higher frequencies
  • Filter pollutants and heavy metals out of rainwater
  • Increase wildlife habitat in built-up areas

All of this can be achieved in the space of a few square feet. The city council of London has recently decided to outfit all public buildings with roof-top gardens mostly aiming at the conservation of essential species of bees, birds and wildflowers within city limits. Green roofs are common in Chicago, as well as Atlanta, Portland, and other United States cities. They are also being incorporated into many buildings in France, Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands and Scandinavia. In India, it should become mandatory for new buildings to contain this feature as it helps cool down buildings, reduce pollution, dust and improves cityscapes.

Greenroofs can not only be incorporated into office buildings but also homes. Greenroofs can be easily incorporated into architectural plans of a new building. Roof top gardens can be added on even on an older building. It is especially useful if you want a garden and don't have enough space for it.

Rooftops essentially are a waste of space. Incorporating green roofs and roof top gardens not only compensates for the fauna and flora destroyed during clearing of land for building processes but also offsets some of the carbon emissions during the building process itself. It also brightens otherwise dull cityscapes.

13 March 2009

sinking against rising tides

Global warming has brought about yet another social problem - climate change refugees. To some people the reality of living with the impacts of climate change has never been so stark. As predicted, the effects of global warming are most severe on those who did the least to contribute to it and can least afford measures to adapt or save themselves. The disappearance of Lohachara beneath the waters of the Bay of Bengal created the world’s first environmental refugees. There are similar islands facing the same fate amid the vastness of the low-lying Sundarbans, the largest mangrove wilderness on the planet.

A third of the Sundarbans lies in India and two-thirds in Bangladesh. It is here that the waters of two of Asia’s biggest rivers, the Ganges and Brahmaputra, form the world’s largest delta. Across the India portion of the delta, homes have been swept away, fields and fruit trees ravaged by worsening monsoon rains, livelihoods sunk beneath the waves.

Lohachara Island was the world’s first populated island to be lost to climate change and its disappearance left more than 7,000 people homeless. Neighbouring Ghorama has lost a third of its land mass in the last five years. To the north, Sagar, the largest of India’s Sundarbans islands, already houses 20,000 refugees from the tides. The influx of displaced people is swamping the original inhabitants of Sagar, putting pressure on the island’s already fragile resources. Scientists believe the Ghorama islanders’ fate is being sealed 2,000km away, at the source of the Ganges, where the Himalayan glaciers are melting faster than ever before and the islands are bearing the brunt. Can you even imagine the feeling of literally watching your land sink beneath your feet?

Environmental refugees are the worst kind of refugees because they can never return. Their land is lost forever and they have no place to go. Governments have no plan for these stricken people whose only fault was to live where they have been living for centuries.

11 March 2009

e-waste in india

Computers sure are handy when they are working but once they've chewed their last byte, things can get a little messy. Toxic chemicals, carcinogens and heavy metals are all part of what makes their clocks tick and improper disposal can bring them all a little too close for human comfort.

Computer recycling is nothing new, but getting your old electronics to the great motherboard in the sky can be tricky to do responsibly. For years, developed countries have been exporting tons of electronic waste for inexpensive, labor-intensive recycling and disposal. Though the Indian Supreme Court banned the import of hazardous waste in 1997, e-waste still enters the country under the guise of charitable or re-usable materials, all duty-free.

It is estimated that the US alone exports 80% of its e-waste to China, India and Pakistan. Funnily enough, India’s regulatory body, the Central Pollution Control Board, continues to deny that e-waste is coming into India. But regardless, it is certain that legal loopholes are being exploited by importers, traders and recyclers alike to take advantage of a profitable business with a high human and environmental impact. Large e-waste centres exist in Delhi, Meerut, Ferozabad, Chennai, Bangalore and Mumbai, with 25,000 recyclers working in Delhi alone.

A report by India's Department of Scientific and Industrial Research shows that e-waste heading into India is increasing by 10% a year, with nearly all of it heading into urban slums for disassembly - which means a huge amount of toxins hitting a huge number of people. The total amount of India's e-waste imports is projected to reach 434,000 metric tons this year, and about 25,000 people in the country's slums will make up the bulk of the recycling industry there. The report notes that there is almost no oversight or regulation for dismantling used electronics there, which contain toxic substances like lead, mercury and cadmium, and are often disassembled in environmentally and toxic ways.

e-Waste is no small issue. Because it provides a form of income for those people working as dismantlers, their health is risked for survival - not a recipe for thriving. As stated above, the report estimates that 25,000 people in India's slums are working in this 'recycling' industry, where 95% of the e-waste imported will be dismantled. But that's just the people working in a way that can be reported - that's not all the people living in the area, breathing the air, drinking the water, walking past workshops. There is no really strong, wide-spread system for responsibly recycling e-waste.

Workers are poorly-protected in an environment where e-waste from PC monitors, PCBs, CDs, motherboards, cables, toner cartridges, light bulbs and tube-lights are burned in the open, releasing lead, mercury toxins into the air. Metals and non-degradable materials such as gold and platinum, aluminium, cadmium, mercury, lead and brominated flame-retardants are retrieved. “It is a means of livelihood for unorganized recyclers. Due to lack of awareness, they are risking their health and the environment as well. They use strong acids to retrieve precious metals such as gold. Working in poorly-ventilated enclosed areas without masks and technical expertise results in exposure to dangerous and slow-poisoning chemicals,” says Wilma Rodrigues of Bangalore-based NGO Saahas, adding that there are no clear guidelines for the unorganized sector to handle e-waste.

“Trade in e-waste, like that in other scrap, is dominated by the ‘informal’ sector. Although the waste trade sector in India is known as part of the ‘informal’ sector, it has a system that is highly organized with extensive co-ordination in an established network,” says K K Shajahan, principal consultant for Bangalore’s Indian Institute of Material Management. Though there have been efforts to organize and manage e-waste recycling from state to state – the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board, for example, has set down guidelines and authorized two companies to oversee corporate e-waste recycling as per their guidelines – nevertheless, some corporations, rather than to deal with the paperwork involved with the recycling procedures, will bypass them by passing e-waste off as “donations” to the unorganized sector.

According to Toxics Link, a Delhi-based NGO, India annually generates $1.5 billion worth of e-waste domestically, with the booming IT sector being the largest contributor, as 30% of its machines reach obsolescence annually. Bangalore alone generates 8,000 tons a year. A report put out by International Resource Group (IRG) estimates that by 2012, India’s domestic waste alone will amount to 1,600,000 tons.

Although the largely informal e-waste disposal industry and corresponding environmental threat is nothing new in India, it may now be changing as one of India’s largest metropolises is now boasting its very own professional e-waste pick-up service. Based in Mumbai, the privately owned and operated Eco Reco is the first of its kind in the state of Maharashtra and fourth in the country. Firms such as Eco Reco are taking advantage of a booming but hazardous industry, where e-waste is usually dismantled by workers with little protection in recycling plants that have even fewer safety and environmental contamination guidelines.

(Sourced from: www.treehugger.com)

09 March 2009

a secret to real girl power

For International Women's Day, I'm writing about something that all women like and some love to the point of worship - clothes! There are many ways in which you can be green with your wardrobe.

Start looking at the entire process of garment making. Think about the energy it takes to grow the raw materials for your clothes. Also consider the processes of spinning, weaving, dying, designing, stitching, marketing, display, retail, disposal and all the transport between and within stages. Each of these are energy intensive and form a small industry on their own.

As women, there are definitely a lot of things we can do to green out our wardrobes. If you are a homemaker and/or a mother - this extends to your family's clothing needs as well as teaching your children the importance of shopping 'right'. Read on for a few tips:

Shop with a plan
When you bring an article of clothing into your life, that cute little number has to have a place in your wardrobe. Abandoning the impulse buy may sound boring but how exciting is a closet full of stuff that doesn’t work? In the long run, knowing what you're looking for before you shop will save time and eliminate clutter. Think about the clothes you really would like to wear, colours and styles that suit you - don't be a fashion victim, stick to timeless pieces which wear the resistance of time. Really think about how long you are going to use an item of clothing before you buy it and how it will get along with everything else in the closet. If the answer to "Will I still want to wear this in two years?" or “Can I eventually find a way to use it in a craft project?” is no, skip it. Limit shopping for clothes only one or two times a year. Periodically clean out your cupboards - you might find some old treasures you would want to wear again languishing in the back. At the very least, you'll find a bunch of clothes you'll want to give away.

Love your duds
Whatever you've chosen, take good care of it. When you get home, change out of work gear and into your famous dressing gown or leisure suit. Don’t cook or check the tire pressure in clothes you want to wear in public. Learn how to sew a button back on, or how to coax a nimble friend into doing it for you. Get the name of a local tailor or seamstress for major repairs or alterations.

Don't go dry
Though the industry has improved much since since the 90s, there is still a high likelihood that your trusty corner cleaner uses perc (tetrachloroethylene), a known carcinogen. See if there is a local green cleaner employing 'wet cleaning' or liquid CO2 techniques. Many articles whose tags ask for the dry clean treatment can actually be hand washed, especially silk, wool and linen.

Buy vintage or used
People unload clothes for all types of reasons, and you know that adage about trash and treasure. From Oscar-worthy vintage dresses to Freecycled denim, you can likely find the piece you’re looking for second hand. You’ll be giving a cast-off garment a second life, and possibly supporting charitable work in the process.

Wash well
Washing wreaks the most havoc of all. It requires lots of water and energy, so only do it when you absolutely need to and have a full laundry load. Turn articles inside out and use the lowest temp possible. If you know you glowed all over a piece, make a thin salt paste and soak the affected fabric for a half hour before washing. Choose phosphate-free and biodegradable detergents and line dry as much as possible. Treat stains quickly with nontoxic removers. If you’re buying a new washing machine, look for one with an Energy Star label.

Wear organic
Though cotton is marketed as clean, fresh and natural, conventional varieties are anything but. It takes a third of a pound of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to produce the cotton for one T-shirt! That means lots of direct, unhealthy exposure for farmers, nearby wildlife and heaps of unnecessary pollution. Luckily, organic cotton is becoming easier and easier to find. As mega-stores get into the game, however, it’s important to stay vigilant about what organic means, so you know you’re really getting clean clothes. Also know that though the cotton may have been organic to start with, your T may be full of processing chemicals and metal-laden dyes.

Find a re-purpose
A re-purposed garment used to be another or many other articles. Designers all over the globe have taken on this transformative challenge in recent years, with very wearable results. This means a one-of-a-kind look for you, a new life for old fabric, and a livelihood for maverick re-users.

Approach new fabrics with skeptical enthusiasm
No doubt you’ve heard the hype around bamboo, soy, or even corn and jute fabric. The idea of finding alternatives to petrochemical-based and conventionally grown options makes us all perk up and we see why many eco-conscious designers are excited about them. Bamboo, for instance, sounds great: it’s a fast-growing plant, not reliant on chemicals, and beautifully drapes the human form. Trouble is, bamboo plantations can displace native forests, and the harvesting and fiber processing are often polluting and unregulated. As with soy, corn, and Tencel (which comes from trees) the processing from plant to fabric is energy and resource intensive. For now, approach these as alternatives to poly, nylon, acrylic or conventional silk and await more info. As always, shop with a plan: don’t fill multiple shopping bags just because the labels say 'eco'.

Choose clothes that work for you
It’s hard to feel beautiful in your raw silk dress when it’s likely that children’s scalded hands were part of the production chain. Conventional clothing might not say it, but clothing made under fair-wage and labor practices will usually advertise it. SweatShop Watch and Behind The Label are good sources of info.

Don’t throw it all away
Finally, a stain, a tear, or changing fashion threaten to separate you from your favorite dress shirt. Don’t just abandon your old friend to the waste-stream! If the condition is perfectly good, you can always donate or Freecycle it. Additionally you can convert it to something else - examples include reusuing old T-shirts as feather dusters and as bits of rags, changing your old denims into trendy handbags etc. It all just takes a little imagination. And every woman is blessed with plenty of this.

Rethink Accessories
Don't fall for the latest trends and buy pieces that suit you. Buy durable, long-lasting pieces that you would like to wear often. Buy pieces that go with a lot of things. Check out innovative jewelery made from recycled and/or natural products. Look for convertible pieces which have more than one purpose - a brooch that doubles as a pendant and/or a belt buckle for example. Buy vegan shoes, bags and belts if you can. The options are endless! Swap accessories with your friends - have a swapping party for a green cause. Mix it up to create a new look even with what you already have.

Girl power doesn't come from having a closet overflowing with the latest trends. It comes from figuring out what suits you and feeling comfortable in what you wear among other things - this process in itself is empowering. So go on, unleash the inner goddess. As any supergirl knows, real girl power comes not from what you wear, but the way you wear it.

(Sourced from: www.treehugger.com)

should individuals be subjected to carbon caps?

Cap and trade is possibly one of the most criticized and the most effective method of emission-trading devised. I wonder if some such similar method should be introduced to target individual polluters. A lot of people in the public eye - they are usually called 'celebrities' have energy intensive lifestyles. Their carbon footprint is vastly huger than the average-Joe, even the average American Joe.

Shouldn't there be some sort of system where they compensate for their energy intensive way of living?
Regardless of whether the 'energy debt' incurred is due to a good cause or a bad cause, there needs to be some sort of pay-up imposed. I'm not entirely sure how this would work, but I propose in half-jest a carbon-police squad or CPS for short.

The easiest method to use to track these 'energy guzzlers' would be to track their air-miles which should be easy enough. Working backwards from here, a general energy audit can be obtained or estimated. The idea of course is not to penalize these people but to make them realize that even if one part of their life is energy intensive, they can work on greening out the other parts.
The vacuous, generally useless group of 'celebrities' who have too much money and are not entirely sure what to do with it are probably going to be most obvious target for the CPS. Think of them as the obvious tax-dodgers who are a piece of cake for the IRS to track down. In the interest of not naming names, I think Paris Hilton should be the one of the first to be seriously reprimanded.

Then there are those other celebrities who try very hard to convince us that they're part of the über-trendy green club by spewing environmental speak and headlining Live Earth. But don’t be fooled by Mother Madonna. Take her recent Sticky & Sweet tour which earned $280 million. The 45-date tour, which included flights to 37 venues reportedly racked up more than 1, 635 tons of carbon pollution in travel alone--Madonna’s toll was 95 tons of carbon in just private jets, according to the Telegraph UK. The singer employed an on-the-road team of 250, including 12 seamstresses, 16 caterers, 9 wardrobe assistants, a personal trainer and masseuse. Let's not forget to mention her annual $100,000 buying sprees on bottled water... and she wears fur.

Football’s mega-star gets a red card on the green front. Becks’ earned yet another honour: the world’s largest carbon footprint, according to Carbon Trust, UK. Just Becks' lifestyle alone puts out a staggering 163 tons of carbon dioxide. In 2007 Becks flew 250,000 miles--jetting off to play soccer games worldwide and fulfill his advertising contracts. Add to that his wife’s seemingly daily travels to different shopping locales worldwide and you get one hefty carbon footprint. Besides their penchant for private planes and endless globe-trotting escapades, Becks and Posh also fuel multiple estates as well as 15 vehicles, including a Hummer, an Aston-Martin, 2 Ferraris and a Lamborghini.

So the super-rich including Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, Elizabeth Hurley and even Tiger Woods are on the CPS list. Most of them on the list have a carbon-footprint equivalent to a small country! Even the greenest of them slip up and in celebville, a little slip up more often that not, includes flying out your Prius from Japan (Paul McCartney) or flying in your hairstylist from half-way across the world (Jennifer Aniston). There are of course also politicians to be added to this list starting with John McCain and Nicolas Sarkozy.
Unfortunately also, environmental campaigners like Al Gore and Dr. Pachauri who through his own admission says that traveling to his commitments makes him a high offender. This list would also include people who travel for business, sports-people, musicians etc etc etc

So how to separate the ones with high carbon footprints with good intentions and the ones who just use the green-spin for publicity?
The only solution is that regardless of intentions, every individual emitting beyond the national average should be asked to participate in some sort of carbon 'tax' scheme. Top choices would be carbon offsetting and/or reducing their footprint.

It's only fair to the rest of us who carry our own bags and switch off the lights every time we leave a room.

08 March 2009

green your electricity

The cost of energy in terms of money and also environmental risks is going up. 50% of the energy generated in the US is from coal. The percentage of energy sources from other other parts of the world is more of less around the same figure. However there are some ways in which you can save energy and here are some useful tips on how to improve your energy usage:

Audit yourself
A home energy audit is a way to inventory your home's energy use, where energy is lost and where it can be saved. You can do an energy audit yourself or get a pro.

Reduce your use
  • Replace your light bulbs with CFLs or LEDs
  • Turn off lights and other devises when they're not needed
  • Eliminating electronics that sleep on a standby setting - remember 'vampire power'
  • Clothes driers gobble up a lot of power, so line drying can be a great energy saver
Put your house on a diet
Homes consume an enormous amount of energy, especially in heating and cooling. Keep your house cool with natural ventilation instead of air conditioning as much as possible. Use in-room, ceiling, or whole-house fans to move air throughout the house. Blocking sunlight during hot hours of the day can help lower your cooling load. If your house uses electricity for water heating, wrapping your water tank in an insulating blanket can save on power.

Buy wise
After cooling and heating, appliances and other plug-in devises are the next biggest users of energy in your abode. When looking for new appliances, seek out the most energy-efficient models. Most new appliances come with a yellow EnergyGuide label which shows its consumption in terms of kWh per year. Also look for Energy Star rated products. Electronics like computers and audio equipment can be big power suckers, too. Look for EPEAT and Energy Star rating for these.

Homemade juice
Installing an home alternative energy system is becoming more and more cost effective as technology improves and assistance programs spread. Photovoltaic, or solar electric, systems are the most common. Depending on your available space, local climate, budget, and local utility, a solar electric system can provide all the energy needed for a typical home.

Charge up your toys
For all the portable electronic gizmos in your life, consider feeding them green power with a solar charger. Some look like notebooks, cell phones, flowers, or are built into backpacks. Your MP3 player, laptop, PDA, cell phone, and camera can all be charged with portable solar, and you'll never find yourself searching for a plug.

If you build it…you will save
A home or building designed and constructed around energy efficiency can realize enormous savings. Everything from the positioning of the house, use of daylight and natural ventilation, lighting, appliances, renewable energy system can push a building to net zero energy consumption. If you are considering building a home, do serious renovations, or an addition, make sure that energy efficiency is a key design criterion. The Energy Star rating system has a home certification program and LEED now has a rating system for residential homes.

Sign up for green power
Getting green power may be as easy as checking a box on your energy bill. It often costs a bit more but not much and it helps support the industry for clean, green power. Before you sign up, though, ask where they're getting their power from. If it's a source like waste coal or waste-to-power, you might be better off buying your credits elsewhere.

Think lifecycle
We all use energy. Even an off-the-grid house is filled with embodied energy. Everything from the power it took to manufacture the solar panels to the fuel burned in transporting the micro wind turbine from the factory - embodied energy or lifecycle energy, is in everything we buy and use. Manufacturing, advertising, packaging, shipping, etc. are all part of a product's energy history. Look at the bigger picture - be energy smart and rethink your choices.

(Sourced from www.treehugger.com)

the biggest oxymoron

Adding to the list of 'healthy fast-food', 'good government', 'peacekeeping force' and... 'Microsoft works' there is the newest oxymoron: clean coal. Coal of course has been one of the earliest sources of energy and at one point it was known as 'black gold'. Nowadays it is being rebranded as 'clean coal'.

Clean coal is an umbrella term used to promote the use of coal as an energy source by emphasizing methods being developed to reduce its environmental impact. These efforts include chemically washing minerals and impurities from the coal, gasification, treating the flue gases with steam to remove sulfur dioxide, carbon capture and storage technologies. Major politicians and the coal industry use the term 'clean coal' to describe technologies designed to enhance both the efficiency and the environmental acceptability of coal extraction, preparation and use, with no specific quantitative limits on any emissions, particularly carbon dioxide.

Even if clean coal technologies can be developed and deployed at a commercial scale in power generation, they will do nothing to make the mining of coal a less polluting activity. As 25.5% of the world's electrical generation in 2004 was from coal-fired generation, reaching the carbon dioxide reduction targets of the Kyoto Protocol will require modifications to how coal is utilized. Carbon sequestration technology has yet to be tested on a large scale and may not be safe or successful. Sequestered CO2 may eventually 'leak' up through the ground, may lead to unexpected geological instability or may cause contamination of aquifers used for drinking water supplies.

The byproducts of coal combustion are considerably hazardous to the environment if not properly contained. Coal-fired power plants are the largest aggregate source of mercury: 50 tons per year come from coal power plants out of 150 tons emitted nationally in the USA and 5000 tons globally. There are forms of clean energy such as geothermal, biomass, solar, wind and hydroelectric and other renewable energy sources which are supported by many of the environmentalist groups and campaigns. Critics of the planned power plants assert that there is no such thing as 'clean coal' and that the plant will still release large amounts of pollutants compared to renewable energy sources such as wind power and solar power.

By this technology, emissions and wastes are not avoided, but are transferred from one waste stream to another. As coal-fired power plants work to create cleaner skies, they'll likely fill up landfills with millions more tons of potentially harmful ash. Chemicals are injected into plants' emissions to capture airborne pollutants. That, in turn, changes the composition of the ash and cuts its usefulness. It can't be used in cement, for example, because the interaction of the chemicals may keep the concrete from hardening.

That ash has to go somewhere - so it usually ends up in landfills, along with the rest of the unusable waste. Essentially, replacing an air problem with a land problem - a disposal problem. The chemicals added to clean up emissions - such as ammonia, lime and calcium hydroxide - make the ash worse, because they take toxins such as mercury out of the air but leave higher levels of it in the ash.

Coal works because it is cheap - but does it really? Ultimately there is no such thing as 'clean coal' and it is about time politicians stop pushing the agenda of coal industrialists. Give them all a new business plan - switch to renewable energy sources. If the so-called developed countries still continue to use outdated technologies, they cannot expect the less-privileged countries to give up the same cheap technology. Out with the old, says I. What says you?

Coen Brothers' TV advert for clean coal

word of the year - 2008

Ok, so I'm a little late in posting a blog about word of the year, 2008. It was included in the New Oxford American Dictionary last year. It is believed to be coined by Wayne Gerdes in 2004 and it's based on the concept of getting the best mileage on your car. The word is: hypermiling.

'Hypermiling' or 'to hypermile' is to attempt to maximize gas mileage by making fuel-conserving adjustments to one’s car and one’s driving techniques. Rather than aiming for good mileage or even great mileage, hypermilers seek to push their gas tanks to the limit and achieve hypermileage, exceeding EPA ratings for miles per gallon. Wayne talks about it on his
site and posts regular updates on the concept and how to hypermile.

While common techniques can be carried out by average motorists making minor changes in their driving habits, some expert hypermilers use more advanced techniques. Drivers can increase a vehicle's kilometers per liter simply by remaining focused while driving and anticipating the need to brake or accelerate. Hypermilers seek to minimize both braking and rapid acceleration. Another way to improve fuel economy is by planning routes in advance to determine the shortest distance and fewest stops. Fuel can be saved by shutting the engine off, rather than allowing it to idle while stopped or parked. Also, drivers should be conscious of other behaviors that may potentially sap a vehicle's fuel such as running the air conditioning or driving with the windows open.

Essential maintenance is needed to get maximum performance out of your vehicle. Additionally properly inflating tires and maintaining correct air pressure reduces fuel consumption upto 30%. President Obama observed during his campaign that Americans could save as much oil as would be produced by proposed off-shore drilling if only they kept their tire pressures at recommended levels and took their cars in for regular tune-ups. Reducing weight load by removing unnecessary objects from the vehicle like luggage racks adds to fuel efficiency. Every extra kilo adds 10% to total fuel consumed.

The primary principles of hypermiling revolve around the concepts of changing driving habits and to sum up, they are:
  • Pumping up your tires to the maximum rating on their sidewalls, which may be higher than levels recommended in car manuals. This reduces rolling resistance
  • Use engine oil of a low viscosity
  • Keep speeds down - the amount of drag your vehicle generates increases exponentially with each increase in speed; that is, driving a little faster generates a lot more drag, which requires more gas to overcome
  • Accelerate gently
  • Avoid excessive idling
  • Remove cargo racks to also cut down on aerodynamic drag
  • Avoid unnecessary braking; coast to slow down
Whilst the concept of hypermiling was developed to work on different road and driving conditions, certain tips can be adapted to suit Indian roads. Driving with fuel efficiency in mind not only makes it economically feasible but also make the roads a safer place.

These concepts can be put to use on Indian roads by not over-taking within city limits, over-accelerating to reach stop-lights before it changes and braking suddenly when you’ve missed it. According to studies this consumes an extra 0.5L of fuel and saves you 4seconds on a 30min journey not to mention added frustration – is it really worth it? Managing speed through changing gears and gradually decelerating to a stop requires practice and anticipation of the road ahead.

The most important concept is maintaining a steady speed which in itself is a fuel-saving method. Every time you hit the brakes, forward-movement energy is converted to heat by the brake pads and lost. Every time you accelerate, your engine must fight against friction
and inertia, and must work much harder than just to cruise at a constant speed. It is the combination of these two things - energy lost as heat when braking and extra energy necessary to increase speed - that makes changing speed unnecessarily a wasteful way to drive.

Think about this the next time you take your car out for a spin. No matter how good or bad your road conditions are, all it takes it a little bit of practice and anticipation. I've already been able to increase my mileage using these concepts
, on Indian roads - I challenge you to try!

03 March 2009

the mobile green-pack

I'm on the market for a cellphone and like with any product I check out the internet first for user reviews, performance updates, price comparisons etc. The past two years has seen an explosion of eco-friendly cellphones and for obvious reasons I'm gravitating towards one of these.

Cell phones are probably one of the most frequently updated item of gadgetry. The average Indian changes cellphones every 18 months. Cell phones batteries are also a source of lithium, cadmium and other harmful chemicals. Not to mention all the metal and plastic bits on a phone. Out of all modern technology, cellphones are probably my favourite, next to digital cameras of course! My criteria for a green cell phone:
  • the phone should be manufactured with recycled material as much as possible
  • the production process of the phone itself should not be carbon intensive
  • good battery life, features and ease of use
  • should be easily recycled at the end of its use
  • extra points for recyclable packaging
  • should be affordable and look cool
So I've shortlisted a few. Take a look!

Sony Ericsson Green Heart:

Sony Ericsson is probably one of the greenest companies around. First, it has announced a new environmental warranty. And second, it has unveiled a new green concept phone called the GreenHeart.

The environmental warranty is essentially a green light for easy recycling. Now, when any Sony Ericsson product is taken to a designated collection point, the company will recycle this product in an environmentally sound way. This warranty is valid globally, regardless of where the product was originally purchased.

So far, over 500 collection points have been opened up in India, Taiwan, China, Thailand, Singapore USA and Mexico. And the company plans to expand the program so that every country in which it operates will have easily accessible collection points for recycling.

Now on to the more exciting news about GreenHeart. It is the new concept phone that would feature some very cool green elements. It is a full concept with all life cycle in mind it includes features such as bio-plastic housings, recycled plastic keypads, zero charger with 3.5mW standby power, HTML based e-manuals, a game style educational application ‘Ecomate’ and environmentally conscious packaging.

Nokia 3110 Evolve:

The company recently knocked off Sony Ericsson on the Greenpeace list of most sustainable electronic companies. Nokia, is focusing on phones that have green features. Phones with these features beep when they're fully charged so that they can be unplugged. They have a light sensor that detects natural light so that the phone can save energy.

The Evolve comes with a media player, a 1.3 megapixel camera, bluetooth as well as external memory to store music and photos. What I like best is that the phone comes with a AC-8 charger that minimises the 'vampire power' consumption in case you forget to unplug it from the power socket. The packaging is smaller and uses 60% recycled materials. The body is made up of unpainted bio-sourced materials that reduce fossil fuel usage.

It looks pretty basic but it is incoporates environment-friendly innovations. If the Green heart and Blue Earth turn out to be too expensive I might just go with this one. Nokia is unfailingly user-friendly which is always a bonus.

Samsung Blue Earth Cell Phone:

Hitting the UK in the second half of 2009, the Samsung Blue Earth phone is a touchscreen smart phone that can apparently generate the power it needs to make a call any time from the solar panel built into the back.

Most of the phone is constructed from PCM, a plastic extracted from recycled water bottles and both the handset and energy efficient charger ditch harmful substances such as Brominated Flame Retardants, Beryllium and Phthalate.
Additionally, the phone comes in recycled packaging.“Samsung’s ‘The Blue Earth Dream’ demonstrates our small but meaningful commitments for the future and our environment,” said Mr. JK Shin, Executive Vice President and Head of Mobile Communication Division of Samsung Electronics.

It has a built-in pedometer that can calculate and tell you how many trees you are saving by walking instead of driving. At first glance, the solar power feature is pretty darn exciting. But it is questionable of how powerful that solar panel must be to charge up an energy-intensive touchscreen phone for 24/7 use. Perhaps it's simply that it can get enough juice from the sun to make a call, but not run much else on the phone. Also, are people really going to leave their phone in the sun long enough and often enough to charge it? At any rate, it's an excellent addition to a cell phone so that needed back-up power can be gathered when it's bright out.

Motorola Renew:

It is being touted as the world's first carbon neutral cell phone. The MOTO W233 Renew is made from plastics comprised of recycled water bottles and is100% recyclable. Through an alliance with Carbonfund.org, Motorola offsets the carbon dioxide required to manufacture, distribute and operate the phone through investments in renewable energy sources and reforestation. The phone has earned Carbonfund.org’s CarbonFree® Product Certification after an extensive product life-cycle assessment.

When designing the packaging, Motorola was able to reduce its size by 22% and the box and all of the materials inside are printed on 100% post-consumer recycled paper. In addition, a postage-paid recycling envelope in box makes it easy to return your previous mobile phone for recycling at no cost. Renew was designed for eco-conscious consumers as well as the millions of people who put making phone calls as their number one priority in a mobile phone. With nine hours of talk time, CrystalTalk technology and messaging capabilities, Renew makes environmental responsibility affordable for consumers everywhere. Renew will first be available at T-Mobile USA in 2009.


This is a fairly basic cellphone in comparion. It is designed to be used in locations where electricity and charging outlets are not readily available. While it is marketed as environmentally friendly, the only thing green about it is its ability to charge up with the sun. Solar can be used in any type of handset if you have a solar charger powerful enough to charge the phone's battery. But is this solar cell strong enough?

The phone is really bare bones, it
looks like, so it very well might be enough, especially if the phone is only used for short, infrequent calls. Again, this is supposed to be a basic phone for basic use in places where electricity is scarce. But if that's the case seems like a greener, cheaper option would be to organize better used cell phone redistribution programs and package them up with quality external solar chargers that use fewer materials in total.

I'm a little dubious about Samsung's solar panels. I would buy it only if its reasonably cheap - I admit it looks pretty good, albeit bulky and has some cool eco-features. Although the idea of Motorola's first carbon-free phone is exciting, it looks rather drab. But I'm leaning more towards Sony Ericsson or Nokia. Ultimately the availability of the phone in India will be my biggest deciding factor. This list is by no means comprehensive, it is just a small guideline to what's out there. It is also important to bear in mind the manufacturer's eco-ranking - according to the Greenpeace list Sony Ericsson and Nokia are pretty high up.

The market for green phones is not expected to take off for another 2-5years, but the reason that manufacturers have put them out there is to stay ahead of the curve. Sure, they might be more expensive than other models but if you can afford it and have the option why not choose it. Ultimately, what is the price being paid for being 'cheap'?

02 March 2009

rainbow warriors

There was an old lady, from the Cree tribe, named Eyes of Fire, who prophesied that one day, because of the white mans' greed, there would come a time, when the fish would die in the streams, the birds would fall from the air, the waters would be blackened, and the trees would no longer be, mankind as we would know it would all but cease to exist.

There would come a time when the 'keepers of the legend, stories, culture rituals, and myths, and all the Ancient Tribal Customs' would be needed to restore us to health. They would be mankinds’ key to survival, they were the 'Warriors of the Rainbow'. There would come a day of awakening when all the peoples of all the tribes would form a New World of Justice, Peace, Freedom and recognition of the Great Spirit.

The 'Warriors of the Rainbow' would spread these messages and teach all peoples of the Earth. Warriors would give the people principles or rules to follow to make their path right with the world. Warriors of the Rainbow would teach the people of the ancient practices of Unity, Love and Understanding. They would teach of Harmony among people in all four comers of the Earth.

Their children would once again be able to run free and enjoy the treasures of Nature and Mother Earth - free from the fears of toxins and destruction. The rivers would again run clear, the forests be abundant and beautiful, the animals and birds would be replenished. The powers of the plants and animals would again be respected and conservation of all that is beautiful would become a way of life.

The poor, sick and needy would be cared for by their brothers and sisters of the Earth. These practices would again become a part of their daily lives. The leaders of the people would be chosen in the old way - not by their political party, or who could speak the loudest, boast the most, or by name calling or mud slinging, but by those whose actions spoke the loudest. Those who demonstrated their love, wisdom, and courage and those who showed that they could and did work for the good of all, would be chosen as the leaders or Chiefs.

They would be chosen by their 'quality' and not the amount of money they had obtained. Like the thoughtful and devoted 'Ancient Chiefs', they would understand the people and see that their young were educated with the love and wisdom of their surroundings. They would show them that miracles can be accomplished to heal this world of its ills, and restore it to health and beauty.

The tasks of these 'Warriors of the Rainbow' are many and great. There will be terrifying mountains of ignorance to conquer and they shall find prejudice and hatred. They must be dedicated, unwavering in their strength, and strong of heart. They will find willing hearts and minds that will follow them on this road of returning the planet to beauty and plenty - once more.

The day will come, it is not far away. The day that we shall see how we owe our very existence to the people of all tribes that have maintained their culture and heritage. Those that have kept the rituals, stories, legends, and myths alive. It will be with this knowledge, the knowledge that they have preserved, that we shall once again return to harmony with Nature.

- Lelanie Fuller Stone 'The Cherokee Lady'

Only when the last tree has been felled, the last river poisoned and the last fish caught, man will know, that he cannot eat money
- Cree Indian Saying

01 March 2009

lions of india

Not many people know that there are lions in India. I get laughed at for even suggesting something as 'ridiculous' as that. Lions are normally associated with the African Savannah but like the two kinds of elephants, there are two kinds of lions. The sub-species can only be found in a single location in the wild - the Gir forest in Gujarat, India. Although genetically distinct from the sub-Saharan African lion, the difference is not large. Now that we've established that the do exist - what are they differences? Asiatic lions are smaller, with shaggier coats and shorter manes making the ears visible among other minor physical differences. However, their social behaviour remains much the same.

Currently due to their small population size and similarity in gene pool they are threatened by habitat loss and disease. After India gained independence in 1947, the Gir forest was declared a natural park and sanctuary. The most important threat to the lions is the increasing hostility towards them by the resident human population - no surprises there! Lions are poisoned for attacking livestock. Farmers on the periphery of the Gir forest frequently use crude and illegal electrical fences by powering them with high voltage overhead power lines. These are usually intended to protect their crops but lions and other wildlife are also killed. The Government is coming up with schemes to alleviate the situation and educate the people about conservation.

Considering that the entire population of lions live in one area, they are extremely vulnerable to disease, climatic, man-made and natural disasters. The Gir forest currently has around 350 lions and shifting some of the population to different parts of India will ensure their survival better. The Central government is already pressing hard for shifting the lions from Gir to Kuno-Palpur sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh. This is being applauded by conservationists as a forward thinking and encouraging step in the right direction.

According to Pradeep Khanna in an
article in Times of India, additional principal chief conservator of forest, creating gene pools were part of the longterm effort to save the Asiatic lion. "There are two ways of conservation - one, within the environment and second, bringing the animal out of the environment and conserving the genetic diversity. The gene pool will have 10 to 20 animals per pool," said Khanna.

The IUCN lists this sub-species as critically endangered. They are additionally vulnerable because all 350 lions are inbred from 13 pairs which makes the immune system of these animals highly compromised. Asiatic lions were once found all over Southwest Asia and Europe. Aristotle and Herodotus wrote that they were found in the Balkans.
The last one died out in Turkey in the 19th century. If current conservation efforts are supported, the Asiatic lion will be here to stay. If not, like the ancient lions of Greece... they will become a myth.

they were here before us

A couple of weeks ago I watched the movie 'Sharkwater' and was truly horrified by the amount of shark finning that still continues. Sharks have been on the Earth for over 400 million years. They are an evolutionary masterpiece and perfectly adapted for their role as the top-most predator in the ocean food chains of the world.

As a key-stone predator, sharks have shaped the evolution of many creatures as predation is one of the primary forms of natural selection. There is also very little change between modern sharks and sharks from a million years ago which means that they are so well adapted to their environment that there is very little natural selection pressure on them... until we came along. Not only are we disturbing shark population by pollution, long-line fishing etc but sharks are also hunted for their fins which is a multi-billion dollar industry. Shark-fin hunting is a brutal practice where the animal is thrown back into the sea and left to die with all its fins cut off.

Shark specialists estimate that 100 million sharks are killed for their fins, annually resulting in the devastating loss of shark populations around the world. Experts estimate that within a decade, most species of sharks will be lost because of longlining, finning and unsustainable fishery. The massive quantity of sharks harvested and lack of selection deplete shark populations faster than their reproductive abilities can replenish population threatens the stability of marine ecosystems.

Each country with a coastline is responsible for laws and regulations pertaining to fishing in their waters. According to the IUCN Shark Specialist group, the easiest way to implement a ban is to require that shark carcasses be landed with fins attached. The possession of fins alone on vessels would thus be illegal. Shark finning violates the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. The United Nations Convention on the Trade of Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) lists the whale shark, basking shark, and great white shark as species that could become threatened if trade is not controlled. To date, 169 countries have agreed to be legally bound by CITES.

The following statistics were found in an article written by Maneka Gandhi for PFA. Of the 368 species of sharks in the world, we have 50 in Indian waters. The largest is the 50 feet long whale shark and the smallest is the 8-inch long pygmy ribbontail catshark. We have a 7000 km long coastline. According to the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, the Fishery Survey of India annually , around 70,000 tonnes of shark fins are sourced from India. For 1 tonne of shark fins about 650 sharks are killed. Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh are responsible for 85% of the shark killings in India. Chennai and Mumbai are the major shark fin trading centres. An average small fisherman about Rs 25/day. The company sells them for Rs 250. The foreign restaurant retails the single bowl of soup for Rs 6,000. Ironically, shark fin has no nutrition and is tasteless - the flavour of the soup usually comes from chicken broth.

These figures are alarming. As the top ocean predator, sharks contribute in keeping our fish stocks and oceans healthy. Oceans without these powerful, graceful and shy creatures are unimaginable. A situation we are likely to face in an estimated 10 years if action is not taken now. They were here much before us, it is a shame that all we see now is a bowl of soup.