22 June 2010

my take on Yosemite...

Photo: Akhila Vijayaraghavan © View of the Yosemite Valley

Photography has been a great passion and I am an ardent hobby photographer. I pretty much make photographs of everything although there are moments that are truly sublime. These moments usually happen when I catch the light at the right time or am suddenly able to 'see' differently. This shift of perception is tangible and it usually happens when I'm photographing landscapes or doing macros.

Art is an accurate barometer of the socio-political and economic atmosphere . It not only reflects these events but also in some way has the ability to influence or change. All great artists know this, which is why they intuitively realize that they have a responsibility towards something bigger than themselves.

In the forum of art and environmental protection, there are countless artists who have made their contributions known. In the era of Woodstock, several musicians sprang forth with anthems that are still popular today. There are others who has made their mark by extrapolating their love of Nature in their work and for me, one of the greats in this category is Ansel Adams. His photographs of America's National Parks pushes past the black and white images and seeks to lodge itself deep inside the retina. Of all the places he photographed, he loved Yosemite the best and it's not hard to see why to anyone who has been there.

Yosemite is one of those places on Earth that seems to have rolled right off of God's hands. Its magnificence is of a scale unto its own - ethereal, sublime, majestic and yet playful. I was in Heaven with mouth-open awe the whole time I was there and couldn't stop snapping away. The beauty of such places cannot be adequately described in words, photographs or even through merely seeing but only by feeling.

Adams' is one of the people who understood this and his work not only manages to convey the silent grandeur of such places but also equally firmly suggests at conservation. The National Parks in America saw an influx of visitors through Adams' work and this still continues to hold true. This was his most important contribution to the environmental movement - to make people go and appreciate their natural surroundings. All conservation starts from the inward retreat upon confrontation of beauty and this is something that he understood very well.

There are so few places on Earth untouched by human activity and National Parks are meant to be protected habitat. Stresses felt on the rest of the world will be felt even in these places. Respect for the natural environment will go a long way to ensure that these little oases of Paradise remain protected.

Sometimes I get to places when God is ready to have somebody click the shutter - Ansel Adams

07 June 2010

big oil and CSR

Big Oil and CSR are about as compatible as chalk and cheese. Having said that it must not be forgotten that one of the pioneers of employing CSR was oil megamoth, Shell. Shell's sustainability reputation now remain in tatters and that is a testament to how much companies can get by with green-washing the public.

Operating in one of the most polluting businesses requires there to be certain environmental and social boundaries. The BP disaster is a proof to this fact - it provides not just environmental problems of massive proportions but also makes an interesting case study from a CSR point of view. CSR is not public relations but public relations is CSR. This is the point of balance on which BP dances as it strives to hang onto whatever little reputation is has. Industry analysts predict that due to rapidly dropping BP shares, it will be easier for another company to buy out the British petroleum giant. After over a hundred years in the business with various controversies, it is hard to imagine that the company will cease to exist if it does not recover.

The clean up operation is said to cost the company anywhere between $20-25bn. Its overall revenue is in the range of $120bn which has now dropped to $80bn. For a giant corporation to pay out $20bn in clean-up charges is no big deal. It is a certain bad luck that the spill occurred off the coast of United States and affected American fishermen. If the same spill of the same magnitude had happened, say off the coast of Africa, the pay out charges would have been far less and any environmental impact could have been swept clean under the carpet.

Consider this: BP's CSR campaign has a budget of $125 million which is not even 10% of their annual revenue. BP is a classic example of 'green-washing' where it has positioned itself to be seriously investing in alternative energy sources etc, but in fact their main revenue source is from petroleum. Throughout their years in operation, BP has been hit by CSR disasters:

  • An explosion at a Texas City refinery in March 2005 killed 15 workers
  • Price fixing in the propane gas market in 2007
  • Corrosion in the Alaskan pipeline which caused a leak and shut down production in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska in August 2006

Big Oil is in desperate need of CSR reform. The mistake that most oil companies make is to get CSR hopelessly muddled up with 're-branding' and then continue business as usual. To put a new face on the oil industry, there needs to be far-reaching consistent action in operations at every level apart from investment in alternate energy sources.

Currently the industry faces a severe lack of sustainability innovation and have fallen into the trap of talking more rather than doing more. There is not a single company that is serious about CSR even though they operate in one of the most harmful businesses. This is simply because there is not enough regulation. There is also increasing demand for petroleum products - these facts are something that Big Oil takes complete advantage of. Plus, they have infinite financial resources to pay their way through any situation.

Big Oil CSR is sleazy and non-quantifiable. However after the worst oil-spill in the world, it is a shame if it has to remain that way.

06 June 2010

praying for rain...

Yes I know World Environment Day has come and gone and I have failed to acknowledge it. Indeed I am being very belligerent posting this today. The newspapers have gone back to being normal coloured and the TV channels are not compelling you to 'tune in for World Environment Day'. The day after yesterday is really just back to business after a day of green hoopla. This is precisely my point now and in previous 'environment day' posts.

Today I am reflective, the glorious red flame of the forest trees are in full bloom and the monsoons are around the corner in India. It always brings back memories of splashing around in the rain after school and then tucking into some hot chai. It has been 10 years since I graduated from school - in those years, rainfall patterns have perceptibly changed. Summers have gotten measurably hotter, rainfall less intense and duration of monsoons have also gotten shorter.

Last year Greenpeace hung a banner off the Mumbai-Thane bridge to bring to attention to the sporadic monsoons. It was covered in the last world environment day post. This year Greenpeace has released a video which in true style is creative and stresses again a call for action. Watch it below.

A whole year has passed and there have been no milestones or remarkable achievements, then again a year is not enough to undo decades of damage. But where is the start that we have been hankering for?

Bonn climate negotiations have started, which is the follow-up to Copenhagen. It is anybody's guess as to what will come out of them. There is no use worrying or feeling hopeless.

Right now, it is stiflingly hot. The sky is making lots of noises and there is a gloom of heavy rainclouds that will not burst open in welcome showers. Why? We do not know, but I suspect its because the number of trees in the city has dwindled. So like that guy in the Dean Martin song, I too am praying for rain; for very different reasons...