Wednesday, May 13, 2020

My City My Responsibility - Future of the Story of Plastic!

Dear All,

PPE made of Plastic

Plastic an ubiquitous thing on earth and is quite indispensable for most of us whether we like it or not. Yet this invention has now become an evil for the environment due to innumerable reasons.  When it comes to sustainability, plastic appears to be one of those materials that can be very efficient, cost effective and user friendly. However plastic waste disposal is a global problem that is choking up our oceans, filling our lands and entering our food chains. These thoughts were triggered after watching the documentary titled Story of Plastic aired on the occasion of this year's Earth Day. 

This documentary not only shows how big is the plastic pollution problem but also shows where does it come from and how it is a systemic problem than just an individual's choice. It captures the entire supply chain right from the use of petroleum to produce plastic to plastic pollution to its implications for climate change. Indeed it is an eye opening documentary when it comes to the life threatening impacts of plastic pollution. It pictures how managing the plastic waste is bigger challenge for developing countries where the plastic wastes are being shipped all the way by the developed nations. But when plastic wastes are no more accepted by the developing countries, how ineffective recycling plants create downgraded plastic products that cause even much more harm. Plastic pollution and its linkages with poverty, cheap labor and women who are involved in the overall process of sorting the wastes, recycling and processing especially in India have been highlighted as well. However packaging material and consumption of single-use plastic products like straws, carry bags and shampoo or food sachets etc pose bigger challenges of disposal, is the ultimate issue that we have been grappling with as per the documentary while the mismanagement of plastic is just an excuse to get away from the hidden agenda of the petroleum companies.

Given all these facts and concerns, the movie fails to effectively showcase the way forward apart from a ban on single use plastic and packaging material. The movie completely disregards the benefits of plastic especially if we consider the current pandemic scenario where PPE's made out of plastic have been the most efficient and easily affordable material for our safety. 

Me @Khamir in Kachchh
learning to weave plastic bags
PC: Dr Priyadarshini Karve
I believe it is important to understand that even if we ban plastic completely today, an existing single waste bottle will take upto 450 years to decompose. From the entire host of plastic products that we consume to the huge plastic products that we use, its quite obvious that plastics are here to stay forever. So definitely banning plastic may not be that helpful, however can we explore and have stringent policies in place in order to phase out the production of virgin plastic along with creating complex recycling techniques that are effective, local and low cost that will ensure upcycling plastic waste into a much better and more durable and eco-friendly product? One such local example that quickly comes to my mind is of Aarohana Ecosocial development a plastic upcycling initiative by Amita Deshpande where plastic carry bags are cleaned and woven into attractive handbags, purses and mats that even generate local livelihoods for women. Inspired by Khamir, a platform in Kachchh that promotes indigenous knowledge on handicrafts and allied cultural practices for creation and preservation of local communities.

From the packaging problem perspective, a global standardization for packaging can be adopted that will improve recycling and ease resource recovery which in turn will enable circular economic models. As per Our World in Data statistics, mismanaged plastic waste is generated highly by the high income groups versus low income groups, but that is mostly due to accessibility, its not that the low income groups are wiser! Also countries having longer coastlines have seen tremendous mismanaged plastic wastes. So the question of managing plastic waste can be tackled only with the help better segregation and effective waste management infrastructure.  

When we talk about segregation another challenge is the segregation within the various plastic items, because some products like transparent PET bottles can be easily recycled or reused, while some products may need complicated processes in order to recycle them. The used PPE's are of hazardous nature and will have to be incinerated right away. For such products we need more effective technologies for incineration that are least polluting. Given the nature of plastic and its versatility, we need to explore for more such processes where a plastic waste turns out to be the raw material for another product.

Now that there is so much plastic in nature, some bacteria and fungi have started evolving the ability to eat it. Apart from recycling, such interesting ways to deal with plastics wastes are upcoming. Another concept of producing bioplastics from startch are already available, however problems with this plastic is about its look and feel which is exactly same like ordinary plastic and hence differentiating it is difficult plus its also a controversial issue when it comes to food security. Hence there's a lot of scope for research in this field to produce sustainable polymers.

In one of my earlier blogs I did mention why plastics were ever invented. A lot of scope lies for sustainable innovation given the technological advances today, industries have a great role to play. Better quality of plastics can be produced that have low carbon footprint and hence can reduce pollution. The idea is to no longer term plastic as WASTES but as a KEY resource and start reusing it at source. Many individuals do come up with innovative ways that ensure their plastics don't end up in a landfill or an ocean. A more systemic approach will help to solve the plastic problem that involves engaging public sector as well as private sector to pitch for effective enforcement of existing policies and strategies. 

In October 2018, UN Environment programme and the Ellen Mcarthur Foundation announced the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment with more than 290 signatories having a common vision to treat plastics at source based on circular economy models. One of the pioneers in circular economy has been the Banyan Nation who are converting collected post consumer and industrial plastic waste into high quality recycled granules which are termed as Better Plastic that has strength as good as virgin plastic. There are several such examples already who are using plastic as a resource for better economic gains. Its time we start valuing plastic as a raw material and use it effectively for the betterment of the environment.

Pournima Agarkar. 

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Monday, May 4, 2020


Over the last few days, various people kept messaging me - have you seen the Michael Moore Documentary 'Planet of the Humans'? It is shocking, depressing, a must-see, etc., etc., etc.

Reading about the documentary, I had got an impression that it is an American documentary about American energy scene. When it was released on the Earth Day, a lot of criticism started appearing from scientists and environmental activists in the USA. It was also quite weird to see that climate denier and white supremacist website and twitter feeds were going all gung ho about Michael Moore! Having read his book 'Stupid White Men', that was the most shocking thing for me! But it was equally surprising to see the documentary being paid a lot of positive attention by Indian environmentalists! I had not expected it to make much of a ripple here at all!

Anyway, the long and short of it is that curiosity finally drove me to watch the documentary, and I would like to share some thoughts on it. 

My recommendation: You would be better off watching the classic 1968 movie 'Planet of The Apes' than this documentary! 

Closing Scene of the Movie 'Planet of The Apes' (1968)

There was not a single thing in the entire documentary that I had not heard before, from various people in various forums. So the whole approach of the narrator - that he is revealing some deep, dark and dirty secrets was laughable.

In the first part of the documentary, the narrator is talking about his own attempts to live off grid, off capitalist market systems, etc., and how hard he tried to embrace renewable energy (may be a decade or more ago? I am not sure that the time line is mentioned, or I may have missed it). He gives a number of examples and quotes a number of people to drive home that:

(a) putting up solar and wind electricity generation systems is costly and material intensive, 

(b) a solar system consumes more energy in its creation than what it will generate over its lifetime, and 

(c) there are inherent limitations to renewables that make it impractical to think of a 100% renewable powered electric grid.

I have been asked about all three things in many of my public talks and here is what I have always answered:

(a) Creating any energy infrastructure is costly and material intensive - coal fired power plants or nuclear power plants do not appear out of thin air! The only way to address this aspect is to reduce our electricity demand, so that less electricity generation infrastructure will serve more people. This can be done in a two-fold manner - one, by actually reducing our energy needs, and two, by improving demand side efficiency. This is and will continue to be work in progress, especially as we transition away from fossil energy. 

(b) Solar systems using more energy to built than they can generate was true till 2010, but not anymore. In fact it is ironical that this documentary has been released in 2020 - the year when it is estimated that the solar industry as a whole will have 'paid back' all the energy that it consumed from its inception, and will from henceforth be net energy positive. Those interested in data can see this publication. Currently it is estimated that a solar photovoltaic cell will pay back its energy cost in about 4 years, and then produce clean and pollution free electricity for about 25 or more years.

(c) Who is insisting that we must have 100% renewable electric grid or nothing?? Even if we have a hybrid grid with a combination of fossil, renewable and nuclear, that is a step in the right direction. Even in fossil fuel based electricity generation, going from a solid fuel like coal to a cleaner burning liquid or gaseous fossil fuel is a step forward. The documentary mentions at several places that in the name of moving away from coal, utilities are going for natural gas, which also is a fossil fuel. But it fails to acknowledge that natural gas is a far cleaner fossil fuel to produce and use than coal. Yes, 100% renewable electric grid is the ultimate goal, and step by step we are approaching it globally, but have not reached it as yet. In the meanwhile, the grid will continue to be a hybrid. I don't see why this is a problem! 

Another aspect which most of us working in the decentralised renewable energy sector have been shouting about for years - renewables give us the unique opportunity of creating decentralised systems customised to local needs. This in itself provides a far better energy service to the end user and is a more environment friendly approach (e.g., roof top solar systems do not have any land footprint) than building a MW or GW scale centralised coal, or natural gas, or nuclear, or solar or wind energy system.

The intermittent nature of renewables can be overcome by using hybrids of multiple decentralised renewable energy systems, and also by creating a mega network of a large number of small smart grids, so that surplus energy generated in one part of a country or a continent or the planet can be passed on to where it is required.

It is ridiculous to expect that nobody should step out and start using any technology unless it is perfected! It is only when people start using a new concept or a product, that its limitations and further potential gets highlighted, and money becomes available for further R&D because someone is already making money from whatever improvements the new concept or product is able to deliver.

And that brings me to another outdated idea pushed throughout the documentary - that it is wrong/unethical/amoral for businesses to make money from renewable energy systems and for environmental movement to take funding from big businesses. My question is why is this wrong?? Projecting businesses and profit making as anti-environment villains is in itself a fallacy, and has kept the green movement out of the mainstream for decades. Yes, do bash any business that is indulging in exploitation and illegal activities, and yes, also bash any activists who are spreading lies to protect their funders. These are unethical practices and can even be challenged in the courts of law. But to consider the entire business community as some evil alien force out to destroy humanity has not solved any problems before, and is not likely to work now or in the future. We have to acknowledge that businesses are human creations, and as human understanding of the world around us grows, so will the businesses evolve! The values and processes followed by today's businesses are far different from the values and processes followed by businesses in the 19th century. People learn and change, and change the way they run businesses. This is what 'progress' is all about!

And finally, I come to the one and only factual segment in the documentary - large scale biomass based energy generation being labelled as 'renewable' is wrong and distructive to the environment. 

But what is new and not known about this?? Everyone working in the sector of decentralised biomass and biogas energy in India and other developing countries has been crying hoarse about this for years! Various organisations working in the sector of waste management have been presenting anti-incineration arguments year after year, to various government agencies, and helplessly seeing more and more 'waste to energy' plants coming up all over India. But most people seem to be more moved by the scenes of waste incineration and wood chip based power generation in rural USA rather than by the pleas that many of us have been making to garner support for decentralised renewables in general, and decentralised biomass energy in particular, for more than a decade! 

Furthermore, the documentary tends to advance a simplistic half-true outlook of "biomass is dirtier than coal" to replace the simplistic half-truth "biomass is renewable and therefore all biomass energy is all good" narrative, which is equally damaging to the sector.

Throwing out the outdated material, and focusing only on the contemporary valid issues, the documentary could have been a great platform to talk about the virtues of decentralisation and the need to overhaul the entire energy supply chain from supply to use, rather than just switching from coal to something else at the point of generation. But it just poses questions that have already been answered by many people many times, and then goes on to present a wrong answer as if it is some profound truth discovered by the narrator after meditating under a bodhi tree!

After 'throwing limelight' on specific challenges of the renewables and environmental movements in the USA, the apparent problem according to the makers of the documentary is global population! Some of the people interviewed do make a passing reference to consumption also, but it is implied that the consumption is high because the population is high. The very name and the opening and closing of the documentary alludes to this focus on global human population. This is totally wrong, misleading, and a typical White American myth from a typical white American standpoint that everything that happens in the USA is shaping the entire world! It is no wonder therefore that White American supremacist climate deniers are promoting the documentary! 

There is now ample quantitative data published through global studies that the driver of climate change and all other global environmental stresses is consumption patterns of the wealthy in the western world than the total number of people on the planet. For example, check out the latest study referred in this report.

Population is basically a solved issue, now we need to urgently focus on consumption of the wealthy. I have addressed the myth about population many times before! Here is one blog entry from five years ago. And those who can read Marathi, here is a relatively recent article written by me on the same topic. 

So there. You want to know what I think about the 'Planet of The Humans'? This is it - the documentary is mostly a Cinematic Planet of Outdated Half Truths. 

Priyadarshini Karve
Samuchit Enviro Tech


Samuchit Enviro Tech. 

Friday, May 1, 2020

Lockdown chronicles and beyond!

Dear All, 

Google Photos - Last year birthday celebration in Mahableshwar 
I know its been more than a month that we all have been under the lockdown and there seems to be no end to it until end of May. Fortunately or unfortunately we are locked up with our loved ones!!!For me, this time has been a roller coaster ride of emotions and I am sure for most us too this must have been a challenging time. 

Right from the day one I was prepared for a locked in house birthday (28th April is my birthdate 😊) I speculated this coming when I heard about the lockdown in March. But was fine since it was my first birthday at home. However I have been literally getting sad and depressed each day due to the overwhelming news about the number of coronavirus led deaths in Italy, US, Spain and then India. Slowly Maharashtra and Pune being the epicenter of this pandemic made me more and more depressed. On learning that these pandemics are going to be there with us even after the lockdown may be a few years later with even more deadlier viruses made me feel like I don't want to see all this happening. I am exaggerating a bit and sorry to sound such a pessimist, but yes this is in short how I had been feeling in the initial days of lockdown. Though I am with my loved ones, I couldn't talk to them about how I feel because I live with my in-laws (aged 60+) for whom this lockdown has created a havoc, they panic with every single news about closures whether it is vehicles, parks, places of buying things like Demart and Big bazaar, or maid not coming, everything. I had to tell them its fine we will manage it but still... they just cannot accept the situation.

Fortunately, Nanded City (where I reside) has been managing the pandemic quite well. We never fell short of anything be it food or electricity or water, the essentials are completely taken care of. Indeed its a privilege for which I am grateful but do empathize with all the migrants, poor and the daily waged labors who are affected and are deprived of their loved ones stranded in some location without food, water and sanitation facility. But couldn't do much for them as I kept on feeling even more grim. My husband and sister-in-law have been busier than before with their work from home schedule. We couldn't match our times and discuss these issues though we managed to converse a few times and I did feel better. However, I have a habit of noting down things, reading and listening to positive thoughts, observing and exercising which kept me somehow going. 

Nevertheless, I started searching for motivation in every small thing around me and STOPPED watching news. A big thank you to Dr Priyadarshini Karve who asked me to post content titled #NotAboutCorona as a daily feed that helped me divert my mind and thinking about different perspectives. I enjoyed watching the videos she shared and we decided to post them daily in order to promote diversity in thoughts. I am sure all of you loved them too.  

Everyday heroes right from the vegetable and other food stuff vendors, milk suppliers, our security guards, domestic helpers, the housekeeping staff and the story of #thelastfishermanofBombay Ganesh Nakhawa (Thanks to Myron Mendes) who is providing fresh fish to all despite the lockdown challenges, all are indeed like a superhero league to me. The way doctors are heroes in the hospital for the affected patients I feel the same way these are our heroes ensuring that we stay home healthy. Observing them do their work relentlessly is a great source of HOPE. 

I am a fitness enthusiast and love everything about my workout regime, closure of the gym was really a bad news for me, however my workout is very much a machine less workout so I was not that much worried. However due to this sadness I could barely get that motivation to move and I realized how much of a role my friends played in making the workout fun and happening. Nevertheless, thanks to social media, videos and zoom calls that ensured we connect virtually and keep ourselves going. Almost after 15 days of lockdown I could gather my wits and start some workout, which gave me a whole lot of strength and confidence to get going. I am now back in action and trying my best to achieve some lockdown workout challenges that I gave to myself. Definitely would like to share about the successes and failures of these challenges. Now I am glad the lockdown extended!!! Not being selfish just being an optimist, I know there are a lot of people who badly want this lockdown to just vanish and want everything to go back to normal. 

Nevermind, finally my birthday was here and this year I received overwhelming wishes from everywhere even friends and unexpected family members and the entire day I was busy replying to messages and answering calls from everywhere. BIG thanks to all. Forgot to click pictures this time but posting a picture from last year's birthday celebrations. I would like to share a conversation I had where a friend of mine literally said that 'Now you must be happy, your environment is all clean and pollution free'. I was shocked, just because I work in this field, all the environment is mine WOW! There's a dearth of right information among people and there's so much of work that needs to happen in the field of education systems and media studies to promote the things that matter in the right context. 

Anyway coming back to normal so what should the NEW NORMAL look like. While pondering over it I thank again to the thought experiments (amazing concept) led by Dr Priyadarshini Karve through her vlogs and some online articles and a lot of self introspection. There are a few very basic things that I think we should have in order to thrive post lockdown and in such recurring future scenarios. 

1. Mindset - Simply accept it, that this is going to be THE new norm where after every 8 to 10 years or less there will be such a event where we need to shift our routine lifestyles and adapt to the new situation. May be a 360 degree shift is required. Just be ready! We need to keep adapting, renovating, re-engineering or even replacing systems and people.Trending concepts like makeshift and DIY things have a lot of scope.  
2. Consumption Pattern - In our climate friendly lifestyle workshops, we stress on the aspect that we need to do everything, either individually, or as society or as a system in optimum ways without compromising on our evolutionary instincts. Being a flexitarian when it comes to consumption is the key I feel which we need to adapt too coupled with an attitude to conserve will help. Not just in case of food, but also in case of material things that we use in our day to day life. For example living without a mobile or living with a robot or some bionic sensors.   
3.Skills - Being an expert in one field wont be enough or may not be required. We got to be JACK, I mean 'Jack of all trades and master of none'. Since you never know, your expertise may not be needed anymore. So again be a life long learner, explorer and achiever rather than an expert in one field! 
4. Health and Fitness - I don't need to say, how much we need to value our health systems now. At an individual level keeping oneself fit is more important than being thin or fat moreover building strength and immunity is essential. Its quite evident that only a vaccine which is scientifically tried and tested is the ultimate solution to eradicate a viral infection, while all the other traditional medicinal systems can act only as supplementary measures. While we take all the necessary precautions if we are hit by a deadlier virus its only science that can help us. We ought to have scientific temperament.  
5. Environment - Again I need not say WE need the Earth, Earth does not need us. If we need it we got to use it in a way that is governed by the laws of nature. Our systems, behaviors and lifestyles need to be tuned into the way nature functions. I have mentioned many a times in my blogs, that there's no such thing as waste in nature. We need to implement such cyclic systems where the 'waste' of one thing becomes the raw material of the other and hence no waste exist. 
6. Coalition - Living with climate change and then such recurring pandemics calls for a coalition between all the nations along with interstate and inter governmental organizations at every level. In order to coordinate in an efficient way we need advances in technology which is happening anyways but continuing in this direction.  

These are just my initial thoughts, you are most welcome to comment, add or deduct, agree or disagree to the list. Also do share your lockdown experiences. Its always good to document!!!

Pournima Agarkar.

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Saturday, April 25, 2020


We are currently living through a critical period in the history of human civilisation. The decisions that we make and the actions that we take today, will decide the form of human society in the future. What will humans be doing at the end of this century? Different people have come up with different scenarios based on various assumptions, and there is a range of possibilities. At one end of the spectrum, the end of 2100 may see about a couple of billion humans trying to rebuild a new civilisation. At the other end of the spectrum, there is a more positive outlook of about 10 billion people already well on the way to a sustainable, equitable, climate friendly civilisation. Ironically, the people who are living today and will be deciding the outcome for 2100 will not be around to see the consequences of their actions. It will be their children and grandchildren who will live through those consequences. So can we be the responsible ancestors that our future generations deserve?

Our decisions and actions are generally guided more by the collective knowledge of the past generations and our own past experiences, than by any considerations of the future. In order to forecast into the future, we do need to 'backcast' into the past, but with a critical and unprejudiced perspective. We need to look at the past through the lens of the future. 

I tried to do that a bit for an input I was invited to present at a discussion meeting organised by the Climate Collective Pune, on the occassion of the Earth Day 2020. Here I am putting forth some of my musings that fed into my input. 

Just as our actions today will decide the future reality for the next generation, in a way our predicament of today was decided by a decision of our ancestors nearly a couple of centuries ago. The decisive moment was in the middle of the 19th century. The Europeans discovered coal and petroleum and realised that these high energy density fuels can really accelerate the engine of industrialisation. The availability of this tremendously powerful energy allowed the European industries to suddenly increase their manufacturing capacities to a huge scale. This meant that there was a suddenly escalated demand for raw materials and labour, and a sudden need to expand the market base. This was the trigger for imperialism, which then spread the model of industry powered economic development across the world. Two world wars in succession through the 20th century killed the ability of the European nations to maintain the political empires, but they certainly did not give up on their economic and industrial empires. From imperialism, the world just transitioned to globalisation. 
The Roots of Global Crises lie in the fossil fuel powered Industrial Revolution of 1850s

The process of ramping up of industrialisation in Europe caused exploitation of natural resources as well as people in Europe. It also triggered massive land use change and polluted the air and water sources around the industrial areas. Climate change was also triggered the moment we started using fossil energy. Collectively, the exploitation, land use change and pollution lead to increasing inequity, disease epidemics, industrialisation of food production systems, degradation of natural ecosystems, and loss of biodiversity. First with imperialism and later with globalisation, through the last century, the erstwhile problems of Europe became global crises. Post 1980s, climate change also showed its impacts across the world, leading to additional crises. 
The Minefield of Global Crises in the Path of Human Civilisation in 21st Century

This is not to say that industrialisation, technology, science, etc., did not bring benefits! But in a way, the cost for those benefits is now being paid by us and our future generations. We are facing across the world today, a minefield of various crises, all rooted in this historical context. 

Furthermore, there are strong interlinkages and feedback loops between these crises. For example, land use change and pollution is increasing the contact between humans and wild species, leading to new diseases jumping from animals to humans. This causes epidemics and pandemics. The waves of diseases generally have tragic consequences because socio-economic inequity and climate change are collectively leading to poor nutrition and therefore lowered immunity. At the same time, because of climate change, existing diseases are now entering new areas with the changing weather patterns, and causing more epidemics and pandemics. All of this means that contrary to our past experience, COVID19 is not a one off disaster, but we are going to see more and more pandemics in the coming years! When we are looking for solutions therefore, we must understand these linkages. This will allow us to address the root causes of the crises more effectively while also trying to find solutions to the immediate effects of the crises.

Interlinked Causes of Global Crises: An Example

This also means that we can no longer afford to focus on the global crises in isolation. Since the causes are interlinked, the solutions also must be interlinked. This is why we should not simply 'restart' the economy! We need to create a new socio-politico-economic model that will simultaneously push back against the three major triggers of current global crises - Exploitation, Land use change and Pollution, and Climate Change. 

One promising approach in this context is the Doughnut Economics. It is interesting that several city and country leaders in Europe are actually trying to figure out how this framework can guide them in the post-COVID19 recovery. As India debates on how to ease out of the lockdown, it would be worthwhile to adopt a similar 360 degree vision! 

Priyadarshini Karve
Samuchit Enviro Tech


Samuchit Enviro Tech. 

Saturday, March 28, 2020

MUSINGS FROM PRIYADARSHINI KARVE: What Is Your Idea Of Sustainability?

Migration - Birds and People

I hope everyone is staying home and following all precautions as we are in the grips of COVID-19 pandemic. One outcome of the lockdown is that people are more than usual active on social media. A lot of the social media traffic is fake news or rants... but in between some interesting thoughts, data, news items, opinions, etc., are also getting shared. 

There is one class of social media posts that caught my attention. Several people are posting their own observations, other people's observations, pieces of prose and poetry, photographs, videos, memes, etc., echoing one thought: The withdrawal of humans and human activities is giving nature a breather and helping it recover. This is a true observation. But then many people are going a few steps ahead and projecting this as 'a positive outcome' of the pandemic. Some people are thinking that this is the way forward to a solution to climate change. 

So let's think about the cost of this so-called 'positive outcome'. 

As per today's (28 March) available data (check this for updates): Today there are 436,715 active cases of COVID-19, out of which about 5% people are critically ill, and already 27,370 people have died worldwide.

The numbers are still rising daily, and the pandemic is likely to continue for a few months. I should also mention that this is the data of 'detected' cases only. There may be an even larger number of people who are infected with either no or mild symptoms worldwide, spreading the infection to others. Also, there will be a lot of deaths across the world that may be caused by this infection but will not be recorded as such due to a variety of reasons.

The only way to deal with the pandemic is to try and minimise the death toll. This will be possible if all the patients with high risk get proper treatment on a priority basis. This will in turn be possible if the number of people needing treatment do not overwhelm the health systems available in a country.

From this viewpoint, a two-pronged strategy is being employed across the world: 
(a) lockdown - minimising the contact between people (almost every country including India is doing this in varying degrees), and 
(b) widespread testing to detect carriers of the virus - so that they can be further isolated and treated (not all countries including India are as yet doing this, but this too is an essential step without which the first step will not be hugely effective)

However, the lockdown is causing huge economic impacts. All economic activity has come to a standstill. I am not refering to loss of GDPs and fall in share markets and what not. Those are only notional losses. Because both 'corporations' and 'money' after all are just figments of human imagination, as pointed out by Yuval Noah Harari in his world famous book 'Sapiens'. So these imaginary losses of the imaginary entities can be overcome through policies, mutual agreements, bailouts, etc. The hardest hit by the halt of economic activities are the marginal populations - those who typically depend on daily earnings to meet their survival needs. This is a worldwide tragedy for all those who eke out a hand to mouth existence, with no savings and social security support systems to fall back on.

In the Indian context, the migrant workers, who as it is live very precariously in most cities, are the worst affected. It is really tragic to see hoards of people walking away from the cities that were shut down with a single television announcement, leaving them uninformed and unprotected. No amount of economic packages declared subsequently can help them HERE and NOW. The only option they see is to follow the ancient natural instinct of the human species - if things get tough at a location, pick up and leave! Start walking and hope to find a better place to live in!

THIS is the price we are paying for the so-called 'positive outcomes', my dear friends!

If you are a true believer in sustainability you will not rejoice over this. Because sustainability is NOT about sacrificing humans for the sake of the planet. Yes, sustainability opposes destruction of the planetary ecosystems for the sake of human civilisation, but the opposite is not desirable either!

We seek sustainability FOR human species. This means social and economic wellbeing for ALL humans through judicious use of natural resources. We want to protect the planet so that it will continue to sustain humans on it - not at the expense of human lives and wellbeing! The fight for sustainability is the fight against inequality in human society and the destruction of planetary ecosystems, simultaneously - not just the one or the other.

So what this is showing you is not the way forward to solve the climate crisis. What this is showing you is how we DO NOT want to attempt to solve the climate crisis! We do not want to be pushed into a situation where we have our backs to the wall and drastically shutting down everything is the only option left to us. We need to start changing our social, political and economic systems today in the direction of going low carbon without losing sight of the goal of universal human wellbeing.

And there is some good news now that says that this is indeed possible. A recently published paper shows that contrary to popular belief the link between energy use and quality of life is much weaker than previously supposed. More specifically the contribution of increase in the use of fossil fuels to increasing the life expectancy of people is only about 25%. This means that use of fossil energy can be reduced without harming the wellbeing of people. The only change that needs to happen is shift in the priorities of the national governments and global decision making bodies.

This fits very well in my idea of sustainability. What about you?

Priyadarshini Karve
Samuchit Enviro Tech


Samuchit Enviro Tech. 

Friday, March 20, 2020

My City My Responsibility - Win over COVID-19 and more!

Dear All, 

In my last blog I did mention that COVID-19 the pandemic is in a way helping us realize that coming together for working towards a cause can actually help us WIN over other existential threats too as human beings! This also reminds me about THANOS - my favorite character and the super villain from the sci-fi movie AVENGERS. Favorite because somehow he felt the need to attain sustainability unlike the so called superheroes. He however chose a wrong path - to wipe out people the way COVID-19 affects. All the superheroes formed an alliance and came together to put an end to THANOS on seeing a threat of human extinction. I feel a similar situation has been happening around us, where we see how all national and international governments and local bodies, companies private and public, researchers, celebrities, education systems, transport systems, medical systems, supply chains etc and not to mention us, the Citizens are coming together towards tackling this super villain and trying to save humanity. It is indeed commendable, however the way we behave or take actions now at various levels of operation (individual, community and governance) has a solution to a bigger problem. 

Why I feel so is because a LOCKDOWN helped reduce China's pollution though temporary but at drastic levels just within two month's time. China has been reportedly been the biggest air polluter taking thousands of lives especially kids and older people. But the lockdown and slowed economic activity led the reduction of pollution and saved lives to almost 20 times than the pandemic as per this source 
Here, I don't mean pandemics are good, but we can learn something from such a situation. 

Global emissions scoreboard
From my area of work (as climate researcher), the point that I want to make here is if we are to achieve the goal of 1.5 deg C temperature rise instead of 4.2 deg C by the end of the century, it seems to be easily achievable. Imagine each country taking turns to even partially lockdown (not because of some pandemic but voluntarily) and slowing down economic activity, transport especially with personal cars and stop flying for conferences and events just for a period of say 3 months or so...may be more or less depends, need to research..., we can tackle the bigger challenge of climate change. Can we look at the lockdown situation as a way to reduce our carbon footprints and also ecological footprints? Italy's water canals have reported the come back of dolphins and swans due to no human activity over just a few weeks! We can definitely give our life supporting systems some breather to restore and meanwhile decide the further course of action.

In one of our river restoration studies that we conducted last year as an alternative to the riverfront development plan, we did suggest a temporary period of 'No Access' to the river in order to restore the river, of course we cannot ban the access completely but in a situation like a lockdown this can be easily accomplished temporarily. 

Now that our lives are at stake, we are mandated to take drastic actions, lets not wait till such a situation arises through climate change. Just read recently, we need to stop human DOING for some time and start BEING human. 

Last but not the least, I am sure all of us have enough information on where India and Pune stands with the number of people affected and all....however in order to limit ourselves to get into the stage III mode we better quarantine ourselves completely and help each other. But more urgent and important - we need TESTING facilities for ALL since that will be one of the key ways to manage this chaos. South Korea has shown the way in this. On the other hand, India is one of the countries conducting the LEAST number of tests per million citizens! This is totally unacceptable and needs to change! The government has started expanding the testing capacity since this week, but it is not moving fast enough. We the Citizens need to start demanding more urgency on this! 

Safe Sanitizing!!!

Pournima Agarkar. 

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Wednesday, March 11, 2020

My City My Responsibility - Is Coronavirus an Alarm call!

Dear All, 

With all the hype and rapid spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the city made me realize that though the infection is similar to a flu it can get serious if proper sanitation and medication is not undertaken. So first things first - be alert, don't panic and get proper treatment ASAP if required!

However, I am curious if  the virus is such an evil or not! Since the virus has stepped in suddenly all the news in the country is zoomed in this issue. While all other blood boiling issues happening around the country like Delhi riots, JNU attacks, NRC and CAA, war like situation, all has taken a back seat. Everyone is sanitizing their lives, right from the corporate businesses, industrialists, governments, individuals, schools, colleges, organizations and especially media channels and newspaper agencies everyone is busy fighting this so called EVIL virus in some way or the other!

Its human nature to respond to anything that is in front of us rather than being prepared well in advance for an upcoming situation. That's also one of the reasons why our disaster management plans (DMP) and policies are reactive rather than proactive. The virus outbreak just makes it evident how we wait until a crisis hits us that badly from economic, social and physical aspect to undertake the required action.

I feel sad to say this, that unfortunately the impacts of climate change have not yet reached the mark where we faced catastrophic economic, social and physical losses that it urges all of us to come together and take the appropriate action on ground!!! We still don't realize how crucial  it is for us to gear up ourselves and fight the bigger evil of Climate Change which is probably going to wipe out humanity completely in no time! However, in a way this outbreak will help save some of the carbon emissions especially the ones caused due to the aviation industry which are almost double compared to transport via road and waterways. A lot of business/work related meetings, conferences/seminars or events are happening online which in turn will help reduce the emissions from flying, though temporary but still will have an impact! And who knows - may be people will see what is possible to achieve using the cyber space and by not traveling too much, some of these measures will stick around long term! 

But closer home - by the time we get over the virus, we are going to almost get into the monsoon season in India. The coming monsoons may be far more worse than last year. It is time we ask ourselves, are we really prepared for these situations, are we equipped to face the bigger challenges? What all we need to do well in advance to foolproof ourselves! What if we are faced with a catastrophic flood like situation devastating our lives, leaving us no where to go. What if our nearest coastal city and the economic hub like Mumbai gets submerged! Think over it. We need to have effective solutions for the long term impacts that will occur due to climate change!    
Monkey giving an alarm call when a predator is nearby

Lets take this outbreak as an Alarm call for all of us to look at the bigger crisis that we will be facing. Lets get alert and gear up ourselves not only to fight the short term crisis like Coronavirus but also the long term crisis of rapidly changing climate!!!

Any suggestions are welcome!

In order to create more awareness about climate change and its impacts we are conducting monthly workshops titled #ChallengingThanos - Countdown to Monsoon 2020. Check out our social media handles for the upcoming activities and help us build a resilient community!

Pournima Agarkar.

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