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. 

Like/Follow/Share us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter  Citizens of Sustainable Pune 

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.

Like/Follow/Share us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter  Citizens of Sustainable Pune