Goddess of Green Chemistry and Climate

goddess-3575781_1920.jpg
Source

When the vice-chancellor of our university declared that they had come up with their own anthem “Rasayan Devike” (Goddess of Chemistry), I thought he was crazy. Who does that, I said to myself. Until now.

It has been five years since I graduated from this university. Today, I found out that the concept took birth to spread awareness about green chemistry – how old chemistry could help clean up its act with newer greener chemistry.

There’s actually a statue of the goddess near the vice-chancellor’s office. Makes me wonder the length to which the university must have gone to engage people in environmental protection. What were the odds of being ridiculed? 100%? Probably, because I heard no one talk about it the way I’m doing it now. I have a newfound respect for this.

Chances are students barely knew what it was all about. It may have been nothing but a stunt for them. Not to me anymore. History is filled with mythological characters. People have devised ways to celebrate these characters and what they symbolize.

Which takes me to another train of thought. Have you ever heard of the God of Climate? There are many weather gods – wind, thunder, rain, lightning. None for Climate. As NASA defines, “The difference between weather and climate is a measure of time. Weather is what conditions of the atmosphere are over a short period of time, and climate is how the atmosphere “behaves” over relatively long periods of time.”

So, what am I proposing, you ask? I’m proposing a God of Climate, wait, no – a Goddess of Climate (it’s just more fun that way). I don’t know how this is going to help, but hey everything begins with an idea, right?

Gnarliest tree in Canada

IMG_3375.JPG
Canada’s gnarliest tree giving a fist bump

After having slept through the wee hours, my friends and I headed to see one of Canada’s most twisted old-growth trees in Canada. A short climb to a breath-taking view started with a drive on bad roads leading towards Avatar Grove trail on Vancouver Island. Dirt cars and dirty cars passed by as we managed to drive through the unmarked and unpaved road. Be careful when you drive up there.

What appeared to be a fist bump, was actually a big knot in the tree. That’s how the tree got its name. Knots, or otherwise known as “burls“, are formed as a reaction to stress. They are kind of like blisters on our skin. In our case, the blisters go away as the skin underneath it heals. Knots on trees, on the other hand, are permanent. Climate change is one of the many stress causing factors. In fact, it can bring down not one tree, not two trees, but an entire forest. Because it strikes where it hurts the most – its immunity.

“Forest die-offs also impose an economic hit on loggers and those who depend on income from hikers, campers and others who use forests for recreation.” – Science Magazine

One would argue – doesn’t stress increase the tree’s immunity? Yes, it does. However, it needs time to build that immunity. What can we do, you say? Burning fossil fuels for fuel, electricity, and heat is one of the biggest contributors to climate change. I asked Enterprise rent-a-car if there was a choice to rent an electric car. There isn’t at the moment, but there is an option to offset the emissions caused by the fossil-fuel powered car that you rent. I didn’t take it because I was afraid my friends wouldn’t agree to pay more. Did I ask? No. I wish I had. You’d face a similar situation when you’d wonder if others would take part in your crusade. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.

Interview with Damandeep Singh, Director at CDP India

Corporate Photographer London

Today’s blog post is an interview with Damandeep Singh, Director, CDP India. Daman has worked for over two decades writing and researching on environment and development issues in India. He worked as an independent consultant and journalist primarily on environment and climate change issues working with ERM UK, Worldwatch Institute, The Climate Group, Bureau of Energy Efficiency and Suzlon Energy. Prior to that, he was heading Research and Programme Missions Divisions of the National Geographic Channel for five years.

I’ve always been fascinated with National Geographic and what it does. As a 90s kid, I grew up watching the Nat Geo Channel. How was it working with them and what did you do as a Researcher?

Daman: Glad to hear it. I was part of the research team of the Channel and not the Society so there’s a slight difference. And in India, the channel is managed by the Star bouquet of channels. It’s actually now almost entirely owned by Fox/NewsCorp, I believe. Earlier the editorial and the research control was with the National Geographic Society. But the programming and the marketing was with Star in India or Sky in the UK. All in all, it was a great learning experience interacting with the research team in Washington. In India, the focus was mostly largely on marketing and distribution. I was responsible for maintaining the scientific rigour and the integrity because there were very strict standards, practices and processes for research for these programs.

Did you work on a particular subject?

Daman: No. When I joined National Geographic, I joined them to manage their website. This was the time of the dot-com boom everybody thought there was a lot of money to be made in websites but that didn’t go as per plans. Later I got more involved in research and other outreach and mission programs. We did research on whatever was required such as Ganga, so-called witches, tigers in Ranthambore, whatever the programs were about. We made sure that all the facts were in order. National Geographic programs conform to strict fact-checking and sources are all encyclopedic in the sense that whatever fact is quoted in a program it has to be verified and has to be authenticated by at least two high-value sources.

Are there external sources?

Daman: The internal National Geographic source is, of course, the first preference. The other sources ae Encyclopedia Britannica and others that are of academic value. I also ran a program for the mission division that these days would be classified under CSR: An educational program where took National Geographic films to government school children in rural and remote regions of Uttarakhand. This was in the pre-cable TV era and most schools had no electricity. So we actually also had to carry a smaller Genset and a projector. We showed NGC films to school children and even constructed activities around those films. We ran that for about three years 2003 to 2006, after which I moved out of National Geographic and it is now run by my former colleagues.

At the beginning of your career, what motivated you? For example, for me as a kid, as far as I can remember it was mainly these three things – waste, ozone layer depletion, and pollution. So, what triggered you?

Daman: When I left school in 1984 I wanted to study Psychology. Later that year there were anti-Sikh riots in Delhi which were quite traumatic. Being born in a Sikh family we had to shift our home and it was quite difficult at the time. I began reading a lot of newspapers and was attracted to journalism which was shaping how things are reported, how things are perceived. I decided to become a journalist and enrolled in a course with Times of India School of Journalism. I worked as a journalist for about two decades. I started in Times of India where I was on the desk and slowly began reporting on a little bit of politics. I soon got very disillusioned with political reporting because the politicians said one thing one day and within the next few weeks they had completely changed and moved on. At that time I came across a couple of NGOs like Kalpavriksha in Delhi who were working on conservation as well as supporting the tribals in their struggle against the Narmada dam. I met the tribals visiting from the valley in Delhi and then actually travelled in the Narmada valley with Medha Patkar for about a week which was eye-opening. I’d never done anything like that.d I have a great admiration for two women in India who have done phenomenal work to bring out the development issues in India – Medha Patkar and Aruna Roy. Aruna Roy was an IAS officer who gave up her job and started the Right to Information (RTI) moment. The whole RTI act actually came about by the actions of a group called MKSS. Arvind Kejriwal and others actually started out by being part of this movement and then they branched off into politics on. Social movements interested me and then environmental issues. I began writing about wildlife, forests and development issues. It also allowed me to travel and to do that it felt more real rather than report on politics. From the early 90s onward I started concentrating on environmental issues when I became an environmental journalist and that’s how my career progress started.

Did working as an environmental journalist scare you? According to the Guardian, environmental defenders are being killed at the rate of almost four a week across the world. What kept you going?

Daman: There was trouble then as well but it wasn’t as pronounced as now but it was clear that the government didn’t like it. Kamal Nath, the environment ministry, had me blacklisted from the ministry and their media briefings. The threat wasn’t as real and as big as it was. What kept me going was the belief that you report on underrepresented people and a belief that you would like to see a world better than what it is now. The strength of the people whose livelihoods are/were threatened and their struggles are what keeps you going.

A few years back when I was in college I used to get really angry at people. I would just get so angry at any stranger that I would tell them not to do it. But nowadays reading things like this scares me. Makes me think whether I should speak out or not.

Daman: It is scary and there are a lot of dangers. But you know the point is there are dangers in everything and you’ve got to do what you believe is right.

True. It is always good to hear from people who’ve been through it. It can inspire me and other people who are maybe are as scared as I am or even more.

Daman: No, it actually seems a lot scarier from the outside, not so much when you get in there and you’re in the middle of all it. I used to go as a reporter every year and report on the struggles of people who were affected by the Bhopal gas leak and there one saw a lot of young people who’d given up promising careers to come and work for the victims. Those are inspiring stories and that’s what keeps you going.

You have worked with some of the most prominent consultancies in the environmental field. How does it feel? What were your challenges as well as achievements?

Daman: I moved out of journalism to work in consultancies to try and understand this field a little better. It’s a contract job and you do it but it also tells you how the world is perceiving this and how they’re looking at it from a managerial perspective. You learn how to interact with governments, how to interact with companies, learn what they want to do and what are they looking at. It’s interesting to see how management and marketing concepts are being used to again manage and address environmental issues. I did that for a few years. and of course, there is always a pressure on consultancies like any businesses of revenue generation. But it was good a learning experience and see how these things are being managed here.

One of your internet profiles talks about how you find the shift towards green business immensely exciting and full of opportunities. How’s the Indian market doing in terms of that?

Daman: The Indian market is slowly moving and we’re trying to convince them that there are huge opportunities. Where they’ve seen opportunities like in solar and earlier in wind, the companies have picked up and they’ve moved as they’re now on energy efficiency as well. The government is promoting action through the PAT (Perform Achieve and Trade) scheme of the Bureau of Energy Efficiency which is like a cap and trade scheme on energy efficiency. However, there are actually great opportunities for innovators and this is the exciting field and my message to most companies is that this is a whole new world. This is an opportunity when if you move and you innovate you will find a lot of opportunities, estimates say its about $23 Trillion plus, but you have to manage the risk. If you wait for the government to lay the policies or handouts it will take its own sweet time and by that time you may have missed the opportunity. It’s time for risk takers and for people to step up, for instance, on electric vehicles. Here the government is actually coming out with policy, but there were some early movers like Reva car which the Mahindra group took over. They were struggling for a long time. There are other exciting opportunities in the sectors like green buildings, green products which consume low energy and fewer resources. The Government of India for its part has a fantastic program on – the LED lamps. Through a program, it is speeding up replacement of incandescent by providing LEDs through distribution companies. Using public procurement the government brought the cost down from about levels of 500/600 rupees so that now you can get it from your electric utility for about 60 rupees. That kind of program will lead to a lot of innovation. Bulk procurement can spur a demand and bring down prices. There are a lot of opportunities to be had for companies to take bold action actions so my endeavour is to inform them that these are the opportunities that exist and if they want to really benefit from it they need to move quickly. Sometimes there will be government policies, but not in all cases.

You’re right. Everybody should get started and do something and not wait for one stakeholder to take action. Everyone should be working together. Moving on to your work with CDP. How are companies and cities in India when it comes to disclosing their environmental impacts? Are they open to doing it or hesitant?

Daman: They are hesitant but we are making progress but it’s sort of slow. We get about 30% of the top 200 listed companies disclosing the CDP, that’s between 50 to 55 companies every year and then we have another 70 companies that are through the supply chain program. All in all, we have about 130 companies disclosing but that is nowhere near enough on the enormity of the scale that’s required. Increasingly a lot of investors are now demanding that companies show their green credentials. Our main purpose is to make companies aware of what the investors are looking at and to see how companies can meet those demands and to attract better investment because companies need investments. Now investors are also slowly incorporating green criterion in their investment decisions. The whole idea is to make sure that companies are aware that this is what investors are demanding and for investors to actually come out and say to companies that this is what they want. It has to be a two-way process so we try to encourage on both sides to see how we can better spur action on that.

Going by the CDP India Climate Change Report 2017, in 2017, 51 Indian companies responded to the CDP Climate Change questionnaire, of which 43 were among BSE Top 200 companies and three from other benchmark samples to whom CDP had sent information requests. That’s good, right?

Daman: Yeah it’s good but companies need to take action. As we see in the media that despite the U.S. government pulling out, there are over 2700 U.S. companies and cities and universities that have said that no they will align themselves and their targets to meet the Paris agreement. There are people that see value in doing that. Our main purpose is to work with companies so that they see the Paris Agreement and Climate Action will help them do business in a green manner so that they to gain from savings in energy costs, from better markets, from a cleaner image all the while attracting better talent. Those are our criteria.

Apart from not being aware of the benefits, what else is keeping them from doing this?

Daman: Companies need to make investments now which will accrue long-term benefits. They need to put in a little bit of money now to clean up their operations. Also the fact that they have been tied into the old system, for instance, some companies use polluting fuels like petcoke or they use a lot of coal. If they have to convert to cleaner fuels and systems, they need to change systems that cost money. So right now they’re current business-as-usual doesn’t account for that. They need to find a little bit of extra money to make that capital investment which will then they will recover very quickly sometimes even in the next one or two years. But the fact is that firstly they have to be aware of that and secondly they have to have access to that.

That’s where the CDP comes in, right?

Daman: Yes, and we try and fill that gap and try and educate and inform saying this is the action the best companies in the world are taking. You can learn from them.

Speaking of business-as-usual, currently, India is the third largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter accounting for 6.65% of the global emissions and is projected to witness an increase of over 85% by 2030 under a business-as-usual scenario. Is India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution, its climate plan working?

Daman: Yeah, yeah, it’s working! INDC was in 2015 and now that the Paris Agreement is signed its NDC – Nationally Determined Contribution. According to Carbon Tracker, India is one of the few countries that will meet its NDC target. So clearly Government action is working. There are great programs in promoting renewables such as the solar program and others like the LED program I mentioned. Things are moving, but there is need to go beyond as the cumulative impact of NDCs still goes to 2.8 degrees warming by the end of the century. Countries need to tighten their NDCs and take more action. India is well on the way to meeting those targets. But there’s clearly need to do more.

On that, I’m going to wrap up with this last question. A lot of the readers on my blog are not from a hardcore environmental background and some of them are students. What advice would you have for those who’d be interested to walk on a similar path as you have?

Daman: What I like about sustainability, especially as it relates to business, that it is an evolving field. There are few established experts and the field is changing so rapidly where one needs to constantly learn. That I believe, is good for students because it’s a process of continually learning and moving forward. For me, even after two decades I’m still learning and moving along these lines which is quite exciting. I’m sure this would be quite attractive to young people. Also, research shows that the younger lot and students are more concerned about the environment than ever before. They’re looking at sustainable companies and places to work in. Making money is not the sole criteria, and for most, they look at the complete picture. Many feel they might be happier companies that are seen to working to save the environment. It promotes work-life balance and that’s what I tell my colleagues. Often one ends up working on holidays which you don’t really mind as you believe in the higher purpose. Of course, people need to take time off and switch off and do other things. But if you feel that your work is also contributing to a green world, it is a source of tremendous energy and inspiration.

I thank Daman for such a great conversation I learnt so much from! I hope you do too. You can read more about Daman’s work with CDP. Follow him on Twitter: @damandeep.

Seasons are a kind of awakening

IMG_2741.JPG
Spring is waking up these flowers to come out of their velvety warm blankets

As a kid, I only knew of three seasons in India – Summer, Rainy (Monsoon), and Winter. When I moved to the USA, I heard of – Fall and Spring. Did someone say, Autumn? Delhi Tourism website lists five seasons – Winter, Spring, Autumn, Monsoon, Summer. Makes me wonder – did I miss some science class in school? If you have lived in India, what kind of seasons have you heard of?

Aren’t these seasons a kind of awakening?

Endotherms or warm-blooded animals that generate body heat tend to slow down during winter. Their metabolism, energy consumption, and growth slows down. It’s nature’s way of conserving energy. Even seeds stay dormant until the right environmental conditions favour its growth.

After a period of this deep-sleep or sometimes called as hibernation, these species are awakened by the sun’s warmth. Spring sunshine wakes them up.

When the rain falls, you smell the strong scent (petrichor) in the air after a dry spell produced by awakened bacteria.

External temperatures affect dormancy. Global warming is changing these amazing phenomena – causing spring to arrive early and autumn to come late. Sadly, some species are finding it hard to adapt. The world needs to wake up to this.

Life of Pine

IMG_5519
I saw this beautiful view dying with my own eyes, a small part of the millions trees affected by the beetle outbreak

On our trip to Denver, Colorado last year, we learnt how the mountain pine beetles are eating away pine forests across North America. This outbreak is ten times bigger than ever. We were saddened to see so many dead grey pine trees. What impact does this have on the local people and on the regional or even the global industry? What effect does it have on you as a tourist? A 2009 report concluded that Canada could have avoided a cost of $165 million annually by preventing the introduction and establishment of four high-profile invasive forest insects and diseases.

The pine beetles thrive in warmer and dryer atmospheres. Think global warming. Researchers are suspecting that global warming induced due to human activities is contributing to this. Add to that helpless drought-stressed trees that are vulnerable to outbreaks. Add to that forest fires.

Is this the survival of the fittest or survival of the luckiest? The beetles are moving, they are invading other regions of the world. If your area has pines, the best way to find out if the epidemic has reached you is to seek experts, because not all beetles behave the same way.

In this short film called Life of Pine made at the International Wildlife Film Festival Filmmaker Labs, shows what we can learn from this. Professor Six is studying the genetics and adaptation of these pine trees to understand how these trees are fighting back. This is just one kind of outbreak. Although outbreaks are, as Professor Six says, ‘a natural disturbance’, the scale observed these days are not normal.

In British Columbia alone, more than 16 million of the 55 million hectares of forest have been affected. Researchers are tracking how a forest that becomes infected by the pine beetle evolves from being a carbon sink to a carbon source, by measuring the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere above beetle-infected forests.

Professor Six says how we are shifting the blame onto these beetles for something that we humans have done. She says the beetle is just an organism that is doing what it does. I’d the say the same for humans, we are doing what we do – we are good at manipulating and using our environment to our needs. However, I do believe that we are doing it wrong. We can do better.

Further watching: An entomologist tells the story of how a little beetle has ecologically and economically altered North America’s forests.

Globe Forum 2018

vancouver-754204_1920.jpg

I was a volunteer at the GLOBE Forum 2018, held on March 14–16, 2018 at Vancouver. I helped attendees for three days for North America’s largest and longest running Leadership Summit for Sustainable Business. I helped guests navigate around the event, answering fundamental questions. I monitored and maintained specific event areas such as B2B area and the Innovation Expo. It was a little boring at times standing in one place, but fun too – during my breaks I made friends, networked with organisations, learnt new things.

The Innovation Expo was a global showcase of sustainable products, clean technologies, services, and ideas fresh off the lab bench. Buyers from more than 50 countries roamed the aisles, looking for the next big thing. As a B2B event – businesses, governments, and civil society leaders found inspiration, connections, and new opportunities in the clean economy. I had no idea Canada was so much into Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage (CCUS). Other focus areas included:

  • Smart Grid/Micro-Grid
  • Sustainable Mobility
  • Smart/High Performing Buildings
  • Water Innovation

CO2 is a waste

CO2 that human activities are pumping into the atmosphere is a waste, it is not needed there. This waste is a resource for many industries. Scientists are working around the world to develop technologies that will capture CO2 from their emission source and store it for use.

Hitachi Chemical showcased their research on how to capture CO2 more efficiently. Their research shows that cerium-based catalysts work better than zeolites for carbon capture.

International CCS Knowledge Centre was established to accelerate the global development of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology by both sharing access to the data, information and lessons learned from SaskPower’s Boundary Dam 3 facility and by incorporating the knowledge and experience from CCS projects elsewhere in the world. The Boundary Dam Carbon Capture Facility is capable of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by up to one million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year – the equivalent to taking 250,000 cars off the road. Brought online in 2014, the Boundary Dam CCS Project is the World’s First Post-Combustion Coal-Fired CCS Project integrated with a power station.

Not out of sight no out of mind

A lot of environmental and social issues are not acted upon because people cannot see the problem with their own eyes. Photographers and organisations around the world are making these things known to the public, becoming their eyes where they don’t reach.

Students on Ice Foundation is an organisation that organises an expedition that will be a profound hands-on experience for youth to expand their knowledge of the changing circumpolar world, foster a new understanding and respect for the planet, and gain the inspiration and motivation needed to help lead us to a healthy and sustainable future.

It was inspiring to watch the presentation of Cristina Mittermeier. Felt lot of emotions rushing through me as she told stories through her photographs. Cristina Mittermeier is a contributing photographer, speaker, and explorer for National Geographic.  She is a marine biologist who for the past 25 years has been working as a writer, conservationist and photographer. She is the founder and President of SeaLegacy, a non-profit organisation working to protect the oceans. SeaLegacy is an organisation dedicated to promoting the protection of the world’s oceans through storytelling. Cristina’s work has been published in hundreds of publications, including National Geographic Magazine, McLean’s and TIME.

Investment

The World Tree Carbon Offset Program is a sustainable timber investment based on the Empress Splendor tree, the fastest growing tree in the world. Empress trees provide valuable hardwood lumber within just 10 years. They also absorb 11 times more carbon than any other tree. Participants in the program both offset their carbon footprint and share in the profits of the sale of the lumber. They are looking for farmers to grow their trees. They provide the trees, the expertise and a buyer for the lumber. You provide the land and the care. Together you share the profits.

Agriculture

Terramera is a Sustainable Agriculture CleanTech company developing safe and effective Plant-Based Products and Replacements to Synthetic Conventional Chemical Pesticides & Fertilizers. They use Neem which is a tree native to the Indian subcontinent. Terramera’s agriculture products make sustainable/organic farming without the use of conventional chemicals more productive and efficient. Farmers need better solutions to protect crops from pests & diseases: Over 30% of chemical pesticides will be banned or restricted by 2020 leaving a 6.2 to 20 billion dollar gap in the market.