Happy New Year!

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Looking back. Literally. :D

Hello all,

Here’s wishing you all a very happy new year! I hope you have had a great start to it. I wanted to start by thanking you all for reading my blogs from 2017. I’ve listed some of them below in different categories that were particularly liked more than the others.

I also got a chance to interact with Vritti who is making a difference in the environmental movement through her company Vritti Designs. I wish her more power and success. She will be an inspiration for me for years to come and hopefully for you as well.

It is also amazing to see that all of you are spread across the whole wide world. I love making friends around the world, so come and say hi sometime. :)

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2017 viewers, I know where you live, haha! Thank you all for reading!

On anti-humanism in the environmentalist movement

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What is anti-humanism? Anti-humanism is as we protect nature, we fail to protect ourselves. I fail to understand, aren’t humans a part of nature? Isn’t that the reason one of the pillars of sustainability is ‘people’? Are we teaching our children to destroy themselves or other humans as they learn to protect nature around them? When blaming each other for not having a consensus on climate change, what side do you think you are picking? Is this boiling down to the Marshmallow experiment? One side cares about the short-term goals whereas other care about the long-term goals.

Students reading books with environmental themes need to understand that showing respect for human worth and dignity goes hand-in-hand with showing respect for the environment, Smith said. The same technology said to impose negative effects on the earth also gives hope to people trying to survive. – Evolution News

Using clean technologies and educating people are two simple steps that can effectively lead to reduced emissions and the amount of wood used. Agree with this – but at what cost? Aren’t you taking away their culture, their way of life – just like that? Michael Pollan’s documentary ‘Cooked’ shows Australian Aboriginal Martu, who talk about the central role fire has always played in their culture. “We had bush sweets, not sugar,” one Martu woman says of their past diet. “Sugar has made us weak.”

We are mastering footprinting, but the risk is that applying water footprints could leave poor people poorer and more vulnerable. Are we making decisions for them now? Or for us? For who? I don’t know anymore. In Kenya, environmental activists threatened a boycott of the roses that Kenya exports to Europe for Valentine’s Day believing that flower production was using too much water from Lake Naivasha and damaging its ecosystem.

These systems reduce environmental evaluation to the bureaucratic application of abstract methodologies and, far from being neutral, they impose a particular humanist ideology on decision making processes which marginalises those who speak in a different voice. – From Michael Frederick Smith’s thesis

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“She always knew nature was all around her, that nature was in her roots, she herself is a creation of nature.” Picture and quote via @DanteArcana on Twitter. However, anti-humanism prevails the environmentalist movement. Why?

Puppies have more legal protection in the U.S. than new mothers. Why? As we protect nature, why are we failing to protect ourselves? Are we the enemies of this planet? A plague? A destructive species? Cancers? Would you really call yourself that? I won’t. I am a part of nature just like every other bird, plant, bush, bacteria, parasite, maggot, tiger, fish, sand, rock. So what if we are different from them? Well, they too are different from us and we just want to live in harmony don’t we? That’s how I envision the environmentalist movement to be – without having to burden the responsibility of ‘Planet Earth’, because we are a part of Planet Earth. It would still be Planet Earth without us – without the dinosaurs it is still Planet Earth. We are only humans. A part of the connection and the disconnection throughout the journey of evolution. Can we strike a balance?

We should oppose Green anti-humanism wherever it is advocated precisely because we support good earth stewardship policies that promote liberty and allow us to reach the level of prosperity required to properly protect the environment. – Anti-Humanism Infects Environmental Movement by Wesley J. Smith in Legatus Magazine The reason I oppose the growing anti-humanism in environmental advocacy isn’t because I oppose good environmental policy, but because good practices require human thriving and prosperity. Calling us a cancer doesn’t cut it. – World Notices Environmentalist Anti-Humanism

You can read Michael Frederick Smith’s thesis here, submitted by him for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the University of Stirling. This thesis identifies a family of humanist presuppositions which, the author argues, pervade modern Western society and are partly responsible for our inability to escape from a spiral of environmental destruction.

“You wanna know how the planet’s doing? Ask those people at Pompeii, who are frozen into position from volcanic ash, how the planet’s doing. You wanna know if the planet’s all right, ask those people in Mexico City or Armenia or a hundred other places buried under thousands of tons of earthquake rubble, if they feel like a threat to the planet this week. Or how about those people in Kilauea, Hawaii, who built their homes right next to an active volcano, and then wonder why they have lava in the living room. – George Carlin on the arrogance of mankind

 

Teaching sustainability at an early age

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How many of us wish we had learnt something different back in school? Something that would be immediately transferable and useful once we got out of there. What if we taught Book of Life in schools? What if “investing is for boys” is not the message we gave out to our kids. What if drawing was not just a separate class in school but a tool to help us learn? Oh how we complained what we taught was not practical enough.

As a matter of discussion, my husband and I pondered about how primary education should be based on values (Value Based Education). After a give and take of thoughts, we came to a conclusion that it is easier said than done. Not all children of schooling age have the understanding of life as we adults do, although prodigies exist. Minds can be molded and influenced, which makes it tricky because we all perceive things differently, both kids and adults. I ask you, ‘Should value based education be implemented in the school curriculum?

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

– Khalil Gibran

Research in neuroscience and cognitive psychology tells us how our brain learns. How we learn depends not on our IQ (Intelligence Quotient), but our LQ – Learning Quotient, making IQ a symptom and learning a process for one and all, fair and effective, and may be customized. The question therefore is, can kids be prepared for tomorrow’s world? What is a sustainable world of any use to the next generation if they don’t know how to live in it?

I remember how environmental education was imparted to my class. I say that with a sardonic smile because our class would write its paper with books on the table. The times when I actually learnt something was during our trip to a national park. Here, a few things were permanently etched on my mind: water lilies, vermi-composting, and Gir forest. Then there were a group of volunteers explaining my class the effects of CFC, HCFC and HFC on the environment. The hell I knew what any of these meant but I listened to them anyway. I got a general idea that these chemicals were harmful to the environment. I made my parents buy a CFC free refrigerator and it’s still operating at my home back in Mumbai.

If formal education can have such an impact on students, how far can informal education go? As a kid with limited resources I would get resourceful with waste paper and cardboard. Back then I even managed to sell a product for Rs. 2 to my friends. I don’t remember how I spent it. May be I gave myself a vada-pav treat, a popular choice of snack during school times. It was a small writing pad made from unused school notebooks. I feel good about recollecting this. I feel better when I think of how my mother nurtured exploration and resourcefulness in me. She once said this as she hugged me, “You can make gold out of trash.”

The world needs skilled parents who can lead by example. For instance, the kitchen gardening workshop that I attended, witnessed a daughter and father. I don’t remember who brought who, either way it was pretty inspiring. So much information has lost along the way, it’s time somebody brought it back. Primitive skills are as important as modern technology, says the apocalypse thinker in me. Wouldn’t you or the kids love to build a house using natural materials and without using modern tools? This man does and its fun to watch him.

An untapped potential exists for environmental education. In Japan, school kids follow precise instructions for their lunch period to become independent as well as green. This Japanese style student-led operation teaches students at an early age how to manage food and the waste created while consuming it, a contrast to the kids surviving off trash.

The Green Schools Initiative, founded in 2004 by parent-environmentalists, catalyzes and supports green actions by kids, teachers, parents, and policymakers to reduce the environmental footprint of schools by:

  • Eliminating toxics
  • Using resources sustainably
  • Creating green schoolyards and buildings
  • Serving healthy food and
  • Teaching environmental literacy and stewardship.

Such are the examples of how green habits can be inculcated to children. This is how parents can ensure their children will remain healthy and safe, with or without them. It’s easier now with tons of resources available for everyone to get this started. Here’s sharing some of them:

Interview with Leda Marritz, Creative Director at DeepRoot, on Sustainable Urban Infrastructure Solutions

DSC_9234.jpgToday’s blog post is an interview with Leda Marritz, Creative Director at DeepRoot, on how their urban tree infrastructure solutions are helping cities be healthier and happier, what is it about planting trees that we miss and what we should be doing instead. Leda joined in 2006 and is responsible for all of DeepRoot’s online and print materials, advertising, writing, design, events, and other creative projects. Some of Leda’s major initiatives have included significant updates to DeepRoot’s online presence, including website enhancements and a strong social media presence. In 2009 she started a company blog called “Green Infrastructure for Your Community,” where she posts three times a week on topics related to trees, soil, stormwater, and company news. In 2011 she became a certified arborist and, in addition to the writing she does for DeepRoot, contributes articles for Next City and Earth In Transition. Leda holds a B.A. from Brown University in Comparative Literature.

1 . Leda, how did you get involved with DeepRoot?

Answer: I started my career in publishing (I studied comparative literature in college), which was a lot of fun but ultimately not for me. I wanted to try something new. When I moved to San Francisco in 2006, I had to decide what that was! I started by searching my alumni network for anyone in the Bay Area doing work I was interested in, which led me to Graham Ray, the CEO of DeepRoot. The timing was really fortuitous, because my background was in marketing and the company had a need for someone to tackle that. I started a week or two later and have been here ever since.

2. How can one become a certified arborist like you?

Answer: You have to pass an exam administered by the International Society of Arboriculture and then maintain the accreditation by getting 10 continuing education units every year. While my day job doesn’t get me out in the field among trees much, I really enjoyed studying for the accreditation and recommend it.

3. How do you define sustainability?

Answer: I’d define sustainability, and sustainable thinking, as being driven by a vision for how something will function, look, and feel 20, 50, 100 years from today.

4. What are the many environmental and social benefits of urban landscaping? What are some of the most overlooked benefits?

Answer: There are so many benefits to urban trees! They help reduce urban heat-island effect and crime rates, and help slow, cool, and clean the rain that falls on paving and then runs into our sewer system. Trees reduce vacancy rates and air pollution, creating a cleaner and more pleasant environment. They’re calming and psychologically restorative; people instinctively want to be where trees are.

Having so many benefits can, in certain ways, be a liability. In a recent interview with Russell Horsey (Development Director of Institute of Chartered Foresters in England) that we published on the DeepRoot blog, he said “If you imagined us as a business trying to market “trees,” we have a product that in some ways does too many good things! As a sector we try to explain all of the things that trees do rather than honing our message and keeping our messages simple. We still use too much technical wording which does not work with the public, politicians and some higher managers, who may manage more than just trees and may not have an arboricultural background.” I tend to agree.

5. What problems is DeepRoot trying to solve through its solutions? What are the major drivers?

Answer:  The U.S. is losing millions of urban canopy cover every year. We’re trying to help stem that loss while also incorporating the incredible ability of trees and soil to clean and absorb water and return it to the atmosphere. In cities, so much rainfall hits the ground and rushes right into the sewer rather than being used to irrigate plants or being saved for other uses. And so many trees are planted in tiny areas, with little or no thought given to what it needs to survive and mature. Green infrastructure (trees, soil, and water) is the backbone of a city’s ecological health.

6. What do you mean when you say ‘Rethink trees’?

Answer: When we say “rethink trees,” we’re trying to draw attention to trees as underutilized, and undervalued, elements of our urban fabric. Most people don’t think about trees much at all – and if they do, they tend to think of them as ornamental. We don’t think trees are ornamental at all – we think they’re fundamental to health and resilient urban design. We want to prompt people to think about trees as essential to smart, economically viable, and successful development. That’s what we mean.

7. The planting of the one millionth tree of the MillionTreesNYC initiative was celebrated. Speaking of quantity over quality, how would you describe the quality of this process? Were they planted the right way? Does simply planting trees, any kind, help? Is there a right or a wrong way?

Answer: I have no firsthand knowledge of how the MillionTreesNYC planting program was run; I’m quite sure they have great folks working for them who truly believe in the cause. And a million trees is a very, very large number! We congratulate them on their efforts and we’re so glad there are people who care so much about trees.

Having said that, it’s true that we can’t just plant our way into a bigger urban tree canopy. To really move the needle on the health of the urban forest, we also need to address how trees are planted. A tree’s size and health are in direct proportion to the amount of soil it has access to. Until we start considering the needs of the tree roots in our development planning – and incorporating room for soil underneath sidewalks, parking lots, plazas, etc. – the trees in those areas will struggle to thrive and survive.

8. How does pollution affect soil health? We’ve heard of phytoremediation. Can it be achieved in urban areas? Have you tried it?

Answer: Pollution can accumulate in soil to levels that are unsafe for humans; I’m not aware of any direct impact to the health of the soil itself. I’ve not heard of any phytoremediation projects being done in urban areas, but there are some great people studying stuff like this – it’s possible I’m just not aware of the work being done in this area.

9. How do you weigh preventive measures against adaptive measures such as seed banks and their gene study?

Answer: First I should say that I’m not an expert in either of these issues, but based on what I’ve seen from my time in the industry, both are important. To protect the future of our communities, we absolutely need to employ preventive measures. But there’s room for all kinds of creative solutions and ideas, and things like seed banks may be one of those.

10. Is mulching the panacea for urban soil health? If not, what is?

Answer: Mulching does a lot of wonderful things for soil health and function; we’re big fans. But it’s not a panacea – nothing is. Instead, we need to take more care of trees and soils at every stage of the planning and planting process. Soil that is healthy should be reused, and soil that is marginal should be salvaged wherever possible. And, above all, we need to give trees enough of it.

11. What do you think Matthew McConaughey meant when he said ‘”It’s not about huggin’ trees…,” he argues. “It’s not about being wasteful, either…,” in an ad for the Lincoln MKZ hybrid sedan? What’s the philosophy here? What’s Deep Root’s philosophy?

Answer: I would never purport to speak for Matthew McConaughey (you’re aware of his naked conga-drum playing episode, right?) on Lincoln Motors! DeepRoot’s philosophy is that trees and soils are elemental to truly sustainable design. We think that trees are essential for the physical, mental, and emotional health of humans (and other living things) and that they should be considered as important as other traditional forms of infrastructure. We’re excited to be a part of making cities more livable.

12. What question do people fail to ask and what would that be?

Answer: People fail to ask, or consider, what they want the site they’re working on to look like in 20, 40, 80 years. Do you envision a beautiful mature tree canopy? If so, you have to play the long game and plan for that tree today.

13. What’s your favorite tree pun? Mine is this – ‘Tree puns are getting old.. We should branch out! *leaves*’

Answer: I don’t know any tree puns, but here’s a non-tree joke: What did the zero say to the eight? “Nice belt.”

I thank Leda for her time and insights. Loved her candidness! I’ve been a fan of DeepRoot since I stumbled upon it on the internet. DeepRoot Green Infrastructure develops solutions to enhance urban forests and surrounding watersheds in city streets, parking lots, campuses, and other heavily-paved areas. I subscribed to its blogs and it started growing on me. And if you’ve read my blog posts in the past, you’d know how I love gardening. Every time I talked about DeepRoot, my colleagues would think I’m selling their products to them. Well, how awesome it is to finally have an interview with them! I’m having a superb weekend! You can read more about DeepRoot on their website, and get in touch with them on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and YouTube.

Following are some of my takeaways from the interview.

  • Sustainability when defined with numbers excludes vagueness. It made an impact on my mind, made me think. Tweet: Sustainability when defined with numbers excludes vagueness. It made an impact on my mind, made me think.
  • Everything works in unison, the trees, soil, water and air, to make this planet livable. Urban infrastructure should be based on this. Tweet: Everything works in unison, the trees, soil, water and air, to make this planet livable. Urban infrastructure should be based on this.
  • It’s not just about planting trees, it is about what you plant and how you plant it. Tweet: It's not just about planting trees, it is about what you plant and how you plant it.

My question to you all is, what has made you ‘Rethink Trees’? Please comment below.

Joyride in the Mumbai Metro train

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It took almost a century for the whole of India to have a railway system after it was first introduced from Bombay (now Mumbai) to Thane. This train ran on a steam engine. Modern trains in cities like Mumbai now work on electricity and long-journey trains on diesel.

The ones that run on electricity have a Railway electrification system. These systems are classified according to their voltage, type of current and contact system. The classification via current was the point of debate for the Mumbai Metro trains. When classified according to current, these systems fall under two modes: Direct Current (DC) and Alternating Current (AC).

A top-ranking official of the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) has warned of a number of pitfalls if the Mumbai Metro goes ahead with its plan to use 25kV power traction, saying it could be dangerous for buildings close to the Metro line and a hazard during the monsoon. [….] Khade goes on to say DC is the preferred mode, and that 97 per cent of metros around the world run on it. […] In fact in DC, the weight of trains is lower, leading to higher pick-up speeds, lower power requirements and a lighter load on the elevated structure. – MM

As we can see, DC trains are more energy efficient and safe, among other advantages over AC trains. It is a mode of choice for shorter routes like the one I was on (11.40 km). Why did the government go with the AC mode? I have no idea.

Green Promise from the Mumbai Metro:

Mumbai Metro has (or will have) a water recycling plant. The water which will be used to wash the rakes will be recycled and reused everyday.

Greener rides across the country:

While the Mumbai Metro has its own water recycling plant, other trains in India are solar powered. The world’s second solar powered train is the Shivalik Express. Other green initiatives taken by Indian railways are:

The journey:

One fine morning, my school tutor invites me for a ride on the Metro train. Last minute plans often don’t leave us time to do our homework. Together we arrive at Andheri station post lunch hours. We struggle to find the Metro. I start to lookup for some information on the internet and my tutor decides to ask people around. At first we take the usual train ticket to Ghatkopar (the end of the Versova-Ghatkopar corridor). We realize we have wasted money on the ticket because the Metro has a coin system. Counters to get these coins are surrounded by serpentine queues. Among the crowd are people who think it is fair to break the line or ask for strangers to buy them a ticket. Thanks to the authorities, such people are kept at bay. Some counters break down due to overload. Authorities are quick at mending them. As my tutor and I discuss about the whole scenario, we find that many of these people are out for a joyride too.

We are excited and seeing the crowd my tutor is a little overwhelmed. I keep her close until we get inside. People around are as terrified as they are when they try to get into the usual Mumbai local. We plunge and get in. Air conditioning is not able to catch up with the number of people inside. The atmosphere outside is hot and humid. With that, I suggest my tutor that we get down as quickly as possible. She wants to explore more though. Her excitement is not subdued by the conditions inside. As we inquire more about the journey to other passengers, we end up talking to a pair of a mother and a daughter. The mother happens to be a writer who suggests that we enjoy the joyride until the destination arrives. (I couldn’t catch her name but if she is reading this: ‘Hello again!’. ) We finally decide to stay. Andheri to Ghatkopar is not a long journey anyway.

I stand near the door and so I don’t even know how the seats look like. I take a picture of the indicators and the map. The automated voices in the train that advise passengers are both male and female. I notice they speak English and Hindi. May be I missed the part where they spoke in Marathi.

Why is this train called a Metro? It ain’t underground to call it one. But this is just one of the many routes where Mumbai will have a Metro. The two other routes (Metro II and Metro III) are going to be underground and its budget has recently been approved. This journey reminds me of a song.

The Metro railway opened on 8th June, around 20 days ago. I feel guilty for having inconvenienced those passengers who weren’t explorers like us. To these people, I apologize. I don’t plan to use the Monorail this way. Unlike my tutor, I wanted to write about this journey and learn more about railway systems and I have. If you’ve traveled by this train too, please feel free to share your experience with us. Or you can tell us if you know why the government decided to run these on AC mode.

Litterbug is not a bug or is it?

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In a 2006 Indian film, an underworld don turned Radio Jockey tries to resolve callers’ problem with lessons learnt from Mahatma Gandhi (Gandhism/Gandhigiri). One such scene involves a caller fuming over an issue with his neighbor. His neighbor happens to be a compulsive spitter.

DSC_0059I wonder if his compulsiveness to spit on the caller’s door has anything to do with what he chews. In India, many people who are like this spitter chew on a psychoactive preparation called ‘paan’. Some swallow and some spit. The latter seems more prevalent. Munnabhai, the don-cum-RJ in the movie offers help. He advises his caller to greet the spitter with a smile each time he catches him spit and clean up the mess he has made. For days at end the spitter continues his thoughtless act. Frustrated, the caller calls Munnabhai again and is suggested to continue to do the same. Finally, as is shown in the movie, the spitter feels ashamed to spew out the staining cocktail and instead apologizes to the caller. The caller rejoices and so do the listeners. So will you if you watch the clip I just described, if you haven’t already.

Why should anything be clean?

Are people more inclined to litter a place that is already dirtied than to do the same at a cleaner place? May be. The most important question is why should places be kept clean? Places that aren’t clean not only breed diseases, but also lose its aesthetic value (which unfortunately many in India don’t consider). As children we are taught of hygiene but when we grow up why do we fail to apply it beyond ourselves or ours houses? The answer may lie in the absence of direct effects of such activities. It’s not like how we recoil from fire in order to protect ourselves from a burn. An example of indirect effect would be Leptospirosis, a disease. Rats are attracted to leftovers that people discard in public places. If any of these rats bears a disease, its infected urine can contaminate any water body it comes in contact with. If you happen to have an open wound on your body, let’s say your feet, and if you put your feet in such a water body, you can acquire a lethal disease called Leptospirosis. This is just one example.

Aesthetics and human psychology:

It is human nature to be attracted to beautiful things. It is also human nature to be repelled by things that look ugly. While the perception of beauty is subjective, there are many examples where we share the same view on things that are beautiful or ugly. A litter-free place can contribute to emotional well-being of people. If I ask you to choose between two apartments to live: one clean and the other with stained and chipped walls, which one would you prefer? I bet we have an unanimous answer. We would all choose the clean place to live. This being a constricted question, a much broader question would be one that applies to public spaces. We would all like to spend our time in a garden that is clean and green, won’t we?

In the general field of Environmental Psychology an increasing number of studies propose that subjects’ general well-being can be significantly increased as a result of contact with environments considered to have high aesthetic value. – Psychology in Spain, 2000, Vol. 4. No 1, 13-27 Colegio Oficial de Psicólogos

In 1988, Taylor and Gousie found that the architectural settings of a school can “facilitate the transmission of cultural values, stimulate or subdue, aid in creativity or slow mental perception, and cause fear or joy” – University of Georgia

German researchers found that just glancing at shades of green can boost creativity and motivation. – New York Times

When there are such undeniable benefits from clean and beautiful things, why not inculcate them into our lives?

Sanitation – a privilege in India:

In India, while sanitation and hygiene is a privilege for many, many also neglect it. The repercussions of which cost lives and the economy.

A recent study by the Water and Sanitation Program of the World Bank estimates that inadequate sanitation costs India the equivalent of 6.4% of its GDP.  –India Sanitation Portal

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has always been on the forefront when it comes to creating awareness. Many attempts have been made to keep India clean and green. The new Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi has called for a cleanliness drive for Indian Railways. The purpose of this drive is to create awareness among the travelers to keep railway areas clean.

Plastic litter:

There’s so much plastic litter out there that if you set out to collect it from all over the world and sell it, recycle it, convert it fuel, you might end up on Forbes’ list of richest people in the world. There is so much of it that a new kind of rock is being naturally formed out of this plastic waste. There has been so much of it for so long time that bacteria have started to live on it. This is a serious problem for every part of the world and vertebrates mistakenly eating it – the fishes especially. Humans eat fish, right? The joke is on us.

Recently, Illinois became the first state to ban microbeads – small plastic bits found in cosmetic products such as facewashes.

Plastic litter has many environmental consequences, it not only harms us but also other living creatures that come in contact with it. It looks as if plastic litter is the only litter we make. It is not the case. Plastic or not, litter causes problems.

According to the most authoritative study, it constitutes only 0.6 percent of visible litter across the United States. So, even banning all plastic bags would have little impact on overall litter. – Fox & Hounds Daily

We can deal with this. It starts with me and you.

‘Be the change that you wish to see in the world.’ – Mahatma Gandhi