5 Global Issues that Highlight the Importance of Earth Day

This Saturday, the 22nd of April is a special day for me. Along with my mum’s birthday, Saturday will also be observed as Earth day. I’m an environmentalist and prior to this I was not aware that my lovely mother’s birthday would be double delightful for me, for I love the world as much as I love my mum. I like to identify myself as a global citizen rather than that of one particular country.

Earth day was first observed in 1970 in the United States of America. This date was chosen by then United States Senator Gaylord Nelson. Two decades later, Founder of the social organization, Earth Day 1990, Denis Hayes, took Earth Day global and organized various events across 141 countries on Earth Day. Since then Earth Day is observed each year and many important environmental and peace decisions are taken all over the world. Chief among them were the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit and the Paris Agreement, which was signed on Earth Day 2016.

For environmentalists like me, every day is earth day. But 22nd holds a significance in that, even people who have never really bothered much about global exploitations take some time to understand and realise the changes happening around them. Every year more and more people are gradually becoming environmentally responsible. Even though change is happening, it is not happening fast enough. There are still several issues that need to be dealt with. Let’s look at what they are.

Increasing Pollution Levels and Traffic

People moving to major cities in search of better job opportunities has been a trend for quite some time now. This influx has seen an increase in the number of automobiles on the roads, pushing pollution to new levels. Everyone using their personal vehicle has also lead to unwanted traffic and noise pollution. The situation is worse in densely populated countries like India and China. One of the viable options to tackle these problems is car-pooling ie, sharing your ride. Instead of each person using their personal vehicle to commute, people can instead choose to car-pool. This will drastically decrease air pollution, noise pollution and traffic, all at the same time. It also helps reduce expenditure on fuel since everyone shares the cost.

Climate Change Nay Sayers

Decades ago scientists discovered that, due to pollution, there is a change in global climate patterns. This phenomenon is dangerous to the earth and needs to be contained. But during Ronald Reagan’s tenure as President, this problem became a political and business issue and gave rise to a number of people with ulterior motives, who claim climate change is a myth. These people are commonly called climate change nay sayers. But even as this group tries to disrupt the actions being taken to tackle climate change issues, it is up to us to do our part in saving the earth. Reduce using Fossil Fuels wherever possible and switch to clean energy alternatives, especially solar energy.

Animals Losing their Natural Habitat

The uncontrolled burning of fossil fuels has increased environmental pollution. This, chiefly carbon emission, has led to global warming, which has disrupted the natural habitat of many animals, especially beasts that belong to the Arctic Circle. The arctic ice is melting at an alarming rate and stopping it is of a very high priority. This is another reason why people should switch to clean energy fuels.

The Ever Increasing Landfills and Mosquitoes

Presently most of the waste we generate is dumped in landfills. This mixture of organic and inorganic waste degrades the soil and along with it brings the problem of mosquitoes and rodents. The issue is more persistent in major cities where waste is being dumped in prominent locations within the city limits. This has led to various health and environmental issues. There are a number of ways we could put an end to this.

  • Proper Waste Management: Segregate organic and in-organic waste at the source, at your homes. The organic waste can be composted and can be used in rooftop and kitchen organic farming. The inorganic waste on the other hand can be recycled.
  • Upcycling: This is a relatively new concept and is better than recycling. Here, used products, especially plastic and glass objects, are crafted into something really gorgeous and aesthetically beautiful. Consider alcohol bottles for example, instead throwing them away, craft them into candle holders or chandeliers. If you aren’t able to do it yourself, give it to skilled artisans who can do it for you.

Synthetic Fertilizers Poisoning the Earth

For years now, farmers have been using synthetic chemicals in order to increase crop yield. But many of them are not aware of the fact that these chemicals affect the natural fertility of the soil and pollutes ground water. These chemicals also have adverse effects on humans through our food. Hence it is important that we put an end to it. How do we that? By promoting Organic farming. In this kind of farming, all synthetic chemicals are banned. People only use natural and organic certified products for farming. This farming practice is good for the environment and all life forms.

Apart from all this, there are a few things which everyone can do to preserve the earth. Planting a tree, refraining from littering, switching the fans and lights off when not necessary, using paper bags instead of plastic covers are just few of the simple but essential things one can do.

Every New Years, many of us make new resolutions but never keep them up. For a change make a resolution on Earth Day instead. A resolution to play a part, no matter how small, in saving the Earth. Remember, we have but one earth. It can survive without us but we can’t survive without it!

5 Social Organizations Working for Children’s Education and Empowerment

I find it funny that throughout the world protecting children still seems to be of a very high priority. Don’t get me wrong! I don’t hold anything against protection for children. What I’m trying to say is, many of us think humans are at the peak of evolution. That we can do no wrong. If that were true, then kids shouldn’t fear anything right? Education, food and health should be essential amenities rather than things of luxury. But are they? Sadly the answer is no. This means, people who believe that they are great, that humans are at the zenith of everything, should take a step back and look around them.

In many developing nations, especially worn-torn countries, children are very vulnerable and are exploited. Even a rapidly progressing nation like India is no stranger to this problem. Fortunately, many social entrepreneurs have understood the persisting issues and have taken initiatives to protect underprivileged children. We are going to look at some of these organizations who are going all-out to make sure children lead good lives.

Kailash Satyarthi Foundation

Established by noble peace laureate Kailash Satyarthi, the mission of the foundation is to create a child-friendly world. Their motto is, “Let every child be free to be a child.” They aim to influence governments and businesses to take necessary steps against child abuse including trafficking, slavery, labour and child marriages. They aim to develop and empower children worldwide by providing quality education. The foundation is Mr. Satyrathi’s answer to the question – What can one man possible do? Not a lot, but he can and did start a revolution. Change always starts with one person. After all, its tiny drops that make up an entire ocean.

 

Smile Foundation India

In 2002, a bunch of young and enthusiastic corporate professionals came together to create Smile Foundation. Their aim was to make positive changes in the lives of underprivileged children. Through research they discovered that education was the key to children’s empowerment. They took up life-cycle approach of development to bring sustainable changes in children’s lives. The organization was created to empower youngsters and women, apart from children, through education, healthcare and market-focused lifestyle programs. They apply the best possible methodology and technology to achieve an ideal social return on investment.

 

Nanhi Kali

Established in 1996, Nanhi Kali provides primary education to underprivileged girls in India. Founder Anand Mahindra, Chairman of Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd, believes that through education, women can tackle social evils that exist in the world today. Fear and inequality feed off of ignorance. Education eliminates ignorance and is the route to development and empowerment. The organization is aware of the high female drop-out rates, especially in underprivileged communities. They have taken it upon themselves to make sure that none of their ‘Nanhi Kalis’ drop out of school. A few years back the World Bank researched and discovered that there were many benefits associated with girls’ education. This includes reduction of child and maternal mortality, improvement of child nutrition and health, lower fertility rates and improvement in economic production. This research formed the basis of this social organization. Nanhi Kali is a sponsorship support programme that allows individuals to participate and support girls’ education.

 

Samridhdhi Trust

Samridhdhi in Hindi means Enrichment. Founder Mom Banerjee noticed that in many of the lesser developed sections of Bangalore, there are a lot of children who pick rags or while away their time playing or roaming around. She discovered that these were the children of immigrant labourers who hail from different states speaking different languages and are often on the move. This meant their children could not receive quality education from mainstream schools simply because of their language issues. So she established ‘tailor made’ schools to suit their diverse linguistic needs. These schools accommodate children of all ages.

The ‘Bridge Schools’ are no-fee schools that provide basic education to children of migrant labourers. Here, children are trained and prepared for admissions in mainstream, English medium schools and if the children do get admitted then Samridhdhi sponsors half their tuition fees and provides them with after school tuitions. They also have a professional coaching program – a rigorous program that aids students in successfully facing their SSLC and PUC examinations. This program is funded by the Manipal Foundation.

The trust aims to enrich the lives of underprivileged children by providing them with quality education. They hope to make substantial positive changes in the lives of children through schooling.

Manipal Foundation

Manipal Foundation is a charitable arm of the famous Manipal Group. The foundation works for various social issues like health, women empowerment and environment. But their primary focus is on education. They believe education is the answer to human development.

Partnering with social organizations like Samridhdhi Trust, IIMPACT and Sambhav Foundation, they help provide quality education to underprivileged children in both rural areas and urban slums.

Sustainable Living: Money is Just an Excuse

People say only the wealthy can actually lead ‘sustainable’ lives. Is that a myth or can everyone live sustainably regardless of their bank balance?

Before we find an answer to that question, we first need to understand what sustainability means. People throw it out very often these days, like it were an article. We don’t want ‘a’, ‘an’ & ‘the’ taking offence now do we?

So what exactly is this sustainability? The Oxford English dictionary defines it as ‘avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.’

I couldn’t have put it any better. It is simply the judicious use of natural resources. When we say natural resources, people’s minds quickly jump to fossil fuels. But it isn’t just that, no sir!

Sustainability is how we successfully and responsibly make use of things like the water we drink, the air around us, the earth below us, the flora and fauna and the whole world itself.

If science is to be believed, eons ago, everyone on this planet lead very sustainable lives although I wouldn’t say it was peaceful and happy. They were hunters and gatherers. Survival of the fittest was the common law for all living beings and humans had to be on high alert at all times.

Then, ten thousand years back, some random caveman struck two rocks together and discovered something that changed the world forever. It was fire that made humans the lord of all creatures. The discovery of fire was followed by agriculture. Every time man invented or discovered something new, his greed and craving for power grew and it has now come to a point where, to many, money is king, money is everything. Due to this, sustainability and responsible living seem to have taken the back seat.

But since the turn of the 21st century, people are gradually gravitating back towards a more sustainable life. So what can people do to lead a responsible life even if they don’t earn a lot of money?

Don’t waste water

The first few things are pretty simple. Do not waste water. For instance, many people let the tap running while they brush. On an average, people waste about 5 gallons of water every week, which is roughly 19 litres! That is almost 18 litres more than what is actually required.

Don’t waste food

This is one of those things which I don’t really understand why many people fail to follow. Instead of filling your plate with more than you can eat in one helping, why not take smaller portions in multiple helpings depending on how hungry you are? In case there is left over food, why throw it in the garbage? There are so many homeless and needy people out there who can’t afford one single meal. Give it to them instead.

Change your diet

In this fast paced world, people tend to forget their health and gobble up a lot of junk. Give up that unhealthy habit. Create a proper diet and stick to it. Make sure you fast at least once a week or once a fortnight. By setting a proper diet, not only will you be able to lead a healthy life, you will also stop spending on unwanted junk, which more often than not would end up in the trash.

Start recycling paper

Many people have the habit of reading newspaper. Instead of throwing away old newspapers, repurpose them. The simplest thing to do would be to make paper bags which would act as sustainable alternative for polyethene bags.

Make proper use of plastic and replace it wherever necessary

Refrain from purchasing plastic objects. Buying wooden or glass alternatives would be slightly more expensive. But it would be a one-time investment and would save a lot of money in the long run. Consider toothbrushes for instance. More than a billion toothbrushes are thrown away in the US alone. Since they are made out of synthetic polymers, these don’t degrade and plays a major role in environmental degradation. Try replacing these with bamboo brushes. Not only do they last much, much longer, they are also eco-friendly.

Even if you do buy plastic products, make sure you use it to the fullest and once it is worn out, repurpose/upcycle it. For example, in case of plastic bottles, draw them into threads which can be later used for various purposes including gardening and decorations.

To do all these things one does not really need to be rich. Any common can lead a sustainable life and bring about major global changes. It is all in the thought. As Pythagoras would have put it, hence proved!

The Food Movement: Slow & Steady Always Wins

Growing up as a child, I lived in my paternal house surrounded by tea plantations and small farmlands. I had often seen people working on our farms, spraying some sort of liquid on the crops. To this day, I perfectly remember that they weren’t wearing any protective gear. When I enquired, my elders told me that the spray kept away ‘bad’ insects and improved crop growth. What they failed to mention, or ignored, was that the ‘liquid’ was harmful to the environment and other life forms, including humans. To them, yield was more important because there was money to be made.

Now, you cannot completely blame the previous generations for shifting to ‘modern’ methods. After all, the population was ever increasing and most farmers were kept in the dark about what synthetic chemicals could do to the crops and their lands.

At the turn of the century, things started changing for the better. Environmentalists and health enthusiasts started campaigning against the use of pesticides and insecticides. With rapid growth of the internet, most people realised what was happening. This triggered a global food movement.

The Food Movement

People are now gradually migrating to ‘slow food’. Consumers want to know where their food comes from, how it is grown, the living and working conditions of the producers, its effects on the environment and animals and the like.

People have also slowlystarted realizing that fields treated with synthetic chemicals can have varied harmful effects on the farmers and their families, given that most of the farming families live very close to the farmlands. The pesticides also pollute the land and water sources.

Few of the notable things the food movement has brought to the fore are:

  • The gradual shift to organically grown food.
  • People questioning the use of GMOs.
  • The movement has also highlighted the importance of conserving the bee population. Bees help in pollination and consequently helps increase crop growth.
  • The movement has also made people realise and question the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides in farmlands.

Persisting Issues

Even though people are changing, they aren’t changing fast enough. A few years have gone by since I last visited the family farms but I am pretty sure they are still being infected by those harmful, synthetic pesticides. It was only recently, after learning as much as I could about organic farming, that I and my father had a discussion about employing organic farming techniques in our farms and plantations. From my own experience, I can clearly see that it will take at least another decade before the entire world embraces organic farming.

Another issue that irks me is half knowledge. The food movement is a revolution that took root at the beginning of this century. 17 years on and there are still many who claim to be part of the revolution but have only partly understood what it is about.

When you talk to people about food movement today, the focus seems to be mainly on their families. People talk about organic, natural, GMO free and what not. But many don’t seem to worry or even think about the difficulties faced by the producers (farmers) and the environment.

The Duty

I believe it is our duty to educate everyone about the importance of the food movement. People need to know every minute detail – including the health benefits, environmental benefits and monetary benefits for the farmers. Only when people understand the entire problem, will they be able to take an educated decision as to what needs to be done. Half knowledge is, was and always will be dangerous.

And Eat Your Food Slowly

We have discussed about the food movement, slow food and all that. But none of it will help you much if you don’t eat right. One of the main ingredients of the food movement is eating slowly. When you eat, you are supposed to chew slowly and enjoy each morsel. But in today’s world eating is done in too much of a hurry that people sometimes even tend to disregard what they are consuming. This trend needs to change. When you eat slowly, not only are you going to enjoy the taste, but you also tend to wonder about the health benefits of the food. So eat good food, chew slowly and lead a healthy life.

The Time for Circular Design is Here

We are living in an era where people are gradually trying to lead a more sustainable life. The internet has helped us understand the hardships others face. It has also made many of us aware of the dire condition the earth is in.  Concepts like organic farming and clean energy projects are big steps in the right direction. Of all the new responsible ideas that have cropped up, upcycling seems to be the most interesting.

Upcycling is the Need of the Hour

While development and implementation of organic farming and clean energy projects require people with a certain skill set, the same is not true for upcycling. By now most people know what upcycling is. It is the process of repurposing used materials in order to reduce the waste that goes to landfills. Converting liquor bottles into candle sticks is a good example of upcycling.

I found the concept of upcycling very interesting and have been doing quite a bit of research for a while now. This research of mine has led me to a concept which is much better than upcycling. As we saw, upcycling is the process of repurposing materials that are deemed waste. Now this is good, but imagine if the products are designed in such a way that there is no such thing as waste or bi-product. Welcome to the circular economy.

The Circular Design

Most existing businesses have a linear economy. Their mantra is, ‘buy, use and dispose’. In this type of economy, the earth is converted into a giant landfill. Once a product is used and worn out, it is thrown away and replaced by newer, “better” objects. The circular design looks to change this attitude.

The circular economy is a path to sustainability. Instead of the usual cradle-to-grave approach, circular design deals with a cradle-to-cradle approach. Companies who implement this concept in their business produce high quality products which have better durability and longevity. Once the products are worn out, the company provides the customer with the tools to repurpose them or they take back the products and repurpose the products themselves. The aim here is to make the customer the owner and not just a product-consumer.

The concept of a circular economy is derived from nature itself. Everything that occurs in nature, goes through a cycle. Even when an organism dies, it becomes a part of the soil and over time enriches it. So there is no real waste. People are now trying to implement this in businesses.

The circular design promotes the switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy. It aims to reduce waste and pollution by design.

Understanding Your Business Needs

Before implementing a circular design it is important to understand the system in which it is to be applied. Misinterpretations can lead to chaos. Transparency is critical for a circular economy to thrive.

In case of bigger commodities like automobiles or expensive furniture, people are more willing to repair instead of discarding them. It is the smaller, cheaper products which are disposed of rather casually. The circular design will completely change this outlook, and help us a long way in preserving nature.

The Gift of Autism

‘Autism’ – a term which, even today, not many people are familiar with. I myself became aware of it just over a year ago. My knowledge of autism is what I have seen on television or over the internet. My first reaction was that of sympathy. But talking to people who have actually spent time with autistic people has changed my perspective. Although not many adults with autism can live independently, that hasn’t stopped them from achieving success.

We are going to discuss about some of these success stories. Particularly three of my all-time favourites. But before we begin, let’s take a minute to look at what autism is:

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder. It alters the connection between nerve cells and their synapses, affecting the way the brain processes information. There are several conditions which can be categorised under Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Most prominent among them is Asperger’s syndrome.

Since information is processed differently in the brain, autistic people do not behave in the same way as others. While some of their senses are impaired, others may be normal or even superior to normal folk.

In spite of their difficulties the following people have achieved great things in life:

The Maestro

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a prodigious child. Later in his life he was known to be quite the man. Two characteristics were very prominent about him. He had repeated facial expressions and hand movements (which Tom Hulce brilliantly portrayed in Amadeus). He was also known to be very eccentric. By studying the letters written by Mozart and his family to each other, historians have deduced that there was a very high probability that Mozart may have been autistic. Although he did die young and in poverty, the existence of his music to this day is a testament to his genius. In a way, he was successful.

The Grand Master

People who knew Stanley Kubrick say that he was a recluse, had poor social skills, was impulsive and inflexible, had very lateral thinking and many other such traits which were all signs of a person suffering from Asperger’s. His iconic movies were more or less a projection of himself. But if ASD was the reason he was who he was, then it was not a bane but gift to both himself and the artistic world.

The Devotee

Kubrick had a profound influence on many movie makers. But the one that stands out, the one whose work has echoes of the genius himself is Tim Burton. Burton has paid homage to Kubrick through many of his movies. But this may not be the only relation Burton has with the Grand Master. While researching for a film, Burton’s actress wife, Helena Bonham Carter, discovered that many of his traits were in line with symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome. If people with ASD are that talented, I don’t understand why it is still considered a disorder.

The Chanteuse Supreme

If there were ever a power couple to replace John Lennon and Yoko Ono, it had to be Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love. The Nirvana and Hole lead singers were said to have adored each other and Kurt’s death devastated Courtney. But just like she did with autism in her childhood, she dealt with it to carry on her dignified life as a single mother. Due to her autism, she had poor social skills and very few friends. But it moulded her into a strong willed and confident person she is today.

The Yesteryear Beauty

As the sword wielding, butt-kicking villain in Kill Bill and the gorgeous mermaid in Splash, Daryl Hannah won many admirers. This beautiful lady has tackled Autism all her life, having been constantly teased and picked on as a teenager. Doctors even suggested that she join an institution. But Daryl’s mother had other ideas. She didn’t want to be separated from her daughter and didn’t believe she was sick. She pulled her out of public school, home schooled her and made her the person she is today.

Like Daryl’s mom, many people are campaigning for autism to be accepted as a difference and not a disorder. Many parents these days home school their children with love and patience. This gradual learning has helped numerous autistic people socialize with others and lead as normal a life as possible.