The left hand mines while the right hand waves green!

March 18, 2013
As U.S. Cleans Its Energy Mix, It Ships Coal Problems Abroad
Coal docks in Norfolk, Virginia. 

The port of Norfolk, Virginia, seen here in 1970, is the largest U.S. facility for exporting coal. It saw a surge of activity last year as U.S. coal exports increased 17 percent to set a new record.

Photograph by Charles Rotkin, Corbis

Thomas K. Grose

For National Geographic News

Published March 15, 2013

Ready for some good news about the environment? Emissions of carbon dioxide in the United States are declining. But don’t celebrate just yet. A major side effect of that cleaner air in the U.S. has been the further darkening of skies over Europe and Asia.

The United States essentially is exporting a share of its greenhouse gas emissions in the form of coal, data show. If the trend continues, the dramatic changes in energy use in the United States—in particular, the switch from coal to newly abundant natural gas for generating electricity—will have only a modest impact on global warming, observers warn. The Earth’s atmosphere will continue to absorb heat-trapping CO2, with a similar contribution from U.S. coal. It will simply be burned overseas instead of at home.

“Switching from coal to gas only saves carbon if the coal stays in the ground,” said John Broderick, lead author of a study on the issue by the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research at England’s Manchester University.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released data this week showing that United States coal exports hit a record 126 million short tons in 2012, a 17 percent increase over the previous year. Overseas shipments surpassed the previous high mark set in 1981 by 12 percent. The United States clearly is using less coal: Domestic consumption fell by about 114 million tons, or 11 percent, largely due to a decline in the use of coal for electricity. But U.S. coal production fell just 7 percent. The United States, with the world’s largest coal reserves, continued to churn out the most carbon-intensive fuel, producing 1 billion tons of coal from its mines in 2012.  Read more …


Sustainability, but how? Think like Turere

February 28, 2013

Save the cattle!  Save the lion!  Predator and prey saved, thanks to the innovative thinking of a 13 year old.

A young boy, entrusted with the task of protecting the family cattle, observed animal behavior and improvised using some material he had access to – LEDs, batteries, wires, and solar panels.

“At the age of 11 Richard decided to do something about his family’s losses. He observed that the lions never struck the homesteads when someone was awake and walking around with a flashlight. Lions are naturally afraid of people. He concluded that lions equate torches with people so he took the led bulbs from broken flashlights and rigged up an automated lighting system of four or five torch bulbs around the cattle stockade.  The bulbs are wired to a box with switches, and to an old car battery charged with a solar panel that operates the family Television set. The lights don’t point towards the cattle, or on any property, but outwards into the darkness. They flash in sequence giving the impression that someone is walking around the stockade.”  Read more about it at AfriGadget

The young boy has since helped neighboring homesteads (bomas?) protect their own cattle.  And, he has been on a TED talk in California.

Followup seems to be at Friends of Nairobi Park.

There are a couple of things I would like to draw attention to: “Now we need help on scaling up this idea.” says the AfriGadget blog.  My thought is, scale for sustainability.   Retain simplicity.  Retain affordability.  Retain employment opportunity.  Retain ‘reuse’ philosophy.

The other thought is back to the lions – if the lions had been finding easy prey, which is now deprived, what would they to find food?  Will their attacks become more aggressive?  Should there be a plan to voluntarily provide occasional cattle as prey so that the lion population does not adapt to these protective measures negatively.

May the chant “Think like Turere” resound everywhere evoking simple sustainable solutions!

Solar – the next phase

February 14, 2013

Here is what is catching the headlines in the Solar Industry :

Sustainable Business Reports : Hazardous Waste Weighs on Solar Industry’s Footprint

“There’s no comparison between the hazardous waste produced by the solar industry and fossil fuel industries, however. Gas and coal-fired power plants create more than 10 times the amount, according to Mulvaney.

Although solar advocates see this as an issue, they point out that at least this waste goes approved facilities – it doesn’t enter the air and water. In contrast, a coal plant sends all those chemicals straight into the air, which also pollutes the water and land. ”

Associated Press Reports : Solar industry grapples with hazardous wastes

” Fueled partly by billions in government incentives, the industry is creating millions of solar panels each year and, in the process, millions of pounds of polluted sludge and contaminated water.

While there are no specific industry standards, Smirnow, head of the solar industry association, is spearheading a voluntary program of environmental responsibility. So far, only seven of the group’s nearly 81 manufacturers have signed the pledge.

“We want (our program) to be more demanding, but this is a young industry and right now manufacturing companies are focused on survival,” he said.

Sustainability, But How?

February 24, 2012

Sustainability, but how? This has been a question that has been dominant in my mind recently – career-wise, as well as in reality.

What is sustainability? One would assume it refers to ‘something’ that sustains over an ‘expected period of time’. The complexity of defining sustainability lies in determining what that ‘something’ is, and, what the ‘expected period of time’ is.

To be honest, ‘something’ is ‘everything’, and ‘expected period of time’ is ‘forever’. Sustain everything forever? “That is impossible” is what one would jump to conclude right away. And, hence the nations and industries labor to limit the meaning and scope of this ‘something’ and this ‘expected period of time’ so that the chosen definition fits their bottom-line.

Strictly speaking, ‘sustainability’ is sustenance of ‘everything forever’. Altering the definition will not change reality. If earth and earth-kind are to continue forever (yes, there is more than just mankind that constitute this world) mankind has to change its ways (all earth-kinds other than man are doing their parts already).

Most of mankind’s strategy for the past several centuries (even millenia) has been ‘war’. This has conventionally been understood as between nations or peoples. From right about Industrial Revolution, the ‘wars’ waged between man and nature have shifted into high-gear on the autobahn!

Deforestation (explosion), population explosion, pollution (explosion) and other reckless tampering with nature’s ways are ugly manifestations of mankind’s greed. And how does mankind’s greed build? By hoarding more than what is needed. By converting everything into monetary value so that one is tempted to live under the illusion that money is the be-all and end-all of everything – accumulate enough money, and with money, anything can be bought.

There are definitely things that many people believe cannot be monetized – love, family and happiness, to name a few. But this list is shrinking. And, these are not words you use in an economic report or a financial statement.

But, to be truly sustainable, we should increase the list of things that cannot be monetized. Mankind has to find something other than money making to pre-occupy itself.

For the present, mankind has to pre-occupy itself with finding means of detoxifying itself from greed. It is ironical indeed that greed, money and sustainability are all green – just different shades, that clash with each other.

Where does one start?  History, life and introspection are the best teachers for this. It might sound too simplistic, but it is true. The most sublime solutions turn out to be simple.   Academia and the Universities are yet to learn to provide this knowledge as a readily digestible pill.

I am sure there are several books that could start this conversation going. I would recommend a book called ‘Ishmael‘ by Daniel Quinn.

And, here is wishing Dr. Kamal Bawa, recipient of the world’s first major award for sustainability work – Gunnerus Sustainability Award, even more success.

On the trail of India’s Renewable Energy Certificates

December 21, 2011

My attention has been captured by the headlines (in an Indian newspaper) that Solar power developers are interested in the REC scheme.  A news article reporting this showcases a patch of browned (de-greened) land with an array of the familiar solar panels.  This image is captioned ‘Green is in!’.  All I am seeing is ‘green is out’.  This blog will attempt to shadow the REC process and see the impacts this race for the green is going to turn up.

I hope to be able to report that this is an all round success.

More solar power developers seeking renewable energy certificates

Never another Bhopal and Union Carbide Industrial Disaster! Ever!

December 3, 2011

My first knowledge of the industrial disaster that struck Bhopal that fatefulDecember night in the year 1984 was from the morning papers (The Hindu) of December 4th or 5th plastered with stark black and white pictures of dead bodies lying on the ground, covered in cloth.  I had just entered ‘college’ to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Physics, and was getting past the self-centered-study-stage of the +2 (final 2) years of schooling.  This was a horrendous sight that filled our hearts (my younger sister’s and mine) with grief, sympathy, outrage and much more.

The next few weeks were filled with updates as available in the newspaper, and the periodicals.  They were also taken up by the pressing needs of study, assignments and exams.  Bhopal’s Union Carbide Industrial Disaster became occasionally-remembered-during-the-year, and definitely-revisited-on-its-anniversary.

Over the ensuing years, to me, it became just another tragedy and corporate indifference.  Starting year 2010, and following the BP Gulf oil spill, Bhopal’s Union Carbide Industrial Disaster has been gaining a stronghold in my mind.  It is heartening to see more awareness exhibited by corporations.  But, it is also scary to see the multi-fold increase in corporate ruthlessness (supported by administrative callousness) as the stakes are much higher.

The market is now an open global market.  Developed countries bask in seeing their own relatively stable platforms.  Not-yet-developed countries are trying to hang on to their boats in a stormy ocean of economic, political and social upheavals.  And, the ocean is not free of sharks – local, international, corporate, political and others of vested interests.  When there is a fast-buck to be made, sharks are ready to attack.

The expectations I have for ethical behaviour by corporate players is not heartening, as evidenced by statements by potential players who promise a solution for the looming energy and natural resources crisis, mainly because business ethics are dictated by profitability.   The hope is for the truly socially responsible players to prevail and sideline the “(monetary)-profit-is-the-bottom-line” players.

May there never ever be another tragedy like the one that the city and people of Bhopal faced, under the siege of the Industrial Disaster caused by Union Carbide.  May corporations be less greedy and more responsible.  May industries be more true to the solutions they provide.  May Bhopal ever be the reminder for what should never be.

Visualize – Woodcutter in action, perched on the wrong side of a branch!

May 5, 2009

Decoding An Advertisement

Does it look like history repeating itself?  No!  It is PIL pointing out that there is a way out of this folly!

Wood!  The all purpose gift of nature!  Because of the increasing demand and decreasing greenery in the scene, PIL has come out with a revolutionary supplement – almost a replacement for the eradication of the wasteful usage of wood.

The depiction of the orthodox farmer sitting on the branch and hacking the wood is working for his own downfall.  A brilliant analogy is drawn between the familiar woodcutter and the acute problem and concern the world over – conservation of forest and nature.  From a higher pedestal, the PIL announces that this foolishness could come to an end with the usage of the Hostalen, which provides replacement for wood and other packaging material.

The thick cluster of the forest trees and the one in the forefront – a mango tree – which gives tasty mangoes and luscious fruits, with the man depicted cutting the wood and planning his fall leaves no room for doubt as to the meaning conveyed.

As the commodity is intended for the peasants and the farmers, the advertisement is suitable in that it is easily recognized and understood.  Because of its simplicity and subtle humour, the advertisement has a definite appeal to the masses.

The write-up, at the bottom of the page gives a detailed data matter for the common man to know.  It gives statistics about  the amount of wood cut and used as packaging matter, in comparison with the material packed.  It goes on to tell you that Hostalen has revolutionarily replced wood, but is also on its way to conserve other scarce materials like steel, tinplate, glass, etc… in the field of containers.

As a bonus to your clever purchase of this product, he tells you that by using this, you have made an improvement on the quality of life – a temptation scarcely overlooked. In addition, there is the all too influencing factor – foreign collaboration, with West Germany.

RSVS,    II B.Sc. Physics,   13/3/1986

(Written as a creative language (English) exercise.  Assignment was to describe what we were shown.  We were shown a paper which featured an advertisement – image of a woodcutter perched on the wrong side of a branch, and attempting to chop off same.)