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I begin this post with an apology. I have posted only sporadically this past year, and the reason is not Covid as one might think. No, it’s simply that writing repeatedly about environmental, social and energy topics over the past several years, it seems like every little bit of progress on any of these fronts is wiped out by news headlines on events in politics, business or the weather. The actions any of us take to combat these developments always seem like too little and too late, so I learned to accept one possibility: that the world as a whole will not wake up to action until the planet is undoubtedly, unequivocally in peril; and then everyone will come together and frantically decide on measures that could have, should have, been taken decades ago. The Covid pandemic is a case in point; and the recent spate of droughts, wildfires and floods in many countries is another.
So here we are finally at a point where the world is waking up and ready to take action. At this juncture I would like to highlight the work of a small community of people working in a small village near the town of Tiruvannamalai in South India who have been working and learning and teaching and playing and planting in exemplary fashion for the past decade and more. Today, instead of writing my own blog, I’ve decided to simply post their tree planting update with photographs. I hope you find their post as inspiring as I did. Read on below:
Greetings from Tiruvannamalai.Hope you are all doing well. We have been blessed this year to receive lots of rain from June itself and we have been actively involved in this season’s tree planting. We have completed the planting of more than 8000 trees in 7 locations which include 4 Eri bunds and upper slopes, on the hill, in the plains around the hill etc. We will be continuing the work in the weeks to come.
This year’s planting has had a different focus. One of the senior members of our team Shyam, attended an ecology course on native trees in Auroville and came back with a passion for evergreen tree species of the Eastern ghats. We have always planted indigenous trees of this region and over the years our nursery has produced more than 180 native species. While we continue with the same we have brought special focus on the Evergreens.
Here is Shyam’s brief write up on the evergreen patch:
The idea to have an evergreen patch came from most trees on the hill being deciduous and the hill looking quite barren in summer. Plus our recent planting places mostly had some tough evergreens surviving as most deciduous species are heavily grazed by deer leaving them stunted, to grow back to only be stunted again grazing. ( One of the outcomes of our successful afforestation has been the sharp rise in spotted deer population) The evergreen species are fast disappearing as more and more forests are being destroyed, so to find a home to these species was enticing and is very critical for the survival of these species. Many of them are already on the Red list of the IUCN. Obviously the dream is to imagine an evergreen canopy sometime in the future that may be our children will walk around even in summer times. So the idea was to plant tough faster growing evergreens that will eventually provide the conditions for other species usually found in more mature forests to grow in and eventually regenerate. We also tried planting a small number of saplings of species that were non-existent on the hill in an effort to introduce them. These were planted in selected places with good soil and canopy conditions hoping to maximise their survival chances.
Various strategies were tried out to improve their survival chances and to aid faster growth to clear the height the deer can reach, some are 1. Selecting a place with good soil and canopy cover conditions 2. Digging deeper pits and filling them back with a compost + top soil mix which helps with better moisture retention and root penetration 3. Making tree guards for few saplings of newly introduced trees that are prone to grazing 4. Making bunds with rocks from around to help with water percolation, top soil piling up from upper slope 5. Planting in direct/partial sun or even in very shaded spots based on their preferred growing conditions 6. Planting some taller saplings in bigger bags for species that need a tree guard as the bigger root systems will help them grow faster past the grazing height
We have planted around 700 saplings in this section so far. Around 90 saplings belong to species that aren’t found on hill at any stage and around 500 belong to species that preexist on the hill in a sapling stage.
Here are the names of some of the species :
The whole Marudam team with children, teachers and even parents have joined in a lot of the planting programmes and it has been an occasion to rejoice.
We will end with wishes for a green and healthy planet.
The is basically a battle for the future of Indian agriculture. It is also a battle of two opposing philosophies: Small is Beautiful vs. Big is Better. On the one hand, 67% of India’s farmland is held by marginal farmers with holdings below 1 hectare. These farmers control 48% of irrigated land. On the other hand, 33% of farms are large, medium-sized or corporate holdings, and they control 52% of India’s irrigated land. It is important to remember this existing imbalance when considering the new laws.
Under the new law, a trader can approach any farmer anywhere in the country and buy their produce at any price that is agreed on. This may sound like a benefit for the farmer, but not when the buyer is a powerful corporation. In such situations, farmers will always be the weaker players. Indian farmers know it, and this is one of the reasons for their protests. The larger entities will always have the upper hand in case of disputes. The new law will also give large companies the freedom to accumulate stock of commodities and dictate terms to farmers. On a global scale, small-holder farmers provide 80% of our food on just 10% of arable land.
Add to the mix the fact that India’s two richest men, both reputedly close to Prime Minister Modi, have expressed interest in investments in the agricultural sector. In the US, for instance, the number of farmer suicides is twice the national average. As Sara Bissen writes in InsideOver, “Farmer suicide is in fact a universal reality with rates higher than non-farmers in almost every agricultural country. One only needs to look at France, India, Australia, or Japan.” Our lives depend on our food system. Large-scale agricultural practices degrade the world’s arable land and small-scale farms have the potential to redress climate change while securing global food supply.
Many years ago an economist friend told me to invest in stock index funds rather than property. He pointed out charts comparing property prices and real estate gains over a period of decades. Despite sudden sharp falls in stock values, the market always seemed to rebound after a few years or a decade and make up all its losses. I was swayed by that advice, but fortunately did not have enough disposable income to put that theory substantially to the test. I invested in an apartment and now, in retirement, consider myself fortunate not to have to worry about a roof over my head.
I look around at young people trying to find jobs, decide on a career, worry about whether they will find fulfilling occupations, or whether they can ever afford to start a family. At first glance, the odds seem stacked in favor of those whose parents left them with an inheritance; property or cash in the bank. The fragility of our economic systems and geopolitical power structures has increased considerably in 2020. A job in a bank, for example, does not seem as safe as it used to be, apart from the moral hazard of being involved in an exploitative business that has invested in fossil fuels and benefitted hugely from government handouts after nearly every crisis this century. There are no “safe” jobs any more, and the working world seems to be divided into two camps: those people with jobs who have to work increasing hours and work-life balance goes out of the window. They have money but no chance to have a life. The second camp consists of the unemployed who have time on their hands but don’t have a life either because they’re too worried about the future to enjoy the present. Somewhere between these two camps is a small minority of people who have just enough income to live a meaningful life!!!??? Of course that last statement is not true. Post-Covid, millions of people around the world, those with wealth and those without, are discovering that the best way to live a meaningful life is to go back to the earth and to nature.
Without the wealth of the earth, every business in the world is meaningless and doomed to fail in a matters of days, weeks, months or years. There is no need to elaborate on this theme. Here’s a list of apocalyptic movies that will educate you on what could lie in store for mankind if we don’t change our ways. The Day after Tomorrow, Mad Max Fury Road, Planet of the Apes, Nausicaa of the Valley, On the Beach, Independence Day, The Road… you get the idea. When it comes to possible futures, we’re only limited by our imagination. If there’s one thing the Covid crisis has done, it’s to trigger imaginations worldwide. Amidst all the hype about AI, high tech and new technologies that will save the world, there’s one underlying trend. People going back to the earth. Maybe we haven’t realized it yet, but that’s the true source of our planet’s wealth, and planetary heroes are the countless millions who work with soil, harvest our food crops and plant trees. Certainly not the multinational corporations that are responsible for the vast monocultural landscapes of the present day.
If only the bright minds inventing clever carbon sequestration technologies would rather invest in natural processes that restore the soil, the earth would grow richer, and all of us along with it.
Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) can be practised in two ways, naturally and mechanically. The natural approach is much about planting additional trees, algae in the sea or even the most giant creatures on earth, whales, contribute to natural CCS by consuming massive amounts of carbon within their lifespan of up to a century. The mechanical procedure […]
According to economic historian Angus Maddison, in the year 1820, the Chinese economy was the world’s largest, accounting for approximately 33% of global GDP. At the same time, India’s was half that, with 16%, and a youthful United States around 1.8%. Europe ranked second in this GDP league table with 26.6%. (Here’s a link to the 200-page OECD report. If you’re interested, see p.46)
It was around this time that British opium traders began to export Indian-grown opium to China, an act, ostensibly in support of the principles of global free trade, that impoverished both India and China. The import of opium was illegal under Chinese law, but the fading Qing dynasty was unable to stop the smuggling, principally through Canton, or Guangdong as it is known today. In this period began what the Chinese now call “the century of humiliation” where they could not compete with superior western naval power and suffered internal fragmentation. In subsequent decades, China ceded territories to Germany, to Britain, to France and to Japan. One of the few happy results of these forced occupations is that China’s best beer, Tsingtao, comes from the Jiaozhou Bay area that was ceded to Germany. Tsingtao beer was listed as the world’s top-selling beer in 2017.
By 1952, the picture had changed dramatically. Europe’s share of world GDP was 29.3%, the US 27.5%. China’s GDP had dropped to 5.2% and India’s to 4%. Today, nearly 200 years after the first opium war, it looks as though China is resuming its old dominance, with close to 20% of world GDP; this time as a united country that willingly trades with other countries around the world. So, contrary to what is often written in the media, maybe China’s expanding global influence is not really so threatening. From the Chinese perspective, they are merely returning to their rightful place in the international world order. Rightful place this may be, but the accompanying geopolitical shifts are worrisome to many countries, especially Asian ones. India now wears a necklace of potentially hostile naval bases in Bangladesh, in Sri Lanka, and in Pakistan, all built and financed by China. Until Duterte came to power, the Philippine leadership worried about Chinese occupation of the Spratly islands that are claimed by six countries: Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Philippines, Brunei. China has now pre-empted the discussion by building a military base there.
The increasingly authoritarian rule of supreme leader Xi Jinping does not bode well for China. Neither does the crackdown on Uighur ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, or independence movements in Taiwan and Tibet. Meanwhile, climate change looms over the entire world, so amidst rising prosperity in the region, there are tough geopolitical questions to be dealt with in every corner of it. So here’s a toast to some schoolgirl or boy who, unknown to the world today, will come to power and find answers to some of these questions in the decades ahead.
Ever wanted to go on an ocean liner? Cruise ship advertisements idealise the high life to be had on the high seas. What they never say is how much ships pollute. The average ship runs on low grade oil, which can be likened to a sludge that emits more particulate matter than a million cars; more sulfur than seven million cars. And that’s just one cruise liner!
Several Scandinavian ferries now run on hybrid diesel-electric systems but, as in most advances in electric propulsion these days, China is taking the lead, as a cargo ship with a 2.4 MWh battery pack launches in Guangdong. Ironically, the ship will be used to transport dirty coal!
Car makers have a problem. They don’t admit it yet. Or maybe they do admit it to themselves, although not in public. Why should they, when enough people are buying bigger cars? Global car sales in 2017 were close to 90 million vehicles in all categories, including SUVs and light trucks. That’s roughly 1 car for every 77 people. Less than 1% of these were electric. How many more cars do we need? Car companies are powerful entities that are in the business of selling dreams; dreams of freedom, of the joy of the open road, dreams of independence. The irony is that as we buy into the dream, we destroy the very foundation on which our dreams are based.
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Enough of worrying news about fake news, Kim Jong Un’s hydrogen bomb, the summer of hurricanes, melting glaciers, etc. A London newspaper reports that on 9th October, after robbing a jewelry store (ok, jewellery store for you Brits and Aussies), the six thieves got away with stolen goods unknown on just one moped.
Surely one for the record books. Do they deserve to get away with it? Should they be sentenced to work for no pay with Cirque du Soleil? Should they find work in glass safety and certification? Suggestions and opinions welcomed.
I recently saw a snippet of an interview with actor Denzel Washington where he talks about the media. “If you don’t read the news,” he says, “you’re uninformed. And if you do read the news, you’re misinformed.” There’s a lot of truth in that statement. However, it’s one thing to read the news as an endless litany of the day’s evils all over the world, and quite another thing to seek out those media that offer in-depth, thoughtful news coverage of trends that shape the world. In the latter type, there is more information on the trends that shape events rather than on sensational local events with no geopolitical significance. Social media is not all bad. In fact, like most technology, good or bad depends on how you use social media and whether you feed off it indiscriminately or choose to sip from the nourishing bits on offer. Gandhi apparently once said: life is like a mirror; if you smile at life, it will smile back at you. Keeping that in mind, go ahead and read news roundups of the year 2016, which has been a pretty horrible year.
But remember that mirror and keep smiling for 2017. Here are some things that the daily news stories do not say. Or if they do, not as headline news but only buried on an inside page. Below is a post by stalwart statistician Hans Rosling that shows unmistakeable positive trends in the world today. I encourage you to sample at least a few minutes of it, and if you’re hooked, there are plenty more by him on YouTube.
I suspect that most of the people who voted for Brexit and the current US President-elect are unaware of the basic facts illustrated by this lecture. In an earlier blog, I cited a quote by Karl Menninger that said: attitudes are more important than facts. Very true, but if facts are accepted to be true they can help to change attitudes. Whatever the year 2017 brings, there will certainly be a lot of surprises, so don’t forget to smile at the mirror of life.
Here’s a Sufi story to answer the question so many are asking these days, post-Brexit, pre-Trump, pan-ISIS, mass shootings; what’s going on in the world today?
“We have a word,” said the Sufi, “which sums all this up. It describes what we are doing, and it summarises our way of thinking. Through it you will understand the very reason for your existence, and the reason why mankind is generally speaking at odds. The word is Anguruzuminabstafil.” And he explained it in a traditional Sufi story.
Four men – a Persian, a Turk, an Arab and a Greek – were standing in a village street. They were travelling companions, making for some distant place; but at this moment they were arguing over the spending of a single piece of money which was all that they had among them.
“I want to buy angur,” said the Persian.
“I want uzum,” said the Turk.
“I want inab,” said the Arab.
“No!” said the Greek, “we should buy stafil.”
Another traveller passing, a linguist, said, “Give the coin to me. I undertake to satisfy the desires of all of you.”
At first they would not trust him. Ultimately they let him have the coin. He went to the shop of a fruit seller and bought four small bunches of grapes.
“This is my angur,” said the Persian.
“But this is what I call uzum,” said the Turk.
“You have brought me inab,” said the Arab.
“No!” said the Greek, “this in my language is stafil.”
The grapes were shared out among them, and each realised that the disharmony had been due to his faulty understanding of the language of others. (From: Idries Shah – The Sufis)
Perhaps now, more than ever, is the time for us to learn the language of “others,” and this involves two kinds of listening. This might also be a Sufi parable for the European Union.
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Fifteen kilometers southwest of Chiang Rai stands a surreal, snowy white temple. It is known as the Wat at Rong Khun, but tourists simply call it the white temple and flock there in the thousands. Entrance is free, from around 9 to 5 every day, and tourists arrive in groups, large and small, or privately in a taxi, as we did. Apart from its natural beauty spots, half of the most important tourist sites in Thailand are palaces and temples, or Wats. Some of the beautiful palaces have Wats attached to them, and some of the Wats look like beautiful palaces. So much so that a friend warned me, it’s easy to have your fill and get wat-ed out. So I was reluctant to make a detour to see another temple, but we heard so much about it that we decided to go.
To begin with, the parking lot itself was dauntingly huge for such a small village so close to the Thai-Myanmar border. There were large groups of mostly Chinese and Thai tourists at the temple; smaller groups from a smattering of nearby Asian countries and a few Europeans. Picking up a free brochure available in several languages, one learns that the temple is a work in progress begun 16 years ago, that it was conceived and built by Ajarn Chalermchai Kositpipat, an artist who was born in Chiang Rai. “I want to be good and valuable to my country. I want to create arts in my own style and to develop Thai Buddhist arts to be developed internationally. I want people of all nations to come and admire my works, like when they want to visit the Taj Mahal or Angkor Wat.”
The art and architecture of the temple certainly is distinctly Thai. One sees shapes reminiscent of mudras made by the flowing hand movements of a Thai dancer. Chalermchai says he takes themes from ancient Thai murals, trying to create a modern synthesis that is recognizably and uniquely Thai. If the number of visitors is taken as a measure, then his ambition has certainly been realized. Within the temple are modern murals that face a statue of the Lord Buddha. “I want people to feel peace and happiness and to envision the kindness of the Lord Buddha to all beings,” says Chalermchai. “The mural shows the final conflict of the Lord Buddha’s own demon before he received enlightenment and freedom from immoral thoughts.” When asked about the images of George Bush and bin Laden in the demon’s eyes, the artist replies. “I want everyone to know that our world is being destroyed by those who crave to build weapons that kill. They segregate and therefore cannot find peace….”
Chalermchai expects to complete the temple in 90 years.He begins each day at 2 a.m. with an hour of meditation, then creates and sculpts. An artist whose wealth stems from the roughly 200 artworks he produced every year, he now devotes most of his time to the completion of the temple and currently produces around ten paintings a year. The entire site is kept spotlessly clean and supervised by zealous volunteers who ensure that tourists are modestly attired before they enter the temple. The toilets are guarded by a bronze hermaphrodite keeper.
Concluding with the artist’s own words: “I want to discipline the mind to train me toward being a good person with clear thinking, speaking well and doing good deeds. We are all human and I want to give goodness to people. If we have love and forgiveness in our hearts, it will come out naturally. You need to practice patience before you can control your own mind.”
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