Writing on the wall

Climate disturbances are more frequent, affecting people around the globe. 

I spoke to a wheat farmer, now forced to work as a driver to make ends meet for his family. He said “Earlier, we used to work as family, all hands sowing the crop, then we would pray to God to give us rain and we would have a bumper crop, some of which we would keep for ourself and the rest we would sell, but now, even the Gods have stopped listening to us.”

It was only a couple of months back that I casually remarked about the 49.2 degrees C temperature in Delhi, to a revered computer scientist in another part of the world. This is what he said “Science was first used to measure very accurately CO2 in the atmosphere in the late 1950s, and to determine both the rise and that it was exponential in the early 60s.” I calculate. It is 60 years since.

Walter Stahel, who first illustrated the economy in loops in 1976, later in 1982 was awarded for his paper on the product life cycle. He made the similar observation last month “In a recent post on LinkedIn, the question was asked why decision takers ignore early warning signals. The writing has been on the wall for decades, but most decision takers did not (want to) see it. Has this situation changed in the meantime, are politicians and economic actors today capable of dealing with emergencies?” 

Coming back to 2009 in this millennia itself, another brilliant scientist, dr. Tony Pereira, was awarded a unesco prize for his paper – Sustainability: An integral engineering design approach, where he suggests a systems approach to reach sustainable living. These ideas, however brilliant they are, are far from being mainstreamed.

I mulled over this phenomena through my own experience while reviewing literature for Phd studies (which I later left to pursue practice based solutions ), that these problems have been identified time and again, solutions worked upon by the illustrious academics of that time. Their suggestions being awarded, then completely ignored as the world (mostly white industrial nations) stepped a pedal towards the opposite direction. Now this accelerated growth has been disastrous for the rest of the world as over two third of the world’s population also suffer from this climate burden.

A probable understanding of this phenomena was by the noted award-winning scientist itself. Here is what he had to say “However, most of the people in power have not learned how to actually think, and have turned their desire for “no global warning” into various kinds of beliefs (e.g. that it isn’t happening, it won’t be so bad, it can’t be fixed, etc.) and these have been turned into actions over the last 60 years that have made things worse, rather than actions that could have fixed things by now.

With the changing world dynamics, there is an opportunity for the rest of the world to fix the issues in their own regional spheres of influence. China has shown remarkable lead in circularity based governance. India is on path to rediscovery of its forgotten indigenous techniques, showing signs of progress through banning of single use plastics this month. Entrepreneurs from Brazil to Africa are understanding the inherent value of their craft from the point of sustainability, rather than a curious exotic export. Or would we ignore these climate incidences and get busy with the task of survival? It’s hard to see how.

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On Air and COP 26

Delhi Air composition 2015

As the pandemic keeps more people indoors, we come to appreciate the beauty of nature and how the climate is affecting us. It makes us  who were previously confined to offices and impervious to the climate outside the sad reality of our changed time. This month too Delhi had some of the worst air one can imagine such that the schools had to eventually shut. The AQI was between 300-999 and beyond from early November. A study done by IIT had delineated the composition of the air. It was found to be seasonally as a result of crop residue burning in Punjab and Haryana. The air then gradually moves towards the indo-gangetic plains, before winds carry it away further. The main component of the air in Particulate matter(PM) 10 and PM 2.5, however, was found to be road dust and that by construction, due to the fly ash component released during cement mixing. It is a marked difference from New York where transportation is a major source of emissions. Being an urban city, even emissions from domestic fuel consumption are low. This study however has not been repeated, so one wonders if the results are specific to a period in time. It does bring forth a component that construction of highways, subways, flyovers, which had been undertaken in Delhi during that period could have had extreme health hazards for the citizens. One only imagines that this dust component could not be contained, and thus dissipated into the air.

UPDATE: (17.12.21) A recent field report conducted by a leading media house of India, sent its reporters into the darkness of two nights to the streets of Delhi. They identified entry points to construction material compromised by corruption and illegal construction activities being conducted in many areas including those sanctioned by the central government ministries and NBCC, a violation of the supreme court ban on construction. Important to note that the Law and order enforcement of Delhi state is controlled by the home ministry and not the state government.

This year for the first time the COP 26 got coverage in the Indian media. This was a well advertised event and many activist organisations simultaneously undertook activities (mainly webinars). There were a little too many of them this month on the sidelines of the COP meetings. There were two major decisions during this council of parties meetings. One pertained to India revealing its pledge to be net zero by 2070 and the other was Indonesia reversing its pledge on deforestation. The elephant in the room was India and China criticised for coal consumption and projected as the largest consumers of fossil fuels, which of course is true. But what they miss is also that these countries have more people and more land compared to some tinier countries which have more emissions, the burden of which is passed on to us. They also conveniently forget the placement of India, and now China, as their cheap labour production manufacturing hubs. In a developed country if there is a power outage, you would remember that event for a decade, but here in India, even if you live in a metropolitan you are taught energy conservation from childhood. Right from the first day your parents told you to click off the light switch if you aren’t in the room, or a community living style, where many people huddled together for a single source of light or warmth. It further stretched in traditional values such as sharing clothes, passing clothes and objects to the less fortunate and more. So basically, the COP as Greta Thunberg wisely pointed out, is a global north greenwashing event. It seems more of an advertising and diplomacy party that doesn’t address or even impose sanctions on its own members. Surprising, it lasted even 25 years!

Five challenges for India in the sustainability discussion

Few days back a professor presenting to a group of us about climate change, exhibited a map showing the emissions growth over the last couple of centuries. He pointed out how an island nation in northern Europe had contributed to the climate change using fossil fuels since the early 1800s. According to professor, the carbon(CO2) once emitted stays in the atmospheric system for as long as a century and a few thousand more before it completely sinks in.

While the next few paragraphs explain what is happening in India, you may scroll down the page to get to the five trends.

Industrialisation has a deep correlation with climate change. Developing countries like India aspire to be like Europe and America, where the fruit and pace of industrialisation has translated in a great amount of monetary wealth and increased lifestyle standards. While industrial countries realise the alarming issue of the climate change as potentially irreversible in future, if not checked right away; in India, we have another story going.

The story is of development based on an increasingly capitalist economy structure which outwardly look as an attractive proposition styled in steel, cement and information technology. We have recently made some decisions which might be regrettable in the future. These include enhanced stress on coal mining and its privatisation , power generation using coal, while simultaneously pushing coal based electricity in rural areas, enhancing consumption for textile and other goods to boost economic numbers, rapid cementing of water absorbing catchment areas such as mangroves, salt pans; and of-course deforestation en mass to create highways, for infrastructure and “development”. Bill Gates, in a recent conclave , stated that curbing aspiring citizens from enhanced forms of mobility, better fertilisers, making new structure, is against “human decency”. The solutions in his opinion range from industry innovation in agriculture, through better seeds, better water management, innovation in power/steel and government policies.

India, though had its own share of climatic events throughout this year ranging from floods, cyclones and extreme heat events. A high emission scenario predicts temperatures to rise by 4oC by 2080. It increasingly requires a new thought in its policies, especially of coal and even electric (as electric technologies also rely on coal as a feeder fuel). Suggestions for hydrogen or nuclear fuels offer alternate possibilities, but more interesting are those suggested by Prof Jeff Sachs: natural elements such as solar and wind, based on geographic location.

Next, I chanced upon a report by an organisation called “UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion”. This was launched by seven UN agencies.( UNEP, UNFCC among others)( Why are we just now hearing about it??). What is interesting is the definition of fashion by the alliance ”Fashion, as understood by the Alliance, includes clothing, leather and footwear, made from textiles and related goods.” So, basically they have put in the entire gamut of apparel and footwear into an ephemeris term of fashion (I have a quiz here which clarifies the term “Fashion”, used so loosely. At UCRF, some of us are also working on a glossary of the terms used in sustainable fashion, so hopefully we will have better definitions soon! Till then I prefer Kate Fletcher’s definition — “Fashion within planetary boundaries” as it aligns with Gro Brundtland’s definition of sustainability.)

It did however mention three points which in my opinion might affect India.

  • 8% of green house gases are caused by fashion industry (note: India contributes to 6% of the apparel industry)
  • Asia bears the burden of raw material
  • Women, almost 80% of the workforce, are at risk of being affected by occupational injuries and hazardous chemicals. Also, most affected by unemployment during the pandemic.

1. Depleting Finite Resources

  • India is a major source of emissions from burning fossil fuels such as coal for powering its electric plants but unlike its neighbour China, is doing less towards this area. The world and India itself, is soft on its self towards climate change, cashing to status of developing country filled with aspirational middle income buyers. Yes, I would be disappointed if one day if I didn’t have the coal powered electric energy to run my internet and phone to browse E Com sites providing disposable fashion (not!).
  • 2. Copycats!

  • India is rapidly forgoing its traditional organic and indigenous practices to blindly follow the discarded industrial system of the west, whereas it has an opportunity to leapfrog after learning from the problems towards new solutions.
  • 3. Borrowed Innovations

  • Indianisation required India needs to develop its own technologies rather than adopt technologies created out of western sensibilities. My mind goes to Mitti Cool. It is an indigenously developed refrigerator made from clay that works without electricity (no CFCs). Not surprisingly it has greater demand overseas than in our own country.
  • 4. Extreme heat

  • In future, India will be affected by climate change in the tropical belt, with increasing temperatures which will make living and working outdoors unbearable. Agriculture, food, plant and animal life will be affected
  • 5. Shrinking land

  • Extreme precipitation events are predicted for south India and the northern Himalayas. In future, the coastal India would be affected by rising sea-level, taking the coastal towns such as Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata under water. Maybe this explains the height of a certain rich man’s castle in Mumbai.
  • Conclusion

    India, is unusual in its structure of business with a history of cottage and small business. We need to rediscover our traditional methods of manufacturing along with retaining practices of value and letting go of wasteful practices. India with its populous billion, is like a big ship. If it is steered in a wrong direction to preserve a market for capitalist goods or a supply tank for natural resources, might lead it to disintegrate and sink. Or is it just my fear? The ideal approach is to redefine commerce and rewarding those practices which are beneficial for the environment. That means a lot of relearning and rewriting some textbooks. The Regenerating Product Life Cycle(c) might offer one such strategy, but plenty of alignments and policy directives are required to reach a sustainable future.

    September, a month filled with webinars

    The circularity discussion is gaining speed across the globe. There were more events in this month, maybe due to university session opening. Most were online as researchers have now adapted to this new medium of discussion and also opened dialogue to audiences from developing nations that may have not been included had these events happened in physical form.

    Aalto University’s Fashion Lab was held by over two sessions last week. An interesting part of this lab was the personal connect and “confessions” as part of the researcher’s plan to generate awareness about overconsumption of fashion clothing and then guide a new conscious habit through action. Here is a LINK where you can still participate anonymously to reveal your fashion confession.

    SustainEverse held a knowledge sharing session on circularity beyond recycling. I missed the first few minutes of introduction, so I do not know the panel. However, some traditional practices such as underconsumption (using a pencil till it is exhausted), recycling (newspaper raddi system in India), Upcycling (used clothes transformation by Sahas, an NGO) were given as examples by the panel. They were meant to record and email the discussion, but I’ve not received anything in my email so far.

    The 8th World Sustainable Development Conference(MDPI) and the 09th ICSD were also held this year, virtually.