Thursday, April 29, 2010

Plastic Bag (Green Humour from Future States)

It's been a hectic few weeks at the Dhaba, and I need a day off from essay writing!  So here's a video about a lonely plastic bag, blowing through America, looking back on his long, long life.  Existential might be a word you'd use in connection with this video--or just wacky.  Either way, I think you'll agree it's funny.
(If you are looking for something serious about trash, check out these posts.)

I think laughter is one of the finer things in life, and sometimes we don't get enough with all the serious stuff going on.  This video was courtesy of a tip from Apurva Mathad, who has some interesting photos up here.  

If you've got a funny, green link to share, why not send it our way?  You can mail us here!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Paper versus Electronic: the real secret of "green reading"

If you came here looking for some good, green books to read, check out our "review" page; today's post is not about what to read.  (Neither, by the way, is it about whether to read: we assume that reading is a good thing because it tends to make people smarter; and we'll need a lot more smart people if we are ever going to solve the world's problems).

Yes, reading is good, but there is a price to pay for most things in life--even the good ones.  Today we'll look at the environmental impact of the written word. 

Most of us grew up reading things printed on paper.  And environmentally concerned people usually agree it's bad to waste paper, because wasting is bad and because paper making--even recycled paper making--requires some trees and a lot of energy.  Most also agree it's best to re-use paper whenever possible and to recycle it otherwise--and that whenever possible, we should avoid using any paper at all

But is "paperless reading"  really "green reading," as many assume? It is true that paper making requires large, foul-smelling factories and dead trees or other plants. But the paper itself is recyclable and bio-degradable.    And unless you are curling up at night with a book written on stone tablets or sheet metal, your paperless reading is almost certainly going to require electronic devices, power-hungry computer servers, and other things made of non-renewable resources that will eventually end up buried in the ground.

What to do? A thorough analysis of these questions requires a research team that we don't have a budget for. So we've outsourced the job to the net.  We'll look at three paperless alternatives to see how they compare to traditional methods of reading: on-line reading, electronic books, and electronic newspapers.

On-line reading: free with cost.
Since we did the research for this post on-line, it makes sense to start with on-line reading.  After paying the cost of our internet connection, going on-line is typically "free."  But of course, the internet uses a lot of energy.  The question is, how much?  Being a virtual dhaba, we'd like to think we have a limited ecological footprint.  But the truth, according to this article in the New Scientist, is not quite so rosy.  James Clarage looks at one part of the internet, Google:
"The term search "engine" is apt. Searches are powered by millions of computers packed into warehouses, all wired together to function as a single system. Like any system, it obeys the laws of thermodynamics, and therefore wastes energy."
OK, but how much energy does Google use? A large amount, according to Clarage:
"IT research firm Gartner estimates Google's data centres contain nearly a million servers, each drawing about 1 kilowatt of electricity. So every hour Google's engine burns through 1 million kilowatt-hours. Google serves up approximately 10 million search results per hour, so one search has the same energy cost as turning on a 100-watt light bulb for an hour."
Of course the internet is more than just Google. And it takes a lot of google searches to add up to an hour of AC use or even a drive through your city, to say nothing of an airline flight. Certainly there is a great benefit to having information widely available at a relatively low cost.  But these numbers do suggest that the "information superhighway" may be like a highway in more ways than Al Gore imagined when he popularized the term.   Both kinds of highways, as it turns out, contribute to more than just movement of people, goods and ideas; they contribute to pollution as well.

E-Book Versus Book:
So what about e-books? Well, I've never actually used one to read, and I can't imagine they'd be as much fun as an old fashioned book.  Still, a lot of people like their Kindles and iPads.  For an interesting discussion on that, see what Bhagwad has to say, here.  As for the actual ecological costs of e-books versus traditional books, a recent piece in the New York Times looked at the numbers in detail to answer the question, "how many volumes do you need to read on your e-reader to break even?"  Here are their conclusions:
"With respect to fossil fuels, water use and mineral consumption, the impact of one e-reader payback equals roughly 40 to 50 books...When it comes to global warming, though, it’s 100 books; with human health consequences, it’s somewhere in between...All in all, the most ecologically virtuous way to read a book starts by walking to your local library."
So I guess that's what you call a split decision.  Still, I confess I did not expect e-books to do so well.

Dead tree newspapers vs. on-line ones
Not surprisingly, there are no simple answer to this question either.  An American columnist at Slate Magazine concluded that on-line newspapers are probably a little bit greener than newsprint--but not by much.  And if newspapers were more effectively recycled--as they almost certainly are in India--then he conceded that those results might be different.  You can read the entire analysis hereWired Magazine, on the other hand, came to the opposite conclusion--they argued that the print version of their magazine was greener than the on-line version.
To put things in perspective, it doesn't seem to make a huge difference how you read--which is good news.  And maybe we are asking the wrong question.  Instead of comparing different kinds of reading, perhaps we should be comparing reading to TV watching or movie going. In that comparison, reading comes out ahead on many fronts: TV's suck as much energy as computers, and TV watching has been shown to go hand in hand with poor school performance. Reading doesn't just improve performance in school, but it seems to have psychological benefits as well.  I could hyperlink a lot of research about reading in adults, too, but you don't need me to do that, because if you've gotten this far, you have common sense and the ability to make reasonable inferences. 

So find a good book and read it, however you want to read it, and don't feel guilty.  Then pass it on to a friend. That's the real secret of green reading!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

This Weekend, Stay Home, Watch Home

"In the past 50 years --a single lifetime -- the Earth has been more radically changed than by all previous generations of humanity. --Home

If you'd like to warm up with something a bit shorter, take a look at this short video from Greenpeace.

If you'd rather spend your weekend reading, here are a few interesting links, mostly via Kabir from the Indian Youth Climate Network:

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day Interview: Author and Daily Dump Founder Poonam Bir Kasturi

Many schools are celebrating  Earth Day today with poster contests, poetry contests, and art-made-out-of-recycled materials contests.  This is all very well and good.  But too often, our commitment to the Earth is just for one day--or even worse, just for one hour.  Turning off the lights, using more efficient bulbs, and learning to recycle and compost are all good things to do.  But unless they are part of an effort to transform our world into one that is sustainable, they will remain symbolic--and, to the extent that they mislead us into thinking we have done our part to solve the problem, they can even be counter productive.  

Poonam Bir Kasturi founded the Daily Dump in 2006.  The Daily Dump is based in Bangalore and its focus is sustainable waste management--composting, recycling, that sort of thing.  You can read more about them at their website, or at this case study.  What I like about them, is that they see their project as something more than a business.  And their efforts to educate prompt us to go beyond "light bulb environmentalism" and to think about what a sustainable world might look like.  On Tuesday, we ran a review of the Daily Dump's 5 Disgustingly Cool Books for Kids. We liked them a great deal, in part because they are unlike anything we've seen before.  For our Earth Day post, we thought we'd follow up our review with an interview with one of the main people behind these amazing books. 

If you feel like doing something Earth-friendly over the next few days, do check out the list of events that follows this interview.
I've read a lot of books for children and I've never seen anything like 5 Disgustingly Cool Books for Kids. What inspired this project?
I have always believed that for design to be truly meaningful, it has to intersect with society and sustainability. The primary design consideration for this set of books was that children today have to start thinking about issues related to ecology, democracy and sustainability very early on. Also, when I looked around for books that got kids excited about the Indian environmental and cultural intersect, there was not much. I guess, it was - well here is a need, lets see if I can help here.
How do these books fit with the Daily Dump's other work?
Our work with waste over these last few years has clearly shown that waste (mis)management is also a problem of human behaviour. And we strongly believe that if we can support children to develop a holistic and sensitive attitude to managing waste and understandings its relationship to their everyday lives, it is half the battle won! They are much more likely to influence their family and initiate processes of change.Whats more – when it comes from children, it is not perceived as threatening! 

These books tackle "big ideas" such as how and what we consume, and how and where we discard it. Are 8-12 year olds ready for these ideas?
The age between 8-12 years is critical as this is when children start developing their ideas of things around them. This is also the age when children are able to gradually move to higher levels of abstraction and an understanding of shared relationships between various phenomena in society and their own selves. 
Everytime I interact with an 8 year old, I realise, how much older she is than I was at her age.
It is therefore crucial that children of this age are supported in integrating this understanding within the right framework and perspective. 
It would be hard for a student to "mug up" the information in these books no matter how hard he or she might try. How do you think children will respond to this novel approach? 
Some kids like this open ended -"look for the answers" approach. Others have given us feedback that they would have liked each book to end with something they could do to solve the issue. 
One cannot negate the fact that today's urban child is exposed to so much in so little time. Their language and lives are so fast-paced and there is so much pressure on them to perform.
It becomes increasingly important therefore, that our messages to them and our interaction with them is in a language that the children speak and receive, rather than as a sermon or lesson to be learnt by rote.  And, at the end of the day, it has to be an enjoyable experience for the child if she has to learn from it.
For instance, the question 'why do pizzas seem cooler than rotis?' is something that most urban children today can easily relate to; immediately paving the way for a dialogue with the child.

What if any response have you gotten from schools and teachers?
Very positive. Since we have not yet marketed these books, all the schools and teachers who have picked this up have come to us through word of mouth.
And all of them are very happy to have something like this to use in class - and make the environmental science period an interesting one.

These books were designed by a three person team.  Could you say a little bit about the creative process that went into this project?
Pallavi Agarwal, then a student at design school, came in as the illustrator as part of her final project at design school.So with guidance from me, we worked on the format and then she created her versions and concepts for different titles. The decision making process was the most laborious, and we both would have these long raving meetings. She is an excellent illustrator and thinker. She contributed immensely to the form of the content and the look of the books.
Before actually designing the books, Pallavi observed the environmental studies classes in various schools and found that in most instances, it is not treated as a serious or main subject by both the children and the school.
In today's urban context, we found parents want to be more involved with their children's learning and thinking process. However, working parents often the lack time to do so.
The brief to ourselves was, thus, to make literature that is crisp and provocative; and that can serve as a conversation starter for parents and educators with the children.

After her project submission at school, we still had a lot of work left over - to tie up to make the product market ready. This was when I got in others to help refine the content and the activities - Nomita Khatri helped here and Waseem put the final print ready files together. 
This was a truely team project and the different perspectives helped the final product.

Any plans for future books? 
Yes certainly! There are a couple of new books on the anvil – both for a younger age group as well as for this age group.
Do keep your eyes and ears peeled! You could visit for updates!
Upcoming Activities:
If you are in India and would like to do something for Earth Day, you can look here to see if the Indian Youth Climate Network has an activity in your area.

Annie Zaidi is launching Known Turf, her new book of essays tomorrow (April 23) at 6:30pm in the IIC Annex in Delhi.  P. Sainath has given the book an extraordinary blurb. Annie has done a lot to support the Dhaba.  This book is a must-buy; and if you can make the launch, why not go? Facebook event page here.

On Saturday April 24th at 5:00pm, Toxics Link and Sage Publications are launching Our Toxic World, India's first ever graphic novel on the environment in India.  The launch will take place at the Oxford Bookstore on Barakhamba Road, Delhi.  The book's script is by Aniruddha Sen Gupta; the illustrations are by Priya Kurian. Panelists include Ravi Agarwal, Sarnath Banerjee and several other interesting people.  This sounds interesting!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Reviewed: 5 Disgustingly Cool Books for Kids

5 Disgustingly Cool Books for Kids
by the Daily Dump Team
Daily Dump (2010)
Five Green Stars (disgustingly cool)

Hats off to the good people at the Daily Dump, who have created one of the most remarkable "books" for 8-12 year old children that I have ever seen.  If you have a child, or if you know a child--or even if you just like to act like a child from time to time, then you really need to buy 5 Disgustingly Cool Books for Kids. And if you are a teacher looking for a way to really get your students thinking on Earth Day (or any day), then forget about running a "save the earth" poster contest; instead, get your school to buy a few sets of these books, give your students an hour to read them, and see what kind of project they come up with!

Each of these 8-10 page booklets, packaged together in a brown paper envelope, looks at a different concept related to our environment: how and what we buy and discard, the food we eat, the water we drink--that kind of thing.  These small book don't shy away from big issues like gender, corruption, and consumerism.  But neither do they tell children what to think.  

In fact, 5 Disgustingly Cool Books for Kids don't so much explain or teach as they do provoke children to think about old things in new ways.  You can see this in the fact that none of the five books come with a title, only a pair of photographs that elicit thought.  And the books themselves contain more questions than they do answers, which may be a first for an educational book published in modern India!
Who looks after well water?...  Have you ever swum in a river?... What if I don't say enough? ...Why do pizzas seem cooler than rotis?...Think of the things you value that cannot be found in a market...why don't we think these things are valuable?
Part of what makes these books so striking is the consistently engaging art that comes with them. It looks like Pallavi Agarwal had a lot of fun illustrating this project--and the feeling is contagious. I liked them, my kids liked them, and I think you will also.  To write more about these books might be unfair--you really have to experience them yourself.  But you can feel good knowing that once you are finished using and re-using them, you can either recycle or compost them--after all, they were created by the compost experts!

Buy 5 Disgustingly Cool Books for Kids directly from the Daily Dump.
Don't forget to come back Thursday, when we'll have an Earth Day Interview with Poonam Bir Kasturi, Daily Dump founder and one of the people behind these disgustingly cool books.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Bhopal Survivors Declare Indefinite Dharna at Jantar Mantar--and links to other struggles

The more I read, the more I am amazed by the kind of environmental struggles going on all over India.  And I'm not just talking about urban anti-littering campaigns or the many schools that are asking their students to make posters or pencil holders to celebrate Earth Day this week.  Those things are fine, of course, though they are often limited: for example, when I asked my daughter why she was decorating an old tin can after school the other day, she responded--and I'm not making this up--"because the teacher said that if we decorate it, we will get marks!" Oh dear.

But every day, I read at least one thing in a newspaper, a blog or an email that I wish I could write an entire post about. Some days, it's something big, like a development in the fight against poisonous mining, GM foods or unsafe nuclear power plants; some days it's something small, like a farmer who, without the benefit of a huge research and development budget, has invented a new piece of low tech, labour-saving farm equipment.  As we approach Earth Day, try looking at the world through green coloured lenses. I think you might be surprised at how much you see. Here are a few examples of what I mean:

The Financial Times of all papers, ran an important story last week by M Rajshekhar about a struggle in between mining giant Vedanta and the locals who inhabit the Kalahandi forest
Last weekend, the Independent People's Tribunal met in Delhi.  Testimonies and reports are here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6   Thanks to Space Bar and Kabir of the IYCN for these links. 

Speaking of the IPT, it's nice to see environmental groups willing to see their mission broadly.  It should be obvious to all, but of course it isn't, that living things--animal, plant, human--don't exist in isolation; they are all--we are all--connected! You can't, for example, clean a river if you don't attend to what's happening upstream.  Likewise, you can't stop the destruction of forests by looking at only one tree; nor can you ignore the people who've been living among the trees for generations.
Read about some of the legal issues in the struggle against Bt Brinjal here.
Finally, The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal is asking us all to spread the word about their new Campaign. Two years after the PM promised an Empowered Commission to get something done about the ongoing poison in Bhopal, and nothing has happened.  So activists from Bhopal are coming back to New Delhi for another dharna at Jantar Mantar.  Unfortunately in the name of the Commonwealth Games, protesters will no longer be allowed to camp overnight.  (This, my friends, is disturbing.  It is depressing to say, but nearly every country tries to sweep its litter (and poor people) under the carpet for big tourist events.   But to shut down space for peaceful protest? That's just silly! We should be proud of what goes on at Jantar Mantar because it shows there is still room for dissent in India--and without dissent, you really can't have democracy, which the Commonwealth says it stands for, at least when it's not busy organizing sporting events.)

For more information about Bhopal, you can go to, or read what we've written about it here. The Campaign is asking help in circulating this letter about the dharna and related activities.  It includes a list of things you can do to support the struggle, wherever you might be:
Dear Friend of the Bhopalis,

We are writing to you for your active support to our campaign demanding the setting up of an Empowered Commission on Bhopal (ECoB) by the Indian government for long term medical care and rehabilitation of the people of Bhopal poisoned by Union Carbide – Dow Chemical. As you know we urgently need the ECoB to be set up to stop the ongoing disasters in Bhopal that are still killing, injuring and maiming the unborn.

Your support has meant a lot to us and has contributed hugely to our victories in the last two years, particularly in the campaigns and the Padyatras of 2006 and 2008. As you know, we won the demand of the much needed ECoB on 29th May 2008 when, on behalf of the Prime Minister, the Minister of State in the PM’s office (PMO) publicly vowed that the government would establish the ECoB. This statement from the PMO came only after thousands of our supporters from over 30 countries sent faxes and emails and made calls to the PMO.

However, these promises have proven worthless as 20,000 people are still drinking poisoned water; 10,000 gas victims who were promised jobs remain jobless; medical treatment for the indigent victims remains elusive; the site and its surroundings are polluted, and the culprit – Dow Chemical – is freely doing business in India. Nearly two years have passed, and the Prime Minister has not set up the ECoB. The minister who read out the Prime Minister’s statement to us now says he does not quite know why the ECoB has not been set up and requested that we send yet another reminder, which we did on 6th Apr 2010. We have yet to hear from the PMO. Meanwhile, we (including 16-year-old Sarita and 75-year-old Ganeshi Bai and our supporter friends from Chennai) have been falsely charged under sections of criminal law that taken together could send us to jail for over 10 years. (Details here.)

We reckon that this year’s battle will be more difficult than 2008’s. At the Parliament Street police station, in the office of Suraj Bhan who led the custodial assault on Bhopali children and women on June 9, 2008, we were told that we can no longer camp on the pavement at Jantar Mantar as we have before because of the Commonwealth Games scheduled for October.
With public space for protest potentially taken away, we need your support more than ever.

We have announced the beginning of our indefinite Dharna at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi starting on the 15th of April to demand that the Prime Minister keep his word and set up the Empowered Commission. (Press statement) To remind PM Singh of his promise and force him to stop neglecting the citizens of Bhopal who have endured this corporate crime with embarrassingly little aid from their own government for the last 25 years.

Please find some time to do one or all the actions suggested below to remind Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh of his two year old promise.
· Fax the PM by logging on to
· Call the PM and remind him to fulfill the promise he made to people of Bhopal 91-11-23013024, 23013040 (Ask for Ms. Vini Mahajan or Mr. T.K.A Nair respectively)
· Write to PM at Government of India, South Block, Raisina Hill, New Delhi, 110 011.
· Write to your Members of Parliament asking them to meet the Bhopalis, talk to PM about their demands or raise questions in Parliament. (Contact list of MPs.)
· Hold a solidarity action in your city. See and for ideas and contact us for more information.
· Contribute towards the food and accommodation expenses of the Bhopalis coming to Delhi for the Dharna. You can send cheques made out to The Other Media to the address The Other Media, J-42 South Extension, Part one, New Delhi 110049. Please enclose a piece of paper saying that it is for the ICJB Delhi dharna 2010 and your address so we can send an income tax exemption. You can contribute online at

Why do we need a commission?
An Empowered Commission on Bhopal will address the health and welfare needs of the Bhopal survivors and monitor their environmental, social, economic and medical rehabilitation. The Commission will be empowered to allocate resources to different rehabilitation schemes or research projects, issue tenders, identify implementing Central or State Government agencies, and change the agencies if their work is unsatisfactory. In short the commission will be a step towards ensuring a comprehensive resolution to Bhopal.

For more information visit

Rashida Bee, Champa Devi Shukla
Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh

Syed M Irfan,
Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha

Rachna Dhingra, Satinath Sarangi,
Bhopal Group for Information and Action

Safreen Khan
Children Against Dow Carbide

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Worriesome, Wacky Tales from my (Virtual) North American Tour which Hari Batti has a principled but civil disagreement with a US environmental leader and is later called a "moron" for suggesting that Americans help clean up the world that they've done so much to pollute.

World Tour 2010
A couple of months back, Mrs. Batti left me at home with the kids for the evening.  After getting them to bed, I decided to do a bit of world traveling courtesy of the information superhighway, to use a very twentieth century American-sounding metaphor. 

First Stop: Huffington Post
I stopped first at the Huffington Post, where I found Partrick McCully, director of International Rivers, telling his fellow American environmentalists, "Don't Mention the Climate Debt"-- in other words, don't talk about the historical responsibility the US and other rich countries have for producing a very large share of the green house gases that are currently in the air.

To his credit, Mr. McCully does acknowledge there is a problem with the damage the US has done to the earth's atmospheric commons, and he says the US should do something to help poor countries to adapt to the worst affects of climate change.  But he doesn't think American environmentalists should talk about it much:
"Of course the US does owe a whoppingly big climate debt. And some funds do need to be found for climate aid. Most important (and easiest to defend politically) is aid for climate adaptation for the poorest and most vulnerable countries. We helped make the lethal mess and we've got to help people cope with it. But even money for adaptation should not have a prominent role in public messaging on climate in the US."
Furthermore, McCully rejects those activists like Tom Athanasiou of EcoEquity who say that according to the "polluter pays" principle, the US should be pay something along the lines of $275 billion in 2020.  Here's McCully again:
"Of course leftists will rightly argue, and Tom and his colleagues do, that $275 billion isn't a big deal compared with, say, a military budget of more than half a trillion a year. But, no matter how much we wish it were so, the US military budget is not about to be slashed in order to pay our planetary dues. Even in the era of big bank bailouts, $275 billion is still frighteningly huge, and especially so when state, local and household budgets are being slashed; millions of families have lost, or are losing, their homes; one-in-ten US Americans are unemployed; and the national debt is going into the stratosphere."
Well, if American environmental leaders have given up on ever slashing the US defense budget, that makes me worry!  The war in Iraq alone has cost the US well over $700 billion--and counting.   (If you include the war in Afghanistan, the number is very close to one trillion dollars.) And since the financial collapse in 2008, the US has spent, much, much more than that to bail out banks and financial markets.  These numbers really do put $275 billion in perspective.

But perhaps the larger problem is that many environmentalists don't want to admit that there will be ever be any price to pay for our past excesses--here, in the US, anywhere!  They are happy to have us believe that the world can keep on growing, pretty much as before, as long as we make a few investments in smart technology.  That's what I call, "light bulb environmentalism."  I'm not convinced that infinite growth--at least growth as it is currently measured--is possible on a finite planet.  And I can't imagine there won't be a price to pay for the environmental destruction we've already wrought.  My guess is that the US's share of that price will actually be more than $275 billion. People all over the world, especially poor people, are already paying the price for climate change in the form of more extreme weather, weaker monsoons, and rising food prices.  And those costs will almost certainly escalate in the coming decades.

I think Partrick McCully is wrong to think that he should sugar coat the truth until the American public is ready to hear it.  Doing that would take so much sugar, I'm not sure it would qualify as honest.  And I find this strategy worrisome because if people like Mr. McCully don't try to educate the public, who will? Still, I have to say I was just a tiny bit encouraged by the fact that he was polite enough to respond to my rather irate comment.

Second Stop: No Impact Man
My next stop on the Information Super Highway was less encouraging.  After the Huffington Report, I stopped by the No Impact Man's blog, where I had left a comment the week before. The No Impact Man had asked readers to say whether they agreed with this quote:
"Don't ask what the world needs.  Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it.  Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." 
-- Howard Thurman
I'd replied in what I think was a polite, but somewhat provocative way, embracing the need for passion, acknowledging the over-consumption of many in India, and then asking whether people in the US would be willing to act in solidarity with the poor countries of the world "even if it hurts." You can read the full text of my response and the responses that followed here--I'm not making any of this stuff up.

A reader named "Proud to be an American" replied with five reasons why what I'd said was wrong, starting with these three:
You are wrong on so many levels, I don't know where to begin. First of all, China is now the #1 polluter in the world. Secondly, we have much stricter standards of emissions than China, India, Bangladesh or similar countries, we just have more industry. Thirdly, yes, we do have a consumptive society, but our dollars have gone to support the economies of these other nations and given them the revenue and technology to improve the standard of living for the citizens of those nations. Unfortunately, they have not adopted a more environmentally friendly way of life....
That was interesting-- apparently, it's OK to dump greenhouse gases into the atmospheric commons as long as you have "more industry" ...and of course there's China...but we'll get to that later.   Then things got a really wacky when "brimsonedd" responded to my comment with this:
...China is the number one contributor to the environmental collapse.  Quit trying to blame the problems of your poor country on America... Your country has been around a lot longer than the US and has had a lot more opportunity to get things right so how bout you take responsibility for yourselves instead of whining to Americans like most of the rest of the world. In conclusion your a moron and the reason your country sucks is because of the people in it not the rest of the world. (emphasis mine; spelling error, his).
Well, after reading that, I could almost understand Mr. McCully's reluctance to talk about the "climate debt": a lot of people are going to call him names if he does!

After I said some self-affirmations and got over my hurt feelings (which took all of 3 and a half seconds)  I realized that someone in the US must be running a very strong "anti-China" campaign these days.  China is not without it's problems, and it is the largest producer of greenhouse gases in the world. That's all many Americans care to understand--it kind of let's them off the hook.  But of course, the reality is not quite so simple.  You see, China has a much, much larger population than the US, so its per capita greenhouse gas pollution levels are four times smaller than American levels.  And its historic levels of emissions are also much smaller. Those are not trivial matters, as anyone who thinks for a moment will see.  And neither is the fact that much of what China is making is actually consumed in the US! So it's not clear who is morally responsible for the pollution that goes into making those things.

To be fair, someone named "YUi" jumped in at that point to agree with me, and later a reader named "Kavita" joined in as well.   But this did get me thinking, because I did not expect this kind of response at an environmental blog in the US, or anywhere else. 

Fortunately there are other, more reasonable voices in North America.  There are environmentalists who are willing to speak plainly about what needs to be done.  There are the good people at the Council of Canadians, the Dogwood Initiative and  EcoEquity, to name just a few. There are writers like Naomi Klein, who's not afraid to point out that 5% of the world's emissions have been produced by just 20% of the world population, whereas something like 75-80% of the problems caused by climate change are falling on the developing world. 

If you've got a few minutes, go listen to what Ms. Klein says in this clip at Democracy Now. No sugar added, but it makes a lot of sense.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


It occurred me recently that the sometime next week--Tuesday, most likely, we will run our 100th post here at the dhaba.  Since we've been at this not quite seven months, that means we've been coming to you just over three times a week, every week, for about thirty weeks!  A lot of writers like to make writing look effortless.   But I'm going to demystify one aspect of the dhaba's cooking for you: there's a lot of sweat and a fair bit of teeth gnashing that goes into the menu here each week.  In fact, I'd estimate something like two hours of sweat and 17 minutes of teeth gnashing per post, on average, though some posts take very little time and some take quite a lot more than that.

One more thing I'll demystify for you, in case you missed it: the goal of the dhaba is not self-discovery.  Neither is it advertising revenue, a book contract, fame or propagation of a particular political line.  Those are all great things, but they aren't what this place is about.  The goal of the dhaba is to provoke thinking about the environment and justice from a green perspective. Because of this, we are not bashful about admitting that we want to be read!

Like a blog, to reach readers and to grow, a virtual dhaba requires more than good writing (sweaty or not).  It requires a machine--we use blogger--which exists in relationship to other larger machines, such as feed readers, Facebook, and Google. We are still looking for a magic formula to make our machine more powerful than ones that are trying to sell you an unsustainable, destructive lifestyle. That's not easy to do, because those guys have a big head start and a lot of money in their advertising budgets.  

In fact, we asked a lot of people before we started the dhaba and nobody knew of any magic or even any really great shortcuts. Most people said things like, "write good content" and "be regular" and "be patient." So lacking an easier alternative, that's been our strategy.  

Of course there is a secret to building a powerful blog machine, and--in addition to luck--it has something to do with links and subscriptions and things only readers can do.  Thanks to everyone who has helped us find our way into unusual places over the past few months.  And if you like something you see, do continue to spread it around.  And if you use a feed reader, why not grab a free feed or follow us through google  and/or Networked Blogs.  It all helps.

All in all, we're doing pretty well.  Our traffic and subscriber numbers are are climbing, and Google just gave us a promotion to Page Rank 4, which seems to have gone hand in hand with the small but significant increase in visitors from search engines we've been seeing lately. 

To celebrate these milestones, we've updated the Dhaba a bit.  You'll see some of our best content organized in pages linked on the top bar.  We aren't finished; some of the best is yet to come.  But do browse a bit, starting with the "About the Dhaba" page.  And tell us what you think.

The Independent People's Tribunal on Land Aquisition, Resource Grab and Operation Green Hunt met this weekend in Delhi.  More on this later, but for now, you can see their interim recommendations here.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

What the radioactive trash found in a West Delhi scrap market says about Nuclear Security

The news that at least 6 people are in critical condition from exposure to the pieces of radioactive Cobalt 60 that wound up in a West Delhi scrap market has to be an embarrassment to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as he prepares to leave for the Nuclear Security Summit being held next week in the US.  Of course, if it turns out that the radioactive material came from in an illegal shipment of trash sent to India from abroad, then other countries may also find themselves with some explaining to do.  Early reports suggest this is likely, because the radioactive material came in a form not manufactured in India.

There are so many ways in which this is disturbing.  The symptoms of radiation poisoning are horrifying: hair loss, burns, blackened skin, damage to bone marrow and organs, etc.  And for those who survive initial exposure, the long term consequences of radiation exposure can fatal as well.  The "good news" is that you can't make an atomic bomb with Cobalt 60, and it has a relatively short half life of just over 5 years.  Of course, that only means half of it will break down in 5 years; it will take much longer for the radiation to dissipate completely. Still, it could be worse; the half-life of uranium-235 is 700 million years.  

Of course, the much-reported bad news is that it is possible to make a conventional "dirty bomb" with Cobalt 60, and that could contaminate a large area with radioactive poison.  Nuclear terrorism is what the Americans plan to talk about at next week's Nuclear Security Summit.  But after what happened in West Delhi last week, perhaps the PM should seek to broaden the scope of the talks to include more than just dirty bombs. Shipments of trash containing radioactive material can kill people, bomb or no bomb.

If you think about it, this incident is also disturbing because of what it says about how we handle hazardous waste generally.  Radiation poisoning is dramatic, but too much exposure to more mundane things, like the mercury in CFL light bulbs, can be just as deadly in the long run.  Rather than write a long essay on the subject, here are a few numbers that may help put things in perspective:

Green Light Toxic Trash Index:
Minimum number of people in critical condition as a result of West Delhi radiation leak: 6
Number of shops that showed "high levels" of radiation on Friday: 5

Number of Indian institutions with "nucleonic gauges": 1,485
Total number of nucleonic gauges in those institutions: 7,850
Number of inspections of these institutions carried out by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) during the 2008-2009 year: 16
Number of industrial radiography units in the country: 505
Inspections of those units done by the AERB during the 2008-2009 year : 39
Number of Delhi hospitals that currently follow safety guidelines set out by the National Disaster Management Authority for dealing with patients exposed to radioactive materials: 1

Minimum number of radioactive sources the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has reported losing track of since 1996: 1,500 
Fraction of those sources that were found to be "untraceable": more than half.

Metric tonnes of waste paper imported by India during 2005-2006 year, according to a recent story in Telhelka: 1,680,000
Number of metric tonnes of hazardous waste that a recycling plant in Roorkie was recently given permission to import from the US and UK: 8,000 
Estimated number of tonnes of hazardous waste produced in India annually: 6,000,000

For reports on the Independent People's Tribunal, go to the Indian Youth Climate Network's blog.  The most recent post is here.  You can find more reports on the blog's home page. If you are reading this on Sunday, you can try watching a live web cast of the proceedings here.  There will be a press conference today (Sunday) at 4 p.m. at the Constitution Club, Delhi.  For more information contact: Sherbanu (9953466107); Purnima 971178868

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Photo Essay: A Tree is Nice!

Trees are nice. They reduce erosion.  They absorb carbon from the atmosphere and help combat global warming. They are a home to birds and animals. They provide shade in the summer and protect us from wind in the winter.

You have to admit you find trees in the strangest places throughout this city.  Like this tree on the BRT:

I like to watch how trees and fences learn to get along with each other; there is often a subtle give and take: here the fence bends just a bit....

 While here, both sides seem to have compromised.

As we all know, sometimes, there is no compromise.

Often the roots of urban trees have been covered with tarmac or concrete.  One has to wonder  how safe it is to leave trees standing in the middle of busy roads.

Often we are left with the ghosts of trees.  It was damage to trunk and roots that seem to have done this one in:

Sometimes we do stupid things in Delhi.  Like cutting down 500 trees to build a parking lot for the Comonwealth GamesBut there truly is a lot of green in Delhi; more than 20% of the city's surface area is under tree or forest cover.  And some say we aren't losing as much ground here as one might expect in a time where you see road construction everywhere.  Parts of Delhi remain covered with forest.

From above, other parts of Delhi look a bit less green.  

But from ground level, the trees that do live in Old Delhi are often spectacular.

I have read that the net cooling effect of a young, healthy tree is equivalent to ten room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day. In a place known for extreme heat, that probably does more than anything to explain why most of us agree: in a city like Delhi,  a tree is nice!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Green Poetry by Sumana Roy


Future is a dead country. Its flag stripes
of vomit green. Green is an anthem we hear
when old lovers return with swollen cacti skin. Tiger
is a fable: hiccups of black on a golden sun. Love’s
a leafless tree – eleven velvety parrots fly to the silence of sin.

Sunlight, half-ripe yellow, sneezes like a cow. Hushes
of its droplets lick the feet-crushed forest floor. Green
was a whisper-soft spring leaf you rolled into my
ear. Green was a vein asking for traffic below chin.
Green was superstition – snot, lust circus, wreath piping.

Green comes late, like love for those who are not
of our blood. It seeps out of feet like crabs at a railway
crossing. Water shrinks – sweat from wells in collar bones.
Inks in clouds dry to the earth’s red-dust trampling. Fruit,
now a martyr, grows dimpled-black in the boy’s drawing.

Sumana Roy lives in the Chicken’s Neck, from where she witnesses, with nervous despair, green being turned into a museum in the houses of the rich. She’d like to believe that, in spite of all, the poor too shall inherit the green.