Thursday, May 26, 2011

More lessons from the Commonwealth Games

Locking up Suresh Kalmadi may be satisfying, but it doesn't fix what was wrong with the CWG

Former Commonwealth Game Head Suresh Kalmadi has spent a lot of time in jail lately.. It's tempting to think that justice is finally being done. And maybe it is--to a degree. After all, corruption was one of the things that we all complained about during the CWG.  It's good to see some kind of action being taken, even if it is after the fact.

But before we revise our thinking about the CWG to something like 'all's well that ends well,'  we should take a walk through CP. It's a mess because the work wasn't properly done  and now those streets need to be dug up so the job can be finished.  

CP reminds us that the corruption we saw during the CWG was not just about expensive rolls of toilet paper; it was about infrastructure that wasn't built right. Most of those problems won't surface for years.

Take a walk along your local nallah, drink unfiltered DJB water for a week, or visit your local government school, and you'll be reminded that the CWG was also about missed opportunities. We have a lot of new flyovers and stadiums in Delhi. But millions of Delhi residents still don't get reliable, safe drinking water. We may be covering a few more drains, but the water running through them and into the Yamuna is still poisonous. We can't enforce child labour laws effectively, and middle class residents continue to avoid sending their children to government schools. 

Fixing our water delivery system, cleaning our river, taking care of our children properly would all take crores and crores of rupees--some things just cost money. We chose not to do those things so that we could have a World Class Sporting Event. In and of itself, that choice was not literally corrupt, but it was unethical, and it will cost us dearly in the long run. Let's hope we don't make the same mistake again.

For more on this, read our CWG page.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The (not so) surprising truth about what motivates us

Why do we do the things we do? Corporate ideologists tell us we are motivated by money and the stuff it buys. And too often we believe them. That's why we have green ambassadors like Priyanka Chopra giving out cash prizes to motivate green activists. 

The problem with the corporate understanding of the world is that it leads us down an unsustainable road. We'll eat up our land and the people who live on it, until there is nothing left. What happens then is ugly--and probably violent. At her book launch last Friday, Arundhati Roy argued that since since the Indian state and corporations have no other countries to colonize, they have turned inward and made colonies out of the interior--it's a form of self-cannibalism. And in some cases, violence is met with violence. It's not a new argument, but she makes it in a compelling manner. By the way, P. Sainath understands this question from a different angle, but he sees a similar dynamic.

That's all very depressing, but it leaves us to wonder: is there any hope? Is there a way the world could change which does require the barrel of a gun to impose it? When it comes to the ground realities we face, I just don't know. And this short essay is not going to try to get into speculation about how change might or might not happen. I'll just say that I take it for granted that any change will require a massive movement of people and a rejection of the idea that people are motivated primarily by the drive to get money and stuff. (It will also, by the way, require the rejection of the idea--historically favoured by some on the left--that people are motivated by being told what to do!)

I've always believed that once people have achieved enough to insure their survival, that other factors come into play. I think people do things because we care about power, autonomy, and the good feeling we get when we master something. I think we do things because love and belonging feel good--that's where duty comes in, by the way. I think we do things because we like to have fun. Sure, new things are fun to have--and having new stuff may make us feel powerful. But there have always been sustainable ways to feel powerful, loved or to have fun in the world; people were basically the same social animals we are today before we had a hyper-consumer culture, and we can go back to that way of being more easily than we think. 

It turns out I'm not the only one who think this. There are even some corporate types who have realized that if they want to motivate people, money is not necessarily the best way. This animated video does not really get into the way a sustainable world might look. But it does explain why people might well enjoy living in one. Do watch it. It will give you something to think about.

Video from KarmaTube

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Really Stupid Greenwash: Budweiser's grow a beard, save water campaign

We use 1,500 gallons of water  to make 
one 32 gallon barrel of beer!
The American beer company Anheuser-Busch, makers of Budweiser, is urging American men to grow a beard between now and World Environmental Day on June 5. According to Budweiser, the average American man uses 5 gallons (almost 20 litres) of water each time he shaves. They estimate that their 'grow a beard campaign' can save a million gallons of water.

I first heard of this campaign as an advertisement on Onion News Network. A husky American guy was out fishing in a motor powered boat, urging men to stop shaving. I thought it was a joke, but it's not--you can read about it here.  You can pledge your support on the Budweiser facebook page.

This is the worst kind of green wash, because it makes people believe they are doing something, when they are not. Sure we need to save water. And yes, shaving does require water. But so do a lot of things in life that we do every day. Why not stop doing them? 

When he heard of this campaign, my 11 year old sun suggested that American men give up bathing and washing their clothes from now until June 5. That would be smelly, but it would certainly save more water than not shaving. Alternatively, since it takes a huge amount of water to grow and process food, American men could give up eating potato chips for the next few weeks--that would be healthier--and I'll bet it would save a lot of water. Really committed men could simply go on a three week fast. (Sorry, but you'll die if you actually stop drinking water, so I don't recommend that, though it would save a lot of water...). 

The problem is that real change--the kind of change the planet needs--will require more than feel good symbolic steps. We need to change the way we live--every day. Shave, if you want, but don't use 19 litres of water when you do it--simply turn off the tap between strokes. Take a bucket bath. Use the water you rinse your clothes with to wash the next load--that kind of thing. 

Even more important, we need to make some big changes in things that we don't often think about when we think about water. Like the food we eat. Long grain rice, for example, uses much, much more water than traditional millets. Actually, wheat uses a lot of water also. Far more water is used by food production than by toilets and bathing. And then you have our modern consumer society. Those blue jeans you are wearing? They took 6800 litres to make; an automobile takes nearly 1,50,000 litres to produce! (Figures at Treehugger; use this site to convert gallons to litres).

The purveyors of greenwash don't want you to change the things that matter, because that would mean you might consume less. They know many people around the world are profoundly worried about the way things are going. They want to help ease our minds; otherwise we might use our minds to figure out a new way to live.

By the way: the makers of Budweiser beer know that a 32 gallon barrel of beer takes 1,500 gallons of water to make (see that Treehugger link for the details). In other words, if you give up one 330 ml Budweiser, so save 15 litres of water--or just about 4 gallons, which is almost as much as you'll save by not shaving. And if you forgo a big 650 ml bottle of beer, well, you've practically saved the world!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tailor Made Green Jeans

Tailor made jeans: half the price, twice the green
If you are in the market for a new pair of jeans, you have many choices. You can spend a few thousand rupees on a pair of branded jeans from a high end show room; you can troll the export surplus in Sarojini Nagar market. Or you can have a pair stitched for you by a tailor.

If you don't care about politics or price, then buy the Levis from the Levi store. Or choose another brand--it really doesn't matter too much. They are all made in similar places, by factories with workers who are paid similar amounts. I couldn't find numbers on India, but by the time jeans get from the factory where they are made to the US, their total cost is about $7.50 (Rs. 340 ). Of that, just under $2.00 (Rs. 90) goes to labour; about $3.00 (Rs. 135) goes to cloth.  The rest goes to shipping, taxes, etc.  I'm guessing the numbers in India are similar.  You can read all about it in an article called "Global Poverty and the Cost of  a Pair of Jeans." (Of course if we figured in the true cost of the environmental destruction that comes from shipping jeans all over the world, the price would be significantly higher.)  

That pair of basic jeans that cost $7.50 to make and ship goes on to sell in the market for $20-$40 (Rs. 900-1800). Where does that extra money go? A lot of places: the jean company makes lots of profits; the retailer takes a large share, there is transportation within the country once the jeans arrive on the dock.

If you only want to save money, and you wear a common size, the cheapest bet is to hit a market like Sarojini Nagar. But if you are looking to make a green choice, then have your jeans tailor made. In Mohan Singh Place, a shopping complex next to PVR Rivoli and around the corner from the Regal Cinema in Connaught Place, you can get jeans made from a wide variety of shops for about Rs. 750 ($16.50) or less. I've gone to Satkar Jeans (shop number 42) a few times and have had pretty good luck. They'll even give you fake Levis labels and buttons if you care about fashion or have a sense of humour. (And while you are shopping, why not go upstairs and have a snack at the Indian Coffee House?)

Why are tailor made jeans greener? In part because they require much less shipping--the cloth, must be shipped, but the stitched jeans are sold on site--which also means there is no need for a large factory--and no need to ship the final product anywhere. The wages may not be great, but I'd bet the skilled tailor that takes your measurements is doing better than an assembly line worker in Nicaragua or China. And best of all, you don't have to support the overpaid bosses or shareholders of the large jean companies either--all the money stays local! (And if you like to think literally, you probably really could get yourself a pair of green jeans--though I've never tried that myself.)

Friday, May 13, 2011

Photo Essay: Green Delhi, Accessible Delhi!

All good greens care about trees and animals.  But it's my belief that environmentalists should also care about the environments people live and travel in. We've written about Delhi's housing, it's malls, it's water, it's roads, it's buses. Today,let's our at our built environment from a new point of view. 

Most of us agree that a green city should prioritize sustainable forms of transportation. But I think we too often fail to even consider how our design decisions impact many people we live with. Green Park Market was given a face lift this summer.  One of the things it got was a series of ramps connecting different parts of the market. Ramps are great, because they work for pedestrians, but they also work for cycles and wheelchairs. In fact one evening not long ago, I saw a half dozen people with wheelchairs shopping in Green Park Market; they were using this very ramp.

However, this kind of accessible construction is the exception, not the rule in Delhi. Here we see what one resident's welfare association did to keep cycles from moving from one side of the colony to the other. In so doing, they obviously limited people who use wheelchairs as well.

This park has wide, well manicured paths that could be used by cyclists, people in wheelchairs and pedestrians alike. 

Except that it is almost impossible to get into the park with a cycle or a wheelchair because of this wall.

Speaking of wheelchairs, when is the last time you saw one on a Delhi bus? Not often. In many places in the world people with disabilities regularly take public transportation, but making that possible in Delhi in a meaningful way would mean putting a more buses on the road and making accessibility a priority. I'm not an expert here. I know this would cost money. But we have to assert that  our city should be for all people, including people with disabilities.

And as for cyclists, we have plenty of them here. But they almost always have to share the road with motor vehicles. And even on the BRT,where there is a designated lane for them, it is often overrun by motorcycles.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Best green sweets: Jalebi Wala, Chandni Chowk

I love Jalebis. They may not be high on the health food list, but who can resist a hot fresh jalebi? Not me, especially on a cold January evening. But I'll confess this to you: I love jalebi so much, I'll eat them in May. Just last night, I had a few while standing outside Evergreen Sweets in Green Park Market. Some evenings in Shahpur Jat you can get decent jalebis at Jagdamba Bhog. On Thursday evening, after listening to qawwalis  at Nizamuddin Dargah, nothing tastes better than jalebis. Or wander down the main road in Chirag Dilli, just off the BRT. Those jalebis are tasty, even if the oil they're fried in has been recycled a few too many times. One key variable, of course, is freshness. Jalebis taste best fresh; otherwise, they can acquire an aftertaste, which makes them less than perfect. 

However, all things being equal, the best Jalebis  in Delhi may well be at Jalebi Wala in Chandni Chowk. 

Jalebi Wala has had a facelift in the last couple of years--new sign, etc. I liked it better before. But it's still well worth checking out, because the jalebis there are outstanding.  Old Delhi jalebis are different in subtle ways from what you find in South Delhi. I'm not going into that here; go see for yourself. You can find Jalebi Wala on Chandni Chowk, between the Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib and Red Fort. (It's on the right if you are walking toward Red Fort.) Or look here. (After eating your jalebis, walk back past the Gurdwara to the light where you need to turn to find the metro. On that very corner, cross the street and you'll find a very nice cup of tea. )

Why are Jalebis green? First, they are made with local ingredients and most jalebi walas--even a well-established place like Jalebi Wala--are fairly simple places. No AC; no need for plastic forks or spoons--fingers are sufficient. And if you look at it, Old Delhi is a pretty green place. High population density in cities means more room in the countryside for farms and forests. Also, Old Delhi is full of non-motorized transportation. 

But there's a larger point I want to make. Sure, jalebis are unnecessary. They are a luxury. But a little luxury is good for us. It's the five star hotels and airlines that will ruin the world in the long run. Jalebis? We can live with them! 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Photo Essay: Delhi's mobile markets

Most greens have a sense that overconsumption is killing us. Mines and factories spew poison into the air and water, as do the trucks and ships required to move goods all over the world. And of course the energy required to make and move all the stuff we buy is doing more than pollute our environment--it's changing our climate.

But people still need to buy things, though we probably need to learn to do with a lot less in the long run. And as long as we need to buy things, we will need markets in which to buy them. Though many people tell us the future of consumption is in mammoth malls like the one below, I'm not convinced.

There are many problems with giant malls.  I won't go into them all here, because I already did that in a guest post over at Bhagwad's Expressions sometime back. But this much, I will say: malls--and large retail establishments in general--require a huge investment in capital to build, and they typically require consumers to travel long distances. 

Contrast that with Delhi's many mobile--or moving-- markets. Moving markets shift from place to place, often occupying places on the margins of this great city, and bringing them to life once or twice a week.  

On most days, the road that runs along side the Chirag Dilli nallah is a friendly, but fairly bleak stretch. But on Thursday and Friday evenings, it is transformed into a bustling market. 

A few weeks back, I went looking for a hammer.  I picked one up from the iron workers who used to live by the Chirag Dilli flyover--they've had to shift several times in the last few years, but are still managing to make ends meet.  Then I took a walk down the lane and snapped a few photos. . 

You can get all kinds of things for the kitchen: food, utensils, etc. But there are also bangles and clothes...

Lots and lots of clothes.

There is plenty of traffic on the road, though it slows down later in the evening. But almost all of the consumers are coming on foot from Chirag Dilli, Sheikh Sarai, or Malviya Nagar.  

Most of the goods are delivered to the market by tempos. Given the amount of customers you see at these markets, it's a safe bet that it's more efficient to deliver the goods to a population that shops on foot than it is to drive the shopping population all over the city. It makes life easier, too, for the vast majority of Delhi's residents who do not own a car.

On the way home, Mrs. Batti and I picked up a few plates of tasty chow mein for the kids. It may have been a bit on the salty side, but there were not complaints on the home front that Thursday. Definitely, cheap and best! 

Of course, there are 'moving markets' all over Delhi. But if you want to sample this one, you can find some version of it in the following places:

Chirag Dilli Nallah: Thursday/Friday
East of Kailash:  Saturday
Saket Mall:  Monday (I've never been to this one, but it's supposed to be big. Still, it would be an interesting contrast).
Sheikh Sarai (near Bhagat Singh College: Wednesday)
Gouvindpuri: Wednesday

There's another great market that appears in the Shahpur Jat/ Panchsheel Park area on Thursdays/Fridays.

For more ideas how low tech is often greener than high tech, check out our low tech green page.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Wanted: US Salesman (aka 'Ambassador') to India

Requirements: Must have a minimum of five years experience selling weapons to poor countries, or the equivalent in political connections.  Candidates who are bilingual (English/Miltary-Industrialinglish) will be given preference. 

Ambassador Roemer: " unbeatable
platform at a competative price!"
A few eyebrows were raised last week when US ambassador Timothy Roemer announced his resignation just a day after India said it would not buy 10 billion dollars worth of fighter jets from either of the two American companies competing for the mega-contract. The US denied that the timing was anything but coincidence, but many were not convinced, in part  because it was widely reported that Roemer had linked the future of Indo-US relations to the deal.

I'm not really sure it matters why Ambassador Roemer resigned. What's interesting is the fact that defense deals like this seem to matter to much to American diplomats. Here is Roemer on the deal, via
"We are respectful of the procurement process. We are, however, deeply disappointed by this news...I have been personally assured at the highest levels of the Indian government that the procurement process for this aircraft has been and will be transparent and fair...I am extremely confident that the Boeing F/A 18IN and Lockheed-Martin F-16IN would provide the Indian Air Force an unbeatable platform with proven technologies at a competitive price."
Doesn't he sound like a salesman? You'd almost think he's getting a commission on the deal.  Do you ever hear US officials talking about green technology like that? Do they ever push competitively priced water purification plants? 

To be fair, Roemer's prose is not as bizarre-sounding as a real fighter jet sales person. Here's something via The Hindu from a Boeing press release:
“We believe we offered the Indian Air Force a fully compliant and best-value multi-role aircraft for the defined mission. We will continue to look for opportunities to help India modernise its armed services and enhance its aerospace industry."

(This is really serious business, but that little bit of prose is till making me mission..enhance its aerospace industry...can we really call that English? Or is it really better described as a sub-dialect of Bizglish, maybe Military-Industringlish?)

When US President Obama came to visit last November, a large part of what he was doing was selling military hardware to the GOI. In fact, the list of weapons India has recently ordered from the US is very long and has cost us billions of dollars. (For a partial list of recent sales check out the last bit of this article in The Hindu.) 

If you read the papers (and Wikileaks) you realize that the US is not just providing a public service to poor countries that need to protect themselves; they are using all sorts of hard sell tactics to pressure countries into buying American-made killing machines.  Why? Who knows. Maybe they aren't good at making anything else anymore. 

Ever wonder about why Indo-US relations seem so important to both the US and Indian government? Maybe it's got something to do with the fact that the US is the world's leading exporter of arms, and India is the world's leading importer of arms. Hmm.

For me that raises two questions:
1. Why is the US going around the world pushing it's weapons on poor countries?
2. Why are poor countries wasting so much money on killing machines when we are facing all kinds of bigger threats like farmer suicide, climate change, and falling water tables? We don't even have the equipment necessary to rescue workers from burning buildings in the NCR--what right do we have to spend  $10 billion on fighter jets?

It's time we start investing in life. Let's put the merchants of death out of business. 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Call the Shramik Helpline--NMIZ labour policy inhumane, unsustainable

Legalizing slavery and allowing strip mining in tiger reserves would be the logical extension of the arguments being advanced by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry

Last night, I was reading the electric message board at the front of the bus I was riding. It was announcing various helplines' there was a woman's helpline, a student's helpline, a senior's helpline. Who can argue with a helpline, I thought, though it would be nice if the phone numbers didn't flash by quite so quickly. That way, someone in need might actually be able to write them down and use them.

Today, I read the CM Dikshit has announced another helpline, timed to coincide with May Day. The Shramik Helpline will protect the rights of workers and will be used to combat child labour. Here's something from a report in the Indian Express:
“The helpline is being commissioned to provide a sense of confidence and assurance to workers and make it an effective tool for approaching the authorities in case of denial of the minimum wages by the employers and (for) enforcement of all labour laws,” a statement from the government read....In case of a call regarding child labour, the Labour department will ensure that the child is rescued.
I think this helpline has arrived just in time. I just read today that the Ministry of Commerce and Industry is pushing something called National Manufacturing and Investment Zones (NMIZ). According to an official quoted in today's issue of Delhi's Sunday Guardian:
"The proposed policy will help achieve higher GDP by exempting labour laws and prohibiting formation of trade unions in the zones...This will help in increasing the share of the manufacturing sector in the GDP from the current level of 16-17% to 25% by 2022."
There is widespread, brutal poverty in the land. Of course we need economic growth. But advocates of "growth at all costs" don't really care about that.  The growth they advocate is neither sustainable, nor humane. It will result in a ruined environment, larger slums and a few more super-rich factory owners. 

Think about this: if you are willing to suspend labour rights in the name of economic growth, are you also willing to allow strip mining in our wildlife parks? Or maybe just go the whole way and legalize child labour and slavery. After all, with the price of raw materials rising, there is probably more short term money to be made from iron ore and lumber than there is from tigers and deer. That's what zoos are for. Besides, there is a great deal of new historical research that suggests slavery was actually very profitable, and that it fueled economic growth.  

Sorry, but no thanks. I think it's time someone call that worker helpline to complain: we don't need these NMIZ's. We need just, sustainable growth.