Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Foggy thoughts in critical times

Foggy thoughts in critical times

by Anirban Das

It was the last week of Oct 2017. Winter was supposed to have set in, in theory, and so the hot and stuffy day may have been an aberration. I was revising the chapter on Global Warming in my son’s physics text book (no idea why was it there in the physics text book). Having taken it upon myself to tutor my son (not withstanding his belligerent protestations), I was trying to achieve conceptual clarity, in case the fellow asked me any tricky questions.

There was a particular line in the chapter that made me sit up. It said something to the effect that the average temperature of the earth would rise 2°C and 6°C by the end of the 21st century.  We are talking averages, which means that the temperatures could actually be far higher. This would imply that Mumbai could transform into Rajasthan (or perhaps Venice? assuming floods from the melting glaciers), while Rajasthan could become Jwalasthan. The good news is that I wouldn’t be around to witness the mess, the bad news is that my grandchildren would be (assuming that my kids plan to have kids someday or maybe not); clothed in thermal attire and N10000 masks (current norm is N95), they certainly wouldn’t be showering encomiums on me.

Celebrated British physicist Stephen Hawking has predicted that the earth would turn into a sizzling fireball in less than 600 years. No need to worry then, eh! But what if the theory of re-incarnation is actually true? Then we are in really deep shit.

The shit has come a little too soon with the vivid images of the Delhi smog. Those in other cities exhaling sighs of relief (not our problem, somebody else’s), don’t worry; we are all in queue, jostling each other to get to the front. Click on the link http://aqicn.org/city/india to check out the real time air quality index in your city).

I tried cribbing about the general scheme of things to all those who lent me an ear (and then took it back promptly). I soon realized that the statistical correlation between my cribbing and the general improvement of the environment is a big fat zero. Hence, the need to write down some ideas: practical, impractical, childish, idealistic, and so on.  To cite a quote from a famous Delhi cop, “ Koi baat  nahi”.

Ideas for the administration/ government

 1.      Plastic packets

If you thought that Clint Eastwood was the fastest draw in the west, think again! Clinty would have been no match for our humble vegetable/ fruit  vendor who can whip up multiple ultrathin polythenes before you can even open your mouth to scream “No”. Unfortunately, “No” does not mean “No” in this context. One has to forcibly return the polythene to the vendor and thereafter console him, lest his feelings are not hurt.

News flash for those who love fish: Record breaking sailor Ellen MacArthur warns that there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050. Hopefully, we can evolve our culinary preferences for new dishes like plastica jhol, goan  plasticular curry, etc., by 2050.

A simple solution would be to cut the tree that produces the poisonous fruit. If we can put a complete ban on manufacturing and distribution of plastic packets, that would be a major battle won. And no special treatment for specific sizes. There is no such thing as good Taliban or bad Taliban. Same logic applies to plastic packets.

I have no doubt in my mind that we will equal if not supersede USA’s economic might very soon. And maybe one day, we can hope to catch up with countries like Bangladesh, Rwanda, Morocco and now Kenya.

(Note: Plastic bags tend to disrupt the environment in a serious way. They get into soil and slowly release toxic chemicals. They eventually break down into the soil, with the unfortunate consequence being that animals eat them and often choke and die. Only 1% of all plastic bags are recycled, with most heading for landfill, or worse, our oceans. Over 100,000 animals are suspected of coming to this unfortunate end throughout the world every single year, on both land and in our oceans.

Paper bags are not an alternative either; they are actually really energy intensive and unless they are made from recycled paper products, they are cutting down trees as well. In all honesty they are really not much better than plastic bags. Only real option is to go with a reusable ‘eco’ bag.

Good news that we have started taking baby steps in that direction.  Click on link below

2.      Crop waste burning

Allegedly the biggest culprit behind the Delhi smog. Why am I using the word ‘allegedly’? Ok, let us apply the famed  why- why Japanese technique.

Why 1: Why is there a smog in Delhi?
Because of crop stubble burning by farmers (assume other factors as insignificant).

Why 2: Why are farmers burning crop stubble?
A)     Because the labor cost to cut the residue is approx.  Rs 2000/- per kilogram, it is too expensive. Better to burn than cut. B) There is no commercial value for crop residue.

Why 3: Why do the farmers have to spend Rs 2000/kg for cutting the residue? 
Actually, they don’t . The solution is already available in Maharashtra, thanks to the efforts of farmer Chandrashekar Bhadsavle. Different departments of Maharashtra government have been using Bhadsavle's expertise to boost farmers' income and also stop forest fires. Bhadsavle's method — SRT farming — is very simple. Under the SRT (Saguna Rice Technique) technique, tillage is completely avoided and the residue of the earlier crop (in this case paddy stubble) is disintegrated into soil by using weedicides and microbial cultures.

“We should instead simply increase organic carbon content of soil which increases its fertility. This can happen if you let the plant residue of earlier crop decompose in soil, it will then bring in earthworms, which will help crops," explains Bhadsavle.

Why 4:  Why is there no commercial value for the crop residue?
Crop residue may not have direct commercial value but they can be used in the making of natural fertilizers, which are free of cost. Click on the link below on how to make 100% natural fertilizers ( Shivansh Fertilizers).

Why 5: Why are the farmers growing such crops which require residue to be cut/ uprooted/ burnt every year?

They are perhaps not aware of alternate crops, with similar or higher profitability.

You get the idea, don’t you ?
 The root causes and possible solutions start becoming apparent as we delve deeper and deeper.

Now can someone explain this logic to me?

According to fertilizer ministry data, the amount of foodgrain produced per kg of fertilizer applied declined from around 13kg in the 1970s to less than 4kg by 2010. In short, the more chemical fertilizers we use, more the impotency (soil and maybe us too), lesser the produce.  

Or this logic?

Taxes on bio/ natural fertilizers range from 12 to 18%.

Or how about this?

We are burning crop stubble, when we can actually use it to produce natural fertilizers, at zero cost to the farmer?  Wealth and health is before us, yet we choose to burn it and transform it into smog. Duh?


At the cost of repetition, sharing the link for making Shivansh 100% natural fertilizers.

This fertilizer method was funded by Indian-born billionaire, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Manoj Bhargava through Hans Foundation. Integrating this fertilizer into a field brings dead soil back to life within just one planting season, reduces the need for urea by over 50%, reduces water requirement and increases crop yield significantly.

After so much yakking, do I have any idea for the government or not?

Yes.  My suggestion here is that the government could boot out the pesticide/ fertilizer lobby, raise taxes on such products sky high and provide subsidy on 100% natural fertilizers.  At the very least, it could promote the making of the 100% natural fertilizers to every nook and corner of the country.

Fun fact: Soft drinks make great fertilizers. “Thoda peeyo, thoda fertilize karo!”

Not so fun fact: Chemical fertilizers can cause cancer. The toxic chemicals found in fertilizers can be absorbed into the plants and enter the food chain via vegetables and cereals. However, the largest health risk is when the chemicals flow into ground water, which is then extracted for drinking.

3.      Beaches

Now you see them, now you don’t and then you see them again.
 Check out the before, after and after ‘after’ pics of Juhu beach.  The show must go on.

Juhu Beach (Before), source:Indian Express

Juhu Beach ( After) . source: tripadvisor

Juhu Beach (Soon after  After). Source: HT

Wanted:  Applicants for outdoor office job (deemed paid social service) with less pay but with life time employment.  This is not a 9 to 5 job. Benefits include physical activity, morning walks and fresh sea breeze.  Occasional treasure hunting games on the beach as recreational activity. Finders keepers.
Job location: India

Am not sure if such a job exists in countries like Sri Lanka, Brazil, Thailand, where the beaches seem to be spotlessly clean round the year.

My suggestions are as follows
1.       Employ trained beach marshals for monitoring the beaches. They could take pics of those guilty of littering and then proceed to levy a stiff fine. It is important that the marshals levy all fines (digitally) with courtesy & a smile on their faces (akin to Mumbai traffic police). In one shot, not only will the beaches be cleaner, but we will also minimize the problem of unemployment and generate some additional funds for a perpetual revenue deficit administration.
2.       Hawkers to be confined to designated spots only. Onus on them (and not tourists)  to ensure that their surrounding areas are clean.
3.       Festivals: This is the tricky part. Logic doesn’t hold a candle to religious emotion. Also, there is a belief that larger the size of the deity, more the devotion, higher the contributions, and greater the blessings from the deity. There are no easy answers here. For a start, Clay statues to be manufactured by government certified agencies/ artisans only, ensuring 100% recyclable and ecofriendly materials, which can easily dissolve in the sea, without endangering sea life. In fact the entire chain of raw material supply to be government certified. Certified in theory as well in reality.

(Ungodly status post Visarjan)


4.  Road pollution

Suggested ideas are

1.       Implementation of PUC: Reality check--When was the last time one heard of someone being fined because of noncompliance with PUC regulations? Ok, another check—do you know the fine for noncompliance?  A paltry Rs 1000/-. Increase this to atleast Rs 10,000/- and then wait for the magic to unravel.
2.        Visualize this scenario. You are sitting in an auto, waiting for the traffic signal to turn green. All of a sudden, an LCV stands right next to you, waiting for a clear road so that it break the signal and dart away.  Before you realize it, the LCV has farted pure carbon monoxide all over your face. You open your mouth to register your protest with the LCV driver; the LCV lets out a larger fart this time, the entire load entering your mouth, lungs and nose. The good news is that one doesn’t need hair or hair color anymore.
To eliminate this menace, confiscate polluting diesel vehicles seen on roads without mercy. If public smoking has been banned, then so should polluting vehicles. Anyone should be able is to send a pic of the polluting vehicle with number plate to concerned authorities using Watsapp and thereafter receive the status of the complaint. Names to be kept confidential.
3.       Mandate flexi office time to avoid road choke –up. Win-win for all (except maybe HR), hockey stick increase in employee satisfaction.
4.       Mandatory fitment of engine stop start mechanism during idling (eg. at a Traffic signal  or near a pothole) for all vehicles.
5.       In light of better technologies and increasing mileage, vehicle engines to be replaced every 10 years (unless it is a cng/ electric). Vehicles to be necessarily scrapped after 15 years with each and every part getting recycled. The Auto companies should be pleased.
6.       Increase number of train coaches (if possible), incentivize off peak usage.
7.       Replace diesel engines of all buses, trucks and taxis with cng.
8.       No ordering of new public transport vehicles with diesel engines. New public transport vehicles should necessarily be electric or cng.
9.       Increase taxes on traditional fuel vehicles and subsidize electric vehicles. Create Charging infrastructure on BOOT basis.
10.   Potholes: In line with government’s motto of ‘minimal government, maximum governance’, make the Municipal corporations independent bodies, free from political membership or interference and empower the officials.
We could allocate roads of a particular area to a reputed civil contractor for repair & maintenance, on tender basis. Fixed annual reimbursement based on public credit rating/ satisfaction.
We can compose new rap songs  every year and hope that the thick skinned hippos join the dance party (Tula Bharosa Nahi ka...).

5.      Environmental pollution

1. Seize licenses of all polluting factories/ plants. Licenses should be only for those plants       maintaining Zero liquid/effluent discharge plants. Don’t just wave the rule book, implement it also

2.   Trees
a.        Creating an association with each and every tree by Labelling/ adopting it – Name of adopter, name of the planter, name of the tree, age of the tree and its special features,  etc.
b.      Plantation of at least 100 trees and nurturing it for at least 5 years for becoming eligible for a private or government job. Have no clue how to implement this idea.

6.      Miscellaneous

 1.  Mandatory rain water harvesting for societies with carrot and stick approach. X litres per sq feet.
 2.  Mandatory for every society to generate x% of their electricity using solar roof panels, else higher property tax.
3.  Increase wages and state benefits for sewage workers. And definitely state of the art safety and work equipment.
4. Make segregation of waste compulsory for all societies. No clearing off the garbage otherwise.
5. Implement welfare scheme for rag pickers with basic dignity of living.
6. Waste Management Plants on BOOT basis, funds from Swach Bharat Abhiyaan cess, using best of expertise. One assumes that all the toilets would have been built by now.
7. Family planning – There are many reasons that couples have 2 kids or more: back up insurance, boredom, weakness in math, faulty protection mechanisms, religious reasons, etc. However we ignore the compounding power of 2, we may soon achieve the distinction (dubious) of having the highest number of people per square feet in the world (flights to Mars may not commence anytime soon and even if they do, they may have to implement Tatkal, considering the likely rush). Nonetheless, great news for footwear manufacturers!

Click on this link to understand the power of compounding http://www.moneyjumps.com/2012/06/story-of-king-and-sage-power-of.html
Time to move to 1 family, 1 child. If one wants more children, one should try to adopt.

Actions (not ideas) for Self/ at individual level – Immediate

1.       Say a big NO to Plastic packets:  Refer the previous section on plastic packets.

Carry at least 2 empty bags from home whenever you go out. Do not accept plastic packets from anyone, especially vendors.  Lead by example and become the family weirdo. Koi baat nahi.
After having practised it successfully for 2 months, now convince your immediate near and dear ones to shun plastic, irrespective of ridicule. This is a crucial stage; avoid being convinced back by your well-wishers to go back to the old system. Their strongest arguments? “Don’t be impractical. How will one or two persons ever make a difference?”  Koi baat nahi.  The world needs more impractical people.
If anyone still is a proponent of plastic packets, kindly spend some time cleaning the beaches in Mumbai (before the cleaners) or savor the adventure of the annual Mumbai floods.

2.       Say a big NO to litter

Keeping our surroundings clean is each one’s responsibility, not the neighbor’s, not the local government’s. If we don’t dare litter in public spaces of other countries, why do we litter in our own? Parents need to lead by example.

3.       Public transport instead of private

Ask yourself the following questions the next time you are planning to take out your car
-          Is the headache of getting stuck in incessant traffic jams and breaking my head with other drivers, worth the trouble?
-          With the money I am spending on using my car instead of using public transport, could I have treated myself to a nice plate of idli dosa with steaming filter coffee at an Udipi restaurant?
-          Is the headache of finding a parking worth the trouble?
-          When was the last time I got some real exercise?

If you still want to take out that car, chances are that you might be working as a chauffeur. No further comment.

4.       Car Pooling

The Niti Aayog had suggested that taxi aggregators should be allowed to rope in private cars to increase the availability of vehicles for passengers. The suggestion was so good and radical that it was promptly shot down by the transport ministry stating protection of the interests of 5 million taxi owners.  Nice!  5 million taxi owners saved, 1 billion common population screwed!

Shooting down an idea is the easiest thing in the world, finding a solution is the tough part.  Is there no via media for the larger good?

5.       Say a big NO to  crackers

A famous intellectual (meant genuinely) recently stated that Diwali pollution of 1 day constitutes only 0.27% of the yearly pollution. Brilliant.

Applying similar logic, let us assume that a prolific murderer kills one person every day, for 365 days. However please don’t point fingers at the man the one day during Diwali, as his crime on that particular day is only 0.27% of his annual crimes.  Solve the other crimes first before touching this one. Didn’t like the analogy? Ok, how about this?

Let us assume that you drink at least 4 litres of water a day or 1460 litres of water in a year. So your daily consumption is 0.27% of annual. So far so good. Now if someone suddenly forces you to consume 30 litres of water in 1 day, what is going to happen?

      Let me complicate this a little more. What if you can’t take a leak?

 The particulate matter (PM) levels shoots up two to three times post Diwali, which can be fatal to those with respiratory issues.Note: There is also a major problem in the assumption i.e we burst crackers only on Diwali.

Then there are some who say that crackers are a part of our tradition and will not allow tradition to be tampered with.  To such people, I ask, “What did we do before invention of gun powder? Throw rocks from the top of a mountain?” What is the sense in an activity that is pleasurable to one and harmful to the rest?

If one still wants to burst crackers, I have a suggestion.  He should get hold of Bullet bike, turn on the ignition and put his ear to the exhaust pipe. Once he goes deaf in one ear, he can apply his second ear. After achieving 100% deafness, he can shove his nose up the exhaust and inhale the medley of fumes.  Happy Diwali!

6.   100% natural fertilizers

Even if one is not a farmer, if he knows at least one farmer, he should try out to convince him/her to use natural fertilizers only, using whatever means necessary (dharna, boycott, bribery, threat, sweet talk, logic, etc.).

 7.   Miscellaneous
        (A little digression but important nonetheless)

a)  For those with lots of surplus food, get in touch with one of these 8 services to reach the needy
     b)  For those with lots of spare clothes, reach out to Goonj  centres

To wrap it all up and conclude, I have started teaching Maths to my son, far less depressing (although my son doesn’t agree).

(Note: The conclusion does not make sense, but neither do most of our current actions towards our planet)

Sources of information

12.   Emoticons, animated Images – Pinsdaddy, Pinterest, EmojiBase, www.wasm.org, ohdakuwaqa.com, cartoonstock, depositphotos, 

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