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Showing posts from February 16, 2017

Anumita Roy Chowdhury reacts to Global burden of Health Study

Dirty air dooms Indians to early death (downtoearth)

The new analysis of global burden of disease (GBD) estimates released by the US-based Health Effect Institute (HEI) has exposed stunning results. Globally, air pollution is estimated to cause more than 4.2 million early deaths—of these, 1.1 million deaths occur in India alone. This is more than a quarter of the global deaths. India ranks second in PM2.5-related deaths in the world, and nearly equals China, which scores the highest number of early deaths due to PM2.5. Worse, India now tops the dubious list of highest number of early deaths due to ozone pollution. The rate of increase in early deaths in India is quite scary. While early deaths related to PM2.5 in China have increased by 17.22 per cent since 1990, in India these have increased by 48 per cent. Similarly, while early deaths due to ozone in China have stabilised since 1990, in India these have jumped by 148 per cent. This demands urgent intervention. With the release of State of Global Air 2017 by the HEI, the GBD estimate…

If you are in Patna, there's no respite from "very high levels" of PM2.5 concentration (downtoearth,)

Patna continues to have BS III fuel and vehicular emission technology. Credit: gisella g/ Flicker
 Patna continues to have BS III fuel and vehicular emission technology.                                                                                                        
      With air pollution in Delhi getting all the attention, many Tier 2 cities, including state capitals, have similar problems of outdoor air pollution. The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) monitored air quality in Patna—the capital city of Bihar—in November 2016.  The CSE team was supported by Niranjan Agrawal, Secretary, Bihar Chapter of the Indian Academy of Pediatrics.

For the purpose of analysis, monitoring was carried out in two parts.

Part 1: Outer Patna

The Part I focussed on outer Patna and took the key arterial route towards Rajendra Nagar while approaching Patna from the southern side. The route taken for this was as follows:

Vishunpur Pakri – Hindnagar – Purbi Saristabad –…

Are Gujarat’s climate change actions ‘superficial’? (downtoearth)

Gujarat is touted as one of the most economically prolific states in India. The state is also known to prioritise good governance and transparency. Therefore, it is surprising to find conflicting views on the status of implementation of the state’s action plan on climate change, with state government officials touting their commitment for implementing climate action and a prominent civil society representative saying that the claims are false and most of the climate actions in the state are business-as-usual.

According to the Gujarat government, the state places high priority on actions to combat climate change, which is evident from the government’s recent announcement on allocation of Rs 25,000 crore for expenditure on climate change-related actions in the next 10 years. This positive rhetoric from the state government is not new, with Gujarat being the first state in Asia to start a department of climate change in 2010.

The effectiveness of the above actions, however, has been questi…

How to beat Trump on climate change? (downtoearth,)

One of the good things about the American democracy is that public can witness and participate in the senate hearings that confirm appointments of key functionaries in a new administration. Anyone can watch these hearings live or stream them online.

I know fully well that US President Donald Trump is an avowed climate change denier. Still, I am inquisitive about the people he is hiring in positions where they will call the shots on climate change. I, therefore, watched the hearing of Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State who will be the boss of the climate change negotiation team. I also saw the hearing of Scott Pruitt, the nominee to head the Environment Protection Agency (USEPA). If confirmed, he will decide the fate of Obama’s Clean Power Plan and other regulations to cut the emissions of greenhouse gases. I listened to what Rick Perry, nominee to head the Department of Energy, had to say about energy choices for Americans and climate change.

Tillerson: as slick as oil

Let me star…

We have missed the bus again (downtoearth)

There is not even a mention of the word pollution–or for that matter even environment—other than the plain semantic language use like agricultural environment or labour environment! Shocking! The notoriety around dirty air, deaths and illness has not made any impression on our Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. So we lose the opportunity of using fiscal signals to discourage polluting technologies, fuels and consumption. There are some green elements though—custom duty cut on LNG and lower levies on solar technologies. Railway will promote clean energy with solar-powered railway stations and also encourage waste-to-energy plants with bio toilets. Crop insurance scheme is important as farmers are now more vulnerable to climate change.

But last year (2016-17), the Finance Minister had at least made explicit reference to the “pollution and traffic situation in Indian cities” as a “matter of concern” and had introduced differentiated taxes based on pollution potential of technologies. But no…

How the warming world could turn many plants and animals into climate refugees (downtoearth, )

Finding the optimum environment and avoiding uninhabitable conditions has been a challenge faced by species throughout the history of life on Earth. But as the climate changes, many plants and animals are likely to find their favoured home much less hospitable.

In the short term, animals can react by seeking shelter, whereas plants can avoid drying out by closing the small pores on their leaves. Over longer periods, however, these behavioural responses are often not enough. Species may need to migrate to more suitable habitats to escape harsh environments.

During glacial times, for instance, large swathes of Earth’s surface became inhospitable to many plants and animals as ice sheets expanded. This resulted in populations migrating away from or dying off in parts of their ranges. To persist through these times of harsh climatic conditions and avoid extinction, many populations would migrate to areas where the local conditions remained more accommodating.

These areas have been termed …

Impact of climate change on wildlife far greater than we thought: study (downtoearth)

Have ecologists and conservation groups underestimated the impact of climate change on wildlife? A recent review of the scientific literature suggests so. In one of the first such attempts at quantifying the number of species whose populations have already been affected by climate change, a collaborative research found out that 700 bird and mammal species were affected by climate change.

“We are massively underreporting what is going on,” James Watson, director of science and research initiatives at the Wildlife Conservation Society, and also the co-author of the study.

Extent of threat

The research, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, estimates that 47 per cent of mammals and 23 per cent of birds on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (UCN) Red List of Threatened Species have been negatively affected by climate change.

A team of researchers from Australia, Italy and Britain went through 130 studies (published between 1990 and 2015) that documented a spec…

Village women clean only freshwater lake in Odisha, revive tourism (downtoearth)

Ansupa, the only freshwater lake of Odisha, is also one of the largest freshwater lakes in Asia. But lately, it has been dying a slow death. This horseshoe-shaped lake on the left bank of the River Mahanadi in Cuttack district has dried up and is filled with silt and filth much due to the apathy from the state government. Over the years, the lake lost its tourism potential as weeds gradually took over it.

Earlier, flood water from the Mahanadi used to enter Ansupa lake through a channel called Mayurinala, clearing the weeds in the process. But the natural de-weeding process stopped as the channel was deactivated due to the raising of Mahanadi embankment after the 1982 and 1985 floods.

Huge amount of sand, soil and debris-mixed rain water from the Saranda hill (western side) and Gunjar hill (north-eastern side) filled the lake with silt. The water level of the lake has reportedly reduced from 20 feet to eight feet.

The initiative

When Goonj, a Delhi-based NGO that undertakes disaster …

India’s Manas National Park illustrates the human dimension of rhino conservation (downtoearth,)

When Babulal Orang, a field staffer in the Manas National Park in the northeast Indian state of Assam, tried to stop a group of armed Bodo youths from entering into the park one evening in the late 1980s, he was threatened at gunpoint.

“Who are you to prevent us from entering the forest? Mind you coolie, this is our forest!” Orang recalls them shouting.

The word “coolie,” originally used by British colonial tea planters to refer to native unskilled laborers of Indian or Chinese descent, is still used as a slur in Assam. It is particularly directed at the Adivasi community, or the so-called “tea tribes,” the descendants of indentured laborers brought to the area from central India nearly two centuries ago.

By the time the incident took place, Orang had served the park more than a decade. It was the silent but passionate engagement of field personnel like Orang that won the wildlife sanctuary the status of a World Heritage Site in 1985. Still, his authority to guard the forest was ques…

First, justify jallikattu? (downtoearth)

Now that the dust has settled on Marina beach, where young protesters had camped to demand that the ban on jallikattu—a traditional sport of bull jostling—be lifted, let’s discuss the larger and more serious issue of culture, tradition and their practice in the modern world. For a practising environmentalist (like me), this is a contentious and highly polarising issue. There is no doubt that traditional cultures had empathy with ecology—people had learnt to live with nature, optimise its resources and rationalise its use during scarcity. This “sustainable use” was woven into rituals, practices and beliefs, and became part of cultures. But times change, and so do the approaches and sensibilities of society. How do traditions live on? Should they? Or, should the focus be on the reasons why we did what we did, and not on the ritual that has only become symbolic now?

I ask this when the country is learning (and definitely mispronouncing) a new word, jallikattu. The Tamils practise this t…

Time to Break in India (Hindu)

There is no point in hitching our bandwagon to what will soon be an obsolete patent game. We must think through alternative innovation incentives such as prizes and open source formats

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is at it again, admonishing us for lagging behind on the IP infobahn by refusing to bolster up our patent numbers, and ranking us close to the bottom on their insidious IP index, 43rd out of a total of 45 countries. India is even below Brunei, a nation known more for its rich royalty (not of the IP kind) than innovation/ technology, only because it signed up to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

And therein lies the biggest problem with the index: it is rife with methodological flaws. It is a fraudulently formalistic method of shaming countries into thinking that they are children of a less creative god, a point made by some of us in previous years where they ranked Togo too above India. And yet the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its IP wing, the ‘Global Intellectual Property Cen…

Planning for the people (.Hindu)

It has now become a truism that Indian cities are poorly planned and governed. Plans do not have complete sway over our cities since they are constantly violated and a significant section of the urban population lives outside “planned” neighbourhoods. Nevertheless, the state religiously performs the ritual of master planning every 10 or 20 years. Bengaluru is now in the midst of drawing up its master plan that will guide the city’s development till 2031. The planning process initiated by the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) has come under severe criticism from civil society groups. In public consultations held by the BDA last month, citizens were critical of the planning process and even questioned the legitimacy of the BDA to plan for the city.

The dissensions brewing in Bengaluru are symptomatic of the larger crises in the institutional framework for urban planning and governance in India. India’s urban planning system is seen as an undemocratic, non-participative and top-down…

The foul air we breathe (Hindu.)

A new international report has drawn attention to the deadly pollutants that pervade the air that people breathe in India, causing terrible illness and premature death. The State of Global Air 2017 study, conducted jointly by the Health Effects Institute and the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, quantifies further what has been reported for some time now: that the concentration of the most significant inhalable pollutant, fine particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometres or less (PM2.5), has been growing in India. The rise in average annual population-weighted PM2.5 levels indicates that the Centre’s initiatives to help States reduce the burning of agricultural biomass and coal in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi have failed. The directions of the National Green Tribunal to Delhi, which were reviewed last year, could not end open burning of garbage and straw, or curb the urban use of diesel-powered vehicles. It comes as no surprise, therefore, th…