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Archive for the ‘Climate Change’ Category

Next month, in New York City, the People’s Climate March will take place.  Organizers are hoping that a huge number of people will gather to raise awareness on the impacts of climate change.  There will also be a number of local rallies and marches.

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It does seem that more people are beginning to wake up and understand the impacts of climate change (I’m talking mainly here in the U.S., the epicenter of denial).  And there are many people and organizations around the world looking at solutions that will make a difference.  We as a global society are facing enormous problems, and in the face of droughts, floods, ocean acidification, heat waves and much more, the big picture is overwhelming, to say the least. But perhaps we can take solace in some initiatives underway that represent a chance to improve lives and the environment.

I’ve come across a couple of interesting projects in India that offer hope for the future.

One is a group in Jaipur, Rajasthan that is promoting organic,  roof-top gardens.  The Living Greens is an urban farming company that believes in roof-top gardening as a way to provide food and access to nature in urban areas and decrease food grown in polluted conditions.  Growing your own food is not only one way to provide sustenance, but also to reduce food insecurity.

Jaipur is a city of 3 million people (6 million in the surrounding area), in a very dry state.  Rapid urbanization in cities such as Jaipur is dramatically reducing groundwater levels and possibly even changing the climate and monsoon patterns. In Punjab – home of the Green Revolution – the drop in aquifers is alarming.  The success of projects such as this one by The Living Greens is critical if India and the rest of the world are to satisfactorily cope with a changing climate.

Watch the six minute video here to listen to what the local people have to say on how roof-top gardening is improving their lives:

 

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And then there is this story about bringing decentralized/off-grid electricity to some 400 million Indians who lack access to this necessity. It is especially important to help school children study at night with solar power rather than kerosene, which provides little light and is detrimental to people’s health. Solar, of course, is also a viable alternative to dirty fossil fuels.

The Sierra Club and other groups are doing a lot of work to raise awareness about the crisis of energy poverty in countries such as India and many in Sub-Saharan Africa and finding ways to support a transition to clean energy.

Watch “Harnessing the Sun to Keep the Lights on in India”:

 

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Lastly, I recently came across a story about the first “all-solar village” in Bihar, which is the poorest state in India. Greenpeace India, along with two other NGOs, completed  a solar-powered micro-grid that is bringing desperately needed light and power.

One farmer told Reuters that “Today, children are studying well and women are able to cook late in the evening. Villagers are getting many benefits from this venture, including commercial establishments.”  Another villager, Ranti Devi, a resident in her 70s, said, “We had a lot of problems in the past, but since the lights have been installed in our homes it has been easier for us to cook and for our children to study. We can walk around in the streets at night without any fear,” said.

We have a tough road ahead of us.  It’s encouraging to know that progress is being made that perhaps can change the tide in favor of taking action on climate change and also improve lives and protect the planet.

 

 

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The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report this week on the increasing impacts of climate change around the world.  While there is really nothing new in the report, it does underscore the urgency of addressing the issue.

India is one country that will be especially hard hit.  An article by Nita Bhalla of Reuters lists ten ways that global warming will affect the sub-continent.  In the face of great poverty, weak gender rights, habitat loss, endangered species and more, climate change will only make things that much more difficult.

As you read over the list below, bear in mind that supporting local communities, recognizing traditional knowledge and empowering women are some of the best ways to adapt, not just in India but everywhere (see my post on women and climate change).  The good news (yes, there is some!) is that many people and organizations are already finding ways to cope.  Check out the work of groups such as the International Development Exchange and Navdanya to get an idea of what’s being done, and be thankful they are out there.

How climate change will hit India:

1. More severe cyclones hitting densely packed cities

[photo credit: cdkn.org]

[photo credit: cdkn.org]

The five most populous nations occupying low-lying coastal areas are developing and newly industrialised countries: Bangladesh, China, Vietnam, India and Indonesia

Tropical cyclones will cause powerful winds, torrential rains, high waves and storm surge, all of which can have major impacts on society and ecosystems. Bangladesh and India account for 86 percent of deaths from tropical cyclones.

2. Lower crop yields

A rise in the amount of ozone in the troposphere, the lower atmosphere, since pre-industrial times has probably reduced global yields of major crops, by about 10 percent for wheat and soybean and three to five percent for maize and rice, compared with what they would have been without such a rise.

Impacts are most severe in India and China, but are also evident for soybean and maize in the United States.

3. Changes in breeding of river species

It is fairly clear that in India, changes in a number of climate variables including a rise in air temperature, regional monsoon variation and a regional increase in the frequency of severe storms, have led to changes in the behaviour of fish species in the River Ganga.

As a result, less fish spawn is available for aquaculture in the river Ganga, but the breeding period of carp has been brought forward and extended.

4. Less water, more energy consumption

Due to water shortages, water may require significant amounts of energy for lifting, transport and distribution and for the treatment needed to use it or rid it of pollution.

Groundwater accounts for 35 percent of total global water withdrawal and its use is generally more energy intensive than that of surface water, irrigated food production being the largest user. In India, 19 percent of total electricity use in 2012 was for farming, much of this for groundwater pumping.

5. Higher temperatures in cities

Some Indian cities that are particularly large and crowded will become Urban Heat Islands, markedly warmer than the surrounding countryside, as a result of climate change.

The current trend of increasingly frequent extreme events is expected to increase with climate change.

Some urban centres serving prosperous farming regions are particularly sensitive to climate change if water supply or particular crops are at risk.

Urban centres that are major tourism destinations may suffer when the weather becomes stormy or excessively hot, leading to a loss of revenue.

Indian rice farmer [photo credit: ccafs.cgiar.org]

Indian rice farmer [photo credit: ccafs.cgiar.org]

6. Livelihood pressures in rural areas

Climate variability and change interacts with, and sometimes adds to, existing pressures on living and working in rural areas, affecting economic policy, globalization, environmental degradation and HIV/AIDS, as has been shown in Tanzania, Ghana, South Africa, Malawi, Kenya and India.

Economic diversity of farming households within communities, in terms of farm and household size, crop choices and input use, will be important in determining the impact of climate change, as will social relations within households that affect production.

7. Tourism and recreation

One study combines a meteorological indicator of exposure with indicators of sensitivity and adaptive capacity, and uses this to rank the vulnerability of beach tourism in 51 countries. India stands out as the most vulnerable and Cyprus as the least vulnerable.

8. Human health

Extra costs will be incurred for treating additional cases of diarrhoea and malaria in India in 2030, depending on how greatly CO2 emissions rise.

9. Labour productivity

Higher temperatures are likely to impact work productivity, particularly in tropical and mid-latitude regions including India, Northern Australia, Southeastern USA.

10. Droughts and floods

More droughts and floods will intensify the pressure to send children out to work, impacting their education.

Indian women born during a drought or flood in the 1970s were 19 percent less likely ever to attend primary school than women of the same age who were not affected by natural disasters.

Studies in India have identified temporary migration as “the most important” coping strategy in times of drought in rural villages.

 

350.org event in New Delhi [photo credit: www. npr.org]

350.org event in New Delhi [photo credit: www. npr.org]

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I’ve come across two very interesting pieces on India recently that I want to share.

The first is a short set of photos taken by a British man originally born in Kolkata (Calcutta).  His name is Gerry Judah, and he is an artist now working with the international NGO Christian Aid to show how people are dealing with climate change.

In particular Judah attempts to show the every day struggles of poor people.  And especially the plight of subsistence farmers, who make up about 40% of the population, and will suffer the most from climate change.

Click on the link the UK Guardian article here for the pictures.

My favorite is photo number 7, of youth studying by solar lanterns powered by biomass, which in this case is cow dung.  Off-grid electricity is the future for the 400 million Indians living without electrical power (worldwide, a billion and a half people don’t have electricity).

Women of the Self-Employed Women's Association, discussing impacts of climate change

Women of the Self-Employed Women’s Association, discussing impacts of climate change in Ahmedabad, Gujarat.

Switching gears, the other article I found both interesting and inspiring was in the New York Times, “From Arunachal Pradesh, a Tribe Offers Lessons in Ecology“.  Brian Orland writes about the climate and development challenges facing this rice growing region.  Will the local people  “salvage the system of cooperative leadership and reciprocal labor-sharing that has delivered them such bountiful paddy harvests for the past 500 years? Or should they seize the opportunities of higher education, political party patronage and diversification into cash crops?”  This is a question facing many communities in India and around the world.

Orland mentions the creation of an organization called Ngunu Ziro, or “Our Ziro.” To help adapt to climate changes, Ngunu Ziro supports women’s self-help groups for income generation and organizes eco-camps to teach Apa Tani children about their natural environment. Its current campaign, dubbed “Zero Waste,” encourages ecologically friendly waste management practices like segregating trash into its recyclable components.

The coming environmental and cultural changes will be challenging, to say the least. There is a lot we can learn from tribal, indigenous and native peoples, not to mention artists, if we listen.

 

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Mention India and many contradictory images are often conjured up – poverty and Rajput castles, rich and exotic foods and begging mothers and children, the Himalayan mountains and Rajasthani deserts.

But there is no contradiction on the importance of the Indian monsoon. Indian agriculture and much of Indian culture are intertwined with the seasonal rains. And the future outlook on the reliability of monsoons does not look promising.

The monsoon months of June to September bring three-quarters of India’s annual rainfall. Yet alarmingly, more experts are predicting that due to climate change, the coming decades will bring erratic monsoon seasons in South Asia. This is bad news for Indian farmers, especially rural farmer communities. It is also bad news for food and water security in a country destined to be the world’s most populous by 2030.

A study in the journal Environmental Research Letters from researchers at Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany found that the monsoons are likely to be 40-70 percent below normal levels and fail more often over the next two centuries. And between 2150 and 2200, the study predicts the monsoons could fail every 5 years.

Specifically, the study’s authors found that rising temperatures and a change in strength of a Pacific Ocean circulation pattern known as the Pacific Walker circulation in spring could cause more frequent and severe changes in monsoon rains.

In 2009 monsoon rains were 22 percent below average and Indians faced widespread drought. The country had to import large amounts of sugar, pushing global prices to 30-year highs.

India is a predominantly rural country, with over 600 million of its 1.2 billion citizens relying directly on agriculture. Nearly two-thirds of Indian fields are fed only by rain.

Krishna Kumar Kanikicharla, a scientist with the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, told the Yale University blog Environment360 that in a country where more than half of the population works in agriculture, “Livelihoods, water security, and energy security are all tied to volume and timely arrival of monsoon season.”

Women will feel the brunt of changes to the monsoon the most. In India, nearly eighty percent of women work in agriculture (mainly as smallholder, rural farmers) and will have to cope with droughts, floods, and erratic rains.

Adding to the water scarcity concern is the status of aquifers, a heavily relied upon source of water in India that is at risk. The groundwater is being pumped primarily for irrigating agricultural lands and as a source of drinking water; aquifers are being depleted faster than can be replenished by nature.

The past 200 years of ever increasing reliance on fossil fuels is altering the climate in ways yet unknown. The pattern is not likely to change unless the world commits to renewable, alternative energy sources and less carbon intensive solutions. So much already exists and only needs the will of governments to push new energy policies forward.

The time to act is now. The International Energy Agency just issued its annual World Energy Outlook 2012 report that states the world is failing to move towards a more sustainable path for energy, as it continues its addiction to fossil fuels in the face of climate change and growing water scarcity.

There are organizations in India working to empower communities – especially women – via small-scale and organic farming methods, as well as traditional measures to cope with droughts. One example is the Green Foundation, a grassroots organization that works to empower south Indian women to build resilient communities in the face of climate change and sustain rural livelihoods without damaging the ecosystem.

Another example is GRAVIS, based in the state of Rajasthan. The organization promotes sustainable rural development via capacity building, community and women’s empowerment, social justice, and protecting the environment. GRAVIS empowers rural desert communities via a traditional source of water storage, called taankas.

The consequences for continuing business as usual are great. In 2012 the monsoon came late, threatening the livelihoods of millions of people. Imagine if it doesn’t come at all. The effects of an erratic monsoon season would be felt beyond India of course, from creating climate refugees to a decline in tea production to threatened global security. Empowering communities and implementing local efforts are a key part of the solution. The overall solution though, is reducing global fossil fuel usage and emissions, which is the challenge facing the whole world.

[Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/friskodude/1177241/]

Original posted at 6degreesofpopulation.org

 

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Women, Food Security and Climate Change Training Program (photo: WEA)

The 101st International Women’s Day is March 8th.  Despite often hearing about existing obstacles to women’s well-being, there is much to celebrate this year.

Climate change, of course, is an enormous threat to just about every topic one could name.  In India, though, people are taking a holistic approach to the problem, including tapping into traditional knowledge, especially that of women.

I’ve written before on the work of the Women’s Earth Alliance(WEA) and its initiative to improve livelihoods and food security of small and vulnerable women farmers.  WEA works with a local Indian environmental organization, Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group, helping women farmers start or strengthen organic farming practices and diversify their food production.  And just as importantly, they connect women farmers, who share best practices with one another and start campaigns to create change in their communities.

According to WEA, the women they are working with are experiencing much success:

  • Soma and Thumpa in West Bengal have guided women farmers to set up 20 nutrition gardens, as well as install improved cooking stoves that reduce carbon emissions;
  • Manju Devi in Bihar has continued her training on organic farming practices and is encouraging others to plant multi-purpose indigenous trees. “My goal is to see women stand on their own feet and improve their self-reliance,” says Manju who set up her own organic kitchen garden as a demonstration site;
  • Kusum Lata in Uttar Pradesh has worked to ensure that rural women have job cards registered under their names. This enables them to get fair wages under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act that provides 100 days of employment to rural households willing to do public work-related work, including water conservation and reforestation.

Compare this to a recent report by the development NGO Action Aid and the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, that found that more than 80 percent of smaller farmers – who contribute to half of India’s crop production – will be affected by climate change.  One farmer quoted in the report said that “The pattern of rainfall has changed.  It is so scattered that at times it rains but fields remain dry.”

And just last week Indian researchers reported that India’s monsoonal rains are becoming less frequent and more intense.

I heard similar stories from women farmers with whom I met in India a few years back. All over the world we are seeing how changing precipitation patterns are affecting water and food security.    That’s why it’s more important than ever to empower women.

I also saw this news article by Aditi Kapoor, writing on how “Innovative measures by women farmers across India are helping several poor families adapt better to climate change and keep hunger at bay.”  Kapoor interviewed a woman farmer from Uttar Pradesh, who said “Earlier, we could not produce enough food for a year because our village would get water-logged by the flood waters. Now, using early maturing paddy varieties and organic manure to revive soil fertility, we can at least eat for all 12 months from the same piece of land.”

What is needed in India and around the world, in terms of agriculture, is support for seed and grain banks, ecological farming training, appropriate technology, education, and economic empowerment for Indian women and farmers.  This will enable them to improve their food and economic security, preserve the environment and traditional knowledge, build political will, and better their lives.

It sounds to me like we have lots to celebrate this year!

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We hear a lot about consumption in the developed world, and rightly so.  As an American, I know that the majority of my fellow citizens and I consume an unsustainable amount of goods and resources.  This needs to change, as the planet cannot support a growing global population of American-level consumers.

But of course, as developing countries grow, prosper, and move into the middle-class, they want the things that we in the developed world want and have.  Cars, computers, smartphones, televisions, lattes and most everything else under the sun. It is a contentious issue, one that has stymied the global climate talks, amongst other things.  We can only hope that we soon find a path that we can all live with and still be content.

What does the situation in India look like?  People often associate India with poverty and rural villages, but that’s rapidly changing.  It is projected that by 2030, approximately half of India’s households are projected to be in the middle class.  That amounts to close to 600 million people.

India's Growing Middle Class

[Graph:http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/30/world/asia/indias-middle-class-appears-to-shed-political-apathy.html?pagewanted=all]

The outlook for India is that growing urbanization, a young working-age population, and higher income will result in increased spending, resulting in a consumption boom over the next two decades.  No wonder Wal-Mart is banging on India’s doors (it currently operates in India as a joint venture with an Indian conglomerate, but foreign investment rules could be on the verge of change).

I started this blog because I find India fascinating and believe that what takes place in that country not only affects the world but can provide a learning experience for us all.  How can we bring 400 million village people who lack electricity into the 21st century without creating huge amounts of carbon emissions?  Like China, India is heavily reliant on coal but is also moving ahead with renewable energy initiatives.  What happens when more and more Indians move to urban cities?  How will India balance growth, poverty, and the environment?  And what about tigers?

I follow and associate with groups that are doing amazing work in India.  These organizations, many focused on women (Navdanya, WEA, IDEX, GRAVIS), and others (SELCO, Husk Power Systems), give me hope that as Indians make progress they will also find a sustainable path to prosperity.  Technology will play a key role, but so will tapping into historical/ancestral knowledge and traditional best practices.

India has existed for a long time.  I’m willing to bet that there is a lot we can learn from the world’s biggest democracy.  At the very least, it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

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Women Farmers Training 2011 (photo: WEA)

Nearly eighty percent of Indian women work in agriculture, and less than seven percent of have land tenure.

Small farmers livelihoods in India are threatened by industrial agriculture, which degrades the environment and negatively impacts the role of women in agriculture. Women have traditionally been seed keepers who preserve the biological diversity and health of crops.

The good news is that many people are working to protect and improve the lives of women farmers. I attended a talk recently given by Rucha Chitnis of the Women’s Earth Alliance (WEA) on the “Women, Food Security and Climate Change Training” Program, which works to connect rural women farmers and help them overcome the many challenges they face, with climate change and food security at the top of the list. This program focuses on ecological farming, rights education, traditional knowledge, just livelihoods, and adapting to climate change.

WEA does incredible work, and this program promotes the idea that women are not victims but instead are the ones holding down the fort and finding ways to improve lives. Through peer-to-peer/farmer-to-farmer exchanges, women come together around empowerment, self-reliance, and to learn from one another.

One training participant, Manju Devi, is a single mother of three from Bihar who has trained over 144 women in five villages in organic farming and seed saving. She has also set up her own organic kitchen garden site, which she uses for demonstrations.

Another Indian woman farmer’s success story was that of Ram Ratti. A decade ago she was fortunate enough to receive training from the Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (and now WEA’s partner in the Women, Food Security and Climate Change program) in sustainable farming practices. Today she grows over 30 varieties of fruits and vegetables and has trained 200 women in organic agriculture and seed saving. Ninety of these women are now smallholder organic farmers with a diverse group of crops cultivated from local seed varieties.

Both of these women understand that sharing women’s knowledge is an integral part of food security, especially in the face of climate change. And they are making use of women’s intimate knowledge of farming, natural pesticides, and medicine. In Rucha’s words, these “women are reclaiming “green” from the green revolution.”

Ultimately, it is women who are the primary caretakers of natural resources. By empowering them with property rights, economic opportunities, and decision-making authority our environment and communities will be better off. I know some of the women farmers I met in Maharashtra a couple of years ago talked about these same things.

The theme of the presentation and of the women’s training revolved around unity, sharing and empowerment. These are concepts that we should all use to guide our lives in light of the challenges facing the planet.

Countries all over the world can raise women’s status by educating girls and by improving women’s access to credit, land, jobs, and training. This is exactly what WEA’s India program is doing, but taking it a step further by bringing women together to learn from each other. And they are having great success.

Watch here WEA’s short video on the training, and get ready to be inspired!

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