Posts Tagged ‘Sierra Club’

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.


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:




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”:




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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Indian coal miners (photo: libcom.org)

India is about to move ahead with coal mining in the heavily forested central-eastern region of the country.  This, despite the fact that the industry has had a negative impact elsewhere, destroying large tracts of forests in critical wildlife corridors.  According to Greenpeace India, mining is threatening tiger habitats in Maharashtra and cutting off the forest corridors tigers use to roam.

Though India is pushing ahead with renewable energy initiatives, it is still very reliant on dirty fossil fuels such as coal.  As reported by Businessweek, a group of Indian ministers agreed to allow companies to seek approval to mine coal in some dense forest areas, overturning an environment ministry ban.  The decision will benefit companies such as Coal India, the world’s largest producer of the commodity.

Coal mining plans in this area had been on hold since 2009, due to efforts by then-Minister of the Environment and Forest, Jairam Ramesh to preserve wildlife and trees.  Ramesh had been blamed for delaying mine expansion. Yet in June 2011, one year after declaring the coalfields of the Chhattisgarh region would not be open to miners, Ramesh granted clearance. (Shortly thereafter he moved, or was forced out, and became Minister of Rural Development)

As the coal industry pushes to open up more areas, it goes without saying that it will be unfortunate for tigers and other species, as well as local communities.The Sierra Club and other environmental organizations are especially concerned for the state of Andhra Pradesh.  There, the scale of coal expansion has left local communities to face a violent onslaught of land acquisition and displacement, corruption and intimidation, and toxic levels of pollution.

No country will get off fossil fuels anytime soon.  But hopefully more attention and government resources can be focused on solar power to seriously begin the transition off of coal and oil.  Earlier this month India announced that it would generate 2 GW (2,000 MW) of solar power by March 2013.

Furthering solar and other renewable sources would be a win-win for India, and the health of its communities and the environment.

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photo credit: cleantechnica.com

India, along with many other countries, is heavily reliant on coal. Up to 40 percent of India’s current CO2 emissions come from coal fired power stations. Last year alone India approved 173 coal fired power plants. There’s a lot of pressure on the Indian government and businesses to sustain the current level of approximately 9% economic growth, and coal is fueling a good part of this.  But for how long, and at what cost?  Aside from the environmental impacts alone, the price of coal in the global market has been skyrocketing.  And the Sierra Club reported today that the increasing costs are halting construction of a number of coal power plants.

Much of the coal lies underneath India’s dwindling forested and rural farm lands. And the domestic supply of coal isn’t enough; the country could soon end up importing up to 57% of its future coal supply (India currently imports coal from Australia, Indonesia and South Africa).  This could also have serious implications for the U.S., which is considering exporting coal from Wyoming via ports in the Pacific Northwest.

Indian states such as Orissa have paid a high price for mining.  Orissa is extremely poor and suffers from environmental degradation.  Communities there do not benefit economically from coal mining and are often displaced from their lands due to mining.  Andhra Pradesh is another state with high poverty levels that is investing in coal, and is considering building a whopping 63 coal powered plants.  Last month the UK Guardian reported that Andhra Pradesh plans to build a new fleet of coal-power stations that could make it one of the world’s top 20 emitters of carbon emissions.

Despite promises that the coal-generated electricity will benefit Andhra Pradesh, opponents say that the power will be exported to large cities and heavy industry, leaving the local communities to deal with toxic waste and pollution.

Yet there are signs of hope.  Many people and organizations are actively promoting renewable and  off-grid alternatives, especially for the over 400,000 Indians who lack access to reliable electricity.  Providing them with viable, renewable alternatives is the key for a sustainable future.  Small scale, decentralized clean energy will also deliver it to rural citizens quicker and cheaper.

It’s bad enough to continue relying on coal when it’s a domestic source; it’s even worse to have to import dirty fuels when other options abound.  Fortunately, innovators are up to the task, with Indian entrepreneurs coming up with creative and sustainable initiatives:

  • Creating mobile phone enabled “pay-as-you-go” solar home system (SHS) technology (Simpa Networks)
  • Using waste rice husks as fuel to produce off-grid renewable electricity for rural villages (Husk Power  Systems)
  • Installing over 115,000 solar lighting systems in rural households and creating a rural financing program to overcome financial obstacles (SELCO India)

Slowly, countries are beginning to realize it is time to move away from expensive coal and invest in renewable energy. Keep your eyes open for amazing entrepreneurial initiatives coming at us from all over the globe.

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Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day!  I spent my evening listening to some incredible and inspiring speakers talk about women taking charge of their lives, from India to Cambodia to Oakland, CA.  There is much to be hopeful about all around the planet.

Earlier in the day I came across a story about the Barefoot College in Rajasthan, India.  It is said to be the only college fully powered by solar energy.  This makes complete sense; it’s Rajasthan after all, where the sun shines practically all year.  According to the article I read, it is also the only college training illiterate rural women from remote villages from all over the world.  Through a combination of sight, sound and color, these women have become solar engineers and have solar electrified their own villages.  And the college supports other sustainability projects in addition to solar.

Over 190 grandmothers between the ages 40 and 60 have brought solar electricity to  nearly 11,000 houses in over 100 villages spread over 28 countries, saving nearly 1.3 million liters of kerosene from being used as lighting (thereby reducing pollution and improving health).

Watch a great video that originally aired on CNN on how the school brings in women from around the world to learn about solar projects.

In 2009 the Sierra Club recognized the Barefoot College, led by social entrepreneur Bunker Roy, for applying practical, traditional knowledge and community-owned sustainable technology to reach the desert state’s poorest residents.  He brings women from many countries to be trained at his college.  Why women?  In Roy’s opinion, men are more untrainable, restless, and are more apt to leave the village for work in the city.  By training women, especially mature and “gutsy” women, the village and community benefits.  It’s a bottom-up solution that works.  Maybe we should send some (most?) of our congressional officials to this school to learn about the real world, before they gut the U.S. foreign aid budget and programs that support organizations such as this.  I don’t know if the Barefoot College has ever received U.S. funds, but it represents the type of initiative that we need more of in the world.

I’ll stop before I get off on a tangent lamenting pitiful U.S. support for international aid and projects.  I’m just glad that there are people in the world with ideas and visions that are making our world better.  This is just one of many projects focusing on empowering women, which I believe is key to improving our communities and environment.

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Recently the New York Times ran a thought-provoking editorial called The War on Women, addressing cuts to women’s health programs, much of it due to the “A word” – abortion.  It’s hard to believe that here we are in 2011 and elected officials want to turn the clock back on women’s rights and health.  We should be investing in the health of our citizens, not cutting back family planning services, which include crucial screenings for breast and cervical cancer.

The proposed legislation would also drastically eliminate funding for international family planning services and reinstate the global gag rule, a measure that prevents U.S. aid to overseas organizations that even so much as give lip service to abortion.  It is your right to support or not support abortion.  But in my experience, organizations working on reproductive health and family planning do so much more than provide advice on abortion.  The work these NGOs do is crucial to improving the lives of many people and communities.

The following is an excerpt from an article I wrote for the Sierra Club, after I returned from a Club-sponsored study tour to India; this was one of many groups with whom we met dealing with reproductive health:

The purpose of the Aastha Project (Aastha means “to care about.”), sponsored by Family Health International, is to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and the incidence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) amongst sex workers and their partners, thereby reducing transmission of HIV amongst the 70,000 sex workers – and their children – in two districts of Mumbai. This is achieved through condom promotion, screening and treatment for STIs, advocacy, and community mobilization which is street-based, home-based, brothel-based, and includes transgender, and male sex workers. STI services are provided to the workers and their partners via static clinics, satellite clinics, and monthly health camps/community clinics.

The sex workers come from all over India, driven by the desperate poverty in states like Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh. Many are illiterate and come from lower castes. Or they come from abroad, by choice or by force, mainly from Nepal and Bangladesh, sometimes lured by the prospect of employment or sold by parents needing money.

Groups like Family Health International understand that education and community involvement is key – that they need to do more than just distribute condoms to alter behavior. Empowering the sex workers themselves helps reach out to those most at risk in a highly stigmatized community.

HIV/AIDS must be dealt with in many countries, and it is part of family planning services. Organizations such as FHI do critical, life-changing work.  And they rely to some extent on funding for their projects from U.S. federal funds.  They will suffer due to U.S. political maneuvering.  We need to deal with the whole picture, and that means supporting education, jobs, and healthcare, and putting an end to restrictions on aid to people who desperately want to improve their lives.  Reproductive health is about more than abortion.  It is about empowering and improving lives, which is good for society.

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