Greta Thunberg on Democracy Now

September 23, 2019

These Gen-Z post-millennials could pose a bigger problem than the millennials to our traditional economic thinking…especially this girl.

She has given up animal products, she has given up flights, she advocates public transport, and what is worse, she says, she has almost given up buying anything new – even dresses.

A wonderful interview with Greta Thunberg. She still has the charm of a child – her eyes twinkle with mischief when she narrates how she hoodwinked her dad on the script for her radical speech at the UN; and yet it is easy to forget she is still a young girl.

She has profound words on climate justice. ‘…those who have caused the climate crisis the most are those who often are going to be the least affected, and the opposite: Those who have contributed to it the least are most likely the ones to be most affected. And therefore, we must make sure that, we can help these people and that it is not so unfair in everything.’

Our children are going to ask these questions to us. What answers will we give, or as Greta asks, what actions are we going to take? When I told my daughter about the Chandrayaan lander crash, her two questions were, ‘Will anything happen to the moon?’ and ‘Will they pollute the moon too?’

Watch it. The challenge starts with getting the pronunciation of her name right. (தமிழில் கிரியேட்டா துன்பரியா என்று எழுத வேண்டுமோ?)

Water wars of Arizona: The New York Times

July 24, 2018


This IS one of the most pressing issues facing us. While we keep watching and measuring what comes from above our heads, we care so little about what happens beneath our feet.

I recently saw a table that gave the proportion of various sources of freshwater. Hardly 0.4% of our freshwater is available in rivers, lakes and such. About 69.6% of freshwater is locked in polar glaciers and mountain peaks. 30% is available as groundwater. Much of this is non-renewable. (This essay somewhat confirms these figures.) And yet, we neither have self-restraint nor regulations when it comes to using groundwater.

It is not easy to transport water. But food can be transported across continents. And food is water.

If this is the case in US, it is scarier in India, where drilling beyond 1000 feet is common practice now. Would we realise before it is too late that groundwater is not private property, that not all groundwater is renewable and that accessible groundwater is not inexhaustible?

But yeah, these doomsday-mongers be damned. Monsoon is pouring this year. Our children will desalinate. Seed clouds. Turn the planet inside out. Find another planet. Or whatever.

Excerpts from the essay on The New York Times:

/These enormous corporations were descending on the valley for the same reason homesteaders had a century ago: the year-round growing season and the lax regulation. Compared with those for rivers and lakes, few laws govern the extraction of groundwater today. Aquifers across the globe are beginning to quietly dry up under the compounded strain of increased food production and a two-decade stretch that now includes the 10 warmest years in recorded history, sending farmers plumbing deeper for deposits of water./

/Aquifers are unimaginably complex and incredibly fragile; once tapped, they can take more than 6,000 years to replenish./

/Once, it had been possible for ranchers to develop natural springs into watering holes using only a shovel. Now, after watching water levels drop 100 to 300 feet in 35 years, some farmers wondered how long they could go on./

/The mission’s primary purpose was to look at ice-sheet depletion, but over the next several years Dr. Jay Famiglietti, the senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and his team noticed that many of the most significant sites of water loss were actually below ground. Of the planet’s 37 major aquifer systems, they discovered, 21 were on the verge of collapse. In the Great Plains, farmers had exhausted a third of Ogallala’s potable water in just 30 years. In California, the Central Valley aquifer was showing signs that it could drop beyond human reach by the middle of this century. But the worst declines were in Asia and the Middle East, where some of the planet’s oldest aquifers were already running out of water. “While we are so busy worrying about the water that we can see,” Famiglietti told me, “the water that we can’t see, the groundwater, is quietly disappearing.”/

/Squeezed by drought and tightening regulations, large farms started to seek out lesser-known pockets of cheap water. In rural Arizona, where there are essentially no groundwater regulations governing irrigation, they found an ideal destination. “What the smart money is doing is looking around and saying, ‘Where else can we go where there is no regulation?’ ” Robert Glennon, a professor of water law and policy at the University of Arizona and the author of “Water Follies,” told NPR in an interview. “And that is Arizona.”/

/Arizona was particularly attractive to Middle Eastern farmers. A policy of unregulated pumping on the Arabian Peninsula had, in 40 years, drained aquifers that had taken 20,000 years to form, leaving thousands of acres fallow and forcing Saudi Arabia and others to outsource much of their agricultural production. In 2014, a Saudi Arabian-owned company, the Almarai Corporation, bought 10,000 acres in the town of Vicksburg, northwest of Sulphur Springs Valley, planting alfalfa to ship halfway around the world to feed Saudi cattle. Then, a United Arab Emirates farming corporation, Al Dahra, bought several thousand-acre farms along both sides of the Arizona-California border. These purchases were perfectly legal, but many residents felt these newcomers were essentially “exporting water.” At least once, the Sheriff’s Department in Vicksburg deployed five deputies to stand guard at a town-hall meeting./

/Hydrogeologists use the phrase “groundwater mining” to describe situations in which the rate of water withdrawal exceeds the rate of replenishment. For some, the metaphor offers a stark lesson. “If we know we’re mining the water, let’s just say it,” said Richard Searle/

/Local farmers were never required to put meters on their wells, he pointed out, which meant that nobody knew exactly how much water was being pumped, much less how much was left. “Long term, people say we should search for a solution,” he said, “but they don’t want to be the ones to suffer.”/

Trampling over sane voices

July 16, 2018

It is horrifying, what we are doing in the name of development. We may ignore (at our own peril) the voices that challenge the current mode of development, the voices that utter the E-word. Disagree with them. Debate with them. Prove them wrong. But why suppress them? Why torture them? Why demean them?

A society raised upon the tears and blood of good people is not worth living in.

via Nityanand Jayaraman

Mughilan has been in jail for over a year. A committed activist who took on the sand mafia (politicians of all parties in other words), fought against the Koodankulam nuclear plant — which rarely functions — and has lent his might to root out corruption in public life, Mughilan has been dumped in solitary confinement in Madurai in a mosquito infested cell. Shame on you Government of Tamil Nadu that you cannot respect honesty, decency and courage. Mughilan’s fight is for all of us, including the undeserving people in politics and business.
#FreeMughilan /

How many farmers does the land need?

March 14, 2018

People speak with such mathematical certainty about the necessity of reversing the ratio of farmers to non-farmers in India.

We can’t argue with Math, can we? Ah, if only they don’t conveniently ignore the ecological factor and the human factor. What will it mean for independent small farmers to shift to servile jobs? What will it mean for the future of humans (I think the earth will bounce back to health, after you know what), when more people are producing and consuming things that use up more resources that cannot be replenished? Are we going to employ them all in service industries? Will it not drive up consumption of luxurious items, and therefore, wasteful production of things? And what will the service industry service, if there is no equivalent manufacturing sector, either in India or abroad? We talk about America and China. Not only are their GDPs much higher than ours, their defence spending is also proportionately higher. Already, our military spending is more than that of Japan, Germany, UK and France, and almost as much as Russia, all with higher GDPs. There is surely some unarguable maths behind this too – x% of GDP should go to defence. Nobody can ask, why can’t it remain constant or be reduced? (Pakistan! China!) With more people needing to be employed, jobs have to be created. A bulk of those jobs might be in needless military activities. Orwell has got pretty much everything right, so far. I see no reason why he’ll be wrong on this count.

The economic benefits of shifting small farmers away from farming will be offset by the ecological and sociological damage it will cause.

I don’t profess any mathematical equation. But I’ll nevertheless say this with a logical certainty that I sound no more unscientific than those with that magical equation.

Perhaps, a better idea will be to give a perennial paid vacation to all those small farmers and their descendants. (Never mind the farmer tag on my profile, it’s part fake; I’ll opt out.) The farmers and low-waged farm workers have subsidized our luxurious lives so far, and it is a good way to return the favour, and also do ourselves a favour. They will do far less damage by simply not producing anything (as against joining the industrial/service economy). Anyway, as per those mathematical equations and prophesied technological innovations, we will have astronomical productivity in the industrialised farms and automated industries – it can surely support half a billion loafers.


The reason I am on such ranting mode, if it seems like one:
1. From Manmohan Singh and PC to every urban intellectual with a PC or a laptop have been saying this for long. Two on my timeline this week.

2. The open well at our farm dried up a few months ago. Now the bore-well at the farm, where we have rented a house, has also dried up. It is the main source of water there for us, our elderly landlords, the cattle and the trees. They re-bored with no success. They just drilled another borewell for over 1350 feet, with no success. For now, they have taken the cattle to the neighbour’s farm, who had this year drilled a 600 feet borewell and a 1300 feet borewell with some success. In the last two weeks, our landlords have already bought two tanks of water at Rs.1500 per tank (for residential use). There is panchayat water also but the quantity that reaches their farm is too little. Yes, worst case, a few pots can be carried from the village pipe, a few hundred meters away. We’d been staying back at Coimbatore, reluctant to go there and burden them by seeking our share; reluctant to see their broken hearts, though our presence may offer the lonely couple some solace. And therefore, I had time and internet connection to ramble.

The elderly couple I’m talking about are medium farmers (based on land holding). They became medium farmers because they couldn’t afford to remain as big farmers. They sold their 30 acre land and bought 6 acres and built a modern large house on it with attached bath and western toilets (renting out the old tiled house with Indian toilets outside to us). And those bloody western toilets need some 15 litres of water everytime they pee or poo. I don’t know if the villagers of yore had knee problems, but they do have now, and they too, those who can afford, need those western toilets. And we have made it such a shameful act for the rural rich to even pee outside, in a village, on their own farms, when there is not enough water. Nor have we helped them build toilets that consume minimal water.

But, anyway, I can’t argue with math, and rain. The small farmers don’t. The interest income on FD is already way higher than farm income. Land appreciation is what was holding them back. The land prices seem to have stalled in many areas. They will sell out. One by one.

The unusual allies and a rightful protest

September 10, 2012

Kudankulam protestors have continuously been achieving the impossible – of bringing together the Congress, BJP, Communists, DMK, ADMK and a majority of the common people and intelligentsia on a single issue. They might even succeed in getting the parliament to convene for a special session to condemn them.
All of them talk about the foreign hand. Subramanium Swamy and Chidambaram are talking the same language. But the foreign hand is still refusing to be revealed except outside wild allegations.

All of them talk of the protesting fishermen being instigated by a small coterie of leaders. That the 10000+ protestors have even been hypnotized and brain-washed by that coterie. Ah, if only that were possible!
A protest that remained totally non-violent for over an year has turned partially violent today, when the main actors had to disappear under pressure from police. I wish it had remained non-violent despite the police highhandedness and I wish they had not disappeared – a Gandhi would have called off the protest if the protestors turned violent. But it doesn’t yet take away anything from the genuineness of the protests.

All of them talk of how the livelihoods of the locals will not be affected by the nuclear plant and its wastes. Oh yeah! I am amazed that people can pretend to believe this.

The Tamilnadu Congress President comments on TV that Kudangulam and Idinthakarai do not a Tamilnadu make. (hmm..that is the same attitude that Congress has towards Tamilnadu on Srilankan issue, that a Tamilnadu does not an India make). But the plant is coming up in Kudankulam and not in the whole of Tamilnadu. The rights of the people of Kudankulam to protest against the impact on their livelihoods is far more important than the power-crisis-induced support offered by the rest of Tamilnadu and India.

I see merit in Udhayakumar’s repeated assertions that the people of Kudankulam are not responsible for the power crisis -it has been caused by the administration due to decades of misrule and misplaced priorities. The protestors cannot be asked to pay for the faults of others. And they do not have the obligation to find the solution for the crisis, which is not caused by them.

All of them talk about the adamance of the protestors in not changing their opinions despite advice from all kinds of so-called experts. Why should they change and how can they, when they believe they are right?

(Cross-posted from Facebook)

Thank you,Mr. Tata, but where do I park my car

January 11, 2008

Mr.Pachori and Ms.Sunita Narain can scream on top of their voices about environmental pollution and global warming. I, the common man of India, don’t give a fig. I need a respectable means of transport and I am glad you thought about it, Mr.Tata. I thank you profusely for it.

I am tired of driving my scooter behind a stinking garbage truck blowing black CO2 on my face. I am tired and scared of driving with my kids and wife on a single bike in this unbelievable traffic. As you have rightly pointed out, it might rain anytime and I may not find a place to take shelter.

I am tired of hanging on the footboards of overcrowded buses and gasping for my breath in the hostile crowds of the local trains. And worse, I never know, when my pocket will be picked.

I am tired of haggling with the auto drivers over every extra penny that they demand or fleece through faulty meters.  

I will listen to the likes of Pachori when I see merit in what they say. I will gladly purchase a CFL lamp instead of a bulb, not just because it is environment friendly, but because it is a better product. It is brighter and cheaper in the long run. It makes sound economic sense. 

I am not going to listen to Mr.Pachori on this issue. When the whole world has been driving a car for years, I have rarely even got into a taxi. A car has been the collective dream of our family right from the time of my grandparents. When I am offered an opportunity to buy a car, I dont want to be denied the chance to realise my dream, with talks on global warming and environmental pollution. Where were all these arguments when Henry Ford made those gas guzzling black cars available to the then common man in America? 

I am all for your car Mr. Tata.  By my standards, it is still an expensive indulgence, but not entirely out of my reach. I will somehow manage to pool in my savings and take a loan and buy your car. I will somehow manage the extra outflow for fuel. Maybe I will use public transport more often and take out my car only when I really need it or go out with my family, to compensate for the additional expense (this must be music to Mr.Pachori’s ears). 

But Mr.Tata, I have only one apprehension. I stay deep down in a narrow gully – my bike just about squeezes through. Where do I park my car? 

Where is all the green gone…

December 28, 2007

Going to my grandmother’s house always used to be an interesting journey years back. It was an extension of the city, or a suburb if you wish to call it so. But for some strange reason the rural mindset and the atmosphere was intact inspite of the proximity to the city. Everybody knew everyone around them, which was a clear distinguishing factor to establish that the city had not swallowed the erstwhile village completely.

My protectionist parents never taught me (not necessarily prevented me) to mingle with all the kids there. I was choosy in selecting my acquaintances with my interactions limited to my cousins and a couple of friends (the number came down to one ultimately). I therefore never got to indulge in the rural game of goli-gundu, which must have been an ancesteral game of golf played with marble balls that needed to be dropped into holes on the ground. I still remained a city boy, playing cricket inside my grandmother’s house with my solitary friend – there was enough space there for the two of us, and watching TV – it was ironical that television came to my grandmother’s house before we could buy one.

Now coming away from my digressions into a distant memory to the actual story that I wanted to tell, there were trees – lots of them. There were huge neem trees in the backyard of my grandmother’s and at the frontyard of my friends house. Sandwitched between these two neem trees the spacious varenda of my grandmother’s was always blessed with a gentle breeze. There was a a fairly large garden at my aunt’s place nearby with various varieties of trees on which we could climb and play. A sturdy but flexible guava tree was my favourite – it was apt for the ameteurish adventurer in me, who could never dare to try climbing the tall cocunut trees.

Zooming ahead to the present, the erstwhile village is now stripped naked of its green outfit. Shorn of all trees, it has gained an eery look. Small houses have mushroomed all across. There is not a single space for even a shrub to shoot up. The spacious breezy verendas are gone. The last of the neem trees had been felled during my recent trip. My bedridden grandmother who spent most of her life under the breeze of the neem tree was complaining about the malfunctioning fan. There is no trace of the garden at my aunt’s house which had now shifted to a bigger version on the garden.

The plight of these semi-rural semi-urban areas is getting aggravated un-noticed. Even the cities have some of the greenery left. The ultra-rich apartments have to boast of in-house parks and gardens besides the swimming pools and gyms. The ministers have to plant trees now and then at strategic locations. The NGOs and ‘responsible’ corporates adopt roadside parks. But who cares about these sub-urbs which are aping the cities with more vigour than the cities themselves? Trying to get rid of the rural identity, they are gaining a city-slum-sort of makeover. Depleted of all the trees that adorned every rural house and devoid of any kind of urban planning, the garbage and stink are pervading throughout the streets.

To silence my awakened conscience, I bought a Philips CFL lamp (my first) for my grandmother’s house, thereby making my contribution to control the global warming! And of course, the screeching fan also needs some attention.