Sunday, 1 June 2014

Raise Your Voice!

Of the many commemorative days that dot our calendars, 5th June – World Environment Day – is probably one of the most significant. Promoted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Environment Day (WED) is the UN’s chief annual event for spreading awareness and inviting action with regard to issues concerning the environment.

The theme for WED 2014 focuses on Small Islands and the impact of Climate Change on them. The official slogan for this year’s event is 'Raise Your Voice, Not The Sea Level’. This theme is an invitation for global action to combat climate change which, as we know, is causing a rise in sea levels and consequently posing a threat to people living in coastal areas and especially on small islands.

This theme is extremely timely given the fact that we have already begun experiencing the disastrous effects of rising sea levels. Just recently the news channels reported that the Carteret Islanders of Papua New Guinea have become the world’s first entire community to be displaced by climate change. They are the first official refugees of global warming. The 2000 inhabitants of this small island have been forced to desert their home because of the ever-rising waters that threaten to overtake their homes and crops. This island, that has been their home for generations, will be totally submerged by 2015! 

Well, this is but the first such community to be displaced because of climate change – the writing on the wall prophesies that many more are to follow! According to scientific estimations and environmentalists’ predictions, there could be between 150 to 200 million climate change refugees by 2050.

And so, as the WED 2014 theme says, it is time to raise our voices, to be part of the worldwide movement that is fighting against the causes of global warming. For a start, look around your neighbourhood, identify organizations or campaigns that are engaged in these issues and lend them your support. The seas may be rising, but if we can put together an ocean of committed environmental activists, we definitely can turn the tide!  

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Cooling Down or Heating Up?

The summer season is here and the predominant thought in our minds is ‘how to stay cool’? While some years back, we would have considered a variety of traditional ways to beat the heat, today the most common option, at least in our cities, is to install an air conditioner in the house.  Not only does it actually cool down your home, metaphorically too it is ‘cool’ to install an appliance like this – owning an air conditioner pushes up your social status!

Today, in India, we can actually see the rapid increase in the use of air conditioners all around us; the statistics too corroborate this fact. For example, last summer (May 2013) Panasonic announced that it had crossed the milestone of one million air conditioner sales in India since entering the country in 2008. In other words, a single company added a million air conditioners to our country in just 5 years!   

But are air conditioners really ‘cool’? The unfortunate answer is no! Believe it or not, air conditioners are one of the big contributors to global warming. So while they may cool down our homes, they are actually heating up the planet!

Refrigerants — the fluids that absorb and release heat efficiently at the right temperatures — are the key to air conditioning. Until recently, the most common refrigerants used in air conditioners were chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). However, the discovery that CFCs were major contributors to the depletion of the ozone layer led to the creation of the ‘Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer’, which came into effect in 1989. The Montreal Protocol has managed to substantially reduce, and in some countries even to eliminate, the use of CFCs.

The CFCs were then replaced by hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), which have a greatly reduced impact on ozone depletion. Today, from HCFCs we have moved on to HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons) which have no impact on ozone depletion because they do not contain chlorine. Unfortunately, the bad news still continues! It has now become known that HFCs are super-greenhouse gases with a high potential to contribute to global warming.

The frightening part is that we now seem to be trapped in a vicious circle. We use air conditioners to fight the heat, air conditioners contribute to global warming, global warming is pushing up temperatures and making summers extreme, the hotter it gets the more we turn to air conditioners – this is a story that can have no happy ending! 

The only solution is to break out of this cycle by saying no to air conditioners and returning to the traditional ways of staying cool in the summer. For hundreds of generations people managed happily without air conditioners, why can’t we? 

Sunday, 23 February 2014

E-Waste for Environmental Conservation

Isn't there an old saying about viewing problems as opportunities? Well, that exactly is the inspiration behind GreenLine’s ‘e4E’ campaign.

E-waste (electronic and electrical waste) has now become a major menace the world over. Or more precisely, the disposal of e-waste poses a serious challenge because it contains a number of toxic substances such as lead and cadmium in circuit boards; lead oxide and cadmium in monitor cathode ray tubes (CRTs); mercury in switches and flat screen monitors; cadmium in computer batteries; polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in older capacitors and transformers; and brominated flame retardants on printed circuit boards. E-waste also includes plastic casings, cables and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) cable insulation that release highly toxic dioxins and furans when burned to retrieve copper from the wires.

Probably what exacerbates this problem is the general lack of awareness regarding e-waste. Many have not even heard this term! Most people treat e-waste as any other waste – they pop it off to kabadiwalas (informal scrap dealers), or just dump it in the municipal garbage bins. From the municipal bins, when this e-waste is land filled or incinerated, it poses significant environmental problems. At the landfills, the e-waste leach toxins into groundwater; and if it is incinerated, it emits toxic air pollutants. Similarly, the kabadiwala sells it to informal recyclers, where again it causes serious occupational and environmental implications, because of the crude ways in which it is recycled.

Significantly, since May 2012, there is a regulation in place (E-waste Management and Handling Rules, 2011) that makes it mandatory to dispose off e-waste only with licensed e-waste handlers, who in turn have to ensure the safe disposal of this waste. But we are oblivious of this rule, and even if we are aware of it, how do we even find these licensed e-waste recyclers?

Well, this brings me back to the ‘e4E Campaign’ that is being promoted by GreenLine across Mumbai. The key objectives of this campaign are:
 Raise awareness about the e-waste issue
 Introduce citizens to safe e-waste disposal through licensed e-waste recyclers
 Support vulture conservation through the proceeds of the campaign

To raise awareness and to introduce citizens to safe e-waste disposal, GreenLine is organising e-waste collection drives in localities, institutions and companies.  The e-waste collected through the campaign will be bought and safely disposed by RecylceKaro, and the proceeds from the same will be donated to Sahyadri Nisarg Mitra for their Vulture Conservation Project.

Well, there you have it! The problem of e-waste has been converted into an opportunity to support a much needed conservation project. E-waste for environmental conservation – e4E!

If you would like to join this Campaign or to organize an E-Waste Collection drive in your Locality, Institution or Company, please:
 Call 022-24174468
 Email:

Friday, 1 November 2013

Fuming at Festivals

No, I am not a killjoy, but I am definitely a supporter of ‘kill crackers’ – well, because crackers kill.  With Diwali just around the corner, I’m sure we are looking forward to an enjoyable festive season, not a fumes filled festival that leaves us all fuming! 

It’s rather strange, we are not a stupid people, and we know perfectly well the dangerous chemical cocktail that firecrackers are composed of – we can probably rattle off the names of the hazardous stuff they put into the crackers and the ailments they cause – so why then do we spend thousands of rupees (even when the economy is down and inflation is up) on actually harming ourselves? Forget about burning a hole in our pockets, it’s more like they've burnt a hole in our brains!

Probably what we need is a cultural change. Talking about culture is treading on explosive ground, people get all upset and uptight the moment you say something unsavoury about culture. But yes, I repeat: we need a cultural change. Culture is not a static sacred norm; it is a way of life that evolves over time. And in the course of this evolution not everything that becomes part of our life – ‘our culture’ – is right or good or perfect. Firecrackers, for example – to believe that firecrackers are an indispensable ingredient of our festivals, that’s a myth we need to correct, a custom we need to call a halt to.  

Like I said earlier, culture evolves – it’s definitely time to move on from crackers to a more sensible, safer and happier expression of our celebrations. Flowers, lanterns, stars, sweets, gifts, singing, dancing, we have a vast variety of options to choose from. If we introduce a change today, someday soon we’ll be able to say: “No, there are no firecrackers in our celebrations, crackers are just not part of our culture!”    

Friday, 18 October 2013

Meet the Change-makers

While we have scores of people moaning about the mess that Mumbai is in, we have a few others who put their proverbial ‘best foot forward’ and take those necessary steps on the road to changing the situation.  One such group of change-makers is the ALM leaders from Bandra. Their relentless solution seeking attitude is indeed inspiring. Just this morning one of the newspapers carried an elaborate article on how they have been tackling the garbage issue in their locality, especially the composting of the wet waste that they have begun. Here are a few excerpts from that news item, quotes from some of the ALM leaders who are spearheading the project.

Christopher Pereira: “In ALMs meetings, where everyone complains about garbage issues in their neighbourhood, I say I do not have any problems. When they ask me why, I tell them about the compost system. I do not need to wait every day for the BMC truck to take away my garbage. You come and see, I tell them.”

Maria D’Souza: “We have appointed a helper to collect wet garbage from all the flats in the building and deposit it in the tumblers installed in the garden. He gives me updates of residents who do not segregate it and I personally meet them and request them to. Everyone sees that the system works, so no one poses any objections.”

Denzil Rego: “These boards are important to spread awareness about the cause. When members of non-practicing societies see it, they want to find out more and approach us. We constantly monitor societies and buildings that follow composting as a regular practice. There are a few who put up the board, but do not practice composting. In such cases we cannot mollycoddle them, they have to be equally involved in the process.”

Shama Kulkarni: “The BMC has set up a rule where they will fine buildings that do not segregate their garbage. I think it is time they take this seriously; it is the only way people will take garbage separation and composting seriously. They spend a big chunk of money in transporting waste to landfills. This system of composting will take the load off them, if everyone follows a two-bin policy, segregating their wet and dry waste. In the past year, a few households, societies, schools, and institutions in Bandra have not had the need to use the daily BMC garbage trucks. This is a good sign.”

It’s a good sign indeed and hopefully other localities will soon follow their example!