Saturday, 27 April 2013

Citizen Science

Citizen Science has been gaining popularity over the past few years. Of course, Citizen Science itself is a fairly new concept, with Rick Bonney – a Director at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, New York – credited with coining this term in the 1990’s. Citizen Science, which involves the general public in research studies, is a win-win for both; it provides the researchers with extensive data, while at the same time it is an exciting opportunity for the public to actively engage in scientific observations and environmental conservation.

The ‘Big Butterfly Count’ is probably one of the best known Citizen Science projects presently underway. Promoted by Butterfly Conservation – the organization headed by the celebrated Sir David Attenborough – this project was launched in 2010 to assess the health of U.K.’s environment through a survey of butterflies. Members of the public were invited to spend just 15 minutes on any bright day counting butterflies, and were then asked to upload their data. Last year (2012) close to 27,000 people participated, counting almost 24,500 butterflies and moths across the U.K. (

India has also seen some interesting Citizen Science projects recently. ‘Citizen Sparrow’, spearheaded by BNHS, asked the public to spend a few minutes documenting the presence or absence of sparrows in localities familiar to them. This project received 10,906 observations from 5,808 people at 8,609 locations. Although the project officially closed on 15th June 2012, people are still invited to send in their observations. (

Two other ongoing projects are ‘MigrantWatch’ and ‘SeasonWatch’. In MigrantWatch, participants are invited to keep a regular watch for one or more migratory bird species around their homes, work places, or other spots that they regularly visit. They are asked to note the date of the first and last sightings, and to then submit this data online. For those who want to go a step further, they can keep a detailed daily log of their sightings of migrant birds. (

SeasonWatch aims at studying the changing seasons by monitoring the seasonal cycles of flowering, fruiting and leaf-flush of common trees. Participants are invited to select a tree and to spend about 5 minutes once a week monitoring it. Their observations, which they then upload, will enable the researchers to better understand how climate change is affecting the lifecycle of trees. (

Many of us want to contribute our mite towards environmental conservation, but have no idea how to do so. Well, Citizen Science presents the perfect opportunity. And with the holiday season presently on, it’s the perfect time to embark on this adventure. So find a project that interests you and get going! 

Monday, 22 April 2013

Angry Earth Day!

Anger has been the starting point of many a great world changing movement. Take 22nd April 1970 for example. The 20 million people who protested on the streets of America that day were an angry lot – they were angry about the polluting factories, toxic dumps, oil spills, loss of wilderness and a host of other environmental scourges that were destroying their land and their lives. And their angry demonstrations not only led to a swift slew of environmental legislations, but it also saw the birth of what we now celebrate annually as Earth Day. And yes, 22nd April 1970 marked the beginning of the modern environmental movement.

The past several months have seen an angry India. Angry about corruption. Angry about rape. Angry about child abuse. Angry about price rise. Angry about political callousness. But environmental concerns? No anger. No passion.

At a recent workshop I attended, the speaker – the Mumbai bureau chief of one of India’s leading newspapers – pointed out that environment news rarely finds space in the media, since it is considered “soft news”. So does this also imply that those who engage in environmental issues are ‘softies’? Now that’s not just embarrassing, it’s downright insulting. But the frightful part is that it may be true.

Environmental activism has today been largely reduced to symbolic gestures or even to mere tokenism. Joining candle light processions, organizing beach cleanups, making a feeble attempt to segregate waste – that often seems to sum up our entire environmental effort. Soft solutions to tough problems. Obviously much is not being achieved. And so, environmentalists are hardly ever taken seriously.

As we celebrate Earth Day, it’s definitely a good moment to recapture some of the passion of the seventies. And to get angry again!