The 18th March Project – Post 7

July is Plastic Free Month.

Is it even possible to live without plastic? The keys I’m tapping on, the gallon tank my drinking water comes in, the cover of my lunch tiffin, the card I use to pay for (almost) all these things – these are all plastic.

I look around my house, and it’s filled with things I can’t reuse, many of which I’m not even sure can be recycled.

Plastic has been a boon to humanity – it’s made hygiene easier to achieve, or at least sold us all on the belief in hygiene and sterilisation. It’s made everything available in a package that is convenient to carry around. It’s disposable, and we don’t need to worry too much about cleaning it.

Or so we believe.

The thing about advertising is, if done right, it can make you believe anything.

And we’ve been made to believe that nothing can replace plastic, that we have no alternatives.

Hold on, you say to me, you want us to go back to a time before Plastic, when we couldn’t sample Triscuits from the US or a flavor of Kitkat that is sold only in Singapore? Let me just take a look in your fridge and see how many different sauces and spreads you have that are definitely not local produce, and maybe don’t even come in glass jars.

And I would have to fold in upon myself in shame. Of course, I’m as bad a consumer of plastic and the non-renewable as most people. I reuse when I can, and I segregate my plastic waste (and cardboard and glass, from time to time) from my landfill-bound rubbish. But I don’t make as many conscious decisions as I’d like to, or as I believe a steward of the Earth should.

There are people in the UAE, where it is very easy to live a consumerist lifestyle, who are actually making Zero Waste and Permaculture work.

How are they doing that?!

This month, I’m going to buy less, and buy better.

The highest spend for me, after rent, is groceries. So what can I do to reduce the amount of plastic I bring home? First of all, I should buy only what I need. No point in adding food waste to the cocktail that makes up my carbon emissions. Second, reuse packaging if it can’t be done without: got cheese in a container that could be used again? Why not use it again?

Third, look for places that are willing to put items in containers that belong to me and don’t look like the generic clear plastic cuboid. I feel ashamed/shy to ask the staff if they can/will put the 100 grams of olives or mozzarella in my little Tupperware or metal tiffin. I don’t think most grocery stores in the UAE have reached that level of consciousness yet.

Well, one must begin somewhere. And at some time. So why not here and now?

The 18th March Project – Post 5

I’ve just finished reading An Era of Darkness: the British Empire in India by author, politician, diplomat/ Indian candidate for the post of UN General Secretary a couple terms ago, Shashi Tharoor.

It’s his take on why the British owe the subcontinent.

He definitely makes a number of valid points.

Did the British do a lot for India? No. Neither did the Portuguese, or the French. (At least the French considered the people in their colonies ‘citizens’. The Portuguese did too, for a split second, a little bit before Salazar grabbed power.)

Do the imperialist nations (including but not limited to the Dutch, the Belgians, the Spanish, and the Japanese to some extent) owe the rest of the world? Yes.

And you know the easiest way to begin making up for it? Don’t charge us for clean technology. Give it to us for free.

Why? You ruined indigenous industry so your own would flourish, and decimated and degraded indigenous populations for centuries because they didn’t fit in the neat little box of your insular culture(s). You can at least help us protect the planet while raising our people out of poverty. Let’s face it, they are probably in it because you moved populations around to suit your needs, and messed up our economies. (Fun fact: India’s economy was equal to roughly a quarter of the global economy in the early 18th century, but is at maybe 9% today, nearly 70 years after Independence.)

No, the people who live in and legislate for the ex-imperialist countries are not the same ones who came and took over something that wasn’t theirs. But you’ve benefitted from your ancestors’ rapacity.

Let’s make the world a better place now, because we can’t undo the past.

Let’s have some form of reparations.

Day 37 100words100days Can organic food support a world population of 9 billion?

Does writing 410 words make up for two days of not writing at all?

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Organic food is food that is produced without the use of fertilizers, pesticides, and other artificial (read: not naturally occurring) chemicals. Is it healthier, safer, more environmentally acceptable? That depends on whom you are talking to. There is no consensus.

The contention is that this kind of food, the kind our not-too-distant forebears ate, will not be sufficient to feed a population that shows no signs of slowed growth. It will not be sufficient because it will not be able to resist pests, bear an adequate quantity of fruit/grain/etc. It will not be sufficient because we don’t currently have enough land to grow low-yielding crops on, and we would need to turn over more soil to meet demands.

How true is this?

Apparently, the difference between “conventional” yields and organic yields isn’t quite as bad as we have been led to believe.

We would still need to grow more food. Urban farming is one way to do that. Cities are the largest consumers of food. Of course they would be, with the number of people who are city-dwellers, including me. Why not have more farms within city limits, on rooftops, in courtyards, and plants in pots on verandahs?

In rural, suburban or exurban areas, practices like kitchen gardening, multicropping, crop rotation and community farming need to become more prevalent.

As for the fish and meat we eat- free range as far as possible. I know the industrial poultry farms and mega moo-houses won’t send their animals out into the world. Maybe if we ate less meat there wouldn’t be a need for quite so many methane-producing, resource-intensive farms. (It’s just a thought. Don’t throw steak at me.)

I’m not just being an idealist here. Nor am I saying that feeding 9 billion is possible with the land the world currently has under the plow. We need to look at new methods, and grow accustomed, once again, to smaller farms and more humane production processes. We also need to address food waste, over-fishing, and land use, because the discussion would be incomplete without them.

We have a little time: the 9 billionth is expected to be born around 2050. Within my lifetime, I will have seen the arrival of 4 billion people (the 5 billionth is estimated to have arrived the same year as me, the 6 billionth was born in 1999, the 7 billionth about 3 years ago). That is a whole lot of mouths to feed. But I think it can be done; yes, even with organic food.

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Day 38: Pick a hymn and write a secular story that could have it as a theme song/soundtrack element

Day 30 100words100days Careers in sustainability

If I get a chance to study full-time again, I definitely think sustainability is something I would choose to pursue.

I recently audited a MOOC on Coursera by Lund University- Greening the economy: Lessons from Scandinavia, during which I learned a lot about the policies and practices that have come to shape the world of the future. It was, without a doubt, worth the hours I spent on it.

199 words

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The UNEP has come up with the following simple definition for a green economy: “one which is low carbon,resource efficient and socially inclusive.” To paraphrase, this economy is one that the planet can sustain and that promises growth for the people of this planet.

There are quite a few possibilities open to job-seekers, all across the green spectrum from the formal qualifications-required, standards-to-be-upheld kind, to the grassroots, experience-is-the-best-teacher sort, and everything in between.

Armed with the right information, you could join a multinational company’s CSR/sustainability team and help them offset the GreenHouse Gases (GHG’s) they are producing. You could be a consultant and analyse the production processes of different products in an effort to find ways to make them more efficient for the planet. You could help companies, campuses, communities go carbon neutral.

If you are more of the hands-on kind, you could run an urban farm, or help set up alternative-energy generators. You could build cutting-edge tech out of recycled materials. Speaking of recycled materials, you could be involved in the whole wealth-out-of-waste revolution which encompasses everything

The world is waiting. For a list of  green jobs that includes facts and figures and high-quality images, go here.

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Day 31: Navigating the internet for a senior citizen.

Day 13 100words100days Make a list of ways the average person can be an Earth steward

Ahhhh, the how-to. I didn’t want to put a number in the title, because I like to be contrary on occasion. 375 words.

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Are you a current inhabitant of Planet Earth? Congratulations! You have the necessary qualification to be an Earth steward. All you need is a little dedication to this funny little spheroid and her people, and you are good to go.

You require only minimal training to fulfill your duties. Much of the knowledge that will help you do your job well can be gained from other people through such means as talking to them, reading books and articles they have written and understanding why some of them refuse to get involved.

Detailed below is the job description. You may perform all or some of these duties, as you are able to.

  • Educate somebody about the benefits of looking after the environment. Make sure you do this properly. Beware: you don’t want to come across as bossy, because this will detract from the positive work you are trying to do. (#TrueStory)
  • Recycle, upcycle. This includes accepting gifts that are recycled or upcycled. Money is sometimes a better gift than a poorly-assembled, though thoughtful, present. Related: Do not shame a recycler.
  • Reduce, but always bear in mind that you are also a steward of the economy. Consume responsibly.
  • Accept that not everyone wants your lifestyle. Keep telling them that they have to accept that you don’t want theirs either. Dialogue is important, as is setting a good example.
  • Encourage policy makers and businesses in your village, town or city to adopt practices that are good for the planet. Every little bit counts, but the big bits count more.
  • Prepare to do a little to a lot of research. Some suggestions: Calculate your carbon footprint and work on reducing it. Find out what a carbon footprint is.
  • Invest your money in clean technology and programmes encouraging clean development. A solar charger for your phone, perhaps.
  • Don’t waste, especially what is on your plate. If you can’t eat it in the restaurant, take it home.

Regarding your appraisals- future generations of animals (including humans and humanoids) and plants will judge you.

As for remuneration, you will be paid in clean air and water, a prosperous green economy, and not so many natural disasters (if you’re lucky). A possible, but not promised, bonus: you might get to save the world.

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For tomorrow, Day 14: Write a sonnet . Or two.

Oh dear. That will not be easy.