The Great Indian Tragedy

According to the backgrounder by The Economic Times:

A lethal plume of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas escaped from a storage tank at the Union Carbide pesticide factory in the early hours of December 3, 1984 in the central Indian city of Bhopal.

Government figures put the death toll at 3,500 within the first three days but independent data by the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) puts the figure at between 8,000 and 10,000 for the same period.  The ICMR has said that up to 1994, 25,000 people also died from the consequences of gas exposure.

Union Carbide settled all liabilities related to the accident, including cleaning up the site, with a 470-million-dollar out-of-court settlement with the Indian government in 1989 after years of wrangling about the amount… The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB), an umbrella group of survivors’ organisations, says most survivors received 25,000 rupees (500 dollars) to fund a lifetime of hospital visits.

Yesterday, after a 25-year-long wait, the final verdict was out.

A quarter of a century after the worst industrial disaster in history, a Bhopal district court sentenced seven people, including businessleader Keshub Mahindra, for two years in jail under sections of Indian law usually applied to road mishaps.

The Monday verdict didn’t mention Warren Anderson, the Union Carbide global chief during the disaster. Anderson, who was arrested in Bhopal in 1984, was freed on bail on assurance that he will return. Four years later, the CBI chargesheet named him, and in 1989, the chief judicial magistrate of Bhopal issued a non-bailable warrant for his arrest for repeatedly ignoring summons. In 1992, Anderson was declared a fugitive by the Indian courts.

The Indo-Asian News Service reports:

The United States has ruled out reopening any new inquiry against Union Carbide after Bhopal court’s verdict in the 1984 Bhopal gas leak that killed more than 15,000 people, hoping it would bring closure to the probe into the tragedy.

“Obviously this was one of the greatest industrial tragedies and industrial accidents in human history,” US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Robert Blake told reporters on Monday.  “But I don’t expect this verdict to reopen any new inquiries or anything like that. On the contrary, we hope that this is going to help to bring closure,” he said…

Pritish Nandy seemed to hit the nail on the head when he tweeted:

We have simply stopped respecting the lives of the unknown any more. No number of deaths interest us, unless the dead are famous.

Bhopal will no longer be remembered for the crime: 6 lakh lives destroyed. It will be remembered for the injustice meted out 25 years later.

Today, I am ashamed to call myself an Indian.

Someone wise once remarked, “There is only one question – How to love this world?”

Update : 16 June 2010

Amar Hingorani, an advocate in the Supreme Court of India, posts a shocking and brilliant editorial in the Hindustan Times in which he informs us that: “The law empowering the Indian government to represent Bhopal’s gas victims was unconstitutional. In effect, two guilty parties negotiated with each other.”

 

See Also : Union Carbide’s official statement

World 2.0

I chance upon The Artist Farm recently, and soon find myself reading post after post on a wide range of interesting topics.  One particular post that stays with me is the one about World 2.0:

World 2.0 is about realizing and deeply internalizing that we (especially westerners) have gone beyond day-to-day survival, that we have crossed this finish line.  (Close your eyes, take a deep breath, slowly exhale… and read that line again).  Seriously, take a second to really feel this and realize it.  Yes, you worry about your finances or getting a bigger house… but you’re not concerned about having enough food for the winter or dying of malaria.  Appreciate this moment that all of our ancestors collectively achieved.  It is amazing.

World 2.0 is about appreciating this moment, and then turning around for the first time to look back at the millions of people still running the race…  It is about looking inside and asking the hard questions about what we see, what we have created, and what we have left behind.

Then, one of my favourite blogs – Mnmlist – posts a very cogent essay on Society, Reimagined (and includes a generous helping of solutions to the problem, too!) :

We’ve gotten fat, tired, sick, deep in debt, disconnected from our kids and other family members, divorced, separated from our neighbors. We’re polluting and causing global warming, all in the name of money and work and profits and buying. This seems broken, to me.

But what’s a better way of living? A society reimagined, built around people and a love for our environment and living and working and playing together, a love for being outside and playing and being active, a love for doing things and spending time with people rather than for buying things and working to support that buying habit.

And finally, a friend – Joy Dutta – posts about the “dumbing down of society” on his blog:

Look at the senseless media explosion and the priorities of news consumption by the masses. A celebrity scandal is perceived to be ten times more important than the serious geographical, social, political and economic issues we face today. Why ? Because the former is a no-brainer entertainment while the latter demands some maturity. It is all about popular culture now…

When I look at the kids here in the west it makes me sad. No genuine curiosity, no manners, no respect for elders. Despite free public schools, the abysmally low standard of curriculum and lack of discipline from parents are making them far from the generation we need in the future…

Once again, I get the feeling that the Universe is conspiring to tell me, and you, something… Which of these matches your world-view.  And, more importantly, what do you plan to do about it?

True Cost of Stuff

From the Master of Simplicity comes a pathbreaking post on a new blog, appropriately titled ‘mnmlist’. 

Here’s just a minimal extract…

But there’s more to buying less. Way more… The cost of purchasing an item just scratches the surface.

… It now occupies valuable real estate in our homes (or offices), real estate that could go to living space, or real estate that we could give up if we had less stuff and a smaller home. This is real estate that’s really expensive, btw: we pay exorbitant prices to own or rent a home, and every square foot of that home costs us more precious time that we spend working to earn the money to pay for that real estate. And that’s just for rent or mortgage. Add in the cost of power or gas to heat or cool that home, the cost of maintaining the home, and the time we spend maintaining and cleaning and decluttering and organizing that home and the stuff in it.

And yet, we’ve still only scratched the surface. The item, if it’s electronic, requires power. All the time. The item needs to be maintained. Switched on and off, cleaned, oiled, and caution taken not to break it. These are more precious seconds, precious dollars. If it’s wood or metal or glass, it might need to be polished. It might break a bit and need repairing. We have to store its warranty somewhere, and not forget about that (more mental cycles spent). We might have special tools for it, cleaning products, accessories. All of those require space and care and money.

And yet, we’re not even halfway there. I’ll spare you the rest of the narrative and just make a list…

If you’ve ever longed for a simpler life, even for a moment, read this today.

Saving Your PC

I was surprised to read on TechSoup about the environmental impact that PCs have :

According to the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, manufacturing one desktop computer and monitor requires 530 pounds of fossil fuels, 48 pounds of chemicals, and 1.5 tons of water…  A report from United Nations University indicates that building a computer takes five times more energy than that computer will use throughout the rest of its life; therefore, extending the life of your PC by two years can make a huge difference in your organization’s overall environmental footprint.

Even if you’re not particularly concerned about the hole in the sky, I’m sure you will appreciate low-cost ways to get a little more life from your computers. 

Here’s a list of things you can do before you give up on it completely:

  • Software Fixes – Maintenance tools, Virus prevention, Open source
  • Role Change – Test machine, Spare parts, Thin client
  • Hardware Upgrades – More RAM, New hard drive, SSDs?
  • New OS – Less demanding open-source OS
  • Refurbishing / Recycling / Donating

TechSoup’s excellent writeup has all the details, with ample links to online resources that can help you today!

Save the PC…  Save the world…

350

Why is the number 350 so important?

According 350.org :

There are three numbers you need to really understand global warming, 275, 390, and 350.

For all of human history until about 200 years ago, our atmosphere contained 275 parts per million of carbon dioxide. Parts per million is simply a way of measuring the concentration of different gases, and means the ratio of the number of carbon dioxide molecules per million other molecules in the atmosphere. 275 ppm CO2 is a useful amount—without some CO2 and other greenhouse gases that trap heat in our atmosphere, our planet would be too cold for humans to inhabit.

Beginning in the 18th century, humans began to burn coal and gas and oil to produce energy and goods. The amount of carbon in the atmosphere began to rise, at first slowly and now more quickly. Many of the activities we do every day like turning the lights on, cooking food, or heating or cooling our homes rely on energy sources like coal and oil that emit carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. We’re taking millions of years worth of carbon, stored beneath the earth as fossil fuels, and releasing it into the atmosphere.By now—and this is the second number—the planet has 390 parts per million CO2 – and this number is rising by about 2 parts per million every year.

Scientists are now saying that’s too much – that number is higher than any time seen in the recorded history of our planet – and we’re already beginning to see disastrous impacts on people and places all over the world…  Propelled by the news of these accelerating impacts, some of the world’s leading climate scientists have now revised the highest safe level of CO2 to 350 parts per million. That’s the last number you need to know, and the most important. It’s the safety zone for planet earth.

So what should you do?  How can you “fix” the problem of climate change or global warming single-handedly?  Can you really make a difference? 

Turns out, you can.

See Also : An Inconvenient Truth

e-Waste : Little Known Truths

I chanced upon a Guardian story of May 2008 entitled ‘Breeding toxins from dead PCs‘ that described how children are dying to clear up the developed world’s discarded computers:

Thousands of discarded computers from western Europe and the US arrive in the ports of west Africa every day, ending up in massive toxic dumps where children burn and pull them apart to extract metals for cash.

The dumping of the developed world’s electronic trash, or e-waste, is in direct contravention of international legislation and is causing serious health problems for inhabitants of the shanty towns that have sprung up amid the smouldering dumps in Lagos and Accra.

Campaigners believe unscrupulous scrap merchants are illegally dumping millions of tonnes of dangerous waste on the developing world under the guise of exporting it for use in schools and hospitals. They are calling for better policing of the ban on exports of e-waste, which can release lead, mercury and other dangerous chemicals.

Now, it’s not uncommon to read press articles of this nature, from time to time.  However, I was most concerned to uncover some little-known facts about Technology and its relation to the environment and to society at large:

The illegal trade in e-waste is highly lucrative. It is possible to extract more gold out of a tonne of electronic circuitry than from a tonne of gold-bearing rock. But illegal dumping is putting at risk charities and other organisations that donate second-hand equipment to the developing world.

… When you look at the whole product lifetime of a computer 75% of the environmental damage is done before the computer is switched on for the first time,” he pointed out. “It is the production, the mining, the factories producing the kit and the use of toxic materials – that is where the environmental damage is done. So if we do not make the producer responsible for dealing with these environmental issues we are never going to get a redesign of computers; we are never going to get computers that are produced in a more environmentally friendly way.

The Guardian article raises a number of questions for which there are no easy answers…

Know your World

Thanks to a link from one of Atanu’s posts, I discovered the amazingly powerful and insightful data graph of GapMinder on the state of the World and its evolution since the 1800s.

Whether it’s birth/death rates you need or cellphone usage per 100 people, CO2 emissions per tonne or air accident deaths, forest land in sq. km. or unemployment rates in women, this one visual has absolutely every thing on it!

It’s an extremely powerful and useful way to represent data, and you should consider spending some time clicking on the X-axis title and choosing various indicators, to see how they play out.  Mouse-over on the chart or map will also give you added info on any statistic.  Plus, there’s plenty of help to choose from, in case you feel overwhelmed.

GapMinder World’s site describes the tool as a “fact-based world view“.  It simply doesn’t get any better than this…

The Big Picture

I must confess, as someone who cares about the environment, when I first read about the concept of Earth Hour, my immediate reaction was not quite positive.  After all, could one hour of switching off non-essential lights really make a difference?!  But, when you think about it, doing so wouldn’t hurt either.  And, if the result of this effort was only a bit more awareness among earthlings, even that would be a step in the right direction.

Whichever way you feel about the event, you won’t be able to deny the beauty in these photographs taken from urban landmarks across the globe, showing the ‘before’ and ‘after’ effects of Earth Hour 2009… 

Here’s how The Boston Globe’s “Earth Hour 2009” page describes its effort:

Started in Sydney, Australia in 2007, Earth Hour quickly grew into a global observance. More than 1,000 cities in over 80 countries observed Earth Hour 2009 on Saturday March 28th, as homes, office towers and landmarks turned off their lights for an hour starting at 8.30 pm local time to raise awareness about climate change and the threat from rising greenhouse gas emissions.

Collected here are a series of before-and-after photographs – which (starting with the second one below) will fade between “on” and “off” when clicked.

Let me state that again, since I know not everyone reads the whole intro here – starting with image #2 below, click on the image to see an animated fade between “on” and “off”. (This effect requires javascript to be enabled.)

Have fun!

Two Earths

I was browsing through a local financial daily – LiveMint – when an interesting headline caught my eye: “Two Planets for Greed“, it read.  And, here’s what it had to say…

According to the latest World Wide Fund for Nature Living Planet Report, humanity’s current “ecological footprint”—or impact on the earth’s services—exceeds the planet’s regenerative capacity by about 30%. The report adds that if the present scenario prevails, “by the early 2030s we will need two planets to keep up with humanity’s demand for goods and services”.
 
India’s footprint, at 2.2 times its biocapacity—the potential of its living resources to supply the demands made by its population—is only marginally lower than China’s, at 2.3 times, but more than the US’, at 1.8 times. This, despite the fact that all three feature in the list of eight countries that account for 50% of the world’s total biocapacity.
Naturally, I headed to the WWF website to find out more.  And, the news was as disturbing as the original writeup had suggested:
 
The world is heading for an ecological credit crunch as human demands on the world’s natural capital far outstrips the Earth’s ability to sustain it.
Is there any thing you and I can do about this impending global crisis?  The good news is, Yes!
 
WWF has a detailed page on “How you can help the environment” by making small (but significant) changes in your daily life, whether at work, at home or even while travelling.  Get to that list, before it’s too late.  As the old line goes, “It’s not just a planet, it’s home!”
 
Read More:
Full text of the Living Planet Report 2008.

Better than Google?

What if I told you there was a search engine out there that was actually better than Google?! 

Well, okay, I’m cheating a little.  But, there really is a way to make things better, while you continue using Google for all your web-search needs.

It’s called Earthle and it’s the only “Energy Saving Google Custom Search Engine” you’ll need for a long time!  Here’s how its history page describes its origins:

In a January 2007 blog, Mark Ontkush, a leading expert in “green” computing calculated the following:

“Take at look at Google, who gets about 200 million queries a day. Let’s assume each query is displayed for about 10 seconds; that means Google is running for about 550,000 hours every day on some desktop. Assuming that users run Google in full screen mode, the shift to a black background will save a total of 15 (74-59) watts. That turns into a global savings of 8.3 Megawatt-hours per day, or about 3000 Megawatt-hours a year. Now take into account that about 25 percent of the are CRTs, and at 10 cents a kilowatt-hour, that’s $75,000, a goodly amount of energy and dollars for changing a few color codes.”

When I first encountered it a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help but smile at the power and the sheer simplicity of the idea! 

What a wonderful way to save tens of thousands of dollars, and several hundred megawatt-hours of energy, while you’re at it?!  I already use it as the default search engine in my IE7 (see instructions).  But, you can read Earthle’s “About” page to find out other ways of adopting this green technology.

Switch off Google, and switch on Earthle, today.  As with all good things, the time to do it is now!

Update : August 2009
See Also : Blackle.com