Adaptive Urban Planning Greening the Map From Awareness to Action
MAY/JUNE 2021 Rs. 20
V O LU M E L X I I N U M B E R 2
Bending the Curve
Managing Food for Sustainability
Food for Thought: What’s on Your Plate Matters to the Planet From Awareness to Action Developing Resilience to Climate Change Adaptive Urban Planning
Studying Coral Reefs
22 Editor in Chief Michael L. Cavey
Art Director/ Production Chief Hemant Bhatnagar
Editor Deepanjali Kakati Hindi Editor Giriraj Agarwal Urdu Editor Syed Sulaiman Akhtar
Deputy Art Directors / Production Assistants Qasim Raza, Shah Faisal Khan
40 Front cover: piyaset/iStock/ Getty Images
* Articles with a star may be reprinted with permission. Those without a star are copyrighted and may not be reprinted. Contact SPAN at 011-23472135 or email@example.com
Printed and published by David H. Kennedy on behalf of the Government of the United States of America and printed at Infinity Advertising Services (P) Ltd., Plot No.-171 & 172, Sector-58, Faridabad 121004 and published at the Public Affairs Section, American Embassy, American Center, 24 K.G. Marg, New Delhi 110001. Opinions expressed in this 44-page magazine do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Government.
John McConnico © AP Images
Greening the Map
Rajesh Kumar Singh © AP Images
Courtesy Afreen Hussain
Courtesy Anubhav Mittal
By VEERABHADRAN RAMANATHAN
resident Joe Biden’s climate actions recognize the urgency as well as the multidimensionality of the climate crisis, with detailed attention to divisive but central issues such as environmental justice and provision of jobs for displaced fossil fuel workers. The visionary actions can
The strategic partnership between India and the United States can drive urgent progress in this critical decade for climate action.
date for many of its ambitious goals. Why is the year 2030 so ominous? Along with two of my colleagues, I projected in 2018 that the ongoing warming has at least a 50 percent probability of exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030. The 1.5 degrees Celsius warming is the threshold for dangerous warming. For whom is such warming dangerous? To all, especially the poorest of the world. Like COVID19 has spread around the globe, climate disruption will move into all our living rooms post 2030. About 50 percent or more of the
Above, above right, right, far right: Earth’s natural and human systems are sensitive to a warming climate. An Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change special report projects entire ecosystems will transform, with about 13 percent of land areas projected to see their ecosystems shift from one type of biome to another at 2 degrees Celsius warming—about 50 percent more area than at 1.5 degrees warming.
4 MAY/JUNE 2021
Jonny Belvedere/iStock/Getty Images
Ben Margot © AP Images
bend the steepening curve of planetaryscale warming, provided they are implemented both nationally and globally. For national implementation, the program spans tens of major government agencies. For enabling global implementation, it is launching a global climate ambition initiative, that includes several targeted international programs, including the establishment of a U.S.-India Climate and Clean Energy Agenda 2030 Partnership. I am particularly delighted and relieved that the Biden climate plan emphasizes the year 2030 as a target
Climate change, if left unchecked, will, in a few decades, become an insurmountable crisis for people and the ecosystem.
MAY/JUNE 2021 5 Jae C. Hong © AP Images
Brian Battaile © AP Images/U.S. Geological Survey
Tashi Sherpa © AP Images John Locher © AP Images
Top: The combination of global warming and trapping of sunlight by black carbon soot is leading to melting of Himalayan glaciers accompanied by floods, with devastating impacts on mountain communities. Above: Extreme weather events like droughts and heat waves will become a lot worse if warming exceeds 1.5 degrees Celsius.
6 MAY/JUNE 2021
Evan Vucci © AP Images
about 7 percent of the global GDP. In India, air pollution-related mortalities are as high as 2.5 million premature deaths every year, with as many as 114,000 infant deaths. Lastly, air pollution significantly reduced crop yields, as much as 36 percent for wheat and more than 10 percent for rice. For India, as well as other South Asian nations, reducing air pollution must take equal priority to mitigating CO2 emissions. Fortunately, solving the air pollution problem has the co-benefit of solving a major portion of the climate change problem, since fossil fuels are the dominant causal sources of both problems. Why then should India take a lead in solving the climate problem? Data on global warming clearly reveal that warmer air is also more humid. I have used satellite data to show each degree of warming increases humidity by 7 percent or more. It is this link between warming and humidity which makes climate change an oppressive experience in tropical countries like India, since it connects warming with new weather extremes such as humid heat waves and a three-fold increase in extreme monsoon rainfall episodes, with catastrophic impacts on life, agriculture and property. On the other hand, the dimming of sunlight by air pollution has slowed down the overall monsoon circulation which has led to noticeable reductions in yields of rice, wheat and other crops. Again, the combination of global warming and trapping of sunlight by black carbon soot is leading to melting of Himalayan glaciers accompanied by floods, with devastating impacts on mountain communities. The impacts on public health of such extremes are known to be massive, but a recent study by Dr. Jyoti Mishra, a neuroscientist at University of California San Diego reveals that impacts on mental health can be equally severe. The solution to the climate crisis requires us to declare fossil fuels as outdated technology and switch to energy sources that do not emit heat-trapping gases and black carbon soot. Since emission anywhere is global warming everywhere, the solution to the climate crisis requires clean energy access everywhere and to everyone on the planet, rich or poor. It is exactly like the COVID-19 remedy, which requires vaccinating everyone. As per the Biden Climate Plan, the United States will halve its 2005 CO2 emissions by the year 2030 and reach net carbon neutrality by 2050. The plan also brings in reductions of four other heat-trapping pollutants: methane;
President Joe Biden speaks at the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate from the East Room of the White House in April 2021.
President Biden’s Leaders Summit on Climate http://bit.ly/leadersclimate-summit
U.S.-India Joint Statement on the Climate and Clean Energy Agenda 2030 Partnership
emissions of the heat-trapping gases are caused by the wealthiest one billion people in the world, while the contribution of the poorest three billion to the emissions is only 5 percent. We all know instinctively the poorest three billion have limited capabilities to protect themselves from heat waves, droughts, floods, fires, failure of cropping systems and the spreading of vector-borne and waterborne diseases, all of which are worsening now and will become a lot worse when the warming exceeds 1.5 degrees Celsius in about nine years, give or take three years. In fact, most of them have no access to affordable fossil fuels, making climate disruption the biggest moral and ethical challenge of our times. But the pull of climate justice on climate disruption makes the present the perfect time to leapfrog and enable the three billion to access affordable clean energy with distributed nanogrids and microgrids powered by solar and renewable biomass fuels, among others. After all, many among the poorest leapfrogged to cell phones without going through landlines. The last time I was so ecstatic about climate action was in 1987 when the international Montreal Protocol was enacted to phase out chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) used as refrigerants. Twelve years earlier, in 1975, I had shown that CFCs were 10,000 times or more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2) in trapping the planet’s heat. The Montreal Protocol called for elimination of CFC emissions, not for their climate warming effect but for their impact on the Antarctic ozone hole. Had CFCs not been phased out, it is likely the Earth would have crossed the dangerous threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius warming already. A climate crisis was avoided accidentally, due to a lucky coincidence between ozone and climate effects of CFCs. But now there is no time to wait for such lucky coincidences. Climate change, if left unchecked, will, in a few decades, become an insurmountable crisis for people and the ecosystem. Fossil fuels (coal, petroleum and natural gas) are the dominant sources of heat-trapping gases. Fossil fuels are also the dominant sources of air pollution (PM 2.5 particles and ground level ozone), which annually kills about 5 to 10 million people through cardiovascular diseases, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer. Global health and welfare losses from air pollution in 2013 were valued at $5.1 trillion,
As per the Biden Climate Plan, the United States will halve its 2005 CO2 emissions by the year 2030 and reach net carbon neutrality by 2050.
To share articles go to https://spanmag.com MAY/JUNE 2021 7
8 MAY/JUNE 2021 R. Parthibhan © AP Images
Aftab Alam Siddiqui © AP Images
James MacPherson © AP Images
Robert F. Bukaty © AP Images
Left, below far left and below center left: Heavy rainfall and floods are projected to be higher as the Earth continues to warm. Below: Fossil fuels are the dominant sources of heattrapping gases as well as air pollution.
heat-trapping effect as 2000 tons of CO2. By implementing the above solutions on a national scale and promoting their implementation in the rest of South Asia, India can reduce premature deaths of over one million people including over 100,000 infant deaths; help reduce the melting rate of large portions of Himalayan glaciers by about 50 percent; reduce its contribution to global warming by an amount that is equivalent to mitigating 100 million to 1800 million tons of CO2 emissions; and increase production of wheat by about 35 percent and rice by more than 10 percent. 4) Accelerating soil’s natural ability to absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide from the air through better land management and through a novel process called enhanced weathering. These two measures can remove as much as 300 million tons of CO2 from the air over India and store it in the soil, thus increasing yields of crops like rice and wheat. Major demonstration projects are underway by a consortium of researchers at University of California and Cornell University led by Professor Benjamin Houlton. 5) Soon, India, and all nations, have to take on double duty which includes: a) adapting to the fast-paced warming and b) mitigating emissions of pollutants that cause air pollution and those that trap heat. The double duty can and will be accomplished, since it threatens our survival, but a massive climate education program to educate high school and college students is also vital. We, at the University of California, have developed such an education protocol which can be adapted for Indian students. India is one of the few countries in the world which has a Ministry for New and Renewable Energy. This unique ministry, if it can coordinate with the ministry that oversees air pollution regulation, the United Nations’ Climate and Clean Air Coalition, the U.S.India Climate and Clean Energy Agenda 2030 partnership, and enter into a public-private partnership with major Indian foundations, can position India as one of the global leaders for averting this existential threat to all of humanity.
Since emission anywhere is global warming everywhere, the solution to the climate crisis requires clean energy access everywhere and to everyone on the planet.
Courtesy Veerabhadran Ramanathan
ozone in the lower atmosphere; black carbon soot and hydrofluorocarbons, which are called short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs). It is an excellent strategy. The only reliable way to halve the rate of warming within the coming two decades is to cut the SLCPs. By integrating measures to reduce CO2 with those of SLCPs, the United States and India can forge a strategic partnership. I conclude with my wish list for the U.S.India Climate and Clean Energy Agenda 2030 partnership. The list below marries local with global needs, where the benefits accrue locally first, in India and the rest of South Asia. 1) Provide access to fossil fuel-free clean energy to the rural population of India to meet basic energy needs for cooking, heating and lighting. This will not only cut the emissions of heat-trapping pollutants, but also reduce air pollution overall in India by a third, including in highly polluted cities like Delhi. 2) Eliminate burning of agriculture waste and instead use the crop residues to produce renewable biomass fuels for energy and compost feedstock for healthy soils. This step will reduce emissions of SLCPs and reduce the oppressive air pollution over north and central India during November and December by almost half. 3) Phase out diesel fuels by 2030. A ton of black carbon soot from diesel has the same
Veerabhadran Ramanathan is the Edward Frieman Presidential Professor of Climate Sustainability at University of California San Diego. His recent books include “Bending the Curve: Climate Change Solutions” and “Health of People, Health of Planet and Our Responsibility.”
MAY/JUNE 2021 9
By JASON CHIANG
Sustainable bamboo fiber
Photographs courtesy Anubhav Mittal
products created by Bio Craft Innovation, a Nexus-trained start-up, help reduce the use of single-use plastic.
10 MAY/JUNE 2021
ne million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute, while five trillion single-use plastic bags are used worldwide every year, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. Additionally, half of all plastic produced is designed to be used only once. This proliferation of single-use plastic, which contributes to greenhouse gas emissions at every stage of its life cycle, is a significant threat to the Earth’s climate. “Emissions from plastic emerge not only from the production and manufacture of plastic itself, but from every stage in the plastic life cycle—from the extraction and transport of the fossil fuels that are the primary feedstocks for plastic, to refining and manufacturing, to waste management, to the plastic that enters the environment,” says the “Plastic and
Climate: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet” report by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for International Environmental Law. A Nexus-trained start-up, Bio Craft Innovation, has pioneered a potential solution for this crisis: sustainable products made from bamboo. Since 2019, Bio Craft Innovation has experimented with bamboo fiber as a possible alternative to plastic. After converting bamboo and other agricultural waste to pulp, some ingredients are added to give the material strength and durability. The result is a proprietary bamboo-based granule that the company has worked to convert into textiles and non-woven fibers, which Bio Craft Innovation calls IBANSS granules. “Our IBANSS granules are made from cellulose derived from non-wood-based
Below: Anubhav Mittal, Bio Craft Innovation’s founder and chief executive officer. Below far left and bottom: Bio Craft Innovation’s ecofriendly collection of organic bamboo products, launched under the brand name Biomize.
To share articles go to https://spanmag.com MAY/JUNE 2021 11
Bio Craft Innovation www.biomize.in
Above, below and right: Bio Craft Innovation’s products are completely biodegradable at the end of their life cycle and can be used to make compost without any expensive recycling process.
12 MAY/JUNE 2021
Photographs courtesy Anubhav Mittal
Nexus Start-up Hub
sources like agricultural waste and bamboo,” says Anubhav Mittal, Bio Craft Innovation’s founder and chief executive officer. “We pick up agricultural waste, post-harvest, and convert it into cellulose fibers. These fibers are then converted into thermoplastic granules using starch and additives, which can be processed on standard plastic machines, like injection molding or film blowing machines.” Bio Craft Innovation was part of the 10th cohort at the Nexus Start-up Hub at American Center New Delhi. Nexus, a collaboration between U.S. Embassy New Delhi and the nonprofit organization Alliance for Commercialization and Innovation Research, serves as a hub to promote Indian start-ups and the entrepreneurial ecosystem. India has extensive forest biomass resources and abundance of bamboo plantations in its northeastern states. There are 136 types of bamboo cultivated on more than 15 million hectares throughout the country. One of Bio Craft Innovation’s objectives is to leverage the abundance of bamboo in these areas, while also helping the regional communities prosper. “We have plans to procure our raw material from farmers directly, at above-market prices. We also engage rural youth and women in this process to train them and generate local livelihood,” says Mittal. With its breakthrough IBANSS bamboo granules, Bio Craft Innovation has launched its first ecofriendly collection of organic bamboo products under the brand name Biomize. The collection, which includes plates, bowls, containers and cutlery, is completely biodegradable at the end of its life cycle and can be used to make compost without any expensive recycling process. Prices range from Rs. 345 for a tikka platter set to Rs. 2290 for a full dinner set. As the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted supply chains, Mittal’s team has responded by emphasizing self-reliance and strategically utilizing local resources. With the increase in
global demand for plastic textiles to make medical protection items, Bio Craft Innovation saw an opportunity in developing biopolymerbased textiles with IBANSS bamboo granules. Mittal says his company will launch face masks certified for 95 percent and 99 percent protection, made entirely from biopolymers. Additionally, the team is also developing bamboo charcoal-based filters for face masks for anti-bacterial protection. Looking to the future, there are many exciting projects on the horizon for Bio Craft Innovation. Mittal’s team is setting up a pilot project in Uttarakhand, with the assistance of India’s National Bamboo Mission. The company is developing a microentrepreneurship model to enable local communities to produce compostable polybags, dustbin liners and planter bags. “The pandemic has made us evolve to changing market dynamics and innovate to offer new products that are in demand,” says Mittal. “For villages in the Himalayas, this will be a source of livelihood and reduce plastic waste in the mountains.” Jason Chiang is a freelance writer based in Silver Lake, Los Angeles.
MAY/JUNE 2021 13
With support from the U.S. Department of State, Swechha harnesses technology, inspires individuals and advocates for
environmental change across India.
Iván Jesús Cruz Civieta/iStock/Getty Images
14 MAY/JUNE 2021
s events, meetings and learning activities went online in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Vimlendu Jha and Ashim Bery saw a unique opportunity. People throughout India could be engaged virtually and empowered to enhance their communities’ resilience—and to battle the effects of climate change at the same time. Jha, an alumnus of the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program, is the founder of Swechha, an innovative New Delhibased foundation dedicated to the creation of “a just, equitable and sustainable society, for everyone and forever,” according to the organization’s website. Bery is a project coordinator at Swechha, where he focuses on digital outreach to advance the foundation’s mission. With the help of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Jha, Bery, and their Swechha teammates are using the Internet to bring that vision to life. In late 2020, Swechha launched the first video in its “Green The Map Podcast and Masterclass Series,” a collection of free online resources intended to provide viewers with education, inspiration, and real-world solutions to everyday problems related to sustainability and the environment. That first podcast, published in December 2020,
ening the Map Right: Swechha founder and IVLP alumnus Vimlendu Jha discusses topics of sustainability with guest Santosh Harish during one of the Green The Map podcasts. Far right: Policy researcher Kanchi Kohli speaks on topics of environmental law and sustainability during a podcast.
By MICHAEL GALLANT
features an interview with retired forest officer Manoj Misra in conversation with Jha. Together, the two discuss ways to clean and preserve the Yamuna river, which is a vital source of water for millions of people. Green The Map’s next offering, its first online masterclass, was published in early January. Hosted by nonprofit founder and urban farmer Pragati Chaswal, the presentation seeks to teach citydwellers techniques for growing and harvesting their To share articles go to https://spanmag.com MAY/JUNE 2021 15
Photographs courtesy Swechha
own food, even if they only have a small balcony or kitchen window in which to do it. And another resource, published in March, highlights the work of Meenakshi Sharma, founder of the social enterprise Use Me Works. Sharma explores the concept of upcycling, and walks viewers through a tutorial on how to create party banners and dream catcher talismans from old clothing that would otherwise be tossed out as trash. These diverse efforts are just the beginning. The U.S. Department of State’s grant support will allow Swechha to create five master classes and six podcasts in total, all focusing on topics that include waste management, air pollution reduction, composting and more. Thus far, the results have paid off, with Swechha’s productions reaching tens of thousands of viewers and
Clean Yamuna—A roadmap bit.ly/Yamuna_Swechha
Grow your own food—for beginners
International Visitor Leadership Program https://eca.state.gov/ivlp
16 MAY/JUNE 2021
participants. “One of the major reasons we decided to focus on podcasts and online masterclasses is because we realized that digital reach has a much larger audience,” says Bery. “Through these digital interventions, we have been able to expand our audiences and reach out to a much larger group, while simultaneously engaging our patrons and other stakeholders around several issues.” Regardless of the topic or audience, Swechha has made a point of featuring top experts and practitioners in its online presentations and workshops, in order to provide information to viewers that will help them to improve their lives and environments right away. “The grant to Swechha has been designed to reimagine and rebuild our world through relevant and practical solutions that meet real needs of individuals, families, neighborhoods and
communities,” says Bery. “Through this grant, we also seek to build the capacities of individuals as well as communities on future preparedness visà-vis ecological issues.” Bery encourages anyone interested in learning more about environmental sustainability, and about what individuals and communities can do to help, to watch, read and share Swechha’s Green The Map offerings online. “We post all our content across our social media profiles,” he says. Viewers can also dig deeper and explore beyond Swechha’s podcast and masterclass series by viewing infographics, panel discussions, town halls and more on Swechha’s homepage or social media feeds. Michael Gallant is the founder and chief executive officer of Gallant Music. He lives in New York City. Right: Meenakshi Sharma discusses ways to create party banners and dream catcher talismans from old clothing in a Green The Map masterclass. Above: A Swechha Green The Map masterclass offers lessons in composting. Above left: The masterclass by Pragati Chaswal features techniques for city dwellers to grow and harvest their own food.
The grant to Swechha has been designed to reimagine and rebuild our world
through relevant and practical solutions that meet real needs of individuals, families, neighborhoods and communities.
MAY/JUNE 2021 17
Reducing food wastage can help conserve resources and the environment.
By CANDICE YACONO
hat we don’t eat can sometimes be as detrimental as what we do eat, albeit in a different way. Food waste—food that is produced but is not consumed for various reasons—affects food security, the environment and, by extension, all of us. In March this year, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) published its Food Waste Index Report 2021, which found that up to 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are associated with wasted food. Greenhouse gas is a major contributor to global warming. In the foreword to the report, UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen notes, “If
18 MAY/JUNE 2021
food loss and waste were a country, it would be the third biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions.” The report estimates that about 931 million tons of food waste was generated in 2019, more than 60 percent of which came from individual households. Twenty-six percent came from food service, and another 13 percent came from retail sources. This means that an estimated 17 percent of the total food produced each year is wasted. “The findings are consistent with our study findings,” says Debasmita Patra, food waste researcher and assistant research professor at the University of Maryland’s
Food Waste Index Report http://bit.ly/ FoodWasteIndexReport
Greenhouse gases http://bit.ly/greenhousegas-emissions
Reducing wasted food at home
United States Food Loss and Waste 2030 Champions http://bit.ly/ foodlossandwaste
To share articles go to https://spanmag.com MAY/JUNE 2021 19
20 MAY/JUNE 2021
Charles Krupa © AP Images
There are numerous concerns when the wasted food reaches the landfills, in terms of environmental impacts, air pollution and groundwater contamination.
Department of Environmental Science and Technology. Patra, who has a Ph.D. in sociology from University of Hyderabad, coauthored a study in 2020 that found that food date labeling such as “best-by” dates has caused a global uptick in food waste over the past decade. Food is wasted in many ways, from harvested vegetables and grains that rot at the farm or in warehouses and unsold merchandise in stores to people not finishing their meals and leftovers going bad in the fridge. Patra says it can be challenging to quantify the myriad ways this happens. She cites reasons including lack of education, lack of food preservation knowledge and lack of labeling regulation. Sell-by and fresh-by dates might be misleading to consumers, who throw food away before it has truly reached the end of its shelf life. “There are numerous concerns when the wasted food reaches the landfills, in terms of environmental impacts, air pollution and groundwater contamination,” says Patra. When waste food reaches landfills, the decomposition of organic material creates landfill gas, which is composed of roughly 50 percent methane, 50 percent carbon dioxide and a small amount of non-methane organic compounds. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that is 28 to 36 times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere over a 100-year period, according to an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment report. Food waste reduction might not have been a focus of many countries’ or companies’ efforts to date, but the UN and other organizations hope to change that. Interestingly, the UN report finds that, although data is low, the amount of food waste is similar across the economic spectrum, from high-income to lowincome groups. People and companies are as likely to waste in one group versus another. However, the points in the supply chain where food is wasted are different. High-income
food waste happens at the household level, while low-middle income happens more on the farm level or intermediate level. For instance, in rural areas, food may be wasted in storage, where there isn’t adequate infrastructure or food processing. It is very difficult to track food waste causes from farm to fork, says Patra, and doing so would cause great expense. Patra was attracted to work on food waste “because it has the potential to address world hunger, food insecurity, [a] cleaner environment, sustainable agriculture” and many more issues, she says. “When you, as a consumer, waste food, you are wasting the produce as well as all the other costs associated with it—transportation, processing, packaging and labor, to name a few. I am keen
Above far left: Training on how to interpret sell-by and best-by dates, how to preserve food better (left) and consuming all the food that is purchased (far left) can help reduce wastage.
to interpret sell-by and best-by dates, and education on how to preserve food better could help reduce wastage. At the household level, Patra suggests measures like consuming all the food that is purchased, preserving the leftovers, freezing the product before it expires, and not confusing the suggested date label with food safety deadlines. “In our research, we find that people did not realize that their individual act of wasting food might have such a huge impact on the society,” she says. “I am hopeful that more and more people will soon realize this, and won’t waste food.” Candice Yacono is a magazine and newspaper writer based in southern California. Astrid 860/iStock/Getty Images Plus
on providing solutions to reduce food waste because it can solve so many problems in our society.” The UN Sustainable Development Goal target 12.3 is clear: “By 2030, halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including postharvest losses.” The United States’ own goal is to cut food loss and waste by 50 percent by 2030. Patra says there are many ways to reduce food waste, from actions taken at the individual level all the way up to more systemic governmental interventions. She suggests targeted education meant to change behaviors and attitudes. Specifically, tools like social media campaigns, training on how
MAY/JUNE 2021 21
Fulbright-Kalam Climate Fellow Afreen Hussain assesses the impact of climate change and human disturbances on coral reefs to assist in the conservation of this highly vulnerable ecosystem.
By NATASA MILAS
22 MAY/JUNE 2021
David Burdick © AP Images/NOAA
Courtesy Afreen Hussain
Right: Afreen Hussain collects samples from a coral nursery during her Fulbright-Kalam Climate Fellowship in Hawaii. Below: Coral reefs are among the most biologically rich and diverse ecosystems on the planet. They support an estimated 25 percent of all marine life. Below right: The increase in sea surface temperature during the past few decades has caused mass coral bleaching worldwide.
oral reefs support an estimated 25 percent of all marine life by serving as spawning and feeding grounds. Among the most biologically rich and diverse ecosystems on the planet, coral reefs in many regions have been damaged by a process called bleaching. Rising ocean temperatures are considered the most likely cause. Warmer seas cause algae that live symbiotically with the coral to leave their host. The algae provide both nourishment and color to the coral. Without them, the coral bleach out. According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, corals can survive a bleaching event, but they are under more stress and are subject to mortality. Coral reefs provide many benefits and resources like food sources for local communities; compounds used in medicines, including some that treat cancer; and natural
barriers against hurricanes, typhoons and other storms. Afreen Hussain is a coral ecologist who assesses the impact of climate change and human disturbances on coral communities in order to create a path toward sustainable management and conservation of highly vulnerable coral reefs. Hussain, who is working on a Ph.D. in marine science at the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)-National Institute of Oceanography, Goa, studies coral patches along the west coast of India. In 2019, she was a Fulbright-Kalam Climate Fellow at the United States Geological Survey (USGS) National Wildlife Health Center in Hawaii. Excerpts from an interview. You study the disease of aquatic organisms, particularly coral reefs. Can you
To share articles go to https://spanmag.com MAY/JUNE 2021 23
Decline in corals after a bleaching event has long-term ecological, economic and social impacts.
Photographs courtesy Afreen Hussain
Below: Afreen Hussain (left) conducts a coral bleaching survey in Oahu, Hawaii. Bottom: Hussain (center) on a field survey in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.
24 MAY/JUNE 2021
tell us what are some of the problems that coral reefs experience due to climate change and increased temperatures? Coral reefs are the most diverse, complex and unique of all the marine ecosystems and are therefore known as “rainforests of the ocean.” Although they occupy less than 1 percent of the benthic environment, coral reefs support about 25 percent of all marine life, including over 4,000 species of fish. They offer significant ecological, economic and societal benefits to millions of people, valued at about $9.8 trillion each year. Over the past few decades, coral reefs have been under major threat due to the combined effects of natural and anthropogenic, or human, stressors at regional and global scales, primarily from global climate change, increasing levels of CO2, unsustainable fishing practices, coral diseases and land-based pollution. According to the World Resources Institute report, Reefs at Risk Revisited, 75 percent of the global reefs are currently at risk due to global and local stressors. If these stressors are left unchecked, the percentage of threatened reefs will increase to 90 percent by 2030. What is coral bleaching and what are the long-term consequences of bleaching? The increase in sea surface temperature during the past few decades has caused unprecedented mass coral bleaching worldwide. The health of a coral depends on the delicate relationship between the coral host and the symbiotic intracellular photosynthetic algae, called zooxanthellae, which is the major source of nutrition in corals. During periods of environmental pressure like heat stress, high UV, or ocean
acidification, the symbiotic zooxanthellae are expelled from the coral host leading to the process of coral bleaching or whitening of corals. This leads to a deficit of nutrition in bleached corals and eventually coral mortality. Bleached corals are also prone to infections by diseases and infiltrating algae. Decline in corals after a bleaching event has long-term ecological, economic and social impacts. It affects local fisheries, dents the tourism industry and leads to changes in the benthic habitat. Therefore, owing to their significance and the looming threat of climate change, it is very important to understand the mechanism of coral bleaching and predict how and whether the corals will adapt to climate change. How will your work help understand the problems that coral reefs have been facing due to changing climatic conditions? For my Ph.D. work, I assessed the bleaching pattern of corals on the west coast of India and identified coral species that are more susceptible to bleaching. I also worked on a prediction model for monitoring coral bleaching based on sea surface temperature data. This information is very crucial for policymakers and reef managers to prepare for upcoming bleaching events by reducing the amount of anthropogenic pressure on the reefs during periods of heat stress. This would include a reduction in tourism and fishing activities so that the corals get a conducive environment to recover from bleaching. Other objectives included identifying and assessing the spread of coral diseases and recognizing their possible pathogens in the reefs. This aids in categorizing the potential source of pathogens and creation of strategies like wastewater treatment to reduce the risk of coral diseases. The other major stress is the human impact on the reefs, mainly through unsupervised diving, snorkeling and boat anchoring on reefs. Physical damage to the sensitive coral colonies due to boat anchor drops or tourists stamping on corals had led to widespread damage in shallow reefs. I identified reef spots that are more prone to physical damage owing to the dominance of certain coral morphology (plate-like or branching corals), which would be helpful in sustainable ecotourism by avoiding vulnerable reef spots. Can you tell us about your experience as a Fulbright-Kalam Climate Fellow in Hawaii?
Courtesy Afreen Hussain
Fulbright-Kalam Climate Fellowship http://bit.ly/Fulbright-KalamClimate-Fellowship
USGS National Wildlife Health Center
The research that I conducted as part of the Fulbright-Kalam Climate Fellowship at the USGS National Wildlife Health Center was to investigate the role of heat shock proteins under heat stress in a model coral organism— Aiptasia. Despite the growing research in the field of coral-symbiosis relationships, the cellular and molecular mechanisms of bleaching remain poorly understood. Therefore, the study aimed to investigate the histological and cellular changes in Aiptasia pulchella under heat stress. The results obtained from this study would provide further insights into the cellular and histological basis of coral bleaching and create the foundation for more research about mechanisms of heat tolerance conferred by heat shock proteins in corals. The Fulbright-Kalam Climate Fellowship has been a great opportunity for both my professional and personal growth. It has been an intellectually stimulating experience and
helped develop my scientific research skills as I got to learn from subject experts. I used the time in the U.S. to develop as a researcher, as well as to learn about American culture and history. The Fulbright orientation seminar in Philadelphia was a great platform to connect with Fulbrighters from across the globe. That’s when I embraced the legacy of being a Fulbrighter and my responsibility towards society. I consider myself very lucky to be placed in the beautiful, friendly state of Hawaii, where I met amazing people and explored my love for marine life. Being surrounded by beautiful reefs, I took the opportunity to fulfil my dream of diving with manta rays and sea turtles. In a nutshell, Fulbright gave me wings to explore new avenues in life, and helped me make lifelong connections. Natasa Milas is a freelance writer based in New York City. MAY/JUNE 2021 25
At a U.S. Embassy New Delhi-sponsored session at this year’s Jaipur Literature Festival author Jonathan Safran Foer and journalist Jeffrey Gettleman discussed how daily actions can make an impact in the efforts to combat climate change.
26 MAY/JUNE 2021
food for Thought:
What’s on Your
Plate Planet Matters to the
ooks have a way of bringing people together—even from the other side of the world. The North India Office (NIO) of U.S. Embassy New Delhi recently supported a session on climate change at the virtual Jaipur Literature Festival 2021. Organized by Teamwork Arts Pvt. Ltd, the festival has featured nearly 2,000 speakers over the past decade, including Oprah Winfrey, Paul Beatty and Amartya Sen, and hosted more than a million fans of literature from India and throughout the world. NIO supports the many linkages between U.S. and Indian people, including in the realm of arts and culture in North India, by sponsoring events at the festival. This year, in addition to the session on climate change, NIO sponsored a series of short videos on “Raising
Women’s Voices in Business,” as well as a special screening of “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.” The screening of the film by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore further emphasized the U.S. government’s support to addressing climate change. During the embassy-sponsored session on February 28, American author Jonathan Safran Foer and Jeffrey Gettleman, South Asia bureau chief for The New York Times, delved into Foer’s 2019 book “We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast.” Foer and Gettleman discussed how daily actions accumulate and can make an impact over time in the efforts to combat climate change. U.S. Minister Counselor for Consular Affairs (MCCA) Donald L. Heflin said that by sponsoring this session, the U.S. Embassy
To share articles go to https://spanmag.com MAY/JUNE 2021 27
We’re so used to only being able to think about this in terms of identity, the perfection of your own identity, that’s why we have so many and such convoluted names for how one eats. 28 MAY/JUNE 2021
hoped “to highlight the United States’ commitment to combating climate change.” “There is much to be done in India, in the United States and around the world,” the MCCA added. “I am confident that the United States and India will rise to this challenge as the world’s two largest democracies and the world’s first- and fifth-largest economies. But there’s also responsibility for individuals to do our part. Author Jonathan Safran Foer focuses on this very aspect.” Excerpts from the conversation between Foer and Gettleman.
didn’t exactly know, or at the very least, I was aware that I wasn’t doing a whole lot. That was a problem I found quite easy to ignore most of the time, but it was there in the background. There was a little window, about two or three years ago, when it was at the forefront of the news. And, I think, it brought my internal crisis to a head. I’m lucky to be a writer because I am able to set aside time and space to think things through. So, I decided to set aside some time and space to the question of how to live as an individual in this moment of climate crisis.
Tell us what the book is about and why you wrote it. Stories are always born out of a problem. That’s been my experience, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. With fiction, I don’t exactly know what the problem is. I can’t easily articulate it. [It’s just that] something is sitting uneasily inside of me or something is unresolved. Fiction is an effort not to solve any problem, but maybe to give it words, to share it. Nonfiction, for me, has been about problems that I can name. I know at the beginning of the book what it is that’s eating away at me. “Eating Animals” was the first nonfiction book I wrote and that was in response to something that had been a problem for me since I was a kid. It’s one of the oldest problems in my life, which is, how do I feel about eating meat? “We Are the Weather” was also born out of a problem which I could articulate. Which was, how is an individual to live in this moment of climate crisis? I knew what the science was, because everybody knows what the science is, at this point. I knew what the rhetoric was. I knew what kinds of posters to make for what kinds of marches that I should attend. But on the level of daily life, and the choices that I would make for myself and my family—I
One thing I found especially interesting was your idea that if a problem is so big, it’s almost unbelievably bad. If it’s so big and horrible, we can’t wrap our heads around it, that it paralyzes us into inaction. Tell us a little bit more about that and how we can overcome that. Climate change is in no way unique, in being something we can know but not exactly believe. I could probably think of 10 things in the course of the day I’m about to have that will fit into that category. The most obvious one is that we’re all going to die. It’s something that we all know but we find ways not to think about. Maybe even to the extent that we stop believing that it’s going to happen. There is a very broad consensus that human-caused climate change is happening. But even knowing what we know, I think most of us, and I include myself, often find it hard to believe. How can we overcome that? It’s so big, it’s so bad, it’s so dire. Well, it’s not clear that we can. It’s a huge impediment to action. It’s interesting actually to compare Covid. Why it is that we had the response that we did to Covid, why it was that individuals were willing, by and large, to quarantine. Why
At this year’s virtual Jaipur Literature Festival, the North India Office of U.S. Embassy New Delhi sponsored a series of short videos on “Raising Women’s Voices in Business” and a special screening of “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power,” in addition to the session on climate change.
individuals were willing, by and large, to wear masks, to wash their hands regularly. Why it is that cities were willing to shut down their economies, that the country was willing to shut down the economy, to radically change policies of who can travel, where and when, what kind of businesses can operate. I think it’s because we were afraid and not afraid in an abstract way and not afraid for other people and not afraid for those living in the future but actively afraid fearing for our own well-being. There are people right now who are suffering and who are dying because of climate change. But, by and large, they aren’t the perpetrators of climate change. They aren’t the people who are living in the countries that are most responsible for what we’re now facing. So how do we persuade people or persuade leaders in those countries who are not themselves afraid of the effects of climate change to act? That is the challenge in front of us. In my book, I look at it not so much in terms of legislated change and systemic change, which is necessary. I look at it though from the lens of the perspective of individual change which is also necessary and how can we, as individuals, overcome our own psychologies to do the things that are necessary and my feeling is it has to do with norms and routines. If I were to ask you, if you go into a store and you see something that you like, how do you persuade yourself not to steal it? Do you
have to have a memory of the social contract you have to have a strong feeling about the shopkeeper and why you wouldn’t want to take money from his or her pocket? My guess is you would say, I actually don’t really have any kind of internal debate at all. I just don’t steal because I don’t steal. That’s who I am. So, we need to somehow find a way to turn ourselves into people who just don’t steal from the planet or don’t steal from the future. And I think the best way to do it is to take the burden off of the need to have some kind of strong thought or feeling and instead just shape our habits. In the book I write about food and eating in particular, which we know is the most important choice that we make as individuals vis-à-vis the environment. If we can set up some sort of regimen for ourselves, like a set of habits that we don’t really think about, we just do them because that’s who we are and that’s what we do.That is far easier and far more likely to succeed than this like everlasting debate with ourselves. I want to talk about the food issue because that’s a huge part of what you’re interested in, what this book is about and what your previous book is about. You talk about the amount of carbon dioxide equivalent that is necessary to produce servings of different foods. Beef is 6.61, cheese is 2.45, pork is 1.72. It goes through the different types of food we eat—eggs, milk, and as you get into vegetables, the amount of carbon dioxide necessary to MAY/JUNE 2021 29
Just by tweaking the way that you describe what you’re trying to do, the exact same outcomes can be understood as a complete failure or an amazing success. So, I prefer not to think about these things in terms of rigid identities, but this kind of causeand-effect chain that we want to participate in. 30 MAY/JUNE 2021
produce a serving of vegetables is very low. Carrots is 0.07. That’s almost a hundredth of what it is for beef. But you yourself struggle with following this perfectly. You yourself struggle with just eliminating meat because it’s part of our habits. Now I’ll ask you this question that you pose in your book. How could you argue for radical change, how could you raise your children as vegetarians while eating meat for comfort? Whatever your position on meat is, everybody recognizes that we’re talking about something pretty serious. It happens every now and then that I would give a reading on the subject and somebody will stand up and say, who do you think you are, telling anybody else not to eat meat? This is what my parents ate, my grandparents ate and it’s healthy food. And the way I always respond is, we obviously agree that this is important. If I had been giving a talk about why we should drink carbonated water instead of still water nobody would stand up and get upset. People get upset because they instinctively know that the stakes are high. So, I think a good starting point is, this matters and it matters in a way that makes us vulnerable. That often makes us feel aggressive or defensive. If you were to ask me what are the odds that half of Americans will be vegetarian in 10 years, I would say zero. What are the odds that half of the meals eaten in America will be vegetarian in 10 years, I believe that will be the case. So if we’re looking at it from the perspective of identity, those are very very different things. If we’re looking at it from the perspective of outcomes, reducing the amount of destruction and reducing the amount of violence, then they’re identical. But we’re so used to only being able to think about this in terms of identity, the perfection of your own identity, that’s why we have so many and such convoluted names for how one eats. You’re a vegan,
you’re a vegetarian, you’re pescatarian, you’re a flexitarian, you’re a reducetarian. I used to think about it in those ways as well. I think because I was vulnerable and because it feels good to claim an identity. But we have to be very careful about those good and bad feelings leading us away from the outcomes that we actually want. If, instead, our conversation had a little bit more flexibility, a little bit more forgiveness, a little bit more humility—if we were able to say, look I know what the right thing to do is by my own standards not by anybody else’s. But I know what I think the right thing to do is, and I know that I can’t always do that because I have cravings, because I’m lazy, because we’re imperfect, because we’re people. Then we might actually be able to accomplish a lot more. It happens all the time, almost every time I give a reading somebody will come up to me and say something like, hey, I read your book. I’ve been a vegetarian for three weeks. It’s going strong. I’m feeling good. On the one hand that sounds great. On the other hand, I will often say to them, just make sure you’re setting yourself up for success and not failure because what you’re saying is for 21 meals you’ve now been a vegetarian. What happens if on the 22nd meal you eat some kind of meat. Well, then you’re not a vegetarian anymore. There are five times as many former vegetarians as there are vegetarians right now. And I think it’s because we think of that term, I mean that term is an all-or-nothing. It’s a binary, you are or you aren’t. If instead that person had come up to me and said, I’ve been thinking a lot about what you said about the relationship between food and the environment or animal welfare or whatever and I’ve been trying to eat as little meat as possible and I haven’t eaten any for three weeks. If that person then at the 22nd meal eats meat, he can say 21 out of 22 times, I did it. That’s
Screenshot courtesy https://wearetheweatherbook.com/
great, that’s an amazing success rate. Just by tweaking the way that you describe what you’re trying to do, the exact same outcomes can be understood as a complete failure or an amazing success. So, I prefer not to think about these things in terms of rigid identities, but this kind of cause-and-effect chain that we want to participate in. The idea is that primitive man was living much differently than we live today for most of the existence of the human species. Some people say we’re meant to eat meat, like our bodies are designed to have a little meat now and then. How do you reconcile that with the need to change our habits to save the environment? Well, if you said to me, can you imagine a planet where people eat a little meat every now and then, I would say that would be a very very different planet than the one that we live on and we wouldn’t have the same environmental problems that we have. The
problem that we have now is people are eating you know, two-thirds of their plate is filled with meat, at least twice a day. I would begin by saying I’ve never met a nutritionist who agrees with the statement that we need to eat meat. Meat, like a lot of other foods, like cake, can be perfectly healthy. It’s just that we wouldn’t want to eat too much of it. And we know that it’s linked to heart disease, cancer and all kinds of other health problems but I think that there’s a kind of rigidity behind that observation or a stubbornness when people say that. There are an awful lot of things that hunter gatherers did that we don’t do now. Hunters and gatherers don’t wear eyeglasses. Is that an argument against my wearing eyeglasses now? Of course not. I think it is worth acknowledging that most humans have eaten meat for most of human history and that’s an important fact. I’m not dismissing it. My vision of the future isn’t futuristic actually. It’s conservative. It’s moving back to a kind of farming that our grandparents practiced and moving back to a kind of eating that our grandparents practiced. I don’t want to eat meat and I am not going to eat meat. And I am as healthy as anybody else. But also my interest isn’t in imposing my specific choices on everybody else. My interest is in sharing the indisputable and unambiguous science with everybody else. And when it comes to climate change, the science couldn’t possibly be more clear. The IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change], which is like the gold standard for climate science for the United Nations, has said that we have no hope of meeting the goals of the Paris climate accords unless we change how we eat and specifically with respect to animals. So, when you said eating some meat every now and then—maybe that’s right about at the line where we should all be able to agree that we can’t do more than that. We won’t have a sustainable food system if we’re eating more than some meat every now and then. But after that then there’s room for like a respectful disagreement. MAY/JUNE 2021 31
Watch the full interview
From Awareness By NATASA MILAS
Graduate programs at U.S. universities address the necessity to establish a workforce that will be equipped to work on combating climate change.
he climate crisis is one of the major concerns among young people today, and they are responding by joining environmental organizations, participating in community projects and spreading awareness via different platforms including social media. Universities across the United States have established programs to study climate change, paving a way for youth to turn climate change awareness into a career. Graduate programs on climate change are relatively new but they address the ongoing necessity and desire to create a workforce at governmental, nonprofit or research agencies that will be equipped to work on combating climate change. Students interested in pursuing graduate-
32 MAY/JUNE 2021
level climate change studies at U.S. universities have many options. For instance, the Climate Science and Solutions Professional Science Master’s program at Northern Arizona University and the Master of Arts in Climate and Society offered by Columbia University. The program at Northern Arizona University is unique for its interdisciplinary approach and professional training. “There are several components that factor into our program’s interdisciplinary nature,” says John M. Fegyveresi, assistant professor of practice at the School of Earth and Sustainability and director of the Master’s in Climate Science and Solutions program at Northern Arizona University. “We require all students to take a core set of classes that
Below and below right: Students from the university being trained on how to properly plant and protect ponderosa saplings. Photographs courtesy Northern Arizona University
Above: Aerial drone photo showing teams from Northern Arizona University planting ponderosa saplings in protective cones and gathering soil samples.
To share articles go to https://spanmag.com MAY/JUNE 2021 33
collaborations with other departments on campus that tie in closely with climate science, making these types of partnerships and the coursework crossover possible,” says Fegyveresi. In addition to strong academic components, the program offers comprehensive hands-on experience, including internships and community projects. “All students must participate in a summer-long internship as part of the program. This gives them all first-hand experience in one of the climate science subsectors. In addition to the internship, we have regular workshops with industry professionals as well as our advisory board,” AD MESKENS / Wikimedia Commons
In a sense, we are forging a new field at the intersection of climate and its societal impacts and we’re excited to have our graduates leading the way.
encompass many sub-disciplines and sectors related to climate science and solutions.” While there is no specific background necessary to apply for the climate science program, students typically have a background in environmental science and physics. Once enrolled in the 18-month program, they study a set of core subjects including mitigation, adaptation, energy policy and environmental economics. They can also choose from over 100 elective classes in other departments such as business, statistics, ecology, communications, biology, engineering, sustainability and policy, to personalize their degrees. “Our program has strong
Courtesy Columbia University
Left: The Master of Arts in Climate and Society at Columbia University (above) focuses on the impacts of climate change and climate variability on society and the environment.
34 MAY/JUNE 2021
Climate and Society will be the inaugural program to be housed in Columbia’s newlyestablished Climate School. “The establishment of the school really speaks to Columbia’s commitment to addressing the climate crisis,” says Cynthia Thomson, associate director of the M.A. Program in Climate and Society. “The transition will allow the program to grow in size and expand course offerings. It’s an exciting opportunity to take a well-established and successful program and create an even richer experience for students during their studies.” The main areas covered by the program pertain to the study of climate science. The program is interdisciplinary in nature and students are encouraged to individualize their studies and take electives across Columbia’s graduate programs, including humanities and the arts. “The M.A. in Climate and Society’s core curriculum focuses on climate science, climate risk and climate impacts. But what’s really unique about the program is the elective component. Students take a minimum of four elective courses of their choosing. These courses can be taken at any graduate school across Columbia’s campus and really allow students to tailor the curriculum to their interests,” says Thomson. Beyond the program’s academic component, students have the opportunity to engage professionally in climate change issues. In the third and final semester, students have to complete either an internship or a capstone project, which allows them to put their knowledge to use outside of the classroom and gain valuable experience before entering the workforce, where they pursue diverse career paths. “The M.A. in Climate and Society study body is quite diverse and interdisciplinary and so there is no one typical career path for graduates. We have graduates across the public, private, nonprofit and academic sectors,” says Thomson. “In a sense, we are forging a new field at the intersection of climate and its societal impacts and we’re excited to have our graduates leading the way.”
Climate Science and Solutions Professional Science Master’s program https://nau.edu/ses/ masters-in-climatescience-solutions-program/
Master of Arts in Climate and Society https://climatesociety.ei. columbia.edu/
Fegyveresi explains. “Lastly, students typically take part in several semester-long projects throughout their program. For example, last semester, students completed a small reforestation campaign, and also worked with local-area middle schools to complete a large outreach project involving eco-challenges with the students.” Students looking to join the Climate Science and Solutions program can apply for different scholarships at Northern Arizona University. “There are a limited number of smaller departmental scholarships available, and our university has several ‘at-large’ graduate assistant positions that are awarded through a merit system,” says Fegyveresi. The university’s Center for International Education sometimes has its own graduate assistant positions that may be available depending on the number of applicants. In addition to these awards, there are also a few tuition waiver scholarships that may be available for applicants. Program graduates have the opportunity to work in a wide range of areas that pertain to their field of study. “Most graduates go on to work in one of three sectors pretty evenly: government, nonprofit or private industry,” says Fegyveresi. This includes local city sustainability offices, federal laboratories, nonprofit organizations, energy companies, policy-related positions at all levels, or private climate science-related companies. “A small subset of students gravitate toward research, and a few even go on to pursue a Ph.D. in a related field” like environmental science or geoscience, he adds. At Columbia University in New York City, students may take a slightly different approach to climate change studies. While the program focuses on understanding climate change, its ultimate goal is to understand how climate change affects societies. Unlike many other graduate programs in climate change which offer master’s degrees in science, Columbia offers a 12-month Master of Arts in Climate and Society, through the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Applicants typically come from earth, natural and social sciences programs, but students with a background in arts are also encouraged to apply. In the fall of 2021, the Master of Arts in
Natasa Milas is a freelance writer based in New York City. MAY/JUNE 2021 35
to Climate Change By PAROMITA PAIN
A project funded by USAID / India promotes climate-smart agricultural practices and technologies to build a sustainable food production system.
Right: Delegates from Nepal visit a climate-smart village in the Mathura district of Uttar Pradesh. Center right: Farmers’ Field Day at Betul, Madhya Pradesh. Far right: A woman farmer uses a battery-operated cutter at Dasturpar village in Bihar.
36 MAY/JUNE 2021
ncreasing extreme weather events like storms, floods and droughts are a threat to agricultural production and food security across the world. It is, thus, important to minimize these effects of climate change to maintain agricultural growth and build a resilient food production system. To address these vulnerabilities of farming operations, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) India funded the “Scaling-up Resilient Agricultural Practices, Technologies and Services in the Vulnerable Areas of India” project. The project adopted the “approach of developing climatesmart villages, which are villages where farmers, researchers, private sector representatives and policymakers have selected and trialled a portfolio of technologies and interventions to promote climate-smart agriculture,” says Vamsidhar Reddy, development assistance specialist at USAID / India.
The project, which concluded in September 2020, was implemented in Nalanda in Bihar, Betul in Madhya Pradesh and Mathura in Uttar Pradesh, as an intervention by CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), South Asia; the Borlaug Institute for South Asia and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center. Through the initiative, “a range of resilient technologies, services and practices were designed in consonance with scientific knowledge and local needs that directly targeted the network of crop and livestock activities,” says Reddy. “Traditional agricultural practices are more focused on productivity,” he explains, “while climate-smart agriculture maintains a balance between productivity and sustainability and is integrated with its allied sectors.”
Photographs courtesy BAIF Development Research Foundation
The USAID grant enabled CCAFS to take the climate-smart approach to 75 clusters of villages in the three states, where it administered capacity-building training, demonstrations and financial services support related to 16 climate-smart technologies in collaboration with the nonprofit organization BAIF Development Research Foundation, which worked as the implementation partner. Indian Farmers Fertilizer Cooperative (IFFCO) Kisan Sanchar Limited, an information and communications technology provider, delivered tips on new agricultural practices; information on livestock, markets and prices; and real-time weather forecasts to farmers through text and voice messages in local languages. A baseline survey conducted prior to the launch of the project indicated there was limited use of climate-smart technologies like drip and sprinkler practices, seed and fodder banks, weather-based agro advisories, integrated nutrient and pest management and green manuring in the selected areas. “The application of resources, particularly seeds, fertilizers and water for farming operations were often of sub-optimal quantities, untimely and were even characterized by incorrect or unscientific application methods,” says Reddy. Additionally, the survey found the frequency and severity of weather-related risks from rainfall, high temperature, cold waves, frost and hailstorms were a prominent factor in the selected districts. “The project used a wide range of activities that addressed the domains of crop and livestock management through promotion of climatesmart agricultural practices and technologies, capacity-building through institution-building as well as convergence with existing government projects and schemes to achieve sustainability,” says Reddy.
To share articles go to https://spanmag.com MAY/JUNE 2021 37
Photographs courtesy BAIF Development Research Foundation
Efforts to help a stressed planet while uplifting communities is one of the pillars of the climate-smart village approach. These included training on how to use watersmart technologies; changes in sowing and transplanting methods; use of climate-resilient seeds for wheat, paddy, bajra and gram; and integrated and precise nutrition management training. “Demonstrations related to seed treatment, efficient use of chemical fertilizers with biofertilizers and biopesticides, and practices such as rainwater harvesting, maximizing water use efficiency through drip irrigation, sprinkler irrigation, solar pumps and laser land leveling were promoted,” says Reddy. Significant modifications in agricultural practices like change in sowing methods were reported by 62 percent of the farmers who attended the training sessions. A majority of farmers used the weather and advisory services provided through the project—43 percent identified change in sowing dates as the most useful impact of the advisory services. Additionally, 27.5 percent identified use of natural pesticides or fertilizers, which resulted in an average reduction of 55 percent in overall carbon dioxide emissions per ton of crop Left: A farmer uses a cono weeder hired from a custom hiring center in the Nalanda district of Bihar. Below left: A farmer from Nalanda district grows napier grass, a climate-smart fodder crop. Below: Farmers use seed drill-cum-fertilizer equipment for sowing operations at Dasturpar village in Bihar.
38 MAY/JUNE 2021
production over the project duration, as one of the significant outcomes of the more than 400 farmer training sessions. Given the negative health and environmental impacts associated with the use of traditional biomass, the project also worked on promoting the use of clean energy fuel for cooking by the farmers’ families. It introduced biogas plants to reduce the use of firewood and cow dung for cooking and encouraged farmers to practice kitchen gardening near the biogas plants. “I remember my daughter and I had to walk for up to two hours every day to collect firewood for cooking,” says Samantabai, a woman farmer from Betul district. “The biogas unit from the project has made my life a lot easier, and I now have more time to focus on my farm and family. Additionally, we now consume more vegetables harvested from my kitchen garden and dairy products from higher milk production.” Bharat Kakade, president and managing trustee, BAIF Development Research Foundation, says that unlike many other projects which focus only on resilient agriculture crop systems, this project introduced “a combination of livestock resource-centric interventions such as improved breeding, scientific management, animal nutrition, feed and fodder management, climate-smart housing for reducing mortality
Photographs courtesy BAIF Development Research Foundation
“Multiple opportunities were created for increased participation, access to knowledge, representation, leadership and entrepreneurship by farm women. The choice of various technologies was based on women-friendliness and drudgery-reduction goals,” says Joshi. These steps helped empower 4500 women from the 75 clusters of villages. The project implemented various watersmart interventions through convergence with government schemes such as Kapil Dhara Yojana, the National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture, and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. “Such convergence efforts facilitated the construction of check dams, bori check dams, ponds, and deepening of wells and enabled water access to farmers in dry seasons,” says Reddy. Through convergence with government schemes like Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi, farmers were able to avail the benefits of crop insurance. The benefits of the project are not limited to the 75 clusters of villages where it was implemented, as other farmers too have adopted some of the practices that help create resilience in agricultural production as well as livestock farming. “It is a duty of science and those who practice it to apply its principles for social action. Efforts to help a stressed planet while uplifting communities is one of the pillars of the climate-smart village approach,” says Pramod Aggarwal, regional program leader at CCAFS Asia. This project is an example of using this approach “to build resilience and enhance adaptive capacities of the community by transforming agricultural practices,” he adds. “Climate and technology are extremely dynamic,” says Reddy “and thus sustained activities will be required to ensure that the transitions introduced during the course of the project keep up their pace to meet the new challenges that will emerge over time.” Paromita Pain is an assistant professor of Global Media Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno.
Above left: Crop yield being measured as part of the training on climate-smart agriculture techniques conducted at Amraura village in Bihar. Above: Demonstration of Azolla cultivation in the Nalanda district of Bihar.
USAID / India
www.usaid.gov/india MAY/JUNE 2021 39
and morbidity of cattle due to extreme climatic events and also improved the dungbased biogas model.” The project focused on the establishment of institutions to meet the needs of farming operations, keeping in mind local requirements. “Through 13 custom hiring centers as well as three cattle development centers, the project has made climate-smart technologies, practices and services available to the farmers,” says Reddy. The custom hiring centers are owned and managed by women farmers, and lease machinery like automatic potato planters and portable solar irrigation pump systems at costeffective prices while the cattle development centers facilitate sustainable livestock management practices. These centers are considered an indicator of the self-sustaining capacity of the project, where the cost-sharing approach for demonstration activities and entrepreneurship-based business models have generated significant incentives for the farmers to continue their operations as envisaged during the implementation stage. The project adopted a resilience framework to define its outcomes and goals in the form of economic resilience, social resilience and environmental resilience. The climate-smart village project has achieved significant success in improving the economic and environmental resilience of rural agriculture-based livelihoods through enhanced productivity, profitability and efficient use of resources. An increase in overall crop and livestock productivity was reported by 87 percent of farmers who participated in the project and increased income from crop and livestock was reported by 89 percent farmers. “The uniqueness of this program,” says Rajashree Joshi, chief thematic program executive, BAIF Development Research Foundation, “is women centrality.” Realizing that women are equal partners in smallholder family farming, efforts were made to mobilize women farmers and involve them in decisionmaking and all other stages of the project.
Adaptive Urban Planning By STEVE FOX
Don Ryan © AP Images
lthough cities occupy just two percent of the world’s landmass, they consume more than two-thirds of the world’s energy and are responsible for more than 70 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, according to the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, a New York-headquartered coalition of 97 global megacities (including five Indian cities), that supports sustainable action on climate change. As temperatures rise due to climate change, dense metropolitan areas are likely to be affected in a more pronounced manner than other areas. Additionally, with many of the world’s largest cities located on coastlines, urban areas face huge risks from rising sea levels and devastating coastal storms, which are both effects of climate change. “Cities are not only the main cause of climate change but also the most affected,” says Rohit Vijay Tak, a Fulbright-Nehru Master’s Fellow in urban design at the University of California, Berkeley and manager in the Sustainable Cities: Urban Transport and Road Safety program at the World Resources Institute India.
40 MAY/JUNE 2021
“While newly planned cities can be developed considering climate change, it’s the inhabited cities where the challenges are more complex,” says Tak. “More than half of the world’s population lives in such urban areas, which are responsible for about 75 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. To mitigate this challenge, cities need to limit their greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the demand for energy, developing greener energy alternatives and supporting more sustainable lifestyles.” Policies that target specific industries have proven quite effective, says Shalini Sharma, a Postdoctoral Fulbright-Nehru Environment Leadership Fellow at Columbia University who is now chief executive officer at the Sanshodhan E-Waste Exchange in Hyderabad. “In India, the government has mandated that the construction sector use a minimum of 30 percent renewable energy,” she says. “This has been a great strategy, as it can reduce 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from this sector.” Tak notes that cities must also respond to
The Effects of Climate Change
Many experts believe that emissions must fall dramatically to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, a goal set forth in the 2016 Paris Agreement, which included commitments by more than 190 nations to combat climate change and adapt to its impacts. Although climate change is a worldwide phenomenon, Tak and other experts agree that opportunities to address global warming may be greatest at the level of city government. Local governments often have closer relationships with their businesses, residents and institutions, allowing new policies to be implemented more rapidly and decisively. “A bottom-up approach needs to be followed,” says Tak. “Since greenhouse emissions are concentrated in certain cities, treating them as hotspots and implementing mitigation policies can have a large effect in demonstrating, monitoring and evaluating change that can help guide governments at regional and national levels in effectively scaling up their efforts.” Tak and Sharma agree that recent extreme
Courtesy Rohit Vijay Tak
Top: Urban forests help mitigate climate change by capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide. Above: Fulbright-Nehru Fellows Rohit Vijay Tak and Shalini Sharma (below) Courtesy Shalini Sharma
the reality that climate change is already happening. “To prepare cities to better respond to the current or expected climate change, it is important to implement adaptive strategies that are location-specific and responsive to local circumstances,” he says. “Adaptive strategies help prepare cities to adjust to the effects of climate change, thus limiting their magnitude and severity.” There are many adaptive strategies cities can take to combat climate change, says Sharma. “Cities can use renewable energy, retrofit buildings, use compressed natural gas and biofuels, increase the use of public transport, reduce emissions from the waste sector, establish online services for citizens throughout the city, plan urban forestry, oxygen parks and cool roofs, cap emissions from industries, and focus on minimizing emissions from supply chains, among other things,” she explains. There’s no time to waste—70 percent of the cities in the C40 network report that they are already feeling the effects of climate change.
Cities need to implement adaptive strategies that are responsive to local circumstances to mitigate the climate crisis.
To share articles go to https://spanmag.com MAY/JUNE 2021 41
Mark Lennihan © AP Images
weather events have accelerated recognition of climate change and the need to adopt new approaches to managing emissions. “As opposed to immediate dangers, climate change is often a large-scale and slow process,” says Tak. “However, the frequency of extreme weather events like flooding, landslides and extreme heat and their disastrous effects have increased awareness and pushed scientists and governments from the developed as well as the developing world to declare a climate emergency and increase awareness about climate change.”
42 MAY/JUNE 2021
While the challenges of global warming may seem daunting, Tak notes that both the source of the problem and its solution reside in the same place, offering reason for optimism. “Climate change is mostly a result of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions,” he says, “and thus could be mitigated by influencing human behavior.” Steve Fox is a freelance writer, former newspaper publisher and reporter based in Ventura, California.
Rajesh Kumar Singh © AP Images
Above: Public transportation reduces greenhouse gas emissions by providing a low emissions alternative to personal vehicles.
Below: Use of renewable energy sources to provide power in urban areas helps mitigate climate change.
© AP Images/STRF/STAR MAX/IPx
Left: Green roofs in urban areas help decrease the heat island effect and reduce energy use in buildings by lowering the demand for airconditioning.
MAY/JUNE 2021 43
Registered under RNI-6586/60 Mark Lennihan © AP Images
Cities need need to to limit limit their their Cities greenhouse gas gas greenhouse emissions by by reducing reducing emissions the demand demand for for energy, energy, the developing greener greener developing energy alternatives alternatives and and energy supporting more more supporting sustainable lifestyles. lifestyles. sustainable
Photographs by Aijaz Rahi © AP Images
Renewable energy sources help reduce carbon emissions and lower dependence on fossil fuels for energy.